This was written for the fall contest over at IchiRuki on It didn't win, but it was fun to write.

Thanks to Loyce for helping me with Ichigo's reactions and Darcisan for helping me with the color of Rukia's eyes.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach.

By Gundam Girl

The sun had begun setting when Ichigo returned home, Kon swinging wildly in his hand with each step he took, a low grumble of threats against Ichigo's life coming from the stuffed lion. Without a second thought, the orange-haired shinigami tossed Kon in a hedge outside the door and walked inside his house. He returned his sisters' greetings and ignored Dr. Kurosaki's complaints of how disrespectful a son he was and trekked upstairs to his room.

Rukia had gone home immediately after school had ended, claiming she had felt a little sick. Ichigo supposed this was because she had put ketchup in her juice at lunch and it hadn't mixed well with her. He had stayed behind to talk to Chad and probably do some training with him and Ishida. Before they had arrived in an area secluded enough for proper exercise, a Hollow had struck a young woman doing her shopping.

Together, they had made quick work of the Hollow and the woman had dashed away, frightened but not scarred for life. Afterward, they had all agreed that they'd gotten their sufficient training in and had taken off for home. Kon had griped through it all.

"Hey, Rukia," Ichigo called without grace as he entered his room. "Ishida wants to know if you want to join us tomo…"

The casual words died on his breath. Most people who come upon a person deep in sleep keep quiet out of common courtesy. Ichigo didn't have much of that. Instead, what killed his voice was the fact that the young Shinigami was lying on her back on his bed, her legs bent slightly, making her seem even smaller on his long bed. Unaware of anything around her, she seemed to be completely at peace without a single care to plague her mind.

Ichigo had never seen her sleep before. She had never slept in his presence outside of his closet and there she was always sheltered by the closed door. The sight inspired something in him he wasn't used to feeling.

His bedroom window was open. He recalled now the slight temperature that had made her face a light pink color as she had departed today, and she supposed she had opened the window to let the cool autumn air in and cool her flesh. There was a steady breeze going outside, and every ten seconds are so a couple of leaves blew in and landed on his desk or the floor around it, like red, orange, and gold boats on the air.

He didn't know how long he stood there watching her. All he could focus on was her and the smoothness of her expression, how her chest gently rose and fell with each breath she took and released. But when the daze finally saw fit to let him notice anything else but how delicate her dark lashes looked against her pale cheeks, he realized that his room was almost pitch black; the sun had disappeared on him.

Taking careful steps, so as not to disturb her, Ichigo set his schoolbag and Zangetsu down on the floor and reached for the lamp on his desk. A finger on the small switch, he suddenly paused as his attention was caught by two tiny dots of light that rose to his face level and glowed past him to hover over Rukia.

Ichigo's hand fell away from the lamp, down to his side as he was suddenly entranced by the movements of the fireflies, twin specs of yellow against the dark of his bedroom. Their faint illumination cast the smallest of gleams upon the eyelashes Ichigo had been caught up in a minute ago.

For some reason, the sight made his mind soar back to the question Chad had asked him earlier that day as they'd been walking away from school.

"Hey. Ichigo." Chad angled his face toward his orange-haired companion, but his eyes were not visible beneath the fall of his light brown hair. At most, Ichigo could see his chin and the slope of his nose.

Glaring against the sunlight shining from right behind his friend's head, Ichigo asked, "What's up, Chad?"

"Rukia lives at your house, right?"

Ichigo paused. "Yeah," he said. "Come on, Chad, you know about that." He was aware that Ishida was listening to Chad as well. "Rukia's been at my house since she came here."


"Eh?" The wielder of Zangetsu raised an eyebrow and wore a dubious look. "What's that 'ah' for, Chad? Why're you asking stupid questions?"

"Easy, Kurosaki," came in Ishida. "He's just asking."

Chad went on. "What does your family think of her?"

"Family? Well, my family doesn't know about her." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and felt crowded with Chad on his left and Ishida on his right, both of the boys staring at him intently.

"Huh?" The light reflected off of Ishida's glasses as his pushed them up his nose. "But if your family doesn't know about her, how does she stay there?"

"She sleeps in my closet. She lives in my room more than anything, I guess. I have to sneak her into the bath and get food upstairs without it being too noticeable but other than that…" It was then Ichigo noticed the baffled looks on both boys' faces. He stopped walking, and Ishida and Chad halted a step in front of him, staring back at him. "Hey, what?" His eyebrows drew together in defense. "What the hell're you lookin' at me like that for?"

"She stays in your room!" demanded Ishida incredulously, his face red at the thought. "I never knew this!"

"Why the hell should you!"

"Is Rukia comfortable with that?" inquired Chad far more calmly.

"Sure, she has no problem fitting on my shelf—"

"I mean staying in your room? She's fine with being there?"

"Well, yeah – I mean, I guess. She'd have to be, she's stayed there for a long time now." Ichigo scratched the back of his head and plowed them down. "Why are you guys suddenly asking all this? Damn weird of you."

"It's just…" Chad hesitated, and Ichigo grew curious by the normally easy-going Sado's unease. "Rukia seems to regard you as a lot more than a friend. How do you feel about her?"

Ichigo blinked, some of the tension leaving his face in his surprise. What kind of question was that?

At once, the three of them tensed as a Hollow's power and a scream invaded their senses. Running toward the attack, Ichigo cast a look at Chad. It was true that Chad was much more observant than the casual student, but surely he could see that Ichigo simply thought of Rukia as a friend, someone he could trust.

Putting it out of his mind, he went to help.

Now the puzzlement he'd initially felt returned full-force. Chad had said Rukia thought of him as more than a friend, but Ichigo couldn't see that all. Granted, Rukia was usually busy being so weird and ignorant that Ichigo had no time after yelling to look past her awkwardness to see her true thoughts behind it.

How did he feel about her? Chad couldn't ask a more difficult question, could he? Ichigo and Rukia was friends, friends who owed each other many debts and, unlike most friends, their lives from several occasions. Rukia had given him her powers, an act that had gotten her a death sentence and Ichigo a type of strength he had never imagined he might have…not just fighting strength, but a strength of spirit and mind. A certainty that there will be a tomorrow and he will be living it beyond a shadow of doubt. To her, he felt…


His train of thought screeched to a halt at the sound of his name from the sleeping Death God. Surprisingly, his heart beat faster as Rukia shifted just a little, her arm coming up to rest above her head.

Maybe he'd heard wrong. Maybe she hadn't said his name at all, or maybe she had but was speaking of another Ichigo. Idiot, he scolded himself with a bit of a self-leer. Who the hell other Ichigos does she know? Maybe he was just doing some wishful thinking.

But what wishful thinking did he have to do? Wishful thinking was what Ishida was doing every time he looked at Orihime. Kurosaki Ichigo had absolutely no wishful thinking to do.

Nope. None.

Rukia turned on her side now, a clear sign that she was waking up. "Ichi…go…"

But he did wish she would stop saying his name like…that. What was she dreaming about, he wondered?

Rukia was dreaming of the person she had no idea was standing next to her consciousness-less form at that very second. In her world of non-realities, she and Ichigo were standing in a forest. The forest was warm and sunny, moist with the morning and filled with the sound of sparrows singing from the branches high above them. But there were many holes in the ground, and Rukia kept falling. The first was merely a snakehole, and went she stumbled, Ichigo reached out and caught her underneath her elbow. She straightened, smiled her gratitude, and they continued.

She tripped three more times, the holes growing in size with each encounter. The last might have swallowed her if Ichigo had not pulled her close and leapt over it with her under his arm.

At last, they came upon a canyon. Ichigo had the sense to stop before he got to close, but Rukia found she was walking against her will and we she stepped past the cliff's edge, she half-spun, expecting Ichigo to be there to grab her and keep her from falling. But Ichigo had not moved, and she slowly tilted back.

"Sorry, Rukia," said Ichigo, his face impassive. "I can't catch you every time."

Rukia opened her eyes slowly and still had the sensation of falling even as her brain returned to the real world. Her fingers clenched the bedspread beneath her. "Ichigo!" she exhaled. Her voice was soft but urgent.

The first thing she saw was the fireflies, slowly circling above her. The next was the face of the one in her nightmare, leaning over her with the same emotionless expression. "You let me fall." She whispered so softly that she was sure she couldn't hear her. A few seconds later, she woke up entirely and realized she wanted it that way. With a slight shake of her head to clear the remaining fog, she sat up, careful not to disturb the fireflies. They looked so pretty in the dimness of the room.

"What?" Ichigo asked, a pale eyebrow rising while he waited for her to repeat herself.

Instead she said, more loudly, this time, "I dreamed of you."

Ichigo started, his head giving an almost imperceptible jerk. Rukia didn't look at him and opted to watch the glowing fireflies. "You…" She dreamed of him? Without warning, he felt heat flood his face and his temperature rise.

"It's not the first time," she admitted absently. One of the fireflies flew near her temple, highlighting the deep plum of her eyes. "I've dreamed about you before. You're always holding me to you."

Immediately defensive, Ichigo's eyes widened. "What the hell! Rukia, you're—"

"Be quiet," she told him in a slightly commanding voice. "You'll scare them away." Indeed, the fireflies had bolted at the loudness of the orange haired Death God and were now several feet higher, nearly touching the ceiling and leaving Ichigo and Rukia in almost total darkness. The light from a lamp pole outside fell into the room through the open window.

Seeing the window reminded him. "How are you feeling now?"

"I'm fine. It was just a small fever. The air helped." She drew her legs beside her, sitting in a more demure fashion. "Sorry, I got leaves in your room."

"It's fine." As the silence fell between them, Rukia wondered why he didn't turn on his desk lamp. Ichigo hesitated. "You sounded like you were uncomfortable in your dream."

Rukia looked up, staring at the dance of the golden lights above them as they circled and swooped and soared, all at one, consistent speed. "I was…I guess. It was kind of a typical dream."

He didn't ask her to tell him about it. If she'd been bothered by it, she seemed to be over it now. "Have you had it before?"

"No." With that, the topic seemed to drop and she leaned back against his headboard. "Did training go well?"

"Yeah." He decided not to tell her about the Hollow, if only to retaliate against her secrecy. "Are you hungry?"

"Not really." It was a war between two stubborn people. A question, a short reply. They'd done it before. It wouldn't last long. The fireflies came back down, assuming it was safe to return, and came to hover before Ichigo's face. Rukia finally looked at him.

His eyes were hard and seeing right through her. She knew right away that her bluff had been called. "Ichigo—"

He pulled her to him in one swift motion, and held her the same way she had in the majority of her dreams. Rukia's hands flew to his shoulders but she neither drew him closer nor pushed him away. "Ichi…!"

"Just shut up for a second, Rukia."

She fell silent with no other choice. She could try to move but with Ichigo's strength, the attempt was pointless. Besides…once her initial shock wore off, she realized she had no actual desire to move at all. After a few seconds, her tension left and her body slackened against him. Her head fell between his neck and shoulder, fitting perfectly like she had always somehow known it would.

The fireflies flew around them in long, lazy rounds. The pole shone down from outside. But the most light in the room came from the eyes of the pair that was now sitting on the edge of Ichigo's bed. Rukia had been drawn up on her knees, and Ichigo had propped a leg up on the spread until she was half-seated in his lap.

At last, Rukia lifted her head and met Ichigo's gaze. "What does this mean?" The question was barely out before she felt Ichigo's lips against her own. Her eyes widened, gleaming in the light of the fireflies and pole. Tears made them glimmer, but they went back down again as her eyelids dropped and she slowly returned the kiss, her small hands coming up to the tangle in the hair at the back of his head.

Pulling away, Ichigo's voice was rough was unused emotion. "What do you think it means?"

She opened her mouth to reply but found that she honestly have no idea. Shaking her head, she just stared at him.

"It means," he said, his usual gruffness still present but more softness than normal coming to the fore, "that I'm not going to let you fall. Ever."

Rukia blinked rapidly. After a few moments, she smiled. Shyly, she tilted her face upward.

He thought that if Chad were here, he would explain that this is what he felt. This is what Rukia meant to him.

Ichigo kissed her again as the fireflies flew out of his room and into the night.