I awoke to the sound of hushed voices and hasty footsteps. Sitting up in my bed I rubbed my eyes tiredly and grunted. I climbed out of bed, still half-asleep, and headed for my bedroom door.
"Is she going to be alright?" I heard a voice and stopped.
"She just needs a little rest," a voice that I recognised as Ulquiorra's said calmly. "Don't tell anyone about this. We don't want other people to worry."
I shouldn't poke my nose into this. Whatever happened to her doesn't have anything to do with me now.
"What's wrong with her?" I immediately opened the door and asked and then mentally scolded myself.
"Ichigo-san, good morning," Ulquiorra bowed slightly.
"Answer me," I demanded. "What have you been doing? Why haven't you been looking after her?"
"She just has a fever. She'll be alright after a rest. And I request that you stop glaring at me so murderously."
I gritted my teeth and looked away, "I'm sorry."
"It's fine. I know you're worried," Ulquiorra said. "Do you want to see her?"
I hesitated, "But…"
"She's sleeping right now," Ulquiorra opened the door to Rukia's bedroom.
I looked at him for a while more before slowly stepping into her room. I haven't been in her room for so long but it still felt oddly familiar. I found myself walking up to her bed and I reached out without thinking. Her cheek was soft like how I remembered it. It occurred to me that it's barely been a fortnight since we broke up but it felt like years since the last time I was able to touch her like this.
So, why did the chief of security of the place allow his boss' ex-boyfriend into her room while she was unconscious, vulnerable and sick?
It started happened soon after we moved here. Whenever we had a fight, big or small, and Rukia left the apartment building in a fuming mess, Ulquiorra would show up a few minutes later. Now, we don't really have any deep and meaningful conversations or anything but he would try to explain the reasons behind her anger. I didn't understand why he went to such extents for me and Rukia and every time I asked him, he would just reply with, "It's hell for the subordinates when the boss is unhappy." With that vague answer, I don't think I'll ever understand his intentions.
When I told him I wanted to help Rukia and asked him to teach me how to fight, he agreed. We had lessons every week, even though Rukia might find out and cause Ulquiorra to get into trouble.
But, despite everything, that stupid conversation we had at the hospital ruined everything. How in the world did Rukia manage to twist my words into this? But in a sense, it really was for the better… She's now able to help Kings without worrying about me. And I… well I just tried to stay under the radar. From Ulquiorra's reports, she is still worried about me meeting up with Rangiku. But, honestly, she isn't a bad person at all…
I felt a hand tugging my sleeve and looked down.
What should I do? I took a hesitant step back.
I looked at the door but Ulquiorra had disappeared. Then I stared at her hand that was on top of my own. Her hand felt really hot because of her fever.
"Carrot," Rukia smiled at me and I widened my eyes. She watched me with big, innocent eyes and gave me another big smile.
W… What? Was this Rukia? Man, she's sure changed a lot in the past 2 weeks…
"Uh… hey… How are you feeling?" I smiled stiffly back at her.
"I'm feeling fine," she nodded while still smiling.
It's like she's catching up on all those times when she doesn't smile…
"You hungry? I'll go make you some porridge," I stood up hastily.
"No, don't go," she sat up, grabbed my arm and pulled with so much strength that I fell on her bed, causing the wound on my shoulder to throb.
"What are you doing?" I sighed and sat up. Luckily, the pain subsided quickly. The wound had mostly closed up, after all.
"Don't… hate me…"
"No, I'll never hate you," I grasped her hand tightly. "I'm so sorry for making you go through all this pain." All this… all this was caused by me. If I hadn't made that request in the first place. I wanted to tell her everything but I barely stopped myself. Now wasn't the time, I convinced myself. If I tell her now, everything really will be ruined for good.
"Ichigo did nothing wrong," she mumbled. "It is my fault. If I didn't become your girlfriend…"
"Rukia," I pulled her away gently so I could see her face. "I love everything about you – from your rare smiles to your inhuman martial art skills. I don't regret going out with you. If there is one thing that I regret it's breaking up with you…"
"Ichigo… I miss you," the words caused my chest to ache. "I made myself so busy with schoolwork and managing Kings but nothing works… Every time I see you, I have to force myself to look away. I hate every second of it but… I don't want you to get hurt anymore. I'm so scared that you might get killed because of me one day. I don't want you to die."
"Idiot Usagi-Kaichou," I sighed. "I won't die that easily."
She shook her head again, "I already decided to let you be happy with someone else rather than stay with me and get killed…" Her eyes sharpened and she seemed to return to her usual self, "I'm not worth you risking your life for, Ichigo. Someone like me doesn't deserve such someone like you."
"What do you mean?" A voice at the back of my head told me I should let Rukia rest but I missed talking to her. Plus, she would never tell me these things once she was back to her right mind.
"I've killed so many people," She avoided my gaze. "You wouldn't want a murderer like me as your girlfriend."
"I told you before. I don't mind. You had no choice. You were just doing what's best for the gang."
"I've killed more people than you have met, Ichigo," she whispered. "I've taken away the happiness of so many people I don't deserve to feel happy."
Everyone calls her cold-hearted, but she is always heavily burdened by these feelings. No one escapes the guilt of taking another's life no matter how calm they look on the outside.
Even now when I think of the gun pressed against me my hands start to shake. The feeling of not knowing whether you'll be able get out of there alive. The feeling of helplessness when you're at the mercy of your enemy… That night made me realise just how vulnerable humans are.
For how long have you faced these emotions alone?
"Idiot, don't try to shoulder everything yourself," I scolded her. "If you're so troubled by it then… when I become a doctor, I'll save the same number of people you have killed."
"You'll be working for your whole life," she retorted with a humourless laugh.
"I don't mind as long as you'll let me stay beside you."
"You…" her sentence was interrupted with a big yawn.
"Go to sleep, Rukia. You need to rest," I helped her lay back down and brushed her hair out of her face.
"Stay with me," she mumbled sleepily. Despite her fatigue, her grip on my hand was tight as if I would disappear if she let go.
"I will, don't worry," I watched her eyes closed slowly. Her breathing evened and I tried to remove my hand.
"You know," she said and I jumped. Her eyes were opened again and she was staring at the ceiling. "I keep having the same nightmare recently."
"Really? What is it about?" I leaned forward in interest. Were these the nightmares that always caused her to wake up screaming in the middle of the night?
She looked at me with sad eyes, touched my cheek and said in a small voice, "Your death."
Her words sent a chill running down my spine.
"You'd always be hurt here," she pointed at my leg, my chest, my arm, my neck and finally my temple. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. "No matter how many times I performed CPR you would always stop breathing. The ambulance would come too late and… and…"
"Shh, it's ok," I put my hand over her eyes gently. "It won't happen, I promise. Just go to sleep, I'll keep the nightmares away."
She nodded obediently. I withdrew my hands from her eyes and held her hand gently. This time, she did fall asleep. I watched her chest rise and fall rhythmically. Her cheeks were still stained with tears and I wiped them away.
I don't want her to end up like me, Rukia's brother had said.
He suddenly appeared at our apartment when Rukia was out one day and was here for the whole afternoon. Now that I thought about it, how did he, who was always such a busy man, manage to find the time to come talk to me for such a long time?
The Kuchiki's really do have a hard time expressing their emotions and when they did, it was always in weird ways… I sighed and rubbed my face.
It was obvious Byakuya had heard about our breakup and it was embarrassing as hell to have to talk to your ex-girlfriend's older brother about it but I'm glad he did come to talk to me.
He had the saddest eyes when he talked about his late wife. It reminded me of my father around the time when my mother died. Despite my father's efforts he wasn't able to do anything and ended up watching her die in the operating theatre.
I told Rukia that sometimes, just protecting the people you love isn't enough and now I can't shake off the feeling that I caused you two to become like this.
He seemed genuinely worried about his sister that I couldn't feel any anger toward him for causing this.
Despite my low opinion of you I know how much you mean to Rukia. That was why I was also surprised when I heard the news. For her to let go of you, someone who she treasured so much…no- it was because she decided to push you away that I was able to see her true feelings. So don't doubt her feelings for you.
It was the first time I had seen Byakuya speak so much! What was with these Kuchiki family members who bottle everything up until the last moment? Though I was a bit bothered by his 'low opinion' comment, I was somehow reassured by him. There was another thing that I remembered most clearly about our conversation.
It never occurred to Rukia that, when I told her that protection wasn't enough, I wanted her to stop being so protective of you. I had hoped she would treat you like any other Kings' member and train you so much you could ward off intruders in your sleep. But I guess I had failed to understand her wish for you to have as little contact with this side of society as possible. Please think about this carefully. If you truly want to stay beside her and not worry her, become stronger. I know she doesn't want you to dirty your hands so maybe you find a different way to earn your right to be beside her. It is not my job to persuade her so think about it carefully. If you are able to change her mind about this, then things will go much smoother for you two.
"Wait for me, Rukia," I murmured. "I will earn your trust- that I can stay with you and not get killed. I will become stronger so that you won't worry about me. Wait for me… because you're so much more important to me than you realise."
"It's no use telling her that now," Ulquiorra said.
"You," my spluttered and my cheeks coloured. "How long were you there for?"
"How is she meant to hear your words if she's asleep," he sighed as if he was talking to an idiot. "Oh, and I forgot to tell you…She doesn't remember the things she does and says while having a fever."
"You," my jaw dropped. "Why didn't you tell me earlier damn it?!"
I glared at him as he was obviously fighting the urge to smirk.
"Whatever," I sighed in defeat. "It was probably better that she doesn't remember this. It's too embarrassing."
He looked at me in amusement, making me want punch him the face, before turning around, "Kana is here to take care of Rukia-sama so come with me. I'm going to teach you some other fighting techniques.
"OK." I kissed my sleeping beauty's forehead gently, "I love you, Usagi-Kaichou, and get well soon. I'll prove that I deserve that spot next to you, wait for me."
Kana was standing outside of Rukia's room and she bowed when she saw me, "Hello."
"Hi," I replied and returned her bow. "Please take good care of Rukia."
She smiled and nodded, "I will. Don't worry."
"Please hurry up," Ulquiorra said. "We don't have a lot of time and about that task I assigned-"
"Yeah, I know," I said quickly to cut him off. "You haven't told Rukia about this, right?"
He looked at me sceptically, "Do I look like a person who breaks promises?"
"No," I shook my head. "Thank you."
"You don't need to thank me," he shook his head. "I told you before. I'm only doing this because it's hell for the subordinates when the boss is unhappy."
I lost count as to how many times he's said that line to me already but I only just realised something very crucial.
Ulquiorra never calls Rukia 'boss'…
He calls Byakuya that.Good grief…