Until We Meet Again

And I carve your name into my tree, and I wrap my heart around your name
And I took your arrow through my heart... Just to say I love you.

Disclaimer/Notes: No owning of Bleach going on here. If I owned it, the typical shounen battles would let up a bit. But... that's exactly why I don't own it, lol. Shounen will be shounen. But this will be IchiRuki. Mushy gushy IchiRuki fluffiness in which trees, rain and shoes play a major role. So I'm totally okay with just doing fanfiction. This story was written because, with the way the manga's been going on (and on and on) I just needed to do something IchiRuki to satisfy myself. Also, the lyrics quoted above are from Chris Rice's song My Tree, to which I owe the inspiration for finishing this long-unfinished fic. Writer's block is atrocious. (cries)


When he stood in front of her like that, warm eyes wide and disbelieving, she told herself she didn't care one bit that he was here. She told herself she hadn't been waiting for him, hadn't been hoping that maybe, just maybe, the stupid idiot would drop in to say a quick hello. She told herself all of that, but she didn't believe one bit of it. She didn't think he did, either.

But then, her acting had never really fooled him. He'd always been able to see right through.

She looked him up and down, at the way his eyes seemed so full of hope and sorrow at the same time, so that the emotions clashed in the gentle colors, and at the way his hair, usually just a little insane—sticking out every which way—had been wet down by the merciless morning moisture. It had started to rain, plastering the vivid strands to his face. He shivered a little bit, his gaze just like his reiatsu—warm, all-encompassing, and slightly crazy. He drew in deep gasps, blinking as if he didn't believe she was standing in front of him. If she didn't know better, she'd say that he looked like he'd just seen a ghost.

And he'd gotten taller, which wasn't fair, because he wasn't even wearing shoes.

Abruptly, she stepped forward, sending a strong kick into his shin, startling him out of his shocked stupor. She supposed it hurt. After all, she was wearing shoes. "You fool!" she cried. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

He staggered back, defensive. "Wh—what the—?"

She glared. "Idiot! Look at you! You look like you just stumbled out of bed!"

Ichigo seemed to find this slightly amusing, because his mouth turned up the tiniest bit. "I did," he said.

"You—" Rukia growled, stepping back, her feet angrily slapping shallow puddles of water. "That doesn't make it any better! Why did you just get out of bed?"

Ichigo said it like it was obvious. "'Cause I felt you here."

She felt her anger soften and melt completely, but she still kept up the facade that she was pissed. Because if she wasn't pissed, what else could she be? Certainly not happy to see him... Yes. Pissed was much safer than other alternatives. "So you walk out, in the rain—"

"Run."

Rukia flinched. "—And you... Excuse me?"

"Not walked. Ran."

Rukia felt the strangest urge to burst out laughing, a feeling she hadn't felt in an awful long time. "Such a fool," she murmured, but Ichigo knew as well as she did that she wasn't mad at him anymore. So he kept standing there, clad in a white, long-sleeved shirt and pajama pants, soaked to the bone, yet still as defiant as ever.

He was pouting. Or maybe not quite pouting, but definitely sullen. That lower lip stuck out just the tiniest bit, too. He stepped forward, biting his lip gently as both fists clenched together at his sides. Angry. "Why the hell did you take so long? It's been—months. For all I knew, you could have gone off and gotten yourself killed! You could have... called—anything to tell me you were still kicking. You're an idiot, that's what you are!"

And she laughed. She couldn't help it. Because he really was pouting. Rain smoothed his crazy hair down, slipping from his face in rivulets. Those amber eyes of his were glaring, the lashes flickering over them to protect them from the falling rain. He hunched over a little bit, breath still coming in slightly labored gasps. His gaze demanded an explanation. He looked just like a child, with his fists clenched like that.

His face turned pink. "Why are you laughing? Why—wait! Are you laughing at me?"

She nodded solemnly. She wondered if he knew how long it had been since she'd laughed like that.

"You're hopeless!" he cried.

She smiled. "It's nice to see you, Ichigo."

That stopped him cold. "Huh?"

"It's been a while. It's nice to see you again."

"Ah—well... you too. I guess. But—where the hell have you been? It's been a while...I mean... I seriously considered cleaning out that closet, you know!"

She could tell he hadn't. "If you say so. You might want to clean it out, still. I'm not...going to be here long."

His face fell, and she hated herself for making him look like that. "How long?"

"A few hours. I have some business to do here, but then I have to go back. I'm really not supposed to stay long. I've been reassigned. They seem to think that my previous post had become too personal. Remember...emotions are a shinigami's worst enemy."

"So...what? You'll still be coming back here, right? Sometimes?"

Rukia shrugged. "I'm afraid that's not very likely. I've been warned of the rules concerning situations...like this one."

Ichigo shook his head. "I don't care about rules."

Rukia nodded. "I know. But I have to follow them."

Ichigo's expression suddenly darkened. "Byakuya!"

This time, her nod was slower. "He...was the one who made the recommendation. He was doing what he thought was in my best interests, Ichigo."

"No he wasn't," Ichigo grumbled. "He was doing what pleased him. Twisting those damn rules to his liking."

"Stop it, Ichigo."

He scowled. "That stuck-up little—"

"Stop it, Ichigo! I can't be here for long, and I don't want to spend all my time here listening to you ranting. I broke those rules to come here. I lied about having business in Karakura."

"What?"

"I lied. To Nii-sama. To the powers that be in Soul Society. So shut up, I'll kill you if you ruin this."

Several moments passed in which the only sound was the patter of the rain against concrete. "So...where do we go?"

"Nowhere we've been before. Just somewhere."

She saw him there, soaked, and got angry all over again. If he got pneumonia and died right after she left, today, she'd seek him out in Soul Society and kill him again.

"Come on," he said, and she looked up at him.

"Where are we going?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. Just come on. There's not enough time to waste it thinking. Somewhere. Wherever."

So she started walking with him. At first, they followed the park's concrete paths, but after a while, Ichigo stepped off of them and they wandered through the grass for a while, between benches and a fountain overflowing with water from the rain. Everywhere she looked, gentle light reflected off of puddles. Grass licked wet trails down the bare skin that her shihakushou didn't cover. The rough black cloth that contrasted against the pale colors of his bed clothes only reminded her of the distance between them.

And some people thought they had it hard. At least their significant other wasn't in another freakin' dimension.

He stopped so abruptly that she almost ran into him.

"It's a tree," she said.

He cast a glare in her direction. "Oh? I didn't notice," he murmured. "Come on. It'll get us out of the rain."

He was right, Rukia learned, after standing out in the downpour for five minutes just to spite him. He pretended not to care. He got to the point of threatening bodily harm before she gave up—it wasn't much fun—and walked under the shelter of the tree. Emerald green summer leaves made a thick, nearly flawless shelter. Only the occasional drop made it through, spiraling down countless leaves before landing at last on her nose or forearm.

It was nice here. The rain had quieted to a soft, gentle whisper of sound. Her hair stirred with a soft breeze, and she looked over at Ichigo. He looked as brooding and serious as ever. Rukia waited. At last, he spoke.

"So... you're really leaving."

She nodded.

He flinched, like maybe he'd been hoping really hard that she'd yell something like, "April fools!"

"How long?"

"If Nii-sama has anything to say about it, forever."

"And does he?"

Rukia smiled wistfully. "Most of the time."

"So... what?" Ichigo said. "What now?" His voice was dry. His eyes were closed, head pointed in the direction of the leaf-obscured sky.

"What do you mean, what now? You go back to your normal life as a human. Forget being a shinigami. Another will be assigned to this area. You're strong enough to protect the people you care about, now. Your family will stay safe. I know they will."

Ichigo swore harshly. "It's not them I'm worried about, idiot!"

He seemed just about as surprised as he was that he had just blurted that out.

Rukia felt her cheeks color. She waited several extra moments before replying. "Oh." Then, lamely, she said, "I'll be fine." After a pause, she murmured, "I've been fine for a freakin' century, you dope."

Fine, she had been. She'd been fine like when people asked the obligatory question how are you?, and you just said, fine... because you were caught in between intentional indifference and total apathy, never bad, never good, always fine.

"I'll be fine," she repeated softly.

But she didn't fool herself, and she didn't fool him. The kind of fine she had once been was not the kind she ever wanted to be again.

"Rukia," he said softly. "Come here."

Neither of them minded when she sat close to him, silently watching the rain. Rukia was sure that her face was flushed a bright pink, and she had an impulsive urge to call him a fool and an idiot and an incompetent, unprepared, reckless buffoon, just to get her mind off the fact that she was close enough to feel the warmth from his body. Ichigo dug in his pants pocket and pulled something out. It looked like a small, almost rectangular piece of red plastic. Rukia had become well-aquainted with plastic and its wonderfully fun relative, rubber, while visiting the human world. "What is it?" she said.

"A pocket knife."

"Oh? It looks rather pathetic."

"My mom gave it to me when I was little. She told me back then that I was a big boy and could use it to protect myself." He laughed. "Of course I believed her."

"You gonna threaten me with it?"

"No."

"Then...?"

"You're going to write your name with it."

"Creepy. Explain?"

Ichigo turned around. "This tree. I'm gonna carve my name and you're gonna do yours. Sorta like a promise that you're not gonna get yourself killed before you drag yourself back here. And that this isn't gonna be some stupid forever-sort-of-goodbye."

Rukia nodded.

Ichigo set to writing his name, carving it into the smooth bark of the tree, and handed the old blade to Rukia when he was done. She put her name close, close beneath his, so that the letters touched just a little. Ichigo nodded firmly. He traced a heart around the names, and Rukia noticed that he blushed just a little. She wondered why.

"People do that, sometimes," he explained nervously. He looked down for a moment and snapped the small knife's blade back into place. "So that's a promise, right?"

"It's a promise."

They sat close together with a heart wrapped around their names right above them, and neither of them spoke, but both knew what the other was feeling.

"I have to go now, Ichigo," Rukia said.

He nodded, and she wished she'd never met him, because she hated seeing him so sad with only a pathetic, pasted-on smile keeping it from showing. "Yeah," he said quietly. "You know, if you don't come back after a while, I'm gonna raid Soul Society looking for you."

She didn't ask why because she knew he wouldn't be able to answer. Some things were said and understood without words, and it was just fine that way.

Rukia had always felt groundless, dead, and indifferent, but as she walked out from under the tree, the sun shone down through the clouds, indicating that the storm had passed them by at last, and she felt much, much more than plain-old fine. It felt like there was something to return to. She gave the orange-haired boy a final, discreet glance—she sure wasn't going to let him know that she was looking at him—and walked down the hill, already thinking about the next time she had promised to him and carved into a tree. Next time. She liked how it sounded.

"Until then," she said.


Author's Notes: I started writing this a while ago, but was unable to finish it. Argh, the manga has been dragging on so much lately! I haven't read the latest few chapters... mostly just skimmed. I wish Rukia would come back in! There's just been non-stop fighting lately. Heh, don't get me wrong, I love fighting, but it sure has been going on for a while. And when you finally think you'll get a reprieve... a new opponent. I'm about to lose it. Anyway, I just had to do some nostalgic IchiRuki because of major Ichigo x Rukia withdrawals, lately. I hope this was okay! Any thoughts would be appreciated so much. Please Review?