Sympathy, Friendship, and Love

Disclaimer/Notes: Warning...this is a mushy angsty cutesy love story! I don't own Bleach, and suing would only yield a handful of pennies and a fair amount of pencils and pens, which are my life. This also has some spoilers through the Soul Society arc. Anyway, I really enjoyed writing this, so I hope it's fun to read, too!

It began as sympathy.

His fear...that horror—that indefinable acid emptiness—she'd felt it before. Knowing you were helpess to save was the worst feeling one could ever experience. That's why she'd done it. She'd been willing to do whatever was within her power to save that boy, and to save his family. She didn't want to see the pain she'd felt on someone else's face.

She gave him everything to keep that from happening. And it had worked. They hadn't died. She'd watched him, watched the relief and the pain that stole over his expression.

He'd told her later that he'd already felt that pain. She didn't regret her sacrifice at all, because a link had formed between them. A link of shared feelings, of a common goal. Her powers were now gone, but it was hard to feel regret when he smiled at her.

When his sisters had gotten into trouble, when they had been attacked by that Hollow, she had feared for him. So angry...he'd fought to erase his pain, fought to avenge his mother. He'd fought for Masaki's pride, and his pride, for the agony he'd seen his sisters endure because of her death.

She'd stood by, torn apart by her memories, weighing his pride and his life even though the scale was blurred with the horrible flaw that was emotion.

That turned into friendship.

The bond strengthened, and when she looked at him, she could see behind that serious facade he kept up. She could see the years pain had added to his appearance, and she could see the loyalty and love that his desires had bred. It was a friendship as deep as any she'd ever felt, yet a feeling of relief and comfort she'd never experienced before. She was not alone.

All those hollows had come, and God help him, the stupid fool had fought them back with a strength of will that shocked her. She would have run to him that time after the Menos attacked, damn his pride, but she'd been held back. She couldn't move.

And afterwards...she'd realized the implications of that fight. She'd realized how long she'd stayed, even though the days hadn't taken any time at all. She realized that the friendship she felt had grown into something else.

Her friendship had grown into love.

It was a complication she couldn't accept. Love was an emotion she had banned herself from feeling.

Love only brought pain. A true noble did not feel. A true noble did only what was asked of them.

But she wasn't a noble. She was a human. And she did feel. She felt love and fear and pain...and she ran, because though feeling those was not, to her, a sin, losing them—again—out of inaction, would be unforgivable. She left to preserve his life, even if it meant giving hers away. Would her status spare her life? It hardly mattered in her choice.

He came to her, though, and she'd wanted to cry and scream at him at the same time she'd felt a distant sort of happiness. So angry. She was so angry. He'd touched her and she'd backed away, fearing the love she felt. When it was all over, she thought he was dead. She hated him. She hated herself.

She forbade him to come near her. If he stayed away, he could be safe. She cursed her weakness, but as she crossed the gate between worlds, she couldn't help taking one last look behind her. Thoughts and memories of that peaceful time kept her heart alive in the little cell, but when her sentence was given, she forced herself to forget. Those memories that made her feel alive would only make death more painful. By the time she would be executed, she promised herself that she would be dead inside. In such a world, emotion and hope were enemies.

She shed them along with a few silent tears, and it felt peaceful and yet so horrible to love no longer.

A whispered revelation brought all of her feelings to the surface. Hope and hopelessness fought in her mind as her execution approached. Ichigo had come.

She'd been comforted just to know he was here, and she'd been angry, too, angry that wherever he was, he could have been hurt or dying and she would never know.

Death approached. It seemed impossible. That little bit of hope had wilted like a flower in darkness.

She missed him so much.

At the last moment, he showed up, smiling like a maniac and covered in bandages.

Such a fool.

She'd saved him, and he'd saved her back.

She'd never tell him, but she watched from afar, smiling when he smiled. What had begun as sympathy grew into friendship, and slipped inevitably to love. And somehow...that was just fine with her.

Author's Notes: Feel free to criticize! I can't remember where, but I saw the words sympathy, friendship, and love somewhere, and they stopped me in my tracks. Being the IchiRuki nut that I am, I couldn't help thinking that it encompassed their relationship perfectly. This is more of an introspective piece than anything. I tried to get into Rukia's thoughts, and in doing so, gained a huge amount of respect for her character and for the IchiRuki relationship. Whaddaya think? Please Review!