disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: les. also les. and les.
notes2: guys, i used to be so quality. what happened?

title: chasing forever
summary: I wonder where you've been. — Ichigo/Rukia.






She looked younger with her hair short. Or maybe older. He couldn't really tell.

It had been a long time.

It had been such a long time.

But this wasn't the time or the place to throw her against the wall and hold her there, press down against her tiny body and hitch her up with hips to hips and chests to chests and very nearly crush her. Sink into her. Breathe her in. Make sure she was real.

Because that was all he wanted.

What he had wanted for a long time.

But this was neither the time nor the place.

Ichigo turned with eyes like black ice to stare at Ginjo. Foe then friend then foe, again; with Ishida on the sidelines and very nearly bleeding and very nearly dying. Ichigo remembered what that was like. Dying. He remembered dying.

He wanted to say something along the lines of you shouldn't have done that.

No one liked having a part of themselves taken away.

Ichigo swung Getsuga.

/ / /

Rukia's lips were curled up in something that was a cross between a sneer and a grimace. "That's disgusting. Do you always have to go overboard?"

"I'm not dying, am I?" he asked. "S'like you don't know me at all."

It was terrible because it was true. A year and she didn't know him at all and he didn't know her at all—what was with her hair?

But Rukia grinned her little pixie grin and Ichigo was thrown back a year and a half to when ghosts were an every day visibility and she lived in his closet. "Like that's a good measure of overboard, whether you're dying or not."

Except that it was a pretty good measure, given their history. Only he didn't say that, because she would probably punch him and it would probably hurt. Ichigo looked at her with an eyebrow almost raised, surveying because he couldn't—wouldn't—touch her.

"So what'd you do to your hair, midget?" he asked.

"That is an awful conversation starter," she said.

Ichigo thought he could have done worse as conversation starters went (because he could have not started a conversation at all, but her brother was there wand that would have been awkward), but he didn't say that. "Answer the question."

"I needed a change," she said. Her fingers caught at the short edges of her hair and Ichigo wondered at the dark strands. Her hair had always been like that, she'd said, for as long as she could remember. She hadn't even changed it after Kaien's death.

And Ichigo knew all about Kaien.

But he didn't say anything.

He was getting better at that.

"Whatever," he snorted. "Now your hair matches your height. You're still a midget."

Rukia's eyes flashed and the last thing that Ichigo coherently thought before white lights were blinking in front of his eyes was "she never changes."

/ / /

And she hadn't.

At all.

She was still midget-y and annoying and she still liked sleeping in his shirts. She still liked all things rabbit-themed and she still couldn't draw. She still ate a staggering amount and she still kicked him in the shin when he did something she didn't like.

She was still Rukia.

It was mind-boggling.

And yet not.

Ichigo thought he ought to have been a littler out by how little she'd changed, but it was nothing of the sort. They slipped back into their camaraderie like no time had passed. Rukia crawled back into his closet and stole his sheets and ate his food and hit him when he didn't move fast enough.

Sometimes he really wondered why on earth he even liked her.

And then she did something like turn around and look at him over her shoulder; just a glance for a split second. It never lasted long. She was all violet eyes and pale skin and pixie grin, mischievousness incarnate, looking like a long-lost memory of summertime.

He hated it when she did that.

She sat on his floor with her magazines and her books spread around her with her legs crossed, sucking on a strawberry milkshake (Ichigo fought not to grit his teeth—she was as bad as Ishida for doing stupid, not-funny shit like that) through a broken straw.

Ichigo had no idea how she'd managed to convince his father that her sleeping in his closet was the best living arrangements possible.

Then again, he didn't know a lot of things.

He'd figured that out, in a year of complete radio silence from the spirit world. He actually knew legitimately nothing.

It was probably a symptom of being seventeen and reckless.

Or not reckless. Just stupid.

(Same difference.)

"What?" Rukia asked, blinking up at him.

Ichigo stared down at her. There were a million things he could have said. There were a million questions he could have asked her.

Where had she been? What had she done? Was she determined to drive him crazy? Why was she so—so—Rukia?

"Nothing," he said.

Rukia narrowed her eyes at him down to slits.

Ichigo waited for the impact of her foot against some low part of his anatomy—his shin was still pretty much as high as she could reach. He had to fight to school his features into a grumpy mask as he waited for the pain.

It never came.

Rukia stood up, hands on her hips. Her hand shot out and caught his collar, dragged him down and they were nose to nose.

Ichigo gulped.

"What?" Rukia enunciated, breaking it into two syllables. Her eyes were so narrowed; he couldn't believe that she could actually see at all. Her face was scrunched up.

He had to get out of there.

"Oi. Midget. Leggo," he grumbled and jerked out of her grip. Two steps back like a frightened animal, and then he was gone.

Rukia huffed, and blew her hair out of her eyes.

/ / /

So a year had done something.

Ichigo was acutely aware of her in a way that he never had been, before. He'd always known where she stood when she was in a room—even when she was not in a room, he had searched for her reiatsu out of habit to make sure she was stable.

And that had been before.

Now, he felt every twitch, every movement, every blink like her lashes were brushing against his cheek. He couldn't even think; so deeply entrenched everything that Rukia was, Ichigo didn't know how he'd ever survived without her.

(Surviving was different than living. Surviving was the same as existing, but it was not the same as living.)

He could feel her breathing from across the room, even with the door to his closet closed. Could feel her mumbling in her sleep. Could hear her heart beat.

It was hypersensitivity times a thousand.

Her reiatsu blazed behind his eyelids, and Ichigo realized he wasn't going to be sleeping that night.

Or maybe ever.

But she was breathing in his closet. He'd thought he'd never hear that again. There was something quietly calming about it.

Ichigo closed his eyes, and tried to sleep.

/ / /

It was after that that Ichigo realized that keeping his hands off her was going to be a problem.

He wanted to touch her to remind himself that she was real; that this was all happening. That she wasn't a waking dream. Something.

But he didn't.

Instead, he watched her interact with his family with such an intensity that he was sure she would notice. They would both burst into flame, and he would feel nothing except for how brightly she burned.

He couldn't be in her general vicinity without the urge to grab her and run surging up.

It was violent raw need, and Ichigo was starting to lose control.

"I'm going on patrol," she said, tucking short strands of hair behind her ear. Shirayuki glinted at her hip, an inch of silver metal hiked out of it's sheath. He knew he didn't need to be worried.

But letting her leave his sight was never something that was high on his priority list.

It always struck him as just a little needy, but she was his midget. She was Rukia.

And a year was a long time.

A year was such a long, long time.


Rukia looked at him, curious. "What?"

"Come back in one piece."

"You're such a dork," she said.

Ichigo snorted.. "Get going, midget. I gotta study."

"Later, Strawberry."

And then she grinned her pixie grin at him, and jumped out the window.

/ / /

It just kept getting worse.

Their fingers would brush and it would be like fireworks restrained. Ichigo had to fight to pull back. To not grab her wrist and drag her to some dark corner of the universe where no one would ever find them, even if they looked for a million years.

His father probably wouldn't like that.

But then, Goat-chin was insane three-quarters of the time and blithely oblivious the rest, so Ichigo had a feeling that it didn't really matter.

And Rukia was still sleeping in his closet.

He passed her the salad and very nearly growled because he could see the underside of her wrist; the pale skin stretched over the pale blue veins and the even paler arteries. It was only for a fraction of a moment.

There was fragility and strength and Ichigo didn't know which one suited her more.

He would crush her close but he wasn't sure she wanted that. He didn't think he was ever going to know what she wanted.

He passed her the salad and thought that he was probably delusional.

/ / /

There were cuts along her face and there was blood trickling down her cheek and her lips and Ichigo knew that if he had been a minute later—a second later—she would have been dead.

She would have been dead and there would have been no bringing her back because when the soul dies the body dies and she would be gone for good.

The rage was so thick that he couldn't even see straight.

Getsuga flashed and the Hollow disintegrated, cleaved perfectly in two but Ichigo paid it no attention. He looked down at her, with her short hair and her pixie smile and the blood on her cheek.

"You almost died, midget," he snarled.

It felt like her execution all over again.

(Only this time, it had almost succeeded. He could not allow that. He could never allow that.)

Rukia sat on the ground, bleeding from her mouth, and she laughed.

Ichigo thought she might have been the strangest person he had ever met.

And that was okay.

He reached down and pulled her to her feet. There was electricity. She was alive. She was alive and she was standing there with red down her chin and—

Ichigo bent down and pulled her up. It was jerky and harsh and she very nearly toppled back over but he caught her and set her straight. She grinned up at him. "You're such a dork."

"You're bleeding," he stressed. "Goat-chin's going to kill me."

That, while for added effect, was still true. His father was going to slaughter what little was left of his humanity.

Rukia shrugged. "You can put me down now, Strawberry," she said.

It was reluctance and hesitation because she was bleeding.

But Ichigo heeded her demand.

She kicked him in the shin.

And on they went.

/ / /

Sunlight poured into the kitchen through a window. It was morning, and Ichigo should have been at school—it was funny because he knew that, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

But he wasn't. Instead, he was standing in the kitchen with his sleeves pulled up to his elbows and wearing a faded pair of slippers, doing last night's dishes.

Rukia was sitting at the table, doodling and humming to herself.

Ichigo snorted. Probably about rabbits.

She looked up at him, pen in hand. She tapped it against her lips. "What?"

"Nothing," he said.

Even though it wasn't nothing. It would never be nothing. Rukia wore a white dress with thin straps, with short hair and violet eyes and her pixie grin and she looked at him like the whole thing meant something. Even if didn't. Especially when it didn't.

There was no sound except for the clink of dishes and the running of water.

"Why are you lying to me?" Rukia asked. Her eyes were narrowing rapidly.

(That was never a good sign.)

Ichigo washed off the suds and ran his fingers through his vibrant hair. He would have pressed them to his temples but Rukia was always a headache in the making, so there was almost never any point.

He really wondered why he liked her, violent midget that she was. "I'm not lying."

"Yes, you are." And then she was up from the table and stalking towards him. Her eyes were almost completely obscured by her lids and her face was scrunched up, like she was about to wail on him for doing something so completely moronic. She stalked straight up to him and despite her height, somehow managed to corner him between the counter and the fridge.

"Why are you lying to me?" Rukia demanded.

And Ichigo…

Ichigo just couldn't.

He caught her wrist in his fingers, not even pausing to marvel at how very tiny she was, and very nearly slammed her against the wall. He stood over her, head bent down and into the crook of her shoulder.

He shouldn't have done that, he knew.

But she was Rukia and she was driving him crazy without trying. It had always centered on her. Everything had always centered on her. She was his anchor.

He'd been floating for a year.

To be suddenly anchored again was a start.

He kissed her, and it was: finally, finally, like burning brightly and snow on his tongue; like blood and Hollows and those fucking rabbits and cucumbers. Rukia. Anything Rukia. Everything Rukia.

Everything Rukia.

She held him there and after a moment, he pulled away, only to press his face into her hair.

"You okay?" she murmured into his throat.

"Yeah," he breathed. "Now, I am."






notes3: welp. posting this because i seem to have forgotten how to sleep.
notes4: please do not favourite without leaving a review. :)