Disclaimer: i don't own bleach.

It was nearly sundown when he found her, on the grass field beside Kukkaku's insanely built firework cannon.


She turned at the familiar, steady voice. The owner of that voice grinned at her, orange hair healthy and glaring.

Rukia crossed her arms and raised her chin at him defiantly. She stifled a grin.

No. Now was not the time for foolishness.

"Ah, Ichigo."

Ichigo looked away to his left; the orange eyebrows were knitted a bit more than they usually were. He slid his hands into the pockets of his jeans (they were all wearing clothes like those in the Living World, she noted) and looked back at her.

"They're opening the gate to the Living World tomorrow. You should go to bed early, I'd bet you're still tired from everything."

Rukia tucked her hands into the sash of her kimono. Her lips parted, but the words wouldn't come. She looked away to her right; her fists tightened behind the mustard-yellow cloth.

He seemed to read her mind, and he started towards her, eyes wide.

One step, and the grass stirred and hissed around his calves.

Two steps. She heard him, her head snapping back to face forward.

"I was thinking," she began.

Ichigo stopped. His hands were now out of his pockets and at his sides, but Rukia barrelled on blindly, relentlessly.

"I was thinking of staying here, in Soul Society."

She tried to make her voice casual, as though she didn't think that her staying in Soul Society would make a difference at all. As though she didn't think that Ichigo would mind her staying where she was, as though she didn't think that she mattered to him that much.

He shrugged, the corner of his mouth lifting in a half-smile. A painful pause followed.

"Well, if you decided that on your own..."

Ichigo's fingers twitched, and he shoved them back roughly into his pockets. The half-smile extended into a full smile and he exhaled.

"I'm glad for you, Rukia."

He didn't tell her that part of him wanted to pick her up, drag her kicking and screaming through the gate and back home. He didn't tell her that part of him thought that she was being a stupid ass and would she just please come back home, because he-

There would be a time for that, and now was not the time.

If Rukia wanted to stay in Soul Society, he could live with it this time. He wouldn't be the happiest man alive...

But he could live with it.

"I remembered...why I wanted to save you so badly."

Even if Kukkaku hadn't butted in, what he would have said wouldn't have breached the barriers of normal, friendly conversation. He wouldn't have said what he wanted to say, and she knew that he was smart enough not to. Despite this, they each hoped with their hearts that the other was unaware of their private, individual thoughts. They hoped that they could stay the same for now, that they would not demolish the unintentionally built yet perfectly, intrinsically made tower of friendship that they shared.

Ichigo wouldn't add another level or two, and neither would Rukia. It wasn't worth the risk. There would be a time for that risk to come into consideration, and the two of them knew better than to fill in the blank right now.

Still, the expression on his face told her everything she needed to know when she leaped through the window a while later. And the feeling that welled up at the bottom of his heart below the excruciating pain told him exactly the same things when she kicked him right in the face.


I just felt like writing something, you know.