Saving Grace

Disclaimer: I do not own the wonderfulness that is Bleach.

Author's Notes: I just noticed in episode 169 that Ichigo's bedding looks remarkably like the Quincy cross. But, for the sake of 'plot' purposes, I'm going use the time right after they return from Soul Society, when Ishida is trying to regain his powers because he was MIA for a while. I've been reading a lot of cutesy yaoi lately so I guess this is one of the by-products.

Comments are greatly appreciated!

Ichigo settles down into their habitual corner booth at the teashop, tugging off his heavy coat and scarf. He looks out the window at a sunny winter's day in mid-December, noting the snowmen and Christmas decorations that lined the streets outside. Karakura town had gotten a surprisingly large amount of snow this year.

He is the first one to arrive, having left the house earlier than expected. He, Rukia, Orihime, and Ishida had an assignment to do for the upcoming week (Chad was out of town visiting distant relatives). They had agreed to meet at the teashop as, in the tumult of schoolwork and fighting Hollows, it had been a long time since they had simply had time to enjoy each other's company. The plan had been to relax at their favourite hangout before heading over to Ichigo's to actually begin the work. Ichigo thanks the waitress as she hands him a steaming cup, letting the steam warm him.

When he is still alone twenty minutes later, Ichigo begins to get anxious. Had he gotten the date wrong, or the time? It is just at that moment, as he starts to question his own sanity, that Ishida walks through the door. Their eyes meet and the blue-eyed boy gives a nod of affirmation, heading toward their table.

"Hey," the Quincy greets casually, sliding into the bench opposite Ichigo.

"Hey." He feels his face heat up slightly and tries to act nonchalant as he hands over one of the menus.

It felt like such a long time since he had seen Ishida. Ever since they had returned from Soul Society, they had never talked outside of school at all. There was even a stretch of time where the other teen missed school entirely, and it had taken Ichigo a while to figure out that Ishida had in fact lost his powers. The truth is that they are somewhat of an item, although none of their friends are in on the secret. Ichigo has never labelled them a couple because the term kind of makes him gag, and he's sure the other boy would feel the same. It had been strange enough discovering that he had fallen for a boy to begin with, let alone putting such a lovey-dovey label on it.

"Where is everyone?" Ishida asks after he has placed his order.

"Don't know," Ichigo shrugs, reaching instinctively toward his cell phone.

"Ah well, we're not in a big rush," Ishida shrugs, leaning back into his chair. "Where's Rukia-san? I thought she would come with you."

"She had some errands to run at the Urahara shop," Ichigo explains. "I think she's having some trouble with her gigai."

"Oh… excuse me," Ishida says as his phone starts to ring. "Orihime-san? You what? Oh… do you need help? Are you sure? Okay, we'll meet you at Ichigo's."

Ichigo quirks an eyebrow. "What's up with Inoue?"

"She, uh… she had a bit of a cooking accident that she's cleaning up," Ishida says with a smile. "She'll meet us at your place later."

"Okay. Oh, it's a text from Rukia," Ichigo explains as his phone jingles. "Urahara wants her to stay and test out the gigai… she'll be a few hours. Whaaaaaat?"

"That means it'll just be you and me…"

Ishida is sure that at that moment, they are both thinking that people will certainly get the wrong idea if it is just the two of them sipping tea alone in a secluded booth (never mind the fact that they're actually 'dating', and it wouldn't be the wrong idea at all).

"Uh… how about we head straight over to your house? Orihime should be there soon…"

"Yeah," Ichigo nods, "Good idea."

They pay for their drinks and head out into the light dusting of falling snow.

"It's so pretty," Ishida says unconsciously as he reaches out for a snowflake, and Ichigo guffaws loudly.

"What?!" the blue-haired boy shouts indignantly, feeling his face flush. "The snow's nice, that's all!"

"Yeah, yeah," Ichigo says, wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes. "It's just such a girly thing to say, calling something pretty."

"Shut up!" Ishida shouts, throwing a well-placed snowball at the other boy's face and promptly starting a war.

They lose track of time as they do battle with the cold missiles, behaving as childishly as six-year-olds. Neither of them remembers laughing so much in such a long time. It is only when the snow begins to get considerably heavier, and their skin is soaked to the bone, that either of them is brought back to reality.

"It's really coming down hard," Ichigo comments as they wade their way through the overwhelmed path to his front door. "I can't believe it managed to snow this much in just a couple of hours…"

The heat inside is blissfully welcome and the two head upstairs to dry themselves off.

"Here," Ichigo says, tossing the other boy a towel from his closet once they reach his room. "I don't know if I'll have any clothes that fit you…"

"Thanks," Ishida says, drying off his hair as Ichigo continues to rummage through his clothes. "Anything will be fine."

The phone rings just as he picks out a shirt and pair of pants for Ishida.

"Hello, Karin? What's wrong? You're joking!" He runs to the window to pull open the curtains and is faced with a foot of snow on the sill. "Are you guys okay there? Keep Dad in line! Yeah, I'm fine here. Don't worry, just take care of yourselves. Okay. Okay, I'll see you soon."

"Trouble?" Ishida looks at him, concerned.

"Well, apparently we're in the midst of the biggest snowstorm to ever hit Karakura town in fifty years! Talk about a bad time to go Christmas shopping…"

"Oh. I guess that means the others won't be able to make it…"

The truth of their impending solitude hits them at the same time.

"Uh… you can use the bathroom down the hall and I'll use the one downstairs," Ichigo says, leaving the room before the other boy has a chance to reply.

Ishida heads to the bathroom, grateful for a chance to warm up. He sees the slightest shade of pink tint his cheeks as he looks into the mirror after he is fully showered and dressed in nice dry clothes. 'What the hell am I getting so worked up for?' he thinks to himself, trying to shake the feeling that his heart is beating far too fast. 'I've been here before. There's nothing to be nervous about.'

He re-enters Ichigo's room to find it still empty, and he is searching the room with his eyes for a place to put his wet clothes when his eyes fall on Ichigo's bed.

'What the—?'

"Oh, were you waiting a long time?" Ichigo reappears at that moment, looking dishevelled with his wet, unruly hair. Ishida can't help but think it looks a little sexy. "Oh, I'll take your clothes for you."

"What?! Oh!" Ishida blushes furiously as Ichigo holds out a hand to take his sodden clothing, having completely misinterpreted the other's words. 'My god, get your mind out of the gutter!'

"Um, Ichigo," he begins, trying to forget this internal embarrassment, "why does your duvet cover have the Quincy crest on it?"

"H-huh?" Ichigo stammers. "What are you talking about? It was just the cheapest one at the store!" Ichigo's ears turn red at the denial, never mind that his heart had nearly skipped a beat when he saw it in the store and he had nearly bowled over an elderly lady in his eagerness to get to it.

"If that's true," Ishida asks, sharp as ever, "then why are you blushing?"

"Shut up!" Ichigo says, sitting down on the bed defiantly even as his face is burning. When Ishida had disappeared for all that time, anything that reminded him of the other boy was something he wanted close by him.

"Ichigo… did you miss me?" Ishida says quietly, moving to sit on the bed beside his lover. During those weeks of training with his father that he had undergone to regain his powers, he had locked himself off from the world. He had argued that it was the best thing for everyone to do it this way; otherwise, he would probably lose his focus and someone would end up getting hurt. And even through those hours of turmoil, his thoughts had always been of a certain shinigami. It hadn't occurred to him that Ichigo, seemingly tough, infallible Ichigo, would have thought of him and missed being with him just as much.

"Who'd miss an idiot like you?" Ichigo says with a huff, turning away from him.

"I missed you, too." Ishida whispers the phrase softly in his ear, causing him to shudder.

"S-Shut up," the brown-eyed boy says, but Ishida has already pressed their lips together. Body temperatures rise as the kiss quickly turns passionate, tongues tangling in feverish desire.

"Uryuu," Ichigo groans, the only time where he'll use the other boy's first name. He pushes his boyfriend onto the bed and straddles him, pinning both his arms above his head.

"You're such a bastard," he says with his head bowed so that Ishida can't see his expression. Little does he know that at that moment, Ichigo is thinking how wonderful it is that his sheets are the exact colour of Ishida's eyes.

"I'm sorry," Ishida says. "I won't disappear like that again, I promise."

"You'd better not," Ichigo reprimands, his face serious. When they kiss again he can feel the hunger in Ichigo's embrace, the intensity that flows through his body through the hotness of his mouth, the pounding of his heart.

The snowstorm finally abates late the next morning, when the sun shines to match their moods. Ishida had awoken completely content, only to find that he couldn't get out of bed due to the unbearable pain in his backside. When he berates Ichigo for going overboard, the other teen apologizes sheepishly but maintains that it was Ishida's fault for being away so long. Ishida spends most of the day being a humiliated invalid, much to the prideful delight of his lover. His only saving grace is that Ichigo doesn't know that he has a pillowcase the exact orange of a certain someone's hair. He didn't think he could live down the shame if anyone ever found out.

Ishida makes a mental note that the next time there is a snowstorm, he will take care to be nearby Ichigo's house.