Title: Swing Me Gently
Summary: Ichigo x Rukia- "Because I'm here, on this hammock, watching the sun…I'm here. We're here." Ichigo and Rukia share a moment on a hammock under the shade of an oak tree.
"Hey, pull over."
It was such a rare, strange request that he immediately obeyed. Guiding the car, an old Honda he had worked an entire summer for, he pulled up gently by the curb and gave her a curious, quizzical look. Asking her what was wrong would've been unnecessary and redundant, for the thin silence between them stood itself as an opportunity to explain why she had made her request. He waited. She smiled.
And with complete disregard for his obvious confusion, she opened the car door and slipped outside.
Ichigo watched her silently as her small frame glided towards the front lawn of an empty house, as if the for sale sign was a magnet and she was the cobalt. It was a simplistic, brick house- nothing special that he could see- with a realtor's ad by the mail box, three windows with the curtains drawn, and a hammock slung between two oak trees. A part of him worried that Rukia was beginning to lose it, for it was a little premature to be shopping for houses already, although that option was a sure impossibility.
Shopping. For houses. With Rukia. The thought made him smile inwardly, not because of the action itself, but because it symbolized that she would stay.
He propped his lanky arm against the inside of the door and leaned slightly out of the car window to call at her. "Oy, Rukia- what are you doing?"
She paused in front of the hammock tied between the two trees in the left side of the yard before smiling at him over her shoulder. The gentle grin was a familiar one, a cheerful, yet condescending curve of her perfect lips as if she was noting how naïve and unsuspecting Ichigo seemed to be. It did not surprise her that he was unknowing and cynical about her impromptu action, and it did not surprise him that she had once again left him in the dark.
"I'm getting on a hammock."
And with that, she gracefully climbed aboard the thickly roped surface before scooting to the center.
There were a lot of things Rukia did that made Ichigo question his own reality. And there were a lot of things she did that made him question her intelligence. That day, that moment, that exact action that had taken so little thought, yet so much confusion, served as the perfect example of both of those reality-bending, intelligence-assessing moments. It took only a swift instant for Ichigo to be out of the car, on his feet, and by her side, peering askance at her closed eyes and relaxed body.
She cracked an eye open. "What?"
"Don't 'what' me."
She smiled peacefully. "Why?"
"Don't 'why' me either."
"Not sure what I'm supposed to do, then."
He scowled. "Don't 'what', 'why', or act all confused with me when you know what you're doing and why."
He groaned and stared down at her with such unmasked irritation that she had to close her eyes once more. Rukia wasn't immature, nor was she stupid; there wasn't an unawareness at his clear annoyance with her, but a decision to ignore it. And sure, she was obviously getting on his nerves, but what was she supposed to do- give a concern?
She laughed on the inside. As if she cared.
"We're leaving," he told her, though his voice was more of a plea than a phrase of assertiveness. In reality, he was helpless with the situation at hand. A part of him knew that if he tried talking her out if it, he would not win. And if that failed, he'd have to use physical force. Maybe he could grab her by the feet, sling her over his shoulder if he caught her by enough surpri-
"Are you going to stand there and plot out how you're going to remove me, or are you going to get on the hammock?"
That was Rukia- always saying something that questioned his reality. Perhaps she was a mind-reader, too.
"This is trespassing on private property," he stammered, trying to grasp at straws she scattered.
"The uh, realtor's."
She closed her eyes and tucked her arms behind her head, raising her chest slightly and accentuating the little cleavage that could be seen with her simplistic cotton v-neck. It had always fascinated him how sexy she could be sometimes, while keeping it classy.
"The realtor doesn't own the house," she told him nonchalantly. "The person who put it on the market does, unless they've sold it already."
"What if they've already sold it?"
She looked at him with gentle, violet eyes. "What if you got on the hammock?"
They both paused, daring each other to make the next move- Ichigo, silently asking if she would let him into her private space and Rukia, quietly waiting for him to seize the chance. They had nowhere to go and nowhere to be, since the errands had been taken care of and the unfamiliar neighborhood was just part of a shortcut on their route home.
He hated her. He hated her with all possible energy in his body. He hated her for pushing him outside his comfort zone, for he was a rocket ship, and she was an astronaut taking him to space.
Reluctantly, awkwardly, he climbed onto the edge with his right knee and struggled to find a place to put down his left. Rukia giggled nervously as the hammock tottered unsteadily, creating a sharp contrast between Rukia's graceful entrance and his. Without toleration, the hammock swung to the side, dumping them both onto the soft, cut grass underneath.
Instinctively, he wrapped his arm around her waist to cushion her drop and absorb most of the impact. Her small body was more than adapted to hard falls, and despite that, she found herself lying on his chest and in the protective crevice of his cradled left arm. Her raven hair fell over her eye as she peered down at him curiously with a million different thoughts swimming around her head at the speed of light.
She raised an eyebrow. "Wanna try again?"
And in his frustration with his failure, he quickly agreed.
Ichigo went first. Carefully, steadily, he placed a knee closer to the center before rolling directly onto the structure. The hammock swung but complied, and Ichigo smiled to himself in accomplishment. Not bad for the second time. He watched Rukia's small figure climb to the edge, her weight barely shifting the balance of the cot in the slightest. Lolling her head to the side to look at him, she paused for a moment before giving him a brilliant, goofy smile that reflected fifty different shades of happiness.
"You know," she said, barely above a whisper, "it is impossible to be uncomfortable in a hammock."
Suddenly, she was rolling towards him, resting her cheek against his shoulder and an open palm above his beating heart. Sudden fear and nervousness gripped him and his body tensed. It was new, unfamiliar, so sudden and unannounced to people who didn't do well with surprises.
It was…nice. They were puzzle pieces, completing each other in order to make the perfect picture.
Rukia had been right in her previous statement after all.
So instead of being Ichigo, normal, typical, irritable Ichigo, he gently laid his left arm across her right side and accepted her peace, her heart and her friendship. Briefly burying his nose in her hair, he caught the smell of not shampoo, but of lavender and otherworldly magic, as if it was a reminder that she was a traveler from another time and world. She did not belong there. That, in itself, was a funny thought he could barely wrap his head around.
He was holding Rukia Kuchiki- Rukia, who liked chappy bunny drawings in class, who drove slowly in scenic areas, rapidly skipped stations when they listened to the radio, watched raindrops race down windows, often said "I'll be back," and then returned to him, constantly promised support and then strengthened him, always wished him good night and then filled his dreams. He was holding her. His friend. And to think of her in any context close to 'stranger' would be the darkest blasphemy he could ever commit.
It was then that he realized that he would miss her.
He turned his head to look up at the tree top providing them shade and began to count the different rays of shimmering light filtered through the branches and leaves. It was as if heaven was just behind the umbrella of ten shades of green. From the corner of his eye, he could see the golden sunlight beaming down on her cream and roses complexion, turning her skin into a million different facets of crystal and glass.
Why hadn't he noticed her prettiness before? Why had it taken so long to be comfortable around her, to hold her and not worry about what she'd think of him or who was watching? They were in God-knows-who's neighborhood on someone's front lawn in the late afternoon, and perhaps the best part was that they didn't seem to care. Rukia closed her eyes and inhaled Ichigo's typical scent of strawberries and vigorous life.
He paused. "What if you stayed in Karakura town? After graduation?"
"What if I did?"
Rukia grew silent and fixed her eyes upon the tiny fibers in his t-shirt. It had been a stupid question anyways. More and more often, she had been forgetting that her stay in the human world was just an assignment, a job. Had she expected him to tell her that she would miss him? And since when had she wanted his pity and attention? Graduation from the high school had come and gone, and yet, nothing seemed like the end. Since when had Japan become home and the Soul Society become the distance?
It was funny how her life worked out sometimes.
"You haven't answered my question," he noted casually.
"Oh? Are we playing the 'What If?' game now?"
"What if we were?"
She settled in closer to him and smiled silently. "What if the sky was gold?"
"What if my body wasn't made of gold?"
"What if you weren't so stupid?"
He laughed. That was another strange sign of how much things had changed. The old Ichigo would've yelled at her, gotten annoyed, pushed her away. The old Rukia would've scolded him for making such a humorless, tasteless joke, called him immature, ignored him for another hour. And he could then see how much time they had both wasted, fighting over petty things when they should've just shrugged it off and recognized a joke when they made one.
"What if you stayed?" he tried again. "What if you graduated and went to college here?"
She sighed. "And what if I did?"
"We've discussed this," she cut him off impatiently. "You know it's not my decision, Ichigo."
"But it is-"
"And if Byakuya Kuchiki calls me home, then I go home. That is that."
"And if he says jump, will you ask how high?" The phrase had turned out surprisingly bitter, even for someone who liked to pretend it didn't matter which world she chose.
She buried her face in his neck and did not speak.
"This is your home," he said simply.
And she wanted so badly to believe him.
"Can't you feel it, Rukia? Can't you feel- even with being a Death God- being alive?"
And she wanted so badly to live.
Something inside Ichigo had clicked. Changed. Transformed. It was then, under the shade of the oak tree on the lawn of private property, that he realized he wanted her to stay. It was like she was his sister- no, that wasn't right. It was something else entirely. Ichigo felt as if he could not stand being her friend any longer; perhaps friendship was water, she was wine and he was a deprived alcoholic trying to quit the bottle. Water would not do. Water was safe, and it would heal him, but it would no longer do.
That was that. He wanted her, for reasons that he could not yet put into coherent thoughts and words, to stay.
"I…do," she breathed, burying her nose into his shirt as if she could inhale his vigor and make herself come back to life after hundreds of years. "Oh, God, Ichigo," she said sadly. "I do."
He tightened his grip around her.
"And that won't make me stay."
He closed his eyes and turned away from her. "Then go."
A cool breeze picked up, swinging the hammock gently and tossing his tufts of orange hair. Rukia smiled gently, sadly, and reached up to run her fingers through his hair before running light fingertips down the side of his face. He leaned into her touch, despite his anger and frustration, and they sighed in unison.
Softly, she pressed her lips to his cheek and he took her hand and intertwined it with his. It had seemed like the right thing to do. If they were going to say their goodbyes, then damn it, they would do what they needed to do before it was too late. Finally, as if they had been holding their breath all their lives and it was finally being released, their lips met for a long, yet brief moment. The taste of sticky rice and mango, mixed together, along with all their bigger regrets and bitter sadness that came with severing ties to hearts.
It was sad. And sad only.
"I'll miss you, you annoying little shinigami."
"Because I'm here, on this hammock, watching the sun…I'm here. We're here."
She leaned her forehead against his shoulder. "Yeah. We're here."
And so they lay there silently, not kissing or talking or saying things that were probably best left unsaid. Just laying there. On that hammock, in that front lawn that did not belong to them in a world that they did not belong to. Quietly.
A/N: Oh, hey there guys. Yeah, I've been gone for awhile, and the urge to write died within me, but I'm pretty sure that Friday was the best couple of hours of my life and I just had to write a story about it. So thanks goes to you for reading this. And even more thanks to my boyfriend for inspiring it. I love you and miss you all. And if you're wondering (yeah, I know you weren't), yes, we did go lie on a hammock on the front lawn of a house up for sale, and yes, we talked about the future, and yes, we fell off, and yes, it was beautiful. Epilogue to this is coming soon, I swears it.