Summary/Theme:

birthdays without you- Those spaces you used to fill are now full of thoughts and memories of you. No substitute for the real thing. Seven-shot birthday challenge for BA's IR FC.

The first theme is Chappy.

A/N: This is a basically a one-shot challenge broken into seven parts, posted over seven days. I've organized things into three arcs, Year One, Year Two, and Year Three, with the term 'year' used very loosely.

I'm not going to promise anything, but I would REALLY like to finish all seven parts of this challenge. So I'll try very hard...

Timeline: Consecutive order, between the scenes, Ichigo/Rukia speculation.

Warnings: None!

Standard Disclaimer: Bleach is solely the property of Kubo Tite, and I am merely borrowing his playground.

Year One

I heart Chappy the Rabbit.

Ichigo turned sixteen today.

No one was to know that he was hiding a shinigami in his closet, so Rukia hung back at the top of the stairs near Ichigo's room and listened wistfully as he celebrated the successful completion of another human year with his family.

She had gotten him a gift, but now that she thought about it, she wasn't sure whether or not to give it to him. It was definitely inappropriate for a Soul Reaper, but compared to transferring her power to Ichigo it was the least of her sins. Besides, they were friends weren't they? She had taken over his closet, and he hadn't kicked her out (though he had made some threatening noises in the beginning), so that made them friends of a sort. Having so thoroughly FUBARed her first independent mission, Rukia figured that with the way things were going, she might never be allowed back, so she might as well use up what was left of her living world stipend.

The Kurosaki family finished their dinner, and started cleaning up. Rukia could hear the clatter of dishes being washed and put away. The clear alto voices of Ichigo's sisters and the booming laughter of Isshin drifted up the stairwell. Silently, she slipped back into Ichigo's room closet.

Not long after, he came up with a plate of food. "Sorry it took so long. Yuzu baked a cake and they made me open presents at the table. And by the way, that's the last piece," he said gesturing to the small slice of German chocolate cake. "Blame the old man."

"Thanks," Rukia said as she took the proffered plate.

Ichigo looked taken aback, and watched her for a moment as she ate. "That's strange."

"What?" Rukia asked, pausing mid-bite, food half-way between the plate and her mouth.

"You're not complaining about anything," he pointed out.

Rukia frowned. "Just what exactly do you mean by that?" she demanded.

"...nothing." His lip twitched at the corner and he turned away.

Rukia continued eating her dinner as Ichigo sat down at his desk to read. After she finished, she put the plate aside.

"Ichigo," she said, getting his attention, "catch!" Without further ado, she tossed her gift across the room at him.

It struck him on the side of his head and bounced off.

"What the hell, Rukia!" he cursed, rubbing his temple as he bent down to retrieve her gift.

"You need to improve your reaction time," Rukia said, frowning disapprovingly, arms crossed over her chest.

He scowled. "You ought to try out for the national team, with an arm like that. What if you gave me a concussion!"

Rukia smirked slyly. "I couldn't possibly. Your head is too hard."

He ignored her in favor of examining what he had in his hand. It was a simple leather wrist cuff, like many of the other ones he frequently wore. Reddish brown, it had been aged and distressed, decorated with an old brass snaps, studs and rivets, but when he flipped it over there was a hidden zip and a concealed pocket. He fished around the inside and there was a piece of paper, a rabbit holding a cake and one of Rukia's infamous 'coded messages', which he could now decipher like a codebreaker.

Cahaveke caake cahappyke cabirthke cadayke!

"Have... a... happy... birth-day," he read in between the lines of cake gibberish. "Rukia," he said pausing to give her an indecipherable look, "this is..."

"A stealth wallet. When you go out you won't have to worry about your things getting stolen," she explained. She remembered when she had asked why he always wore a chain on his wallet, and his response was so he wouldn't get pick-pocketed. "It's not much," she shrugged.

Ichigo opened his mouth, looking as if he wanted to speak. Instead, he slowly put the leather cuff on and then he stared hard at her, not saying a word.

Rukia regarded him coolly through half-lidded eyes. She wondered what he could possibly be thinking, whether giving him a gift was a mistake.

Something flashed in his eyes and he looked down, flexed his wrist a couple of times. "Fits great. Thanks," he finally said with a grin, voice low and rough. "I like it."

"Good," she said softly.

oOoOoOo

There was an ever present feeling of danger humming in the marrow of her bones. Even without her powers, Rukia had found that her instincts were often spot on. She looked out the window at the silver crescent of the waning moon. She had maybe a week, two at the most before Soul Society sent someone. It was dangerous in more ways than one, to remain under the Kurosakis' roof. Collateral damage, and all that.

Ichigo walked into the room, towel still slung around his neck and kicked the door closed with the heel of his foot. Without a word, Rukia got off his bed and hopped onto the closet shelf. There was a routine to the night, of stealth showers and hollow hunts, and with a sharp pang, Rukia realized just how long she had been in the living world- long enough that there were routines and times when she felt almost human. Long enough that she never thought about home, anymore.

He sat down on the edge of his bed, facing her as he towel dried his hair. It was a rusty reddish brown, muted in the dark. "No alerts?" he asked.

Rukia checked her phone again. "None whatsoever," she said, smiling thinly, "it's your lucky night."

"Tch," he scoffed. "That's because those bastards are waiting until I fall asleep."

"That seems to be the way it is," Rukia murmured, with a note of humor in her voice.

"Hey Rukia," he began absently, "how do you celebrate birthdays in the spirit world?"

"It's Soul Society," she corrected him for the millionth time.

He gave her a flat stare.

"Why do you want to know?" she asked carefully.

"Just wondering," he shrugged.

Rukia frowned, eyes glancing off to the side, as she remembered the birthdays in Rukongai, where they would get an egg, if they were lucky enough to procure one. In contrast, when she got adopted into the Kuchiki clan, her brother would have trunks of fine silk kimonos sent to her, and gold hairpins set with precious gems that cost more than houses in the Sereitei, none of which she had ever touched. Captain Ukitake and Kiyone and Sentaro, the joint third-seats had always offered to throw her a Thirteenth division bash, but after everything that had happened...she felt like it was undeserved. And then Renji...they hadn't spoken in at least thirty years, not really anyway except for the perfunctory greeting whenever they happened to run into each other, which wasn't all that often.

"They're not much different than what you do here," she said slowly.

"I see," he replied. He peered at her across the darkened room, a strange perceptive keenness alight behind his dark eyes. "When is your birthday?"

She told him. It wasn't her real birthday, but it was the only birthday she knew, a date picked at the beginning of the year, out of convenience to mark the passage of time.

"I missed it," he muttered absently.

"Idiot," Rukia said without any real sting, "I wasn't even stationed here yet."

"I know that!" he said petulantly as he rubbed a hand through his hair. There was a thoughtful frown on his face and he was quiet for a moment before he said, "I feel like I've known you longer. A lot longer."

That could either be a bad compliment, or a good insult. She wasn't sure how he meant it, and wasn't sure if she really wanted to know. "Happy Birthday, Ichigo...and goodnight," she said softly as she slid the closet door silently on its track until it clicked shut.

oOoOoOo

A few days after Ichigo fought with Grand Fisher, Rukia found a small plush rabbit in her closet. She never asked Ichigo about it, and he never mentioned it. About a week after that, she secretly left the Kurosaki household in the dead of night. Soul Society was closing in on her like a tightening noose. She took Chappy with her.


Ah, it's so depressing! I promise it gets happier. Thanks for reading!