A/N: Okay, guys - say it with me: 'LAAAAAAAAATE~" Posted in Tumblr when it was rotting in my hard drive. So sue me.

I wanted to write something with Chad and Rukia. Set before Farewell Swords.


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Need

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When Ichigo uttered the first comprehensible word above his cries and screams of pain, Orihime looked down, Ishida breathed heavily, Chad looked away and Isshin only let a small, bitter smile play in his lips. Rukia was the one who grabbed his flailing hand, not wincing even once when he gripped too tight.

He called her. They all heard that. The way her name slides out of his lips, no matter where he is or what was happening to him - it was a familiar sound to all of them. He had said her name a hundred times before that it was hard not to know exactly who he needed.

"Ichigo. Ichigo, I'm here."

They looked on as Ichigo, eyes closed, expression in pain, struggled with his inner turmoil and as Rukia, looking over him ever so carefully, gripped his hand back, her free one brushing long orange locks away from his sweaty forehead.

Ishida and Chad didn't look. Isshin's smile didn't fade. Orihime stiffled a sob.

They knew what would come after this.

Rukia couldn't care about that now, though. He called her. He gripped her hand when she held his - he needed her right then. All she should do was be there for him.

On the second week, Isshin finally got Orihime to let Ishida and Tatsuki lead her home. Tatsuki asked how Ichigo was. Ishida was the one to answer - "Kuchiki-san is looking over him." For the days to come it would be his stock answer.

Rukia almost lost track of how many days she had been whispering to him that she's there, they're all there - it'll be alright, he had to hang on, it'll be over soon.

Isshin kept watch over all of them. Chad left every two days and then came back to stay. Rukia never left. By the end of the second week, Yuzu, Karin, Chad and Isshin had found themselves in a routine of taking turns on who would lay the blanket over Rukia's sleeping form while she dozed off, head lying on Ichigo's bed, hand pale from supporting the orange-haired teen. Orihime and Ishida dropped by often. They talked sometimes. They laughed sometimes.

By the middle of the third week, Ichigo had calmed down, almost all traces of pain gone from his face. He slept silently. That was when Yuzu and Karin started hovering. Their dad finally let them stay inside the room for long enough. They knew that the reason why Isshin wouldn't let them in most time was because Ichigo wasn't doing really well and that the girls will just worry.

"He'll wake up any day now." Isshin said. Orihime smiled happily at the man, along with the twins who breathed sighs of relief. Ishida and Chad breathed out sighs of relief. Rukia smiled softly and nodded, feeling the orange-haired hero's grip on her hand ease more comfortably. The struggle is almost over.

Three days before Ichigo woke up, while they both stood guard, Chad spoke to Rukia.

"Rukia-san."

It was a new thing for him, really - calling the woman by her first name, even with the honorary suffix. But that seemed trivial now. In the past month, next to Rukia, Chad was the next one to spend the most time waiting for Ichigo to recuperate. So far, he had been Rukia's most constant companion alongside their unconscious nakama.

She looked at him. "Yes?"

"After this, he wouldn't be able to see you, right?"

It seemed to hit home on the raven-haired shinigami then. She had been trying to forget about that fact, almost wishing that it really wasn't true. She nodded, anyway - trying to tell her companion that she knew, she had accepted it, and she was ready.

But her lack of a 'yes', or any word, just one weak nod, gave her away instantly.

"What would you do about it?"

"I really don't know." - Rukia wondered why sometimes she could lie and tell Ichigo that everything was perfectly fine, and here she was telling Chad everything she felt. It seemed too wrong to not be honest at the moment. "I could still visit, get a gigai. Maybe. I... I'm not really ready to stop this... right now. I've been so used to moving in sync with him, to being beside him, doing things together. I feel so incomplete."

"He feels the same way."

"I know. But it can't be the same anymore. He's done more than enough - he sacrificed his powers for everyone. We couldn't be bothering him anymore. It's time Soul Society and the real shinigami take over and guard the town for him."

"I am tempted to think he almost sacrificed you."

Rukia smiled softly at him. "Really?"

Chad knew what must be the hardest part of all this for Ichigo. His friend wasn't really the one who wanted power for the sake of power. He wanted power to protect. Knowing that sacrificing that power for the sake of eliminating everything that might harm everyone, that wouldn't be hard. Ichigo would give that up in a split second. But along with that, he would also have to lose the one reason why he was still with Rukia. The one reason why Rukia could stay.

Giving that up must have meant that both of them would be taking separate ways.

It wasn't the power that would be hard to sacrifice. It was something... someone... else.

Chad only nodded. Rukia looked at the young man of barely seventeen who saved them all. She laid her head on Ichigo's bed again, watching the orange-head sleeping peacefully. "...I don't know." was all Rukia was able to say.

Chad understood. He knew that Ichigo was willing to sacrifice what could have been for the sake of the woman, too. If Ichigo hadn't defeated Aizen, everything they all valued would be gone.

After a moment, Rukia spoke in almost a whisper. "He'll be alright. He's strong." - she spoke so softly that it sounded like she was wishing to an invisible, if existent, wishing star. "You'll all be here for him."

Chad looked at her. She was holding Ichigo's hand again, her other hand playing with stray orange locks.

"This is Ichigo we're talking about, Chad. He'll be fine, no matter what."

Somehow, he didn't believe. And, in all honesty, Chad asked - "Do you think he will live without you?"

It took some time for Rukia to reply, but she sounded certain. "He should."

Chad did not want to argue. He agreed on that. The problem was that Ichigo doesn't always do everything he should do.

"He needs you.", the giant said. It was so easy for him to say that - probably because it was so true.

A long silence ensued again. Chad sat still. Rukia did not move from her position. She only twirled Ichigo's orange hair in her fingers, almost trying to memorize how they felt against her cool skin.

After a while, she said, "I know."

They both know.

"...I know." - the woman repeated, as if she had to assure herself that she knew.

Chad would not say anything more. Rukia didn't want to talk about anything anymore. They stopped questioning and answering because they didn't want to argue. They stopped because they knew answers to questions... and knowing usually meant that they're ready, they've accepted the facts, and that they could do nothing about it.

Chad knew - Rukia didn't want to be ready. Not yet, or not ever.

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.fin.


A/N: Why don't we get ALL THE ANGST, and then THROW 'EM AWAY TO THE ABYSS, LET OUR OTPs JUST BE HAPPY.

Yes, I am a shipper of OTPxHappiness.

P.S.: Updated my profile to let you guys know about upcoming stuff.