Her Shooting Star

Ichigo stared up at the sky, hand stretched toward the glinting heavens. Only a few wispy clouds drifted across the flawless expanse, and stars twinkled up there, like God had taken a multitude of precious jewels and thrown them in all directions. Ichigo didn't like to think about it like that, though. Jewels were just another overrated item. To him, the stars looked like tiny peepholes in the dark. When he was little, he'd thought that if he could jump high enough, he could see right through them to eternity. And he'd tried.

He didn't think like that now, but that didn't change the fact that they were beautiful. He'd paid enough attention in school to know that those 'miracles' up there were no more than balls of burning gas and hydrogen, but somehow it still felt like magic to lay in the grass on nights like this and look up at them.

He and his mom had done it when he was little. She'd sit him on her lap and they'd both lay back so he was on top of her, and she'd point the constellations out to him.

He swore roughly, sitting up. Suddenly the beauty of it seemed to fade away into an indeterminate grey. He wasn't a kid anymore. Kids wasted their time like this, wishing for things that had been to be again. He grumbled as he lifted his lanky body up, stretching. After a few satisfying pops, he settled down onto the grass again.

It really wasn't often that the sky was this clear...

"It's nice, isn't it?"

If the voice itself hadn't startled him enough, the fact that its owner vaulted from the nearest tree and landed lithely beside him definitely did the trick.

She was mere inches from him.

Ichigo pushed himself away and gaped up at her. "Wha—? Rukia? What the hell were you doing up there?" he demanded.

"Same as you. Just taking advantage of the nice weather." Her face was calm and cool as she let her tiny body fall back on the grass. She released a sigh that somehow seemed too heavy for her small frame.

Ichigo moved a few more inches away for good measure and plopped down, too.

"What do you think they look like?" he asked.

Somehow she knew what he meant. "Me? Plain old stars. Why ask a stupid question like that?"

He sat up and gave a reply that was part growl, part resignation. "No reason."

Rukia extended her hand toward the stars, closing a single eye and then closing her hand. She dropped it to the ground without opening her fist. "What's the big deal? You can't reach them, anyway." She stopped herself, as if there was more she wanted to say. Finally she whispered, "When I was little...in Rukongai, I met with some boys and I found a home with them. We'd all look at the stars some nights, when we weren't running. It was nice, because it felt like hope. When they all died, only me and Renji were left. We decided that it's not much use reaching for them. Why reach for what you can't touch?"

Ichigo heard a sad bitterness in her voice that grabbed his attention. It didn't seem like her. He looked back over, but her face showed almost nothing.

"You know what?" he said, "You're depressing."

She grinned twistedly. "Idiot. I just have more realistic dreams." She got that look in her eye that said she was ready for some Ichigo-torturing. "So, you asked me...now answer your own question. What do they look like to you?"

"Stars," he grumbled. "Just stars."

"Sure," her eyes were conspiratorial.

Too many moments passed in silence. Ichigo covertly glanced over at the small, dark-haired shinigami.

"Okay. I think...I think they're more than just stars. I don't know what they are, though, so don't look at me like that. They seem so cold, but when I look up at them like this, when the sky is clear...I sort of feel closer to Mom." He looked at Rukia, as if expecting her to laugh or prod him, ready to withdraw his words with a self-deprecating laugh or discount them with some wild display of idiocy, but she did nothing. She simply nodded.

The silence that stretched between them, even though it was expanded and bridged by memories that neither was willing to share, was for once not filled with awkwardness and uncertainty.

"You reach for them anyway," he finally said, breaking the silence. "That's why you were up there, right?"

She looked over at him. He wondered what expression was on his face, because her denial faded, replaced with a grudging smile. "You sure are perceptive for an idiot, sometimes."

He grinned. "Just don't tell anyone."

She didn't look at him. "I don't know why...they really are too far away. I guess it's naive and stupid to think that maybe I'll catch one."

A light flashed across the sky, there then gone.

A shooting star.

"What's that?" Rukia asked.

Ichigo smiled. "I don't think you should ever stop reaching," he said simply. "That's even stupider than holding on, ya dope."

Because sometimes, even when you can't reach them, a star will fall just for you.

Author's Notes: Oh man! Another Bleach story. Gah, must get to work on a Trigun fic! (beats head) Hehe...Ichigo may seem a bit soft here, but if he likes Shakespeare, there's gotta be something other than gruffness under his tough exterior, whether the emotionally-challenged idiot realizes it or not. Anyway, reviews bring light and happiness to this obsessive little author's day. Please review?