A/N: Part two of the Valentine's/White Day giveaway at the IchiRuki FC now at Deathberry! Enjoy :)
The sounds of someone grunting and stumbling broke the peaceful silence in the thirteenth squad barracks as the division's vice captain struggled to find her way into her office, just barely managing not to trip over her own feet as she balanced a large stack of white, rectangular boxes in her arms. The white tower blocked her view almost entirely, so she found herself navigating the path through memory and sheer force of will.
She was about to declare victory, having just stepped through the threshold of her office, when her sandaled foot caught on something -most likely an uneven floorboard- and the fragile balance that she had maintained until that point was lost in the blink of an eye. Before she could do anything more than squeal in surprise, she went tumbling forward, boxes and all.
"Whoa!" someone exclaimed beyond her blocked vision.
To her surprise, she didn't hear the clattering noises that she had expected the boxes to make as they slipped from her grasp unto the floor; additionally, instead of her own harsh collision against the ground she felt herself fall into something much softer. And warm. Something that was breathing.
"Oi! Are you okay?"
Rukia looked up to see a familiar crown of wild orange spikes, and slightly concerned amber eyes. Her own eyes widened in realization. "Ichigo!"
The man had somehow managed to catch the portion of boxes that had slipped from her hold with one arm, while the other had gripped her arm and had somewhat steadied her against him before they could both go crashing down. Still clutching what was left of her stack, she attempted to straighten herself and properly look at her unexpected rescuer. "What are you doing here?"
"You're welcome." he said flatly, the note of concern disappearing from his features.
She decidedly ignored the remark as she pushed on, "Don't you have school today?"
"Tch." Ichigo's eyebrows began to crease as he scowled in annoyance, only then letting his hand fall from Rukia's arm. "School doesn't last all day, ya' know. It's almost nine already."
"Oh." she muttered dumbly, not having really thought about that. "Still," she went on, shifting the boxes in her arm for a better hold. "Why are you here? You can't just run off to Soul Society as you please, you know. What if a hollow attacks Karakura?" She berated him mildly, though if the way her entire demeanor had lightened the moment she saw him was any sign, there was no denying that she was just pleased to see him.
He scoffed then. "Chad, Ishida and Inoue are capable of managing for themselves for a few hours." As he paused, Rukia started to open her mouth to press him on for the answer he still hadn't supplied about the reason for his visit, but he spoke again before she had a chance to voice the question a second time.
"What's with all the boxes?" He gestured to the stack that was now divided between the two.
"Ah, it's just chocolates." she shrugged, starting to move past him towards the desk behind him. "It's White Day today." She said the last part as she settled down the boxes on the wooden surface, then turned to look at Ichigo with a carefully neutral expression.
"I know what day it is," he mumbled, avoiding her gaze even as he went to settle his part of the stack beside hers. Then, as if suddenly realizing something, he straightened and his eyes narrowed at the group of rectangular boxes. "You got all of this for White day?"
"Mm," she nodded absentmindedly, already moving to the other side of the desk as she removed her sheathed zanpakuto from its place at her hip and carefully set it next to the boxes.
"Who are they from?" Ichigo asked, and she had to look up with a raised eyebrow at his overly casual tone. He still wasn't meeting her eyes.
"Uh, from Captain Ukitake, Nii-sama, Renji," she listed them off in a semi-bored tone. "Some of the squad members…"
"Huh, looks like you're pretty popular."
"What?" she smiled innocently. "It doesn't bother you, does it?"
"No!" Ichigo snapped, his voice rising in pitch as he easily took the bait.
"Then stop asking stupid questions." She deadpanned as she walked past him again, giving him a slight shove for good measure. She kept her expression hidden so he wouldn't see the amused twitching of her lips, but she didn't need to look at him to know that he would be scowling profusely by then.
Rukia could feel Ichigo's glare on her back as she calmly made her way to sit at her desk. She feigned ignorance as she reached into a drawer set in the piece of furniture and retrieved a stack of paperwork, as well as a pen, and set them before her. It wasn't until a good minute into her work that her companion spoke again.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" she retorted, the quick retorts coming so automatically she hardly even had to think about it. "Paperwork." She peeked at Ichigo from the corner of her eye, and saw him make a face at her words. "Being a shinigami is not all fun and games." She said without looking up from her current task.
"I know that!" Ichigo said, sounding somewhat stung by the implication.
She simply smiled then, before saying, "You don't have to stay here while I finish. I'm sure Captain Zaraki would be up for a spar if you looked him up."
He grimaced, his face turning slightly blue. "No thanks."
"Suit yourself then." she shrugged and continued working diligently.
Ichigo did not reply, as she had expected him to. She'd figured at the very least he would be bored after a few minutes and would go off to find Renji or third seat Madarame for some brute displays of testosterone, otherwise known as male bonding, but the man simply flopped down on the couch that was set against the right wall of her office, and sat quietly. She could feel his eyes on her from time to time, but he never tried to interrupt her. Even his reiatsu, usually wild and erratically fluctuating even in the best of circumstances, was simply humming contentedly; without her noticing, it lapped over hers and lulled her into a smooth rhythm as she worked, easing the lingering tension in her muscles after the long day until she felt entirely wound down and ready to sink into some well-deserved sleep.
"Tired?" Ichigo asked suddenly, after seeing her yawn deeply. Or at least, he tried to; the second syllable was cut off by a yawn of his own.
Rukia smirked mischievously at that. "Are you?"
"Shut up! It's contagious!" he shot back.
She rolled her eyes, satisfied in knowing that the imaginary score between them was once again in her favor, before letting her features soften as she spoke up. "I'll be working on this for a while, you know." She said, extending silent permission for him to take his leave if he wished.
Ichigo instead propped one leg on the couch while letting the other hang lazily, and scratched at a spot on the back of his head before leaning back to rest his weight on his arms. "I've got nothing else to do."
Rukia felt suspicion creeping up on her again, but she kept her thoughts to herself as she dove back into her work.
It was around an hour and a half later that she finally exhaled triumphantly and put away the last of her finished paperwork to be delivered on the following day. Once she did, her gaze immediately went to seek out the tall figure lounging on the couch. To her surprise, her eyes fell on Ichigo's sleeping form.
She grinned to herself and shook her head, getting to her feet to cross the room over to him. "Idiot…" she muttered under her breath just as she reached him.
For a moment, she simply stood there, watching as Ichigo's chest rose and fell slowly; the frown that usually governed his features was nearly absent in the peaceful state. He really did look content. She felt reluctant to interrupt one of the rare moments in which he could be so relaxed, but alas, letting him spend the night in her cramped office quarters didn't sit right with her either.
"Oi," she said as she shook his shoulder lightly. "Wake up, fool."
Ichigo fidgeted and mumbled some incoherent words, but otherwise showed no signs of waking. She shook him again, this time getting even less of a reaction. After an unsuccessful third try, she finally got fed up and changed tactics.
"Ichigo!" she called as she flicked him on the forehead. This time, he snapped upright into a sitting position with a startled yelp, his hand flying to his forehead.
"Ah," he groaned. "What'd you do that for?"
Rukia crossed her arms and looked at him haughtily. "Idiot, I'm doing you a favor. You have a perfectly good bed to sleep in, there's no reason for you to stick it out here."
Ichigo twisted and stretched for a second before scratching the back of his head. "I guess… Oh, that's right!" He suddenly turned his eyes to her -barely having to look up as, despite the fact that he was sitting down and Rukia was on her feet, they were almost at eyelevel-, and she saw that he had that look of someone who just remembered something important. Before she could question him, he reached into the folds of his shihakusho and pulled something out. "There was something I had to give you."
It was only when he held it out in front for her to see that she realized what it was, and understanding dawned upon her. In the middle of his large and calloused palm, there sat a single, pure white box, the contents of which she could easily guess at.
"Ichigo…!" she breathed out in surprise, not having expected grumpy, no-nonsense Ichigo to actually follow in the traditions of that day. Rather than question it though, she started to immediately reach out for the box with greedy fingers. Her fingers closed around empty air, however, and she looked up to find that he had easily snatched the object away from her grasp and was holding it tauntingly above her head.
"Not so fast," he said, his lips beginning to curl into a smirk. "I believe you were the one that said one has to 'earn' their gifts, right?"
Rukia felt herself stiffen and her face start to heat up as her own words from not so long ago were turned against her. "T-that was different!" she protested, knowing full-well how useless it would be, but unwilling to succumb without a fight.
"Like hell it was!" he retorted. "Come on, Rukia. Fair is fair."
His eyes met hers then, and beyond their playful exterior, she could see something deeper running within the amber irises. She could see herself reflected on the glassy surface, and as she took in her own slightly bewildered expression, her mind flashed back to that afternoon only a month before.
He had spoken with uncharacteristic softness, not with the boldness he normally expressed. His eyes had been completely unguarded as he told her the words that must have been plaguing him for months; "I missed you."
The vulnerability that he had shown her in that moment tugged at her heart even now, her chest aching with the urge to reach out and erase any amount of pain that he felt.
She had to swallow against the tightness in her throat as Ichigo's gaze searched hers, looking for something that she wasn't sure she wanted him to find. After a long stretch of silence, his eyes dropped almost imperceptibly and he lowered his hand, letting it hover between them with the box still in his grasp. It was in that moment that she understood with full certainty what exactly it was that he was asking her.
"Ah, I understand." he said, sounding oddly defeated. He started to stand then, his hand dropping to his side before Rukia hastily reached out to grab his wrist.
"Wait!" she looked up at him urgently, and she thought she saw a flash of hope in his eyes. She held his gaze for a long moment, highly aware the entire time of her hold on his wrist and the proximity between them.
Without warning, her fist caught him in the jaw.
Ichigo stumbled back and held the sore spot, his eyes snapping wide open in bewilderment. Before he could recover enough to say something, Rukia yelled, "Idiot!"
"You should already know that!" she huffed indignantly, giving him a heated glare.
"Know what?" Ichigo questioned, blinking in a state somewhere between dazed and annoyed.
She looked at him significantly, not saying a word but hoping he would understand her nonetheless. She thought he did by the way his entire demeanor softened only a moment later.
His hand still lingered almost absentmindedly at the spot where her punch had landed as he began to smile. His gaze held such warmth in that instant that she had to fight the impulse to shy away. Then he clicked his tongue, his expression changing again. "You can't just come out and say it, can you?"
Rukia was about to retort when she saw his eyes again: they hadn't lost that almost tender warmth. So she resorted to frowning up at him and saying, "May I have my chocolate now?"
"Tch. As if you deserve it."
Despite his gruff words, he once again lifted his hand with the box toward her. It was only then, as she felt her own arm rising, that she realized she had not yet let go of his wrist. Ichigo seemed to have had a similar realization as his eyes suddenly darted to the point of contact, before she hastily withdrew her hand and coughed lightly into her fist, gaze averted before she reached out blindly and seized the white box.
"Thank you." she muttered.
"What was that?" Ichigo teased, his eyes shining knowingly.
She lifted her gaze and glared warningly. He responded by raising his hands in an appeasing gesture. "I get it, I get it. Geez!"
Rukia smirked in satisfaction, then went about opening the box in her hands and taking out the simple square piece of chocolate inside, then promptly shoving it into her mouth whole. She became so enthralled in thoroughly enjoying the feeling of the sweet treat melting on her tongue that she didn't notice Ichigo flopping back onto the couch and stretching out comfortably until she had swallowed the last bit of it.
He was laying with his long legs draped over one side, his head cradled in his hands over the arm on the other side. He looked perfectly at ease with his eyes already shut and the slightest curve to his lips.
"What are you doing?" she screeched, seeing what was happening.
"I'm trying to rest," he responded without bothering to open his eyes. "It's a long trip over here, ya' know."
"Ichigo!" she crossed her arms and looked sternly down at him, her tone scolding. "Your sisters are going to be worried about you, fool."
"They'll be fine," he mumbled, his voice already beginning to sound distant. "They'll guess where I am."
"You have school tomorrow!" she continued. "You're going to be-"
He cut her off with a groan, his brow furrowing. "You're so noisy, Rukia." He shifted slightly to rest on his side. "Shut up and go to sleep or something." he grumbled, then was silent.
In a matter of seconds, he was breathing deeply and evenly, his features relaxed once more. She realized how exhausted he must have actually been to be able to fall asleep so fast, and she couldn't help but feel her face soften.
Careful to put the now-empty box away on her desk first, Rukia went back over to the couch and sat on the floor with her back against it, right by the side of Ichigo's face. She twisted to look at his tranquil expression, getting startled by the unexpected proximity as she felt the barest whisper of his breath ghost over her skin. Instead of pulling back though, she allowed herself a small smile, thinking of all he must have gone through to have gotten there on that day.
For the second time that night, she remembered the day only a month before when they had sat under the sun, their troubles seemingly non-existent as they shared a moment that was all their own. A warmth spread unbidden in her chest, and it was all she could do to simply keep her appraising eyes on the man that was so close.
All of a sudden, it seemed silly of her to have wanted him to leave. There was nothing that made as much sense as him being with her then, regardless of where they were. She felt her smile widen as she leaned closer, her lips shaping the words that she had not wanted to face for too long.
"I missed you too," she whispered almost inaudibly, before very lightly placing her lips on his forehead.
She broke away after one lingering moment, folding her arms on the edge of the couch to use as a makeshift pillow and resting her head on them. Eased by their proximity and the gentle wisp of his breath over her face, she slipped into a calm sleep in a matter of minutes.
It was because of this that she missed the tender smile that had curled Ichigo's lips.