I felt I owed this to you guys. Especially after the MONSTER review sesh you had for chapter one! 20! I wasn't expecting that at all. But thank you XD You are all lovely.

Not gonna lie, there were a few low points and I'm not totally thrilled with the end results. I never understood what people meant when they said they weren't happy with it, but I do now. It was because I had to sort of push it into existance. So this one is kind of a filler and I didn't really feel it (Yeesh that sounded pretentious) But I wanted to give this to you guys before I changed my mind. But hey, you can give me tips!

Oh and this one is loooooooooooooooooong!

Don't own Bleach, wish I did though.

Amendment: I re-wrote a little of it, Rukia has some powers but not many...yet. I just didn't like cutting that possibilty off, we'll see how it goes :D

Cold, cold, cold! Bloody, bloody cold!

Rukia's teeth chattered as she pulled on thick woollen stockings under her blankets. Gods, she hoped it would warm up. It was freezing! Why wasn't her fire heating the house? Had it gone out? She looked across to the hearth where she had laid a fire just yesterday and...

Oh.

A large figure lay, curled up, under blankets by the fire which was still smouldering but whose creeping tendrils of warmth hadn't reached her.

Is he absorbing it all?

Ichigo took that moment to roll onto his back in a tangle of covers and yawn before spreading himself out like a hearthrug and pulling the blanket up over his body again. At once, Rukia felt a wave of warm air whisk over her and she leaned into it with a sigh. Yes, that was it then. She would have to sort that problem out.

I guess you've decided he's staying then? Did you think that through?

Yes, exactly the same way you thought through kissing him, stupid.

No! No, I was just proving a point.

Or have you just been alone too long?

You're having a conversation with yourself; of course you've been alone too long!

Ichigo rolled over and muttered something in his sleep. Rukia looked across at him and rubbed her neck, feeling guilty. Had she taken advantage of him last night? He seemed nothing more than a child and she had leapt on him like some kind of succubus. She looked at his sleeping form before getting up and crossing over to him, stepping over his large body, and leaned down over the fire, reaching for the poker, prodding the fire until the smouldering remains of the charcoal broke open and lay there like cakes of gold, waves of heat rolling over the surface. Quickly though, they faded to red and then became lifeless, despite her poking. She growled and stabbed the metal tool into the ashes, frustrated.

Witches are supposed to be able to light fires with their minds aren't they?

She poked the fire savagely again, then, scowling, she turned around to see a pair of frightened amber eyes staring up at her.

Ichigo felt like warm cobwebs had crossed his skin. He cracked open an eye and saw, for the first time in a long time, a ceiling instead of the sky. He blinked. His head lolled to the side. And he beheld the figure of Rukia, in a grey dress, who had just stepped over him and was now picking up a...metal poker. As he felt his stomach clench in fear, she thrust it forward into the fire, burying the tip deep in the ash, which released a little plume of sparks. She was half muttering to herself, a sort of constant low hush, half formed words that tumbled over each other and he could hear the irritation in them.

What had he done? She stabbed at the fire a couple of times before spinning around and meeting his gaze. He was still lying down as he gazed up at her, tense and frightened, while she gripped the poker and swung it up over her shoulder. He flinched and closed his eyes, waiting for the blow. But heard only a clink as the poker was set down and then again, the feeling of warm cobwebs brushing over his shoulder, he realised this time it was the hem of her skirts.

"Do you want some breakfast?" said a low voice.

He opened his eyes again and looked up at her. She was looking down at him, head tilted to one side, but her eyes were closed off and cold.

"Um..."

"I've only got porridge and bread. We need water for it. Will you get some?"

"I-"

She picked up the bucket and thrust it at him. He caught it and clutched it to his bare chest, the metal rim pressed to his heart. She raised an eyebrow as he continued to sit there, looking nonplussed and nervous.

"Well go!" she snapped.

It was like someone had flicked a birch switch against his legs. He scrambled to his feet and ran out the door to the pump. Twigs and leaf mulch worked into the fresh bandages around his feet and his breath clouded and swelled in front of him as he approached the black handle of the pump.

On the first attempt the water barely came out at all, then too much and knocked over the bucket. Ichigo glanced back at the door before picking it up and trying again, holding it this time. He didn't want to make her angrier with him.

With a full bucket, at last, he half walked, half ran back to the cottage. Rukia was building a new fire. She was piling up wood and tied bunches of bracken and laying it on the remains of the old. She didn't notice him, so he walked up behind her holding the bucket. When she sensed him she jumped and spun around almost knocking it from his hands.

With an annoyed 'chk' sound she took it from him and put it down next to her, then went back to the fire. Ichigo stood still for a moment before she shot him a look and he went to sit down before the table where there were now some bowls and a loaf of bread. He was so hungry, but looking at Rukia, seeing her angry movements as she stoked the flames, he thought it might be better just to wait. Even though his stomach growled impatiently he held back and instead watched her making the porridge.

Rukia stirred the milk and water furiously, beside her a bowl of oats waited to be added and some currants she had procured last month for flavour, beside them. The milky water began to simmer and so she took the bowl and poured them into the cast iron pot. As the smell of warm porridge filled her nostrils she felt her anger beginning to dissipate and be replaced instead by a sore feeling in her heart. It took her a moment to understand that she was feeling lonely. Scoffing quietly she threw the currants in with more than the necessary force and stirred faster.

When they were piping hot she wrapped the handle in a towel and took it off the fire. Ichigo was huddled by the window, head bowed, shoulders hunched. He was doing that thing where he tried to make himself look as small as possible. It wasn't working. Her eyes softened marginally when she looked at him. He still looked nervous but then his tummy growled again and he shifted uncomfortably. With a small smile that he couldn't see she poured porridge into his bowl and her own then put down the pan and began to slice bread.

Ichigo looked at his plate carefully, instead of at her. Her chin rested in her hand and she stared out the window. Even though his food smelled good he was too nervous to eat it.

Ask her, his subconscious whispered. No.

Ask her, ask her, ask her!

"Rukia." He said, then bit his lip. She turned a little but didn't break her gaze from the window.

"What's, um, what's wrong?"

Then she looked at him.

"You look unhappy."

"Well, maybe I am."

She turned back and continued to gaze solemnly from the window.

"Are you angry at me for something?"

She jumped and looked at him again.

"Ichigo!" she cried, "No, of course I'm not! Oh I'm sorry, this is just me; I put myself in a bad mood and took it out on you. I'm sorry."

"Oh."

Ichigo hesitated for a moment, then put out one of his hands and covered her delicate white fingers with his own. She jumped and looked down at him before drawing her hand away. Ichigo flushed, he shouldn't have done it. She would definitely be angry now.

"Aren't you chilly?" she asked nodding at his body.

"No. I'm used to the cold," he said, looking at his food.

"Well eat up," she said nodding to his food, "We can't sit around all day."

Ichigo's brow furrowed and Rukia couldn't help but chuckle, it made him look like a puzzled puppy.

"Ichigo, I can't just have you stay here, eat food, sleep, borrow clothes, you'll need to help me."

"Oh."

"Yes, oh don't worry. I only need you to help me chop wood and things."

"Oh."

"What have you never chopped wood before?"

Ichigo looked away; he didn't want to tell her he hadn't. Tessai had always taken care of that. They had a complicated heater which Urahara had procured from an old acquaintance, he wasn't sure but Ichigo had an idea that the acquaintance hadn't been too thrilled about letting it go. Whatever the story was, Ichigo had never been allowed near the fancy cooker. Tessai had always been the one to load it and bring fuel, which was only partly wood anyway. Some of it was chemicals. He realised at this point that Rukia was trying to get his attention. He looked up. She was smiling at him now.

"Ichigo, have you or haven't you ever chopped wood?"

Ichigo looked at his plate.

"No."

"Right, good, finally. Now eat up, we'll go out and I'll show you how."

She smiled wider when his eyes met hers looking excited and grateful, but still he couldn't help but think she looked a little sad.

One of Rukia's cloaks skimmed the back of his legs. It was far too short but it was wool and it was keeping him warm. Winter was almost at its end, or it should be. Ichigo knew he was about seven months old and his master made him in high July. That meant that winter was coming to an end. Soon it would be spring. Ichigo hadn't seen spring. He had been looking forward to it, Ururu told him it was beautiful.

Rukia was tramping in front of him, breathing heavily in the cold. Her breath appeared in little puffs before her, white clouds of warmth that Ichigo tried to pass his hands through when they disappeared into the air.

She had the axe in her hand and was looking carefully at the floor to make sure she didn't trip. Finally they reached what they had been heading too. A cut down tree in the middle of a clearing; there were wounds in the side that showed where branches had been cut off and a large stump with axe marks on its ringed surface where she had been using it as a platform to cut up smaller logs. Rukia raise the axe and slammed it hard in the tree trunk where it stuck. Then she turned to Ichigo, hands on hips and a purposeful look on her face.

"You ready?"

Ichigo nodded so she bent over and picked up a small log and set it on its end on the stump where the tree had once stood. She yanked the axe out of its place then raised it and let it fall deftly splitting the wood in two.

"Now you try." She said, handing him the axe and picking up another small log. Kicking her own example off the stump she set it upright and steadied it before stepping away and nodding that Ichigo could have a go.

Ichigo didn't want to get it wrong or appear timid so he stepped forwards, gripped the axe handle and raised it high. He brought it down.

Thwack.

The log shattered.

Splinters shot in every direction, Rukia squeaked and threw up her arms to protect her eyes. Ichigo stumbled back dropping the tool.

At the same time they lowered their arms and looked at the remains.

"Well," said Rukia, "we can always use that one as kindling."

Ichigo was now alone, chopping. He was getting pretty good. There was a large pile of wood next to him that he was going to take back to Rukia. She had headed back telling him she had 'things to do'. He could find his way back from here. It wasn't too far.

As he split the last log-whose two halves flew away from each other with a satisfying crack!-he decided he had enough and began to gather them up in his arms before balancing the axe on top and heading back through the trees. He looked around as he went, looking for signs of spring, but saw none. But he was going to keep an eye out. He wanted to catch it first chance he got.

The sound of the cottage door opening reached him and for a happy second he thought Rukia was coming to meet him. Then he heard voices, and not just that; a man's voice. He stopped then stepped behind a tree. Peering around, he saw a fairly tall man, not too old, with dark hair which came down to his shoulders, he was talking to Rukia who had a dark blue shawl around her shoulders and who was nodding a lot. Finally he bowed, and then looking around nervously turned and ran into the forest. Ichigo stayed hidden until Rukia closed the door then he stepped out with another unfamiliar emotion boiling in his stomach. One that was screaming,

"Who? Who? Who?"

Ichigo didn't know what jealousy was but he was sure as hell feeling it. It was frightening because he felt like he wanted to follow the man and...do something, something cruel and violent and tell him, tell him, to keep away from Rukia.

He shuddered and pressed his back against the nearest tree, he didn't want to feel that way at all. Instead he waited until he was sure the man wasn't coming back, then walked up to the door and opened it quietly. Inside Rukia leaned over something he hadn't noticed before, a trap door in the floor. He could see it held all sorts of things, food, material, bundles of herbs, a pestle and mortar and some glass boiling tubes. As he took in the sights of some labelled bags Rukia felt the air from the door and whirled around, nearly stepping in the pit.

"By God Ichigo!" she yelped, "What the hell are you doing? Don't sneak up on me that way!"

Ichigo scowled heavily and Rukia stepped back a little in fear. When he scowled that way the scars were noticeable; most definitely.

Without a word he threw the wood on the floor with a mighty clatter then turned and marched out the door. Before she could follow he had rounded the house, found the chimney and swung himself up onto the roof. Once up there he curled up and scowled at the sun as it skimmed the tree tops. It was chilly up here but he had decided he didn't care so he simply curled up and clenched his teeth as he heard the door open and Rukia come out after him.

"Ichigo," she called, and then she spied him, "Ichigo! Come down! What if you fall through the roof!"

Ichigo harrumphed and scowled as deep as he could.

"Ichigo!"

He was going to ignore her. He wasn't going to talk.

"Ichigo! Answer me! You big orange sasquatch!"

He spun around, wobbled a bit, and glowered down at her. But when he couldn't come up with anything to say, he turned back and wrapped his arms around his knees. It was later than he had thought, the sun was much lower in the sky and the clouds were starting to bleed pink.

"Ichigo."

Ichigo nearly fell off the roof.

Because suddenly she was up here too. Rukia was standing beside him, arms folded, with an eyebrow elegantly raised.

Ichigo's mouth opened and shut a few times then he turned away and looked at the sun, rolling lazily over the pine tips. Rukia sat down and shuffled up beside him.

"You know you can't have a tantrum every time I scold you. Sometimes you have to accept when you've-"

"Who was that man?" Ichigo interrupted, saying it in a rush.

There was silence beside him.

"What man?"

"The one I saw."

"There wasn't any-"

"Yes there WAS!"

Rukia jumped.

"Alright, well, he was just passing through."

"Then why were you talking to him, and why did you keep nodding?"

Ichigo's hands were gripped tightly in his trouser legs.

Rukia sighed. She guessed there was no real way of getting around it.

"I think you'd better come and see this."

He heard her rise and leave the roof, how, he wasn't sure, but she was gone, just as silently as she had come.

Ichigo could only sit still for a while longer before he heard the sound of singing from the open doorway. Then reluctantly rose, walked across to the roof edge and jumped down. He landed lithely, like a big cat, and straightened up, brushing himself down.

"In a field down by the river, my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder, he laid his gentle hand.
He bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears."

She had a gentle sweeping voice that held him still. Occasionally the softest tremor shook it.

Then there was a gentle tap on the window and he saw Rukia there, one pale finger at the glass beckoning him in.

She smiled as he jumped and stared at her wide eyed, then started for the door. Inside the wood was still scattered around and Ichigo stepped around it, guiltily, keeping his eyes firmly on the floor. Rukia was rustling around by the table, arranging things he didn't dare look at. But finally she was waiting for him to turn to her, so he had no choice but to raise his eyes and look from under his lashes.

There were herbs and knives and stones beside a big bowl with a grinder in it, along the table edges there were many little bottles, waiting to. Rukia was standing beside it, her hands folded against her skirt.

"This is what I do Ichigo."

She paused and sighed, looking off to one side.

To a normal person, at this point, they might have seemed surprised or in the worst case, horrified, But Ichigo was not a normal person. Instead of leaving or looking horrified, he cocked his head to one side. Rukia knew the sign; it was the sign that he hadn't understood what she meant by showing him this.

"The wise woman. They call me a witch."

Ichigo did recognise this word.

"But witches are ugly."

"Perhaps that's why they call me it." She said, more to herself than to him.

"No," he assured, "No one could ever call you a witch."

Rukia smiled sadly and bitterly.

"I wasn't talking about the outside."

She blinked away her tears and coughed to stop her voice from sounding shaky.

"It's not without reason I suppose. I live alone out here, no man, people come and see me for remedies they don't understand and suddenly heal their ills. Men come out here more often, some looking for love potions to charm girls, then when I explain I don't sell them they try to charm me."

Ichigo looked frightened.

"So that man was-"

"Oh no!" Rukia cried, "That mans daughter is very sick. He needed a remedy. But his wife doesn't like me because my old mentor gave her brother poppy gum after he broke his arm falling out of a tree. But he became addicted and died of the affects."

"That's sad." Ichigo said softly.

"Yes, I suppose it is." She said gazing at him, a small smile on her face. "Some might say it was weakness."

Ichigo only looked at her, so she shrugged and gestured to the floor.

"Shall we tidy up?" she asked, "Then we can get a fire going for tonight."

Ichigo nodded softly and she smiled at him then picked up a log at her feet and brushed past him to set it in the fire.

Ichigo felt a shiver go through his body from where she had touched him and touched his other hand to his elbow where she had been.

Rukia felt gritty all over, she hadn't bathed in a while, so she was filling the bath.

There was one problem.

Ichigo.

It was no use; she couldn't wait another day. It was too nasty. Besides she had already decided, she would just ask him not to look. And he would do as she asked.

The tin bath steamed as she unlaced her dress and pulled it off, letting her ribs expand in her linens. It was so lovely after a whole two days, to really breathe. It felt like letting go. Soft. Rukia stood on her toes, reaching up, and listened to her bones click. There was the sound of her door opening and closing. It was Ichigo with one more bucket which he put on the floor. He looked at her curiously at her in the white petticoat. Rukia shivered lightly and crossed her arms across her body to try and protect against the cold.

"You're having a bath?" he asked slowly.

"Well I would like to." She said as she smiled a little. "Would you mind?"

Ichigo shook his head but didn't move.

"Um, Ichigo, I would prefer it if you just sat on the bed while I did."

Ichigo shrugged at her then went and sat on the bed cross legged, still looking at her.

She sighed at him and shook her head.

"Ichigo, close your eyes."

"Why?"

"Because I don't want you to see my body."

"Why? What's wrong with it?"

Rukia looked confused.

"Nothing."

"Then why are you ashamed?"

"I'm not! Look Ichigo, it's just improper! So will you shut your eyes?"

Ichigo looked confused and his brow creased. Then he looked at her face again, thrown into half light and looking frustrated. He felt guilty at that point and so shut his eyes. Hearing the gentle sigh, and the rustle of her linens hitting the floor, Ichigo's eye cracked open, and shut tight again.

Concentrate, eyes shut, concentrate.

The smell of the bath and her and the fire washed over him, the slosh and ripple of her stepping into the water. Ichigo's eye opened a little, it felt like breathing, the way they sort of sighed open, he really didn't mean to, he just needed to. Why? Oh...that was why.

The curve of her back was flawless and lovely, moving down into her buttocks. She was shaped like an 'S'. Smooth like the sound.

I touched that curve, thought Ichigo.

Yeah but she smacked you when you did, whispered another voice.

But I still got to touch it.

Ichigo felt funny. His chest was all tight and his stomach bubbly. He felt like he needed to speak but he was sure if he opened his mouth words would come out in a jumble, either that or he would be sick. Besides, then she would know that he had peeked at her. Peeked. Peaked.

This was the best thing he had been allowed to watch, but why did he feel so ill?

Her legs appeared, propped up on the edge of the bath and Ichigo couldn't help but let his mouth release a little squeak.

"Ichigo?" her voice sounded lazy, and tired.

"I'm fine." He said in a voice that was far too high.

"You sure?" she asked and leaned around the edge of the bath.

"Yes." He said, sounding more resolute now that she was looking at him.

Be brave, be brave.

He was frightened.

She smiled once and turned away; Ichigo let out a breath and sank back on the bed.

Safer, safer not to see.

Ichigo's heart was knocking at his rib cage, when he saw...her... Ichigo couldn't understand. He felt like he wanted to push her over, why was that? He wanted to push her down and hug her and he wanted her to hug him back, he wanted to see what her skin tasted like. He felt like doing something wrong. So instead of thinking he rolled over and curled up. He squeezed his eyes tight to block out the uncomfortable situation he found himself in. Silently, he pressed his hands against his body and willed it to go away. He would not cry...

He would not cry.

Rukia towel dried her hair as she approached the bed. Ichigo was curled up, sleeping soundly. Her white nightdress was sticking to her because her skin was still damp, but she didn't mind. The only problem was where she would sleep. The bath was on the hearth and Ichigo was in the bed. Rukia finished rubbing the tendrils of wet hair and gazed silently down at him. He was so innocent, the way he had been asking her why she was embarrassed was just so...childlike...virginal. It was sweet.

She chucked the towel at the back of the chair. What if he rolled on her? Well she'd notice, he'd notice. She'd be cold if she was anywhere else.

It was pitch black outside and the gold light of the leaping flames reflected on the glass of her little windows.

Sod it! she thought with a grin, she knelt on her bed and lay down next to Ichigo's curled form, wrapping one arm around his big body. He felt so tense and for the barest second she wondered why before he relaxed and leaned into her.

Rukia's heart swelled a little when she felt his heart beat against her hand.

My sweet boy...

Then her eyes fluttered and closed and drifted away, with a warm body and a heart beat under her fingers.

What did you think?

And for those of you still floating in an ambiguous mist...Ichigo got a hard on. I didn't want to go into it too deep since -being a girl- I do not know what that feels like. But if anyone would care to tell me what it is like and what its like when one appears at an...ah...inopportune moment then that will be useful for future reference (plus I'm in need of a good laugh) XD

Again, sorry for my truly crap editing (or lack thereof) and any mistakes will eventually be corrected.

Please review again because it gave me such warm fuzzies last time (seriously, I was rolling around on my bed "squeeing" madly)

REVIEW PLEASE!