I've had this idea for the longest time and it finally hit me to write this after checking recently to see what eps. Bleach ended before the fillers started.

Title: For Love and Friendship

Author: Beck

Pairing(s)/Characters used: Ichigo, Rukia, Renji/Rukia

Rating/Warning(s): none really, kinda shmoopy

Notes: Takes place the night of eps. 63 after Kuukaku's party.


Ichigo's heavy sigh was relieved when Ganju moved on to annoy a fellow comrade. He looked up just in time to see Rukia making brief conversation with Kuukaku before quietly slipping out the door. No sooner she left that he stood up to follow her out.

"Oi! Rukia, wait up."

She stopped in her tracks and turned to see him running towards her.

"If you're heading back to Seireitei, let me walk you back." Ichigo huffed every other word as if he was out of breath.

"That's okay, you really don't have to."

"Believe me, I insist. I'm sure Renji is worried about where you went after Inoue and I asked him and your brother if they knew where you were. Plus, if Renji found out you came back alone, he'd have my hide for not seeing you back safely."

Rukia looked at Ichigo first in shock, and then started to giggle behind her hand. "I guess you have a point. He would totally freak out on you. I'll save you some bloodshed before you head back home."

They walked in comfortable silence 'til Ichigo spoke up, unable to bear the quiet for much longer. "Say, Rukia, I meant what I said earlier before we were rudely interrupted. I'm really glad you decided to stay in Soul Society."

Rukia shyly smiled and toyed with the fabric of her kimono. "I am too. Though I'm a bit sad that bad things had to happen in order for things to change, I guess you could say, for the better. It almost feels as if I got a second chance at life – and this time, I won't screw up, I'll make sure of it."

Ichigo laced his hands behind his head as he gazed up at the evening sky. "Yeah, I feel the same way. I really can't imagine how things would've been if I haven't met you. It's as if I've been re-born, shedding off the dead skin and starting over new. You may not believe me when I say this, but I truly am thankful for everything you've done for me."

He knew no matter how many times they discussed the matter, Rukia would always try to protest his sentiment; he saw she was about to open her mouth to argue, so he lifted his hand in her direction. "Stop! Just shut it. I already know what you're about to say and I don't feel like arguing right now. So just accept it and leave it at that."

Ichigo stopped walking when Seireitei came into view. "Well, I'll just see you off here."

Rukia raised her eyebrow at him questioningly before he started to shoo her towards her destination.

"I don't want to keep Inoue waiting and I...uh...want to avoid any confrontation with Captain Zaraki as much as possible. I wanna go home in one piece, not in pieces."

Both chuckled at the thought until a familiar voice echoed throughout the night air.

"Rukia! Rukia!"

"Besides, I think someone is waiting for your return," Ichigo grinned down at her.

Rukia nodded in agreement and bid Ichigo good night as she walked away from him. Stepping back a bit into the seclusion of the shadows, Ichigo watched the moment unfold, smiling contentedly at the scene.

"Rukia! Where in the hell are you!!?"

The girl took a deep breath before responding to the shouting red head. "Argh! Shut your big mouth. I'm sure all of Soul Society heard you yelling. How can anyone get any sleep with that noise?"

Renji turned to the sound of her voice, and if she saw correctly, his facial expression went from surprise to relief. "Damn woman, you had me worried sick ever since Ichigo asked if we'd seen you this afternoon – we haven't heard anything or seen anyone since then!"

Rukia walked up to where he was waiting and raised her head to look at him. "Well, I'm here now aren't I?" She saw his arms reach out towards her and almost hesitated before he proceeded forward, pulling her into a soft yet tight embrace.

"Yeah, I guess you are. That's all that matters to me right now." Renji whispered into her neck and breathed a sigh of relief when he felt her return the hug.

"Just don't suffocate me this time, okay? And...I'm sorry for making you worry."

He pulled back to look at her and kept her within arms length as he chuckled. "I won't suffocate you unless I have to." She briefly considered making a smart reply but decided not to and instead smiled warmly back at him.

As they walked back into town with Rukia telling him where she'd been, Renji lifted his arm subtly behind her back and waved in thanks. He knew Ichigo was standing in the shadows on the hill behind them, making sure that they were okay before turning back to where he came from.