Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. This story was written for fun, not profit.

A/N: Um. So. I'm behind in the manga and I've never written in this fandom before. Yay for probably OOCness. Soul Societyish spoilers.

Backstep

She treasures the loud moments, hoarding them up for the too-near-future when they won't be there for her to bask in anymore. Because she sees them vanishing like sand spinning and swirling through an hourglass -- and something about him, something absolute and fundamental to who he is, is going to go away forever. She thinks when she sees it happen some tiny piece of her will break and be carefully swept up and tucked aside.

Rukia is old in this world, older than the strange buildings and the whip-thin trees in planter boxes, and she knows how to pretend she has forgotten things.

--

And Ichigo -- Ichigo is young.

She counts out the years once, sitting there in his home with her pleated skirt spread over her knees, and she doesn't need a minute or a breath before she runs out of numbers. That's how young he is.

Sometimes she reminds herself of how little time it takes to sum up his life, and then how long it takes to think up all the things he doesn't know. She has enough knowledge to browbeat him into the ground -- and don't think she isn't tempted some days, because he's almost as reckless as Renji and it takes far too long for anything to get through that thick skull of his.

--

But he can learn, and that's what scares her. She's seen him learn. Every time his jaw sets and his eyes narrow and he grows up a little more. Every time it takes him longer to find his voice again, to remember that he's brash and abrasive and so damn stupid when he wants to be.

He's idealistic. He cares. She's not sure which one is the cause and which is the effect -- and there are times when she holds her breath until he absorbs whatever he's discovered and wonders if the loss of one will mean the loss of the other.

Because Ichigo is not Renji. One day he'll stop being reckless -- he'll understand that sometimes there's nothing he can do, no matter how hard or fast he runs, no matter how much he wishes and believes otherwise. And she thinks that he won't be Ichigo anymore.

--

And she hoards knowledge away from him and hands it out as if rationing it. There are long moments where she wonders if she should tell him anything at all -- if maybe she can put off the inevitable forever.

But of course she can't. Ichigo still believes he can save things and change things and fix things, complaining all the way.

--

Rukia doesn't want to lose him.

She doesn't want him to die, either.