I'm getting back into the swing of things and I can honestly say that I'm pretty proud of this one.
Big thanks to my bud hunterofcomedy. Like always, he helped me work out the kinks and without him, I doubt we'd be seeing such a reasonable update on my end :P
Oh yeah, I missed this too—
Bits and Pieces
He hadn't even stopped to think over the doctor's words, to argue his independence, which was extraordinary considering that was always Ichigo's first response to his brother's loud-mouthed comments.
And this one had clearly been an order.
However, he didn't have the time to reflect on his human's remark. Not when his mind was elsewhere. The ginger was too busy stumbling towards the dull hallway, towards his angry little kitten.
Had the path to his bedroom always been this long and time consuming?
Ichigo forced himself to continue on, his steps clumsy as he followed after her, an out of character display for the normally precise male.
But he was hardly in control of his actions at the moment. The cat was lost within his head, analyzing the situation, as usual.
That is, when it came to Rukia.
In his defense, things had shifted so forcefully that he was still trying to wrap his head around the disaster that took place in his living room just a few minutes prior. It was almost too much to consider.
One thing was certain. Everything, life, seemed tremendously unfair. How had they gone from a peaceful afternoon spent in front of the television— his female awed at the simple sight of technology, and him, delighted to see such a sweet expression wrapped around her beautiful features— to the male possibly losing her altogether?
It was mortifying and it left Ichigo's pulse racing and throat working as palms clenched into tight fists. The action had his forgotten baseball cap mangled at his side, long since forgotten.
The male Nekojin hadn't bother tugging it back over his locks before racing after Rukia, no longer caring. There was no point now that everything seemed to be out in the open—his ears, more specifically.
Damn it to hell.
Things had been going so well, too. Rukia seemed content, the girl not bothering with prying questions, questions about her discovery. Not yet, anyway. That would have surely shatter the illusion they had built for themselves.
That conversation had been meant for later. After all, they had just found their rhythm. With their lives settling, overlapping one another, both cats hadn't felt like over complicating things (with the truth, really) when everything had been so fresh, so raw.
But in the end, maybe that had been the problem. Some things just couldn't be ignored.
Still, it had felt as if she was happy staying by his side while they enjoyed their time together.
It was with that discovery that he had found inner warmth spreading within him. This couldn't just be one-sided affection on his end. Rukia had felt it too, their connection.
Or at least, that was what he had told himself.
Even if her fondness hadn't been nearly as suffocating, it was still something worth mentioning.
No matter how short lived their time together had been.
The strawberry held back a huff.
That wakeup call—the gooey marital couple—couldn't have come at the worst possible time.
And now, Ichigo had to repair what he had destroyed, singlehandedly.
However, he had no idea what he was feeling when it came to that little female. She was something that he never expected, so how could he really jump to conclusions? He couldn't even deal with his own emotions, couldn't even dissect that aspect of his mind.
He was beyond confused.
Ichigo did know that this wasn't the place or time for backpedaling and cliché justifications. Because in all honesty, backpedaling was never correctly implanted in his system and forced explanations almost always came across as weak, not to mention, deeply incredible.
Knowing that well, he decided he would be as honest and open as possible.
He owed his little kitten that much.
Considering her sickly condition, Rukia had made it surprisingly far before he was able to catch up; down the hall and into the archway of his bedroom to be exact.
At the sight of her, his gaze softened. Even as he forced himself to keep moving, the male was unsure and momentarily timid.
He knew what he had to do, the in-result he was striving for, but Ichigo had no idea where to start, let alone what to say to fix their newly established friendship.
It seemed that in that exact moment his kitten had discovered just how pointless certain parts of his apartment actually were.
Particularly, his broken bedroom lock.
Rukia gave a grumble, tiny fingers twisting and turning at the doorknob of the half open hunk of oak. Her gaze narrowed, the piece of junk's locking system refusing to click into place regardless of the female's frustrated curses.
With a tilt of her head, violets followed the motion of the tool, bemused.
Seconds later, she gave a childish stomp of her foot after yet another failed effort, pointy little canines biting into her bottom lip, growling, "Why the fuck—!"
Another hissed followed and Ichigo had to hold back a surprised smirk at her colorful choice of words.
Even that aspect was cute as fuck.
He couldn't help the scowl that twisted at his features with the thought.
I really am pathetic.
It was clear that she wanted to barricade herself from the rest of the world, and the fact that she was so fucking close was bring forth a fuming panic, not to mention, extreme annoyance.
His pace slowed slightly before he was merely steps away and Ichigo was left not daring to move any closer, studying her.
The adorable sight before him would have been almost amusing if it weren't for the heavy air between them. Nevertheless, the male watched on as she struggled, undoubtedly believing that it was her own lack of skill when it came to technology that caused the mechanism to malfunction, rather than the handle itself.
He decided it was time to put her worries and frustrations to rest.
"It doesn't work," Ichigo offered gingerly after a moment's pause. It was a weak breath of air, a start at hopefully healing what he had managed to break by withholding some, very important, pieces of information.
He had wanted to tell his kitten in his own way, not like this. But his life was never easy; this sadistic turn of events was bitterly fitting.
This might be all it took for his kitten to close him out for good, and it was all thanks to his stupid pride and paranoia.
The realization brought on new a wave an alarm—he had to fix this. Now.
She had noticed him easily, even before he came to stand right outside the bedroom's threshold. But then again, it was rather hard not to notice his hurried elephant steps as he trudged down the hall, his lack of precaution showing just how concerned he actually was. Although ignoring him had seemed like the road best taken only minutes before, the female's thought process had become flustered thanks to the stupid little lock that refused to do as it was told.
His words swarmed in her belly, adding to growing embarrassment.
Rukia hadn't a clue why she was reacting so forcefully. All she knew was she was hurt and she wanted to be left alone.
So rather than facing the traitor, it seemed much more fulfilling to slam the door harshly in his face.
Well, that sure got her point across.
"F-fuck," The ginger jumped back and away from the sledgehammer of force aimed directly at his mug, the sharp bang of his kitten's childishly display echoing off the drab walls around him.
"Rukia," Ichigo moaned tiredly, moving to press against the wood gently, the male not wanting to force himself into the oh-so-very unlocked bedroom.
It would make things so much easier if she would just let him in so he could explain himself.
But that was asking for a miracle. It wasn't at all shocking that his kitten was just as stubborn as he was.
The male gave a timid knock.
"Rukia, come on." He tried, frowning deep, "At least hear me out. Please?"
After a couple heartbeats, a tiny feminine sigh drifted through the partially agape doorway, the force of the slam only an instant before leaving the entranced cracked ever so slightly.
Well, okay, they were going to talk about it. Right now, it seemed.
"I didn't," He started with a soft tone, hoping that that alone would offset his blunt disagreement, "I just never found the right time to tell you."
A shuffle of movement followed and then the door was being jerked open completely, the female giving a deep snarl.
"Anytime would have been better than that!"
Rukia might have only reached the middle of his chest in height, but the heat behind her glare caused the man to take tedious step back.
Black Nekojin ears were pushed back darkly, the tail beneath her hospital gown fluttering, left to wrench at her side thanks to the female's domineering anger.
The important part was that she was at least talking to him.
"I know." He agreed easily, watching as violets narrowed slightly in suspicion, in consideration.
He knew there wasn't much else to say in his defense. It was obvious that Rukia was more than upset with his lack of openness, but he wasn't that surprised. Given her weak understanding of how she'd come to be under his care, her reaction was to be expected.
At the sight of his fallen ears weakly hanging within messy orange locks, showing just how depressed this whole situation was making him, Rukia's gaze fell from his own.
His cat ears were just as wild, if not more so, than the orange stands she had always seen protruding from his cap.
The little piece of information came with a frown. She hardly knew anything about this man and yet, she had trusted him entirely.
It was that that bothered her the most.
I'm such a fool.
Eyes still downcast, she let out a calming breath, "Can I see 'em?"
Ichigo blinked in confusion, fumbling at the unforeseen question. He must have looked ridiculous.
The bright headed cat was glad she hadn't seen his reaction.
Besides, he thought she was still pissed—
He shook his head in confusion, "Um, what?"
This time, she did look up. He found determination in her gaze, her tiny brow furrowed, her lips set in a thin line.
"Your ears," She stated simply, "They're different. Can I see?"
He never knew what to expect with this girl. He felt the burning in his cheeks, a scowl forming at the request, "They're right here." He grumbled, said Neko parts rising on command from their previously submissive position against his bright mane, "See?"
She tilted her head, eyes then narrowing in what Ichigo suspected was a combination of irritation and curiosity.
He almost squeaked when soft fur wrapped around his wrist without his notice. He hadn't seen that coming. As one that always hid his traits beneath ragged jeans and an old ball cap, he had forgotten how handy one's feline qualities could be. Her tail as soft as silk tugged weakly, gently, a complete contrast to her hard expression, "You're too tall. I can't get a good look."
It was only after the fourth tug that her words finally sunk in.
Clearing his throat with a gruff nod, he did he best to remain as manly and unaffected as possible, even as his kitten let a pleased little grin overtake her previously stern demeanor. Nonetheless, his mouth went dry at the sight.
It all seemed to happen without any conscious awareness on his end: his neck tipping forward, the female standing on her toes, ambers closing as a tiny hand met his tresses, the other not far behind as she scratched lightly at his scalp before gradually moving to the fur like softness at the base of his Neko ears.
He immediately felt a shudder flutter up his spine at the rare contact. The sensation traveled all the way up to his fuzzy cat parts, the orange tips twitching as she moved higher, her fingers bringing a soft pressure to the responsive skin.
Cheeks burning, heart thudding, mind a jumbled mess—
Yup, he had forgotten how to breathe.
Honey browns forced their way open and he somehow managed to take in a staggered inhale, only to notice that Rukia seemed to be completely in the dark about his unforeseen reaction: his unforeseen reaction to her closeness, her touch and affections—his reaction to her.
Her eyes were locked on the top of his head, too busy studying his heritage to notice. Because, like she had said, their ears were different.
Her own pair were twitching, coal black tail alive with movement.
Ichigo's eyes softened as he watched her.
Then, as the petting continued, he felt it.
Thinking back, he had been asked before by his human comrades if the notion was true or if it was just another Nekojin stereotype like his kind hating water. He could never fully explain it, but yes, he would say (reluctantly, of course) that it's rare for him, but it does happen. That it came with being part cat.
And, when it came to this female, this wasn't the first time.
He felt it at the back of his throat, a tickle at first. It grew as her hands danced further along his fluff, against his scalp, tiny fingertips sending sparks of heat straight to his brain.
It was in that moment that he knew what was coming.
It came with contentment and secret delight, the rarity of her touch.
He held it back, the deep purr that was fighting to break free.
He had to stop it.
With cheeks burning further and scowl deep, Ichigo's hands found their way up and around her petite wrists, stilling her movements.
Fuck, her skin was so soft.
While Rukia blinked up at him in confusion, the male couldn't bring himself to meet her gaze.
He wished he could remember how to speak. It would make it so much easier to remind her, jokingly, of course, that she had asked to see his ears rather than fondle them.
Because that had been exactly what she had been doing.
As he mulled over that one particular thought, she must have taken notice of the changes in him. His eyes that seemed almost full of shame followed by the definite embarrassment in the redness of his cheeks, the tightening of his grip, just slightly, as she studied him with flickering Neko parts of her own.
Even as the silence strung on, he refused to look at her and she in turn refused to look anywhere else.
Rukia's fingers twitched in his grasp and he honestly considered letting her go, letting her continue because maybe she did know, and maybe, she did want to hear him.
To hear just how weak she could make him.
It was with that flickering thought that Ichigo gained the courage to meet ambers with violet flecks of blue and to his surprise, whatever she saw in his gaze caused her throat to work, pink to reach her own cheeks, and dark Nekojin parts to stand at attention.
A part of him was almost happy that she seemed to understand, but then she was taking an embarrassed step back, hands dropping out of his own and to her sides and any courageous thoughts were punted clear out the window.
She seemed tentative, no she almost looked scared…Scared of him.
Scared of what she did to him.
Hesitation clear in her gaze, she watched as his feet took a step forward. Then his stare was softening even further without his knowledge.
He looked sad, no, devastated.
Their eyes met once again and then, she heard it.
Her eyes widened with recognition in response to his clear slip of tongue, which, only added to his confusion. Because how could she know? Even so, his comment had stilled her and using the opportunity to his advantage, he reached out a hand. It seemed that the male was somehow back in control of his actions.
He was grateful.
Ichigo's palm found her raven locks, the wide span of his fingers nearly reaching from ear to tiny ear as he ran them through her mane in a timid movement of comfort, of trust.
The words had left him in a soft breath of air and surprisingly enough, she hadn't flinched away like he first expected. Rather, Rukia's eyes trailed against his ratty carpeting before glancing up, her new look of exasperation being softened by dancing violets. A small hand found his wrist, oh so very similar, and yet, completely different from his previous response to her touch. Then, a sweet little smile graced her features.
Her voice was a gentle hum, a smirk forming, "Baka, I—"
And just like that, their moment was broken.
Ichigo help back a curse.
The doctor was in.
Rukia watched on with overwhelming bewilderment and a sense of approaching dread as the bright headed woman moved about the tiny bathroom. She was pulling forth containers of bath salts and scented soups from an overnight bag that she had explained held every basic need of a lady, the overzealous human pouring the oddities into the running water, the mixture happily bubbling and dancing to life.
As the "bathtub" mechanism filled steady, Rukia noted that today had quickly become a very stressful not to mention strange experience.
The woman who had introduced herself as Inoue Orihime gathered an armful of fluffy towels from a nearby cabinet, all the while chirping about how proud she was that Kurosaki-kun had actually done a load of laundry, and Rukia did her best to cover her reappearing blush with the fall of her bangs.
She hated how that one simple word, one which would have been belittling and offensive coming from anyone else, could break her down into nothing more than an embarrassed entity of jumbled thoughts and a stomach full of anxiety.
It was all due to the fact that it took her back to warm sheets, the comfort of his scent, and, with the possibility of never waking again, the soft, masculine sound had given her hope; showed her a reason to keep fighting.
He could throw her off completely.
"Okay!" Orihime's happy cheer broke through the cat's thoughts, gaining her attention, "It's all ready. If it's too hot, just turn the knob in that direction," she pointed an index finger to the right, "And you'll get cold water. Also, when it eventually gets tepid, that direction," to the left, "You'll get hot water, kay?"
Rukia gave her a blank stare, a far off nod following. She couldn't say she was particularly interested in any of this. Were baths similar to washing off in Karasu River back home?
The Neko was taken aback by her own words. She hadn't meant to—
The bright headed human gave a happy laugh in return. "I'd say he's waiting in the living room with my handsome Ishida-kun."
With a tilt of her head, Rukia let out a questioning hum as Orihime pulled a change of clothes from the bag, the attire obviously a few sizes too big, "My doctor right?"
"Mmhmm, I suppose he hasn't formally introduced himself yet but he's been taking care of you for a while. I don't know all the details but I heard you were in really bad shape. You gotta be more careful, Rukia-san!"
The cat was beyond thankful that the conversation had strayed away from her spiky headed caretaker, despite her slip. Why was she thinking about that berry anyway?
Orihime's stare turned thoughtful, "Are you going to need help getting in the tub?"
Subconsciously, Rukia found herself pressing a palm against her side, against her healing skin. That doctor—Ishida—had looked over the tender flesh after the interruption in the hallway. Apparently, more days had passed during her sleep than she first expected and the wound was now almost healed completely. All that was left was pink and itchy and the human had wrapped the area in a watertight protective covering of sorts. The tub was only halfway full so she doubted the injury would be submerged, but the Quincy had wanted to play it safe.
"Thanks but I think I can handle it."
Carefully, the female cat began tugging off the hospital gown. A wince left her, sore muscles protesting as the material pooled at her feet.
"Shampoo's right there," This time, Orihime pointed towards the side of the tub, next to an empty Tupperware container, "I'll be right outside if you need anything. Just holler."
The cat nodded, words of thanks following. Then the happy human was closing the door behind her and suddenly, Rukia was alone.
She blinked. Strangely enough, the silence that followed was almost intimidating.
Clad in only her tattered underwear and numerous bandages, a puff of air left the cat as she carefully moved to descend into the soupy water.
Rukia held back a whimper, the warm liquid playing at her skin, nearly burning.
She had been right. Her injury didn't even graze the water. The bubbles sloshed about her form, the girl doing her best to get comfortable in the cramped little tub.
Well, it wasn't...completely unpleasant.
Dainty toes curled along the acrylic edge while Neko ears rested happily within raven tresses. It may not have been anything close to the comforts of the lake she knew and loved, but she could easily admit that she had missed this.
Closing her eyes, the girl could almost see herself back where she felt most at home, deep within Karasu's depths. Fingers began carding through the bubbly suds, the very same way she had kept herself afloat during her many fishing expeditions back in Inuzuri.
Even during the calmest of months, waves would jerk, almost playfully attempting to pull her out to sea, but the cat would simply smirk and dive deeper into the gulf, beneath the violent movement of the current.
It was always during that moment, when Rukia was cocooned in the gentleness of the sandy bottom with air held deeply in her chest, that she felt the safest.
Violets opened and she found bleach white tiles staring back at her.
Just how much time had she been away from home?
A hand found the Tupperware container and soupy bath water was gathered without concern, the female doing her best to soak her locks with the bowl's contents without disrupting her wounds. Next, almost on autopilot, she plucked the bottle of strawberry scented shampoo from its resting place. Mind drifting, the fruity liquid coated her hands as she began scrubbing at her tresses, eyes once again falling shut.
Despite her pondering, Rukia couldn't actually recall the last time she had enjoyed the waters of her district. Had it been that time with Renji? Was it the memory that had kept her company in her dreams? She had originally thought so but now…
Her timeline was all jumbled. That memory had come with scorching summer weather but, as it were, winter had clearly already taken its hold.
This time, Rukia managed to maneuver herself blindly towards the faucet at her feet. A simple tug, to the right, right?, and cool water greeted her. The temperature wasn't unnaturally warm now, more like what she was used to.
She could almost feel the soft touch of her chilled underwater sanctuary.
However, it was in response to the sound of the running water, the tub sloshing to life once again as she gathered her pail, ready to rinse, that a sharp ache formed at her temples, at the bridge of her nose.
The agony took her by surprise, a startled hiss leaving her as she cracked her eyes open, searching for the painful source. It was during that moment of incomprehension that suds met the sensitive planes of her orbs.
A startled yelp left her, hands finding her eyes, rubbing desperately.
Biology working at its finest, tears found their way to the surface, trying to flush the acidic burn from the already deep red organs. All the while, her head felt as if it was ready to explode.
Faucet still running, the water was icy now, the sense of desperation that came along with the chill all too familiar—
It was as if she were back there once again.
Mind you, she couldn't place exactly what back there meant. It couldn't be the same lake. This time it was a much scarier and darker place. All she knew was it came alongside splashing water, an angry tide, the smell of death and the approaching realization that she could be next.
All of the positive familiarities that usually came with her mass of water were long gone.
Quickly and without much thought, the cat was submerging herself, the cold liquid rinsing off her soupy locks to some degree.
More importantly, she was trying to break away from the traumatic sensation of being hunted. She wanted to go back to how it used to be.
She had to calm down.
Panicked, Rukia pleaded. She wanted to be back home, not trapped in this horrible nightmare.
She pictured herself there once again, back in the stillness beneath the tide. Eyes still burning, her head continued to throb. Oxygen burned hotly in her lungs.
Underwater—it was starting to comfort her hectic mind.
When air finally became a necessity, she found the surface only to see that the soupy water that engulfed her had turned a thick, gooey red.
It was blood.
Blood that clouded her vision, blood that came alongside gunshots and helicopter motors, alongside the shrieks of sliced flesh.
Terrified, Rukia did the only thing she could.
Who saw that one coming? I hardly have a justifiable excuse for the ending...I was going for dramatic? ;)
More importantly, I gotta thank all of my readers/reviews for the amazingly warm welcome after such a long break. Your words always make me feel so much better. Thanks again my lovelies!
Any predictions for next chapter? Reviews push for quicker updates! :)