A/N: Twelve drabbles/one-shots written for the IchiRuki community on Live Journal.

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach…nope.

Happiness and Pain

"Learning To Deal"

By Nessie

It isn't enough that he has his own demons to handle, those shadows that claw at his Shinigami robes and sink their teeth into his dreams. Rukia's haunt him as well. Every time he thinks of her in that tall, white tower – alone, collared like an animal, thrust into darkness – Ichigo can only ask himself why he didn't get there sooner.

She goes to bed in his closet, shutting the door with a firm click, and he stares at the door for a long while, wondering how she can stand staying in another cramped, black space. Self-blame squeezes his heart. Some nights he wakes to hear her murmuring in distress, still sleeping. He has to curl the pillow around his ears but even then her voice breaks into his brain.

It finally becomes too much to bear because Ichigo knows that even if Rukia was resigned to her apparent fate in reality, she cannot lie to herself in her sleep. That is the difference between what could have happened and what did happen. He can feel her trembling.

Getting out of bed, he goes to the shut closet door. A wooden panel separates them. But not for long.

If necessary, Ichigo will show her again and again; he can learn to deal with his own phantoms. And hers.