On time, pride, and waiting for the right moment.

When I fall in love, I take my time, there's no need to hurry when I'm making up my mind. – Jason Mraz

You'd let your pride ruin everything, you stupid child! – Yoruichi

31. Ichigo: A Question of Time

Kuchiki Byakuya said I was slow, even to fall.

It was true. I was slow to fall in love with his sister. At first she was an accident, a serendipitous means to save my family and myself. She appeared out of nowhere like a deus ex machina and helped me keep a vow I made after my mother died.

A day later, she was an imposition. I had unwittingly got her into trouble by sucking out all her power. She blackmailed me into doing her job until she recovered. She harassed, threatened, and even occasionally cajoled me into shape.

Somewhere along the way, she became a prerequisite to action. I couldn't move without her: something Ishida made a point of mockery. Yet Ishida was wrong. I didn't need her permission to act. I just preferred her to be around. It wasn't just because she wore the glove that slammed my soul out of my body, either. It was on a much deeper level.

Our working relationship was a well-oiled machine. She made the decisions and I implemented them. It was simple and effective. They say that two heads are better than one: so it was for us. We may have bickered but how many times did I actually get to veto her choice, or think of anything better on my own? Not many. I never admitted outright, at any given time, that she was usually right. I had my pride to save and besides – she would never let me hear the end of it. She was that type of crazy harridan. If she wouldn't budge an inch, I just had to push back all the same.

Later on, she became a necessity. She slowly ingrained herself into my life until she was like the very air I breathed. Her presence was constant and oddly soothing. I took her granted, like a normal person assumes that he has two hands and feet and the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Her exquisite face was the first one I saw in the morning and the last before I went to sleep. Even in my dreams, my imagination could not escape the very things she introduced to me: Hollows, the mysterious Soul Society, konsos, modified souls.

Later on, I realized I began to fantasize about the physical aspects of her as well: the gloss of her hair, the brilliant amethyst hue of her eyes, the slim taper of her waist, the curves of her hips, the pristine skin of her shapely legs, the neat trim of her ankles. Yet I attempted to push these reminders of her femininity out of my mind.

How she managed to cross the threshold to the fortress of my heart is beyond me. Aloof Kurosaki Ichigo, the scourge of faculty and the terror of neighborhood thugs, is bested by a slip of a Shinigami. She crept in undetected and got under my guard.

I don't know why she did it. She really didn't need me, don't you see. She could have managed all the little things by herself. I knew she must have been a competent officer to receive a mission on her own. But she didn't. She always acted as if she was helpless without me. It started with a simple juice box and then things escalated from there.

She made it a point that she needed me to bring her meals to my room – our room. She needed help with most of her homework so I ended up studying the same lessons twice in one night. She made it clear she needed me to stand lookout while she took a bath in case my insane father got curious at the sound of running water in the middle of the night. She insisted on jumping on my back as we patrolled the streets at night, seeking out Hollows and lost souls.

More men than women fall in love at first sight. For me it took two months, tops.

Love at first sight of her, every morning, when she slid open her the closet door. Love at last sight of her, every night, when she disappeared from my view to sleep and perchance to dream. Did she ever dream of me?

Two months: then she became my obsession. When she suddenly disappeared from my life, I was lost. I could not look at anything without being haunted by her. Everything I saw or touched screamed her name: Rukia. Rukia. Rukia. I thought I was going to go out of my mind.

At first I thought it felt like I had lost my mother again, but no, the feeling was different. It would be like comparing chrysanthemums to cherry blossoms. With my mother, it was the grief of an abandoned child. With Rukia, the passion that fired within me was that of a man who just realized he was in love, and that his love was going to be sacrificed to satisfy the caprices of twisted justice.

I was slow to admit it to myself. I loathed the idea of being in love with anyone. I kept telling myself and everyone else it was a matter of honor; it was a matter of a debt to be repaid. It was an easy answer to give, and it was one reason many were happy to accept.

I risked dying to become a Shinigami once more. I trained hard and became strong in order to save her. I disrupted the very fabric of Soul Society just for her. If my mentors and my friends still clung to the tenuous belief it was only due to a debt of honor, then they all are bigger fools than me.

Deep within me, I already knew the real truth even if I could not let it break into the surface of my consciousness. Such a strong epiphany would distract me from the task at hand. But Zangetsu caught on faster than I did. He's the sharpest embodiment of my soul, after all. Zangetsu knew who stopped the rain from falling.

By the time I had snatched her from death, I hoped Rukia realized the truth too, even if I was too dumb and too proud to tell her with words. With our unique relationship, I'm not even sure if words are still needed to define what's already there.

I know I am still young and that humans measure time differently than Shinigamis do. I know I had all the time in the living world, and in the next, to tell Rukia everything I carry in my soul for her, if she actually needs to hear it. Someday. I need to be a braver man than I currently am to face up to such a confession.

Right now is too soon. But I know it will never be too late.

I am a young man with an enormous amount of foolish pride. I have more than just a Hollow mask -- I have a public persona. The scowling, ill-tempered brute that everyone is familiar with is the antithesis of who I really am. I have many secrets. Even my best friends don't know what I am really thinking. I do not like being stripped of my defenses, even by the woman I love unconditionally.

Byakuya said I was slow, even to fall. He did not know how right he was.


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Thank you for reading this to the very end. This is the last vignette in this series.