Once More, Ichigo

Study break... for the past 5 hours... ha! Anyways:

Inspired by the newly revealed details in Decide 23; barely based on it, hahaha. Also, being the Rukia lover that I am, I wrote up what I had wished Tite Kubo would have set behind the reason to (SPOILER) Aizen's assumed downfall (/SPOILER), and what I truly hope is in store for our (SPOILER) now human Ichigo! (/SPOILER) :( Well, the IchiRuki-ness is my wish, heh. Oh, the spoiler crap is for the anal bums who said I had spoilers in 'Thank You, Tensa Zangetsu' =,= Burn in hell, bums.

I should be studying D: 27 pages! Holy crap! Kind of a follow-up on 'Thank You, Tensa Zangetsu' but it could pretty much be read alone... Hm, what else? I hope I convey the right... emotions... going on with them. If not, I can always improve it, heh.

I hope you enjoy :) A bit of a tribute to how Bleach started in this. I really, really hope you like this...

[Strawberry Meets Death update: it is not discontinued! Updates resume in December. I don't have time and effort to put into the chapters. It deserves more than me half-assing it more than I already do. Thanks for your patience!]

[Of Fries and Napkins: didn't expect it to do well with so many errors- thank you so much! I'll try to eventually respond to reviews.]

[Thank You, Tensa Zangetsu: I LOVE YOU ALL. I am sure it was obvious how obsessed I am with his new hair... Heh heh heh.]

Disclaimer: I do not own the original plot or characters or direct quotes of Bleach. I did, however, come up with the storyline to this story.

Rukia couldn't believe it.

She sat on the edge of Ichigo's thin, worn mattress; his dress shirt wrinkled and coming off her shoulders, Rukia's small, strong hands barely visible beneath the cuffs of the sleeves.

The soft blue of his shirt looked nice against her bare, long legs in the moonlight pouring through the window, Rukia's hair roughed up from tugs and pulls, from fingers entangling themselves in it.

She bit her lip, dropping her gaze to her fingers playing about each other in her bare lap, her damp, black tresses falling about her face, teasing her exposed, sweaty skin of her collar and shoulders.

Ichigo kneeled on the floor between her spread legs, his arms behind her knees to curl around her thighs, hooking his hands on them, his head resting against her left leg, his orange mane just barely dry from its previous state of a sweaty mess.

He kneeled before her, between her legs, exhausted and skin slick with sweat.

Ichigo breathed in her scent, finding his own laced with hers and their time spent together just minutes before, his tight pelvis hot at the memory beneath his sweats hanging low, ever so low on his slim, defined hips.

He kneeled before her, shirtless and covered in her scratches and bruises as deep as those around her hips.

Rukia slowly moved a hand off her lap, the sleeve riding up to expose her fingers enough, enough to bury themselves in his soft mane, fisting themselves gently around it.

He closed his eyes, nuzzling her firm, but soft thigh, his hands gripping her tighter, ever so tighter.

Ichigo kneeled before her as a human.

He had learned he'd lose his power, that of a shinigami, before he stood against Aizen and defeated him; he had learned it from Tensa Zangetsu, after his beloved zanpaktou and Hollow, merged into one spirit, smiled softly- crying, hiding his face from Ichigo- and admitted….

"What I wanted to protect, was you, Ichigo."

Ichigo's hand moved to his chest, feeling his heart beat slowly and steadily, his reflection meeting his gaze as he looked up, the bathroom filled with the shower's burning steam, the world beyond the wooden door quiet and still.

Somehow, Zangetsu had held on to Ichigo's heart, fighting to keep his powers within Ichigo even for a moment longer, fighting to keep Ichigo a shinigami for as long as possible.

It has been nearly three, precious months of holding onto that last slither of Zangetsu's power within him, of the power Rukia has awaken in him.

They felt it leave him, tonight.

A sigh left his lips, amber eyes staring into his reflection.

He was still tall- as tall as Chad now, actually.

Leaning on his arm, gripping the ceramic basin of the sink, Ichigo ran a hand through his orange hair, his once wild and spiked hair now tamed and longer, only a few tuffs sticking up in rebellion, as it once did.

He was still muscular, his light, fading scars still on his skin.

Ichigo smiled softly, reaching out to the fogged mirror, placing his hand above his reflection's heart, their hands pressed together.

"You old fool, Zangetsu… because of you, I was able to protect them…."

I was able to protect her.

"…so, you protected me."

...thank you.

Karin and Yuzu hugged Ichigo tightly, telling him to say 'good-bye' to Rukia for them, the fraternal twins leaving hand-in-hand for school in the chilled morning, the sun peeking through clouds happily.

He stood with his toast at the mercy of his teeth, Ichigo leaning against the door frame, his hands in his pockets as his amber gaze followed the twins, their hair longer and softer, just as the growing curves of their body.

Hell; they're all grown up, and they didn't even need to give up anything for it.

He was proud of them.

"Ichigo…." Rukia's soft voice came from behind him, the tall male pushing off the frame, turning his gaze onto her; since their first night, he couldn't help but always roam his eyes over her, her skirts suddenly shorter- but they weren't.

Since their first night, any shirt she wore seemed tighter- but they weren't.

He was noticing every painful detail of her whole being, and seeing her there, in their beige vest-sweater over their white shirt, and plaid bow, in her grey skirt, white leg warmers showing just a little bit of her black shoes…

For the first time in three months, he missed his reiatsu, dearly. He could let her know what he was feeling right now, could feel her own to know what she felt.

Rukia walked over to him, his eyes watching her skirt play in the air with every movement she made; standing in front of him, in front Ichigo, Rukia smiled gently, reaching up to grab the toast still held between his teeth, her fingers tugging it from his lips.

"You look like a fool, standing there with toast hanging from your mouth…."

Ichigo stared down into her violet gaze, remembering the countless times he told her to not grieve over his lost reiatsu she confessed having depended so fiercely on, his fingers reaching up to lightly graze her skin, brushing her hair behind her ear.

What a fool he had been, telling her that….

"I am, a fool…."

They eventually made their way out, off towards school.

It had been a month of spending their nights together, always tangled in each other, always sharing warmth.

They went back and forth between their rooms, some nights spent on his thin, springy mattress; others spent in her larger, softer bed.

Ichigo wasn't sure about Rukia, but he preferred the nights they fell onto his mattress, his modest bed always forcing them closer together, always keeping their passion for each other in smaller range.

He loved the way the moonlight fell through his window onto her.

The hallways were busy as usual at Karakura High; a firm hand on her shoulder, Rukia held closely by his side, Ichigo maneuvered them through the students, leading Rukia to their classroom in their final months of high school.

What was he going to do with his time, just a human?

Stepping through the doorway, Ichigo felt Rukia lose her irritated tension, the nearly empty classroom quiet-

Except for the corner their friends gathered in.

Keigo jumped off his desk at the very sight of Ichigo's orange hair, immediately finding Rukia beside him, his eyes watering at the endless fantasies with her; "Ah, my beloved Kuchiki-san-!"

"Off, Keigo!" Ichigo muttered harshly, pulling Rukia closer, turning his body to block her completely, the petite shinigami enveloped in his chest as Keigo crashed into Ichigo's back.

Inoue frowned from her place between Chad and Tatsuki, remembering the days Ichigo would punch Keigo away from Rukia; she's sure he hasn't noticed how his ways have changed.

The warm sun reached onto their skin despite the layer of clouds above, Tatsuki sitting at the small table outside the café, Chad and Inoue seated with her, Ishida at the table beside them.

Their drinks brought freshly made to the table, Tatsuki breathed the tea's gentle steam in, exhaling with a satisfied sigh before pressing her lips to the cup, drinking up the sweet warmth; Inoue and the boys enjoying their own drinks, Tatsuki wandered her gaze into the café, other students from school also enjoying the time just after classes.

Past the tables set against the large window she looked through, past the glare of the sun off the glass, Tatsuki found Ichigo and Rukia inside, the petite female looking at the displayed sweets behind a warm glass, Ichigo browsing the menus high above the register.

She made to look back at those with her, when Ichigo moved from his place to stand behind Rukia, the male leaning over her, resting his hand on the glass before her.

Tatsuki was sure he hasn't noticed the way he stands so close to her, now.

The karate champion was pulled away from the sight at Inoue's soft voice, the boys beside them talking between themselves as Inoue played with the tea bag in her cup; "I don't think I've ever seen him stand so close to her, either, Tatsu-chan…."

Tatsuki frowned, reaching over to gently grasp Inoue's hand.

"Ichigo, are those really strawberries right there, the giant ones with brown?"

Following her clean, manicured finger pointing to a sweet behind the glass, Ichigo smirked, remembering the days Rukia spent asking questions nearly every second about his world.

He missed those days; the days he had a reiatsu to assure she would be alright in the new life she had stumbled into.

"Yeah, they grow them in different ways, I suppose. The chocolate is just melted, and the strawberries are dipped into it to make them look like that."

He stayed leaning against the glass, his chest against her back; he found himself needing to loosely wrap his other arm around her, resting just above her tempting breasts across her chest, gripping her shoulder gently.

Rukia grinned widely as the barista came over to them on the other side of the display, asking warmly what a 'pretty miss' would like, her chin thrown back to crash her crown against Ichigo, her violet eyes looking up at him with amusement; "Can I have the strawberry, Strawberry?"

Ichigo glared lightly at her, her hand reaching up to tangle her fingers in his longer mane, tugging on it gently, Ichigo giving in to her deep eyes coaxing him to spend money on her.

If Ichigo could still feel her reiatsu, he knew it'd be doing just the same.

He unwrapped his arm from around her, stepping back as he held up a 'v' with his fingers before moving to the register, the barista plucking two chocolate strawberries off the plate, dropping them into a bag.

Rukia grinned with excitement, rushing outside to join their friends, apologizing for their idiot carrot wasting time and making her choose from so many choices- said idiot walking out in time to flick her head, threatening to keep her drink and strawberry away from her.

Chad and Ishida smirked, knowing Rukia wouldn't let anyone keep her strawberry from her.

Ichigo and Rukia waved at their friends as they stopped at his house, Tatsuki leaving with Inoue towards the apartments some blocks down, Chad and Ishida going their own ways towards home.

A lone strawberry covered in chocolate safe within the bag in hand, Ichigo fussed shortly with the key, eventually pushing the door open, holding it open as he motioned for Rukia to head inside, first; his breath hitched as she slipped past him, her body turned to fit between the frame and his body, her hip brushing against him, Ichigo's own hip tortured at the feel of her whole pelvis slide along him, met with her other hip before left with just the burning memory.

Following behind her, Ichigo kicked his shoes off, dropping his school bag with his keys, one hand loosening his damn tie for school while the other tugged his shirt out from his pants; the chocolate strawberry in hand, Ichigo moved into the kitchen, hearing Rukia fuss around upstairs with her own uniform, calling out to let him know his sisters weren't home.

He dropped the small bag on the counter, picking up a note with messy writing- the writing of a doctor.


"Son," Ichigo read out loud in a mutter; "The girls seemed stressed, so I took them out for the day. We might spend the night at a hotel, let them skip tomorrow."

You know they've been through a lot…."

Ichigo frowned, thinking back to three months prior. He continued with the note, hearing Rukia make her way downstairs.

"You look tired yourself- sleep in tomorrow."

Looking up from the note, up towards kitchen window, Ichigo's gaze softened at the small family portrait resting on the sill; "You smell; Dad."

He had to get used to this new side of his father until Isshin decides they've had enough time to move on.

"You look tired."

Ichigo frowned, realizing all those years of not knowing his father knew what he felt… and just like that, within hours of learning his father was a shinigami… they lose that connection.


He felt Rukia's hand touch his arm, her violet eyes curious of the note he held; "Is that from the girls, or your father?"

"It was signed off telling me that I smell." Leaning against the counter, his lower back pressed against the edge, Ichigo folded the note, tossing it into the sink; "Who do you think wrote it?"

Rukia stood before the male in his large, red v-neck over shorts hugging her thighs, cocking her head at him, her hip following suit.

"Well, you do smell, so it could be from any honest sibling or father, really." Rukia should have seen the preying glare Ichigo took on, but quite frankly, she was distracted by his grown out hair again.

"Why you little-!" His larger frame lunged at her before she could even turn to sprint away, Ichigo wrapping his arms around her, a kicking shinigami literally swept off her feet; "Ichigo! I'm going to kick your ass-!"

Their moans melted against each other as their warm tongues slowly massaged each other, Ichigo's sex within her spent and limp, Rukia's thighs blissfully sore.

He may be just a human again, but he kept the strength he had held as a shinigami.

Her soft hands running over his back and sides, soothing the tender flesh she marked with her nails, Rukia kept her legs around Ichigo's hips, craving for more, certain he'd be more than happy to continue into the late night together.

"You okay, midget?" Clawing his skin at his insult, Rukia smiled against his hissing lips, nodding silently before melding their lips together, hands moving to bury themselves in his hair; "Why wouldn't I be?"

Leaning up on his elbow, Ichigo turned his hips onto his side, bringing her with him, Rukia's curves off to show.

Tracing the growing bruises along her slim, tempting hip, Ichigo looked back at Rukia, his eyes locked with hers; "These…."

Rolling her violet eyes, Rukia pushed on his chest, the male falling over onto his back, his hold on Rukia bringing her with him; straddling his hips, Ichigo still buried within her hot core, Rukia ran her hands over his sides, tracing the fresh scratches along his skin, her legs covering the bruises on his own hips.

"You're one to talk- just look at the number I have on you, Strawberry."

Ichigo breathed out a laugh, low and calm, his hand reaching up to curl around Rukia's neck, pulling her down to capture her lips against his own.

Firm caresses of their tongues were shared, Rukia biting down his lip before she pulled away, sitting up as she continued straddling him, Ichigo's amber eyes looking up at her from beneath that longer mane of his, his large, gentle hands gripping her hips as his arousal grew firm again.

Rukia leaned forward, her small hand on his chest, just above his steady beating heart, her other hand reaching out to grab the headboard, her nails digging into it as Ichigo's member pushed against her walls, needing release.

With a slow, agonizing roll of her hips, they continued their night.

"Hey…." Keigo looked about the group on the school's rooftop during the warm afternoon, frowning as Tatsuki and Inoue joined the males with the other girls in their class following behind, Chizuru and Mahana taking Ichigo and Rukia's usual sitting within their sloppy circle; "Where the hell is Ichigo and Rukia-san?"

Chad shrugged silently beside Keigo, the shorter male's gaze on Tatsuki, Inoue picking at her food beside her best friend; "Oi, Tatsuki! Where's our carrot-bum?"

"Why would I know? I don't keep tabs on him!"

Inoue pushed her bean paste around in the small container, her rice growing hard and cold the longer she played with the paste; "Kurosaki-kun's probably with Kuchiki-san…."

Ishida and Tatsuki frowned at the young woman, Keigo growling as he beat his fist into his palm.

"Damn that Ichigo! Always stealing my beloved Rukia-san away-!" An empty bento was hurled at his nose, Tatsuki threatening him with another she snatched from Ishida; "Shut up already, Keigo, before I beat you into the ground!"

"I don't have to shut up! It's the truth!" Jumping to his feet, Keigo wailed exaggeratedly, Chizuru and Mahana holding back a fuming Tatsuki from lunging the male screaming about obliviously; "I've seen the way he's secretly wooing her! He thinks he's so cool with his new hair! He's probably having his way with Rukia-san as we spe-!"

A hurl of bottles and bento crashed into him, Chizuru and Mahana letting Tatsuki tackle the male to the ground in a fury of punches, Chad and Ishida shaking their heads in disbelief.

"You naïve idiot!" "Owie, stop-!"

"You wouldn't have the balls to call her so casually if Ichigo were here, either, now would you!"

"My arm! I think you broke my arm!"

No one needed to brush Inoue's long hair aside to see her hidden face and know Keigo's words hit her hard.

Rukia was tangled in Ichigo's cool sheets when she opened her violet eyes, the window's curtains opened enough to let the noon's light pour through, her tired body soaking in what it could from it.

Stretching out her legs as she arched her back, Rukia rolled across the small bed to turn the desk's small clock towards her, groaning at the hour, looking around the room.

Her clothes from last night that were once a messy pile on the floor were now hanging out of Ichigo's poor excuse of a hamper, his black shoes he wore for school gone.

Did he… leave?

Sighing, Rukia sat up in the messy bed, the smell of sex and their bodies against each other still laced within every thread, her thighs sore from Ichigo's need for her.

Swinging her legs over the edge, Rukia stood up with one of the sheets wrapped around her slim, curved body, its tail dragging on the floor behind her, Rukia making her way over to the closet.

With a swift kick swiping the door's side, Rukia slid the closet open, immediately digging through the single drawer of clothes she kept in her old 'room,' for the mornings she woke up tangled in Ichigo's sheets.

Grabbing her running shorts and a tank, Rukia straightened up, screaming at the sight of Ichigo leaning against the wall beside her, his sculpted chest bare above the tight jeans-

"Shit-!" "Yo."

A fast punch struck Ichigo's hard abdomen, a smirk pulling at his lips as Rukia growled at him; "You damn imbecile, sneaking up on me like that! You nearly scared me to my second death!"

"Ah, Rukia-."

"Don't 'ah, Rukia' me, you fool! I still think I should buy you a bell!" Slamming the closet shut, Rukia bunched up the sheet around her, stomping her way over to the bedroom door with her clothes.

His soft, alluring voice he's had for the past three months kept her at the door; "I need one for you, too…."

She held still at the doorway, looking back at the male over her shoulder, Ichigo looking back at her with a look she could only guess as longing.

His orange bangs nearly hid his amber eyes from her, the male standing silently at the corner of his closet's wall, his hand reaching across to grip his bicep; looking down at his bare feet peeking out from his jeans, Ichigo breathed out a short laugh, shaking his head, his long bangs following his every move.

"I… miss knowing how annoyed and pissed off you are at me…."

Rukia felt her chest tighten, looking at the male, her reiatsu pouring over him; but not a single inch of him could feel her.

She missed it when she was the only one who couldn't understand him.

"Ichi-nii, Rukia-chan; we're back!" Dropping her duffle bag beside Karin's abandoned backpack, Yuzu slipped off her shoes as Karin locked the door behind them, her twin holding a soccer ball under her arm, Yuzu walking ahead into the kitchen.

Foot-steps echoed in the stairs before Ichigo and Rukia made their way into the kitchen, Rukia smiling at the girls, the twins stepping into her open arms; "Hey, how was your small trip with your father?"

Karin laughed, Yuzu rolling her eyes at the mention of Isshin before moving to hug her brother.

"Well, you know Dad; he went all out with the hotel, so now, he's back at the hospital and making up for the money he wasted on us."

Ichigo stepped off to the side, sitting on the couch's arm as he watched his sisters tell Rukia more about their day, Karin herself talking animatedly about it as she tossed her ball from hand to hand.

The girls had grown during the time he spent away in the Winter War, and they only kept growing in the months it's been since their victory; because of the traumatic hours his sisters had spent awake and confused in a beaten and sleeping Karakura within Soul Society, Yuzu had grown braver, and Karin had grown more sympathetic, mainly for her twin.

They completely balanced each other, now.

"Hey, Ichi-nii." Ichigo snapped out of his thoughts, looking past his long bangs at the three females before him, Karin spinning her soccer ball in her hands; "We ran into Tatsuki at the corner where Dad dropped us off, at the small grocery store. She said she would head over in a bit…."

He liked how Karin and Yuzu were much taller than Rukia, now.

"Oh, okay… damn, Rukia; look at yourself next to them…you really are short."

Rukia's skilled kick of the ball, out of Karin's surprised hands, did nothing to hurt the male despite the perfect hit against his chest, the male laughing softly to himself, Rukia cussing him out as the girls simply laughed.

He wished he could feel her irritation with him.

"Missed you at school today, Ichigo."

Leaning her elbows on her knees, Tatsuki watched a car drive past them as they sat on the curb, Ichigo's house behind them, his hair catching the sun starting to lower itself in the sky; "Sure you did, Tatsuki."

What did I do this time?"

Tatsuki rolled her eyes, remembering the last time he asked her those very same words; it had been back in freshman year, and Inoue- graceful as always- had literally ran into him.

His scowl and half-assed 'Oh, sorry,' had sent Inoue stammering off and hiding all day.

"I don't know if I'm just imagining it, but you and Rukia seem closer, lately..."

She moved her gaze from the building across to his amber eyes beside her.

"You're imagining it, just as people always have imagined a secret relationship between us. You know that she's my partner…."

Tatsuki frowned at him, Ichigo immediately recognizing that look from the first day he met her as children.

"Ow!" The little boy with wild orange hair stumbled back from the hit, his protective gear weighing him down onto the floor, his body landing on his arm.

Tears stung his amber eyes, his cheeks stained red as he cried.

The little girl barely taller than him rolled her eyes, walking over to him; "Your arm hurts, doesn't it? I'll call sensei-."

"No, it doesn't!" Amber eyes stubbornly looked up her, tears running down his cheek.

Tatsuki looked down at him, rolling her eyes again. Leaning down, she held out her hand, frowning at him.

"It's obvious that-."

"You're lying, Ichigo." Her brown eyes fixed themselves on his, Ichigo sighing lowly as he looked across the street, running a hand through his mane; "We've… Rukia and I've been sleeping together, Tatsuki."

He felt her tense up beside him, her voice low and forced; "Since when?"

Glancing at her, Ichigo frowned at her look, her look of shock and disbelief and so many other emotions.

"Since the night I came looking for Inoue at your place, asking her to go heal her."

"A month? It's been a month, and you haven't told anyone? How long were you planning on keeping your girlfriend from us-!"

His eyes turned harsh for the first time in months- for the first time in three months- as he turned to her, snapping; "I don't know if she's even that, Tatsuki!"

His friend frowned at him, Ichigo growing irritated; he felt trapped.

He felt his anger build itself within, the male realizing for the first time, just how much he had depended on his reiatsu to release his emotion; realizing for the first time how much he depended on his reiatsu to know his feelings himself.

He's just a human again.

"What do you mean, Ichigo! How could you… I never expected this from you, of all people-!"

"I just- I don't know! The past month has been hard, Tatsuki! I can no longer depend on her just knowing how I feel, since I've lost my reiatsu! I have to ask and tell her now, and I'm still… I'm still not used to it, at all…."

Tatsuki held silent, Ichigo's eyes fighting different emotions.

"We're both; we're both just bad at exposing ourselves completely, Tatsuki. You know that about me… I've lost everything that kept me close to her, so I'm… I'm fuckin' afraid of losing the one connection I have to her now…. I've become so pathetic now that I can't feel her, Tatsuki."

An exasperated sigh left Tatsuki, Ichigo looking at her, frowning; "What-?"

Glaring at Ichigo, Tatsuki nearly hissed; "Are you telling me she's shutting you out?"

I've always liked Rukia, even when I didn't know exactly what she was to you, but how do you know she's not using you, just as a mate for her noble name? You're the greatest shinigami, aren't you? How could she all of the sudden have feelings! She always denied feelings for you!"

She saw Ichigo make to interrupt her, but she wouldn't have any of it; "No, Ichigo! Don't defend her!"

Tatsuki stood from her place, glaring down at the male; "You're different, Ichigo! You're always touching her, always at her side, always looking at her, but you're telling me all that- that- all that display and she has yet to tell you anything, and is keeping her reiatsu to herself? You can't even ask the girl you're sleeping with if she's your girlfriend! How could-!"

"I'm human, Tatsuki…."

Silence suddenly held at the sound of his soft voice, Tatsuki cut off from her confused anger; she found his amber gaze from beneath his longer hair before he stood as well, his height towering over her.

"I'm not part of her world, anymore; not as a shinigami, at least…. I can't feel any reiatsu- not even Rukia's. I'm just a human now, and she's still by my side, Tatsuki…."

Scoffing lightly, Ichigo held her gaze, a small smile laced with misery on his lips; "I'm trying to be patient, for once."

Brown eyes dropped their hold with Ichigo's amber gaze, guilt gnawing at Tatsuki for her confused rage that had surprised even herself, shocked to feel Ichigo's hand firmly grasp her shoulder, Tatsuki looking up at find his eyes again.

He spoke in that voice he's had ever since he saved her and the others from that man, Aizen.

"What's really wrong, Tatsuki, for you to have said all that…?"

She can't stand the fact he really is much more patient, surely making him much more observant now that the world could't come near his thoughts and emotions.

"I…." Frowning, Tatsuki regretted every word she had spat out; "I will always hurt every time I see Inoue look the way she does when you're with Rukia, Ichigo… I'm sorry. All that... it was a load of nonsense..."


Ichigo was almost sorry the defeat of some of the strongest Arrancar was done through the excuse of rescuing her from Hueco Mundo. He felt the hopeful glint in Inoue's eyes after the war came from his determination to rescue her and keep her safe from their enemies.

If only she'd known the pain and fear he'd felt when he thought Rukia had been killed.

Tatsuki's small voice pulled his attention back, her eyes on her shoes; "It makes sense now, that you act so different… I know neither of you notice the way you've changed around each other when you're with us…."

Just… please just keep to yourself the fact that, our 'asexual friend' is no longer alone, Ichi…."

A soft laugh had left her at their old nickname for Ichigo, who had always been so closed off or –rarely- shy around females before Rukia had suddenly came into their lives.

Ichigo frowned, dropping his hand from her shoulder, stuffing his hands into his jeans.

"I'm not going to go bragging about my relationship with Rukia, Tatsuki."

The shorter female snapped her head up, shaking her head; "No, I'm not saying that, Ichigo."

I just mean that, with just everyone thinking you're probably… barely… starting to actually like her, and not just cause of rumors, Inoue is really hurting about it. I don't want to see her find out it's a lot more than that…."

A sigh left Ichigo, the male pulling a hand from his pockets to pinch the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed, under his orange bangs; "I doubt she'd know just from looking at us, Tatsuki, even if we do become a couple…."

A couple. It sounded off. It sounded, just, not them. He'd settle for the simple term 'us.'

"You'd be surprised. Keigo and other students in our year are already convinced you are sleeping with her…."

Ichigo groaned, rubbing his eye with his palm; "You've got to be kidding me. I'm guessing he started this conversation between us now, then."

He didn't need to see her small nod to know he was right; "You know, then, that Inoue will eventually know, either as fact or rumor."

Watching his hair catch the last of the sun as he dropped his hand back into his pocket, looking at her, Tatsuki knew he was right, her brown eyes looking at her friend who'd changed so much in a matter of such little time.

"You're right, Ichigo. You're right, and it's no reason to keep you from finding your place in this world…."

Ichigo knew in that moment, he'd been right in staying friends with the girl who kicked his ass every weekend at the dojo.

The house was quiet aside from the muffled groans in the late night, light shining through the crack underneath Rukia's closed door, her lone room far from the other bedrooms as it had been added on the first floor, next to the clinic.

That was the only reason Ichigo accepted when it came to silently deciding which room to stumble into, stripping each other of clothes.

Her cotton sheets clung to their sweaty skin as he finished with a paralyzing rush of pleasure within her, Rukia's back arching off the mattress with his last thrust against her, lips nearly torn apart as she bit back a loud, satisfied moan.

What he would have given to hear it.

Riding out their release, her hands running over his skin as always to soothe her claw marks along his body, Ichigo leaned down to kiss the panting woman beneath him, licking her hurt lip, suckling it gently between his own.

Rukia's breath was still struggling, but she refused to part from him, her breathing heavy and nearly desperate through her nose, her hands moving to bury themselves in his mane that drove her nearly insane, holding him close, pulling him even closer.

She was sure she was trying to somehow pull him close to her soul, letting him know she wanted to know his feelings, wanted him to know she cherished every second they spent together.

Light-headed, starving for the other, they couldn't breathe anymore, reluctantly pushing off each other's lips, Ichigo keeping his mouth against hers, their panting fast and heavy.

"Are you okay, Ichigo?" She was surprised he hadn't broken her that night.

"Why?" He frowned at her, trying to read her eyes looking into his; "Why wouldn't I be okay?"

Rukia missed the days he couldn't go straight into his defensive front when she asked him if he was alright; the days she could feel what he felt, and give him no space to argue and just confess to her what she wanted.

The days when she'd just say "Why are you depressed, idiot?" and she'd know either after he willingly mumbled his reply or she abused it out of him.

Things weren't as simple now.

"I'm just wondering, since you were a lot rougher tonight-."

Her male pulled away from her, his amber eyes strained as he snapped his gaze between their pelvises still molded together; "Did I hurt you-?"

Quickly tangling her fingers into his mane, Rukia pulled his gaze back onto her own, leaning up onto her elbow- "No; you didn't hurt me at all. I'm worried you're upset…."

Ichigo held silent as he thought back to his weakening, vulnerable need to know what they were, if she felt she could never see eternity without him, as well.

He thought back to the fact he could no longer easily accept being human, after one month of feeling her reiatsu soar for him, and only him during their nights together.

He eventually answered her; "Don't worry about me, midget. Nothing's wrong…."

Struggling to read him, unsure if he was honest or not, Rukia simply nodded, releasing his fisted hair, keeping herself leaned up on her elbows, their gazes leveled and locked; "If you say so, Strawberry…."

Smiling gently at her, Ichigo moved a hand to run through her damp raven tresses, tangling his fingers in it, his gaze burning into her; "You promise I didn't hurt you?"

Grinning deviously, Rukia pushed up to nuzzle his jaw, her lips grazing his skin, moving to just barely touch his waiting mouth.

"How about I show you how rough I really want you to be?"

What he'd give to feel her again.

"Where's my Kuchiki-san! Ichigo, you've better have returned her to me-!"

A swift kick was delivered to his head, Ichigo smirking at the obvious satisfaction Tatsuki had from abusing their loud friend; "Needed that, didn't you, Tatsuki?"

Her brown eyes nearly smiled at him.

"You have no idea, Ichigo."

The odd group of friends laughed lightly, Ichigo and Chad sitting at their desks, the others around them.

Inoue stood beside Tatsuki and Ishida as her dearest friend leaned against one of the desks, Inoue's grey eyes moving to Ichigo, her attention turned to Rukia walking through the door to the classroom, having just stepped out from the restroom across the hallway.

Before she could stop herself, Inoue moved across the space between her and the desk beside Ichigo, the curvy female lightly dropping into it.

She wasn't sure why she was bothering.

"Kuchiki-san, my love-!" Ichigo could have fooled anyone by the way he moved that he was still a shinigami, the male immediately stepping between his obnoxious friend and short lover, his arm around Rukia's smaller form as he simply elbowed Keigo's face, muttering his usual "Off, Keigo!"

Rukia laughed lightly as she shook her head at the morning antics, the tall male against her stepping back, moving back towards his desk.

Rukia made for the seats Tatsuki and Ishida leaned against when Ichigo easily dragged a desk against the back of his previous seat now empty, the male sitting on the desktop, a foot propped up on the seat in front of him.

She fought the smile threatening to show.

Dropping into the seat he gave her, Rukia rested her chin in her palm as she leaned her elbow onto the desk, a small smile on her lips as Ichigo moved his other foot onto her seat, as well, his legs on either side of her.

Rukia never thought to glance over to her side, Inoue fighting back any emotions to betray her further.

"C'mon, midget, let's head out…."

Waiting just outside the building's door after class, Ichigo watched Rukia look back into the busy hallways, a small frown on her lips; "Aren't we waiting for everyone?"

She nearly gasped when his larger hand slid against hers to weave their fingers together, Rukia turning her gaze up to his; pulling on her hand, Ichigo brought Rukia against him, caring less about the students around them as he leaned down, brushing his lips against her ear.

"Do you want to?"

They came home earlier than their usual hour, having left within minutes of their last class, having walked at the pace they'd set together during their first months as newly formed partners.

She had missed their walks home, alone together; their hands still in each other's hold simply made it better.

Stepping into the empty household, both Ichigo and Rukia kicked off their shoes, the tall male tugging on her hand to bring her with him as he made for the stairs, both making their way up the steps.

Rukia let him pull her into his room, his foot kicking the door shut behind them before locking it, Rukia already making her way towards his bed.

She was surprised when his strong hands didn't begin stripping her of her clothes as Ichigo caught her; instead, she found his arms circling around her waist as he pressed his sculpted chest against her back, Ichigo hugging her close to his whole being, leaning down to nuzzle her crown, closing his eyes as he breathed in the scent he seemed unable to live without.

He wasn't sure when he started to really care about Rukia.

Ichigo may have never harbored any romantic feelings before, but he was no idiot- he knew he must have had these feelings for her grow much earlier than that day he stepped through the gate and saw her there in the light breeze, his chest having nearly exploded with the… happiness, if you may, that he felt at the sight of her, three months ago.

He knew a feeling of that strength did not grow, just like that; "What are we, Rukia?"

Silence held as Rukia took in his soft, alluring voice, running it through her mind over and over, unable to breathe; clutching his arms around her smaller body, resting her head back on his chest, Rukia's violet eyes closed as she let out a stuttering breath.

She didn't know, what they were. She only knew they were shinigami and human, that they-


Her violet eyes snapped open, Rukia feeling his arms hold her closer as she tensed against him, Ichigo able to feel her breath shaking with her back against him.


She bit her lip as she curled her whole mind around that single word; human.

Since they met, and lived together, trained together, bickered together, fought together; Rukia had simply accepted the idea that he just might be there when she bitterly celebrated her seven hundredth birthday-

But now, he was human.

She wasn't sure she could bear watching him grow old, worrying about her whenever her duties called, living life without children she wouldn't be able to bear for him.

Ichigo was human.

"Rukia… I'm…." Her male frowned against her crown, holding her tightly against him as he tried to find his will to ask her, trying to pretend he had the courage and will Zangetsu had once always given him; "I'm… only asking, because I, need to know if you also see me in your life… an eternity from now…."

She never thought she'd literally feel her heart rip apart. For the first time in three months, she finally had no doubt what he was feeling…. Of all the times to know...

Rukia knew he'd forgotten, despite always knowing, just like she had in the past two months of waiting for the day Zangetsu left him, just like she had in the past month of trying to bear her entire soul to him, that-

"…you're human, Ichigo."

For the past three months, Ichigo had been waiting for the day Zangetsu could no longer hold onto his soul.

For the past month, Ichigo realized he had been dreading the day Zangetsu could no longer hold onto his soul.

For the past few days, Ichigo had been struggling to come to terms with it, after being honored with Zangetsu's fight to stay with him longer; he had been struggling to come to terms with the fact he could no longer feel Rukia, him being human.

So why did he forget about it when he thought of eternity with Rukia?

His shinigami clutched his arms tightly when she felt them lose their hold around her, Rukia's hands shaking as she fought to keep her emotions controlled, as she fought to keep herself from shedding tears again, as she had an entire month ago.

But her chest ached so badly.

Her eyes watching her feet move hesitantly to turn her body towards him, Rukia couldn't bring herself to look up and see Ichigo, his whole being silent and still, her smaller body shaking as she struggled to keep from falling apart.

She wanted to run her hands through his orange mane, and tell him they would be alright an eternity from now.

She was never one to lie to him so greatly, though. Just harmless lies, as when he asked her if she ate his ice cream.

It had been one of the best ice creams she'd tasted.

Rukia nearly jumped when his hands moved to her hips, fisting her skirt; before she could force herself to look up into his eyes, Ichigo dropped to one knee, soon falling onto both, his head hung low as he kneeled before her, resting his head against her pelvis as he held onto her skirt fisted up in his hands.

Her knees losing their strength, Rukia dropped down onto the thin mattress behind her, Ichigo's forehead now against her knees, her feet on either side of his kneeled form, hunched over and silent.

Ichigo's hands let go of their hold on her skirt, moving down her thighs towards her knees, his warm hands gripping her firm, but soft thighs; he exhaled deeply when he felt Rukia's hands run through his longer mane, his breath caressing her skin as his bangs did, as well.

They remembered sitting like this, the night Zangetsu lost the struggle to hold onto his dear shinigami, now a human.

They didn't remember feeling as broken as they did now.

Rukia's tears disappeared into his mane as she leaned over to hide her weakness against his crown.

Days passed in silence.

Their mornings were spent separate, with the twin girls leaving their brother and friend to themselves, Isshin even going as far to keep silent and out of their way, as well.

Their seats in the classroom were always taken at different times, their walk to school alone and silent, eyes on them as they went from Ichigo and Rukia, to just… Ichigo, and Rukia.

Evenings were spent without appetite, Rukia alone in her room hardly paying attention to the books spread about her on her large bed, Ichigo alone in his room, shoving the book away from himself across the desk.

Their nights alone were colder and harder to bear.

Ichigo knew they were uselessly trying to get used to the fact they'd soon be apart for eternity.

He hated such stupid, worthless attempts.

Silently making his way down the stairs and towards the front door by the light of the moon pouring through the windows, Ichigo slipped on his shoes, grabbing his hoodie off the couch before stepping outside.

He made his way towards Urahara's shop for the first time in a month.

"Ichigo, what are doing here at this hour? Are you alright?" Pulled into the shop by Yoruichi, Ichigo shook his head, the older female running her hands through his longer mane as she called for Urahara.

Ichigo wished he were six again, his mother humming gently to him, running her fingers through his short, orange hair.

"Kurosaki-kun; what brings you here?" Looking from the floor to the once exiled shinigami approaching them, Ichigo dug his hands into his pocket, Yoruichi wrapping an arm around his shoulders as she stood next to him; "I'm sorry for waking you up-."

"Nonsense- you didn't wake us up. Don't worry about it." Urahara tipped his hat up, his eyes gentle as he held Ichigo's gaze.

"I came to… I needed to get out of the house…."

Nodding silently, Urahara turned to make his way towards their small kitchen, Yoruichi walking with the young male towards the shop's sitting room, where countless times were once spent planning and informing each other, the table put to good use for the first time in three months.

"-so now, I'm wondering, Urahara… if she's asked you at all, about sending her home?"

Sitting with Yoruichi and Urahara on either side of him, Ichigo picked at his small cup still full of tea grown cold, his long bangs hiding his eyes, Yoruichi sighing beside him; "Ichigo, you don't truly think knowing would make it easier for you, do you?"

He knew she meant the day she'd leave him, for eternity.

Ichigo sat silently between them, his eyes burning into the innocent cup on the table. He knew whether he counted down the days to her leaving, or just woke up one morning to find her room empty; he would still hurt and probably lose a point to keep living.

He wasn't some hopeless teenager in love and ready to go suicidal; it's just that, what would truly be the point?

He'd say the rain would start again in his world, but he no longer had one. He didn't have a world for Zangetsu to bicker with his Hollow in.

He didn't have a world to keep dry and strong.

Ichigo couldn't keep his sisters safe anymore. Sure, he's sure he can still fight and keep any bullies from them, take on punches and kicks and barely even feel them… but what of the day a Hollow strays back into their world and he can't even hear it coming?

Who would he bicker with and take kicks to the shins from?

Who would he take on an entire world for and shelter a Hollow within for, just to see her smile again?

Who would he punch Keigo to pulp for to keep him away from?

Who would his sisters go to when the boy they like doesn't like them back, or day they find a red stain on their underwear and freaks the hell out of them, or the day they miss their mother too strongly to take comfort from his father or himself?

Humans have so much time to think. Why didn't they use it more often?

He felt Yoruichi grasp his shoulder, Urahara moving beside him, the blonde shinigami's arms rested on the small table's top; "Ichigo…."

Amber eyes looked at him.

"When the Hōgyoku turned on Aizen, no longer seeing him as his master… it wasn't only because you surpassed him in power, will and strength…."

Smiling with sorrow laced into it, Urahara moved his gaze to hold Ichigo's amber eyes; "During the time it spent hidden within Rukia's soul…."

It learned every secret she ever kept, every memory she ever made, every feeling she ever felt…."

Ichigo kept silent, Yoruichi's grasp on his shoulder firm, but gentle.

"Ichigo… the Hōgyoku wouldn't hurt the the soul that sheltered it so well and didn't seek its power- even had she known of it. The Hōgyoku wouldn't hurt the being that soul… cares for, so deeply about…."

Believe me, when I say I'm putting it lightly…."

Ichigo thought back, thought back to that time between his freshman and sophomore year that he met Rukia, to the time after two months of knowing her, storming Soul Society to save her, holding off the Sōkyoku from taking her life.

Just two months, barely some two years ago.

He may not know when he started caring so deeply for her, but it didn't matter at all when he knew when she did.

"Rukia-chan, I made your bento for today…." Smiling gently at the petite female at the foot of the stairs, Yuzu wrapped the packed lunch with a pure, white satin cloth, her brother's bento beside it in a black, cotton cloth.

"Thank you, Yuzu…." Her arms crossed across her modest chest, Rukia attempted a small smile for the young teenager, Karin rushing down the stairs with her bag, tossing Yuzu's her own; "C'mon, Yuzu, we're late! Bye, Rukia!"

"Bye…." The door closed behind them, Isshin long past gone for work in the early morning, Rukia was left alone at the foot of the stairs, the house silent and still.

Looking up the steps, Rukia frowned, wondering if she was truly alone, or alone in his presence.

She only had a few minutes before he was bound to come downstairs.

Pulling out an envelope from her uniform skirt's pocket, Rukia held it gently against her chest, eventually leaning down and carefully placing it on the last step of the stairs.

Standing up, looking one last time around the house she had grown to call home, Rukia made her way to the front door, every step echoing in her mind.

He had just turned the corner when Ichigo saw Karin and Yuzu rush out from their home, a small smile on his lips, watching them practically run, hand-in-hand.

Walking up to his home, Ichigo dug out his keys, grasping the handle as he slipped the metal piece into the lock, finding himself still and quiet.

What was he planning to do, anyways?

Beg her to give up her whole life and become human, by one of Urahara's gigai?

Beg her to watch him grow old and wrinkled, waste her time away with him, while still a shinigami?

Maybe he just wanted one more day with her.

Turning the lock, Ichigo pushed the large door open, the male frozen in his place, his eyes on Rukia's motionless, violet eyes staring right back at him.


He opened the door before she could reach it, Rukia's breath caught in her throat at the sight of him, her violet eyes caught in the tired limp of his hair, his worn hoodie clinging loosely to him.

As he looked up and met her eyes, it was then Rukia realized that, it was the first time in weeks she had seen his eyes, look so….


"…Rukia." She kept silent and still, trying to think of what to say, trying to think of what to do.

What was to be expected of someone trying to walk out of your life?

"Rukia." She nearly smiled at her name slipping past his lips- he sounded like his old, brash, hot-headed self.

The taller male stepped through the door, closing it behind him, tossing his keys into the dish by the door, stripping of his hoodie to his jeans and shirt. Stepping on the back of his shoe, Ichigo slipped it off, doing the same with his other shoe, his amber eyes having kept their lock with her violet gaze.

He knew she wasn't heading to school. She wouldn't have been caught by the roots of guilt and kept in place had she truly meant to make way towards school.

No; Kuchiki Rukia was trying to leave his home.

"I need you to stay, even for just a day, Rukia…." Rukia struggled to keep her emotions hidden at his words, confusion and hurt mixing dangerously close to anger, her violet eyes refusing to break their hold with his.

"What for, Ichigo? Just head to school, distract yourself from this…." She stepped forward, stepping again and again, her eyes on the door behind him as she tore them from his gaze and made for it.

As she came to his side, fighting to keep himself from reaching out and grabbing her, Ichigo looked at her, barely muttering above a whisper; "It was because of you, that I'm still alive, and that this world is safe, Kuchiki."

Rukia became still, their skin a breath away from grazing each other as they stood, side by side, Rukia slowly moving her confused gaze to look up into his strong eyes; "What are you talking about?"

"The… the Hōgyoku stayed faithful to the feelings it learned from you, Rukia… It couldn't bring itself to hurt me, so it abandoned Aizen just before he could finish me."

Rukia never learned what love was.

Her feelings for Renji and Kaien-dono are separate and different from each other, and both of them are different from what she felt for this alluring fool beside her.

Renji and Kaien-dono were never true, pure and needing love. She's not... sure, about Ichigo.

"So what now…?" Rukia frowned up at Ichigo as angry tears brimmed her eyes, Rukia refusing to let them fall. She'd cried once too many times in front of him already; "Do you expect me to ruin us, and stay just because we know how I just might truly feel for your handsome, idiot self?"

Any other day, he would have laughed at her words.

"No… just, stay a few more hours with me." Rukia wondered some time later, what would she have done?

Would she have stayed, or walked out then, had Yuzu and Karin not come bursting through the door, screaming for help?

"Ichi-nii-!" Amber eyes widened as the heavy door slammed against his back, pushing him forward in a stumble, Rukia holding on to him to keep him from falling, dragged a few steps with him as she snapped her eyes to the door, the world and air around her moving slowly.

Karin and Yuzu were yelling out for him, their desperate arms out-stretched with their hands held between them, trying to reach out to them, their eyes struck with fear; letting go of the male as he found his balance, turning to them, Rukia reached out a hand for the twins, a large Hollow moving behind them-

The world was snapped out of its slow haze when a large claw reached in through the door and wrapped itself around Yuzu's leg, pulling her back out towards itself, the young female slammed violently onto the floor and dragged out, Karin brought down with her, their nails clawing desperately at the floor; "Ichi-nii!"

"Karin! Yuzu!" Ichigo's tall body rushed past Rukia stumbling to release herself from her gigai, her soul torn violently from the artificial body, Rukia gasping for breath as she sped into shunpo as her footing caught itself, her blade unsheathed before tearing into the Hollow's arm.

The beast trashed about violently, the girls snapped harshly in its lost limb, Karin losing grip of Yuzu's hand as her body crashed into her brother's arms, Yuzu caught in the Hollow's other claw.

"Karin! Karin!" Ichigo blindly looked about him for a safe place to leave Karin, Yuzu screaming and punching at an invisible claw to his eyes- his worthless, pathetic human eyes.

Their neighbors about them were yelling and rushing away at the sudden explosions into the buildings and the large craters in the road, Rukia cussing as the Hollow landed a kick onto her, her small body slammed into a street lamp, a loud crack echoing against her skull.

Letting down an unconscious Karin on the floor of their living room, Ichigo sped back out to the street, people running about him in confusion, his eyes on Yuzu held in mid-air, tears staining her cheeks as she reached out for him, whimpering his name over and over again.

Zangetsu… come back.

"Yuzu! Yuzu, hold on!"

Rukia. Where's Rukia? What is she doing? Is she hurt? Did she abandon- no! No, she wouldn't-!

Kicking his mail box, its wooden post snapped in half, the male picking up his ruined mail box, running beneath Yuzu's crying body above him, smashing his fist into the metal box repeatedly, over and over again; "Hey! Hey, down here!"

"Hey, you!" A young, boyish male with bright orange hair stood before the Hollow, yelling up at it; "You want to eat my soul, right!"

"Ichigo! No!" Rukia forced herself onto her feet, gripping her zanpaktou, her skull throbbing painfully, blurring her vision.

"Then fight me face to face!"

"That's right, you scumbag! I see you! I can see you!" Ichigo tossed the mail box aside as Yuzu's body was lowered ever so slightly, the tall male staring at the air just behind her crying body held tight; "That's right! Why go for a little girl! Eat me, instead!"

"No one else has anything to do with this!"

"Ichi-nii!" Yuzu's body dropped into his arms, a heavy, strong mass suddenly slamming Ichigo's body to the ground, his sobbing sister dropped out of his hold; her leg sprained, Ichigo yelling for her to move away, Yuzu clawed at the ground, dragging her body away- her brother standing in time to avoid the fist plummeting into the ground, naked to his eye.

"Shit-!" Stumbling backwards, Ichigo slipped on the loose gravel of the ruined floor, his feet struggling to catch themselves; finding his footing, Ichigo rushed forward- a claw slamming him into the building.

Groaning, Ichigo pushed off the wall, blood creeping over his eye, his long bangs caught in the warm, flowing mess of his gash.

He waited for the Hollow to grab him and finish him off.

"Try killing me and taking my soul!" He stood before the Hollow, stubbornly holding his ground.

He scoffed at the memory of his first encounter with a Hollow- even then he wasn't as fuckin' helpless.

Then… back then, was when Rukia selflessly saved him, not even knowing him an entire hour.

He missed her.

Ichigo closed his eyes, the chaos about him muted, his heavy breathing loud in his head, his forehead stinging from the gash.

The blow never came, Ichigo opening his amber eyes- wide with shock, the male choking at the sight.

Ichigo… stop, get away-!

"Ichigo! Ichigo, you fool!" Rukia tripped on the faulted cement, blood drying along her neck and hair, sweat covering her whole body, Yuzu unconscious by their home's front.

Rushing forward, the Hollow leisurely trying to find the reiatsu of the meal it abandoned another for, Rukia snapped her blade to the side, the Hollow making to attack Ichigo, Rukia stepping into shunpo as she cried out desperately; "Mae, Sode no Shirayuki!"

Her breath caught at the searing pain through her entire torso, her entire vision white.

She remembered the first night she met Ichigo.

"R-Rukia-? Rukia! Rukia!" The roaring Hollow shoved Rukia's body from its mouth, her white zanpaktou pulled out from the roof of its mouth, her bleeding, limp body crashing into Ichigo's embrace as the injured Hollow distanced itself, trashing about in pain.

"Rukia, fuckin' damn it!" Leaning against the wall, Ichigo held Rukia up, grabbing her chin, shaking her gently; "Rukia, open your eyes- c'mon! Open them, open them!"

Brushing her hair back, blood smeared on her skin, Ichigo couldn't help but breath out a laugh, Rukia's violet eyes looking into his; "Midget… midget, what were you thinking…."

"Saving your… sorry ass… Strawberry." Shaking from her wounds tearing her apart with pain, Rukia frowned, the Hollow trying to straighten its vision, Sode no Shirayuki having impaled deeply, close to its defeat.

Ichigo's eyes furrowed, his lips matching her frown; "What-?"

Rukia's eyes narrowed as she tried to find some answer within his eyes, her bloodied hand reaching up to brush his bangs and blood away from his eyes, tugging lightly on his hair.

"How can you see me…?" Realization hit the male, his hold tightening around her, unable to understand, unable to answer her.

Rukia glanced down to her bloodied blade, her gasp barely loud enough for her own soul to hear; swirled into her white blade, laced into her ribbon, was a pure black, slow and gentle to her zanpaktou.

The injured shinigami fell to her knees, the young boy stopping himself from rushing to her; "Shinigami!"

"You fool… do you want to save your family?"

"I-Ichigo…." Pulling all her strength together, Ichigo supporting her, she stood tall as she snapped her blade to the side, the white rid of every red drop.

"Ichigo…." His amber eyes with her own violet ones, she fought back a smile; "Do you want to save your family?"

The male frowned at her, ready to snap at her, that she's lost too much blood because of her reckless stunt, when he suddenly remembered, remembered the night he first saw her.

"Is there a way! A way to help them! Tell me!"

"There is a way… I should say there is only one way…."

"Rukia… I have nothing for you to awaken… what are you thinking-?"

"Become a shinigami, Ichigo!"

"…there is only one way; you become- a shinigami."

Ichigo's amber eyes moved to the Hollow stumbling over near them, its missing arm still bleeding at the cut, Ichigo's hold tightening around her; "Rukia, you're nuts."

"No, Ichigo…."

"Pierce the middle of your chest with this zanpaktou… and I will insert half of my shinigami power."

"Is it really okay, to do something like that…?"

"…I do not know. If it fails, you die; however, there is no other way!"

"I know, in my heart, Ichigo, that it will work!" Grabbing his arm, Rukia pulled him around her, falling back against the wall, the Hollow blindly and slowly smelling its way towards them.

Panting, clutching his arm, Rukia pulled him against her, Ichigo stopping himself from crushing her beneath him as his hands slammed against the wall; "Rukia-!"

"It'll work…." Her sword came up between their close bodies, Ichigo's amber eyes wide at the blackness laced into it; "It'll work, Ichigo… Zangetsu can't stay with me, for eternity, now can he...?"

The young boy stood before the fallen shinigami, holding out his hand to her, for her blade.

Ichigo tore his gaze from her blade, looking into her eyes, smirking at her, his eyes looking at her from beneath his long bangs; "Give me that blade, shinigami."

Laughing, a single tear running down her skin, Rukia ran her hand up his neck, over his jaw, softly grazing his cheek before she buried her hand into his mane, tangling her fingers into it.

"It's not shinigami… it's Kuchiki Rukia."

"It's Kuchiki Rukia."

Gripping Shirayuki, Ichigo stepping back with his hands still against the wall, his strong arms on either side of her, Rukia moved her blade's tip to his heart, tightening her fist in his mane; "Your second chance to avoid eternity with me, Ichigo… still looking forward to the day I bitterly celebrate my seven hundredth birthday before you?"

Grinning, hearing the Hollow roar angrily as it made for them, Ichigo whispered yes, wrapping an arm around her hips, amber eyes locked with violet.

Rubbing the hilt of her precious zanpaktou, Rukia closed her eyes, opening them to look back into Ichigo's gaze; "Once more, then, Ichigo."

Pulling on his mane, bringing him down to her, his arm pulling her against him, Ichigo caught her lips with his own, Rukia's blade pierced into his heart- into Zangetsu's home.

Once more… Ichigo.

... I am so nervous to know what you think... thank you all. I have to rush back to studying now!

Much love, KurosakiLove