Old Friends

His features are not hard as he grips the hand of his patient. It is late at night. It is raining outside. She is dying.

It had been a long, slow, downward spiral, culminating in the fact that her heart had actually stopped two times last week, and she had to have CPR done on her for twenty minutes the last time. And yesterday, in a faltering, quiet whisper, she asked that the next time they should not try to revive her. She had lived a good, long life, and all she wanted was a little rest and to be able to run again.

Ichigo had agreed, a hand comfortingly upon her shoulder as she signed the waiver with shaking hands. She didn't have any family at this point. And so he sat with her through the night, waiting even after everyone was asleep and most of the staff had left the long-term care floor of the hospital he interned at.

"It'll be okay. Rukia's good. She'll take care of 'ya. I haven't talked to her in awhile, but… she's an old friend. She's good at her job though." There is a fondness in his voice, a hint of pride. Wistfulness. But he tried not to let this on. She pressed for more.

He spoke of ryoka and rukongai, seireitei, nobles, and cannons in a quiet voice, murmuring it into the darkness. Quincys and captains and swords and soul reapers. Districts and people. She accepted it without question, the answer to what lies beyond, with the serene grace of those who know they are dying. He explained what will happen to her, konso and the hell butterflies, how she will be given a number. That she may not see her loved ones again.

She asked how he knows all this.

It took two hours, and while her eyes may have been closed as her breathing grew ever shallower, Ichigo knew she was listening intently. It felt so good to tell someone. Finally.

She smiled at the tenderness in his voice. She does not have to ask why, or what happened to end it all, but simply knows.

And when her hour finally comes she is unafraid, her soul sitting up and tearing away from the claustrophobic confines of her own body to meet her deliverer.

"It's nice to finally meet you, Ms. Rukia." She really is a nice old lady, smiling at Rukia as she appears in front of the far wall. "I've heard so much about you."

Rukia gives a genuine smile back to her, somehow managing a curtsy around her robes and sword. "It's nice to meet you too." She means it.

Rukia and Ichigo's eyes lock across the bed, a lifetime in a single gaze. It ends soon enough, as Rukia breaks it, muttering something about having a lot of work to do yet tonight, looking down to fuss with her sheath.

The woman pats Ichigo on the hand, and thanks him for staying with her when she had no one else. He blushes, and stammers out an "It's alright," before regaining his composure and snorting.

Rukia brushes the white curls away from her forehead, before tenderly pressing her hilt to it. And as she fades away, she leaves them with some final words.

"You should really give it another try."