A/N: Day 4 Prompt: "Come on, let's go home."
The shift from Ichigo saying "Let's head back to my place" to "Let's go home, Rukia" had been so subtle. When had he started treating his home like something they could share? A space that was theirs as much as it was his family's?
The other members of the Kurosaki family acted much the same, too. During that month Ichigo went off to train to control his inner Hollow, Rukia had helped the Kurosaki family out with household chores much more often.
Grocery shopping with Yuzu was always interesting. Rukia never realized humans had this many snacks to choose from. At the end of every trip, Yuzu would smile at their haul and say, "We've got everything, Rukia-chan! Let's go home and make a great dinner!"
Rukia also assisted the Kurosaki patriarch in their small clinic every chance she could get. Isshin seemed surprised she could handle all that blood without batting an eye, but didn't press the matter when she couldn't think of a proper excuse as to why.
In the lull after they left the patients to rest, Isshin turned to her and said, "I think we've handled everything we could, Rukia-chan. Let's head on home now."
Even when Rukia picked up Karin from the park, Karin would always complain, "Aw, why do we have to go home already? It's still light out! C'mon, tell Dad I wanna play some more!"
There was never any distinction between their home and her place in it. She belonged there. She belonged with their family.
And they still welcomed her with open arms even after they discovered that she was a Shinigami. Perhaps they were so used to opening up their home to injured strangers that bringing her in was merely second nature to them.
It was comforting to know that there was always someplace where she was welcome in this world. In those seventeen months spent far, far away from the Kurosaki Clinic, she hadn't felt that same sense of comfort or ease. Her brother's estate was grand and magnificent, as befitting of a noble's property. And yet, it didn't feel quite like home. It was too quiet here. Too pristine. The servants did not allow her to help them whatsoever, often ushering her away to attend to her lieutenant duties instead.
The Kurosaki household was the complete opposite. Their house felt lived-in and lively. Less like a preserved space of noble history and more a proper home. The kind she had seen the wealthier, makeshift families in Rukongai set up for themselves. The kind she always wanted to be a part of.
With Ichigo prepping for entrance exams and Rukia's duties to attend to, however, she'd had far less time to visit the World of the Living lately. Coordinating days for them to "hang out", as Ichigo had put it, proved more frustrating than expected. They were both swamped with work, her more so than him.
It only made the spare time she was able to spend in his world all the more precious to her. Even the most mundane activities felt nice, so long as she could spend it with him and his family.
Take today's visit, for instance. His family wanted hot pot for dinner to celebrate Rukia returning to them. Unfortunately, they didn't have enough ingredients for it.
Rather than hand off the shopping to Yuzu or his dad, Ichigo volunteered to go get the groceries instead. Yuzu pouted at this, but tried her best to explain how to shop for the best deals in their area.
Ichigo ruffled her hair dismissively. "Yeah, yeah. You've been over it with me like a million times. I'll figure it out once I move out, Yuzu."
At this, Rukia blinked. "Move out?"
"Yeah, the school I'm going to requires all freshmen to stay in the dorms, so I'll be on my own for a while," he said with a shrug. "I'm trying to learn how to budget and plan for meals and stuff. I can't rely on Yuzu forever."
"I've been teaching him to cook, too!" Yuzu said with bright eyes. "He's getting better!"
"Hey! I was always decent at least...right?"
Rukia watched as his sisters teased and laughed at him. She tried to smile. Tried not to let this change affect her so much.
This was only natural. Humans did not live with their families forever. She knew this. Knew that one by one each member of the Kurosaki family would grow up and grow on to lead their own lives.
She just never expected it to end so soon.
Ichigo flicked Karin in the forehead and left both sisters yelling at him in his wake. "Ugh, sorry about them, Rukia. They're more obnoxious than usual today."
"Hey! We are not!"
He snorted. "C'mon, Rukia. I'll buy you some candy or something, if you want."
Rukia smiled weakly as she followed him to the door. "Oh, yes, that would be nice."
Their shopping went by much faster than she expected. Despite all his griping earlier, he'd definitely taken all of Yuzu's advice to heart. They even had a little money left over for some extra treats.
They exited the shop with large plastic bags full of vegetables and meat, the aforementioned candy and some cans of juice sitting on top. Ichigo hefted the bags up experimentally. "Huh, is this what Yuzu carries home all the time? It's a lot. She's stronger than I thought."
He paused. "You okay, Rukia?"
"Hm?" She looked up at him. "Oh, yes. Just lost in thought."
How was she to tell him that he had carved a place for her in his home? That without him in it, as warm and wonderful as it could be, there would always be something missing? How could she explain that this was the one place she felt she truly fit?
How could she say that she didn't want any of that to end without sounding completely selfish?
Ichigo stared at her for a moment longer. He probably knew she was lying, but he wouldn't push it. It made her feel even worse.
He hefted the grocery bags up again. "Come on. Let's go home."
Rukia's gaze fell. Was this going to be the last time she'd hear him say that?
She shook the thought away. This was ridiculous. She'd still be able to visit him now and again. It'd just be in a dorm room instead of the Kurosaki household.
What was that human saying? Home is where the heart is?
There was no reason for her to feel like this if she could easily make a home with him anywhere. This would not be like those seventeen months without him. He had his Shinigami powers back. He could see her.
So long as they were with each other, everything would be alright.
She took a deep breath and looked straight ahead. They always worked these things out. This would be no different.
Suddenly, Ichigo laughed to himself.
She frowned up at him. "What?"
"You look like you made your mind up about something. The look on your face was cute, is all."
"Huh?!" Her face flushed and she quickly dipped her head so most of it was hidden under her pink scarf.
He laughed once more then shifted the grocery bags to his other hand. He then offered her his free hand without a word.
After a moment of stubborn refusal, Rukia took it with a blustery sigh. Ichigo had no idea what this even was about. But he always knew how to make her feel better regardless.
She tightened her grip on his hand. "Thank you."
Rukia had promised to set aside time the day he planned to move out to help him and his family. When she stepped out of the Senkaimon, however, she was shocked to see another one lying open outside the Kurosaki clinic. Had another Shinigami decided to pay Ichigo a visit? Renji would've accompanied her if he wanted to come, right?
"Rukia-chan!" Yuzu called from the door. She carried a box of Ichigo's things as she ran over to her.
"Hey, Yuzu-chan. Did someone from Soul Society come through here?" Rukia asked, gesturing at the open Senkaimon.
Yuzu tilted her head. "Huh? Didn't Ichi-nii tell you?"
Before Rukia could ask what she meant, Ichigo stepped out with several boxes stacked in his arms. He smiled the moment he met her eyes. "Hey, Rukia! Great timing! I'm gonna need your help with this when we get to my dorm."
He set the boxes down and wiped the sweat off his brow. "I told you I'm attending the Shinigami Academy, right?"
Rukia blinked. "The Shinigami Academy? You aren't attending a human university?"
"No?" He frowned at her. "I figured continuing a human education was kinda pointless considering the whole thing with Aizen and my reiatsu being this strong anyway. Might as well become an actual Shinigami once and for all."
"But what about your body?"
Ichigo shrugged. "I'm taking it with me. Can't have Kon running around doing God knows what with it while I'm gone. Even if I'll be able to visit my house every now and then."
So he wasn't planning to move away completely. She would still have a place here, after all.
They glanced back when they heard something heavy hit against the wall.
Chad hauled out Ichigo's entire bed frame, mattress and all in one arm. One of the legs hit the doorframe hard enough to dent it a bit.
"Chad! You gotta be more careful!" Ichigo groaned when Chad set the bedframe down.
Chad rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry."
"Why are you bringing video games to Soul Society?" Ishida complained as he hauled out a couple handheld consoles and some games. "You do realize that your school's not going to have charger outlets, right?"
Ichigo scratched his head. "It's just something to do for when I have free time. Besides, I figure I can learn some kind of lightning Kido to charge it back up again."
"That's not how lightning works, idiot."
"Aw, what? Does that mean I have to come back to Karakura every time I want something charged again?" Ichigo whined.
Inoue and Tatsuki popped out behind Ishida, each carrying two boxes of stuff.
"Got all your books, Kurosaki-kun!" Inoue announced with a cheerful smile.
Tatsuki made a face. "Damn, Ichigo, I didn't know you were such an otaku."
"I'm not an otaku! There's more than just manga in there, you know," he grumbled.
"Yeah, yeah. No need to get all defensive."
"Neeeerd! Ichigo's a big, fat neeeeerd!" Keigo yelled as he brought out a plastic container of clothes.
Mizuiro walked out with his phone in hand and nothing else. "Hey, Rukia-chan!"
She smiled at them all. "You've come to see him off."
"Of course! We're gonna be busy at our universities, too, so this is our last chance to hang out for a while!" Inoue said.
"Except for Keigo here. He's taking a gap year because he doesn't know what to do with his life," Mizuiro pointed out.
Keigo's jaw dropped. "Mizuiro! You were supposed to keep that a secret!"
"It's not a big deal. I'm undeclared, too."
Ichigo smirked. "You guys sure you can handle all the Hollows that pop up while I'm gone?"
Ishida pushed his glasses up his nose. "What makes you think we can't?"
"Of course we will!" Inoue said at the same time, throwing him a thumbs-up. "Ishida-kun and Sado-kun and I have been training to pick up your slack! And there's also Imoyama-san!"
It seemed mean to misname the resident Shinigami on duty while he wasn't here to defend himself, but Rukia smiled anyway.
Tatsuki stepped up and jabbed a thumb to her chest. "Don't forget that Karin and I have been training with Urahara, too! We're both going to join the Karakura Defense Squad soon enough."
Ishida scowled at her. "What? I wasn't aware we had a name. Karakura Defense Squad is stupid."
"But I came up with that name…" Inoue muttered.
Ishida turned away. "…Karakura Defense Squad it is."
Both Ichigo and Tatsuki deadpanned. "Dude…."
Isshin and Karin carried a few more boxes out, immediately separating the crowd of teenagers. "Whew, you kids have way too much energy. You could've helped carry the rest of these out."
Ichigo snorted. "We're gonna have to make multiple trips anyway, Dad. You didn't have to bring all my stuff out at once."
Isshin waved him away. "It's easier this way! Besides, your friends have those tickets to the Soul Society, so they can help carry your things to your dorm."
"What about you?"
"Someone's gotta watch Yuzu and Karin."
"We can take care of ourselves, Dad," Karin snapped. "Stop treating us like little kids."
"Don't say that! You're gonna make me feel old!"
Rukia laughed to herself as she picked up a nearby box. She was certainly going to miss this lively atmosphere. As long as Ichigo was by her side, however, she'd still be content with wherever he chose to live.
She smiled up at him. "Come on. Let's go home."
Ichigo returned the grin easily, and together, the two stepped through to their new future.
A/N: My first fic for Ichiruki Week 2021! I have another one-shot planned to release this week, too, so watch out for that!
Ichiruki fans might also want to keep an eye out for the Ichiruki AU 'zine releasing June 1st! I wrote a one-shot for that 'zine, and there's so many other talented writers and fanartists working hard on it, too! Please order a copy when it comes out!
We're slowly releasing previews of everyone's amazing work. You can follow the 'zine's progress on Twitter and Tumblr!
*Crossposted to AO3.