Notes: Fluff. This is fluff down to its very painfully sweet core. This will decay your mental teeth. Read at your own risk! It's a bit sad, but when I think of all the things that people take for granted, the things that some don't have the chance to experience...I get sad, too. Thanks for taking the time to look! I hope you enjoy the story! I know it may be a bit too fluffy, but Ichigo isn't as shallow or emotionless as he likes to pretend he is. I'd like to imagine that maybe he might think of things a little bit like he does here...

"Because! Well, I...I mean—just because! 'Cause it's obvious!"

"Because why?" Rukia challenged, leaning closer to the frustrated boy beside her. "Don't you have a reason? You're pretty pathetic if you don't. Better tell me or I'll do it again!"

Ichigo swore heavily. "Cause you could get killed, you idiot!"

She ran across the street anyway, weaving between a few cars and waving obliviously to the pissed drivers. "School is out, world!" she cried to no one in general. Though of course she had not attended regularly, playing with her memory modifier made it seem like she had to most of the students, and she acted like any teenager on the last day of school.

When Ichigo looked, he saw that the enthusiasm wasn't there, though.

She was just playing schoolgirl again. For some reason, it hurt to see her that way, pretending for all she was worth that she was just another average teen. There was the littlest bit of hardened cynicism around the corners of her mouth that even her talented acting couldn't wipe away, and a slope to her sorrowful blue eyes that spoke of more pain than anyone should have had the misfortune to see. Ichigo saw it because he saw it in himself, every morning, as he put on his own act to hide his true face.

Rukia skipped down the sidewalk and onto a bridge, visibly happy to all except the person who could see what she really felt. After a few moments, she stopped, beautiful eyes riveted on a happy scene far below the bridge they walked across. Her fingers twined into the fence as she stared down, entranced, as a mother gently played with two young children. "Ichigo...what's that?"

If hearts were made of glass, as all those sappy cliches seemed to imply they were, Ichigo's would have cracked. "It's a playground, Rukia." What the hell? What kinda kid doesn't know what a playground is? The kind that stood in front of him, he supposed. He forced himself to act light-hearted. "Oh, come on. You've gotta be joking."

She shrugged and continued on. He walked ahead of her, and didn't mention it again. After they'd walked for a bit, Rukia spoke up. "This isn't the way you usually walk home..."

"I know. We're not going home."

He wandered along the dusty path to the park's playground. Green leaves overshadowed the walk, whispering secrets to each other over the soft wind. Above them, little bits of violet sky peeked through the leaves, strewn with clouds of the same color and a promise of a magnificent sunset. He arrived in front of a swing set. "You ever been on one of these?"

She shook her head. "We should get home."

"Nah, I'm gonna show you some stuff. It should not be legal for any living human to be ignorant to the great things about playgrounds. Sit in the little seat, there. My mom...she used to do this for me, when I was younger. She'd sit me down..." Rukia sat down. Ichigo grabbed the chains and swung gently. "And she'd do this. Back and forth. I liked to see how high I could go. Rukia...you weren't kidding when you said you didn't know what any of this was, were you?"

She shrugged. "Don't see how it matters. There are lots of things I didn't get to see."

"But—" She seemed so nonchalant about it, so carefree. But she wasn't. Everything in her voice and posture begged him to drop the subject. Ichigo bit his lip. "I mean—I'm sorry."

Rukia broke in, brushing his words away and awkwardly avoiding his gaze. "Damn it, Ichigo! Enough with the pity! I don't need it. I died in the real world when I was an infant. I didn't have a chance to see or remember anything. Then I was with a sister I don't even remember, running to survive in Rukongai. Even when I found some people to be with, I didn't have time for that kind of stuff. But I'm me and I grew up like I did so give it a rest. Life isn't all bubbles and smiles and happy memories."

Yeah, he knew that. But despite everything, even though his mother was dead, he remembered her, remembered her laughter and her caring kisses goodnight. He remembered the way he'd pretend to be all grown up for her, and how she'd let him taste the sweets she made. Bedtime stories while sitting in her lap...he remembered those, too. And Rukia didn't have any of it, any of those memories. How dare he even think he could imagine what she'd been through? He sighed.

He couldn't show all that to her, and couldn't give her all the memories and motherly compassion that his mom had given him. She didn't like compassion, anyway.

So maybe he'd give her the only thing he could give: love. And love wasn't something you gave because you felt sorry for a person. It was something you gave to someone like her. Someone who'd turned your life upside down...someone you'd give your life for because you just couldn't live without them. And it didn't need to be spoken. Ichigo thought he'd never actually say it, because words would ruin it. Besides, words couldn't do it justice.

"You're right. I don't need to show you anything. But I'm gonna show you anyway because I suck and because I don't think you can jump farther than I can. But we'll worry about that later. For now, you swing and I'll push."

She got used to pulling her legs in and kicking them out to bring her higher, and he watched as the gentle purple light illuminated her features. She looked calm and at ease. If he could do nothing else in the whole world, he thought he'd like to make this one person happy. If all his other efforts were wasted, he thought that maybe it would be worth it if he could give her a smile. And then he realized how much he sounded like a complete idiot.

But then he realized it was all true, and that it didn't matter if he sounded like an idiot.

He pushed. She swung forward.

I'm behind you. I'll always be behind you, Rukia. Don't be afraid.

He pushed against her back as she leaned back again.

If you fall, I'll catch you, and if I can't catch you, then I'll fall with you until we both hit the bottom.

He stepped back this time, letting her swing far beyond his reach, laughing to the sky and smiling like she meant it. He took a swing beside her.

They never did get around to jumping. They just swung until the sun was blanketed by the horizon, until darkness was almost complete. When they finally got off, they drank at the water fountain and splashed a good amount of water on each other.

She was silent as they left, but she walked closer to him. She didn't put on the schoolgirl act. Even in silence, they were comfortable. Halfway home, bathed in deep violet darkness, she whispered slow words against his side. "Thank you, Ichigo."

He smiled and didn't answer, reaching an arm around her and using the most convenient excuse. "Don't get all weird on me. I'm just making sure you don't run across the street again."

He took off his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders. He might have been just a bit too enthusiastic when they'd splashed each other. Her clothes were damp and the wind was chilling.

She smiled and turned away so he couldn't see that she was happy.

He smiled and covered it with a quick look of indifference.

Some things would never change.

Author's Notes: See? I have sunk to the lowest of lows, people! Mindless fluff. I hope I was able to portray the unspoken affection between these two, though. They'd never really say any of it, but I sometimes imagine that they might think it. Anyway, I was thinking of writing a sort of semi follow-up with Ichigo as the clueless one...when Rukia brings him to Rukongai! I think it would be fun. And I'm sorry I haven't really updated! I've been either busy, plagued with writer's block, or away with my dad (I'm currently with him for a month. He drives a truck so I'm all over the U.S! The problem is that only some of the places we stop at have internet access.) So...any thoughts would be absolutely cherished! Please, Please Review?