Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
Author's Notes: Set just past the end of Volume 3.
Ichigo frowned deeply, sighing as he leaned into his bed. "Damn it..." he cursed softly, into the silent darkness of his room. The bandages against his cheek were like feather whispers, softly rustling against his split skin.
He was beaten. He had failed in his mission. Possibly the only chance he'd get at avenging his mother, and he blew it. He hadn't been ready for this, for the power and ingenuity of Grand Fisher.
"Who the Hell am I kidding?" Ichigo offered quietly, into the taciturn night. "I was lucky I didn't die today."
I almost did... he realized, placing his hand over his healed chest slowly, inspecting the flesh beneath. If it wasn't for Rukia's healing powers, he'd have already died.
Rukia... he was thankful she hadn't done more. Her interference was something he would not have tolerated in that last battle, and he was glad she understood.
It was a personal matter.
But beyond that... he was being true to his name, "First Place Guardian". It was his job to suffer and bleed, so that others would not have to. His mother had died on his watch, her blood had covered his wretched soul and cried into the earth.
Rukia would not bleed in the same manner, not to Grand Fisher, not to anyone. Ichigo was... happy she hadn't stepped in. The idea of her dying to protect him, another woman dying so that he might be spared again was too much for him to bear.
The moonlight speared through the rain spattered window as it poured on, and on.
Kon's snoring was heavy but thankfully rather low, a sort of thrumming background noise that Ichigo had found he had adjusted to far too quickly for his taste. The teddy slept under his bed, sort of like a bunkmate.
Turning his head with that same scowl on his face, Ichigo's eyes landed upon the door to Rukia's closet.
His lip quirked ever so slightly into an amused smile. Rukia's closet, he called it now, despite it having once belonged to him and existing in his domain. It just didn't feel right to call it by any other name, and without Rukia, Ichigo was beginning to suspect, the room would suddenly feel a lot lonelier.
Ichigo jolted, rearing backwards and sitting straight up rapidly, gaping at the closet. "Wh-Rukia?" he said disbelievingly.
"Y'know, since you were so badly wounded earlier, I thought I'd give you a night to recuperate." Rukia's dry voice came, muffled slightly by the still closed closet.
"I'm fine." Ichigo grunted, placing himself back down on his back, crossing his arms behind his head to cushion it.
Silence passed between the two, and the Soul Reaper found himself struggling for words. Words of what? Gratitude? Respect? Affection?
"He-hey..." Ichigo suddenly began quietly, determinedly not looking at the closet. "Thanks." The word hung in the air for a moment, unexplained and without need of one. "For not coming."
The closet door opened ever so slightly, and Rukia's face poked out, illuminated by the moonlight. "That may be the first time anyone's ever thanked me for not helping them." The former Soul Reaper quipped, arching an eyebrow. "Besides, I thought you called me an idiot for not helping you."
Grunting, Ichigo turned on his side, facing away from her with a scowl on his face. "You were an idiot. I was probably close to dying when you got there." He responded tartly.
The words didn't provoke her, instead casting lines and shadows across her face. "I know that." Rukia's voice was suddenly very quiet. "I was watching, you know." Ichigo's eyes widened, and he sat up, staring at her, eyes wide.
"Rukia..." he said quietly, but she continued on.
"I saw what was happening. But I knew this wasn't about your life... it was about your honor. Your pride." The former Soul Reaper said softly, her voice thin yet steely as she fixed him with a determined gaze.
Unable to stare at her any longer, Ichigo turned away with a dismissive, half hearted snort.
"I just wanted him dead. That's all." The part time Soul Reaper replied passively, grunting irritably as he shifted into the sheets. "Where'd you get that stupid idea, anyway? Honor." He scoffed, rolling his eyes.
Rukia looked at him, torn between amazed indignation and amusement, until finally she just shook her head, a tiny smile on her face.
"I'm going to bed... night." Ichigo murmured, closing his eyes, shutting vengeance, anger, and fear away for the moment, letting himself be drawn in by his exhaustion. "Don't make too much noise, or you'll wake Kon up, and then I'll be pissed." He added irritably.
Instead of retorting, Rukia kept smiling softly, and inclined her head. "Good night Ichigo."
Rukia's closet door swung shut.