title: take care

author: empath apathique

summary: 'If you let me, here's what I'll do—' Ichigo and Rukia, post Grimmjow's fist.

notes: This is one of my favorite unsung moments; thought I'd give my point of view. Is the title familiar? Yes ma'am, it is. Don't go hatin' on Drake just because you don't understand—or don't like him, even if you do. People have named fics for worse reasons, and the lyrics are terribly appropriate, from the right point of view.

Many, many thanks once more to the wonderful mylasia, who continues to put herself forth as a constant source of inspiration and badawesome ideas.

There is a memory, of course.

The Arrancar will tear the world apart. Chad cannot yet leave Urahara's and there is so much—everything—that has suddenly gone wrong. Standing in the window frame, Rukia is a prayer. The Christian God—Old Testament, of course; there is nothing moderate as she expresses her disapproval of his lack of resolve.

Still, her return fills him with more than he can name. For weeks, he has looked for her in all the spaces she has left, the scent of winter flowers steadily fading from his room. In his heart, the rain has stopped, and Rukia has taken up residence instead. The fact that he has a place in hers—is more than a blip in the eternity she has yet to live—is an acknowledgement of the first order.

He means something to her and it's important. In Soul Society, he saved her life; but she does not—will not—come home with him.

Everything has changed.

Months before, she gave him the power to protect all in his world at the sacrifice of herself. She would say, you have repaid your debt. He has the scars from her brother's sword, and she would say, more than repaid, fool, you should not—

Rukia doesn't understand. She thinks, had I not, we both would have

And, perhaps, he would have believed her, when she only slept in his closet and he didn't realize what things like that meant. But Rukia doesn't allow him the decision; she makes it for him. In that first moment, steel poised at his skin, he feels a cold hand on his heart, closing the space between their souls. There is a woman like winter—a figure he only recalls in dreams. She is telling him something, but Ichigo has yet to learn to listen, to find the whispers in the rush. She seems to sigh, quiet and resigned, and he is lost to the current of power, enveloped in the veil. He is transformed. The woman—Shirayuki—does not return.

He wonders if she is disappointed: with him, with Rukia. Rukia who is sad, wanting. To the old man, she is yuki onna. Once, he explains to Ichigo that she is frustrated.

"They have been together a very long time."

And now they are not. Rukia has surrendered her sword—her soul—to him. Ichigo wonders how he knows, if there truly is a part of her that he keeps, deep inside of himself—

The hollow, of course, must have his say. "Stupid bitch." He sneers. "She must bend—"

The old man looks at him sharply. "We do not always like what we understand."

It is the most severe Ichigo has ever heard in regards to the unwanted presence in his soul. The hollow narrows its eyes. "Shall you raise your discontent, as well? We are talking of the woman, and that stupid, foolish girl." He turns to Ichigo, his lips spread in a grin. "They neither of them can understand. The woman will not speak and the girl will not listen—"

"They are unhappy—"

"They are weak."

The old man pauses. "You have seen the truth of yuki onna."

"A truth she will not share." He turns to Ichigo. "Has she told you? Has she told you that once she killed a man?"

Ichigo has heard of the tragedy that was Shiba Kaien. Rukia's fuku-taichou, Rukia's—

The hollow says, "The woman—she keeps his blood on her tongue. You think you are safe with them. But even the girl understands—"


The hollow obliges the sword, his eyes on Ichigo. "It doesn't matter. We are born in her negligence. And so we shall remain."

Ever so slightly, the old man inclines his head. "In her sacrifice," he tells Ichigo, "so we shall continue to be."

This is how Rukia is. She sacrifices herself—her soul—in but a moment. He does not recognize the depth of her devotion with her sword on his heart, but in the moment that they break: here, it is her brother's sword in his chest, the weight of her eyes before she disappears through the senkaimon, I'll never forgive you if—! And he spends everything within him wishing he could be so brave, to know but an inkling of this girl's strength.

But Chad has been hurt and Inoue—he couldn't protect Inoue. Inoue who doesn't have anyone and Inoue who only wants to help and how can he ever look at her again, how can she forgive him for what he has not done?

His failure is fresh: the wounds on his face, Inoue's broken arm. How could he fail the friends that have only fought to protect him?

And then Rukia is there and in her heart his is a man. He thinks, maybe—

But he's worried about the wrong things. In his room, she is lying on his bed, flipping through one of Yuzu's old mags. He's supposed to be doing homework but he's just staring at her, thinking of the arrival of the shinigami, the Arrancar, Rukia; he wonders why she is on his bed and why he's not saying a thing and how—how can her legs be so incredibly long when she's so embarrassingly short?

He wants to tease her for it, thinks that he will. But one of her legs shift and her skirt begins to rise and suddenly it is no difficulty to keep his eyes on his work, even if he's not doing a thing.

It is these moments that are the hardest to preserve. He's realizing something, even if he's not sure what he's realizing. Rukia's at the center of it all but it is broken in an instant. The incredible spiritual pressure that has just arrived in Karakura proper—they look at each other, and he thinks, for a moment, that it will be just like before. He will fight and she will follow but he remembers Chad, Inoue, Tatsuki—everyone who has been hurt. He grabs his badge, doesn't look at her as he jumps from the window, leaves her behind—a hope, perhaps, that she will keep herself from harm's way.

He can smell the blood on Chad's chest, imagines the stain that will form as he pulls away the Arrancar's hand. Chad wants to fight but Chad doesn't understand and Ichigo doesn't care. He will not fail their bond once more.

But Rukia—Rukia. She is here, she is talking. He wants to tell her that he's too old for her lessons. She's taught him fight but he's received training from Urahara, Yoruichi; why won't she just stand down, like Chad?

In a blinding flash of white, she releases her sword. Once more, he feels it: the cold hand on his heart. Rukia, he thinks—Shirayuki. The yuki onna watches him from behind the veil. And deep in his soul, the old man—the hollow—hum in synchronization. This is the Rukia they have always known, a secret she has yet to share. He thinks of the cold touch against his heart; Shirayuki has only ever told him, hello.

For two months, he was her sword. He has not seen Rukia with a weapon since the first night they met. How is he to abide? He thinks, I need—

It's in his name, his blood. He has to protect her.

But Rukia has never asked for any of this. She is Rukia: she never asks, she tells. Everything else, she provides for herself.

In that moment, he remembers: she never asked him to come for her.

'I won't say thank you!'

He watched, entrapped, as she destroys the Arrancar. She is beautiful, effortless.

'Has she told you that once she killed a man?'

The hollow called her weak, but the hollow knows something—about Rukia and yuki onna and not just Shiba Kaien, but the Arrancar she just killed.

Rukia has never told him anything about her sword, the power beneath those tiny fists. And he thinks: sometimes, lying and not telling are the same thing.

And then—

He wonders, how long is this moment—this slice of eternity? He understands, finally: he gets it.

But there is Grimmjow's hand in her chest, her blood on the pavement, her eyes—grey in the lamplight.

He cries, Don't hurt her anymore.

He asks himself, How could he do this to you?

What had she told him? You're too hot-headed. I'll handle this.

As soon as they felt Grimmjow—turning to him: Run—Ichigo!

She never moved herself.

It is something even Grimmjow could understand. But it is Rukia's blood on his fingers and—

The memory. Of course.

Inoue says too much and too little, all at once. Rukia is motionless for too many moments beneath the healing light of her reiatsu. There is blood, then the smooth pink skin of her midriff.

Rukia makes to stand.

"Kuchiki-san, you can't—" Inoue is beside herself. Rukia's shihakusho has yet to repair itself. There is a ways yet to go.

Rukia takes her hand. "It's fine," she tells her. Not 'I'm fine.' She's not fine. She says, "Thank you, Inoue. Perhaps—" She looks to Ichigo, and Inoue moves to his side.

Renji extends a hand to help Rukia from the ground. She is unsteady, unhealed. All because he can't see the hole doesn't mean it isn't still there.

Inoue covers him with her reiatsu. It feels heavy and thick, holding him in this moment of impossible.

This is Rukia the Soldier, a girl who has just taken down an Arrancar. Chappy remarked that she was talented but even Toushirou looks impressed, beneath the austere expression he sports. But this is not Soul Society. This is Karakura. Here, she should not have to be a soldier. Here, she should only belong to him.

Rukia almost died. She takes a step, stumbles. Renji reaches out to steady her, but Ichigo is already at her side. Inoue calls his name, but he is already glaring at Rukia. "Take it easy," he tells her. "You're still injured."

"You fool. I could say the same thing."

Their eyes hold for one moment, another. There are many things he will compromise on. She may stay in his home and his heart, may spend his money and leave bad drawings for him to find months after they were first drawn. If this is the man he is in her heart, so be it. But he will not

She looks away first.

And he thinks, there.

He says, "Let's go home."

There is more to be said. Ichigo has not been healed and she is still a soldier, regardless of how Ichigo feels. He looks to Toushirou, who gives them a single nod.

"Kuchiki, I expect your report on the morrow."

She responds, obeisant. "Hai!"

She bids their farewells to the others; thanks Inoue for her help, apologizes that Ichigo's such an ass. Inoue is still looking at him, her hand poised, as if to touch his arm. But tonight there has been too much and he has not the thoughts for Inoue and her wants. He is obliging, always, to a point. But Ichigo's heart is in pieces on the pavement, wet with Rukia's blood. Right now, he needs to take her home.

Rangiku-san ushers Inoue in the direction of her room, Toushirou following the pair at a sedate pace. Renji makes Rukia promise to get some rest, looks as reluctant to go. In a moment, he has flash-stepped away as well, leaving them alone.

The return to her gigai seems to sap away her remaining strength.

He has a hand, tight, on her elbow. He breathes, "Midget—"

She closes her eyes. "A moment," she pleads. "Please."

He releases her elbow, kneeling before her instead.

She shakes her head. "I just—"

He looks at her over his shoulder. It is a demand, a plea.

Rukia wraps her arms around his neck. She seems to sag into him, as if she can no longer support the little that she weighs. He has carried her like this a hundred times in a hundred different ways but it has never, ever been like this. She lays her head on his shoulder, and his palms press against the bare skin of her thighs, hefting her higher onto his back. He feels her breaths, heavy and hot, through his shihakusho, her clammy forehead against the skin of his neck.

Her reiatsu pulses weakly, an effort to restore itself from the shock of Grimmjow's attack. His own flares in response. Across town, Ishida is cursing him to hell. The shinigami will wonder what is wrong. Inoue, Chad—he doesn't even care.

His energy flares and flares. And then, in the most control he's exhibited to date, it tightens around him, around Rukia, a barrier against the world.

Her breath seems to stutter. A chuckle, perhaps, had she the breath to exhale.

She says, "Don't be that way."

He wonders which way he should be. He will always care and he will never pretend that he does not. Even his hollow is on edge. It calls for the fight, blood. But in it all, it speaks of the woman, of Rukia.

The hollow says, "I told you, I told you."

Now is not the time, but the old man will not make him stand down. Unconsciously, Ichigo's fingers tighten against her thighs. She shifts, slightly; pulls herself closer. He thinks he might choke.

He wants to pull her into him, to protect her from monsters like Grimmjow who would kill her without a thought; from her superiors in the Gotei 13, who will continue to pit her against Arrancar; who will not care if she is gutted or worse—falls—so long as she follows their command.

The hollow will not leave him alone. It says, now, "I told you." And then: "You never understand."

Against his back, Ichigo can feel Rukia, yuki onna. Shirayuki is silent, as well.

He thinks, at first, that she is asleep. He enters the house through his bedroom window, as they have done countless nights in the past. Goat Chin has already placed another bed in the twins' room but the girls are asleep and Ichigo has counted her breathes—each and every one—on the walk home. He will not leave her alone.

He deposits her, gently, on the coverlet. Her hand goes to her head, against her scalp, pressing away the lightheadedness she described to him on the walk home.

He says, "Take it easy."

"What do you think I'm doing?" she says. "I'm sitting. I'm not doing anything."

He half-listens to her words. He can feel his heart against his throat. His fingers shake and he clenches his fists. He wants her to shut up and be safe and a hundred other things he cannot name.

His body has remained, slumped, against the homework he left on his desk. He returns, feels the ache the prone position has left in his neck, the burn of the wounds he would not allow Inoue to heal.

Hand on his neck, he turns. Rukia has stood and there's a foot of space between them, heavy with what has happened this night, these months.

He wants to ask her a hundred questions, but they all start with 'why' and they won't change a thing. The hole has been healed but it's there and he says, thinks, "He almost killed you."

He has never had this conversation with Rukia. It has always been him rushing face first into imminent peril. Rukia is calm, intelligent. Rukia is strong. Rukia is—

"You almost died."

The light is dim; the glare from a single streetlight beyond his room. Once, she told him that she stood there, in the moments before she first descended into his room. Still, he sees her. He knows her face, an impossible memory. Her eyes: blue, purple; her nose: sharp and small; the curve of her jaw; that dark wisp of hair.

And he's touching her, brushing her hair away from her face. He hesitates with the enormity of it all. He's never touched anyone in this way. But he cannot imagine this moment with anyone else.

The hollow hisses, "You stupid fuck, of course."

And this is where they converge. The hollow will always say too much, too wrong, too soon. But this is Rukia. There's no turning from this point. If he doesn't touch her now, he never will.

In this, Ichigo does not decide: he feels. If he thinks, he will ruin it all. Instead, he slides his fingers through her inky black mane, his other hand palming her cheek. She is soft and smooth, all the things he's ever heard about girls but can't even enjoy, because this isn't the finally he has longed for; it is reassurance.

She seems to startle, first, at his touch. But then her eyes close and she leans to him, and it's always, always this way. Why hasn't he touched her before?

"Don't be stupid," she tells him.

He says, "I'm not." But there is a decided lack of heat behind the exchange. His heart is still in his throat and it feels kind of like he's breaking. He cups her other cheek. The space between them disappears. He leans forward; he can feel her breath, hot and small, against his face.

She tries to turn away.

But he has her face in his hands and she's so fucking small. How is it possible? How has he never known?

She says, "I'm expected in the room with your sisters."

He says. "I don't fucking care." Then, "It's late, they're asleep."

Her eyes turn to his, wry and unconvinced. "Shall I sleep in your closet?" she asks. "I see. I'll call you 'Kurosaki-kun' and you'll call me '-chan,' and tomorrow we'll pretend we don't know each other—"

He wonders if this is what sleeping in his closet means to her: pretending that everything between them doesn't exist. Since Soul Society, for him, it is the only thing that counts. Rukia takes up too much space and doesn't respect his things and for chrissakes, he's a goddamn boy. Sleeping with a girl twenty feet across the room can't be anything good. But she's Rukia and in the weeks that she's away there is nothing but empty space.

He doesn't say this.

He tells her, "Don't be dumb," but otherwise he won't rise to the bait. He won't be embarrassed, won't take back what he has said.

She frowns. "I think," she says, "that you're old enough to know what it means when a boy and a girl sleep in the same bed."

His fingers tighten around her face. He says, "I think you're smart enough to realize I don't rightly care."

Her lips purse, annoyingly close to his own. She says, "Tonight, you don't care about a lot of things."

"And you're willfully ignoring the things that I do."

There. She is caught.

She stares down at his chin.

He says, "Rukia." She won't look at him, and he takes the fall for them both. He presses his lips against her forehead, her eyelids—feels her lashes flutter beneath his lips. He's never kissed anyone, wonders if it always feels like this: soft and warm like Rukia's skin; heavy with the things they won't say, the rhythm of her heart, his—the way her breath quickens as he trails his lips from her cheek to her chin. Soft, he thinks. He kisses her chin once, again. He stops, centimeters from her parted lips.

With a suddenness that startles him, he realizes that he has always, always wanted to kiss her.

But not like this; never like this. He has never felt so close to losing her.

She says, "This is not—"

And his lips are on hers. It is awkward and it hurts but he doesn't know if it's physical or all the things he's feeling within. She still soft and warm, soft and warm. He cradles her scalp, tilting back her head as he slips his tongue between her lips. It's kind of like a punishment but mostly like all the things he's ever wanted with this girl. He can feel her fingers against his collarbone, slides a hand down, grips the delicate curve of her hip with a single palm.

She breaks away, sucking in air. His lips find her jaw, trace the bone to the delicate skin behind her ear. Her hair brushes his cheek, her hips against his groin. He feels the heat, the shiver of power, pleasure, at their connection. She presses against him and before he knows it, he has her skin between his teeth, biting, sucking. Her head falls back. She moans.

He can't touch enough of her. The hand at her hip slides beneath the hem of her shirt, and it is his first touch of the parts of her she keeps hidden from the world. No, he thinks. He has always touched her. Not like this—his palm glides up from her hip, fingers against a delicate strip of lace and he thinks, holy fucking shit.

He presses her knees against the bed. He watches, unrepentant, as she falls against his pillows in a heap, dazed from his kiss.

Her skin glows white in the darkness, her eyes an otherworldly blue. It's the second time she's been in his bed this night, her shirt riding high on her thighs, that dark bang between her brows. Her lips part, her breath escaping with an audible rush and she's just been kissed but nary an hour before, she was bleeding out across town, his name the last word on her lips.

His eyes shut. He falls to the mattress at her knees, his hands anchored at her hips.

His fingers slip beneath her shirt once more, thumbs at her navel, his hands hot against her skin. She says, "Ichigo—"

He shakes his head. "I'm sorry," he tells her. His head falls forward, forehead against her sternum, right below her breasts. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

And then her fingers are in his hair. She wants to see his eyes but Ichigo will not move. Her reiatsu continues to pulse, a weak thrum; even time he breathes, it coats him from the inside out.

She asks, "Why are you apologizing?"

Why doesn't she understand? "You almost died—"

She grips his hair, tugging painfully on the orange strands. "He could have killed you, too."

She's infuriating. He says, "But he didn't."

"Yet it could have just as easily been you, a hand through your middle." He finds himself glaring. She pulls harder on his hair. "Had I not said anything, turned my attention away, he would have come at you."

"You don't know that."

"Perhaps. But what is the alternative: he still runs me through, I fall—"

He buries his face against the space beneath her heart. It is not an alternative, it's a memory: Rukia is bleeding and her eyes are gray and it is the loss, he thinks—the fact that he is there and he is powerless to stop her fall—that hurts worse of all.

She stops pulling at his hair, soothes the burn of his scalp with her nails. He shivers, moves his hands so they circle her back, turning them on their sides. Two of the buttons beneath her breasts have opened. He nuzzles his nose against her skin, fragrant and warm, flower petals warmed by the sun. She settles against him, hands still in his hair, leg over his hip, pulling him as close as can.

She says, "It was for the best."

Ichigo shakes his head.

"You fool," she whispers. "It could have been you. This way…" She stops, swallows. "At least, this way, you saw what he was willing to do."

"He wanted to—" He raises his head, his eyes finding hers in the dark. "He thought he killed you."

One of her hands leaves his scalp, brushing his bangs from his face. Rukia is sad and it hurts.

She says, "I thought he killed me, too."

The sound that escapes him is the closest he's been to a sob since he was ten years old, hiding away from Goat Chin, telling himself he was too old for tears.

She holds him while his chest heaves, his eyes shut so hard they hurt; he tells himself, these are not tears.

For seconds, days, they are silent. She holds him. She does not say, you fool.

Instead, she tells him, "I killed a man." He thinks she is talking about Shiba Kaien, wonders why she would bring up dead man after Ichigo has kissed her, is pressed against her in his room. "Tonight," she explains. "I killed him, on my own. But all you will remember is a wound that no longer remains. That I almost—"


"I want you to know." Her words rush over his, her own. "He almost killed me and I was happy, Ichigo. I was happy because I thought: at least it wasn't you."

He doesn't know what he wants to do. He says 'that's stupid,' and 'you're stupid' and 'how in the holy fuck—'

But she's so fucking dumb and he doesn't even know where to begin. How could she think—?

He wants to punish her, to pull her close. He rolls so he is atop of her once more, his fingers hard on her hips. He thinks—hopes—that it hurts, that she has marks as blue as her eyes in the sun. Marks he will see in the weeks to come, every time he brings her to bed and takes off her shirt and touches her—hard, soft. And he promises—he swears—that he will always hold her and it will never be a question ever again.

She will not sleep in his closet or in his sisters' room. She is not a friend from school, she is everything. Goat Chin will say what he will and the girls will be confused. Renji will not say anything; but he will think itand maybe, in a decade, or ten

Ichigo doesn't care.

He doesn't care about her reports or her division and her brother can suck a big fat cock; he will not let her go.

He's pulling at her shirt, buttons ricocheting from the window to the floor as he searches for more of her. He presses his lips and teeth and tongue against the skin of her middle, a hole he cannot see but still feels, deep in his heart. There are each of her breaths, shallow and short—too many, too few; he counted them all on the long silent walk back home.

Beneath him, she is moaning, even when it hurts. She presses her heels into his spine, pressing herself into him. His hips are in the wrong place put he still feels the heat. He grabs the back of her knee and she grinds into him once more. There's so much bare skin.

Hours before, he could only look at her, blush. Hours before, he could not imagine holding her, the motion of her hips as she moves closer, closer. He could not imagine how everything has come to this.

She says, "I was happy, I was happy."

He groans, his hands sliding from her knee to her rear, palming her, his teeth hard against her hip. She cries out. He says, "Shut up. Don't say that."

"I was—"

He tugs at her skirt. "Take it off."

For a moment, she does not move. He looks up at her, his eyes hard, uncompromising. She glares down at him. She says, "Don't be a child," and this hurts, as well. "Closing your eyes does not save you from the darkness. Even if I do not say—"

In a single motion, he rises to his knees, pulling Rukia with him. Instinctively, her legs wrap around his hips, hands on his shoulders—always, always hanging on. He's still got a hand on her ass beneath her skirt, the other in her hair, cradling her skull. He's hard and it hurts and he swears he can feel her, ice hot against him.

He wants her so damn much.

It's the closest they've been, ever. They are wearing too many clothes but they are touching in the ways that counts: his eyes holding hers, a mere breath separating their lips.

He says, "Don't," and she's angry, so fucking angry. "Don't tell me not to care if you're hurt." He presses a kiss against the corner of her lips, her chin. "I don't care if you've killed one man, or ten." His lips drop to her neck. He tastes her; like it's the first time, like he'll never touch her again. "I don't care if it's your job."

She swallows. He feels the muscles of her neck move with his lips. "Ichigo."

She begins to shake, and when he raises his head, her eyes are closed. Her tears fall onto his cheeks.

She says, "I don't want you to protect me."

He presses her closer, her chest to his, that impossible heat sitting between them. "So you can protect me—order me to escape. But I can't offer the same?"

Rukia shakes her head. "It's not the same."

He kisses the tears from her cheeks. "You bitch. It is."

"It's not. This—all of this. It's my fault. You shouldn't—" Her eyes are wet and blue. "You're only fifteen."

He asks her, "Do you regret me?"

He eye widen, startled. "Of course not. I can't—"

He kisses her, and it's every kiss they've never had, that same fission of energy—closer, warmer than anything before. He lowers her onto the mattress once more, his lips never leaving hers. Her bottom hits the bed and he pulls her ruined shirt from her shoulders. He fingers the dark lace of her bra, looks at her blush—an anxious glow on her cheeks.

He doesn't dawdle. She calls him a child, but this is a place he's never been. He realizes, with a sudden clarity, that she neither has she. She is embarrassed, afraid. His eyes stay on hers, his hands behind her back, unclasping. He pulls away the lace.

They don't speak until he is atop of her. Their clothes are abandoned, his fingers in her warmest part. His tongue is on her clavicle, her hips arching, arching; and her voice, broken and soft, calling out his name.

He looks at her. Her eyes are closed and he kisses her. He says, "Don't hide from me."

Her lids flutter, a violet light between the fringe of her lashes, dark as soot against the moonlight of her skin. He moves his fingers, his palm against the flat of her mound.

He whispers, "Let me."

She cries as she comes apart.

The lay, silent, in the moments of the after, the streetlights extinguished, the sun just peeking into to sky. He draws maps onto her skin, searches out her scars and other perfections as she dozes against his arm.

There is a feeling in his chest, the same he has felt since Soul Society—even before. He wants to tell her, pulls her atop of him; his lips on hers, hungry for more.

Rukia returns his kisses, but there is a sluggishness on her behalf, her eyes half-lidded, sleepy and sated. He kisses a single cheek. She grins, burying her face against him.

Within moments, she is asleep. He touches her, still; feels her reiatsu as it continues to pulse within her. She needs her rest.

He has aged in the twelve hours since her return. She has called him a man. He thinks, perhaps, that he will become one, when all of this is through.

And here is the memory he holds:

Ichigo lies in bed with his girl on his chest, kisses her eyes and her cheeks and feels her heart beat, a steady rhythm against his bones. There is the sun, the birds, each of Rukia's breathes, warm and soft. When he pulls himself away, she reaches for him. There is a furrow between her brows, his name on her lips. He wants to tease her, wants to plan tomorrow morning, the next.

He thinks his heart will burst. Again, she calls for him. He wonders if she dreams of him, if this has happened before.

When he's gone, she curls into herself on the bed, her face in his pillow, hiding from the sun.

He dresses in the dawn, forgets his wallet, his keys, in an effort to remember everything about this night, this Rukia in his bed.

When this is over, he tells himself, she will spend the nights—the mornings—in his arms.

But she will not bear the emotional burden of what they share alone. He has called her nakama, wonders at the new word for what they have become; perhaps nakama has never been enough.

He leans over her sleeping form, kisses her cheek, her ear. She turns, catching his lips. Sleepily, she says, "Come back."

He smiles, a little sad, a little amused, against her lips.

He waits until she falls back asleep. He tells her, "I want you to know."

He feels the hollow, shifting just under his skin. It is time to go.

And there is his first move, the memory that counts.

An hour later, he finds the Vizards across town.

The next time he sees her, there is no time for holding her in the morning. Inoue is gone.

Rukia follows and he hates her for it, doesn't know why he did not expect her to do that exact thing. But there is a promise in her eyes: when all of this is through—

And he thinks of the memory: her eyes closed, lips under his. She is soft and warm and his every single dream.

Ichigo promises, too. When all of this is through.

He sees her, once, after the battle. His hair is long and he wonders if she has new scars. He's still angry but he wants her and she's looking at him, looking at him. He turns to her, thinks: now that all of this is—

But he, too, is through. A month later, he wakes up. His hair is short and Rukia got shadows in her eyes—is trying to hide, to pretend. He wants to touch her. He wants to say—

But she's fading, and there's nothing more to be done.

He wants to pray to god, but Rukia is the only one he knows.

She looks up at him, and her eyes are wet, warm, blue.

He remembers their night. In the morning, he left her.

Standing before him now, she fades.

He'll remember, of course.

It is not a single memory. He holds on to them all.

end notes: What is this ending? My stop point was supposed to be the vizards. (Ichigo, why do you make me do this to you?)

next time: Ichigo and Ishida, and their bromance over Jay-Z. Because Ishida's all, "If ya having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but—"

Or maybe not. Effing Inoue.

Comments and constructive crit is always welcome.