Hold Me: Never Alone
Disclaimer/Notes: I got to wondering, which is always a very, very bad thing. Considering the properties of Rukia's zanpakutou... I wondered if maybe she could ice skate. And when thinking about that, I remembered Ichigo's general aversion to dreary weather, so I wondered...has he ever learned at all? There are also some mentions of Chappy—the gikongan who occupies Rukia's body when she is in shinigami form, and an artifact Ichigo acquires that allows him to get out of his body without the help of Kon.
It didn't feel so good being on the wrong side of stupid.
"You mean... you really... really haven't done it before?"
"And you have?"
"Not under that name, but yes."
And Rukia's face had this twistedly happy, all-knowing smirk, as if he hadn't just told her not to stick her fingers in the toaster this morning. As if she was the smart one, which was totally not true. Ichigo growled and stepped back. "Yeah, well who needs to do something stupid like this, anyway?"
"You do," she said. "Just think of it as a training exercise."
"I don't have skates," Ichigo said.
"That's no problem. I don't, either. You're going to buy me some." The words were so matter-of-fact, as if this was already a certainty.
"Oh, I will?" Ichigo growled.
"Well... unless you want me to tell your dad how we've been having hot, steamy—"
"Okay! You want skates, we'll get skates." They had never had hot, steamy anything, but he knew she wasn't kidding. Then he'd have to deal with his dad's tearful speech about safe sex and becoming a man, and that just wasn't going to happen. Ever.
Rukia clapped her hands together.
A few hours later, the two exited from the store, one considerably more hyper, and the other dead tired and slightly murderous.
Ichigo wasn't the hyper one.
They were halfway home when a realization hit him. They had the skates, but... "Where the hell we gonna get the skating rink?"
She continued strutting forward as if he hadn't spoken at all. "You worry about getting the skates on. I'll worry about the rest."
Ichigo growled under his breath. "What, you want me to pay for that, too? I don't have much money. I'd get a job, but someone has me up at all hours of the day and night playing hide and seek with hollows. I'll be lucky if I even graduate from school at this rate."
"You can shut up now," Rukia said. "Put the skates on." Lithely, she lifted her foot in the air and twiddled her toes at him. "Skates," she repeated. She swung her own pure white ones at her side. "This'll be fun. Don't worry."
They finally stopped in his back yard.
"Ichigo," Rukia said.
"Hmm?" He grunted as he stomped and stomped and stomped, trying to get the stupid skate on his stupid foot, but it wouldn't fit.
"Do you have any neighbors who might be weirded out by strange happenings?"
Ichigo sighed. "Most of the neighbors are strange enough that strange happenings don't—" He stomped again, and growled in frustration. "—get to them," he finished. Finally, the skate slid onto his foot. He figured that this was what a corset might feel like, if it was worn on one's foot.
Rukia dug into the large back she carried, and pulled out a small container. He recognized the happy bunny head on the top. Her gikongan—soul pills.
"Oh, no you don't!"
But she popped a pill, and before he could do a thing about it, her soul emerged from the gigai she resided in. Which meant that Chappy was in the gigai. His attention was soon torn rudely from Rukia's hyper replacement and placed on Rukia. In her shinigami form, she closed her eyes, reaching toward Sodeno Shirayuki's elaborate grip. Coldly, she withdrew the pure white zanpakutou.
"Rukia? Rukia, what the he—"
She was in a fighting stance. A fighting stance.
"Shut up, fool," she said. Taking a deep breath, she spoke, her voice smooth and toneless. "Sodeno Shirayuki." She opened her eyes. "First dance, white moon."
Ichigo honestly couldn't say what happened, but she swung the blade—
Then everything was white. When Ichigo dared to look, he was speechless. A thin, flawless expanse of ice reached to the edges of the back yard and no further.
Rukia smiled and replaced the blade. "See? There's your rink." She knelt, placing one elegantly slender hand upon the ice. She didn't flinch as her fingers touched the cold surface. After a few moments, she nodded and pulled away, flinging excess water from her hand with a flick. "It's flat enough to skate on," she said. Then she smiled. "I've always wanted to do something like that! I wasn't sure if I could control the circle of influence to that extent. I've never tried to do anything over a space so large before."
Ichigo gaped. "You mean—you could have frozen everything?"
She thought for a moment. "Yes."
She shoved aside his objections. "It worked, didn't it? Get those skates on, and let's go."
She lifted the cloth of her shihakushou and slipped the skate onto her foot. It seemed so easy when she did it, almost as if her foot was meant to fit inside that little boot.
She...had really nice legs.
"What the heck are you doing?" Somewhere between one moment and the next, there she was, standing next to him. "Your other skate," she said. "Put it on!"
"Yeah, yeah." He brutally stomped his poor foot into the skate. "Rukia... the truth is, I've never skated. Well... once. At a friend's birthday party, when I was really little. But I'm no good at it. I slammed into the wall and lost both front teeth."
"I'll teach you, then."
She took his hand and walked with him to the edge of the green grass. He heard the grass crunch beneath him—frozen by Sodeno Shirayuki's influence. Finally, they reached the edge.
And Ichigo realized how silly it was to be led by a girl over a foot shorter than him. He could do this! He withdrew his hand from hers.
"Are you sure, Ichigo?" She asked, lifting a skate onto the ice.
"Of course I'm sure! I'm not a baby. I can definitely nail this."
"If you say so." She shrugged. "It's not my problem."
He nodded, and she stepped onto the ice. He didn't move from his place on the grass for a moment, watching her. Her feet barely lifted from the smooth surface—she glided on the ice as if she belonged there. When his mind finally reminded him that he was supposed to be doing that, too, he looked down at his feet. Then he looked at the ice.
"This can't be that bad."
He lifted one skate onto the ice, and then the other.
And he learned that yes, it could be that bad. The ice was much slicker and smoother than any floor, so that the moment he stood, he was slipping. Since he wasn't too enthusiastic about falling flat on his bum, he tried to stay standing. For a whole thirty seconds or so, he flailed around; then he landed flat on his butt. Though the ice had been created, it was as real as any other ice.
She sighed and laughed, skating over to him with enviable ease. If he'd had the presence of mind, he might have been mad at her. His butt hurt too much to be mad. And it was cold. And wet. There she was, though, moving along as if the ice crystals were an extension of her body. When he thought about it, wherever he'd seen her, she'd always seemed just a little bit out of place. Here, though, with a soft mist rising from the ice, with the scrape of her skates upon the flawless surface, she seemed completely at home. This was her paradise, and he was in it with her.
She slid to an effortless stop several inches from him. "Need help?"
A battle between his brain and his pride ensued.
Yes. Ask for help. You need it.
To which his pride screamed, She's a girl! She's tiny! You can do this by yourself.
Common sense disagreed. If you don't, your but is going to freeze off.
Out of interest for keeping that very vital part of himself, common sense won out. "Sure," he murmured gruffly. "Whatever."
She slid backward a few feet, crossing her arms behind her back. "Do you need help?" she repeated.
He paused. He glared.
She began to move away.
"Yes! Okay? Yes, I'm tired of sitting here. I hate water. I hate rain. I hate this freakin' ice. It's evil."
She nodded, smiling and skating in closer. "You get used to it." She held out her hand, and he took it. Bracing herself, she slammed a skate into the ice, leaning slightly forward and standing up as he did. Upright, Ichigo started to move. Rukia immediately grabbed him around the waist. "No. Not yet."
"Then what?" He could see his breath. She was inches away from him. Her hands were warm.
"You wait. Wait until you're balanced. Otherwise, you'll run off half-cocked like you usually do, and you'll break something. This is not about seeing who can move the fastest."
Ichigo nodded. She was so close...
"Are you ready?"
Was he? "I think."
"Okay. Start out slow. And by slow, I don't mean creeping. Skating isn't about walking on ice, so don't lift your feet and stomp them down. Just move. Like me."
Ichigo looked down at her feet.
"Not like that! You're going to trip if you only look down."
"Well, where do I look? There's no other place to look!"
Rukia sighed. "Look at me, then. And... move your skates like...this." She demonstrated as she spoke. "It's okay to look down just this once," she said. "Like this. All you have to remember is that it's not like walking."
He nodded. Then he staggered. Carefully, he regained his balance and started again. After about ten minutes of Rukia's tutoring, he was able to stand on his own, and move with at least a little bit of fluidity. He wasn't ready to do any acrobatics, but he was at least marginally secure on his own two feet. He thought it was an improvement. He thought, if he let go, he might have been able to skate on his own, but it didn't occur to him to pull his hand from Rukia's. It didn't seem to occur to her, either. Her bare hand, slender and warm, encased his.
"I think...I like this," Rukia spoke softly.
Ichigo started. What the hell's she saying? "What do you mean?"
"When I was first adopted into the Kuchiki household, I was able to pass and leave the academy without actually attending the whole period. When I got my zanpakutou...and learned her name... I would do this, sometimes. There was no one else. Renji was often busy, and...I think he believed that it was better for me, if he stayed away. He wanted to let me live the life we'd always wanted, so he didn't visit. And I was alone. I'd do it exactly like this, and I'd be there, day after day, on the ice. I always watched and hoped that, maybe, someone would join me. I wasn't picky. A servant would have been fine."
Ichigo didn't move much, but they were skating, the two of them, in a slow, slow circle. He wrapped his arms around her a little bit more. (He didn't want to fall, after all.)
Rukia continued, her voice softer than snowfall. "No one came. I was Kuchiki-sama, after all, a member of the noble house of Kuchiki. I heard the servants, sometimes. They'd say, 'oh, she looks so pretty,' or 'Kuchiki-sama is out there again, silly girl. She'll catch her death.' But no one ever joined me. This...is the first time I've ever been with someone like this. I was just saying that I like it. It's a bit like I hoped it would be."
Ichigo didn't know what to say. What did one say when the tough girls went soft? He imagined that if he spoke a single word out of place, she would sullenly kick him, and he'd end up on the ice again. He dared to speak, anyway. "I'm glad," he said. There was so much more he could have said, but that summed it up. He was glad...that she could smile like this.
She lowered her head for a moment. "Thank you." She lifted her face, eyes bright. "Thanks for coming. I'm glad."
He felt the warmth of her body next to his, and the feel of her fragile hand around his. She, a shinigami, and he a human. If anyone were to look, it would seem like he, too, was standing by himself. In her shinigami form, free of any fake implements and invisible to normal people, she was just his.
And Ichigo wondered exactly when she'd become his. She'd kill him if she could read his thoughts.
Her fingers gripped his tightly.
How long had she been alone?
He closed his eyes, and he whispered, "I'm here."
Author's Notes: As my sister said when I showed this to her, this is probably one of the most sappy things I've ever written. I think Ichigo has the capacity to be slightly sappy, though. (Even when he avoids saying most things.) Anyway, I love Rukia's zanpakutou. It's so beautiful! I love her more solemn side, too. In fact, everything that is IchiRuki has completely entranced me. I hope this was a fun read! Please review?
NOTE: 1/03/08 I've been going through a writer's block for Bleach, so I probably won't be updating this collection often. I've hesitated to mark it as complete, though, because there are always new ideas, and since it's a collection rather than a connected story, I can't think of any way to make it seem really finished. I'll definitely update as the ideas come, though.
Thanks sincerely for reading.