Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. Dangit.

Author's Note: The moment in --italics-- are Rukia's memories of the night Kaien was killed.

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Promises

Dammit!

Rukia Kuchiki was down. She was out. She was bleeding and panting, her body warm with sweat yet cool with rain as it lashed down mercilessly upon her, lightning flashing overhead and thunder booming. Her hands trembled on the hilt of her Zanpakutou. Silent tears streamed down her face to mingle with the rain in such a way that she couldn't tell them apart.

The cause of her physical and mental anguish stood, still tall and strong, his robes torn and falling off his tall form to reveal his scarred chest, a mask on his face and a demonic smile twisting his lips.

Ichigo's Hollow.

"Come now, Rukia." The creature's voice was low and deep—she refused to think of him as Ichigo. The Ichigo she knew would never do this. "Tired already? Am I really that difficult to defeat?" He laughed softly. "Somehow, I doubt that. Are you holding yourself back, Kuchiki? Do you look at me and still see him?"

Shut up, she thought desperately. Shut up, shut up, shut up! Her chest heaved and her ribs throbbed.

It had been a routine Hollow mission; but the thing had turned out to be much stronger than Rukia or Ichigo had anticipated. Close to losing, Ichigo had lost control and defeated the Hollow… but then, he'd gone after Rukia. The few blows she had landed on him were light and easily healable; but her own wounds were deep and jagged.

But dammit, she couldn't hurt him. She looked at him and saw Ichigo, still in there somewhere.

It was Kaien all over again.

"Well…" The Hollow ran his tongue over his lips in a gesture that made Rukia shudder. "You might not want to harm me… and I know the boy would never want to hurt you. But I'm not him, after all."

Then, with speed that still left Rukia breathless, the Hollow charged her.

SHIT!

Rukia's hands tightened around the hilt of Shirayuki, steadied. As Hollow Ichigo charged her, she lowered the blade so it pointed straight at his heart.

--He was coming for her, his skin was green and his eyes dark, his maniacal laughter ringing in her ears. She was frozen, there was nothing she could do, she'd had no plan when she'd come back, and as he flew at her she saw his chest arch towards her and remembering what she'd been taught she steadied her hand and lowered her blade…--

She narrowed her eyes against the downpour, but didn't dare lift her hand away to wipe her hair out of her eyes. He was coming at her, not as fast as he'd appeared when he'd started running, but he was still coming, a dark shadow among shadows.

--She didn't remember the exact moment her blade pierced through his flesh, but she remembered when his blood sprayed from his body and splattered her hands, her face. But she remembered when the rain started falling, she remembered when her hands started trembling, and she remembered when the tears came…--

He was so fucking fast, how the hell were Hollows that fast? Suddenly he was no longer across the clearing but right in front of her, laughing and grinning. Rukia closed her eyes…

--She also remembered when he died, she remembered the promise she made to herself, a promise she always vowed to keep even if it killed her…--

"No!"

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A single flash of lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating the dark forest in blinding white. The rain continued its silent downfall.

Shirayuki lay in the wet grass, the raindrops pounding against the blade. No blood stained her. At the last possible moment, Rukia had thrown her aside.

The small, dark-haired Shinigami was no longer standing but on her knees, her arms around Hollow Ichigo's neck and her face turned into his throat. When she had fallen he had gone down with her, was also on his knees. His teeth sank into her shoulder, deep enough to scrape bone, but as blood dribbled from the wound all he felt was confusion as the trembling Shinigami held him.

"… Rukia?"

His voice shook, was muffled by the fact that his teeth were currently digging into her flesh, but the menacing tone of the Hollow had faded somewhat. Slowly, he released her shoulder, lifting his head. "Rukia?" he repeated softly. The real Ichigo was fighting back, he was coming back, and that knowledge nearly made Rukia weep with relief.

"No," she repeated softly. "I won't… kill you. When he died… I promised myself I would never kill someone I loved. Not again. I promised myself… that if someone I loved became a Hollow, I would find a way to bring them back. I don't break my promises."

Her voice was soft, nearly drowned out by the steady thunder of rain, the boom of thunder, and another flash of lightning lit up the sky. Blood dribbled down her shoulder and leaked out onto the grass below, turning the green blades black in the falling rain and clashing darkness.

A crack slashed its way along Ichigo's Hollow mask; the pieces crumbled slowly to the grass, his eyes cleared. "Rukia… you're bleeding."

"… Ow…"

There was pain, but it was dull. Rukia had the feeling that when all was said and done the pain would return, sharp and sweet and making it nearly impossible to move her arm for a few weeks. But for the moment, despite her soft exclamation, she felt only a little pain.

"Idiot." Ichigo's voice shook. "Don't move, I'll help you." Slowly his arms came around her, gently cradling her close to his chest as he carefully rose. Suddenly remembering the current moment in time, Rukia tilted her head back to look at him. "Shirayuki…"

"I'll get her. Dammit, Rukia, you're bleeding. You should have fought me."

Despite the moment, she somehow managed to laugh, tucking her head beneath his chin and closing her eyes. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I didn't want to fight you?" Her lips curved when he sputtered. "Obviously not… moron."

He grumbled under his breath, but when he spoke his voice was firm. "I'm serious, Rukia. Next time… next time I lose control, don't hold back. Protect yourself." Subconciously, his hand shifted down to her bloodied shoulder, causing her to flinch and hiss softly in protest. "Dammit, that hurts," she gasped.

"Remember that when I go Hollow next time."

He didn't get it. He'd heard what she'd said, but he still didn't get it. Rukia sighed.

I made a promise to myself, Ichigo. I keep my promises. No matter what.

Next time you go Hollow… I'll find a way to bring you back again. I can't kill someone I love. If I did, I don't think I could survive it.

Despite the seriousness of her thoughts, Rukia couldn't help but smirk.

I guess that means I can't survive without you, moron.

The End

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... Heh, would you believe me if I said the plotbunnies made me do it?

I don't actually know if Hollow Ichigo and Rukia have faced off yet; we're only up to Episode 19 in America,(So... freakin'... slow...) so I had to watch the Japanese version to even know who Kaien is, and I only have manga volumes 1-10. But I kind of imagine it might be something like this. Don't know why, it might just be the IchiRuki shipper in me.

Read and review, please!