As he walked home from school in the golden afternoon light, Ichigo looked out of the corner of his eye only to confirm that, indeed, Rukia still had her head buried in that damn cell phone of hers. "How long are you gonna keep playing with that stupid thing? You haven't even talked to anyone in hours."

A visible pulsing red vein popped at the side of his head as he saw the girl keep walking, face still entirely focused on the small screen. "Oi! I'm talking to you dammit!"

"…"

"OI!" He used his long legs to his advantage, quickly stepping in front of her, forcing her to stop walking. She pressed a few more buttons and then,

"There." She snapped it shut with a satisfactory sound. "Now, what were you saying, fool?"

More veins graced his scowling face. "Forget it. Crazy Midget." He muttered the last part to himself, but it was obviously not low enough because, he was suddenly forced to bend over in pain, clutching his ribs after getting viciously elbowed by the seemingly innocent girl beside him.

"Dammit!" he cursed in pain.

"What was that?" Rukia asked innocently. "Did you say something?"

"I'm gonna get you for this you insane woman!" he growled, straightening up to get ready to pounce.

Rukia laughed. "We'll see about that!" she said before running off.

"Wha- Hey!" He cried startled, quickly noticing that he was now being left behind. "WAIT UP!"

****

Ichigo was sitting at his desk, trying to concentrate on his homework while a certain Shinigami someone carelessly flipped through the pages of a manga lying on her stomach on his bed.

"Hey, you have the same classes as me, shouldn't you be as up to your neck in homework as I am?" He asked with some sarcasm in his voice.

Rukia turned another page of the manga before vaguely saying, "I don't know what you're talking about."

Ichigo's scowl deepened comically. "Oh that's right, I forgot. All you ever have to do is cry Ms. Ochi a few tears, along with some tragic part of your life and suddenly it's okay for you to skip all the assignments you want."

He was rewarded with a rather surprisingly thick manga to the face. He opened his mouth and was about to begin a pretty violent bickering session, but was interrupted by the sound of Rukia's phone ringing.

"That thing again? What is it? A Hollow?" He asked without interest, beating another Hollow would just take time away from his schoolwork, which, unlike some people, he actually bothered to do.

"No." Rukia answered shortly before bringing the device to her ear. Suddenly, she smiled and said, "Right." into the phone, then looked at Ichigo. "He's here."

"Eh? Who's here? Wha- Hey, wait Rukia! Who's here?!" he called after the girl who had just sprinted off out of his room. He ran after her and soon they both stopped just outside his house.

"Ru-" Ichigo was about to question her again, but was cut off by a familiar voice.

"Hey Rukia. Ichigo." Smirked the red-headed Shinigami, who had both hands tucked into the pockets of his gigai's pants. "Long time no see."

"Renji!" Ichigo exclaimed, shocked to see his friend and battle partner here.

"Surprised?" Rukia asked, a smirk similar to her childhood friend's on her face. "I've been making a few calls-" She said.

"While I began preparations-" Renji cut in.

"And Nii-sama pulled some strings-"

"And here I am!" Renji finished, grinning widely. "Come on Ichigo, say something. I know you missed me!"

"Che. You wish." Ichigo said with his usual scowl, though in truth, he really was glad to see him again. He had barely seen anyone from Soul Society since the end of the Winter War, except for Rukia of course, who stayed in his house like before, posted in Karakura Town as it's official Shinigami, like she had been originally when they first met.

"Well you don't have to sound so excited!" Renji scolded, then unexpectedly pulled Ichigo down into a head-lock. "Come on! Admit it, Ichigo! You totally missed me!" Renji said this while pushing on Ichigo's trapped head, making him yell out, "Gyaaaa!!!!" before gathering the force to break free and tackle Renji to the ground.

Once there, they just wrestled each other, the original argument completely forgotten, while an amused Rukia watched from a safe distance. "Men…"

***

"Abarai-kun!" Squealed a cheerful Inoue, clasping her hands together and smiling brightly.

Ishida, who stood just a few feet behind her, merely nodded in acknowledgement. Chad, as usual, showed no emotion.

"Have you come to visit?" Inoue asked brightly.

"Yeah, Rukia called and told me things were pretty mellow back here. Said I should drop by." Renji told her, absentmindedly scratching the back of his tattooed neck.

Ichigo stood at Renji's side, and for a moment, felt like something was off.

It took him a moment to figure it out but, he realized it was that Rukia wasn't there.

Well, she was there, as in, in the classroom, but she wasn't standing at his side, where she usually was. Instead, she was on the other side of Renji.

'Eh? What the hell?' Ichigo thought, startled by a sudden electric feeling that had just sort of charged him for the shortest second. It was really weird, and he was surprised to see that his hands, relaxed a few seconds ago, were now in tight fists at his sides. And in that electric split second, he had felt the distinct desire to punch the red-head beside him.

He shrugged it off as just a random desire to punch him. After all, this was Renji we were talking about, it's not like it was that rare to feel like kicking his ass.

Still, when he became aware once again of Rukia's presence-or lack thereof-he felt a repetition of the same spark.

''The hell's wrong with me?!'

"…Ichigo…?" Rukia was waving her small hand in front of his face, bringing him back to reality. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, you kinda zoned out there, a bit. What, you thinking about pretty girls?" Renji teases easily aiming for Ichigo's sensitive spots.

"WHAT?!" His faced now matched the color of Renji's hair. "What the hell, Renji?!"

"Hey, hey, calm down, buddy. No need to get all worked up." He said calmly, but he didn't bother to disguise the smug teasing in his voice. "Unless, of course, it's true." He was fully grinning now and Ichigo was prepared to charge at him when Ms. Ochi entered the classroom, making everyone sit down.

Once in his chair, Ichigo's gaze quickly slid to his side, where he knew Rukia was sitting at her usual desk, as she always did. An unexplainable feeling of smugness filled him when he saw Renji sitting a good amount of chairs back, behind Chad.

"What are you smiling about?"

He heard Rukia ask him suspiciously. She must have caught him grinning to himself after casting a look at the secluded red-head.

"Nothing. Can't I just smile once in a while?" He countered, scowling, to add to the irony.

"Whatever you say." She rolled her eyes.

Class went on uneventfully.

A few more periods later, everyone ran off to their favorite moment in school: lunch.

Renji followed Ichigo, Keigo, Mizuiro, Ishida and Chad to the guy's spot on the roof. Rukia went along with the other girls to their usual place.

Lunch went as usual: Keigo rambling on about useless stuff, Mizuiro making him look stupid effortlessly (though, frankly, anyone could have done that without much effort), Ichigo occasionally telling them to shut up when they tried to drag him into one of the arguments, Chad and Ishida saying nothing (well, Ishida got in a few snarky comments but no one really paid them any mind). Renji just watched the whole antics with a fascination in his eyes that reminded Ichigo of the way Rukia's eyes had looked exactly like that during her first days here on Earth… Without his permission, his mind went to a flashback of the time when she had been with him on this very roof, trying-quite unsuccessfully- to open a juice carton. It had been rather amusing to watch, but in the end, he took pity upon her and opened the thing for her. Her eyes had widened as she gratefully drank, quickly being taken over by the new flavors she was experimenting.

"Hey, Kurosaki, are you with us?"

Ichigo hadn't realized he'd spaced out, and was very startled to see that a smile had crept onto his face at the memory.

"Don't sweat it, Ishida. Ichigo's just been all loopy cause he's thinking about girls."

That was it. Renji was dead.

"OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

He closed his eyes, not even needing to see to know whose voice this was.

"ICHIGO HAS FINALLY BECOME INTERESTED IN GIRLS!!!!! NOW HE'S SURELY GONNA DITCH ALL OF US SO THAT HE CAN GO HAVE FUN WITH INOUE-SAN AND KUCHIKI-SAN!!!!!!!!DAMN YOU ICHIGO! TRAITOR!"

Ichigo tried to ignore Keigo's obnoxious yelling, to no avail. "Shut up, you idiot!" He yelled back, complementing his words with a kick to the face, for good measure.

"My, my. Someone's getting touchy." Said Renji slyly. It especially pissed Ichigo to see Ishida and Mizuiro smile one of those 'knowing smiles', as if they knew anything at all!

"Doný any of you have anything better to do than harass me?!" Ichigo had been in the process of launching at Renji, but found his way blocked by Mizuiro and Ishida, who had each grabbed an arm and firmly kept him in place, despite his struggling.

"There's no need to take it personally, Ichigo. Becoming interested in girls is a very natural process, if you play your cards right, it can even be quite enjoyable-" Mizuiro had begun with his calm smile. Ichigo sweatdropped.

"I bet it is for you. Womanizer." He muttered. No one paid this any mind though.

In that moment Keigo, apparently recovered from getting half the bones in his face crushed by Ichigo's foot, suddenly burst out, "Hey guys!! Check it out, there's gonna be a fair in town this weekend! I wanna go! I wanna go! I wanna go! I wanna go! Come on! LET'S ALL GO TOGETHER!" he cried to his unenthused audience.

"Actually, I can't, this weekend I'm meeting up with my girlfriend-" Mizuiro began.

"WHAAAAAAAT?! YOU'RE GOING TO ABANDON US TO BE WITH ANOTHER ONE OF YOUR GIRLFRIENDS?!"

"Who's us?" Ichigo asked to no one in particular.

"GYYYAAAAH!!!!! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU!!!!" Keigo cried rivers of tears.

"Pipe down, will ya'?" Ichigo started walking away, leaving an inconsolable Keigo behind.

He heard Renji catch up soon after. "So, what's this fair he was talking about?" Renji inquired.

Ichigo debated whether he should even be speaking to the man after all his out of place, not to mention off-mark comments. He eventually decided that if they kept talking about useless stuff further comments would be avoided. Finally, he shrugged. "Just a bunch of rides and booths meant to wiggle you out of every cent you might have."

"Rides?" Renji asked, mild curiosity in his tone. Ichigo sighed. Didn't these Shinigami know anything?

"Big metal machines that take you on a… ride." He finished stupidly.

Renji looked apprehensive for a moment, forming an 'Oooooh' shape with his mouth.

One more moment…

"I don't get it."

"That's not surprising." A teasing voice made the two men spin around. "What can't you understand this time, Renji?" Rukia looked pretty smug for someone who couldn't figure out how to open a juice box. He refrained from saying anything though- he'd had enough bruises for one week.

After Renji was done glaring at the girl for her comment, he said. "This fare."

"Firstly, it's pronounced fair, moron. Secondly, it doesn't matter since you're not going to any fair." Ichigo stated in his I'm-the-human-what-I-say-goes voice.

"Wait, who's decision was that?!" Rukia was quick to challenge.

"MINE! And I say no one's going to any fair! You'd probably end up blowing up the Ferris Wheel and killing everyone, anyway. Besides, you don't even know what it is!"

Rukia growled. "It sounds interesting, I heard some of the girls talking about it. I wanna go!"

"Well, too bad! That's not happening as long as I'm around!"

"What gives you the right to decide what I can or can't do?!"

"The fact that you're living in my house and mooching off my family while staying in my world!"

Smack!

A random passerby's book had no buried itself in Ichigo's face, courtesy of Rukia.

"I don't care what you have to say. We're going to the fair, whether you like it or not. Right, Renji?"

Said man was quick to agree.

Coward.

***

Saturday Noon

"Where are you going?" Renji asked none-too-nicely as Ichigo walked up beside him and Rukia.

Ichigo scoffed. "Where do you think? There's no way in hell I'm letting you and Rukia go to a fair by yourselves. Soul Society doesn't need any mass arrivals right now."

Out of pure costume, Ichigo looked at Rukia just to see what she had to say now, but was surprised to see her looking- not pissed. In fact, she was almost…smiling.

Confused and shocked, Ichigo scratched the back of his neck, not taking his eyes off her. "Is something wrong?" He blurted out bluntly, not thinking his words through.

Rukia looked like she obviously hadn't been expecting him to say anything. "Eh? What are you talking about, Ichigo?"

"You-uhh, n-nothing. Forget about it." He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked straight at the concrete of the street underneath him. He wondered about why he was suddenly feeling so… So anxious.

He felt Rukia's scrutinizing gaze on him even if he couldn't see it. He felt very vulnerable.

He was snapped out of his thoughts-whatever they were, by the sound of someone-Renji-loudly clearing his throat. "If you two are through…"

Ichigo's face heated up. "Shut up. Let's go. The fair's pretty far, so we're taking the train there. No complaining!" He added before either could argue, as he read on their expressions they were about to.

Thirty minutes, a few wrong turns, some kicks and punches, and a lot of bickering later, the trio finally made it into the crowded compartment of the train.

"Where do we seat?" Rukia asked demandingly once the train doors slid closed behind her about a second after she crossed in.

"Nowhere. The train's full. Grab a pole." Ichigo said as he closed his hand around the metallic tube above his head. Rukia eyed it for a moment, and he very nearly laughed as he saw her reach out, then try to cover up by stretching her arm and placing it around one of the floor-to-ceiling poles.

"What's the matter? Can't reach?" He couldn't resist teasing.

"S-shut up!"

Ichigo laughed, but was cut short as everyone on the train wobbled when it started to move rather abruptly. He heard a stiffled gasp, and looked just in time to see that Renji, who apparently still hadn't taken it upon himself to grab onto a pole, loose his balance with the unexpected movement, begin to fall backwards, but be saved by falling straight into a startled Rukia.

Ichigo was about to shove the big man off of tiny Rukia, when he caught a flash of red. And no, it wasn't Renji's hair. It was Renji's… face.

He was blushing.

Renji had just fallen into Rukia, and blushed.

He had his body against hers, and he blushed.

Their bodies were still pressed together, the large amount of people making it hard for either of them to move, and he was still blushing.

Renji, Rukia, train, together, blushing.

Ichigo tried processing it. He put two and two together…

Something wasn't right here… Ichigo just couldn't quite figure out what it was, or why he suddenly felt that current of electricity in his gut, same as before…

And then what he saw, what happened next-

Ichigo saw- he saw- damn he couldn't even process it properly.

He saw Renji's arms reach out and settle themselves on Rukia's waist.

The red-head used his hold on Rukia's waist to steady himself, and Ichigo told himself he'd let go after that.

He didn't.

In fact, Renji's hands lingered on a flustered-looking Rukia's waist for the longest time, while he looked at her in a way that just, that just bothered Ichigo.

He stood on paralyzed shock, watching the scene unfold as if in slow motion. After what seemed like two eternities, he finally saw Renji's hands slipping, rather slowly, he might add, off Rukia's waist.

Renji walked a few steps away from Rukia, closer to Ichigo, then he stopped and reached up to hold onto the pole. His eyes briefly met Ichigo's, and he turned them to the floor as if Ichigo's gaze burned.

It was slightly ironic, since Ichigo wasn't wearing his average scowl. Instead, his eyes were a little wider than usual, and his mouth slightly open. His eyes darted from Renji to Rukia, trying to understand what had just gone on between the two, and more importantly, why it made him feel drawing out Zangetsu and driving it through a certain red-head…

'What's going on with me lately?'

He looked at Renji and Rukia again, neither of which met his eyes. 'Could they be-' His grip on the safety pole tightened significantly, while his free hand turned into a very tight fist at his side. He couldn't finish his thought though, because he suddenly felt like he could breath again- the people in the train were filing out. He hadn't even noticed the train stop.

Ichigo saw Rukia begin to walk after the exiting crowd, halfway through the exit doors, Ichigo seized her wrist and pulled her back, in a nick of time too, seeing as the doors were sliding to a close again.

Rukia looked up at him with confusion. Ichigo shook his head. "Not our stop." He said simply.

He walked to one of the newly emptied seats and dropped onto it. Rukia followed suit and settled beside him. Vaguely paying attention, Ichigo saw Renji take the available seat right across from him and Rukia.

Ichigo tried to clear his thoughts-to no avail. Firstly, there was the red-head directly in his line of vision, whose eyes never left his and Rukia's forms, and he gazed with a little too much intensity. Ichigo felt like he could see electric sparks light dangerously between the two men.

Then there was the fact that his body felt unusually aware of the dark-haired girl beside him. If he felt dangerous sparks between himself and Renji, then he felt magnetic waves coming from Rukia. He felt compelled to reach out and put a possesive arm around her. Especially with that red-head watching.

After a few more, seemingly endless minutes on what must have been the most tense train ride Ichigo had ever been on, the dissorted voice came from the speakers announcing that they'd arrived at their stop.

'Oh boy. And to think that we still have a whole day ahead of us…'

The tree walked out in silence, easily following the crowd of people that were mostly headed in the same direction as they were.

The fair.

***

"So, now what do we do?" Rukia asked cheerfully, she and Renji looked at Ichigo expectantly.

He sweatdropped. "You don't even know…" Sigh. "I don't know, I guess we check out the rides."

"Right!" Rukia exclaimed.

"You still have no idea what to do here, do you?" Ichigo asked, mildly irritated. After they dragged him out here (Well, okay, he went on his own accord, but it's not like he could just let them go by themselves! As much for their well-being as for those around them. Especially for those around them.) "Alright let's just go in the general direction and see what we find." Ichigo concluded with resignation, walking ahead as the other Shinigami followed closely behind.

It wasn't long before Ichigo noticed that he was walking by himself.

Momentarily alarmed, he was about to yell and start running, panicking at the thought of short, skinny little Rukia lost in the huge mob of people at the fair. Before he could make a fool of himself, though, he spotted an unmistakable red ponytail, and sure enough, beside it stood Rukia.

"Hey, you can't just stay behind like that! Do you know how easy it is to get lost at a place like this?" He angrily scolded.

Rukia and Renji wore identical expressions of confusion. "Relax, fool. If we were to get separated, I can always sense your reiatsu and find you." Rukia said logically.

Ichigo tried to cover up the fact that he had ended up looking like an idiot anyway. "Whatever. Just try not to get lost. There's no telling what you could do when out of sight."

"Sure." Renji said sarcastically, before using his thumb to point at what had caused him and Rukia to linger where they were. "So, Ichigo, what is that thing? Is it some sort of advanced training method humans use here? It looks pretty extreme." Renji grinned, obviously looking forward to trying out the 'training' machine.

Ichigo followed the direction of his pointing thumb. "Oh. Idiot, that's no training method. It's called a rollercoaster."

Blank stares.

"You get on the rollercoaster and enjoy the ride. That's all there is to it." They didn't seem to understand much better, but Ichigo decided example was the best way to show them. "Come on, as long as we're here, we might as well get on it." He went to stand at the end of the line, just after grabbing handfulls of Rukia's and Renji's shirts, pulling them along with him, after stopping them from just waltzing into the ride, blissfully unaware of the long waiting line.

"We have to wait our turn." He explained to his clueless companions.

The line moved slowly, and their wait went mostly in silence, since both Renji and Rukia were too busy gawking at the ride. As they got closer, they'd gotten enough time to observe the workings of the thing, and Ichigo was amused to see the first traces of doubt on Rukia's face.

"You aren't gonna back out now, are you midget? Getting nervous?" He couldn't help smirking at how she immediately glared at him with stubborn determination.

"I am not nervous." She hissed.

"How many?"

Rukia nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of the man working there asking the question, loosing credibility on her earlier claim.

"Three." Ichigo answered, while the other two just sort of… stared.

"First two rows." The man directed monotously.

Ichigo went ahead, Rukia behind him, followed by Renji. Ichigo took a seat on the first row, and Rukia sat beside him. Renji just noticed that there was no room left for him there, and moved to sit behind them.

Ichigo reached up and lowered the safety device, pressing it against himself until it clicked into place. Rukia looked up at her own safety device, but made no move to put it in place. Without waiting for her consent, Ichigo pulled it down over her head and waited for it to click, pulling on it once to make sure it was securely settled.

"W-wait! What's this thing?!" Rukia asked, her voice rising a few octaves.

"It's just the safety device, so you don't fall. Don't look so startled." He said, looking down to see her previous nervousness had obviously grown exponentially since being seated.

"I thought you said you weren't nervous." He grinned devilishly.

"S-shut up! I am not!" She stared straight ahead as she said this, and her hands clenched the hand-holds so tightly they had turned white.

Ichigo suddenly felt a guilty pang of concern. Maybe she wasn't ready for the rollercoaster just yet… "Hey, are you sure you wanna go on with this? It's okay if you want to get down…" He said more softly, worried about Rukia's sudden nervousness.

Rukia hesitated for a second. "May- maybe I'll try this out later. We can go see something else for no-"

She was cut off by the sound that indicated that the ride was starting. The carts started moving along the rail, and Rukia now looked close to panicked.

"Hey, wait! Stop the ride! We want to get down! HEY!" Ichigo shouted over his shoulder to the man working the buttons that controlled the ride, but it was useless.

"Ichigo!" Rukia yelled, hands gripping the hand-holds like there was no tomorrow.

"Damn." Ichigo cursed. He knew this fair was a bad idea. "Try to calm down," he tried to relax her, seeing no other course of action. "It'll be over in less than a minute. Just close your eyes and breathe." He said as soothingly as he could. Rukia shut her eyes and took a deep breath, then exhaled. Just then, however, they started to climb the tracks vertically. Rukia gasped, and Ichigo suddenly felt a small hand take a death hold of his arm. Damn, this had really been a bad idea.

The coaster climbed and paused at the very edge of the fearsome first drop. Rukia's eyes about jumped out of their sockets.

"Just breathe." He reminded her above a chorus of

"Three…Two…One-"

***

Renji and Ichigo let out deep identical groans as a certain dark-haired girl skipped onto the end of the line for what must have been the fiftieth time.

"Come on, Rukia! Not again." They pleaded, but she stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest and stood her ground.

Turns out, Rukia had loved the rollercoaster, and now refused to ride anything besides it, much to the aggravation of the two men with her.

"I thought you wanted to see the fair. All you've done so far is ride that thing over and over." Ichigo tried to reason.

"I like riding this rollercoaster of yours. We don't have fun things like this in Soul Society." She countered, unwilling to cave.

"Well there's a bunch of other fun things that don't spin you around in dizzying circles over and over again. Let's just go check that out. Please, Rukia." He actually pleaded.

Rukia considered him for a moment, then finally said, "Fine."

Much to the relieve of the bright-haired men.

"But-" She made Renji and Ichigo groan in unison. "We're coming back here before leaving."

They agreed hurriedly and dragged her away from the accursed machine.

"So, now what do we do?" She demanded.

"Uhh, Ichigo's the expert here. Why don't you tell us?" Renji put Ichigo in the spotlight.

Ichigo glared, while also trying to think of a suggestion that would both apeace Rukia and spare his stomach.

He was saved by Rukia's next outburst. "Ooh! I wanna go on that one!" She'd dashed off before either man could even argue. Very reluctantly, Ichigo ran after her with Renji, seeing with dread that she was headed towards the spinning teacups… So much for his stomach.

'The things I do…'

***

"Well, I think we've gone on every ride available. Can we please go home now?" Ichigo said tiredly as he, Renji and Rukia stood in the golden afternoon light. It would be dark in less than an hour.

Rukia, who had been until then too engrossed in eating her cotton candy to notice anything else, snapped into attention and looked at Ichigo. "Already?"

"It's almost nightfall! What more do you want?! We've already ridden everything-"

"There's one more we haven't gotten on." She said quickly.

'Damn.'

"That one, there." She pointed with the hand that wasn't holding the cotton candy.

It was the Ferris Wheel.

"Ugh. Come on Rukia, that one sucks. It just spins real slow and you watch around you. You can get a better view by floating as a Shinigami."

Her eyes glazed over and looked at him pleadingly. Damn! Damn those big sparkly violet eyes of hers! He had to say no! He could! He would be the man and tell her-

"Alright." Ichigo felt his manhood slip away. "But after that, we go home!" He added, just to assert his authority.

Rukia didn't answer. She simply tossed the scant remainder of her cotton candy in a nearby trash can and started towards the Ferris Wheel.

Thankfully, there wasn't much of a line for this one, and they made it quickly to the front.

Once they were next to the guy who worked there, Ichigo was about to say there were three of them, but the guy obviously didn't have time for this, because he immediately said "You two, in here; Carrot-top, over there." He shoved Renji and Rukia together into one of the glass surrounded baskets, and Ichigo into the next one, along with some random girl he didn't recognize. He was about to protest the seating arrangements, but had the door shut in his face, and before he could say a word, the basket was already moving along with the rest of the structure, beginning it's slow ascent.

"Great." He scowled harsher than usual, sitting down low in his seat, arms crossed over his chest like a stubborn child. He paid no mind to the obviously uncomfortable girl sitting as far away from him as the small basket would allow.

Ichigo was feeling pretty pissed that not only had he been dragged to this stupid fair, and then this stupid ride which he'd never liked in the first place, but he also had to sit it out by himself. He'd just assumed that he'd be seating with Rukia- it was only natural. They were always together. Whenever something was up, they always took it on side by side. Together. It's not like it was something that was written down, or even something previously accorded, it just… was. Neither of them had ever questioned, there had been no need. They were partners. Friends. Actually, they were closer than friends. Much closer. Rukia and him shared a unique bond that went past description. Maybe that was why people often got the wrong idea about their relationship- they simply couldn't understand.

The point was, that everything had been perfectly fine, until, until Renji had shown up.

Sure, Renji was also Ichigo's close friend. He knew he could always count on Renji having his back, he'd even fought side by side with him in the Winter War.

Ichigo knew Renji was also Rukia's friend- they'd grown up together, like family, and later on, Renji had risked everything in order to help save her when she was going to be executed. They were also close.

Ichigo knew this, and he accepted it. He didn't mind at all really. Rukia and Renji were friends, and they were also his friends. There was nothing wrong with that.

But what the hell was this damn feeling that made him want to punch that red-haired bastards face beyond the point of recognition? Why did his fists clench at the simple sight of them together?

Looking-or rather glaring- ahead while he tried to clear his confusing thoughts, Ichigo noticed that he had a pretty good view to the basket ahead of him- the one were the people plaguing his thoughts were sitting together.

Actually, he thought, they're sitting pretty damn close together!

There was plenty of room left for them to scoot over, but Renji and Rukia were one inch away from being on top of each other. Ichigo strained to get a better look, and he saw that the pair ahead were now staring at each other-

What? What are they doing? Are they saying anything? Dammit why do I have to be stuck here?

An entire minute passed by, and they still hadn't looked away from each other. Ichigo saw their mouths moving, saying something, but Ichigo couldn't tell what!

"Ano… Are you okay?" The girl beside him said very shyly. "You- you're trembling." She moved to put a hand on his arms and Ichigo quickly moved it away, knowing it was very rude, but none of that mattered because, they were still looking at each other!

What are they SAYING?!

"I'm fine!" He growled at the poor girl with him, still straining to see what happened ahead.

His knuckles were so tightly clenched they were white, his fingernails dug mercilessly into his palms.

Then, Ichigo's eyes went so wide they could have covered his entire face.

Renji just leaned in- He's- Is he… Is that bastard GONNA KISS HER?!

Ichigo flew up from his chair in reaction, forgetting where he was in and hitting his head against the top of the basket, landing back down in his seat with a gasp from the girl beside him.

It took a moment for the white spots of pain to leave his vision, and he frantically looked at their basket, but was mortified to see that they were now past the top of the Ferris Wheel, and had begun their descent, making it impossible for him to see back to their basket again- no matter how hard he tried.

That RED-HEADED BAND-WEARING BASTARD! If he- if he kissed her, I'm gonna, I'm gonna-

He trailed off, suddenly realizing, he couldn't do anything. It's not like he and Rukia were involved… like that. So technically, she could do anything with anyone she wanted-but, it just felt wrong! Really wrong! And not only that, but it just pissed him off! Sure, he didn't think of Rukia that way, but it seriously PISSED HIM OFF to even think about someone else with her… like that.

Dammit, what am I thinking? So what if he… did that? Maybe it's what Rukia wants…

This thought was like a heavy pang in his chest. Ichigo didn't understand, why the thought hurt so much…

When the ride ended, it was already completely dark. Ichigo exited in silence, never looking at either Renji or Rukia in the eye. He just walked quickly, he couldn't wait to be gone from the damn fair and back in his room.

"Ichigo, wait up!" Rukia hurried after him.

He didn't acknowledge her, just kept on walking. It was all he could do to fight down all the raging emotions threatening to come out.

The three rode the train in dead silence the entire way back to the house.

Once there, Ichigo went up to his room, not bothering to pay attention to Renji and Rukia, who remained outside, even after he was in his room.

Ichigo lied on his back on his bed, lights off, eyes wide open. A million thoughts buzzed to quickly in his mind for him to even be able to figure them out. One thought was evident though. She's not back. She stayed with him…

A lump rose in his throat. He fought to bury his emotions again.

Just a moment later, he saw a familiar figure jump in through his open window.

Rukia.

She seemed surprised when she saw Ichigo's open eyes.

"You're still awake… Ichigo."

Silence.

"Ichigo?"

He scoffed, turning his eyes to the ceiling. "You didn't have to bother."

"Huh? What on earth are you talking about?"

"You know damn well what I'm talking about!" He snapped, sitting up suddenly, startling Rukia in the process. "If you're here to say goodbye, I could have saved you the trouble. Go ahead and go back to Renji, since you two seem to enjoy each other so much-"

"Wha- What?! What the hell are you saying?! Listen to yourself Ichigo! Do you have any idea how foolish you sound?" Rukia barely kept from yelling and waking everyone up.

Before Ichigo could reply, Rukia went on.

"I came back here to stay the night in your closet, because I didn't want to wake your sisters up. But if it really bothers you that much-"

"Don't play innocent with me, Rukia!" Ichigo nearly yelled. "I saw you!" He blurted out. "I saw the two of you- You and Renji- On the Ferris Wheel- he- HE KISSED YOU!"

Rukia's eyes were the size of saucers. Her mouth hung completely open. "ARE YOU INSANE?" Rukia looked angry as hell. "You saw us doing what?!"

"K-Ki- He kissed you! I saw it! I know what I saw…" He trailed off, suddenly feeling stupid. Technically, he hadn't seen them doing anything, he just assumed… "…You… He…" He felt his face heat up in embarrassment.

Rukia glared unwaveringly at him. "Are you done rambling nonsense yet? You Idiot! First of all, what if we did kiss? That's none of your business! For your information, I can kiss whoever I damn well like!"

"I-I know, I-"

"Don't interrupt!" She said, kicking him in the ribs. Ichigo bent over, clutching his side, listening obidiently. "BUT-" Rukia said this, then he saw her harsh expression lose some of it's severity. "I didn't. We didn't. I don't know what you thought you saw, but it's not like that with me and Renji." In the end, Rukia's voice sounded almost regretful, and her eyes were sad.

Now that Ichigo thought about it, she had looked like that ever since getting off the Ferris Wheel, but he had been to focused on controlling his emotions, he hadn't stopped to look at her.

"…Rukia," He began hesitantly. "Did something happen?" His voice was careful, he didn't want to make her uncomfortable.

Rukia sighed. "Renji had some… feelings, that were, well, different than friendship. I'd suspected for some time, I just hadn't expected him to, say anything…"

So Ichigo hadn't been entirely wrong then. But, wait, that wasn't the point. What did Rukia think?

Though he was dying to know, he was also afraid of her answer, so instead of pressing it, he remained quiet, until finally, Rukia said, "I couldn't lie to him." Regret was evident in her voice. Ichigo's chest constricted. What had Rukia said?

Her violet eyes, glittering in the moonlight that pooled in through the window suddenly looked straight into his brown orbs. "I told Renji the truth. I said… I couldn't return his feelings."

Ichigo barely dared to exhale the breath he'd been holding, fearing Rukia's words might change somehow. Had she just said that she didn't return Renji's feelings?

"Rukia…" He found himself at a loss for words. He felt so incredibly, so inexplicably relieved.

As if knowing he needed reassurance, Rukia then smiled at Ichigo. He could still clearly see the regret in it, regret which he now understood was the regret of having had to hurt her friend, but it was a genuine smile. The tension in his chest was suddenly released, and he was filled with warmth.

They kept a comfortable silence. Nothing else needed to be said.

Eventually, Rukia was about to climb into his closet to go to sleep, but he said "Wait Rukia. It's… It's cold tonight. I guess you could stay in my bed…" He offered, not really understanding why, but just going with his feelings for once.

Once she recovered from her surprise, Rukia nodded slightly and climbed under the covers, next to him.

Ichigo closed his eyes, giving into the exhaustion of the day, knowing Rukia was there with him. Perhaps he didn't want to accept that one day Rukia might choose to sleep beside someone else-and she was perfectly free to do so-, and perhaps he didn't understand why it bothered him so much, but for now, all that mattered was that they were there, together.

As it should be.

"Good night, Rukia."

***

Renji arrived at Seretei while it was still dark in the early hours of the morning. He felt… defeated. Thinking back to his confession to Rukia in the World of the Living, he tried, but no matter what, he just couldn't pretend he was surprised. He'd figured all along. Probably before even she realized it.

"I'm really sorry, Renji." Rukia spoke the words that he had feared so long, true sorrow and regret in her eyes.

He couldn't help but wonder, maybe if he'd been ealrier… "Tell me one thing, Rukia. Is it… him?"

Rukia looked up suddenly, looking genuinely confused. "What do you-"

"Stop playing dumb. Ichigo. Is it him? Was he the one that you chose?"

"I-"

"And don't give me any of that 'I don't know what you're talking about' crap. It's about time you two stopped being so blind. Everyone else sees it."

Rukia was about to retaliate, but then closed her mouth. "I just…"

"Does he make you happy?" Renji asked, willing his friend to be honest to herself. He wanted her to be happy- even if it wasn't with him.

"…Yes."

"Could you ever love someone else?" Renji saw her immediately open her mouth to argue when he used the word 'love', but he gave her a look that silenced her.

"No."

Renji smiled genuinely at her. He put a hand on her shoulder in a brotherly gesture. "Then don't let your own stupidity get in the way. You deserve to be happy."

"…Renji."

He smiled a bittersweet smile. "Ichigo is one lucky guy."

***

Rukia lied on the soft breath, listening to the soothing sound of Ichigo's soft snoring, and enjoying the warmth that radiated from him.

' I hate it when you're right Renji.'

"Ichigo…" she whispered very softly, in a trance looking at his peaceful sleeping face. The only time when his scowl completely dissapeared.

"The question is, do you feel the same way?"

---------------

A/N- there! I put this as a different story, because like I said, JEALOUSY was a oneshot and I like it just the way it is. So you can view this as a sequel or as a separate story. As you wish…

I hope you enjoyed! ICHIRUKI FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!