Disclaimer: I make no claim to the series, ideas, or characters of Bleach. All quotes used have been give proper credit to the speakers.

Author's Notes: This is my first attempt at writing a Bleach fanfic. I don't really know as much about Bleach as most fans do, but I'll give it a try anyway. I doubt this'll happen, but it's my take on an ending to the Soul Society saga. I few facts may be wrong, and the characters are probably doomed to be somewhat OOC. There could be spoilers up to current translations of the manga. Anyway, let me know what you think. I appreciate anyone who takes their precious time to read my story, and I appreciate reviews even more. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy.


Dreams of Loneliness

By Adam Lakewood


I always knew that looking back at my tears would make me laugh, but I never thought that looking back at my laughter would make me cry.


-Cat Stevens


Rukia watched on helplessly as her brother fell for the last time.

The long, black, slender blade of the Soul Cutter pierced all the way through this time, all the way up to the handguard of the sword. Falling for the last time, he didn't entirely fall. Her brother lived up to his reputation. Anything other than the fiercest of blows would have barely left their mark on him.

His opponent's sword had to have such a force behind it as to enter from the front of his chest, out his back, and not stop until it had pierced firmly into the ground behind Kuchiki Byakuya as if binding an unstoppable being of the Elements to the earth.

Certainly, Kurosaki Ichigo had befallen a god, if not a god, an equivalent of.

Everyone watched in complete astonishment and terror as the one they had all seen as one of the main support pillars of Soul Society froze in his spot as if time itself had stopped. It was impossible. The classical saying of the Soul Society had always been 'anything is possible.' Every last person living there had adapted this as their philosophy, and accepted this humble belief. However, this was impossible if nothing else was. No one was ready for the fact that Captain Kuchiki Byakuya of the 6th Division had fallen, and no one seemed to take any action to this of which could not be acknowledged.

Even his opponent couldn't believe what had just happened. He had sworn that he would protect Rukia at all costs even if it meant that he had to kill one of such power and stature. He swore this with a glint in his eye and a fire of passion and determination which burned brighter than anything ever perceivable. He knew he would not go back on his word and was more than willing to give his entire being in order to hold well to that promise.

Deep down, locked behind a strong wall, was his acknowledgement that he didn't have a chance.

All at once, that wall of stone which Kurosaki Ichigo had built around that self-doubting fact crumbled with a mighty explosion. This fact was brought to the surface perhaps stronger than it had ever been before. In all honesty, he never planned on living. He had only focused on Rukia living. With that determination in mind, he took up his sword against her brother, knowing deep down that he would be fighting a battle in vain. This was a fact that spoke louder to him than even the loudest of screams.

Now, he, like everyone else, did not know what to do.

He stared with the deepest disbelief at Kuchiki Byakuya.

The sword was driven home with everything he had, yet the Captain of the 6th Division did not move from his spot. He stood there, proud, clutching firmly to his Soul Cutter. He stood there, noble, with his head held high in an undying royalty. He stood there, strong, as if he were still alive. But, all life had drained from his body.

Ichigo could only stare at that which even he had not yet caught up to realize. How the sword had actually found its mark, he did not know. How he had done the impossible by defeating a god, he did not know. How he was still alive and breathing, he did not know. All he knew was one thing.

Rukia was now safe. All that he had put his entire world on hold for to accomplish was accomplished. He could rest now.

"Ichigo!" Rukia screamed as she wrenched her arm from Renji's grasp.

She ran to him with tears in her eyes as Ichigo collapsed, almost as if the ground had completely fallen out from below him. She did not know entirely who or what the tears were for, but she didn't care. She had no reason to hide her feelings anymore. She could cry tears of grief for her brother's death. She could cry tears of love for Ichigo if she wanted. She could shed tears of happiness at the unstated declaration of her reestablished rite to life. All of this was made possible because of Kurosaki Ichigo. The least she could do was be there to catch him when he fell. Now and forever.

He had nothing left in him to hold himself up. That much was apparent when she was knocked to the ground by his full weight when she tried to catch him, still expecting him to be able to at least support himself slightly. Rukia managed with great effort to pull herself out from under him. With even greater effort, she helped him sit up. She quickly made her way around to his front and kneeled down before him.

"Ichigo… are you…"

"I beat him…Rukia," he said weakly, almost inaudibly. If he hadn't said her name, she would have thought he was talking to the ground.

"Yes…Ichigo…" she spoke with hesitation, turning a sorrowful gaze to her brother who was still standing above them, casting his shadow over them almost as if acting as an obteneber even after his own death. "You did."

She was slightly surprised when he let out a quiet, short, weak chuckle. He managed to slowly raise his head slightly to reveal his face. He was obviously exhausted, certainly no more than half-aware of what was going on around him and centered entirely on what he knew to be the only important thing at the time. What he spoke of required no effort of consideration or contemplation; it was what he knew to be fact… natural.

"I… saved you. I promised… that I would… save…"

He wasn't able to finish what he had to say before an exhausted sleep overtook him, and his head lowered once again.

Rukia immediately threw herself to him and grabbed him around the waist. She rested her head against his chest as she let her tears of grief, appreciation, and happiness flow freely from her eyes and down her cheeks.

"Yes, Ichigo. You did. Thank you, Ichigo. Thank you so much."

The full meaning and realization of his words hit her immediately after that. She had prepared for her death and acknowledged it as not a possibility but as something she knew was definitely going to happen. She had given up hope on any possibility of being able to live. Now, Ichigo had saved her. Ichigo had given back that non-existent chance of living. With this sudden realization, a new perspective and joy of life flooded over her like an autumn's refreshing breeze. The tears of happiness ran like a river's rapid.

Everyone else standing around was the last to realize exactly what had happened. Whispers grew into murmurs, and murmurs grew into exclamations. As their philosophy had always prophesized, the impossible did happen. The impossible stood impaled to the ground as it loomed over the bringer of the possible. Truly, anything was possible. It was considered impossible that Kuchiki Rukia would have had any chance of living, but the bringer of the possible had seen to remedy that. Granted, she still was by no means safe, but no one dared to attempt to continue with previous actions for fear that the impossible may have once again been made possible by its bringer who was sitting unconscious on the floor. He seemed to pose no further threat to anyone. However, it was still possible that he could wake.

Instead, it seemed as if everyone had the sudden mind to see to the needs of the boy and previous Death God. Such a determination which brought about such a change to the entirety of Soul Society was something which definitely needed to linger.

Captains, vice-captains, regulars, and intruding humans alike moved in to offer help to the boy and the woman which he had drastically disfigured all structure of Soul Society to protect. Rukia looked up to see all of the concerned, astonished, and relieved faces approaching. She released her hold on Ichigo in order to move out of the way so he could receive the care he needed. She almost shrieked in surprise as his arm reached around her, wrapped tightly, and pulled her close to him.

"Stay away from her!"

His threat came out in a menacing growl which spoke with a malice which seemed humanly impossible to attain. He raised his hand with perhaps the last of his strength as if to ward off those who may next challenge him.

Obviously, the warding gesture did its intended job since all of those who were approaching quickly stopped and took a step away from him, some letting out startled cries for fear of what that single hand might have been capable of. Anything was possible.

Rukia placed a hand back on the unconscious boy, knowing that somehow he would be able to feel her touch and hear her comforting words.

"It's alright now, Ichigo. You saved me. No one's going to harm us now," she said in a comforting voice as a dark shadow came over them, and everyone who was previously around suddenly disappeared. "No one's going to…" she started, but never got the chance to finish that sentence.

Rukia felt a great weight on her from some unknown force. The feeling sent a chill down her spine. She looked behind her to see where the ominous shadow came from. There stood her brother, completely expressionless.

Without warning or hesitation, his sword rose and came down with a swiftness never seen before. With the final blow, the streets turned red, the sun went away, and the black birds flew away to their unheard calling.

Rukia sat up in the bed with a scream.

It was very much the same dream every night for the past three nights since they had all returned safely from Soul Society. Her brother's death haunted her, but not as much as her brother himself. She couldn't have been any happier to have been alive, but when she thought about the fact that it was someone of such great stature like her brother who had died because she and a very few other people wanted her to live-

… The sacrifice was grand.

Too much. By written law, she had reason to be executed. Her brother was just seeing to holding up the structure of Soul Society by following through with those harsh, but just decisions. Perhaps her order of execution was not entirely just, but someone as great as her brother shouldn't had died for trying to see to the execution of the likes of her. The thought bothered her greatly.

But, the fact that he was so set on killing her, his own sister, seemed to bother her even more. She did not know why; the logic behind that feeling was completely irrational. Perhaps she had been influenced by the human's world too much during her unintentionally extended stay.

She was glad to still be alive, but she still couldn't help but wish that none of them had ever come for her. She wished things could have just been followed the way they had originally been planned.

Ichigo, Orihime, Sado, and Ishida had all risked their lives to rescue her. Even Renji suddenly decided that she was worth risking his life for as well as bringing chaos to Soul Society.

Because of Renji she couldn't simply pass the others' decisions off as irrational human feelings since Renji was not a human. How could anyone ever come to the conclusion that she was more important than her brother? How could anyone possibly see justice in that trade?

Rukia pulled her knees up close to her. She shivered as she felt a chill pass over her despite the warmth of Ichigo's room and the comfort of his bed. He had given up his own bed to her, saying that he would rather sleep on the couch anyway. He said that the reason was because he would rather sleep on the couch so he could watch the television while his family was out. He went off complaining about how he never got to watch television since he couldn't stand to watch the same programs as his dad and his sisters. He said he would prefer it that way, and she could put his bed to use since he wouldn't be using it for the next couple weeks until his family returned. He said it was for those reasons.

She knew better.

She had peeked around the corner of the staircase too many times during the past three nights. Each night she would be haunted by the same dreams and would have to check on him for some unknown reason several times throughout the night. Perhaps she would have to make sure that he was still safe.

Each time she had checked up on him, she had found him sitting in one of the kitchen chairs near the large, front window staring out at the moonlight-broken darkness. He watched out the window every night for hours before he would finally be overcome with sleep. He watched, almost contently, as if he were a watchguard, pleased by not seeing the enemy advancing.

She would constantly check up on him, making sure he was still safe. While he would sit guard at the window keeping watch for anyone who might be coming to take her away from him again.

She felt that by checking several times every night on his well-being, she was in some way protecting him. In reality, he felt that he was doing the same for her.

He would watch every night, fearful of who or what may next be coming for them. Despite her telling him that they were safe, he still seemed as if he could not believe that the danger was over. Perhaps because he never really believed that the danger would be over even during his daring rescue attempt.

Despite how he gave off the idea that he was very spontaneous, Ichigo actually never did much of anything without fully planning it out first. He had never really planned on being able to make it back from Soul Society alive, but if there was even the slightest chance that he could be successful in his attempts, he had to risk it. That was why he had been awake every night, staring out the window into the darkness with the pale moonlight shining in on his face, giving off the impression that he was some sort of restless ghost.

He had never planned on living anymore than she had. Now, he didn't know what to do since he had never planned on any of them making it back from Soul Society. Things had actually turned out better than he had originally planned. They all went in as a small group and came out a slightly larger group.

Compared to how impossible he had considered it to be before, it all just seemed to be easy. Too easy.

He just couldn't believe that it was over. He expected a lot more to happen. He expected for something horrible to happen while everyone was asleep that would wipe them all out. Just in case something like that happened, he would be there to protect everyone again.

Rukia hugged her knees closer to her and shivered again.

Ichigo. He had done so much for her. He had gone against all odds to come to rescue her. That single boy, no, man… had changed the entire structure of Soul Society. If there was any sort of foundation to Soul Society, he had knocked it down. Truly, he was a great person in many ways. Just looking at him had always made her feel stronger.

But, seeing him like that at night made her feel horrible. Because of all he had gone through for her, he could have very well been scarred for life. That strong determination which spoke of his thoughts of being unstoppable was not seen after they returned from Soul Society. Even though he had proved himself to be stronger than anyone at Soul Society, he appeared to be deeply humbled. It was almost as if he was scared. He came so close to dying several times there, and, though he expected it, it scared him. Yes, his experience of almost losing his own life as well as the lives of her and his friends had probably changed his life forever. He would never see things the same way ever again.

Not only did he have trouble by seeing ghosts before, which was something that no human should have ever been bothered with. He then got drug into the entire Hollow mess with her. After that, he was forced, by her, to take her place as a Death God. During that time, he had to confront many things which he should have never had to. His friend's dead brother. The harsh truth of what happened to people once they died. … What happened to his own mother. Then he was forced to undergo an even greater danger by going directly into the heart of Soul Society to get her back. There, he almost lost everything. He didn't even know her and he still did all of this for her.

Ever since they got back… not once did he complain. She really wished that he would complain like he used to.

Rukia buried her face in her pillow as she let out a choked sob.

That idiot. He had done so much for her, and for what? There was no reason! Given all circumstances, he should have been glad to be rid of her. He should have just gone back to his semi-normal life. All major worries he had been dealt because of her would be gone once again. He should have been happy to have been rid of her.

But, he rescued her. He added to his worries by risking his life to rescue her. The person who had been the main source of his pain, he had decided to save. She could call him a fool all she wanted, but she could not deny that she was thankful. She had felt something for him before, but she did not know what. Now, she felt that same thing stronger than ever. It was like she had discovered a part of him… and her… that she did not know existed. She had strong, strange feelings for him that she did not know what they were.

Because of Ichigo, she could find out what those strange emotions were without any regrets.

Rukia breathed in the scent of the pillow. She never would have thought that she would have been able to identify Ichigo's scent of all thingsNot that the smell was strong or unbearable or anything like that.The scent on the pillow was hardly even there, but she could still tell the difference between it and her own.

She felt safe around Ichigo. She always had ever since she knew him. If it wasn't for that almost non-existent scent of him on the pillow, sleep probably wouldn't have graced her at all for the last three nights. That simple pillow seemed to be solid proof that Ichigo was still there when she would wake up frightened during the night.

Unfortunately, the dreams were getting worse, or at least the feeling she would have afterwards was. Her knowing that Ichigo was downstairs was no longer enough comfort to be able to put her mind to rest after the dreams; she had to see him with her own eyes.

Rukia slid a leg out from under the covers of the bed in order to see what she needed to see with her own eyes. She cringed when her bare foot touched the hardwood floor in the bedroom, feeling how surprisingly cold it was.

One of the floorboards creaked when she stepped on it. She cringed again, perceiving the sound as being louder than it actually was. In case Ichigo was asleep, the last thing she wanted to do was wake him. She then realized that it was actually a rather quiet creak. The pure silence of the room just made it sound a lot louder than it actually was.

Realizing this, she then realized how eerily quiet the dark room really was. The moonlight only shone in through the window enough to provide just a small amount of silvery shade around the bed. The rest of the room was pitched black.

She and everyone else she knew had always considered her to be a very brave person. However, she couldn't help but feel slightly… disturbed after the dream she had just had and the eerie silence and darkness of the room.

A slight cold draft seemed to drift through the room at just that moment and seemed to gather around her ankle as if it itself was corporal. Rukia quickly withdrew foot from the floor and just as fast got back under the covers as if it were some sort of aegis from some unseen force, which she knew was impossible to exist since being who she was allowed her to see everything including ghosts.

Still, the lingering eerie feeling made her shiver even in the warmth of the bed.

"Ichigo?" she called out, trying not to sound as if she were too much in need.

The already complete silence in the room seemed to grow denser. She listened quietly for a moment before she was startled by a rather loud thump coming from the hallway outside the bedroom.

"I… Ichigo?" she called again, this time louder if for no other reason than to be able to break the stiff silence in the room. She just wished she could reach a lightswitch from where she was.

There was no answer to her call. If she wasn't feeling rather frightened enough, Ichigo's silence bothered her even more since she knew very well he would have been able to hear her even if he was downstairs.

Rukia hesitantly stepped out of bed again, this time completely. She slowly, almost fearfully, made her way over to the closed door. She gently slid open the door so she could peer outside into the hallway. The entire hallway was completely dark except for the very end of it where she could see the alternating shades of blue coming from the television.

"Ichigo?" she called out again, almost desperately.

Getting no response, she slowly made her way to the end of the hallway. She felt a bit safer once she was shrouded in the flickering light of the television. She peered over the wooden railing into the living room but still didn't see Ichigo. She looked at his empty seat near the door and her fear rose again.

"Ichigo?" she called out once more, this time louder.

Her heart almost stopped when the television suddenly clicked off with no one around it. Once again she was completely shrouded in nothing but darkness and complete silence around her.

"I… Ichigo? This isn't at all funny, you fool!" she once again called out in vain.

Rukia gasped when she heard a low, growling sound come from somewhere in the room. She covered her mouth as to not get the attention of the source of the growl.

She shrieked in terror when she felt something grab firmly around her ankle, and the menacing growl sounded off sharply directly behind her. It sounded exactly like the howl of a hollow, and she immediately feared the worst.

Rukia fell to the floor and immediately crawled as far up against the wall as she could. She clapped her hand to her mouth and began to shiver uncontrollably. She was paralyzed when she heard the terrifying growl of the hollow come from right beside her. She knew it was a hollow when she felt the immensely high spiritual pressure of a hollow, one at least as strong as Ichigo, coming from right beside her. For one of the few times in her life, she felt herself completely overcome with fear and unable to move. As the low shrill of the hollow grew closer, she wanted to scream. She wanted to scream even more when the howl of the hollow grew deeper and its spiritual tag which marked it as a hollow actually began to change.

She wanted to swear very loudly when the deep growl of the hollow lightened into the light chuckling of Ichigo.

"I scared the shit out of you!" called his voice from the pitch darkness.

Rukia, confused at first, let out a sigh of relief when the lights came on to reveal Ichigo standing next to the lightswitch with the television's remote control in his hand. He brandished a proud smirk on his face which she would have loved nothing more than to have been able to claw off of him like some sort of wild animal. He was completely overcome with laughter when he turned around to see her sitting on the floor, white as a ghost and curled up into almost fettle position against the wall. It reminded him so much of when he would do the same thing to his sisters.

"Oh, man! Going on your expression right now, I would give anything to have been able to see you face just a moment ago! You look like you thought something had attacked you!" he managed to choke out before he began laughing again.

Rukia, still quivering from her previous terror, slammed her shaking hand against the floor, folded her arms over her knees, and buried her face into her folded arms.

Ichigo immediately stopped laughing and his grin dropped when he saw Rukia actually curled up and shaking on the floor. He scratched the back of his head, immediately feeling bad for what he did and kneeled down on the floor.

"Hey, surely I didn't scare you that badly, did I?" he asked hopefully.

Rukia immediately looked back up at him. It was apparent by the look on her face that she was angry, but not as much as she was scared and hurt.

"Yes, Ichigo. You did!"

"Hey, I didn't know it would actually scare you. I just meant to startle you a little bit. You know, give us both a little bit of a laugh."

"Well, it certainly did, you jerk!"

"Sorry about that. I really had no idea that you would have been so scared by it. I didn't even expect to be able to startle you. I startle a lot quicker than you do! What did I do that freaked you out so bad!" he questioned, actually curious.

Rukia only stared at him in disbelief. He should have known what had scared her so badly. She actually felt like he was being entirely heartless.

"Ichigo, you sounded and felt exactly like a hollow! I didn't see you anywhere and then all the sudden I heard the exact howl of a hollow! Don't act like you didn't-" she started before she was interrupted.

"What do you mean I sounded like a hollow! You must have been imagining things, because whenever I try to scare Karen, she tells me that I couldn't sound anymore fake if I actually tried!"

Rukia shivered again when memories of the battle between Ichigo and her brother came back to her. She remembered what Ichigo had become. He definitely wasn't himself during that part of their fight. He probably wouldn't remember that. So, there was really no point in telling him since he didn't need to know.

"Nothing. I was probably just over-reacting. I… I'm just still… having those dreams."

She turned her head around to look at Ichigo, but he wasn't there. She quickly looked around to see him walking down the stairs into the living room.

"Hey! Are you listening to me!" she called after him.

Ichigo simply motioned behind his back for her to come on as he descended the stairs.

"Yeah, I'll listen, but not up here. I need to sit down if you're going to go off ranting about your dreams. Sitting on the hard floor definitely won't help my ribs get any better."

Rukia stood up and stared after him as she folded her arms across her chest.

"Fine! I'm sorry to bother you! I'll just go on back to sleep now that you've got your laughs out!" she said as she turned back toward the bedroom.

"No. I'm not being an asshole; I'm serious. I want you to talk to me; I just need to sit down on something a bit more comfortable than the floor. I'm sure you wouldn't prefer the floor to a chair, would you?"

Rukia sighed as she descended the stairs after him.

Ichigo took his seat on the couch where he had obviously been sitting before, told by many telling details such a chip crumbs lying around and a glass of some dark, milky substance which looked like oil sitting nearby.

Rukia walked over to one of the chairs on the opposite side of the room, stepping through chips, cereal, and other assorted foods that crunched beneath her bare feet as she made her way across the living room.

Rukia looked at the chair for a moment. Why she was staring contemplatively at a chair, she didn't know. Perhaps there was something to be discovered about this chair of all chairs. Upon closer examination, it actually turned out to be… a chair. She looked back from the chair over to the couch which Ichigo inhabited. The distance between the two in the living room was relatively short, but to her they seemed to be an ocean apart.

She near reluctantly approached the couch and stood beside it for a moment before Ichigo turned a questioning glance her way. Upon seeing his questioning, almost suspicious stare, she took a seat on the couch opposite to where he was sitting. She turned an agitated glare at him when he looked back at the television with a smirk.

"I just felt like sitting here, alright!" she snapped, pulling her legs up on the couch and covering up with one of the sheets which Ichigo had previously brought to the couch in order to complete his make-shift bed.

Hearing her sudden response, Ichigo's smirk grew.

"I didn't say anything; did I?"

His question didn't need an answer. Her sudden blush and the stubborn look in her eyes was enough for him to get the slight amusement he was looking for. After seeing a minute later that obviously he had somehow embarrassed her enough to move her to silence, he decided he would be the one to start up the conversation. He didn't like the silence anyway. It especially wasn't like Rukia to sit and watch the local news in complete silence without having something to say.

"I believe you wanted to tell me about a dream?"

"It's not important; it's just a dream."

"I wouldn't dismiss it like that. Dreams can give answers and ask questions that reality can't."

Rukia looked contemplative for a moment before she took on a sudden frown as she pulled her legs up closer to her and looked at the floor.

"You're making fun of me; aren't you?" she asked, but not in the annoyed way he would have expected.

"No, not at all. I mean it."

"You've already got enough on your mind without me bothering you about a silly dream I had."

"It wouldn't bother me. Besides, I'm used to it. I've spent many hours comforting my little sisters after they've had a bad dream before."

Obviously, Rukia took offense to that too.

"So, now you're comparing me to a little girl?" she said as she turned her gaze away from him.

Ichigo snorted in response. Obviously, he was getting tired of Rukia taking offense to his every word.

"Yeah, maybe I am! At least when it comes to dreams I am. Personally, I don't think any dream should be simply brushed aside, no matter who you are."

Rukia sat for a few moments in silence thinking. It had seemed easy when she was planning it. She wanted to talk to Ichigo, but for some reason, she found it harder to talk to him than she had expected. Especially after that comment about his sisters. She found it embarrassing enough to talk about it without being referenced to a kid. She was aware of her young appearance despite her actual age, and she was painfully aware of her horribly small physical stature. It wasn't enough that she knew she looked like a kid; now she felt like a little kid going to confide in someone about a dream. It was pathetic! She used to be a Death God for crying out loud! She was-

Rukia was derailed from her current train of thought by a harsh force against her shoulder that almost sent her toppling over the edge of the couch. She looked back over in time to see Ichigo recoil his leg back over to his side of the couch.

"What did you kick me for!"

"Talk to me, Rukia."

For some reason, she noticed that his voice didn't have its usual demanding, annoyed tone to it. His command for once actually sounded more like a request. It truly did sound as if he were requesting for her to talk to him.

That thought brought an uncharacteristic blush to her face. She turned her head away from him, hoping he didn't see her face right at that moment. She kept her eyes pinned on the television as she asked her next question.

"What for?"

Ichigo sighed as he leaned further into the couch. He stuttered out a few sounds, almost as if he were having trouble finding or saying the words.

"Because I need to know what you think about me."

That caused another blush.

"What do you mean?"

"I…" he started, but stopped as if he had lost the words. "I killed your brother, Rukia."

She could have sworn she felt he stomach sink at that comment. It was an obvious fact, but she wasn't expecting to be reminded of it just yet.

"I know that you actually cared for him. I don't really care because I know that I did the right thing. I just need to know if you hate me or not for doing what I did."

A thick, painful silence filled the room for a few moments, perhaps minutes before Rukia managed to choke out her answer.

"Of… of course… not," she quietly muttered before looking out the window beside her.

She never realized exactly when it had started raining. Raining was an understatement that was confirmed when a crash of lightning lit up the outside followed by a roar of thunder and a howl of the wind.

When she looked back over, to Ichigo's surprise, she actually had a bit of a tender smile on her face.

"Of course not, Ichigo. Of course I don't hate you. I can't hate you. Don't be an idiot, you idiot."

That comment prodded a bit of an amused and relieved laugh out of Ichigo.

"You're right; it was a stupid question."

Rukia hesitated for a moment before responding.

"It wasn't stupid," she quietly muttered.

Ichigo sat up on the couch and looked over at her, unsure as to what she had said.

"What was that?"

"Nothing."

"I see," he said as he looked out the window, vision blurred by the water running down it.

Ichigo got up off of the couch and slowly walked over to the window. He studied the window for a moment, identifying the chaotic patterns of the water as it ran down the window in several rapid streams. He placed his hand on it, almost like he could feel the cold rain on the other side. He slid his hand down the window, causing it to make a light screeching sound before he turned back around. He flicked his fingers slightly like he got something on them that he wanted off. He turned a sorrowful look back toward the window as he let out a low sigh.

"I hate the rain," he stated simply. "I dream every time it rains, and I don't like it."

The statement caught Rukia's attention immediately. She looked up at him from her position on the couch as if he had just said something that had completely taken her by surprise.

"The dreams will probably be horrible tonight since I've been having not-so-pleasant dreams since we got back. I've been dreading sleeping every night. Now, especially this night of all nights."

Ichigo had expected for Rukia to remain silent for the most of the time, so he was surprised when she instantly questioned him. Actually, it surprised her just as much as it did him.

"What were your dreams about?"

His instant response surprised her.

"What were yours about?"

Rukia looked back to the floor as she replayed her recurring dream back in her head as if it were a playback visual. She shivered and pulled the sheet closer around her as she remembered the last part of the dream and the feeling it gave her each time.

"I'm honestly not trying to be rude, but I just don't want to talk about it."

"Understood; neither do I."

Rukia nodded her head in understanding. She had a pretty good idea of what his dreams were about anyway. She was almost willing to bet that his and hers were probably similar in more ways than one. Ichigo's earlier words about dreams touched her more than she would have imagined. It reminded of when her brother had told her almost the same thing many years ago. She turned a confused look back toward him as her brother's words replayed in her mind.

"Ichigo?"

"What?"

"Were you serious about what you said about dreams?"

"I wouldn't have said it if I wasn't."

"Right. So, if I was to tell you about my dreams, you wouldn't disregard them like you do your little sisters', would you?"

"I never said that I would disregard their dreams either. I said that I believe all dreams are worth at least a second thought."

"But, those are the dreams of children."

"So? I know more than most people just how painful dreams can actually be."

Ichigo unexpectedly blushed as he scratched the back of his head to direct attention away from his face. He cleared his throat before speaking again.

"Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I'm not just a shoulder for my sisters to cry on when they have a bad dream? They… do the same for me."

"Really?" Rukia questioned, sounding a bit more surprised than she meant to. She just hoped he didn't notice or take offense.

"Yeah, really. I mean, that's the right thing to do, right? We went through that same pain on that day years ago. As the children of the same mother, we understand how painful it really was. So, we should only be there to comfort each other, right? That's what siblings are for."

Once again, he had managed to accidentally strike another chord in her with those words. That's what siblings are for.

… Not all siblings.

But, she couldn't exactly say that truthfully. She could actually relate to what he was saying back before her brother… changed. So many times, she would have horrible dreams. She had felt foolish about how badly the dreams had bothered her. But, it still made her feel better that he had been there to comfort her that once.

"Are you alright, Rukia?" asked Kuchiki Byakuya from the door.

Rukia was still trying to catch her breath as the door to her room slid open. She immediately lied back down in her bed, instantly embarrassed that she had woken her brother with her sudden, startled scream.

"Yes. I… I'm… fine. Shouldn't you be asleep, brother? You'll certainly have a busy day tomorrow since you-"

"I was asleep until I heard you scream."

"I… I'm sorry, brother. I didn't mean to wake you."

"No need to worry. I was just concerned. I heard about what happened today. I can understand how you must feel."

"I'm fine, really. I was just having a bad dream. It's nothing important. Just forget about it; there's no need for you to worry yourself about it."

"Certainly. I will forget about it. However, that does not mean that you need to. Ponder your dreams, Rukia. Sometimes they can tell you what others can not. They are always worth your time; always remember that."

Rukia hoped that he could not see her confused look in the darkness of her room. It felt odd. It was somewhat strange that one of such royalty as himself would take even the slightest concern about his adopted sister. However, his simple words made her feel much more relieved than she felt all day. His words were comforting, and for once… she actually felt as if she had a true brother.

"I will, brother. Thank you," she said with a lightened smile.

"Sleep well, Rukia," he said as he slid her door closed and walked back down the hallway.

That night had been the night she would remember most about him. He had always kept her at a distance, but that night he had truly made her feel like a sister much in the same way Ichigo had described.

Now, she would never be able to feel the sibling love which Ichigo described ever again. Her brother was dead. The true royalty of the Kuchiki house was dead, and she was alive. She could no longer take the weight of that truth.

Ichigo stopped his speech when he heard an unexpected sob come from Rukia. It startled him since he had never heard that sound come from Rukia before. He turned around to see her curled up on the end of the couch with her head buried in her arms against her knees. Her body was wracked and shaking with each silenced sob. He instantly took on a shocked expression as he looked around the room as if the help he needed was somewhere in the room.

"Uh… Rukia? Hey… wait a minute!"

Ichigo couldn't stand it when people cried in his presence. Not that he saw it as a weakness, but he never knew what to do. This was especially so with Rukia since seeing her cry was one of the last things he would have ever expected to ever see. He instantly wanted to kick himself for panicking and not being able to say anything better than 'Wait a minute!"

"What did I do! I mean…" he said, trying to find some sort of comforting words.

He reached out a hesitant, shaking hand toward her with its mark being her shoulder. Whenever he came close to touching her, he withdrew his hand as if he were afraid of breaking her if he were to touch her. He couldn't help it. She just seemed to appear so fragile at that moment.

"I mean…uh… What's… going on! Or… uh…. What are you doing!" he managed to say through half-words and unintelligible grunts.

Ichigo did slap himself on the head due to those last panicked, probably seemingly heartless questions that came from his mouth. No, he wasn't good at this at all. He sighed as he looked back at Rukia, who's sobs were actually becoming somewhat audible due to her being unable to control them. He had dealt with people crying before. He had dealt with it several times with his sisters. He didn't know why he was having such a hard time comforting Rukia. Frankly, it pained him to see her cry. He knew what all she had been through, and could only imagine how she felt. He knew for a fact that she was a emotionally strong person, perhaps stronger than anyone he knew. Due to this, he couldn't help but actually feel a little bit more relieved. He actually somewhat relieved to see her cry. Someone who had been through as much as she had been had more right than anyone to let it all go. He knew he had never seen her cry before, but still, he was starting to get worried that she wasn't grieving like she should have been.

He looked down on her with a rarely seen type of smile gracing his face. He exhaled sharply as he closed his eyes for a moment, remembering times past. He remembered back to when he was young and used to cry all the time after his mother's death. He stopped crying when he realized that it depressed those around him as well. Everyone thought that he had never cried since that day, but only he and his sisters knew the truth. During those nights of dreams and rain, his tears would flow freely as he stood outside looking up at the sky so no one would ever be able to tell the rain from the tears in his eyes. He hated the rain.

He knew that during those times, sometimes words were not needed for comfort as much the mere presence of someone being there during those times to anchor you to the fact that the world was not always as lonely as one may perceive it to be. Just as one human cannot replace another, loneliness cannot be attained as long as there are others there to keep you company…

… No matter what the dreams may try to tell you.

Ichigo sat back down on the couch as near as he could to Rukia. He let out a sigh as he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her closely to him. To his surprise, she gave no resistance to his embrace and instead rested her head against his chest. Her sobbing immediately stopped, but the tears continued to flow unhindered. She felt a comfort in his arms that she had not felt in a long time. She closed her eyes as she listened to the quiet, steady heartbeat in his chest beat out the rhythm of life. She listened intently to his words, signified by the amplified click in his chest.

"You were there in the graveyard that night, Rukia. The night that I stood before my mother's grave. As you know, my father was there. He's not really ever been the ideal father, but I saw him in a different light that night. He talked to me briefly about my mother: something he has never really done before. He also said something then that I don't think I'll ever forget. I memorized those words as soon as he said them. Do you remember what he said? He said: 'Live life to the fullest. As long as you can show her that you're doing right, she can rest assured on the other side.' It occurred to me then what I should have came to understand long ago."

Ichigo rested one of his arms over her shoulder and brushed a few stray strands of hair away from her face.

"I will always miss my mother, but that shouldn't hinder my life in the slightest. Just because I lost someone important doesn't mean that I should give up. I should always continue to live by the standards that she taught me as if she was a part of me. As long as a memory remains, nothing can truly be lost. That's when I realized exactly how important my family really was to me. It seemed that I was the last one to figure that out."

After hearing his words, Rukia shifted her head upward on his chest so to be able to look at him.

"Then you know how important your family is. Are they the most important people in the world to you?"

"Yeah, without a doubt."

"Then, why did you come for me? You could have died there. Then, you would have left your family with another dead family member. Did you stop to think about how they would have felt if that did happen? I was never really close to my brother, but I still cared for him. He was an important person to everyone, but now he's dead. I would have gladly given my life over my brother's just as you would for your sisters."

The tears in Rukia's eyes began to spill over again as she squinted her eyes shut and gritted her teeth together. She exhaled a shaky breath through her gritted teeth, making it sound like a pained hissed. She didn't know what to feel about Ichigo. She should hate him for killing someone as precious to her and everyone else as her brother. But, she could help but care for him at the same time for coming to rescue her despite the fact that he may die. She buried her head into his shoulder as he hugged tighter to him and pounded on his chest with her fist.

"You're such a fool! Why did you risk so much to save someone like me!" she questioned, with disgust evident on her last word.

Ichigo hugged her tighter as he stared up at the ceiling as if searching for an answer he did not have. He sighed as he stroke her hair and back comfortingly. He smiled when the answer came to him as if it were obvious.

"You know something, Rukia. I could never hurt my sisters, no matter what they do. They no longer have mother to take care of them. Dad tries his hardest, but doesn't always do what's right. So, that just leaves their big brother to take care of them. They lost a parent, so I try my best to fill in. Sure it's hard, because I feel as if I need to look out for dad too. He's completely lost without her. Yeah, it's hard. But, you know what? I don't think I would have it any other way, Rukia. I care too much for them. They are what I have left of my family, and I would never… never do anything to harm them."

Rukia took his words to heart. To answer her question, he had insulted her brother. But, he did it in a way that made her entirely understand his reasoning. It was as if all of her questions about why her brother had to die were answered by his few words. She still felt bad, but seeing it from Ichigo's standpoint, she suddenly understood entirely. However, his answer led her to a new path of thought.

"But… who takes care of you?"

His reply came instantly.

"They do."

The way he said those two words spoke thousands more. It shined a light on the entire understanding of his words and everything that was implied with his earlier statement. The link she connected through his words opened her up to a full understanding of the big picture. In a way, it made her feel great, but at the same time it made her feel horrible since Ichigo had risked his life which was much more important than hers to save her.

She fought with actual success to keep her tears back. However, her breaths were still shaky.

"I don't understand, Ichigo. You have all you need in this world. To hear you talk, you have a perfect life. Why would you risk that? You have a family that loves you dearly and you the same. You have friends who care deeply for you? Why would you risk that? For me? No, I'm not important enough to risk your life for!"

It was obvious that her comment bothered Ichigo when he exhaled sharply in annoyance. His sharp exhale was followed by an agitated growl accompanied by a sharp slap to the back of her head.

"Hey! What was that for!" Rukia questioned as she winced, sat up, and rubbed the back of her head.

Her question was ignored completely by Ichigo as he went off on a rant, gesturing his hands dramatically to further emphasize his point.

"And a ghost or hollow is more important than you! I risked my life constantly for them! They were complete strangers to me, but I still risked my life gladly for them! You never asked me why I risked my life everyday for them. Jeez, you're so stupid! You can't decide your own importance; that's for other people to do!"

"Then, let me ask you this! Why would you find me worth saving? I'm worthless, Ichigo! I can't do my intended job as a Death God anymore! You know what else! I'm not even human! So, I'll never fit into this world either! Why! Why do you find me to be worth risking your life over!" she asked, no longer able to contain her tears.

Ichigo simply smiled as he reached over and patted her on the shoulder. He reached up and wiped away one of her tears with his finger. He brought his hand over in front of him to look at the water glistening on his finger. After his examination, he moved his hand in front of her face to show her.

"That's human enough for me," he simply responded.

He once again relaxed against the side of the couch and stretched with a groan.

"You ask me why I risked my life to save you. When we first met, obviously, you didn't know me or my family. Still, you risked your life to save ours. I couldn't save my family during that time, and if it wasn't for you, we all would have died. You didn't even know me and you were still willing to sacrifice yourself for those I loved so dearly. You can't tell me you did it only because it was your job. No one risks their life because it's simply their job. You have a heart, Rukia. Personally, I don't know what could be more human. That's why I care so much about you. That's why you're worth so much to me. That's why I wanted to save you. I don't know what I would have done if I had lost you. I couldn't save my mother all those years ago, but I had the strength to save you like you did me and my family," he said with another sigh. "That's why I risked my life to save you."

He reached over and poked her on the forehead, causing her to flinch, with each of his words.

"Because… I… could," he said as lowered his arm and sunk back into the couch. "Simple as that."

Ichigo took the pillow of the back of the couch and positioned between his arm and head as he lay down and stretched out on the couch, almost accidentally kicking Rukia out in the floor. He let out a tired groan as he fluffed his pillow and laid his head down on it.

"I'm tired, now. So, I'm going to try to get some sleep."

A few minutes passed and Ichigo was about to doze off until he felt a shifting next to him on the couch and a sudden weight against his arm. He opened his eyes to see that Rukia had managed to squeeze in next to him on the couch and was using his arm as an improvised pillow due to the lack of another. Ichigo felt heat in his face and shifted uncomfortably as he felt himself blush. He felt glad that he was looking at the back of her head since he certainly didn't want her to see him blushing.

"Hey! What are you doing?" he managed to ask rather calmly.

Rukia had been hoping that he wouldn't say anything about her sudden actions. His questioning suddenly reminded her exactly how awkward this must have been and blushed as a response. She was glad that he could only see the back of her head. She actually managed to reply somewhat calmly.

"I'm just… I know I'm going to be dreaming again as soon as I go back to sleep, and I just don't want to be up there by myself when I do, alright?" she said, trying to mask her embarrassment with her usual stern and stubborn tone. "You… don't mind… do you?" she question, not entirely able to keep up the façade.

"No… of course not. I know I'll be dreaming tonight too, so I really don't want to be alone tonight when I wake up either. It's just that it'll be kind of crowded, and since I'm against the back of the couch, it'll be you who ends up having a lack of room."

Rukia smiled in response when she felt Ichigo's arm wrap around her and pull her closer to him.

"That's alright. You'll catch me if I start to fall; won't you, Ichigo?" she questioned as she snuggled deeper into his warm embrace and closed her eyes.

She felt more comfortable and protected in his embrace than she had since they returned. The pitch darkness no longer bothered and was actually welcome when she realized how tired she was. The warmth of the quilt pulled tightly around them as well Ichigo's warm, comforting embrace made her drift slowly into a deep, comfortable sleep, and the eerie silence was replaced by Ichigo's steady breathing as well as the gentle rolling of the thunder and the comforting, rhythmic hiss of the rain on the roof of the Kurosaki family's house.

Ichigo smiled too as he drifted into a comfortable sleep as her sweet words replayed through his mind again along with sounds of the rain. You'll catch me if I start to fall; won't you Ichigo?

Remembering those words caused him to smile more and pull Rukia closer to him. He tilted his head slightly to whisper in her ear.

"Now and forever."

END



Have you any dreams you'd like to sell?

Dreams of loneliness…

Like a heartbeat…

Drives you mad…

In the stillness…

Of remembering…

What you had…

And what you lost…

What you have…

And what was lost…

Thunder only happens when it's raining.


-Stevie Nicks


Author's Notes: Wow. That was a lot longer than I expected it to be. Oh, well. Hope the excruciating length of this didn't detract too much from it's hopeful enjoyment. Thanks for reading.