Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite.

Author's Notes: It's time for some good ol' IchiRuki in which the only form of affection is physical abuse. The title is meant to signify a start that isn't really a new beginning, because it isn't unfamiliar grounds.


hello, again;
some things never change.


"Get up, Ichigo."

He knows who it is even before cracking open his eyelids, because that curt voice can belong to no one else. While his vision may be failing him, his hearing is still in perfect condition. He doesn't bother squinting to find out where she is, because she always enters through the window. It doesn't matter where he is – his room, the kitchen, the hospital – she never uses the door.

There is a slight weight pushing down beside him, and his sight is filled with black. Ebony robes, raven locks of hair. It is strangely comforting.

She is kneeling on his bed next to him, hardly making an impression on his mattress because she is so light. It's been five or six years since she last stopped by, and she still looks exactly the same. Big violet eyes framed with dark lashes, a paper-white complexion, and lips pressed gently into a line. He reckons that she encompasses the reasons why he's not married – firstly, it'll be slightly disturbing if she steps in during inappropriate moments. What will he do, then? Ignore her and go on with whatever he's doing? Talk to her and make his wife think he's nuts? The second reason is a little more subtle than the first – he doesn't think it's possible to stay in love with someone else if she keeps disrupting with her irregular visits. It really wouldn't be fair to his wife. The easy way out is just to remain alone.

Her touch is cold as she runs her fingers through his grey hairs. The orange is almost gone, now. In retrospect, it makes him think of the Hollow within that'd been subdued a while back. He can tell from her half-lidded gaze that she thinks so too.

"Is it time?" he asks her, his voice barely a whisper. It's good that he's in a personal ward, because he wouldn't want to scare the other patients. They might think that a Death God's here to claim all their lives and have a heart attack or something. In a way it's closer to the truth than not, but killing innocent people is really unnecessary.

She just looks at him. He doesn't try to return her gaze, and turns towards her long sleeve instead. Her shinigami robes smell faintly of that flower with a weird name – wijinruit or something – aromatic and bitter, as always. She really hasn't changed at all.

A soft sigh escapes her lips as she removes her hand from his hair. His mind protests, but he says nothing.

"It was time a few years ago, Ichigo." Her tone is gentle, yet firm at the same time – he doesn't know how she does it. He can also sense that her voice is laced with a thin layer of exasperation. After all, he's one of those who just refuses to die.

Short laughter bubbles up his throat as he makes an effort to sit up, pressing his palms to the white mattress. "I had to make sure that Yuzu went peacefully," he says in explanation, now a head taller than her even though she's on her knees. She's still as short as ever, but Gotei 13 seems to have a liking for shorties. Just look at that crazy pink-haired vice-captain, and Toushirou – the midget captain of the tenth. It's no wonder that they made her the vice-captain of her own division – he can still remember that particular visit when she had tried hard to mask her exhilaration at finally reaching the same standard as that "stupid-ass Renji". Even now, the wooden badge looks out of place on her otherwise completely monochrome attire.

They settle into a silence that isn't quite comfortable, his cataract-layered eyes pointedly staring past her, and her disapproving fleeting glances. Alone, they are able to maintain their calm demeanors and keep inappropriate words to themselves. Together, they combust like rubidium and water. Before, their reactions had been more violent, because he had been younger. While her outer appearance has hardly changed, she too, has mellowed down over the many years. Now, they show their displeasure with glares and feigned ignorance and fidgeting fingers.

Oh, but of course we know that will never happen. Not in a million years. Without bickering, hitting, kicking, their relationship will always be incomplete. Sadistic, but painfully true.

"Stop being a moron and die already, idiot," she grinds out, bashing his head on the side with the hilt of her sword. For a moment, he thinks she has indeed taken his life with that devastating blow – her hits seem so much harder nowadays, because his bones have become brittle and his skull has softened.

"Bitch," he growls, but chokes on his own words because his vocal chords can't take so much pressure. He doesn't miss the triumphant smirk on her face and has half the mind to swipe it off. But she beats him to it, and the slight curve of her lips is dropped almost instantaneously as a frown creases her forehead.

When she speaks again, her tone is sincere and does not contain any malice.

"They want you to become captain, Ichigo."

He closes his brown-orange eyes then, and leans back against his propped up pillows. She takes this as cue to continue.

"Byakuya-niisama and a few others managed to convince the governor-general to let you skip the process of the academy, and to take the placement test straight away." A pregnant pause, followed by a sigh when he doesn't seem to be responding. "They really want you – those positions have been empty for too long." Indigo orbs glance upwards, forcing him to look at her, because they've always had that effect on him. Still, he utters nothing.

"Most people aren't given the choice to die or continue living, so consider yourself lucky," she bites out, eyes flashing with irritation. She really hates him when he's in his stubborn mood because it's like talking to a brick wall and hitting your head against it until you bleed yourself dry.

"I don't want to spend the rest of my days doing paperwork or fighting Hollows – I've already done my share as a doctor and as a substitute shinigami when I could still run without a backache," he states matter-of-factly after a while, because it's never good to anger her for long periods of time with his silence. (He is proud to say that these silences have been perfected over the years, and never fail to drive someone nuts.)

The annoyance in her face dissipates to disappointment, then builds up to frustration once again in a span of less than five seconds. She's always held the record time for changing expressions.

"Damn it, Ichigo. Stop being such a bastard – I'm just doing my job!" she is close to yelling.

Her words sting more than they should, and he leans further back onto his cushions.

Both their stances are rigid as they dare the other to speak first. He breaks before she does, because his stamina isn't so good anymore. So he tells her, tells her that he doesn't want to die just yet, because she is just executing orders from superiors. They sent her, because they think he'll be more willing to fulfill their whims and fancies then. What they don't know is that his obstinate nature surfaces whenever he's with her, whether the two of them like it or not. He's happy that she's the one who's going to be leading him to Rukongai, but he doesn't like the fact that she didn't come on her own will, and is merely bringing him to Soul Society to fill up an empty spot in the thirteen divisions. He'd think that after sixty over years, she'll finally get the fucking message to stop thinking of him as the boy who became a shinigami and more like the boy who screwed his own life up and fell in love with a dead woma-

It's then that she silences him by pressing her lips over his, ignoring the fact that she looks fifteen and he's… well, seventy-two. Their relationship has never bothered about the boundaries of age and time, anyway. He reciprocates the gesture, just as he's done so many times before, drawing her lithe body close and breathing in her sharp rue-flower scent.

"That was a lie, stupid," she says with a slight smile. He gives her a lopsided grin in return, and before they know it, he's standing on the window sill with her without looking back at the shell of his seventy-two-year-old self. His hakama is as dark as hers, and his white sash flutters in the night wind. His hair is orange once again, and his familiar big-ass sword is strapped to his back.

"Let's go," one of them says, they leave for the world of the dead once again, matching each other's step perfectly.


End Notes: Reviews will be read, treasured and replied to.