note: Because I just had to go re-watch 342 today. Also, I haven't slept in 24 hours. Keep that in mind if the fic makes no sense. Takes place between chapters 477 and 478.
and all these differences
They're sitting by the river. With Riruka safe at Urahara's, they have left the Shoten—at least for now. Rukia knows that Ichigo needs some time to think. The fact that they do not go back to his house, to his home, that does not surprise her. She thinks it is a testament of what has changed; she has been away for so long (too long) that she understands if he is distant, or—
Ichigo looks up from the water, and his eyes meet hers as he tips his head. She recognizes that look, recognizes what he is trying to tell her with it, and Rukia hopes that maybe he understands, and that they haven't moved too far beyond each other's reach.
"It's been a long time." He watches her carefully as he says the words, and this does surprise her: the fact that he is the one who breaks the silence first.
"It has," she agrees. Her shoulders tense, but she doesn't look away from his eyes. They're still brown, maybe amber in the light, but the way he looks at her reminds her of warm things, curls heat around the vicinity of her heart despite the chill of the day.
Rukia wants to say that it will never be that long again, but she's never been one to make promises that she can't keep.
Ichigo looks away first, standing up and ruffling a hand through his hair. Rukia peers up at him from beneath her lashes, still sitting on the grass. He has never seemed so tall.
"I'm heading back home to check on Yuzu and Karin." She nods, and her eyes find the ground again.
Ichigo doesn't leave though, and she hears a soft huff of breath before his hand appears in front of her face. Somewhere between one bemused blink and the next, he has dropped down into a crouch in front of her.
"Jeez, so slow. Aren't you coming?" But he doesn't sound annoyed, and she doesn't hesitate before she slips her hand into his. He pulls her up, letting go as soon as she finds her footing.
Rukia doesn't say anything about the way his fingers had lingered at the pale skin of her wrist.
Isshin gives them both a nod from his place by Yuzu's bed, all traces of his usual levity gone. Rukia knows from Ichigo that the young girl is only asleep, tired and worn out from the experience of being bookmarked and then released so abruptly. Karin fares better, possibly because of her spiritual power, and she sits awake at her own bed, watching her twin sleep from across the room. Rukia knows that no lasting damage has been done to either of them, but she is sorry nonetheless.
From his place next to her, Ichigo knocks her shoulder against his own. He gives her a look before he goes to Yuzu, and Rukia knows that he's admonishing her for feeling at fault at all.
But she was—she is.
They eventually end up back in his room. He doesn't make Rukia stand outside while he changes into a dry shirt; he only makes her turn. That is very far removed from the boy who wouldn't even let her sit on his bed, and even though they have an entire roomful of space between them, she is very aware of his presence, almost as if she can feel the heat of his bare skin at her back.
But that is nonsense, though the reversal of roles yet again manages to startle her. She's not the one always putting him off balance anymore.
She hears him move behind her, and something tight in her throat makes her break the silence. "Taking a bit long, aren't you? Need some help with the buttons?"
"I'm wearing a t-shirt." His reply comes from very close behind her, and she turns right into his chest. The pressure of his reiatsu doesn't even change—this close, it just blankets everything. She would have to run very, very far away to not feel the ebb and flow of his soul.
True to his word, he's wearing another one of his tight shirts. It is black, with bright words stamped diagonally across the center, and well-worn, though the cotton seems to be of high quality. Rukia knows because she is that close.
She doesn't step away, but she does look up, up, up to glare at him. Ichigo smiles at her expression and ruffles her hair with one hand. It is a game, to see who gives in and walks away first. That much is familiar at least. They have done this many times in the past; it just has never been quite so physical before, barring the usual violence. What is new though is the way his hand slides through her hair when he's finished, fingers curling slightly around the newly shortened strands that brush the line of her jaw.
"The haircut suits you." The compliment startles her more than the way that she can—this close—feel his voice vibrate through his chest. Rukia shrugs, but something about the weight of his words keeps the sarcastic retort from surfacing.
"You could have died."
That too is out of place, but she pretends that he hasn't caught her off-guard, both with his comment and the roughness of his voice. He sounds so serious. He is so serious. Then again, he has killed today, Rukia suddenly remembers.
"Don't do it again."
Rukia doesn't tell him that there is no way for her to promise him that. Instead, she lays one hand against his chest, where his heart should be. She feels the beats thudding against her palm, the life there underneath her fingertips, and she tells him with her eyes that she could never be sorry, that she would make that leap in front of him—Riruka or no—one thousand times over if need be.
Just to keep this heart beating.
Ichigo makes a low noise in the back of his throat, and his hand rises to grip hers, holding it against him. His head drops then, slowly, until his forehead rests against her shoulder, turned toward the crook of her neck. His hair is still wet from the rain, but it is the warm exhale of air against her bare skin that makes her shiver. Rukia knows that she should push him away. Propriety, and the label of nakama she'd given them, demands it.
But so much has changed.
So instead, she only presses closer.
edited note: ALL THE TYPOS. That'll teach me to try and proofread after an all-nighter. Doesn't matter if you do it four times (which I did), typos will still escape you. Also, I know that so many people have done their own rendition of what could've happened off-panel after 477, but I just couldn't help adding in my own two cents, so to speak. Hopefully it wasn't too repetitive, and thank you for reading! Concrit and reviews as appreciated as always.