Her first night back she came to his room precisely at midnight, just as she had so many times before. The door cracked open as her face peered tentatively out, and they turned as one to watch the illuminated numerals of his bedside clock flash to 12:00, the sickly green casting a somehow comforting glow upon the shadowed bedroom. But perhaps it was not so much the glow itself, but what was associated with it. Comfort. Security. Foreign feelings to those such as they.
Without so much as a word, Ichigo silently followed Rukia out the door and down the hallway, internally cursing at his bedroom door for squeaking the way it did whenever it was opened, vowing once again to spray it with some WD-40 in the morning. But he never did. It was as much a part of it all as the ancient alarm clock and the reassuring normalcy of watching the numbers flash, repeating themselves again and again in an unceasing cycle. It was something to count on, to know that you could always see the one roll over into the two as long as you had the patience for it. But they always did, night somehow granting the time to be at ease with themselves and each other.
Ichigo watched the way Rukia's stocking feet padded over the hardwood floors, delicately creeping, almost caressing the surface, all entirely unconscious and elegant. He suddenly felt immeasurably clumsy.
Without so much as a backward glance she disappeared into the bathroom, the door announcing itself with the small click of its latch, the wood kissing the frame as it was pulled shut. He repeated it with his sister's and father's rooms, listening to them mumble in their sleep, lost in themselves. Ichigo finally took a seat outside the door, letting the familiar patterns of the stucco wall press itself into his back, staring up at the ceiling and tracing the shadows and cracks with his eyes. A car drove by, the headlights briefly lighting up the hallway and just as quickly disappearing, to become little more than a mundane memory.
Ichigo's ears picked up the well-known sounds of clothes landing softly upon the floor, the whine of the tap as it was turned, the rush of the water as it hurried to fill the tub. The small splash and quiet sigh as she settled herself into the blissful warmth, the squeak of skin upon the fiberglass. A predictable order. Predictability was a precious thing anymore. The sounds and heat and floral smell of the soap escaping under the door- they never changed.
Soon enough the sounds reversed themselves, wet footsteps reluctantly parting from a wet floor, the small scuffing sounds as the body wash and shampoo and such were all put back to rights, double checking to make sure that it looked as though nothing has moved. Of course, no one would think anything of it if they had, but Rukia did it all the same. It was a part of the routine as well, even if it didn't matter anymore.
Making sure to turn off the light before she opened the door, Rukia emerged once more, and with her all the steam and fragrance left over from her bath. Ichigo looked up at her, his face arranged into something akin of a small smile, rising to his feet once more. They looked at each other then, really looked at each other, for the first time in neither knew how long. Not thinking. Simply looking, drinking each other in, parched. Ichigo in his rumpled pajamas and rumpled hair, spikes askew along with his usual barriers, Rukia in flannel ones that were really too short for her, white ankles and wrists glowing in the darkness and hair dampening her shoulders.
She allowed her head to slump forward across the small space between their forms, coming to rest against his chest, attempting to keep her shoulders rigid, to not betray herself entirely by reaching out to someone else. Ichigo looked down at her, somehow unsurprised, and wrapped his arms about her petite frame, feeling somehow insignificant in this shadowed hallway as he breathed in the strawberry scent of the shampoo she had had to have and felt the chilly warmth of her still dripping hair sink into his skin. He felt her relax beneath his fingers, her own gripping onto his t-shirt like an anchor, and for a moment they simply existed. It was enough. He wondered when the last time was he had felt so… himself. Not who he wanted to be, or wanted others to see. Just him.
She had never touched him before tonight. Not this way.
And just as suddenly, the moment was over, as Ichigo drew in a shaky breath and Rukia withdrew herself from their embrace. Looking at her guiltily, and wishing he could have prolonged it somehow, he made to retreat to his room once more. She hesitated, lost within the immense few feet separating them, torn between what she should do and what she desperately wished for.
Rukia knew she needed to return to that cold fold-up bed in the crowded room of the twins, but somehow that cramped closet was what really felt like home anymore. She woke up with a crick in her neck every time, and yet…
It was routine.
It was all routine.
She wished she had realized just how important those small, predictable customs had been, how much those habits had meant to them both. Rukia had wished time and time again that she had never left that night. If only so that the routine could continue, the darkness somehow allowing them to let down the walls they so studiously erected during the day. They never talked, never disturbed the fragile silence, for some reason beyond trying to keep the others asleep.
It was all so fragile, a relationship that eluded words and only existed in the gloom of the night, held together by flashing numbers and floral body wash and silent promises. And yet, it was all that they had anymore that was constant. All that had ever been constant.
Rukia always knew that as soon as the clock struck 12:00, Ichigo would wordlessly sit outside that door. Ichigo knew that Rukia would always be on the other side. A time outside all the shouting and fighting and complaining, where they could simply exist in the knowledge that it would never be spoken of, and it would always continue. It was something to depend upon in a world as upset as theirs.
And it had all changed, uprooted once again, midnight liaisons left behind for lonely nights in a tower and streets that were all somehow the same. Then more lonely nights in empty houses that were also somehow the same, their inhabitants both wondering if they had, in fact, made the right choice. And separately they both came to the same conclusion, Rukia still bathing at midnight, mystifying her brother, and Ichigo continued sitting outside the door even if there was no one on the other side. Somehow, despite that, it had just seemed so meaningless lately, even if they continued to follow their routine all the same.
But now they stood in the hallway, the sparse few feet between them seeming as vast as the once unattainable white tower, and the distance between that little apartment above a hospital in downtown Karakura and the grand estate in the Seireitei.
Rukia was the one who crossed that void this time, slipping her hand into Ichigo's own, following him back down the hallway, stocking feet caressing the hardwood floors and door squeaking as she slipped once more into that cramped little closet, their eyes meeting for just the briefest moment before Ichigo returned to his own bed. They both listened to the others breathing slow as they drifted into sleep once more, and waited for that distant time before the sun rose when he would wake her so she could return to that cold fold up bed in his sister's room.
But for now it was what was right. After all, it was the routine. Who were they to break it?
A/N: Really hoping that everyone was in character here. If you haven't guessed, (and I really hope you have, otherwise I'm a much worse writer than I thought I was) it takes place after the Soul Society arc, when Rukia returns to Ichigo's house and gets that bed in his sister's room. But spoilers were really minimal, so I was too lazy to put a disclaimer. I read some drabble a long time ago about the midnight bathing, but I don't really remember who it was from, and it was considerably different. –shrugs- But if you come forward I'll give you credit. XD
Finished at 1:00 after a long bath in the middle of the night of my own. –grins-
And many thanks to my beta's and best friends, StarringMegan and Rain at Midnight, both on and off the web. Although not Rain so much, because she just used Megan's traditional excuse to not do anything. –points- Renji! Sic her!
Really good! Sorry I didn't finish it sooner. I got grounded from the internet (Don't ask. All I have to say is it can be blamed on PMS.) So ya. I think I sounded more like Mrs. Gerrard than I wanted to. But I think I did a covered a lot of ground. 12 comments… Hey… Pretty good for a half an hour.
Okay, I wasn't able to get a hold of you yesterday or this morning. I'll try later, but just in case I don't: I'm going on a youth group trip over the weekend to this place in eastern Washington. Pray for me in case I die, which there is a good chance of; Cliff diving, airplane driving, rock climbing, and just plain swimming will do it. I'm leaving tomorrow, I'll be back on Monday I think… Anyway, see you then!