"Ah! What the hell, Rukia?"

"After you lost your powers," she started angrily, "you started moping again, didn't you? Have you been sulking the whole time I've been gone?"

Jinta and Ururu dashed back and forth, thump-thumping across the mats as they ran. They awkwardly edged past the two figures in the corridor. Somewhere behind the shoji saturated in light, the perpetually merry voice of Urahara rang out, sometimes interrupted by Yoruichi's suave (human) tone. Orihime, Chad, and Ishida were no doubt being attended to by Tessai after the ordeal with Xcution. Despite all this absolute chaos, Ichigo and Rukia managed to become completely separate from the situation at hand.

She would be the one to give all his powers back, give him a cute little hello again smile, and then bitch-slap him.

She was right, though. That's exactly what he was doing. But he definitely wasn't going to tell her that.

"How would you even know if I was 'sulking the whole time you were gone'?"

"The same way I knew you needed my help back there."

Ichigo frowned, absolutely unsure of what to say to that. Rukia shook her head. "Never mind. There's a lot going on right now. We'll talk later..."

Her hair was cut. At first, he felt some weird mixture of disappointment, frustration, and surprise. He liked her hair before. He liked her everything before.

Somehow, her eyes had changed, though they were still lavender, still heavily lashed, still wide and determined. Perhaps it was just an effect produced by the curve of her eyebrow, or her beautiful smirk. It was like she'd mastered the art of keeping her expression lovely and dangerous at the same time. Something that only she could do before had become something she could do even better now.

And the hair, the raven colored hair. It wasn't as long as it had been before. He looked again at the ends of her hair now resting in neat rows, brushing along the soft porcelain skin of her jawline. But her hair still reflected the moonlight in silky bluish waves.

He decided he could deal with the new haircut.

"You really did get a big head, didn't you?" she said.

"I did not." Ichigo scowled at her knowing smile.

"Aren't there worse things than losing your identity as the 'amazing ryoka boy'?" she asked.

Never being able to see you again, he thought. For the rest of my life. Not that he was going to say something that goddamned lame out loud.

"It's more than just being an amazing ryoka boy..."

"So what is it, then? What's the big deal?"

"Ahhhh, you're so annoying, y'know that?..."

Punch. "Damnit, Rukia!" Ichigo cringed, rubbing his arm where she'd hit him. Rukia was leaning toward him, looking him in the eye with that "persuasive" glare, catching him by surprise. To most people, it was probably the critical look to her eyes that was most disarming, but Ichigo would've been easily caught by those vivid eyes no matter how she was looking at him. As long as she had him fixed in her gaze, she could keep him there, just waiting to hear what she would say or do next.

And he hadn't seen that look for seventeen months either. He was not ready for that. And she just kept staring expectantly.

"What? What do you want?" He squirmed uncomfortably, wondering what she was seeing in him.

She sighed, and her look softened, but she still had him in the realm of her eyes. "It's about protecting your friends, right? All the people you love? Did you forget that that was why you lost your powers in the first place - for them?"

"Yeah, but..."

"So, you did your job. You protected them. You proved you were strong enough," she concluded. "Didn't you ever just look around at everyone and think of that? Weren't you ever just satisfied knowing you did that much for them?"

He looked away, staring off into space, but he could still very well feel those eyes on him, coloring him lavender.

"I guess..."

There was a long pause as Ichigo continued to be lost in his thoughts. Of course, Rukia seemed to know just what he was thinking before he even consciously realized it.

"Of course you couldn't be satisfied with that."

"Hm?" He glanced sidelong at her and saw she was smirking.

"That's just how you are, right? You can't be happy unless you're always ready to protect them."

Ichigo thought maybe she was irritated with him, but when she looked right at him and smiled, her eyes were glowing.

"...After all, there's only one place I can get a good night's sleep!"

"C'mon, Rukia, seriously! If my dad finds you - " He chased her as she dashed up the stairs.

"He'll know you're just being a good friend!"

"Yeah, a really good friend..."

"What was that?"

"Ah, I was just saying that I don't know why you like that damn closet so much..." Crap, she was already in his room. He lunged for the door, and she grinned before slamming it shut in his face. "Damnit, Rukia!" He pounded on the door, and she laughed on the other side, and somewhere Kon yelled, "Nee-san!" followed by some muffled commentary, and somehow he found himself grinning and laughing too. Alright, so it wasn't too horrible to have Rukia stay at his house.

Silly boy. She liked "that damn closet" because it was his "damn closet", and it felt like home.

"Somehow you are not quite as enthusiastic as I thought you would be," Rukia said.


"You know, now that you have your powers back? You were just telling me how terrible it was without them..."

"That's what you were saying, I never actually said - ow!"

Rukia snorted and raised an eyebrow skeptically. Ichigo hardly had any time to react before she playfully punched him on the arm. "You're so damn stubborn." She sighed and crossed her arms. "You're completely unfazed, even after all that has happened just since last night."

For a moment Ichigo just looked at her, while she pretended not to notice and stared at nothing in particular as if deep in thought. He just looked at her, like he'd done when he was first able to see her again. It was funny to see her in his room, in the light from the window, quiet and stoic, instead of seeing her through a haze of rain and waxing reiryokuu and (maybe) tears. It was funny just to see her again after so long, just... standing there. Just there, where he kept seeing the phantom Rukia as she was before she faded away. Imagining her and seeing her were two such totally different things.

Without even really thinking about it, he reached out and brushed a strand of hair from her face, twisting it on his fingers and watching how the light would play off it, bluish-white rippling across night sky black. She stopped pretending and looked at him.

"You got your hair cut," he said.

She stared for a moment with gleaming watercolor purple eyes, before she broke into a smile and said teasingly, "Yeah... I got my hair cut. ...Do you like it?"

Ichigo rested his chin on his hand after withdrawing it from her hair. He grinned mischievously and said, "It's alright."

Rukia punched him and he shouted again, but this time he grabbed her arm, and then she was the one saying, "Hey!" She tried to free her arm with her other hand, and Ichigo just laughed and pulled her onto the bed. She landed all curled up next to him and they laughed together.

"Hey," Ichigo started. "I am happy to have my Shinigami powers back. ...And thanks, for that, too. ...But..." He edged closer to her until their faces were only inches apart, and he could see each stroke of indigo in the irides of her eyes. "I dunno... I just..." he stuttered, trying to come up with some kind of clever way to say it, but all he could manage was, " I think I missed you more."

Oh, hell. That was even worse than the never seeing you again for the rest of my life bit. Why did he -

Just like that, she closed the distance and kissed him, like she was waiting for him to say that. Maybe she was. It's Rukia. Who knows? Just one soft kiss, the kiss he'd been missing for more than a year now. When he felt their lips separate, he didn't hesitate to pull her back in and kiss her with every month's worth of time spent missing her, every day's worth, every minute's worth, and he knew he was feeling the same thing in her lips.

He kissed her neck, and she whispered "Ichigo", all in one exhilarated breath, and he wondered if there was anything as intoxicating as the way she said his name just then. His fingers intertwined with her hair, and her hands ran up his back, and his hands wrapped around her waist as she pressed her body against his, and it felt like they couldn't possibly be close enough to each other.

Without pulling any farther away from him, she paused and murmured breathlessly, "You said Kon's in the wash?"

"Y-yeah..." he said, puzzled at the unusual change of subject. He could feel her smile on his skin, and then he could feel the sensation of her breath, her words, brushing against his ear.

"Good, because he would not be happy if he knew what we were up to."

"So, Kuchiki Rukia-fukutaichou... When did you get promoted?"

Rukia laughed mischievously, unconsciously snuggling up against his chest, and Ichigo could feel her laughter and couldn't help but grin himself.

"Oh, now you ask?" she remarked. She tugged a little on his hand on her shoulder. "I thought you hadn't even noticed the badge..."

"Of course I noticed!" he said. "Your brother finally loosened up on that, huh? What changed Byakuya's mind, anyway? ...Byakuya... and Renji! How are they even doing? Is Renji still trying to 'surpass' Byakuya? ...Oh! I bet Renji got promoted to Captain, right? They never did fill the vacancies in Three, Five, and Nine... Hisagi-san is probably kyubantai-taichou, right, or has he still not reached Bankai? Who would the new lieutenant be then? And Izuru-san and Hinamori-san... "



"You think I talk too much!"

"You do. I'm just curious after seventeen months..."

"Pfft! Of course! ...I would like to know what's been going on in the human world, too. Maybe we should swap stories."

"You first."

"Oh, of course! ...Hmm, shall I brag about being fukutaichou?"

"Go for it."

When Ichigo's phone rang for the fourth time he decided he may as well answer it. Inoue's voice came over the line, cheery as always and loud enough that Rukia could hear it too.

"Kurosaki-kun! Are you with Rukia-san? We were going to ask you two if you wanted to come with us to get ice cream!"

"Us?" Ichigo said dumbly, still somewhat reeling over the fact that there was an outside world to interrupt his conversations with Rukia.

"I'm with Ishida-kun - Ishida kun, say hi!"

"O-su, Kurosaki."

"Oh, and Tatsuki-chan, and Sado-kun, and - " There was an abrupt rustling sound.

"I-chi-goooooo!" Ichigo groaned and held the phone away from his ear while what was unmistakably Keigo's greeting rang through the receiver. Rukia laughed, and they looked at each other.

"We want to see Rukia-san too!" Keigo was whining. "You can't keep her to yourself, ya know?"

"What the hell -" Ichigo started to say, and then there was more rustling and Ishida's voice cut him off.

"Obviously the whole gang's here and with or without Keigo, I think they might start a riot if you and Rukia-san don't come."

Rukia grabbed the phone from Ichigo. "Don't worry, we're coming!" she said in her specialty singsong voice the one that practically rained cutesy little hearts and made Ichigo's eyebrow twitch. She smiled at him. "Right, Kurosaki-kun?"

"Yeah, yeah," he growled dismissively, but he was smiling too.

Rukia maintained her sunny look despite the screaming that was coming through the phone. As soon as she'd hung up and handed the phone back to Ichigo, she added, "And no more moping, right?"


"I said, no moping!"

"No promises," he said, going to get the door. She pointed at a finger at him and reprimanded him while she put her Chappy backpack on.

"You sir, have no more excuses to mope, anyway."

Ichigo smiled. "I guess you're right, huh?"

He paused with his hand on the door handle and looked over at her, just to be sure she was still there. She was smiling back at him – not the sunny overly happy smile anymore, but a genuine smile that made him think again of how long it had been since they were together. Her arms wrapped around him, holding him tightly, and the head of familiar soft black hair came to rest just below his chin. "Took you long enough to say so," Rukia murmured into his chest.

Seventeen months apart, and now he embraced her, and buried his face in her hair, just like he used to. Her hair still had that smell that made him think of summer in the Seireitei, reassuring him that everything was just the way it was supposed to be.

"Yeah," he whispered, "I have to admit… You really saved me, Rukia."

A/N: Imaginary virtual Darkside cookies for everyone who spotted the Ishihime hint! :D

I had somewhat of a dilemma with the bit where Ishida says hi over the phone… I know when answering the phone Japanese people will say "moshi-moshi", but what if the phone's already been answered and they're just kind of getting you to say hi to the person like Orihime did with Ishida? Do you still say "moshi-moshi" or just "konnichiwa" or...? It's a curious question, now that I think of it.

I was delilberating over Kon too... TK/the series never actually says outright whether or not Kon is still living in the plushie in Ichigo's house after he loses his power. I actually think it's implied that he's not there (I mean, come on, Kon is the type to make his presence quite well known...) But he works so well in the context of this story... I guess if he wasn't supposed to be there according to canon then uhhhh... Surprise! He came back with Rukia! (?) *cough*CREATIVE LIBERTIES*cough*

Also, and this is actually pretty irrelevant, but, is it terribly immature of me to laugh a little every time spell check tries to tell me "Orihime" should be "orifice"?

This was a bit difficult to write, I don't usually do oneshots, but the ideas were there, so... I'm actually pretty satisfied with most of it. :] The ending was the hardest part for sure…

CC is always welcome! Hit me! xD