Title: Long Way to Goodbye X
Rating: The much beloved T, where characters may swear and possess sexuality, but not so much that I will be banned for posting this.
Summary: Rukia and Ichigo disappeared and, although she tries, Karin has no idea what happened to them. Did Ichigo abandon everyone or did he and Rukia die?
Make sure to read part one first.
“Impossible,” Ishida muttered weakly, watching Kurosaki smash into the pavement. Not a second later, Sado followed suit and collapsed.
We won. Ishida couldn’t comprehend what he’d just witnessed. Why didn’t Kurosaki attack his sister? A memory of Rukia controlling Kurosaki in this state tugged at Ishida. But he killed Rukia! Something wasn’t connecting.
For now, Ishida let out a sigh of relief. Inoue-san was safe. Kurosaki was defeated, impossible though that was—his dark spiritual pressure had dwindled into nothingness.
The battle left its mark on Karakura. Deep cracks crisscrossed the pavement and had broken apart the road. A giant crater stood in the middle of the street where Ichigo had fired the Cero. More than one building had been damaged, each to a different extent; a collapsed roof here, a broken-down wall there. Electricity crackled from the snapped cable of a fallen power line. Splattered amongst the disarray, dark blood served as a grisly reminder of the hard-fought clash.
Amidst the ruined street, Karin peeked at Chad and Ichigo with apprehension. Chad had suddenly crumpled to the ground and wasn’t moving. Is he breathing? Her brother, meanwhile, was in no better condition: a vertical cut ran down his forehead and between his closed eyes, and was bleeding steadily. Since Ichigo’d apparently refused to kill her, Karin wasn’t sure what to think of him. She squinted at her brother, warily. Upon closer inspection, it struck Karin that Ichigo looked a lot more like himself without the mask hiding his face. And now he looks dead—Karin coughed and gagged, suddenly, and hurried to cover her mouth.
Her throat was raw and she felt sick to her stomach. Too much…The culmination of a distressing night full of panic, confusion and terror pushed her to the breaking point. Too much. She couldn’t breathe properly. Too much! The sweltering heat threatened to burn her alive.
Then something wet dropped on her forehead and brought Karin back from the brink of a nervous collapse. The air cooled for the first time in ages. She blinked as another drop splashed against her reddened eyes; it felt oddly soothing.
A light rainfall dribbled down from the dark and ominous clouds. Karin glanced at her brother again, despising the slow trickle of tears streaming down her face.
Then a bright flash of light enveloped Ichigo. Karin stared as his hair receded into his skull and his long mane turned into a shorter, shaggy mop of hair. Flesh filled the hole in his chest, and his white skin returned to its natural hue. The vertical gash on his forehead stopped bleeding, but her brother’s face was still a bloody mess. Throughout this spectacle, Ichigo didn’t stir.
“Karin-chan!” Orihime called out. Karin took her eyes off Chad and Ichigo and faced Orihime, who still favored the one leg. “You weren’t hurt, were you?!”
Karin gritted her teeth and furiously wiped at her eyes. She shook her head; Karin was the only one here who hadn’t received so much as a scratch. “I’m the only who’s not hurt.” The rest of the gang needed attention, not her, couldn’t Orihime see that? “Will they be okay?” She pointed at Ichigo and Chad. But should she even be concerned about her brother after tonight?
Orihime looked at Ichigo and Chad, back and forth. She hobbled a step and grimaced; Karin noticed that Orihime’s right leg was bruised and bloodied beneath her skirt. Her ankle must have been sprained, if not fractured.
“I’ll need you to lend a shoulder before I can do a real check-up, but they’ll be fine by the time I’m done with them,” Orihime assured. “Sado-san just expended himself, so he’ll recover with a little rest. And Kurosaki-kun—”
“Will die, I promise.”
Karin and Orihime’s heads spun in unison. A heavily-bandaged Renji dragged himself around a corner, holding his sword like a walking stick. His reiatsu was so weak that neither girl had sensed him until after he’d stepped past Chad. Renji came to a halt in front of Ichigo. The Shinigami coughed coarsely and rubbed his mouth; his hand came back bloody. He ignored the soft rain.
“What luck,” muttered Renji, smiling wickedly. “I’ve dreamed of this moment every night for the last two years…Sado did a lot of the work for me, sure, but she won’t mind so long as I finish the job…”
Paralyzed, Karin and Orihime watched Renji straighten his legs and raise his sword high above his head. The tip of the blade was aimed directly at Ichigo’s neck.
Realizing his intent, Karin stepped towards Renji but the Shinigami lowered his weapon in response. Karin froze in her tracks and glared at Renji.
“Don’t give me that look!” Renji warned. He coughed again. “You could beat the shit outta me the way I am now but I…don’t care if you kill me, kid, because you’ll never stop me before I bury this sword in your bastard brother’s neck.”
Karin averted her gaze and bit her lip. She hadn’t forgotten her brother’s rampage, by any means. Renji might be saving all of us if he goes through with this, but still…
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Ishida inching forward behind Renji.
“Stay where you are, Quincy!” Renji growled, his sword wavering dangerously close to Ichigo’s throat. Blood leaked down the Shinigami’s leg from an abdominal wound. “Either you or Sado bandaged me up earlier, but don’t think I’ll repay you any favors right now. My debt to her comes first.”
Ishida stopped dead, like Karin had. Renji was probably taking the safest course of action, but this was an execution, plain and simple—it felt wrong.
Karin concentrated on Orihime’s spiritual energy. She doesn’t have enough. Well, the older woman could probably attack Renji by using her remaining reiatsu, like Chad had, but then she wouldn’t be able to heal Ishida. Chad was out of commission. Does this mean I need to stand idly and do nothing again?!
The rain fell tenderly on Ishida, Orihime and Karin as none of them dared to budge while Renji was poised to strike down. Everyone was still recovering from Ichigo’s assault; they hadn’t prepared for a situation like this. Thus, all eyes centered on Renji and they waited, petrified to the spot. Karin’s tears stopped but were ready to burst out again as soon as the guillotine dropped.
Yet, though Renji trembled in fury and no one interfered, his blade never fell.
“Why?” he murmured angrily, his hands shaking, “That stupid voice again…”
Voice? What the hell is he talking about? Karin thought in confusion. The prospect of watching her brother being slaughtered like an animal had dumbstruck her.
Near Karin’s side, Orihime whispered, “You can’t do this, Renji…”
It was then that Karin really paid attention to her guardian. Orihime kept shaking her head, then swallowing, and nodding her head. The longer Renji hesitated, the more Orihime nodded.
Renji tightened his grip on his sword and steeled himself. “It’s only because it’s in cold blood,” he muttered, glaring at Ichigo, “I wanted to kill him in combat, that’s all. He looks too…too human like this.” His voice grew louder. “I can do it. I have to! She needs me to kill him!”
He lifted his sword up and closed his eyes.
“Stop it, Renji!” Orihime suddenly screeched, startling Karin.
Karin’s little jolt was nothing compared to Renji’s reaction—he stumbled in surprise and let go of the sword. With a sickening thunk, it pierced the ground right beside Ichigo’s neck. Renji recovered fast, before Karin could rush at him, and he hastily grabbed the sword and held it above Ichigo’s head again.
“The hell?” he barked at Orihime.
A shiver went through Orihime’s body, but she shot Renji an icy look. “You can’t kill him!” she burst out. “You don’t know what really happened!”
Renji scowled. “I know enough,” he retorted. Now he appeared angry enough to murder. “And I will kill him, Inoue. I don’t care if you want ‘Kurosaki-kun’ to be your boyfriend.”
Orihime flinched, although she didn’t yield any ground. In the distance, Ishida snarled. Bemused, Karin observed all of these reactions. But what about Ichigo?
“Yes,” Orihime agreed and touched her chest. “For a lifetime, I’d wanted nothing more than to be with Kurosaki-kun. That, I think—no, I know—caused the mess in Hueco Mundo two years ago.” Orihime’s eyes bore into Renji with conviction. “But that was two years ago, nothing more.” Her gaze flickered to Ishida. “Now, I question if those feelings were honest or just a flight of fancy.”
“Well, good,” said Renji after a pause. “If you don’t want him, then you won’t miss him when he’s gone.”
“No!” Orihime choked. “Listen to me, I’m not done yet! You need to hear me out!”
Karin’s ears perked up. The conversation was flying over her head, but she was deeply curious to learn more about her brother’s past.
Renji coughed and cleared his throat angrily. “What’s there to hear?!” he roared. “We all know Ichigo killed Rukia! He betrayed us and now I’m gonna make sure he never kills again!”
“Yes, he did, but he didn’t mean to, Renji!”
“What?!” He was infuriated. “Don’t tell me we should blame it on his Hollow! That excuse won’t bring Rukia back!”
His sword crept lower with every word he shouted. By the time he’d finished bellowing, it was digging into Ichigo’s neck and drawing blood.
“We were tricked, Renji,” Orihime mumbled. Tears welled in her eyes, but didn’t fall. “I was the only one who saw the truth.”
“Tricked?” He spat in disgust. “We sure were—he fooled us into believing we could control trust him!”
“No!” denied Orihime vehemently. “Aizen fooled us. You and the others didn’t see it…”
For the first time, Renji frowned in suspicion rather than anger. “We saw him kill Aizen. That was the last good thing this jackass did…before he went for Rukia, in case you forgot.”
Who’s Aizen? What’s going on? Karin was glad to see that Ishida looked perplexed, too.
Orihime continued shaking her head, “No, you didn’t see him kill Aizen,” she replied. “Renji,” Orihime’s voice weakened and her shoulders slumped in resignation, “Kurosaki-kun did not kill Aizen first. We were under an illusion, Kurosaki-kun included. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Karin hadn’t the slightest inkling how this mattered, but Ishida gasped audibly. Renji opened his mouth, baffled, before glowered at Orihime.
“What the hell are you talking about, Inoue?! I saw Aizen die! Are you trying to deny my own memory? Are you that desperate to protect a murderer?!”
Orihime groaned in frustration. “No, I’m saying Aizen was pretending to be Rukia, using his Shikai. We thought we saw Kurosaki-kun defeat Aizen, but he’d accidentally killed Rukia instead.”
Accidentally killed Rukia? Karin looked at Ichigo again, who slept through this debate, unaware his life hung in the balance. Does that make his actions forgivable? Accident or not, Rukia is dead.
“Yes, yes, this makes so much more sense,” Ishida muttered to himself.
Renji hesitated, but he wasn’t convinced. “That’s ridiculous! And how come you know this, anyways, Inoue?”
Orihime winced as if waiting to hear Renji’s question. “I was the only one who didn’t get injured by Kurosaki-kun, remember? After he knocked out you guys, I couldn’t stop Kurosaki-kun from stabbing ‘Rukia.’ As Hirako-san charged at Kurosaki-kun and they both disappeared, Rukia’s body transformed into Aizen’s; horrified, I looked around and saw Rukia lying where ‘Aizen’ should’ve been. I understood what happened then and ran to the true Rukia, but I was too late…” A tear slid down Orihime’s cheek. “I think Kurosaki-kun realized his mistake right away, which is why he went berserk…”
Karin listened to story with rapt attention, shocked that something so terrible happened to Ichigo. That is, assuming Orihime is telling the truth, for once.
“Yes,” added Ishida, frowning in thought, “I always thought Aizen had gone down too easily; it made no sense that he didn’t use of his Shikai, since we all saw him use it in Karakura. But Aizen really was using it but later lost to Kurosaki, I suspect, because our friend was insane—Aizen’s Shikai wouldn’t be as effective against someone ignoring his senses and lashing out in any direction indiscriminately.” Ishida raised an eyebrow at Renji. “Surely, you’ve questioned Kurosaki’s fight with Aizen as well?”
“Shut up!” Renji snapped, looking away from Orihime briefly. Renji glowered uncertainly. “I’ve always thought Rukia fought beyond her limits against Ichigo back then, but if she’d actually been Aizen at the time…that would mean…”
“That everything makes sense,” Ishida concluded, warranting another scowl from Renji. “We’re alive, aren’t we? If Kurosaki was truly hell-bent on destroying us, he gave away two great chances to do so. I never believed we should have survived his first rampage, but we did. We should have died tonight, too. Also, if I remember what Sado said correctly, somebody provoked Kurosaki tonight.”
Renji grunted. “Still, he attacked all of us, his friends, and murdered Rukia,” he croaked, appearing deeply troubled.
“Actually, he didn’t attack me once,” Karin spoke up, finally having something to say. She wanted to believe Orihime and Ishida, if doing so would lessen Ichigo’s sins, but she knew that might only be wishful thinking. “Ichigo looked scary and I thought he would snap my neck, but…”
“He drew the line at hurting you,” Ishida finished, fighting off an urge to moan in pain; the conversation was taking a toll on him. “You didn’t see it, Renji, but Sado’s finishing punch only connected after Kurosaki refused to fire a Cero at Karin.”
“And that happened twice,” added Orihime. “Sado-san hit Kurosaki-kun twice because Karin-chan was here. If Kurosaki-kun had lost all of his humanity, he wouldn’t have hesitated to harm his sister and we’d never have won.”
Ashamed, Karin’s ears burned. Even if her presence contributed to the victory, she didn’t feel as though she did anything special.
The weapon in Renji’s hands wavered as the Shinigami’s lost his grip. “Maybe you’re right,” he admitted, but kept his sword pointed at Ichigo. “However! Something doesn’t make sense to me, Inoue.” His eyes narrowed, and Orihime recoiled. “Why didn’t you tell us this sooner?!”
Ishida and Karin glanced at her, askance. Having worked hard to wring the truth out of Orihime, Karin could relate to Renji’s anger.
Orihime sank to her knees. “I’ve wanted to for forever!” she confessed. “But nobody asked me for details—you just assumed Kurosaki-kun killed Rukia intentionally. And…and I didn’t correct you,” revealed Orihime “because I was afraid. What if Kurosaki-kun came back? What if we needed to fight him? Knowing he hadn’t meant to kill Rukia, I wasn’t confident I could confront him…and, as a result, my shield failed earlier when I needed it the most, when I tried to guard Karin-chan. I feared you, Sado-san, and Ishida-kun might become too weak to fight Kurosaki-kun, too, if I told you everything.” Orihime broke down further. “I didn’t know that Kurosaki-kun wouldn’t attack Karin-chan! I really believed he’d try and kill her and Yuzu-chan! I thought he’d lost himself after killing Rukia, the same as everyone else did…”
Karin and the others observed Orihime open her heart to them, and the rain poured. Ichigo, the target of Orihime’s former infatuation, did not hear her innermost feelings yet again. Renji’s sword was still ready to chop off Ichigo’s head in an instant.
“Still, I despised myself for concealing the truth,” Orihime continued, “and I felt worse every day for doing so. I thought I was betraying Kurosaki-kun and everyone by not being honest. It was easy to keep it a secret from you, Renji, and Sado-san, because you two were never around. But with Ishida-kun…” Orihime was clearly avoiding Ishida’s gaze. “I was with him almost all the time and I wanted to tell him—and I would have…but then…I…he…”
“That’s enough, Inoue-san, we understand!” Ishida interrupted, and Orihime looked at him gratefully. “Renji, you idiot,” he said flatly, “haven’t you realized that she’s not making this up?”
The ragged Shinigami’s face was like a stone, but he’d obviously been shaken. Conversely, Karin made up her mind. I’m going to trust in Ichigo and convince Renji to do the same. It would be another battle of wills between them—which meant Karin could lose.
Losing to the Shinigami was not an option, though. “You’re making a mistake, Renji,” Karin remonstrated. “I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said, but…Ichigo didn’t kill anyone tonight that I know of—he came here to protect me.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “Okay, yeah, he did a terrible job of it, and it was totally unnecessary, but doesn’t that mean something?”
Renji seemed weary when he met her gaze. “It doesn’t matter to me,” he replied. “Whatever Inoue says, it doesn’t change the fact that he killed Rukia.” He looked upwards, unconcerned when the rain splashed against his face. “She still needs to be avenged, no matter what.”
Karin stared at him, fixedly and asked, “Why?”
“Why? Why?!” Renji barked. “I swore to my soul that I’d get retribution for her!”
“Yeah but, I mean, would she really want you to kill Ichigo for her sake?” Karin shot back. “Don’t you think she she’d forgive my brother, if she knew the truth?” She took a deep breath. “Would she forgive you if you killed Ichigo now?”
Renji cringed visibly, and his scarred face contorted as a battle waged on inside him. He opened his mouth but couldn’t say anything. His grip on his blade slackened. Karin watched him, uncertain if she’d swayed Renji or pushed him over the edge. Her brother slept peacefully, while Ishida and Orihime kept quiet. Finally, the vengeful Shinigami clasped his fingers around the handle of his Zanpakutou and came to a decision.
With a strangled howl, Renji threw aside his sword. It clattered loudly against the pavement.
Karin groaned in relief and slid to the ground, unaware she’d been holding her breath. Renji turned his back on them, and Orihime limped over to tend to Ishida. Chad stirred and seemed like he would finally wake up. As for Ichigo, he didn’t have any wounds, but the shards of his mask lay beside him. Fear welled in Karin against her well when she caught sight of the mask. The memories of this night would dwell within her for a long time yet.
However, after one of Dad’s haircuts, she suspected Ichigo would look a lot less like a blood-crazed Hollow and more like her dumbass brother again. Now that she thought about it, having Ichigo back wouldn’t fix most of her problems. Yuzu was still pissed off at her and her homework wouldn’t finish itself magically. Furthermore, hanging out with Ichigo would never be the same, not after a night like this. The rain pounded harder.
Rukia was gone and never coming back; Karin couldn’t forget that. She wouldn’t be saying goodbye to her any time soon.