A/N: I found this the hardest chapter to write so far, but it is also my favourite. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing. Also again, thank you to everyone who is watching this story, don't forget to leave me a comment :)
[chapter 1] [chapter 2] [chapter 3] [chapter 4]
Your Fractured Life
Race Against Myself – [Chapter 3]
Ichigo is not surprised, that when he awakens the next morning, Urahara is hovering above him with that tall guy he never bothered to learn the name of. Ichigo supposes he should, since it was tall guy who helped Orihime heal him after all.
"Good morning, Ichigo. If you are wondering where Rukia is, she has gone to the soul Society," Urahara says.
Ichigo sits up, although it pains him and since awakening, it is the first time he noticed the lack of Rukia's spirit energy.
"She would have said goodbye to you, but, a situation arose which called for her immediate return to investigate."
"And by situation… you mean me, right?" Ichigo asks, frowning.
Urahara smiles sadly, and when Ichigo thinks about it, it is the first time he has seen the ex-soul reaper show any sign of unhappiness.
"That would be correct, Ichigo. You see, we ran some tests on you whilst you were unconscious. To be honest, we are all very surprised that Orihime's healing powers or our own medical treatment did not work on you and…" Urahara stops, glancing down at his wooden sandals.
"It's fatal, right." Ichigo says, rather than questioning. His voice does not falter although his heart is beating loudly in his ears. He swallows past the heavy lump in his throat as Urahara's eyes meet his own.
"I'm afraid… you may only have another week to live."
Ichigo nods, the persistent ringing in his ears getting louder and louder. He grips the side of his head, willing the pain to go away.
"Okay," he mutters, before rolling over onto his side, burying his head into the pillow to numb the pain in his aching head.
Urahara does not look away from the broken boy. His frown deepens, eyes creasing, and he takes of his hat off as he kneels beside Ichigo. "I truly am sorry, Ichigo," he says quietly, unsure if he should reach out a hand to touch him or not. "We are working on a cure, but the time we have to create one is…limited." He stops, and stands up, placing his hat back atop his head. "Rukia is searching for a cure to. We won't give up on you, Ichigo."
"Thanks." Ichigo says, the pain slowly ebbing away. Instead he feels numb, as if he is not in his own body.
He wishes that was true.
"This can't be real," he murmurs, so quietly no one else in the room hears, nor do they see how Ichigo's eyes are wet around the edge. He does not cry, nor does he feel angry or sad. He is empty.
Ichigo stares dejectedly, fixated on the dark ceiling of the empty room. He is alone, at least no one else has entered the room since he was told he may die, and he is thankful, for when his friends are around, he is bitterly reminded how weak he has become. He does not want to see them, knowing it will hurt too much, and he will always be wondering if this will be the last time he can.
Ichigo turns, lying on his front, the palms of his hands falling uselessly over the edges of the small bed.
'Because I am weak, Rukia and Renji were put in danger. And they are all going to continually be in danger now, because I can't even look after myself. I have fallen so far and I know there is so much more I could give, and, yet I… I am going to… die.
But, all I feel now… is guilt.'
Ichigo swallows around the tightness building in his throat. He wants to cry, to scream, to shout and fight. Troublesome thoughts infect his mind. He tries to sleep, to numb the pain, but he is unable to do so and instead he waits. The darkness consumes him when he closes his eyes. Ichigo wonders if this is what it will be like, if he will just blink and never open his eyes again.
He hears a click and he is suddenly aware of the room being surrounded by a bright light.
"Urahara told me…" A pause, and then, a quiet voice continues, "I'm so sorry, Ichigo."
Ichigo does not turn over to face the person belonging to the voice. He feels a warm hand gripping his bare arm, rough and soft, tender yet strong. His skin immediately warms, tingling under the surface of his cold body, gentle fingers caressing him.
"Renji," sighs Ichigo. He rolls onto his back, not wanting to see the sympathetic look of the Soul Reaper beside him. Ichigo's eyes are set into a deep frown. "Do you think sorry will make me be all right, that it will turn back time and stop me from dying?"
There is an awkward pause with only Ichigo's heavy, wheezing, pants, filling the silence.
Ichigo lifts his eyes to meet those belonging to Renji, eyes which are deep and overwhelming. It is not sympathy that he sees in amber eyes, but a shimmer of hope. Without responding, Renji leans in closer. Ichigo is unsure if it is the illness which is causing him to be lightheaded, or, if it is the way Renji's hot breath is tickling his dry mouth.
"Renji?" Ichigo tries to murmur the name out of confusion, but the sound is lost when lips are pressed against lips, demanding, yet soft and gentle. The kiss is awkward, with both soul reapers unmoving, frozen and unsure, but they are aware of how their breath quickens and how their hearts are racing out of control. Renji's mouth feels enticingly warm and wet against his own, and for one bitter sweet moment, Ichigo is able to get lost in the sensation of utter warmth and desire.
Ichigo pulls his mouth away abruptly, and turning angry eyes towards Renji, his hands fisting into a tight ball, he tries to gain back whatever little pride he had left.
"Did you do that because you are sorry for me?" Ichigo spits furiously and ashamed.
"You are a fool, Ichigo." Renji whispers.
Firmly, Renji presses his lips back against Ichigo's. This kiss is more forceful than the last, and when Ichigo feels a hot tongue run along the length of his bottom lip, he sighs, allowing entrance. Their lips move and tongues search.
Ichigo does not want to pull away this time, because in this moment, he is able to forget everything. He feels lost, but for once he doesn't mind, for he is lost in Renji's kiss, in his warmth, in his arms, and it takes the pain away, if only for a little while.