Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. The fabulous Kubo Taito does.

Author's Notes: Ichigo/Rukia. Just recently started watching the anime. No, I haven't read the manga. If they are out of character, I apologize in advance but do realize THIS is fan fiction. Do you scream at the doushinji artist because they don't draw EXACTLY like the artist? No. Besides, this is all about getting creative.

And yes, this will be a multi-chaptered story. Yes, this will be I/R. Yes, it will have angst and romance as appropriate for a 15 year old boy and a death spirit. It's a shame. There should be more Bleach fanfics out there. But perhaps, those are just the feverish imaginings of this particular author.

Chapter 1: In the middle of the night

Rukia stared at the face of her cell phone, wishing it would ring and wishing it wouldn't. Because if it did ring, she'd bust out of her makeshift room, grab Ichigo and go do what they did best – kick big bad Hollow ass. But then, they would come back home, Ichigo would fall asleep and she would be left in the dark to ponder their latest mission.

If it didn't ring, she would simply stay inside this closet with her increasingly convoluted thoughts, awake and thinking. She didn't sleep. Not really. She hadn't slept in a long time. Technically, she passed out from sheer exhaustion or simply rested for a few hours, giving her powers a chance to recharge. Even in those periods of her resting, although she appeared asleep, she wasn't; her consciousness floating at the top of her being like a lily pad in a pond. She had not slumbered in lifetimes.

She didn't make noise. It wasn't in deference to Ichigo, who was sleeping just a few feet away from her. It was just her habit, her way of being after having done so for so many centuries. It had been drilled into her mercilessly until she could no longer remember a time when she had not flitted through life, barely a rustle, a ripple in the fabric of reality.

Even now, in her weakened state and this borrowed body, she was quiet. Too quiet for the young girl her visage showed to the mortal world. Too still. No unnecessary movements, no flutterings, none of the insecure nervousness that was part of being a young girl. In fact, she was no longer old, she was ageless. She may look like a young girl but she was neither. She was a Shinigami, a death dealer, a spirit that knew neither age nor sex nor gender. For her, time had stretched endlessly, her only mission to destroy the Hollows and send the lingering ghosts on their way to Soul Society. That was her duty, her task that spawned centuries, stretching limitless and merciless. Like Sisyphus, it never ended but unlike the Greek myth, she had accepted her fate. It wasn't difficult when she barely had contact with mortals and she could barely remember what it was to be mortal herself.

Until now.

Now, a mortal carried out her duties. Granted, he wasn't an ordinary mortal. No ordinary mortal could see ghosts or could have broken from the demon path incantation, even despite formidable spiritual energy. Ichigo was an aberration, an anomaly in her balanced black and white world.

It was her fault really. She should have been more careful, listened harder. But he startled her and then gotten under her skin. She hadn't been hit for a long time. The surprising factor that he could actually see her was another shock to her system. But she had lost her focus and her temper when he had called her an annoying brat. His gall simply annoyed her. She would have expected fear or stunned disbelief, not disrespect and taunting.

So she had to teach him a lesson. She forgot about the Hollow she had been seeking and wasted time with a mortal. An extraordinary mortal, but a mortal nonetheless.

When the Hollow attacked, she had been unprepared. More importantly, Ichigo had broken the Demon Path incantation and put himself in harm's way. In a desperate attempt to make up for her negligence, she had saved him but injured herself in the process.

And in a monumental gamble to save them all, she had offered to share her powers with him.

It had worked. And it had backfired on her. Ichigo managed to siphon most of her powers. The more she thought about it, it was a miracle she even survived. He could have just drained her completely of her powers, obliterating her existence.

That unleashed a chain reaction. Furious at the loss of her powers and Ichigo's refusal to honor her duties, she ripped his astral self from his body and forced him to honor them. She knew he wouldn't stand there and do nothing. He would care. But she had still forced him there, to make the right choice, placed him in a situation in which he would have to choose to do it.

She was angry at herself. Angry that she couldn't do her job. Angry that someone else had to. Angry that it was an untrained mortal, no matter if he took to it like fish take to water, that had to fulfill her duty. Angry that she made him do it. Angry that he did it. Angry that he never really listens to her. Angry that she is sending Ichigo so ill-prepared into so much danger.

Angry that it was her fault. He shouldn't have to do it. It was her job. She was supposed to protect people from the Hollows. Restore the balance so that life could go on undisturbed. Even his life, no matter if he could glimpse some of the struggle and the residue. It wasn't his place. It wasn't his battle. It wasn't his burden.

And she couldn't apologize. How do you say 'I'm sorry I fucked up your life'? You don't. Because you don't say shit like that.

She couldn't even say 'Your life is going to be a living hell until I get my powers back'? Because there was no timeline, no actual end in sight. Although this was surely a temporary arrangement, Rukia didn't know when it would all be over. So, she didn't speak about it. What was there to say? She knew what she had forced Ichigo to do. She knew the price that had to be paid for doing her duty. It seemed like she was mocking him for apologizing for knowing she'd put him through Hell and still doing it.

Because then, she hadn't thought twice about it. It needed to be done. So she did. If now she regretted it, it was merely the manner in which she did it. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Rukia consoled herself that eventually, she would get her powers back and leave Ichigo in peace. She would be out of his life and he could go on and try to lead a relatively normal human life. She would give back what she had taken from him: his sister's clothes, his closet, his room, his privacy, his independence, his life.

She would give it all back. And walk away. She would be back to being a Shinigami and he would be back to being an extraordinary mortal.

Rukia wondered why she wasn't looking forward to that day. She would be absolved of all her guilt. She could let go of her anger then. She would leave this mortal world.

And she would never see Ichigo again.

Author's Notes: Comments, reviews and suggestions appreciated. Constructive criticism is appreciated, flames will be sacrificed to a dark spirit and I will send a Hollow after you.

Next chapter: Ichigo's reflections on Rukia and his role as a temporary Shinigami