This began as a submission for deathberryprompts 'time', but it's like weeks late so I'm changing it to the 'A Perfect Ending prompt' for ichirukimonth!. So it's STILL freaking late.

So I changed some of the details of the canon situation/timeline to make the story neater and to have it all happen in one day. If that's distracting for you, sorry! I'm not altogether satisfied with this, but oh well, maybe I'll fix it later.

a thousand days, and then some

Summary: Ichigo relives the longest day of his life over and over and over and over and-

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If you knew that today was going to be your last day, how would you spend it?

Once you've spent so long fighting, scratching and clawing your way towards survival, how do you force yourself to accept what is inevitable?

When you look at someone you love and see them fade away, are you supposed to say goodbye or hold on to their phantom imprint?

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Do you give up?

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*BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP*

Ichigo rolled over to slam his hand down on the alarm clock, only to overshoot and tumble out of bed. He groaned as he tiredly got to his feet and sluggishly made his way to the bathroom.

He'd been feeling especially tired lately. His limbs felt heavy. He figured that he must be coming down with something.

He dressed for the day and did his best to suppress his yawns at the breakfast table. He looked around at his family, in similar drowsy states, only to notice that someone was missing.

"Where's Rukia?" he asked, lips pressed around the rim of his coffee mug.

"Dunno," Karin mumbled, "She was gone when we woke up."

"That's odd."

"Not really." He supposed Karin was right, the oddest thing about Rukia was not her sleeping habits.

Last night he hadn't been able to find her and Uryuu after they'd left him to perform the konso on the little spirit boy. Eventually he'd just given up and gone home. Who knew how late she'd been out? Maybe she'd never come home.

It wasn't that he was worried. If anything had happened, he'd know about it by now.

But there was a feeling, like a tickle in the back of his mind. There were things he was trying to tie together, but couldn't quite grasp what they were yet. Something wasn't right.

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It was the weekend, so he had nowhere else to be. He spent most of the morning strolling around Karakura, pretending that he wasn't looking for her.

Normally, something like this would be a moment's work. He never had much trouble finding Rukia. He could always feel her, at the edges of his awareness. She had been a constant in his life so long it would be odd if he couldn't. To feel nothing was to feel empty. Inside him bloomed fear, planted in paranoia. If he couldn't feel anything, he couldn't be sure that she wasn't gone.

It took him most of the day, but he found her by the river.

"Hey," he startled her so badly that she spun around. This time he could feel her spiritual pressure spike. Like a hard rap on a distant door. "What's your problem?"

"Problem? I don't have a problem."

"You've been kinda distant lately."

Wind whipped around them in a spiralling current. It freed her hair from her scarf and blew it around her face. She turned with the wind, finally facing him. She seemed to be gathering her courage.

"Ichigo, I-" she began, then closed her mouth, searching for words.

"Why is everything such a dramatic secret with you people."

"You people?!" She growled.

"Stop brooding. Doesn't suit you."

"I'm not brooding!"

"Sure you are, so just tell me what's got you so pissed off so I can fix it and be done with it."

"Ever think that maybe you're my problem? Fix that!"

"Rukia, I'm trying to be serious here. What the hell's the matter?" He wouldn't usually push, but this was a worry that had been gnawing at her (and therefore, him) for a while. Things were best brought out in the open.

"You really want to know?"

And for a moment, he paused. Did he?

Not really.

It wasn't that he wasn't interested. It wasn't that he didn't care. He could feel in his bones how important it was, whatever she wanted to say. Whatever was eating away at her was something that could not be taken back. He didn't know if he was ready for that. She looked up at him with glassy, earnest eyes and held her breath.

Ichigo sighed and ruffled Rukia's hair.

The spell broke and Rukia growled. Then she punched him in the gut.

"Come on, your sister made dinner."

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That night, Rukia sat across from Ichigo at the table. Karin and Dad took the ends and Yuzu crowded in beside Rukia. No one had usual seats, but Rukia usually chose to sit beside him. He didn't mind, it was easier to observe her this way.

She laughed and chatted with his family, telling jokes, pulling stupid faces for Yuzu's amusement and stealing the last of his favourite dumplings. Like she belonged. Like she'd always been there.

It had been quite some time since Rukia had to put on pretenses in the Kurosaki household. Her schoolgirl charms had faded with her patience, her lies along with them. It had to have been exhausting to even try and keep up an act like that all the time. With the disappearance of these falsehoods, surfaced a preoccupation on Karin's part.

Karin was smart. She could smell bullshit a mile off, just as well as Ichigo could. She didn't like liars and she was a good judge of character. He appreciated that even if she didn't necessarily like Rukia, at least she spoke to her.

Rukia looked up sharply. Their eyes met across the detritus of the family meal and Ichigo suddenly felt warm. His face burned and his lips twitched, wanting to smile but not knowing if it was the right thing to do. She was trying to tell him something without speaking. Her mouth pressed into a grim line but her eyes were shining with warmth… and something else. For a moment, he forgot that they had an audience, or rather, company. He wanted to say something to reassure her that everything would be okay. He wanted to tell her everything that had been piling up inside him since she returned from Soul Society with her powers restored.

She shook her head. Not here. Not now.

Later would come. The war was over, they had all the time in the world.

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The hollow was big and ugly. In fairness to the beast, all hollows were ugly, but Ichigo was feeling particularly resentful today.

Whatever he was coming down with, it was winding him. He couldn't even flash step anymore. And Rukia must have noticed because she took care of the Hollow in record time. "Perform the konso on the boy, I'll take care of the others," she instructed.

Ichigo sighed and redrew his sword, "Fine fine, I'll come find you when I'm done."

"No need," she assured him like she honestly believed he'd listen. Which was crazy.

She blurred out of sight.

"C'mere kid, you're gonna be okay."

When it was done, he tried to scour around with his senses but was having a lot of trouble. He couldn't even locate Rukia, and that was an energy signature as familiar as his own. It had literally been a part of him, once.

He spent an hour jogging around, looking. He would have given up and gone home if not for the primal roar that rattled him down to his spine.

Ichigo followed the sound to an empty city block in the financial district. He moved to step in but was intercepted by Rukia. "I've got this," she told him.

Unusual. They tended to take down even the weaker hollows together. No point in one of them doing all the work when one blow from each was sufficient.

"I can-"

"Ichigo, I said stay back!" the moment of distraction gave the hollow an opening to rake a claw through the air, swatting her down onto the pavement.

"Rukia!"

She was back on her feet in moments, but he was already calling upon a Getsuga Tenshou. The electric black current ripped through the air and into the beast, decimating it.

"No!" Rukia screamed.

"What-?" he couldn't understand what was the matter, why was she reacting this way? He attacked a hollow; this was normal, routine. The air was cold in his lungs and it burned. What's wrong? Dread settled between his shoulder blades with an uncomfortable twinge.

He glanced around, searching for an oncoming enemy, but there was no one around. Only Rukia, only him. And she was looking at him like the world was ending.

"What-?" his anxious questioning was cut off by the pain between his shoulders twisting. It radiated outward. Every part of him began to burn, down to the roots of his hair. "What's happening to me?" he grit through the pain.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I tried to stop it." Rukia's arms wound around him, holding him upright. Black spots clouded his vision.

And he knew, like a preternatural vision he could see what was about to happen. "We need to find my body."

She half carried and half dragged him ten blocks home.

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"About Ichigo's powers…" Uryuu had run alongside Rukia, and had run with her ruse to keep Ichigo occupied.

"The powers he regained using mod soul technology was only temporary. He can't even do a flashstep anymore."

"Then why are you still letting him fight?"

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Ichigo lay in bed, looking up at Rukia's tortured expression and wondered why the opposite of dying felt like this.

"You knew this was going to happen."

She hesitated before nodding.

"You lied to me!"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I…"

But he never got to hear her excuses. She began to fade away, before his very eyes. She realized this and cut herself off. The tortured expression returned, worse than before. "Ichigo, g-"

And then she was gone. Like a paused song. Or doors shutting. One moment she was above him, around him, her scent in the air, his name on her lips. The next, there was no trace of her.

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*BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP*

Ichigo rolled over to slam his hand down on the alarm clock, only to overshoot and tumble out of bed. He groaned as he tiredly got to his feet and sluggishly made his way to the bathroom.

He'd been feeling especially tired lately. His limbs felt heavy. He figured he must be coming down with something.

He dressed for the day and did his best to suppress his yawns at the breakfast table. He looked around at his family, in similar drowsy states, only to notice that someone was missing.

And then suddenly, like a jolt he remembered.

"Where's Rukia?" demanded Ichigo, with more force than necessary.

His family all looked at him oddly.

"Dunno," Karin mumbled, "She was gone when we woke up."

His heart began to race. She'd disappeared. She was gone.

None of it felt real.

He darted out the door, leaving his breakfast behind.

This time he went to the river right away. He found her sitting in exactly the same spot he'd found her in yesterday. She rested her chin on her knees, which were pulled to her chest. She stared at the water, unseeing.

"Hey," he said in greeting and relief.

"Hello."

"What was that all about yesterday?"

"Yesterday?" she glanced up at him in confusion.

"With the disappearing act."

"Oh… I guess I haven't been around much lately."

That's not what he meant. And her told her so. "I mean with the whole-"

Her expression was nonplussed.

"…Nevermind."

What the hell is going on?

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Ichigo relived the longest day of his life in a haze. He was slow on the uptake. Questions went unanswered after long stretches of silence, barbs went unreturned.

He spent the day staring at Rukia, shuddering through an awful sense of déjà vu. It was like his heart had become a countdown clock. Every beat brought him closer to an unfair inevitability.

But Ichigo Kurosaki had done the impossible before. Maybe this was hope, maybe this was a chance. Maybe the day was resetting because this wasn't what was supposed to happen. Maybe he was meant to change it.

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This couldn't be happening. He could change it. He could. He could.

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"Ichigo, I said stay back!"

It occurred to him that maybe he should listen. He knew exactly what was about to happen. He'd distract her, she'd get swiped down, he'd attack the beast and then his world would end. Or rather, fade.

He couldn't do it.

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*BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP*

Ichigo awoke and stared at the ceiling. He heard once that doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different outcome, was the definition of insanity. He always figured that was for people who weren't as stubborn as him, but maybe they were right.

He thought he could get out of this, like he had every other disaster in his life. He thought he could find away around it, find a way of keeping his powers.

But maybe he couldn't. Maybe… this was it.

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Sometimes he would fight, sometimes he'd pretend not to find her. Sometimes Rukia disappeared before his eyes. Sometimes the world faded into three dimensions when she wasn't even around to mark the change.

He didn't know which he hated more.

And nothing ever changed

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He didn't lose track exactly, but he thought it'd been twenty days, give or take a couple. Twenty days of trying to escape and he was frustrated. He was furious. Twenty days gives a man a lot to think about. It gives time for wounds to get infected and fester. It gives him time to work out what must have been going on, beyond the scope of his notice.

Rukia knew.

She fucking knew what was happening to him.

Together on a rooftop, they'd stared down at normal people skating around a rink, oblivious to the dangers of the world. All the while she was thinking he was about to become one of them.

"Nice isn't it? Ordinary people enjoying their ordinary lives."

Bullshit.

Looking back, he could see it all so clearly. Something had been going on and he'd let her get away with keeping it from him. She gave him no time to prepare. She didn't think it was worth telling him the truth.

This betrayal was more than he could take.

Rukia was his partner. He trusted her with everything, his life, his tragedies and his truths. She took advantage of that.

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On the bank of the river, two figures stood opposite each other in the golden light of late afternoon. The slope of the grass ensured that they were hidden from passersby, but the rising volume of their voices made them anything but inconspicuous.

"How could you lie to me like that?!" Ichigo raged, gesticulating wildly.

Not one to be intimidated, Rukia crossed her arms over her chest and shouted back, "It was the right thing to do!"

"How the hell am I supposed to trust you ever again?"

"Well, that won't be a problem considering that soon you'll never have to see me again at all!"

If he looked like she had just slapped him, it was because it certainly felt like it.

This wasn't new knowledge, but to have her say it, to get that glimpse of the future…

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It was worse.

Yelling had always been a coping mechanism between them, a method of open communication for two very difficult people. But being angry, spewing that venom in her face, it felt poisonous.

In their entire acquaintance, when had Rukia ever not prioritized him? He couldn't think of a single betrayal, big or small.

What a way to say goodbye.

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What did he have to do? He wondered.

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He found her by the river, like he did every day.

This time he sat by her side and watched the current carry ducks downstream. He decided to enjoy the quiet. A hundred times he'd lived this day, but he still relished the comfortable silences between them.

Gently, he held her hand and kept his gaze averted.

He could feel her eyes on him and soon heard a sigh. "I know, I've been distant lately."

"You have something you want to talk to me about," he didn't mean it as a question, but she took it that way.

"I think you can feel it."

He couldn't before, but that had changed. He told her so.

"You're going to lose your powers." Somehow hearing it from her lips was worse than all the knowing a hundred days in limbo could offer.

"There's got to be a way to stop it. There has to." The desperation in his eyes was mirrored in her face as she cried. She hardly ever cried.

"I'm so sorry."

"There has to."

His arms were full of Rukia, but for all the strength he wanted to lend her, without her he thought he might crumble.

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"Ichigo, I said stay back!"

"Sounds good, let me know if you need me."

I give up.

Maybe he was just meant to accept that he didn't have to save everyone all the time. Maybe if he just let Rukia deal with it he would keep his powers a little longer, she'd stay. It wasn't that strong a hollow, she'd take it down easily without him. It went against the grain to leave his partner to the dirty work but nothing else had worked.

She seemed surprised by his acceptance. Worry coloured her features.

In a show of defiant complacency he turned his back on the fight and began to walk away. What did one day matter?

"Ichigo look out!"

This was why he should never do dramatic exits, he realized. He was very bad at them.

In a flash, Rukia stood between him and the hollow. He hadn't seen what happened, but there were four rending tears in her torso, from shoulder to hip. "Fool," she gasped, before falling to her knees.

Ichigo saw red.

The Getsuga Tenshou he unleashed was overkill and he knew it, but he couldn't help himself.

With the hollow gone, he came back to reality to come to grips with what he'd done.

Rukia's hands clutched at her chest, trying to keep the ripped flesh together, to stem the blood pouring from her wounds. She was taking deep, ragged breaths, trying not to hyperventilate.

Ichigo flew to her side and gathered her up in his arms. "Rukia, fuck, Rukia. This is all my fault."

"I've had worse," she joked.

"I'm calling Inoue," he assured her, fumbling in his shihakusho for his phone. His heart seemed to slow, only beating in time with the rings, with hope that help was coming.

Rukia reached up to cup his cheek with cold fingers. "Ichigo…" He grabbed that hand and held it to his face, willing it warmer with his own.

He could feel her fading.

Not from the world, but from his sight. "No no, not now!"

Rukia seemed to understand. "Hey, don't look so sad. Even if you can't see me, I can see you."

"Like from heaven? WHAT THE FUCK?!"

She laughed, which turned into a cough. The hand on his face started to glow. "No, you fool." She pressed her own hand over her heart and the skin began to knit back together. "I won't go until I'm ready."

She gave him hope. It made him dizzy with relief.

Rukia's smile was the last of her that he could see. His name, the last word on her lips. For a while after he could no longer see her, he could still feel her in his arms, until that sensation too, was gone.

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*BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP*

Ichigo lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. The blare of his alarm crashed over him like a cresting wave. He let himself be swept up in its anxious noise. He let the din eclipse every other thought.

He couldn't move.

The alarm eventually turned itself off, but it was quickly replaced by unreturned calls and texts.

Yuzu came upstairs around noon to worriedly feel his forehead, but soon retreated from his blank stare.

Shortly before midnight Rukia took up a vigil by his bedside. They quietly stewed in each other's presence until morning.

Then Ichigo's eyes closed for only a moment.

*BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP*

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The next day he thrashed, like a shark caught in a net. He had to move forward. To stop was to die. Going back was impossible.

He burned with faith that he could make this better. He could reshape the world with sheer determination. He'd done it before. Everything he'd ever been and done and seen had led to this. So it couldn't end here.

He fought harder, renewed in his righteous wish to continue to be.

What was the point of all this? What was the point of this day, if not to change things? Why was he reliving what was already the longest day of his life?

This was not an ending worth all that. A perfect ending was no ending at all.

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And he finally realized what she had done.

All that time wasted being angry.

By protecting him and keeping him from fighting, she gave him this day. She gave him yesterday. She staved off reality for just a little while longer so that he could do what he did best. He saved someone. He helped a soul. She let him fight. She let him have his pride. She gave him all the time she could.

If all he had was one more day, then he would give it to her.

A thousand days ago, he and Rukia had stood together at sunset, on a roof overlooking a skating rink. As she watched families, friends and lovers twirl and glide around each other, he watched her. She had smiled like she was at peace.

He could give her that.

Just once.

One perfect day.

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But before that. He needed to do one selfish thing.

He had one thing to say before it all ended.

He'd stood in this spot most of the day. Most of the days. By the river, he contemplated everything that had passed between them here. They'd been evasive, teasing, screamed and yelled, cried, fought for and with each other, quiet, serene. There was one thing they'd never been and would never be.

Rukia looked out at the river to avoid meeting his eyes, as she often did.

Ichigo took her hand.

He wondered if when the day was over, it will have never happened.

She whirled around in sharp surprise and gaped at him. She must have seen something in his face, something only she could have seen, for she reached her hand up and cupped his cheek. She had never touched him like his.

Her thumb stroked back and forth over a beauty mark below his eye. Her lips pressed together in pain, her dimples stood out differently when she frowned than when she smiled.

"I need to tell you something," he said, laying his other palm over her hand.

"Okay," she acquiesced in a breathy murmur.

"I love you." Simple as that.

Rukia began to cry. "I love you too."

For the first time in his life, Ichigo kissed a girl.

The girl.

It took all his strength not to live another thousand days exactly like this one.

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*BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP*

Ichigo rolled over to slam his hand down on the alarm clock. He practically jumped out of bed. Then he washed and dressed for the day, taking more care than usual with his hair.

He grabbed a piece of toast on his way out, made excuses to his family and ran directly for the spot where Rukia had been standing for the past thousand and more days.

"Rukia, there you are!" It didn't matter that there was no surprise, that he'd known where to find her for what amounted to years by now. Every time he saw her, he felt the same pull. "You look spaced out, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, nothing much…" how could he ever have missed that expression on her face?

"Oh really," he said, skeptically. "You've been weird."

"No, I haven't."

"Then why aren't you looking at me?" She had no choice then, but to try. And because of that, he could see it all. "You've been distant lately."

She looked away.

"There's something you want to tell me isn't there?"

"Yeah."

But today wasn't about that.

"You don't have to tell it to me now."

That set her off. "What is with you?! First you want me to tell you, then you don't. Make up your damn mind, you know, if you can find it."

Any reservations or doubts he had about it all, melted with her rant. Her frustration made his heart full. How could he ever have missed this? Her pain. Looking at her now, she was so transparent.

"Listen, we've known each other a long time, so by now I think I can pretty much guess what you're thinking."

She deflated, "Fine, whatever," That sly smile playing across her lips.

"Come on, everyone's waiting for us."

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He led her to the skating rink they'd watched over so long ago: yesterday. They're discussed the beauty of ordinary people living ordinary lives. At the time, Ichigo had thought she'd been looking towards their future. Later, he bitterly supposed she'd been thinking only of him and what was to come. Now, he just wanted to give her that ordinary, perfect day.

Orihime waved them over, Tatsuki grinning at her side. Chad and Uryuu flanked them, Keigo and Mizuiro hanging off to the side. They all wore skates.

"What are we doing here?" He swore, you'd think no one had ever done anything nice for her before, the way she always acted.

"I thought… by the way you were looking at this place yesterday, that you wanted to do some ice skating." Maybe this wasn't the right choice.

She blinked at him, "you sap."

"Hey!"

"Don't worry about it," she took his hand.

"Let's go."

For someone whose soul was an icescape, who commanded the winter and danced in the snow, Rukia was not a comfortable skater. He didn't mind. It gave him a chance to hold her, without it looking strange.

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Fireworks went up in beautiful bursts of colour and all Ichigo could think of was serendipity. Chad explained about a new theme park opening or something, but he had to chock it up to fate.

Rukia's face lit up in pinks and purples, greens and blues. She took his hand in hers, of her own volition, and Ichigo hoped the technicolor show hid the more natural reddening of his cheeks.

"This is nice," she said. "I can't believe you thought of it."

"Tch, was that supposed to be a compliment?" Still the same Rukia then.

He felt completely different, but in a thousand days, she remained unchanged. It made him happy to know that.

Ichigo looked to the darkened sky as the lightshow ended and sighed, knowing his time was almost up.

"Rukia, there's something I've been meaning to ask you. Back there, when I went full hollow and lost control of myself… how did you find me?" The question had burned within him. He couldn't have picked his own spiritual signature out of a line up, how in the world had she?

There were many questions that Ichigo had asked over the course of this ordeal. Her answers were sometimes vague, sometimes overly detailed and required illustrations, but he was always glad to know. No matter how many times he relived this day, there would never be enough time to ask her everything.

"Couldn't say."

"Can't or won't?" he griped.

"I mean, it's hard to say." Her smile was secret. He really could spend forever and never learn everything he wanted to know about her.

Maybe, it didn't matter. Maybe he should trust that she'd always be able to get to him.

They walked on.

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The hollow arrived, as it always did.

This time, Rukia made her token protests but could not justify her fears without telling him what would happen.

She followed.

Ichigo had no real plan going into this fight. No thought but win.

"Come on!" Rukia yanked him out of the way of the hollow's stomping feet and down the block.

The hollow roared and lunged for them again.

"Sorry, I'm getting in your way." He gasped, out of breath.

A look stole over Rukia's face, before it erupted in fury. "Stop that! You are not in my way." She grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and lifted him off his knees, "If you get hurt, then I'll help you. If you can't fight then I'll fight in your place. If you're in pain then I'll help you to deal with your pain. After all, we're friends…right?"

When he set out to do this, to give her today, he had not bargained for this. These vows of hers were more than he could have ever hoped for. They were so much more than friends, but that was as good a moniker as any, he supposed.

"Yeah, we are."

He stumbled and she caught him.

"Rukia, can you take out that thing's legs?"

That's the look. The look from that first night. The one he fell in love with. "Sure."

And they go to work.

This has always been what they do best: working together, acting as sword and shield in turn. Despite the burn in his lungs and the chill in the air from her dance, this part was easy.

"This is my last one." He charged his attack and the blue light struck the hollow, ridding the world of its miasmic presence.

She caught him before he hit the ground. "Honestly, you're always pushing yourself way too hard."

"Well, like you said before, I'll always be me… so don't go hiding stuff that you have to say to me, alright?"

Rukia stooped and helped him lay down on the ground.

"I'm really sorry for dragging you into my personal mess."

Rukia rolled her eyes, "Don't say that. Don't ever say that."

"We're friends," he grit out, feeling everything and nothing like it. "Right?"

"I know."

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.

"…no matter what happens, nothing will change who we are."

.

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Ichigo woke up without an alarm.

He shot up in bed and looked around, noticing his friends all gathered around him. Rukia, a shadow in their midst, still in her shihakushou.

"Am I home?" he demanded, clutching his chest as if he could feel his chain of fate. "Are my powers-?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'm not surprised. I saw this coming..." then he surprised them all. "Can I go outside?"

On the street he reached out to the world, fumbling around in the dark of the morning. The sun beat down on him, but he'd never been more blind. Rukia was behind him, but he wouldn't have known it. He couldn't feel her anymore.

He couldn't feel anything.

But it was a new day.

And tomorrow another one would come.

"This is goodbye Ichigo."

"It looks that way."

"Hey, there's no use looking so sad. Even if you won't be able to see me anymore, I'll still be keeping a close eye on you."

"That's just great, you spying on me! And just so you know: I'm not sad okay?"

He could never be made ready for this: to be made dumb and blind, to be numb to the world her knew, to be empty of her… but the pain was dull, stretched out over a thousand yesterdays and tempered with the knowledge that it could never have gone any other way. For the first time, Ichigo drew comfort from his helplessness.

"Goodbye Rukia."