A Long Term Arrangement

Rukia woke up to a soft knock on the closet door. She slid it open with a groan, rubbing her eyes and yawning.

"Do you have any idea what time it i-mmphh!! " Ichigo's hand plastered itself over her mouth. In her half-awake state, all Rukia could do was sit there and glare sleepily at him, her usually impeccably neat bob of hair askew.

"Exactly. So shut up, retard."

He was grinning smugly, pleased with his successful interruption of her Chappy dreams, but there was just something wrong with his expression - Rukia couldn't put her finger on it.

She peeled his hand off her mouth, keeping her eyes fixed on his face and her hand on his wrist.

"What's wrong?"

The question appeared to catch him off guard, and Ichigo's grin faltered like a sneakily faulty light-bulb, the corners of his mouth drooping just a little. He pulled them back up again hastily, shamefully - like a kid who'd just let his pants drop to the floor.

"Nothing."

"Bull."

"Shit."

Rukia eyed him. Ichigo's expression was unreadable now, but he sure as hell wasn't going to get away with this without a good explanation.

"Go back to sleep."

His eyes widened by a fraction of a fraction, and she felt his fists clench.

"N-no!"

"Why not?"

He fell silent, his face seeming to close in on her, protests and indignance extinguished. Rukia put on an expression of impatience, lips pressed together in a thin line while making a big show of a gaping yawn.

"Well?"

He opened his mouth, and then shut it.

Then-

"Can I sleep with you?"

Rukia stared at him, her mouth slightly open. Ichigo then seemed to realize the significance of what he had said, and hastened to cover his mistake.

"OH SHIT NO! No! No. I m-meant I meant that uh -"

It was now her turn to stopper his mouth with the palm of her hand.

"Bad dream?"

There was a moment of silence. His expression was once again unreadable, and their eyes were locked in an unblinking beam of recognition and understanding that only they could decode.

Ichigo looked at his feet, breaking eye contact. Then, he looked back at her again, defiant.

"So what if it was?"

She patted his wrist in an awkward show of affection. She didn't need to ask what his nightmare was about - she knew him well enough, could read him well enough to understand, and perhaps even empathise.

He shrugged, pulling his hand away and shoving them in his pockets, mumbling something about going back to bed when she put a hand on his shoulder. His shoulders - they ached from a burden that she could only partially help to lift.

"I could share. But this can't be a long term arrangement, you know."

Ichigo turned around to look at her, gratefulness etched into all the ridges and edges of his face. A grin was not necessary, just-

"I'll try not to impose."

He climbed into the ledge; awkwardly, as she squeezed herself against the innermost wall to make room for him - right leg first, then his left leg, and then the rest of him. After sliding the door shut, he attempted to cross his legs and ended up leaning towards her more than he intended.

Rukia found herself face to face with him, barely inches between their noses, and the only natural thing that she could do was to put her arms around his midsection and hug him. He reciprocated by holding her by her waist with both hands as he leaned back against the side wall of the ledge, taking her with him.

"I hope I'm not imposing on this arrangement that won't be long term," he muttered as he rested his chin on top of her head.

Rukia chortled, eyes shut.

"Don't worry. You're not."

end.