Ishida had managed to put on his trousers and belt and had thrown on his shirt, but Orihime was still fully naked, searching for wherever the blazes her lover had tossed her clothes—that’s when the front door to the Kurosaki residence flew open.
Captain Kuchiki Rukia stood there.
Orihime screamed. Ishida tossed her a bra and blouse, and Orihime used the bra to cover one breast and the blouse to cover her bottom parts.
Rukia surveyed the scene with a reddening face. “There’s no time,” she said. “Where’s Ichigo? I can’t find his reiatsu anywhere.”
“In the old Visored warehouse.” Orihime managed to say. “Hacchi’s barrier is still in place. Hiyori lives there and Ichigo— “
“What’s going on?” asked Ishida. He stepped in front of Orihime and handed her the rest of her clothes so she could dress herself.
“Kurotsutchi was trying to build a time machine with whatever goo he salvaged from Yhwach’s death scene. Nothing was approved by Soul Society. His first model did not go as planned.”
“Yhwach is back?” Ishida’s shirt was buttoned to the neck now. He was wiping the sweat of sex from his brow with a kitchen towel and reassessing the end of the world all over again.
“Not exactly,” Rukia said. She cast a glance at Orihime who now sat on the sofa and was weeping soundlessly, her skirt zipper-side forward and the buttons on her blouse misaligned. “Someone like Yhwach is back but he’s not the Yhwach we faced. I’m not sure how dangerous he is. According to Kurotsuchi, this man doesn’t have all his senses or powers, just some of his memories. According to Kurotsuchi, he’s looking for Ichigo.”
“No!” Orihime stood up.
“He’s looking for Ishida too,” Rukia said. She looked from Orihime to Ishida back to Orihime again. “This man said something about how Ishida would be at his happiest in this timeline.”
“He has foresight,” Ishida rubbed his chin. “Call back-up. The whole Gotei needs to be here. This is Yhwach we’re talking about.” It was the end of the word again. Did he really want to watch people die one by one? But somebody might have the solution. That somebody probably wasn’t Kurosaki, not in his current state.
“I told you,” Rukia went on, “he isn’t the Yhwach we faced. I came as soon as I could when I found Kurotsuchi chasing the man in one of his secret passageways. We can handle this. Kurotsuchi and this—this thing that wants to confront Ichigo.”
A tiny shadow fell behind Rukia’s in the doorway. “Captain Rukia?” Rukia turned to see the small Shinigami with orange hair standing there. “Is it very important? I can take you to Hiyori-san’s house right now.”
“Kazui!” Orihime ran to the threshold. “You’re supposed to be in school!”
“I DO go to school, but sometimes I need to check up on Dad. I don’t even need to hide my reiatsu.” A laugh. “He’s very bad at sensing me.”
Rukia ignored the kid. “Ishida, where do you sense Kurotsuchi and this Yhwach thing? I lost them moments before I arrived. The captain may have reiatsu-concealment capacity, but this thing—I saw him—he’s not quite that evolved. Trust me. He’s … a specific threat. He’s not going to destroy the world.”
Ishida walked to the door and scanned the town. “I’ve lost them.” He knelt to Kazui’s height and put his hand on the boy’s head. “How long have you been outside the house?”
“Followed Captain Rukia.” A smile. “Sensed her when I was following Dad. Just got here.” Bigger smile. “I’m super-fast.”
“Do you sense the other strange reiatsu?”
“Do you know where they are now?”
“I think so. I’m not sure.”
Ishida stood up. “The Visored Hide-Out,” he said to Kuchiki-san. “My hirenkyaku is the fastest way there.”
“Stay here,” Orihime told her son. “I can make a portal. We don’t need you to make a portal at Hiyori-san’s place. We need you to watch the house, ok?”
In the air, as the Shinigami captain and the woman with her skirt on backwards held onto him speeding towards the old mysterious warehouse, Ishida had time enough to say, “Kazui won’t listen. He takes after his father.”
When everyone showed up, Hiyori was standing several feet from the warehouse entrance. Hands on hips, tapping one of her sandaled feet. “Who hired out my place for the freak convention?” She cocked her head towards the door. “Captain Freakshow made the portal. The Goth kid followed him, and they’re having some kind of showdown with Ichigo right now.”
“Showdown?” Rukia transformed at the word. Her robes were white; her hair was silver with a lilac light shining through strands that fell past her tiny waist. “Dance five. Winter Buries the Lily.” She had not drawn her sword, but its immaculate ribbons wafted in cold air behind her. Petals of snow were falling from the sky, almost imperceptibly, in twos and threes.
“They ain’t fightin,” Hiyori said. “If any of my merchandise gets ruined, Ichigo gets it—whap!—in his useless Shinigami balls.”
“Make the portal, Inoue-san,” Rukia said. The impatience in her voice could have been interpreted as anger, but her transformation into an ice queen made the command sound cold.
“I can see them,” Orihime was holding her head to one side with a sad, dazed look. She was watching things in the warehouse wall no one else could see. Then plainly, without malice or any sense of having been annoyed, she made the correction: “My name is Kurosaki now, Kuchiki-san.”
“What’s happening in there?” Ishida knew that with Orihime, if you wanted a direct answer, ask a direct question.
“I can see them inside standing and talking. No one has a weapon drawn.”
“If I know Ichigo, there’s going to be fightin sooner or later,” Hiyori said. “What you guys here to do? Rescue his sorry ass? Isn’t that his pop’s job? Where his pop been lately? Ain’t seen him in forever. Did he die or something?”
“Kurosaki’s father works at our hospital now,” Ishida said. “He became head of the pediatric wing this year.” He turned to Orihime. “Kuchiki-san is right. Open the portal. He can’t handle this by himself.”
“Can we give him the chance?”
“Orihime! You still believe in him?”
Everyone startled at Ishida’s words. Orihime waved her hand and before them appeared a window into the warehouse; there was audio too. Those being observed apparently did not know they were being subject to one of Orihime’s barrier tricks.
“You made no sense the first time around and you’re even more boring now,” Ichigo spoke in the most casual voice ever, as if talking to an annoying teenager trying to hand him a promotional pamphlet at a bus stop. “And stop calling yourself my father. You look twelve.”
“I’m thousands and thousands of years old,” said the young man with wavy black hair in a black cloak.
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Ichigo crossed his arms. He was wearing the Unagiya logo on his cap. “I saw your face on Tensa Zangetsu in my inner world one time.”
“What my creation appears to be incapable of explaining is that the power of time travel affords you the opportunity to reset your life, Kurosaki Ichigo.” Captain Kurotsuchi waved his long-nailed, white fingers across the air. “Where are you now? On the verge of destruction once again. Unable to protect those you love.”
“I’m not your creation,” said the young Yhwach. “I am the son of the Soul King.”
“Whatever, whatever,” Kurotsuchi said. “I’ll adjust that false memory. Right now it’s important for both you and Ichigo to realize that neither one of you has the power to change anything right now. That knowledge is mine.”
“Blah, blah, blah.” Ichigo turned his cap around on his head so that the visor didn’t shade his eyes. He looked genuinely tired, like a man who had not slept well for weeks. “You two need to get out of here. I’ve got work to do.”
Orihime gave a little gasp and covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh Ichigo,” she whispered. Snow was falling faster around the observers outside the warehouse. Ishida’s black hair was speckled white.
“Not worth killing him in this state,” the young Yhwach said to Kurotsuchi. “It might be a better fate to leave him here, among the other lost and impotent humans, his suffering worse because he walked away from heaven.”
“He is like you,” Kurotsuchi said, “not fully awake. What I am offering you both is the power over time itself, a power that the Quincy god at his greatest did not even understand, something Ichigo with his courage and strength could never break. There are so many worlds beyond the ones you wanted to rebuild, Yhwach. There are so many worlds beyond the ones you could even imagine defending, Ichigo. Aren’t you even curious? The wonders in my lab, such glories designed for only the two of you, only the two of you….”
Hiyori muttered under her breath, “What hella drugs is he on. Anyone can tell he’s bullshitting.”
The young Yhwach wasn’t listening to Kurotsuchi; his eyes were on Ichigo. “He was the most foolish of my sons, not worth my pity. Why I remembered him first is no matter. I will forget him for another thousand years.”
“Unagiya always pitches a fit if I’m late for a job.” Ichigo didn’t sound concerned. His voice was a sing-song. “I don’t think anyone wants to see her pitch a fit.”
Ishida blew a huff of smoke into the cold air as he spoke. “This is like watching three children in a sandbox. They’re pretending to be playing with one another, but each one is in his own world. Kuchiki-san, can’t you arrest this crazy captain of yours?”
“Wait,” Rukia said. “Ichigo can still take them both.”
But would he if he had to? Kuchiki-san had not been to the Living World for years; she had not witnessed a single of Kurosaki’s break-downs; no one had her told about the weeks he’d refused to leave the bed, how he didn’t train his own son, how friends never knew if any given day would be an ordinary one with Kurosaki returning smiles and making wry jokes or if this gruff remark or that faraway look meant another descent into depression. Over the years, Ishida had grabbed Kurosaki by the collar so many times and tried to yell some sense into him, coax his heart back by reminding him of how much there was to live for—a beautiful wife, a beautiful son, the scent of a chocolate bar, anything, a new song from a favorite band-- but it had been like shooting words made of light at a mind that could only comprehend darkness.
“Ichigo isn’t going to walk away from a person who is part Yhwach,” Orihime said.
“So he’s really not Yhwach?” Rukia asked.
“I’m sure. I was there. This reiatsu is …altered.”
Orihime had seen the worst of Kurosaki, and still, she expected him to protect Karakura Town from one of Kurotsuchi’s creepy dolls. Kurosaki, who for over a decade had not lifted his sword against a Hollow or so much as stomped in the direction of a dog-fight to stop the noise and send the animals running away.
“Hiyori!” Ichigo shouted the name. “Who’s out there with you? I told you to wait outside until I was done talking business with these guys.”
Kurotsuchi was unfazed. “Yhwach, imagine your strength aligned with that of the man who killed you. The marriage of monstrosity and monstrosity. One look at my plans. Come back to my lab and take just one look.”
“I just got out of there,” the young Yhwach said. “I saw nothing but the toys of a crazy Shinigami scientist.”
“You rose out of your bed like a sleepwalker. You didn’t see a thing. I promise you will have no choice but to follow this path, for a greatness beyond any creator’s imagination. I can show you. Your own desire willing any form into existence. Everything, anything can change.”
Ichigo snorted. “Change? Everything’s perfect as it is—right, Yhwach?”
“You’re a perfect fool,” the young man in black said. “I remember clearly now. You cut me in half.” He drew his sword from under his cloak.
At the same moment, a whir of black and orange sped into the scene. “Nooooooooo!” When the whir paused, Kazui stood, sword over his head. “Don’t you dare hurt my dad!”
“Brat!” Kurotsuchi grabbed Kazui with his fingernails and held him high over the broad Baphomet horns that shaped the scientist’s current head-dress of choice. Ichigo had already flashed into Shinigami form and with two hands was holding the same weapon that had once cleaved Yhwach in half. Kazui dangled over the heart-shape made by the top of Kurotsuchi’s head-horns, and the scientist smiled, showing his many golden teeth. “I see I wasn’t wrong to believe in your will to protect, Ichigo. You still want a better world, no matter how much you despise your part in it.”
“Put my son down.”
The young Yhwach had lowered his sword. “Your son is a Shinigami? He seems … strong.” The last word was uttered with approval.
“What if,” began Kurotsuchi, “what if I use my accelerated tendon adjustment? I could toss this child across to room to test just how stro—“
A black bullet shot out of nowhere, hit Kurotsuchi in the head and knocked him off his feet. Orihime came running first through the portal. “Kazui, darling,” The boy had landed on his butt on the floor, and she lifted him up by the armpits. “Are you ok?” She picked up his sword and handed it to him.
The cold and the snow preceded the next entrance. Ichigo took one step back.
The name, after Ichigo said it, seemed to take its own shape in the new weather. The warehouse walls reverberated as if invisible barriers were shifting everywhere, and an ancient gear had fallen into slow motion.
“I’m here to take Kurotsuchi’s illegal creation into custody,” Rukia said with a formality reminiscent of her brother’s speech. Her sparkling robes were dazzling in the dull room, and young Yhwach’s attention was now focused completely on this vision in white. He didn’t seem concerned at all about the prospect of arrest.
“Ichigo,” Rukia pursed her lips the smallest bit. “Your wife just killed a Gotei captain, but I believe I can resolve that issue when the report is made.”
“Killed?” Kurotsuchi sat up. His left eye was dangling over his cheek, but the left horn of the head-dress was already growing back over the cracked lower part. That wide crack exposed a blue hairline over a pale forehead; in the center of a singed black eyebrow was an apple-sized hole that went clean through to the other side. One could see the stacked boxes of warehouse merchandise through the hole. “What did you expect, woman? That I hadn’t prepared myself for far, far worse ambushes than yours? Did you really think your little bird projectile could kill someone like me?”
A flash of white light this time, much larger than the black bullet that had pierced Kurotsuchi’s head moments before. This time this scientist’s head simply vanished. The torso fell backwards, ribbons of smoke rising from blackened meat and vertebrae where once there had been a neck.
“You have to aim for the whole head,” Ishida said. He lowered his bow which was melting the snow around him. His shoulders of his dress shirt, once pillowed with snow, were wet. His hair dripped water. He tossed his head back to shake it off. “The only way to kill a Shinigami is to cut off the head.”
“Fuck, Ishida.” Ichigo said. He pooched his lips forward and seemed about to whistle through them like an overjoyed kid but stopped himself. “That one was a long time coming. Rukia, you know that one was a done deal. This shouldn’t be covered up in Soul Society. Ishida should get a goddamn motherfucking trophy for offing that freaking son-of-a-bitch.”
Orihime put her arm around Kazui. “This was a very bad man. A very bad man.”
“Clean kill,” said Hiyori from where she stood behind Ishida. “No blood to mop up. I’ll get rid of what’s left of the body, no prob.” She scratched her ear, considering ways to humiliate the remains. “Never could stand that captain.”
Because in horror stories, the monster always rises up again, almost everyone’s focus was on the smoldering neck of Captain Kurotsuchi. Rukia, her wide eyes wider and her mouth gaping. Orihime, fearful, not even trying to shield her son’s eyes from the scene, and Kazui, straining his own neck to get a better look at the wound. Ichigo eyed the dead scientist warily. In his experience, the guys always popped up again. Because young Yhwach himself was the monster re-risen and had never bothered with any horror stories but the ones he created himself, his gaze was now on the man who had decapitated the Shinigami scientist with a Quincy weapon.
“Ishida Uryuu, my chosen heir. I should thank you for ridding me of such an annoyance but look you at you, all grown up, nowhere near my power. And what is this arrogance I see? Stealing men’s wives, murdering scientists of renown genius without hesitation—it is precisely this triumph of pride I came here to destroy.”
Orihime threw her shield in front of Ishida before he could protest.
“Orihime, don’t worry,” said Ichigo. He was standing at ease but still held his sword forward, prepared to strike. “He’s a wet paper cut-out of the guy we faced. He’s been here talking forever--all words, no reiatsu.”
Yhwach raised his sword and, with no effort but slow deliberation for show, cut through Orihime’s shield. “Don’t under-estimate me,” he said in his young voice. He kept the tip raised, pointed at Ishida Uryuu’s heart. Ishida didn’t flinch a muscle; he anticipated a speech from Kurotsuchi’s creation but not much of a battle.
“Mother-fucker,” muttered Ichigo. Rukia drew her sword; concentric circles of reiatsu pulsed in visible whiteness around the blade.
“Goddamn it, they’re gonna rumble,” Hiyori said. “Don’t make me put on my mask.”
“No killing of civilians,” came a familiar voice, and everyone turned to see the slain monster sitting up where he had fallen. The elaborately painted and modified head was a man’s now, a long and handsome face covered in green slime. “I told you, Yhwach. This is a secret project. When the world is ready for us, the world as we know it will have changed.”
“Your project is over,” Rukia spat. “Bringing something that could threaten the worlds again? What were you thinking?”
“Thinking?” The slimy green head smiled with ordinary whitish teeth this time. “There’s the difference between myself and the rest of you. Thinking is why I exist and will outlive you all.”
Ishida and Kurosaki exchanged glances; they had noticed that Kurotsuchi had still not stood up. The scientist was taking his time to restore himself.
“You’re broken, Captain Kurotsuchi.” Rukia said aloud what everyone knew. “I’ll freeze you and carry you myself back to Soul Society for execution.”
“Yhwach,” Kurotsuchi’s chest heaved as if some effort was required to breathe. He took one more breath and spoke again, naturally, with a tinge of gentleness, as if telling a child what to do. “Kill Captain Kuchiki. Her. The woman in white.”
Those were the last words spoken by the captain of the 12th division, Shinigami Research and Development Institute. His green head fell into two clean halves like a chopped watermelon and the rest of his sitting body collapsed as well. The blow from Ichigo’s sword had landed so fast that when he raised his weapon, there was no blood on the blade.
Kurotsuchi became a green liquid that stained his captain’s robes and emitted a faint chemical odor.
“I’ve seen this before.” Ishida’s voice was urgent. “This is how he escapes.”
“Not this time.” The Shinigami standing over the green goo wore a look Ishida had not seen in a long, long time. Was that a hint of a smile at the corner of Kurosaki’s mouth? “He’s gone. Watch.”
And everyone watched, even Yhwach with his sword held casually over his shoulder now, because who knew what would happen next with this scientist? Stories about him had reached so far as to have inspired a few ghosts in the young Yhwach’s amnestic, tampered-with mind.
The drenched captain robes on the floor burned up as if consumed by acid; the odor in the room grew stronger for a moment as the green goo became green gas, and then, too quickly for the process to resemble an ordinary organic chemical change, the gas and the green and the odor were gone—not a trace of even dissipating into the air.
Rukia’s eyes met Ichigo’s.
“You tell them I did it,” Ichigo said. “I told you I couldn’t live in Soul Society with that monster running around.”
“Ichigo,” Rukia began. Her voice was low and awed. “Ichigo, I—”
“No worries for you. It was all perfectly legal. I killed the bastard in defense of one of their captains.”
Orihime was holding her son by the shoulders. “Is Dad in trouble?” Kazui whispered, and she hushed him, hugging the boy to her chest.
“Tsk, tsk.” It was the chiding noise an old man makes by spitting against brittle teeth, so when young Yhwach made the sound, the effect was eerie, as if he were speaking another language, one uttered by threatened snakes. “I’ve seen Kuchiki Rukia in so many timelines. It came back to me the moment she appeared with her fancy dress and that little blizzard for show. Always fighting for you, Ichigo. Always besting you, fleeing you, finding you again. Did you cry when she forgot you in this timeline?”
Young Yhwach held the hilt of his weapon loosely, the blade still resting on his shoulder. “It’s amusing how often you’ve needed her to carry you like a kitten in her mouth.”
Orihime buried her face in her son’s hair.
“It always comes to nothing, Ichigo,” Yhwach went on. “Sometimes you are on the verge of grasping that truth. You fight for illusions and everything you build and struggle to protect dies—you die; she dies— “
“Shut up,” Ichigo said.
Young Yhwach’s body split down the middle and fell. Again, no blood on Ichigo’s blade, only two distinct halves of a body on the floor—black goo swarming where ruptured organs and arteries should be.
“Your turn to die today,” Ichigo said. “Rukia, freeze this shit and run it to Urahara. He’ll make sure no one in Soul Society gets a crumb of whatever Kurotsuchi created.”
It was an unusually warm fall day; bright sunlight had dried melted snow on Orihime’s blouse as she walked to Kazui’s school. She had made sure to accompany her son and apologize in person to his teacher for the absence; Ishida-kun had walked with her in his considerate way, alert to the emotional aftermath of the day. On the way back to the Kurosaki house, the phone in his pocket rang.
Ishida made a face at the screen. “It’s my father.”
It was broad daylight. Anyone could be watching them on the sidewalk. Orihime slipped her hand into Ishida-kun’s.
“Yes, yes. Shinigami trouble. It’s all been taken care of.” Ishida-kun cast a look of surprise into Orihime’s eyes because she was holding his hand in public. “I have a few more things to look after. I’ve already called Minami-san.”
I love you, Orihime mouthed.
“I, uh, I have to go.” Was Ishida-kun blushing? His face reminded Orihime of the boy she had known years ago, the one who tried not to be caught helping other students in sewing club. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
A pause while Ishida-kun listened to some last words on the phone. The fingers around hers loosened, and Ishida-kun’s eyes took on that far-away look. He was a man again, the one that scared her a little, like the vast unknown future. “Yes, Father,” he said in a solemn tone. “Kurotsuchi Mayuri is dead.”
He slid the phone back into his pocket. He looked away, to the sky. His shirt was wrinkled where snow had melted on it and dried.
“We’re going to get married,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge mess, but I don’t care.”
The fingers around hers tightened again and held fast.
They walked hand in hand in silence, and although she was supposed to be the one to express emotion first, he was the one who, at the gate of her house, paused and said, “It hurts so much.”
“It always has,” Orihime said. “Being alive is knowing pain. But I don’t want to keep on living a lie … I don’t want to…” She searched for the phrase. “Prolong needless suffering?”
He looked at her for comfort; she was the source of his guilt and the salve to it at the same time.
“I made a mistake thinking that Ichigo was the perfect man for me, and now I know that there’s no such thing as a perfect man or a perfect life. I only know that it’s better when we’re together.”
“It’s still going to be a mess.”
“We’ll get through it.”
He waited until they were inside to give her the romantic kiss he had promised himself he’d give her. The wrongness of kissing his bride at the threshold of the Kurosaki home did not escape him, but it seemed to frame the moment with sadness as well as joy. He ran his hands through her long hair and after the most tender of kisses, pressed his cheek against hers. “I will be so honored to be your husband for the rest of this life.”
She hugged him, and her tears fell for so long that his shirt was wet again.
In stories of destiny, there are sad partings and triumphant reunions. An inescapable fate is usually underscored by deep irony. Urahara Kisuke had learned about the cruelty of irony after his betrayal by Aizen and believed that destiny was a shell game; all that really mattered was who was the player and who was being played. Upon retrieving the frozen remains of Kurotsuchi’s creation, the shopkeeper had mentioned a little this and a little that about the predictability of payback that Ichigo didn’t understand at all. Urahara said he would deliver a phony carcass back to Soul Society and cross his heart, hope to die, never experiment with what he had been given. “Never! Have I ever gone back on my word?”
“I’m sure I could think of a time or two,” Ichigo had said as he walked out, the bells on the door jingling in that way that always annoyed him. “I’ll send Hiyori back later today to collect some deliveries for boss lady Unagiya.”
Outside, the sun was bright, the wind was strong, and an occasional fall leaf blew by.
“A fifth dance, eh?” Ichigo said as he and Rukia walked away from the Urahara shouten. “I didn’t even get to see what it does.”
Ichigo was back in his jeans and cap, and Rukia was wearing her captain clothes.
“Well, I got to see your part. I missed everything the first time you killed Yhwach.”
Either because the sun was so blaring or because the back of his head was itching that badly, Ichigo took off his cap to scratch his scalp.
“You’ll have to return,” Rukia said in that voice that was unmistakably her brother’s tone. “The trial should be short. The case against Captain Kurotsuchi is irrefutable, and you have significant allies.”
“I can’t get out of this one, can I?”
“Ichigo.” Rukia stopped walking so she could raise her head and look into her old companion’s face. “They’re going to ask you again to assume a position in the Gotei—you have to know that.”
He stared at into her eyes, and the anger over the issue was different now. Her violet eyes could not hide a deep pain.
“Can we not fight about this again?” Ichigo looked away.
“I don’t want to fight,” Rukia said. “I just want to know if …” Her voice sounded girlish now. “Are you ok? You look terrible. Your eyes— “
“Look,” Ichigo raised both hands and held them apart as if he were holding an invisible soccer ball he wanted to toss. “Don’t be mad at Orihime.”
Rukia waited for the rest while Ichigo huffed a few breaths.
“She told me she’s in love with him,” he went on. “We’re heading straight for divorce by the looks of it all. Ishida is the one who pays attention to her and treats her right.”
“Oh.” Rukia lowered her eyes. “That’s how it is.”
“I was on my way to a job when I sensed you on the way to my house. I can only guess what you came across. Don’t be mad at them. It’s not their fault. I’m the fuck-up here. I’ve always been the fuck-up.”
Rukia looked up again. A gust of wind caught her hair at that very moment and sent waves of it billowing. She brushed strands off her face, and when revealed, her expression was even more raw than before.
“Don’t hate yourself,” she said. “Everyone makes mistakes.”
It was a cliché in which neither of them took solace, and they began walking again, in silence, towards another inevitable farewell.
When the gates of the Senkaimon appeared, Ichigo opened his mouth as if to say one more thing then closed it again.
“What?” Rukia shut the doors behind her.
“Just tell me one thing.” He crossed his arms. “That thing Kurotsuchi created that wouldn’t stop talking. Was it right when it said you forgot all about me in this timeline?”
“Of course not.” Rukia looked past Ichigo’s face, to a clearing in the thicket where they’d arrived, sunlight brightening the fallen leaves in patches on the ground. Red leaves, golden leaves, a dense warmth in the familiar town and the faint scent of a season dying.
“I missed you,” Rukia said.
“I missed you too,” Ichigo said.
She re-opened the Senkaimon gate. “I’ll see you again. Things change.”
And as the gates closed behind her, Ichigo felt a place in his heart open again. Maybe it was a wound, but the future streamed forth from it.
P.S. Somewhere, Chad, not hurting anyone. Because he wouldn’t.