Chapter 3

I can't See You

Ichigo tosses and turns restlessly after spending an entire evening with Rukia dressed all in leather. His teenage hormones finally seem to be taking their grip over him. Rukia had crept into his sister's room and was sleeping there. Ichigo is glad that she isn't around to witness his pitiful state.

Unfortunately for him though, she's aware. She can't sleep when his reiatsu fluctuates in such a disturbed manner, and so she sighs and slips out her gigai and out of the girls bedroom to walk to Ichigo's door. She hesitates before she pushes it open.

He immediately flips so that he's facing the door, when he hears it open in the quiet of the night.

"Rukia?" Ichigo asks as she appears in the doorway.

"I knew you were awake." Rukia says as she steps fully in and shuts the door. Ichigo's eyes widen as she walks towards the bed and then sits down to look at him.

She's sitting in my bed…and I'm in this condition…why?

"Why are you in here?" Ichigo asks her nervously. He can hardly think when she's in his bed in the middle of the night. He also feels like telling her that, would create a very embarrassing conversation.

"I can feel how unsettled you are clear from Karin and Yuzu's room. What on earth is wrong?" Rukia asks him as she looks at him staring at her with a strange expression on his face.

"Oh." Ichigo says and he feels pretty tense as he stares at her sitting in his room with him.

"Do you want me to stay here with you, until you fall asleep?" Rukia asks him softly. Ichigo scoffs.

"If you sit there like that, there's no way I'll fall asleep." Ichigo mutters at her.

"Do you want me to lay down with you?" Rukia asks him innocently. Ichigo's eyes widen at that suggestion.

Yes…but I can't say that to you.

Rukia waits for an answer, but none comes. Instead, his eyes look off to the side, and he stays completely silent.

He didn't say no.

Rukia pulls off her sheath with the zanpakutou inside and rests it against his desk. She climbs over him to lay on the window side, and Ichigo feels his face heating up, and he's glad for the darkness of the room. He flinches when she brings her hands up and begins to rub his back. He can't help moaning at how nice it feels. He's never had his back rubbed like this before.

Ichigo closes his eyes and enjoys the feeling. She rubs him for several minutes, but then her hands start to still and she ends up leaving them on his back. Ichigo hears the steadiness of her breathing, and he realizes she fell asleep. He sighs and closes his eyes, enjoying the feel of her hands on his back, but he stiffens when she slips an arm around him and rests her hand on his stomach.

She's holding me.

He can feel his heart pounding heavily in his chest…it has been like that since she entered his room in the middle of the night.

What is she thinking?

He feels quite disconcerted when she lets out a feminine little snore and then her fingers twitch a little bit on his stomach.

I like it…a lot.

Ichigo closes his eyes and smiles a little bit. They most assuredly went on a date tonight and now she's staying with him to help him sleep. Even though she was the reason he couldn't sleep in the first place.

After a little while, his heart rate seems to slow down, and he falls asleep, thinking how nice it is to sleep with her touching him.

When Rukia wakes up in the morning, she finds that she is clinging tightly to Ichigo. Not only are their legs entangled with one another, she's facing his back and she's the one who's grabbed onto him. He's sleeping though, and Rukia blushes.

She carefully extracts herself from his gasp and stares at his sleeping face for a minute before she grabs her zanpakutou and hurries back to his sisters room to slip into her gigai. Luckily, she woke up early enough that the girls are still asleep.

She really liked the feeling of holding Ichigo when she woke up. She feels a bit of excitement about that, and then she thinks about their date last night. She thinks about how the hollow had dodged Ichigo's attack and had come after her.

Rukia could feel a subtle difference in her power, only because she's so sensitive to any changes there, particularly since she had gotten Sode No Shirayuki to materialize.

Rukia closes her eyes and she lands in her familiar inner world. Even though it's like an ice rink surrounded by an icy cave, it's bright as though the sun is shining inside. There are steep walls of ice and little mounds of snow that settle on the ridges of the ice.

Rukia looks around for Sode No Shirayuki, but she doesn't see her anywhere.

"Where are you?" Rukia calls out loudly.

An icy blast of wind hits Rukia, and she recognizes the chill of Sode No Shirayuki. Rukia spins around in a complete circle on the ice, but she cannot see her usual companion that talks with her whenever she enters this world. Rukia sighs heavily, but then she hears a feminine giggle, but it's not the kind that you want to ignore. It has a creepy feel to it.

Things are changing.

Rukia shivers at the breathless voice against her ears. It sounds a little bit like Sode No Shirayuki, but she's still not visible in Rukia's eyes. Rukia starts to worry.

"Why can't I see you?" Rukia shouts very loudly, her eyebrows furrow in fear.

You don't want to see me right now. Your heart is denying what you are going to become.

"What?" Rukia asks worriedly. She doesn't like how the voice of her zanpakutou is like the wind caressing her ear, because it all gives her quite a creepy sensation.

This isn't something that I can save you from.

Rukia pops up in her bed and finds both Karin and Yuzu staring at her strangely.

"You were shouting in your sleep." Karin says, and suddenly Ichigo rushes into the room.

"What is going on in here?" Ichigo asks as she stares at Rukia, who is now pink from embarrassment.

I talked out loud? Shit!

"Sorry…I guess I was being loud as I slept." Rukia mumbles, not meeting Ichigo's eyes. She wonders if he knows how closely she held him in the middle of the night.

"Are you okay?" Ichigo asks with concern as he studies her face carefully.

Both Karin and Yuzu stare at their brother. The way he's looking at Rukia seems somehow more intense than the way he typically looks at her in front of them.

"Yeah…I'm okay." Rukia whispers, looking down so that she doesn't have to look anybody in the eyes. She remembers the words that were whispered against her ear as she had been in her inner world, and she doesn't want anybody to see the fear in her eyes, that must inevitably be there.

Ichigo knows she's not okay, but he doesn't know what's bugging her. He thought that things between them were gradually starting to heat up, but then she somehow slipped out of his bed without him noticing and then she shouted. He heard her, and her words echo around in his mind.

Why can't I see you?

She had sounded really desperate, freaked out, and scared. Ichigo gives his sisters a threatening glare.

"Scram." Ichigo says in a short voice and even though he receives a glare from Karin, he receives no arguments as the girls dash out of their bedroom. Ichigo closes the door behind them and he walks over to Rukia.

"I didn't mean to alarm anyone…" Rukia trails off, and she bites her lip.

"You can be honest now that they're gone." Ichigo tells her softly. "I want to know what has you so bothered that you refuse to meet my eyes." Ichigo says softly, as he sinks down onto the bed. Rukia turns pink at that, and Ichigo smiles a little bit.

She remembers.

"Fine. I know you've visited your own inner world before, right?" Rukia asks Ichigo in a soft voice, and he looks at her in surprise.

"Yes." Ichigo says, and he gives her a contemplative look.

"Well I was visiting mine, but I couldn't see Sode No Shirayuki." Rukia admits in a soft voice.

"This might sound stupid, but are you sure you weren't dreaming that you were visiting your inner world?" Ichigo asks her hopefully. Rukia shakes her head no.

"I know I was in my inner world. It's that feeling that you get when you're there…you know?" Rukia asks him, still not meeting his eyes.

"Yeah." Ichigo says, in a bit of a let down voice.

"Well…that's never happened before. I've always spotted her right away." Rukia says in a small voice.

"Okay, well that explains why you yelled what you did." Ichigo says quietly.

"But I could hear her. Like the wind against my ears, it was like she was invisible and whispering to me." Rukia tells him.

"What did she say?" Ichigo asks. Rukia blanches. She doesn't want to share that much.

"She said that she can't always save me." Rukia says, telling the partial truth.

"Even if she can't…I always will." Ichigo says as he puts a comforting hand on her shoulder. Rukia can feel her body temperature rising a bit at the heat of his touch. His words are nice, but it seems like he will never understand unless she actually spells it out for him as though he's three years old.

"Ichigo. I don't want to be someone that you have to protect. We will always watch each other's backs though, that's what partners do." Rukia tells him softly.

"Why won't you look me in the eyes?" Ichigo asks, feeling a bit depressed at her speech. Partners has so many meanings. In how many ways does she want to be his partner?

Rukia takes a deep breath and raises her eyes to meet his own. She hopes she's been able to take on her usual poker face, and she's very nearly successful. In fact, if Ichigo hadn't been concentrating on her in every sense of the word, he wouldn't have picked up on the tremor of fear that he can feel coming from her. She's trying very hard to hide it from him.

"I'm sorry if I worried you." Rukia tells him, and Ichigo decides to let it go…for now. Instead he pulls her closer and gives her a hug.

"When you feel like you want to talk…I want you to talk to me." Ichigo tells her, causing her to gasp and remember that time so long ago when she had uttered those exact same words to him. She leans her head against his shoulder and bites her lip.

He could tell. I guess I can't hide anything from him.

"Okay." Rukia says in a bare whisper, and Ichigo releases her, which makes her whole body ache in a bit of disappointment. She'd prefer to stay in his arms at the moment. It feels so comfortable there.

Sode No Shirayuki…I'm really scared.

"Don't forget." Ichigo whispers, and Rukia is back to looking at her blanket. He sighs and leaves the room, still quite worried about her.

Rukia collapses back onto the bed, feeling relieved at this blissful moment of solitude, so that she can think in peace for a moment. She may as well appreciate it, if she can't still be wrapped up in Ichigo's arms.

I'm afraid to admit it out loud. I'm afraid at what I could possibly become. I don't like how I couldn't see Sode No Shirayuki when I was in my inner world. Why is this happening to me? How will I get through this? Will this inner hollow be the end of me?

Rukia lets out a loud sigh into her pillow.

"Will I become a monster?" Rukia asks out loud, and on the other side of the door, Ichigo flinches.

She didn't just say what I think she just said…did she? Impossible.

Ichigo is sure he was just hearing her wrong. He quietly walks to his bedroom so that he can lay down a little bit longer and try to do some thinking on what is going on with Rukia.

She's completely on edge about something. What on earth could it be? She seemed so normal last night when we were fighting the hollow. She seemed so happy when we were listening to Sado's band play at the club. She came to my room to comfort me last night, and she had seemed like her usual self. Now she's definitely not her usual self.

Did something happen that I don't know about? She left when I was sleeping. Maybe she woke up and I was touching her indecently in our sleep.

Ichigo feels mortified at that thought. He sure as hell hopes that's not what Rukia's problem is today. That would be too humiliating for words. He wonders if he shouldn't have pressed her a bit more when he was in his room, but he's never been the type to demand someone share their feelings when they're against doing so.

I'll just have to keep a close eye on her, since she won't tell me what's bugging her. If Sode No Shirayuki can't always save her, then I sure as hell can, whether or not we're partners. I won't let anything happen to Rukia. Ever.

He would overthrow me in that inevitable time of suffering, if I ever lost Rukia.

Ichigo scowls, when he remembers his last encounter with his inner hollow. That thing is always doing stuff that provokes Ichigo. He has the thing under complete control except for the occasional reminder from his inner hollow that the roles can always be reversed.

Ichigo noticed a long time ago, that his inner hollow was the weakest in Rukia's presence. It's yet another reason why he prefers to have her by his side rather than in Soul Society. Seeing her in leather outfits and short school uniforms is always a plus too.

Ichigo's mind suddenly flashes to yesterday, when he saw Rukia topless, and he lets out a groan of desire when he pictures Rukia…bare from the waist up. He has to force the image out of his head in order to think about the present.

I hope she was wrong. I hope that was a dream. To have an empty inner world, with just the voice of your zanpakutou, must be quite unnerving. I always hate it when I see that bastard instead of Zangetsu.

But to see nothing at all? That would be more than enough to upset me too. I hope she sees Sode No Shirayuki the next time she goes to her inner world, or that will be even more worrisome. At least she was able to hear her zanpakutou. That's better than nothing, even if the words weren't all that comforting.

I wonder what her inner world is like. I wonder if it's anything like the jacked up mess that my inner world is. It would be embarrassing to have to explain it to Rukia. I wonder if she'd be as embarrassed to describe her inner world to me.

Ichigo flips over and lets out a big sigh. He tries to clear his mind, but instead he sees Rukia topless again.

She sure is beautiful. It's hard to believe that she's always here…with me. Things always seem best when she's nearby. I feel the steel of my resolve so much more when I'm fighting with her than without her. It was easy to tell during the winter war why we make such a perfect team. Our abilities compliment each other perfectly. There's nobody else I'd prefer to fight with.

"Don't worry Rukia, I'll never think you're a monster. To me, you're everything." Ichigo whispers with a blush. He sits straight up when the closet door slides open and Kon hops out.

"What were you just saying about nee-san?" Kon demands angrily. Ichigo quickly stands and kicks Kon back in the closet.

"Don't worry about it. Forget you heard anything." Ichigo commands the annoying modified soul, and Kon can tell Ichigo is deadly serious and so he nods his head in acquiescence. Ichigo sighs at his lack of privacy.