I do not own Bleach


Ichigo ran with Zangetsu in his hands. He could feel the wind messing with his black robes as he ran out of time.

The wounds on his body didn't matter if he could reach it, if he could reach her.

He was seeing now the execution pillar. He didn't seem to run fast enough, his eyes locked in the figure mid-air dressed in white with her eyes closed, a single tear sliding along her face.

His feet were heavy and his body didn't seem to respond to his orders as he saw a gigantic fire bird launching towards her.

Grabbing desperately his Zanpakuto, he darted furiously forwards just to become frozen in his jump. His black shinigami clothes replaced by his jeans and his nice vibe t- shirt, Zangetsu no longer in his hands, not able to protect her, no longer able to see her.

He yelled as the big bird charged forward engulfing her figure in flames…

"ARGHHHHH!"

Ichigo sat on his bed in shock, sweating, all his body trembling as he was trying to remember he was in his bed at home, not in Soul Society. He tried to focus his wandering eyes in the wall in front of him as the memories of the nightmare were slipping away through his fingers.

"Fuck…"

Grabbing the sheets with an iron grip, he told to himself that now he had his shinigami powers again, that now he was able to protect. But it was difficult since his stubborn mind kept repeating the same scene over and over again. When he had lost his powers he had dreamt about this, waking up in sweat, barely remembering the fire but with an angst that didn't go away for hours. Now that he had his powers and Rukia had returned to his life, he could replay the details of the dream, even more vividly. He closed his eyes tight, a tense half smile on his lips.

"I'm pathetic…" he whispered.

"Are you ok?"

The door of his closet slid open, her petite body in shadows by the scarce moonlight. Since she had returned she couldn't help but sliding into his closet as when they met, her bed in Yuzu and Karin's room forgotten as soon as she and Ichigo got along again. She couldn't avoid being close to him, in school, at home and even in the battlefield, as if some part of her wanted to be sure that he could see her again, wanting to be sure his reiatsu was still there. She bit her lower lip, as she watched his silent figure, with his eyes tight closed and a vice-grip on his sheets. She could hear him every night turning and tossing in his sleep, sometimes even yelling in frustration and waking up in a rush , but she had never been able to confront him. Her relationship with him as strong as always, after this month together, but at the same time more fragile than ever. It had taken all her courage to open the sliding door.

"Is something wrong?"

Ichigo raised his head startled not wanting that she saw him this way but at the same time relieved to have her under his sight. Under his sight… not long ago he didn't even dare to think about it.

"Sorry. Did I awake you?" he murmured in the same tone as her.

She lied and shook her head "I was already awake. It's hot here…"

He nodded and with his left hand slid the window wide open, suppressing a shiver as the breeze of the quiet night caressed his sweaty face. Ichigo couldn't look at her but at the same time he wanted to. The shadows of his previous dreams urging him to make sure that she was real and safe, but her reasons of why he hadn't heard about her for almost 2 years still burning inside. Even if a part of him understood them, the other part was still hurting.

"A nightmare?" Rukia asked tentatively.

Ichigo half shrugged half nodded dismissing it. Rukia felt as if he was dismissing her.

"D'you wanna explain?"

"No… it's stupid, it was just a dream…"

Rukia hesitated and then slid out of the closet. Ichigo heard the sound of her little feet sliding across the wooden floor and couldn't help to stare. The shinigami hadn't changed a bit, from her little body, to the rebel black bang between those stubborn blue eyes of hers, to the unique signature of her reiatsu against his. Gracefully, she sat on the floor at the feet of his bed, her back lent against it, her arms holding her knees, neither of them speaking for a while. Something had changed. She felt it the moment the Senkaimon door closed leaving Ichigo behind, almost two years ago. And not necessarily in a bad way, simply it had changed. Even if he was the same stubborn, hot head, reckless boy she had left, the man in front of her was different in some way. Or was she seeing him different?

She heard the bed moving as he laid down on the mattress again. The Rukia of the past would have kicked him until he would have told her what the hell was going on in that stubborn mind of his… or she would have been silent until he would have been comfortable enough to tell her on his own accord. The Rukia of the past would have made him talk… but it had been so long ago. Maybe she couldn't reach him anymore.

"You know…" Ichigo trailed off.

Rukia looked up startled, his eyes were focused on some spot of the ceiling, the permanent frown deepening as the breeze messed with his orange locks.

"You know, one of those dreams where you're running, but you cannot? one of those you know it didn't happen this way?"

Ichigo talked hesitantly and tilted his head down towards Rukia. She nodded once, her blue eyes open for him to read, as it always had been. But in some degree he could feel it different. She felt different. The same Rukia, but with something new that scared the hell out of him but at the same time gave him a peace he had thought forgotten long ago. Something new that attracted him to her in a way that was baffling. But how it was even possible? It was the same annoying girl, Chappy addicted with such a strong presence and forceful manners that made him roar in frustration half of the time for being so…Rukia.

He diverted his eyes and stared at the ceiling again, unsure how to go on.

"What didn't happen this way?" she asked quietly.

He opened his mouth to talk, lost in thoughts. It sounded stupid in his own ears. The teen paused and stretched out his arms along his sides, curling his fists.

"I dream things like that occasionally…" Rukia continued "things that I've achieved and in dreams are destroyed, or… or things I would whish to have done differently but I cannot change"

"I thought all your decisions were right and without stain…" Ichigo teased trying to erase the sad look he was seeing in her eyes now.

"I wish… but you know it's not always this way…"

Their eyes locked for the first time in days. The familiarity and the comfort wrapping them like an old blanket. He knew she was apologizing and she knew that he realized it. Ichigo's frown loosened as he sank into her soul, as he felt himself being read and accepted, like it always had been. He avoided her gaze again, and Rukia composed a sad smile, for a moment she thought they had connected, like the old times. As she wanted to, even if deep inside she knew that things were changing irrevocably between them.

"I was back in the Soul Society" Ichigo continued, not looking at her "When you… you know"

Rukia just stared at him, with her head on her knees, waiting as he took his time.

"I had finished the training with Yoruichi, and I was flying to y-… to the execution pillar" He dragged his right hand on his chest, his eyes wide remembering "I already could see you, with that white kimono and with that red…thing around your neck. You were muttering…God knows what shitty excuse about being ready to die..."

Ichigo chuckled darkly and heard Rukia doing the same. He knew her so well then… and he was starting to guess that maybe now too. She hadn't changed in that way. What was happening then? Was it him who had changed?

He continued in a rush now, unable to stop, wanting to purge it out of his mind "I could see you, but I couldn't go fast enough. I tried to grab Zangetsu, I tried to reach you" he stretched out his hand forcefully to the ceiling trying to grab something invisible, his hand in a fist "but all disappeared, Zangetsu disappeared, my power disappeared and you… you…"

He trailed off watching his own hand suspended in the middle of the air. A prove of how powerless, useless he had felt. He grimaced and tightened his jab, not even bothering to show the fake smile he had so well improved during the last months.

He blinked in surprise when he felt the mattress sank slightly under another weight and a little pale palm on the fist he had stretched out. Stunned, he saw Rukia placing his palm against his and making him outstretch his fingers until their palms were completely touching.

Ichigo looked up to see her frame above him, her eyes glittering almost in tears, in that way he hated and also had missed so much. Comforting and soothing him. Telling him how stupid he was and how she didn't mind.

"But you did save me" She whispered "I'm here today, because of you. And now you are a shinigami again and we…" she paused unsure how to finish the sentence. It had always been a we, even now that things were so undefined between them.

She flinched and widened her eyes when Ichigo, in a slow flick of his wrist, intertwined his fingers with hers, naturally, without a doubt. His face deep in concentration, focused in their joined hands as if he had just found out the answer of an unspoken riddle. She could still see the traces of his pain but now with something else, some other feeling she had never seen before. She was determined to erase this pain away forever.

Ichigo didn't speak, couldn't speak, as he was watching their clasped hands. His, big and tanned, hers pale and delicate, buried in his. He didn't know why but it felt so damn right. For a strange reason he didn't flush nor felt uncomfortable either, as if it was meant to be.

"Promise me…" She bit her lower lip at the same time his amber eyes locked with hers.

Her face didn't show any doubt or discomfort either, this warmed him inside with an unknown feeling.

"Promise me, you won't leave" Rukia pronounced her words slowly, looking down to his face on the pillow. She knew that what she was making him promise was something that was not under his control, but at the same time she knew that Ichigo Kurosaki, the man that was now burning her soul just by looking at her, needed this. Because Ichigo Kurosaki never broke a promise. She tightened the grip on his hand, and felt it returned. "…That you will always be there. That you will become stronger, so you won't need to use the last resort…this last resort again. That you…you will always be able to see me, the real me."
The last part sounded more like a plea in her ears.

Ichigo held her eyes for a while. He could see that this had been as tough to her as it had been to him. She wanted reassurance and he would be damned if he couldn't give to her whatever she needed, but he needed that reassurance too.

"Promise me" Ichigo's voice was husky and quiet "that whatever happens in the future you won't do this again… even if you think it's what I need"
Guiltily, Rukia lowered her gaze on their locked hands. She knew exactly what he meant. That whatever happens she wouldn't sever all ties to him again, as if she would have never existed. That was what she had been trying to do. Thinking that it was the best for him, that in the end he would forget about her and he would carry on with his human life. This had been their continuous argument last month, the very minute he had found it out. That that was not what he wanted. After all this month together, after talking with the gang, and after seeing herself the echoes of pain and loneliness that still lingered on Ichigo she had come to the conclusion that maybe she had made the wrong choice. She had left him alone.

"I'm sor…umph! Ichigo!" She glared and slapped his other hand off her mouth.

"Will you shut up? Just say yes, and seal the deal!"

"Argh! As stubborn as always!"

"As annoying as ever! Were you expecting anything different?" he smirked. He still hadn't let go of her hand.

"No" She conceded, hiding a smile behind a frown "and you?"

"Better not"

She noticed he was moving his thumb on a circular motion on the back of her hand, calmly. Yes, definitively things were changing between them. She pressed her lips together and glared at him again, she could swear there was a spark of amusement behind his amber eyes. A spark she hadn't seen in a long time.

"Promise"

"Promise"

Ichigo couldn't peel his eyes from her. Her little palm against his, reassuring him that she was real, her calm eyes telling that this was the same they had always had… but under a different light. During all this month he just wanted her close, even during those bitter arguments with her about her reasons for not coming to him. Because that hurt. Like hell. He pretended during these months that he was alright, that this was the life he wanted, hiding behind a wall of indifference and boredom. Until someone mentioned that he could have back what he wanted. His entire facade cracked, and his world turned upside down in the same way it did the day he realized that using that last resort meant not seeing her again. His hand shook briefly and Rukia narrowed her eyes in concern.

"Sure, are you alright?"

"Of course" he paused and withdrew his hand, breaking the eye-contact, not wanting that she saw him distressed "It's late. Let's go to sleep"

Rukia watched as he slowly disentangled his hand of hers. It was like a sudden swing of mood. As if he was blocking himself again from her, like the first days when she came back, when he thought she didn't care about him. That he was just duty for her. His reiatsu was softer, though. This time he didn't really want to hide from her, maybe he just wanted time.
She frowned, as he stretched out his arm on the mattress again and closed his eyes, wanting to finish this conversation. Standing up, Rukia dragged her bare feet to the closet again. The shinigami turned to sit down on her blankets and noticed that Ichigo had opened his eyes again, his stare fixed on the ceiling.

"Still worried?"

"No… it's just that it's difficult to forget a dream like that…"

His brow was knitted as he tried to let his mind blank. He was a man of his word and if he had promised to be stronger to always keep his shinigami powers, he would do it. Never again he would feel so helpless, he would always be able to see her.
What had he become? Now, it seemed as if his entire world was revolving around the petite shinigami. Or has always been this way? What were they becoming?

"I could help with that"

Ichigo blinked startled when he saw her standing up by his side "How?"

Rukia couldn't stand it. She didn't want to see that look on his face never again, as if he was losing something. She nodded inwardly and crossed her arms on her chest, commanding. "Secret. Turn"

"What?"

"Turn towards the window"

"O-Ok"

Really, what was she doing? He was facing the wall now as his eyebrows twitched, his arms folded against his chest in annoyance. Ichigo almost chocked when he felt the mattress sink and Rukia's back against his. He could feel his face going through all shades of red as he couldn't stutter a single word.

"Ru…Urghhhh! Ru-gi-aghh!" He muffled against the wall when a sudden push made him crash against it. Unconsciously he pushed against her back to find resistance. He pushed harder to separate from the wall, and succeeded for a moment until a second strong push crushed him again.

"Rukia!"

He heard a quiet snort behind him but thought he was imagining things. This time he leant the hands on the wall and tried to separate again. The resistance he found this time was harder and definitively a muffled laugh came from Rukia's lips.
He relaxed his arms for a second and Rukia stopped her pressure, he could swear she was holding her breath, but with a sudden movement he stretched out his arms against the wall making Rukia yelp as she was forced to move. Ichigo couldn't help a victorious laugh in the back of his throat, but didn't last long as he felt the mattress sink even deeper and all Rukia's weight against his shoulders. He resisted with his hands against the wall.

"This is…cheating!" Rukia's voice was trembling by the effort and by the laughter she was trying to suffocate.

"You never explained the rules of…uaa!"

Ichigo's voice was cut as Rukia poked his ribs with a finger making him almost lose his grip. He roared "Who is cheating now!"

Now he could hear Rukia's laugh clearly. Careless, freely. He couldn't help but grin at the sound. He felt as if he was 8 again, his shoulders free of the pressure he had willingly accepted. But still, Rukia was not going to win this one. He struggled with her weight some more, as the stubborn shinigami grabbed his bed with both hands to defeat him. He smiled mischievously and pretended to be surrendering but placed both feet and hands against the wall… giving her back a final push.

Rukia yelped in surprised as she found herself flying out of the bed, until an unexpected arm grabbed her by the waist, preventing her to hit the floor and making her rest on the bed again.

"Ha! I won!"

She felt Ichigo's warm breath against her neck, as his arm continued wrapping her waist. She flushed by his proximity but didn't move.

"That was cheating!" she protested, panting quietly.

"My room, my rules!"

"It's my game, so my rules!"

But she was laughing and soon heard Ichigo chuckling behind her back. He hadn't moved either.

There was a moment of comfortable silence as Rukia caught her breath. She could feel the breeze on her face and Ichigo's warmth against her back. His arm loosed around her waist and his palm on the mattress.

"Where did you learn this trick?" he asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the moment.

"Rukongai. When I was a child and someone had a nightmare we used to do this…" there was a hint of amusement and longing in her voice "it worked 100% of the times… although we slept on the floor and never fell!"

Ichigo chuckled amused "I remember when I was a little kid of about 7 or so… when Yuzu or Karin had a nightmare they came to my bed pretending they had heard someone outside…"
Rukia suppressed a laugh trying to picture a little Ichigo with his sisters.

"At the beginning I used to patrol the whole house thinking it was true. Damnit! The nights I wasted without sleeping until I discovered…"

Rukia curled trying to muffle the fit of laughter against his pillow and Ichigo grinned widely. He felt completely relaxed despite that, in a corner of his mind, he was vaguely aware that years ago he would have felt more than uncomfortable about having her in his bed. He couldn't remember why, though. Yeah, something was definitively changing.

The minutes passed by quietly as Ichigo stared at her back. In her sister's yellow pyjamas, with her black hair teasing the collar, he had to suppress the instinct to pull her closer to him. He tensed at the thought, and the hand on the mattress twitched. He didn't want to scare her…or himself. He was still trying to figure things out. Rukia noticed his arm tensing and bit her lip. Maybe it hadn't worked.

"Your method…"

"Uh?" he blinked being pulled out of his thoughts.

"The one your sisters used… did it work?"

"Aha, always…"

He grinned but frowned when she heard nothing of her. He felt her reiatsu swirling uneasy, maybe she was not comfortable with their proximity. The feeling of it made his stomach sink.

"Ok, then" she muttered and didn't add anything else, her reiatsu steadying.

Ichigo waited for her to add something, the sounds of the night filtering through the window as they both laid wordlessly on his bed, minutes passing undisturbed. Ichigo was reluctant to move as the night breeze slid through the window, until he felt her stretching out and sighing.

"Rukia?"

He raised his head slowly to peer at her face illuminated by the moonlight. Her eyes were closed, her frown was completely relaxed and her lips were slightly parted as her breath came out smoothly.

A weird feeling took form in the back of Ichigo's mind and he dropped his head back on the pillow, his eyes wide open in confusion. He couldn't name it yet, but it made him want to pull her closer and not let go. The shinigami substitute gasped when she, in her asleep, pushed herself into his chest. Instinctively, Ichigo tightened his arm around her waist and rested his hand on her stomach, then, surrendering, pulled her closer.

Closing his eyes peacefully, he exhaled relieved as his heartbeat slowed down, Rukia's calm reiatsu lulling him to sleep. He didn't know why or how, but things were changing in a way he couldn't predict right now. He was just sure of one damn thing, he liked what they were becoming. Whatever it was.