I do not own Bleach. FYI. In case you got me confused with KT ;)

If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks,

I will follow you into the dark.

-Death Cab

Rukia took a deep breath. The light blinded her vision. She knew Karakura would be on the other side of the doorway; she inhaled its familiar scent. Her stomach was in knots and her heart was aflutter. What would she do once she arrived? Her mind was…empty. Part of her felt numb as she silently walked through the first set of gates, she barely registered the noise of their closing, behind her.

She had many silent conversations with Yukiko over the past few weeks. She often meditated, speaking to her zanpakuto spirit as if it were a cherished friend. Their interactions were brief, mostly a result of Rukia's inability to maintain a proper connection. She had greatly improved from her first attempt, and each time, Sode no Shirayuki was delighted to see her. Often, it seemed, Sode knew more about Rukia's feelings than she did. The Shinigami did not argue, as it had always been that way. Yukiko was a part of her heart--her emotions. She trusted her zanpakuto's spirit, respecting her wise words of wisdom. Since their first interaction, she had noticed a sudden, formal manner to Sode no Shirayuki's address to her mistress. The light haired spirit was no longer commanding and authoritative. Instead, she was accepting and obedient--as if Rukia had domineered her. Rukia did not like that sort of relationship over her spirit, being reduced to tears on several occasions at the thought of her spirit reluctantly being owned by the Shinigami.

"Oh no, mistress! That is my duty!" came her melodical voice.

"I don't want you to be dutiful, I want you to be free to think on your own accord," Rukia had grumbled.

"You are a noble wielder, Rukia-hime. I am very lucky to have you," she sang brightly.

"No, I am lucky to have you," the raven-haired Shinigami had reluctantly replied.

I'd have lost my sanity weeks ago, she thought about her interactions with her zanpakuto's spirit. She actually enjoyed her short talks with the pale goddess.

Rukia blinked, staring ahead, her eyes watering from the white light. She could smell it: her future. It lay ahead of her like a slumbering child, unknowing of what the day would bring. A slight smile curled at her lips as she walked through the final doors to the living world. She gently tapped her foot against the familiar concrete of the street outside of the Urahara Shop.

She hesitated as she raised her hand to knock on the doorway. "This is what you want, Rukia. Stop acting silly," she muttered.

For the second time, she raised her small fist, with the intent of connecting with the thin wooden door. She didn't realize that she was, instead, tapping on Tessai's broad, muscular chest. She looked up, confused.

That was odd, she thought, her face turning red in embarrassment. It actually felt solid! "I—I…," she began.

Tessai raised an eyebrow, questioningly. Suddenly, a knowing smile spread across his face. "Rukia-sama, Urahara has been expecting you!" he jubilantly exclaimed.

"He has?" she asked, still confused about what had just occurred. "How did he—," she began.

"Know?" Tessai finished. Rukia nodded weakly.

"He always knows, Rukia-sama! You should know that by now," he tsk-ed, almost playfully, as he gestured for Rukia to enter the shop.

Rukia balled her hands into fists, "He's predicted this, hasn't he?" She almost didn't want the answer.

"You could say that, I suppose," Tessai nodded, stroking his mustache.

"Damn him!" she growled as she stomped past the burly man and into the darkness of the dank shop.

"You look lovely, Rukia-chan!" Urahara cooed from behind his fan. His eyes wandered appreciatively over the new gigai. He had made some…modifications from the previous one he had given her.

She glared murderously at him. "Not. Funny."

"It's..how do I say this, appropriate!" he squealed, clapping his hands in happiness. "My greatest creation yet! I've always had trouble with the female body," he rubbed his chin between his thumb and forefinger.

"Pervert!" she hissed. Though she didn't to admit it, she was slightly excited about the larger, er, enhancements in her bosom. Her chest was slightly larger than it had been upon her last excursion in Karakura. She squinted. Were her buttocks more rounded? She had a feeling Urahara had enjoyed making this gigai.

"It's only temporary," she sighed, straightening the dress that he had provided for her. The soft fabric fell below her knees, hugging her frame. The round neckline was not too low, much to her surprise. She had a feeling that Urahara took great care to choose this dress.

"Did some shopping did you?" she teased, almost twirling in the mirror.

"Consider it a gift, from Yoriuchi and me," he replied, his tone more serious.

"Thank you," she whispered, admiring the dress one last time. "I really appreciate…everything you've done for me."

"Even the enhancements?" his eyes gleamed mischievously.

"They could be worse," she sighed, slumping down into a soft cushion.

"No, no, no! Rukia-chan, you must be very careful, that fabric wrinkles quite easily!" he fussed about her.

"What the hell? Since when do you care about fabric?" she asked incredulously.

He fanned his face, hiding his blush. Rukia looked him over more closely. He had shaved, she noticed. And his outfit was…clean and neat. He wasn't even wearing his usual clogs. He was quite handsome when he cleaned himself up, she thought. Though he was still wearing his ridiculous bucket hat, she could tell his hair had recently been trimmed.

"You..," she began, her eyes on his attire.

"Don't say it!" he snapped.

"But," she started.

"Not one word!" he barked. "I'll make those breasts larger! You'll be a C-cup when I'm done with it!"

Her jaw snapped shut, and she nodded slightly. They glared at one another for a few moments. She could tell he was embarrassed by how quickly he was fanning his face. "Pervert," she playfully replied as she broke into a smile. "I could tell Yoruichi about your threat, you know," she teased.

"Ooh, could you? I like her more when she's angry. Maybe she'll paddle me," he mused.

"Gross!" she spat, her mouth hanging open in disgust. Did he always have to one-up her? This time, she wasn't entirely convinced he was kidding, either.

"You really are a pervert!" she blinked.

"Eh, it's better than being a miser," he retorted.

He had a point there, she thought. She stood, straightening the light green dress. "Really, Kisuke, this is a beautiful gigai," she hummed.

"Only the best for my Rukia-chan!" he trilled.

They both laughed at his ridiculous behavior. "You're really in love, aren't you," she whispered, smiling knowingly.

"And you're not?" he shot back, equally amused.

She could feel her cheeks burn under his eyes. "We'll see what happens," she murmured, looking out the window. "He may not even feel that way about me anymore."

"I don't think that'll be a problem," Urahara mused. "Feelings like that don't just change overnight."

"It's been longer than a few days," she sighed, pushing her hair from her eyes.

"Even that won't do it," he shrugged.

"I hope you're right," her voice was soft. Her heart was fluttering. I'm so sorry, Ichigo!

"I usually am," he concurred.

Rukia walked toward the Kurosaki house, her feet quickly taking her the route she knew by heart. She was sure that no one would be home, as the girls and Ichigo were at school. Isshin, she guessed, was working at the clinic. She turned the doorknob, surprised to find the door easy to push open.

Isshin, she thought, must have felt my reiatsu and expected me. She smiled to herself as she gingerly walked toward the room he had given her. She pushed the slightly ajar bedroom door open farther.

The room had changed since she last saw it. It was painted a soft yellow. The solitary window was framed by two creamy white panel curtains. There was a matching white bureau and vanity. Across the room, against the wall, was her twin-sized bed. The light plum bedsheets were neatly made and complimented by a duvet that matched her curtains. She was touched by the display, and she had no doubt that Karin had probably pushed for this venture. She had known about Rukia's promise to return.

Rukia opened the tiny closet—much tinier than Ichigo's. She breathed sharply in response to the new wardrobe that hung within it. There was a colorful array of dresses, skirts, jeans and shirts. Soft sweaters were piled on the top shelf, and the floor was lined with a few pairs of shoes. How had they known her size? she wondered.

"Because," she heard the familiar voice, "Urahara had that gigai for a few weeks!"

She hadn't realized she had spoken her question aloud. She turned to find the familiar stuffed lion standing, his paws angrily placed on his hips. He was glaring furiously at her.

"Kon…," she began.

"Don't you 'Kon' me! And don't give me those puppy dog eyes! They won't work this time, Nee-san!" She was taken aback by his abrupt reply. Though part of her couldn't help but think that he was only pretending to be angry out of principle.

They stared at one another for a few moments. "I'm sorry, Kon. I didn't mean to hurt you."

He glared at her. When he didn't respond, she continued. "You called me nee-san," she replied softly, a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth.

"I did not—oh shit!" he threw his tiny paws up into the air. "Nee-sannnnn!" he roared, as he flung himself at her. She scooped him up into her arms, allowing the momentary contact. She did owe him that much.

"I'm so happy to see you. I've missed you so much, Nee-san!" he cried.

"I know," she cooed, rubbing his back. "I should have never left you!"

"That's right," he buried his face in her neck.

"And I won't do it again," she promised.

"Good," he said, his head sliding lower. Before he could move anymore, he was flung against the wall.

"Nee-san, how could you do that to me?" he wailed.

"Pervert!" she muttered. Her eyes glistened with anger, but her lips betraying it. She chuckled lightly. "I still missed you," she sighed. "Even if you're a perverted stuffed animal!"

He sat upright, smiling in glee. "Urahara promised me a new gigai someday," he puffed out his chest. "You won't be able to deny my charm and handsome looks once that happens!"

"I may not," she replied, her eye wide with mock seriousness.

"I will not succumb to your advances so easily, Nee-san. My heart is still hurting from your negligence," he turned his head in defiance.

She laughed softly at his ridiculous act. She reached for the drawer to the bureau, curiously pulling it open. "What the--?" she began, her mouth hanging open in shock.

Kon squeaked across the floor, jumping up to peek into the drawer. Inside was a tiny note:

Sorry, shop for your own underwear, Rukia-chan!

XOXO, Isshin.

"That bastard!" she fumed as Kon picked up the note to examine it.

"Wise move," he murmured. "It's easy to buy the wrong size."

"Shut up!" she hissed, pushing the drawer shut. With Kon inside. He mumbled obscenities, pleading for her to let him out. She ignored his pounding.

Her eyes fell on a framed picture on the top of the bureau. How had she missed that before? she wondered. She picked up the tiny, metal frame. Inside was a picture or Rukia, Yuzu, and Karin---taken together months earlier, as they baked Isshin a birthday cake in the kitchen. It had turned into an utter mess, considering Rukia wore most of the raw cake. She smiled, remembering Isshin's tears as he took the picture, mumbling about his "three daughters".

She gently placed the picture back on the bureau surface. As she did, the picture of the three girls slid down into the frame, revealing something underneath. Rukia pulled the back off of the frame, slipping the picture free.

Behind the picture of her, Yuzu, and Karin was another picture. It was of Ichigo. He was standing in the street outside the Kurosaki home, staring into the sky. His hands were pushed down in his pockets as he watched the fireworks overhead. It was Karakura's Annual Festival, as Isshin had told them that morning—when he woke each of them. Apparently, he and Masaki had taken the kids every year. And each year, they returned home and watched the fireworks from the front porch, sipping lemonade and sharing laughter.

Rukia smiled, remembering her joy as she was welcomed into the family dynamics that day. Isshin had stealthily taken that picture, as Ichigo was lost in a moment of remembrance and mesmerization. It was the flash that brought him back to reality. He had chased Isshin around the front yard for nearly thirty minutes, trying to beat his father over the head with the damned camera.

Rukia turned the picture over.

To Rukia, My Sister!

Love, Karin.

She felt the tears welling up in her eyes as she realized it was Karin's gift to her.

"It's gorgeous," she whispered, to no one in particular. The far off sound of thunder brought her thoughts back in order.

"Shit," she muttered. It had been a sunny day when she arrived. She quickly placed the pictures on her dresser and grabbed a soft white sweater from her closet. She swiftly ran from the room, slamming the door behind her. Kon's hollow pounding on the drawer is the only reminder that she had not been alone in the room.

"Shit!" she cursed between gritted teeth as the sky became dangerously dark. She pulled on her cardigan as the temperature lowered. She could feel a few raindrops hitting her face as she ran.

"Don't rain, dammit!" she growled as she cast a pleading look at the sky. She was answered by the hollow sound of thunder in the not-so-far-off distance. She lowered her head and ran toward the school. Toward Ichigo.

When she reached the large courtyard beside the building, she knew she had made it too late. Lunch was over. She kicked at a mound of grass by her feet. What was she going to do now? She looked up toward the familiar classroom window, the darkness of the sky contrasting the bright lights within. She squinted her eyes. She thought she could see his orange hair in disarray on his head; his back was to the window. It looked like class hadn't started yet.

Maybe they had lunch inside? she thought. Another rumble of thunder, this time closer. The momentary distraction shook her. She hated thunder. She hated storms. She stared longingly at the window. What should I do now? she asked herself, silently.

"Kurosaki! Sado, Inoue and I are going to the noodle bar after school. You in?" Ishida asked as he picked at his cold lunch.

"It's all-you-can eat!" Inoue clapped happily. Chad simply nodded, as he cautiously eyed what Inoue had prepared herself for lunch.

"No. Thanks, guys, Karin has a soccer game. I promised I would go with the old man," his smile was strained.

Inoue watched him carefully. The sudden sound of thunder caused her to jump in her seat. That's when she felt it. She looked at Ichigo wide-eyed, but he seemed to not notice. Can he not feel it? she thought cautiously. It was brief, but surely he could feel the familiar pressure.

"What is it, Inoue?" he asked.

Inoue blinked realizing she was staring. She blushed. "N-nothing, Kurosaki-kun!" She looked toward the dark clouds as they furiously churned in the sky. They had to eat lunch indoors due to the terrible weather, and now it was manifesting into a terrible storm. She chewed her lip in concern. She knew that outside that window, Rukia would be there. Finally.

She, Chad, and Ishida had all agreed that, despite Ichigo's smiles and laughter, he was utterly miserable. They hadn't seen Rukia in some time, and assumed that something had happened between the pair. The trio had ventured to the Urahara Shop to ask questions, though they were met with vague answers. Some of what the ragged owner provided gave them enough of a picture to understand Ichigo's silent despair.

Of the four of them, he deserved happiness the most. She slowly smiled, thinking of how Rukia had finally returned. She looked at his face again. No, he had not registered the familiar presence. She rolled her eyes, of course he would be so block-headed. Even after all of this time, his ability to sense reiatsu was horrible. Orihime met Ishidia's knowing glance; he nodded to her, slightly. She knew that Chad would probably be thinking the same thing.

A smile crept across her lips. "Kurosaki-kun?" she asked timidly. "Will the soccer game occur in this weather?" she asked with mock concern as she nodded toward the window.

Ichigo turned, not realizing the gray dullness that spread across Karakura. He squinted at the looming black clouds, scowling. Great, he thought, now I'll be stuck inside the house with that geezer! He caught something out of the corner of his eye. He had almost not looked toward it, thinking it to be a stray animal of some sorts.

When he did, his heart stopped.

Standing below, on the ground, was Rukia. She was wearing a green dress with a white sweater. He sucked in a deep breath, realizing he had been holding it. His eyes met hers as she squinted toward the window. He thought he saw a faint hint of a smile upon her face as her eyes softened. Her face became blurry as a large, stray raindrop spread across the window. He didn't care, he couldn't take his eyes off of her.

Why is she here? he thought, a mixture of curiosity, anger, fear, and longing. Why had she come?

"Ichigo," came Chad's deep voice. "I think you should go."

Ichigo turned toward his friend, staring incredulously. Had they all known she was out there? He slowly looked at both Ishida and Inoue—the latter wearing a smile on her face.

Ishida pushed his glasses farther up onto the bridge of his nose. The light glared off of his glasses. "I'd listen to him," he nodded toward Chad.

"We'll tell the instructor that you're not feeling well, " Inoue chimed in. "That you went to the nurse's office."

He didn't try to stand; his legs did it on their own accord. He felt his heart racing. "Thanks," he croaked. With one last look out the window, he quickly strode from the room. Ishida walked around the room, closing the blinds.

"They could use some privacy," Inoue conceded, smiling at Ishida.

As he closed the blinds on the last window, he looked into the courtyard, "It's about time," he murmured, smirking as he completed his task.

Rukia stared at the window. She was unsure of what had just happened. Surely he had seen her? She saw him look right at her! Then she saw Ishida closing the blinds. She waited for a few moments, hoping for…anything. She felt her stomach sink, as Ichigo did not reappear.

He probably hates me, she thought to herself. She dropped her head in both defeat and shame. Can you blame him? she asked herself. She knew the answer as she wordlessly mouthed the word, no.


Her head immediately shot up at the sound of her name. Her eyes locked with this. The rain was starting to fall heavily, and she could feel the dampness of the sweater on her shoulders. Her hair was sticking to her face and neck. She was sure she looked atrocious. She stared at him in muted silence. She was too afraid to speak, as if he would disappear.

"A-are you alright?" his voice was hesitant. She didn't blame him for it. She deserved his tentativeness.

She blinked. He was waiting for an answer? "Yes," she whispered.

"Why are you here?" he asked, confused by her silence. He looked at her, concern in his eyes. He took a few steps toward her. She watched him walk toward her, stopping only a few feet away. She was sure he could her heart beat.

"I…," she began, searching for the words. Why am I here? she furiously thought. She hadn't even at least thought up a good reason for her sudden appearance at his school. "I don't know," she replied, defeated. The rain was soaking her dress. She shivered, as goose flesh mottled her body.

"You're cold," he murmured, reaching out to touch her. He immediately drew his hand back, balling it into a fist at his side. His eyes illustrated his torture. He looked over her slender frame. Her hair was longer, and her body had begun to fill out nicely. He felt his heart skip as he looked at her new curves—curves that were hidden by her shingami uniform. He swallowed.

She watched his movements, her heart sinking at his withdrawal. Suddenly, a boldness overcame her. "I came to see you. To apologize, Ichigo," she said, raising her eyes to his. The water ran down her face, she could feel it dripping off of her chin and running down the back of her neck. She ignored the chill that began to set in.

"You don't owe me an apology," he replied. His tone was stagnant, as if he was trying to hold back his emotions.

She took a deep breath, closing the distance between them. "Yes, I do," she murmured.

"No, you—," he began. Suddenly, the wind was knocked out of him as she softly punched his stomach. She grabbed his arm and tugged forcefully. He quickly fell to his knees, gasping for air. When he looked up, they were practically at eye level. She was inches from his face, her warm breath intermingling with his own.

"Don't interrupt me while I'm apologizing, idiot!" she softly argued.

Before he could reply, she reached out and touched his face with her hand. She rubbed her thumb across his cheek, stroking the warm skin against her cold fingers. The other hand reached out to cup his face as she looked into his eyes.

"I'm sorry for treating you the way you did," she whispered, the tears in her eyes overflowing. They softly ran down her face, mixing with the rain that streaked her porcelain skin.

Ichigo looked into her eyes, confused by this sudden revelation. What exactly was she saying? "R-Rukia," his voice was filled with uncertainty.

"I said, shut up," she hissed, her eyes falling to his lips. A slight grin formed on her own pink lips as she softly leaned into him. She hovered near his mouth, her breath both warm and sweet. "I want to do this right, this time," she whispered, her eyes closed.

Ichigo watched the raindrops glisten on her eyelashes. He didn't want to close his eyes, afraid that if he opened them, she would be gone--all of this a dream. When she tentatively pressed her lips to his, he knew it was no dream. It was heaven. He closed his eyes, matching her fervor.

This time, he pulled away from her, "Hey! You can't just come back here and kiss me and expect me to forgive you, you know!" he said, his eyes flashing their disdain. Her violet eyes looked into his. For the first time, he felt certain that he could read her emotions. There was no denying that her eyes were filled with love and admiration for him.

"I know," she admitted, her voice unwavering. She didn't look away from him, matching the intensity of his gaze. "But it's a start," she grinned as she entangled her fingers into his wet hair, pulling his face toward hers.

The two lovers remained intertwined in the pouring rain, as Rukia began the silent apologies. Minutes passed before they breathlessly broke apart.

"You were all I thought about," she breathed, her forehead pressed against his. "No matter how hard I tried to not think about you."

Her words warmed him to the core, and he instinctively pulled her against his body, his head buried in her neck. "I never stopped caring for you," he admitted. "I love you."

She nodded, her tears falling into his hair. "I know, Ichigo Kurosaki. That's why I'm here."

"You're staying?" He asked, holding her by her shoulders as he gazed at her face. He couldn't contain his excitement.

"For a while," she confided. "Captain Ukitake gave me a long-term assignment to guard Karakura."

He stared into her eyes. "Does that mean--?" he began.

She immediately understood the meaning behind his words. She shook her head, "No. Not yet. We can talk about it later," she softly replied.

He knew it was a serious decision on both of their parts. He nodded, staring at her in amazement. She had come back for him! She loved him! He stood, kissing her forehead. His heart felt as if it were going to burst. "Thank you," he murmured against her cold skin.

"I love you!" she blurted, immediately blushing from her sudden outburst. He stared at her. "I-I m-mean I, uh..uh," she stammered. Her face grew more red with each word.

"I know," he replied, tilting her chin toward him, he rubbed his thumb over her lips. The rain dripped off her hair, running over his hand. A tiny well of rainwater formed in his palm, forming a liquid mirror. He would cherish this moment forever.

She closed her eyes at his touch. "I'm so sorry, Ichigo," she whispered.

"Quite apologizin' already!" he told her with mock anger. He pushed her matted hair from her face.

Suddenly, she grinned, grabbing his hand and pulling him behind her. "Let's go!" She towed him through the puddles and the rain.

"Rukia!" he looked back over his shoulder, toward the classroom. He could see the blinds closed, sure that his friends wanted to give him his privacy. He looked toward the young woman, her dress now almost transparent from the rain. "W-where are we going?"

"Home!" she replied, confident.

He nodded. Home. It sounded as if it finally belonged. Rukia was coming home. His family was once again complete.

"Come on!" she squealed, "I'm freezing!"

Ichigo grinned. As he allowed her to pull him through the puddles toward his house.

There was so much she wanted to say to him, so much she wanted to share. There was a long road ahead of them, she was sure. Despite the uncertainty, she was certain that Ichigo would be beside her on the journey. Their journey.

A/N: And thus ends Part One. Hope you all enjoyed it! I'm going to take a few weeks off to write my the side story for "Unwritten" (mainly a continuation of the Tenten/Shino drabble). Then I may post a chapter of my Fairy Tail FF and see how it goes. I want to take the time to think of a good plot of Part Two. If there is anything you would like to see, send me a PM or even put it in your review. I haven't decided if I'll add it to the end of this, or make a new story out of it. Either way, I'll post something after this chapter to alert everyone.

Speaking of reviews: 170 REVIEWS!! I know that may be miniscule to some authors, but to me, that's HUGE! I can't believe that I've received so many! I do want to thank the random PM (you know who you are) that mentioned that I could see who added my story and those that actually review. It's a bit excessive, but still I enjoyed the theory behind it. I know there are a ton of people who read this story, as well, and I want to tell you all that I appreciate it so very very much! I remember the feeling when I received 10 reviews. You are all amazing individuals, each of you!

Ok, I took up way too much time writing here! Thanks, again! Have a wonderful weekend! And Happy Reading!