He discovered she had a way with birds. She would always hum to herself, furtively, but wistfully. Always the same tune; a heartbreaking melody of wilting breaths and tragic sighs. And with a flutter of wings and a sprinkle of feathers, a bird would always fly down to her, giving her looks of nearly human sympathy. Ichigo would always remain unsurprised.
She was humming again. Childishly, with a vacant look out the window. Ichigo didn't say a word about how he needed to sleep soon or how she was being annoying with her stupid song. He only curtly mentioned the chill of the room and how disobedient children would catch colds if they didn't put on jackets at night.
"Does it bother you?"
"Just close the window, you dumbass."
She moved with immense slowness, letting the last notes trail off into the dark black sky, when something barreled into her.
A disparaging blackbird lifted its crumpled wing in one weak movement.
(something about how pitiful it looked, or how she had suddenly stopped humming, stirred something deep, deep, in his heart)
Rukia insisted on keeping it. "Just until it got better", she said, holding it tenderly and giving it a look of utmost affection and love. Ichigo had only shrugged and scrounged for a cage for her to put it in. She was its loving caretaker for weeks, hardly away from its side and always, always, encouraging it to fly again.
The day that it was decided that the wing was fully functional again, Rukia was desolate.
"It's just a bird."
"I know. I know, it doesn't mean anything to me, really."
Rukia was a terrible liar.
With a despairing look, she unlocked the cage and brought the bird to the windowsill. She gave it a little shove. After flapping reluctantly a few times, it took off into the sky, not looking back. Ichigo could feel something breaking.
(and he knew, he knew, that this was something very important, but he couldn't exactly figure out why)
"Oi, you're crying."
"I'm not, I'm not. I think there's dust got in my eye…"
Ichigo could always see through Rukia as if she were as clear as glass.
Weeks later, he found this incident something that he could never seem to forget.