My first Bleach fic! Please leave some feedback if you choose to read. And please do read.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters and am making no profit from this fan story.

The Most Beautiful

By Gundam Girl

"It's going to rain soon."

"You care?"

She really didn't. Not a bit. But Ichigo was acting strangely today, and so Rukia had been a little concerned…in a really big way.

He hadn't sat down to eat with his family but had immediately grabbed his jacket and left the house without so much as a piece of toast. Rukia had hurriedly dressed inside her – his – closet and had jumped from his bedroom window to land beside him on his way out.

He had barely noticed – granted, he had become accustomed to her a long time ago, especially now that he possessed many of the same abilities she did. But he hadn't even glanced at her. She'd been forced to say something trivial to at least get his attention, and the first thing that had come to mind was the most overused conversation-starter ever: the weather.

His response had been less than satisfactory, however, so Rukia pushed on. "Where are you going, Ichigo?"

"I'm takin' a walk." He still wasn't looking at her, simply staring straight ahead as his legs stretched out in long, even strides.

Rukia had to take two quick steps to keep up with one of his. That did absolutely nothing to discourage her. From his profile, she could tell something was on his mind; his jaw was like stone. His brow was furrowed just a bit more than it usually was. His fists were clenched at his sides, his arms tensed the slightest bit. "Ichigo—"

"Why are you following me?" Ichigo's voice wasn't annoyed, but it was curious, and there was the slightest hint of impatience in the tone.

She dropped her gaze, suddenly nervous that he would look at her. Fingers idle, she absently swept the skirt of her light blue dress back and forth. "I have nothing else to do," she said. It was the truth, after all.

His eyes narrowed further. "Why don't you go back and stay with Kon? He always likes it when you're around, Rukia."

Rukia felt a sharp sting at that. Although he surely hadn't meant it in a mean way, she couldn't help but think he had subtly tried to dismiss her. Defiant, she shot back, "Kon doesn't look like he's about to go attack something."

Finally, he stopped in his stride. So hastened was she to keep up with him, Rukia nearly collided with his left side. She ended up standing in front of him, staring up into his face with questioning eyes.

Though he didn't look down, Ichigo seemed suddenly aware of his own brisk attitude and visibly relaxed. He glanced up for a minute at the gray, cloud-filled sky, as if he was acknowledging her first statement now rather than before. He returned his eyes to the sidewalk.

"Come if you want, then," he invited and went past her. "But it's no place special."

Rukia kept close on him in case he decided to be rash and try to lose her. She respected s person's need to be alone – when they actually required the solitude. Ichigo was giving off vibes that, while he appeared to want distance, he truly wanted company. Rukia was willing to oblige, whether he thought he wanted her to or not.

They went only a couple blocks away from the Kurosaki house. Rukia didn't think she had ever been to this part of the neighborhood, though; it was in the opposite direction from school.

Ichigo at once veered off the sidewalk and began down a large knoll that led to a field with woods just beyond it. It hadn't been mowed, and the grass was cool and long on Rukia's sandaled feet.

The orange-haired shinigami stopped halfway down the hill, and simply stood there. Rukia didn't know what to expect.

"Is there something wrong?" she questioned lightly, not wanting to upset him in case there was. A moist breeze swept several strands of hair into her face, but she ignored them, focused solely on the boy with his back to her.

"No." The word was curt, but Rukia believed him. Ichigo didn't release his emotions often, but he rarely thought it a smart thing to lie about them.

She felt the silence stretch between them unpleasantly. She wasn't one for meaningless conversation, but neither did Ichigo ever have such an unsettling aura to him. Talking had a way of releasing pent-up negativity. Normally, she'd make some kind of comment that would rile him up and get him to snap back at her, but doing that right now seemed more disrespectful than friendly. With a short sigh, Rukia figured she'd have to settle for the discomfort. It wasn't her place to pry.

"It's just…I haven't been here in a long time."

Rukia blinked at the back of his head. Then, with curiosity, she cast her eyes over the hill and studied it more closely.

There were weeds all over the place, dandelions and little violets. But there were other patches of flowers. Tulips that were closed against the chilly air, and crocuses so ready to bloom it looked like they might explode with color any minute. Rukia saw some lilies near the end of the slope and pansies dotted all around them.

The sight made her lips curve a tiny bit. "Do you like to come here?"

"I guess so," he replied calmly. "Mostly…she did."

She. Rukia recognized the tone, the quiet, controlled way he spoke the word. He'd spoken that word just like that before. "You mean," the girl answered slowly, "your mother."

Ichigo's head lowered, but only a little. Though his shame over his mother's death had lessened, it was a fact that it was still there, skirting the edges of his mind and definitely his heart. Rukia had heard him, from the dark of the closet, calling out for his mother at night, usually after they had battled a Hollow or met with Urahara. Some things brought memories to the forefront – she wasn't surprised that matters concerning Soul Society affected him so deeply.

Walking forward, Rukia went to his side and promptly sat, bending her legs so they were folded to her side. Feeling Ichigo's eyes on her, she looked up and watched him expectantly. Obligingly, he sat beside her, though he still didn't look into her face.

"Did you come here a lot?" she asked him softly, lacing her fingers together and setting them in her lap. "With your mother?"

"Mom liked flowers," he told her, attempting to keep his voice impassive. "We really only came in the spring or early summer. A lot of the time, we didn't even talk. She just liked watching the wind move the petals and carry them away."

Rukia remained quiet, hoping he would understand that if he wanted to talk, she wanted to listen.

She was in luck. Ichigo continued, "Sometimes we'd come here on days like this. She liked it sunny best, but she knew that I liked a good storm now and then. So we'd get an umbrella and sit under it and let the rain fall. We'd watch the lightning." He set his hands in the grass and leaned back on them, looking up at the mottled sky. Today was just like those sorts of days.

He didn't realize that Rukia noticed how his eyes had darkened with the memories as he absorbed himself in time passed by. "Mom used to say that when the lightning came, they were like cracks in heaven. But they weren't bad cracks. They were just people up there that wanted a peek at Earth because they couldn't be here anymore." Blinking, he turned to her. He was sure she'd begin laughing at that, being one who had seen "heaven."

But Rukia wasn't laughing. There was a pleasant expression on her face, which was turned up toward the clouds. Her short hair was waving gently in the breeze, and Ichigo stared. The soft petal of a pansy drifted between them, brushing her cheek as it passed. There was something about the peaceful shine in her eyes that had him unable to stop looking at her.

Finally, Rukia turned her own head and their eyes met. "You told me this place wasn't special, Ichigo." Her smile widened fractionally, but it was enough. "It's the most beautiful place here." Ichigo briefly wondered if by here, she meant Earth. "To me," she added, "and most definitely to you." She randomly selected and picked a nearby crocus, twirling it between her fingers, just under her nose. The scent was sweet and brought the lightest sheen of tears. She closed her eyes for a moment, and when she reopened them, they were dry. "Thank you for showing it to me."

Ichigo felt the slightest bit puzzled as he watched her. She was reaching around her, picking the brightly colored blossoms, saying something about how he should give them to Yuzu for making breakfast. She wandered away from him, all the way down to the bottom of the hill so she could add some lilies to her cheerful bouquet.

Ichigo could only follow her with his eyes, silent. His mother's voice echoed inside of him.

"Help me gather these, Ichigo. Such lovely flowers shouldn't be left alone in the grass. They need a home, too, don't they? Just like everyone else."

Just like everyone else, Ichigo had always agreed. Now was no different. Rukia was in no hurry, seemingly content to go on choosing flowers and bunching them together. She picked a bit of everything, even the dandelions, leaving nothing out. Ichigo's mother had always said that, no matter how small, a flower was a flower. None were to be prejudiced against. Rukia was holding true to that philosophy.

When Rukia finally strolled back up the hill toward him, he was smiling. She looked so right there, standing before him with her arms filled with flowers. Above them, it began to sprinkle in cooling little droplets.

"Oh, it's starting," Rukia murmured. "I guess we should head back." Dutifully, she handed him the bouquet. "For your sister, remember."

"Yeah." They stepped back onto the sidewalk together. Surprisingly, the clouds cleared directly above them, though the rain continued. "I guess the weather will be strange today," he muttered. Suddenly, Rukia hustled forward with a slight gasp.

"Look, Ichigo! A rainbow," she explained, pointing to the sky in front of them. Sure enough, through the gentle rain, a rainbow glowed serenely, its bright stripes arching into the horizon.

It had been awhile since Ichigo had seen a rainbow. He could guess that Rukia had rarely seen one, living in Soul Society.

"It's beautiful," Rukia breathed out, smiling up at him. "Isn't it?"

Ichigo stuck his flowerless hand in his pocket. "Yeah." But honestly, between the rainbow and the hill, the most beautiful thing he could see was her.

Rukia reached back and gave him a little tug by the elbow. "Come on. Let's go home."

He followed her obediently, tagging right behind her like she had for him.

Everyone needed a home, Mom had said. He felt he was lucky to have one.

And he felt he was even luckier that she was in it.

o0o

Reviews are very welcome!