I wrote this a long, long time ago...we're talking a couple manga chapters before Rukia's execution...and it's just been lying around my unposted documents, so I figure I may as well post it. Ichi/Ruki, of course. :-)

Review if you like. No flames, please.


AI NO KANSHOKU
Ichigo x Rukia


He hadn't quite realized that he'd sat next to Rukia until she looked at him, eyes lacking curiosity or hostility, just a faint trace of sincere pleasure at his decision to stay at her side. Ichigo wondered why he hadn't just sat on the other side of the Ferris wheel, or why he had volunteered to take her on it in the first place.

Maybe because she had looked up at the wheel with a mix of desire and nostalgia in her eyes, the circle all lit up against the pale, dusky rose of the sky, slowly darkening to twilight. He'd been standing next to her at the time, looking at her.

Even if he'd said nothing, Ichigo thought she looked quite lovely – the clothes that she had borrowed from Inoue suited her very well. She looked almost intellectual. The pink-and-black tweed jacket hugged her slight frame and curved around her waist; a white turtleneck drew attention to the fragility of her neck and shoulders; a fitted skirt, ankle boots, and black leggings only emphasized the femininity of her legs; and a black beret tipped to one side added the intellectual facet of the look…leaving just the rest, compiled together, as an unexplainable and unintentional beauty.

"What happened to your gloves?" he asked, just then noting that her borrowed calfskin gloves were inconspicuously absent.

"Oh, those…they're in my pocket," she said. Her fingers tightened around his. "I can't feel as well with them on."

What exactly she wanted to feel Ichigo let drop, but the half-smile lingered.

"What exactly do people do on this Ferris wheel?" she asked, peering out of the side of the window. "It just goes around and around…do normal humans like doing this?"

"Well, normal humans don't know how to fly, so the feeling of being propelled through the air is exciting, you know?"

She gave him a sincere smile at his answer, lacking sarcasm, and turned to look out the window again.

It was as if they had created their own little bubble, cut off from the outside wind, the talk of peers, or the curious glances of friends. It was only alone that he was ever able to see this side of her that Ichigo secretly adored.

Rukia turned her face away from the window to lean against his side. He never minded her proximity. Leaning her head against his shoulder, her hand relaxed so that their fingers could interlace, loosely, set between them as part of the only evidence of their relationship.

They completed one revolution in silence, Ichigo just watching the outside scenery. He listened to her breathe. That was the sound of the fragility of life that had almost faded away at the hands of Soul Society…that which he would never forgive.

It was because of them that Rukia still had nightmares about her execution…and because of everything they'd gone through, Ishida had first lost his family…and, last of all, his Quincy powers. Soul Society had put him through so much shit. After having dealt with that, Ichigo had outright refused to become a shinigami.

However…Rukia was with him now.

Simply put, she refused to stay in Soul Society. She point-blank told that Yamamoto-soutaichou that she didn't want to stay in Soul Society…that she wanted to go to Earth. He was not in a position to refuse her anything, especially since she was sided by a very powerful, orange-haired ally.

And thus, the weeks had passed. She had always been filled with constant fear for her friends, wondering if she had done the right thing…eventually Ichigo had gotten so fed up with his worrying about her worrying that he finally snapped, yelling all sorts of obscenely romantic and pathetic things about his feelings, all too late realizing that he'd never be able to take them back.

He hadn't had to. A glorious moment.

Thus, their relationship.

Thus, this outing.

Of course, their friends knew nothing of it. The connection between Ichigo and Rukia was that subtle. Ishida and Inoue were all about the visibly connected hands, light kisses on the cheek, snuggling on the couch or on the chair or wherever happened to be convenient.

Ichigo and Rukia were more about the subtleties…glances, caught eyes, smiles, the whisper of a touch. And it was enough for both of them, when together with their friends, because when they were alone they did not have to act for the rest of the world.

It was only alone that Rukia ever dropped her cheer or acted in her true self, whether she was irritated or happy, frightened or insecure. It was only alone that Rukia would ever turn to him, settling into his embrace, because she knew how he felt about their relationship and respected it. It was only alone that she would cry, that she would tremble from the forceful clarity of her memories, and it was only alone that Ichigo realized both how beautiful and how pitiable she was at her most vulnerable.

It was only alone when he could comfort her…and because of this, he had come to despise Rukia's fake at-school cheer when only he really knew just how fragile she was. Like a shard of crystal glass. So delicate, so transparent, so strong, so breakable.

Or perhaps like a vision of the most perfect flower…now, always in full bloom.

"Ichigo?"

He pulled away from his thoughts. "Yeah?"

"Do you think Soul Society will ever call me back?"

She had probably been thinking along the same lines as him, and whenever the mention of Soul Society arose, always did the feeling of determined refusal to let her leave.

"Maybe. But if they do, I'll kill them all for you."

"Not Renji."

"Yeah, not Renji…how's about Byakuya?"

"Not nii-sama either," she pouted at him. "He's too noble to die by just some rogue shinigami, after all." She smiled at him, and Ichigo let his face become the gentlest he had ever let show. His frown was completely absent.

"Yeah, I guess not Byakuya either," he said, unwinding their hands to pull her closer to him. "And if Soul Society ever comes, you just tell them to shut up and go to Hell. You don't want to go back, do you?"

He felt, rather than saw, her contented smile.

"Of course not."

And as the Ferris wheel ascended, the stars becoming closer and closer than they ever were, Ichigo leaned his head back to watch their approach. Rukia's breaths were soft and even. She existed. He knew that. And he wasn't about to let anyone take her away from him, ever.

"You know…"

"Hn?"

"I like this Ferris wheel."

His mouth curved up again.

"…yeah."


owari