A/N: Sorry for the delays! Yes, this is the last chapter. And very short.

As Fleeting As the Sound of Butterfly Wings

Ichigo was afraid to open his eyes.

He took a deep breath and realized that his sheets no longer smelled like just himself. A new aroma had woven itself into his bed, like seeds in a garden. Lilies. He wanted to smile, recognizing Rukia' s new, fleeting scent on his things, but fought to keep his expression light and unaware. In a small corner of his mind, he felt pride in having a part of her imprinted on his bed; a kind of territorial statement to any that noticed.

He couldn't help but smirk at the thought of Renji sniffing his sheets, red-faced with anger.

Ichigo felt the urge to turn over and felt his limbs begin to itch with curiosity. Was Rukia still next to him? On one hand, he hoped that she'd still be sleeping peacefully, her features gracefully fallen in an angelic repose. The only thing that stopped him from turning over was the distinct suspicion that perhaps his dad was waiting for him to wake up. His dad would never let him out of the chokehold of love if he were lucky enough to get a snapshot of his son cuddling with a girl in bed. Just one picture of them together could ruin his meticulous reputation, and embarrass him for life. An unbidden vision of Isshin with a winding key in his back, parading around the room while clashing a pair of cymbals together came unexpectedly into Ichigo's mind.

Careful to stretch as if in sleep, he readjusted himself, turning away from the wall. Almost immediately, Rukia pushed up against him, drawn by the comfortable scoop of his body against hers and the lazy warmth that his body offered. Ichigo opened an eye apprehensively and looked up at his empty room with a relieved sigh. His dad hadn't infiltrated his room yet. A quick glance at the clock surprised the shinigami, showing the time to be nearly noon, much later than he'd ever let himself sleep before. He thought fleetingly about whether or not he should reach for his cell phone and risk waking Rukia up to make sure his alarm clock was correct, but the sound of a bird chirping and the hum lazy traffic beyond his open window convinced him that perhaps he had simply slept more soundly than usual. The bubbling laughter of a few children on the street below his window caught Ichigo's ears and he listened contently to their impressions of fireworks and booms as their shoes pattered against the asphalt.

It was then he realized that his family wouldn't be back from the festival grounds until around dinner.

He let his strain and worry dissipate with a deep yawn and opened his eyes fully. With a conscious stretch of his limps, Ichigo let himself smile and loll his head to the side to admire the woman sleeping next to him. It was alright to smile if no one could see him. Rukia turned over with a squeaky sigh and buried her cheek in the pillow. Her serene expression was so rarely seen by her redheaded companion that he couldn't help but stare. He attempted to push that ever-persistent lock of hair from between her eyes and bit back a snicker as she wriggled her nose.

Ichigo's smile faded slowly as he envisioned the curves of her slip underneath his thick comforter and his hand hesitated as it traced her jaw much more lovingly than he'd thought he was capable of. His eyes flickered to his closet where her black dress spilled over the futon and he could feel heat spread across his body. She'd gotten all of these things for him. To impress him. As an after thought, he told himself that a more correct term would probably be that she lured him in with female guile, but he decided that their playful enmity didn't have a place in his bed just then.

With a bit more confidence, Ichigo's fingers slipped under the sheets.

The silk of Rukia's slip felt soothing under his touch, like cool water cascading down her skin. His pulse momentarily quickened as she seemed to respond and curve her spine into his hand. He froze when her eyes fluttered and he thought briefly about pulling away and pretending to be asleep again, but his thoughts fell from his mind in a jumbled mess as she reached for him in her sleep. Her hand slithered across his bare stomach and she pulled herself close to him, draping her limbs across his body with a content sigh.

A bit more confused, Ichigo watched the sleeping girl in his arms.

He curled his hand around her shoulders with momentary helplessness, but soon settled into the comfort of being able to fully protect her. For once. He was finally able to protect someone without any qualms. The fact that the world was peaceful and there wasn't a threat in sight made no difference to him in that moment. Rukia was asleep in his arms, and she was completely vulnerable. The only thing allowing her to continue dreaming was Ichigo's presence and her trust in his strength.

Ichigo spotted a fluffy bunny ear protruding from between their bodies, Rukia's arm wrapped tightly around her stuffed animal's soft tummy. Ichigo could see the look of jealousy on Kon's face if he were there, dressed in his little sister's frilly doll clothes. It was just a matter of time before Yuzu decided to make him a Little Bo Peep costume. He thought about suggesting it to her.

Ichigo's malicious grin of victory simmered on his lips for several minutes as he imagined the little lion pouting frantically. A small sigh against his chest made him look down again to see Rukia's eyes flutter open like butterfly wings, only to drift closed sleepily within a matter of seconds.

"Rukia?" he asked quietly, craning his neck to see her eyes. She pulled herself closer to him and he smiled, letting the sound of children and songbirds lull his senses into a tranquil doze.

Rukia smiled after a few silent moments, Ichigo's hand caressing her shoulder. She nuzzled his chest and let herself once again slip off into a timeless slumber, her companion's heart beating in rhythm with hers. Perhaps they'd remain this way forever, she thought. Things would never be the same, but she understood the comfort of having someone so close now. Romance wasn't just heartache to her anymore. It was something to be savored, no matter how small the taste.

In fact, romance seemed to be just what she needed.

A/N: That's the end! I hope it was sufficient!