Slowly Fade Away

'Cause here I go again, talkin' 'bout the rain, and mulling over things that won't live past today
And as I dance around the truth, time is not his friend — But here I go again. Here I go again.

Disclaimer/Notes: I, a mere pathetic, fangirlish, and slightly insane fanfic writer, could never in my wildest dreams hope to own Bleach. The lyrics quoted above are from Casting Crowns' Here I Go Again. While writing this, I somehow got this song stuck in my head. It's another one of those stories that was written quickly in a rush of inspiration. I like it when that happens. (grin)

Rukia had learned that the world didn't stop for anyone, no matter who they were.

Rich or poor, social or friendless, loved or neglected, the world kept on spinning when they breathed their last. The clouds kept moving and changing, and the birds kept singing. The sun continued to shine, no matter what. The world moved on around someone even when their world had been torn to bits.

She'd learned it, but every particle of her existence rebelled against that fact. The world should have ground to a halt right along with her own. Today seemed so much like that day, a calm one where the clouds moved in slowly, so that they caught you unexpected when the cold, cold rain poured down from the sky. Looking up now, she was sure it would rain today.

"Yo. Rukia."

She jumped, unintentionally letting out a squeak. She glared down at the intruder from the tree she sat in, but when she saw his face—that familiar face quirked just slightly with the familiar half-frown, she felt her eyes sting. She blinked forcefully. It was hard to remember that he was just a mortal on this plane. It was so easy to forget that he was a fifteen-year-old boy, so easy to imagine that he was invincible. "Fool! You surprised me," she growled down at him.

He looked so grown-up. A mind torn by tragedy, old beyond its years, trapped in a body so young. Her expression softened. "Whaddaya want?"

"You," he huffed. "Get down from there. You're weirding me out lately, so I'm going to drag you around until you stop looking at me like I'm a freakin' ghost."

But it was so close to that day, wasn't it?

"You just don't do subtle, do you?" Rukia grumbled. She balanced on the tree limb with both feet, and stretched her arms out, then, before Ichigo could guess what was happening, she vaulted down beside him, landing smoothly on her feet as the springy earth bent beneath her. He continued to stare up for what seemed like several long seconds, until finally his mind registered what had happened, and he looked down.

"Idiot! You freakin' idiot! You could have broke your freakin' neck!" He glared, letting out a huff of breath when she didn't respond. He grabbed her hand just long enough to lift her to her feet and drag her along for a bit, then he let go, marking the motion with some flustered words. "Come on."

He was nothing like Kaien. His appearance may have been similar, but that was where the similarities ended. "Be careful, Ichigo," she said.

He looked at her funny as he crossed the street. "Hmm? I think you're really screwed up, Rukia. An' if you keep looking at me like that, we'll never stop walking, 'cause you're creeping me out. Come on."

She followed behind, shaking her head. He was nuts. Ichigo had really lost his marbles. She looked at the mess of insane hair that adorned his head, uncut. It had grown over his ears a bit, and had fallen down his forehead in messy strands. Since she'd first met him, he'd changed. His face was leaner, all angles and points that led up to surprisingly soft eyes that smiled even when his mouth didn't. She found herself smiling at the funny way he walked, all smooth steps and confidence, with the slightest jolt to it that screamed to be noticed, to be heard.

I hear you.

She heard him because he had heard her, and saved her from the blank nothingness she'd condemned herself to.

And now she felt like the girl her body said she was. She felt like the difference in time didn't mean a thing.

The boy ahead of her continued to walk, and Rukia kept following. He finally stopped in front of a small building. Music poured from the entrance, soft and enveloping, sorrowful and beautiful, coming from the strings of a violin. A piano played a gentle accompaniment, lifting the music to a new level of beauty so that it filled her heart until it hurt, until she was full to overflowing, but there was no place to overflow, so it built, and built, and built...

Until she felt it slipping down her face, carried by tears she had once thought she would never shed.

She stepped ahead of him, standing right in the entrance, facing forward so he couldn't see her tears. It was the music. This music did it. Silly, silly Rukia... crying over such a silly little thing. She wiped her face and set her expression into one of indifferent inquiry. "Why did you bring me here?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. I don't have any money on me, so we can't eat there, but the music is really spectacular. I figured I did what I did all of the sudden—don't even know why, and I'm not gonna do much, but that music... it always seems to help." He shrugged. "For me, at least."

He sat on the sidewalk and she followed suit, sitting with her knees curled up to her chest. She stared at the last line of golden light on the horizon as the dark clouds swept over it, listening to nature's contribution to the beautiful music. A soft wind carried the violin's wordless sorrow in a soft, tender way, and the distant rumble of thunder made it seem like nature played the percussion. The wind lifted her hair away from her face. She looked over at him.

"The music is pretty," she said.

He nodded. She let herself melt into the sounds, opening her eyes to see him looking down at her. All she saw was the present, now. No echoes of that distant past.

She nodded to him, and he understood. "Any time," he said.

She smiled.

"So we go home now?" he asked laughingly. "That was an awful lot of walking." He sighed. "Oh, well. Can't be helped. Come on."

Come on, he said. Like she'd always be behind him.

"Yeah." She got to her feet and crossed the street beside him.

"Hurry," he said, pushing her forward. "Or you're gonna get wet." He glanced to the brimming black sky. She did, too, stumbling just a little. One bare foot slapped the pavement ahead of her. She threw a quick glance back.

"My shoe!"

"I'll get it." Ichigo turned around and bent to retrieve the little white shoe, pushing her onto the sidewalk at the street opposite the cafe. He cast her a smile—one of those smiles that made him look his age, a smile young and true and filled with an emotion she didn't dare to name—and she smiled back. He turned and looped a finger through the clasp of her shoe, waving it playfully in the air once he'd stood. She turned around, taking a step forward and waiting to hear his footsteps behind her.

A sound like the whistle of wind and the crunch of loose gravel hit her ears.

Too close. It was too close. She spun.

She saw the headlights first, and everything else came together afterward. His eyes, wide with a realization that came too late.

His hand, reaching out to her.


—The sound of yielding flesh against unyielding metal, then the sound of him falling in its wake. The car sped ahead, and all Rukia saw of its driver was wide, frightened eyes that asked, what did I just do? And out of fear, the person drove on.

Rukia cared for none of it. She looked back, willing Ichigo to tell her that it was just a scrape, but her eyes met thick streaks of scarlet on the road and a sprawled form in the center of it all.

Kaien. Ichigo. Kaien. Ichigo.

She shook her head, slowly at first, feeling her fingernails dig into the flesh of her hands. The pain built inside of her until it came out in an agonized scream. "Ichigo!" She staggered forward. Her shoe... her shoe was right there beside him, inches from the fingers of his outstretched hand, covered in his blood—and she fell to her knees next to him, not caring that there might be traffic. She tremblingly pressed her fingers to his neck, and found nothing. "Ichigo." She lifted his head into her lap. "Ichigo." I can't lose you. "Ichigo." And he didn't answer.

His blood soaked into the calm pastels of her dress. She wanted him to wake up so she could tell him that he was making the colors clash. But he didn't move.

It wasn't right. It wasn't. She could almost remember the pride in his voice as he had held that pair of shoes out to her a month ago. Thin, elegant white ones with flat soles, shoes that laced up her ankles. She'd thought they were the prettiest things in the world. She'd never been good at tying them, though.

"For you, Rukia," he'd said, and there had been the most heartbreaking look in his eyes when she'd told him that she liked them. "They were so pretty," he'd said. "So I thought they fit you. I though you'd like them." He'd laughed and helped her put them on for the first time. His fingers on her skin had been so soft. That laugh had filled her heart.

She felt silent tears slip down her face as a realization dawned.

That laugh... she couldn't remember how it had sounded.

That laugh...she'd never hear it, ever again.

The only sound after her scream faded was the deafening echo of utter silence. The world had lost its scent and its color, and all that remained was his blood, still warm even though his cheeks were getting cold. Another sound finally shattered the silence—the violent clash of thunder. While it still echoed in her ears, the rain began to fall, as if lightning had torn the sky in two. Like a movie—like a dream, the rain echoed into the space left by the single burst of lightning, its sound a violent whisper against the trees and roofs and buildings and sidewalks.

This was a dream, right?

But she knew it wasn't. It had happened again. "Ichigo..." It wasn't right. Why him? Why not her?

He was dead. His blood coated her fingers, sliding and dripping down until it met the street. He was dead, and the music from across the street kept playing, beautiful and sorrowful and perfect, the sound of the world moving on without him there to watch it.

It didn't seem fair.

Author's Notes: When you think about it... Ichigo's soul is that of a shinigami. The body is just a vessel, and is useless without the soul. The souls of shinigami are reincarnated into the real world, so... I wonder, if Ichigo died... would Rukia ever see him again? I can only hope that she would. Anyway, this was a little different for me, so any thoughts would be inexpressably appreciated. Please Review!