Ichigo stumbles home, exhausted, after an ordinary day of school.
One year ago today, he stood in front of his home, looking up at the sky while the last of his powers faded. He watched Kuchiki Rukia fade away, and that hurt more than the loss of his reiatsu.
Briefly, he wonders what she is doing right now.
The sky is grey and heavy with the promise of rain. Ichigo sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Gods for this. The threat of a summer downpour has people rushing home instead of inviting him to hang out or play sports, and today, Ichigo wants to be alone.
He unlocks the gate, noting that the wind has picked up. The front door has barely closed behind him before a loud rumble of thunder fills his ear. The house is empty, and will be for another two days. His father and sisters have gone to visit their maternal grandmother.
Isshin, sensing Ichigo's disquiet, pretends that he is grounded and cannot accompany them because he has missed so much school. Ichigo, for once, is grateful for his father's perceptiveness. The gratefulness evaporates when Isshin attacks him with an uppercut on their way out. An ordinary family, and an ordinary life.
Ichigo has battled things beyond imagination, and does not resent the loss of his powers and the burden of responsibility that came with them. No, he is happy that he is ordinary, that his biggest concern is that his bento leaked sauce all over his notebooks, and that he does not have to live a double life anymore. When his comrades at arms look at him with pity in their eyes, he does not have to fake his acceptance of his fate.
He does miss Rukia, though. Terribly.
Ichigo rummages through the fridge, finding the last yogurt drink with a note from his sister Yuzu:
Make sure you eat more than this for dinner. I made some food for you in the container below.
He smiles in spite of himself.
Some days he is man enough to admit it hurts when Chad and Uryuu and Orihime rush out the door, blurting excuses. But there is a big part of Ichigo Kurosaki that is relieved it is no longer up to him. And a smaller part of him is wondering if Rukia is present. He tries not to listen to that smaller part.
The rain starts coming down in sheets, cooling down the humid heat of summer. He climbs the stairs to his room, sipping his yogurt drink. Tomorrow is a holiday, so he doesn't have to study.
Instead, he curls up in his bed, watching the afternoon shadows race across the room. By the time twilight falls, Ichigo is asleep, dreaming the ordinary dreams of a seventeen year old boy.
Sometime in the midst of his dreaming, he gradually becomes aware of a warmth in his arms, as if someone was snuggling up to him. The familiar clean scents of cucumbers and strawberries tickle his nose.
Ichigo has had this dream before. He is half-asleep, aware of the thunder and lightning outside his window, and still dreams of a girl in his arms who has never lain there, not like this.
Every time he dreams this particular dream, he fights not to wake up because he knows she will be gone when he opens his eyes.
His fingers tingle, threading through silky hair on a head tucked under his chin. He cups her head gently.
Ichigo imagines he can hear her soft breathing. He imagines she can hear the pounding of his heart, being so close to his chest.
He slides his other hand to the small of her back, pulling her closer.
He feels her small fingers on his cheek, cool and comforting, touching his eyebrows, tracing his nose. Ichigo fights not to smile, fights the wave of yearning that might force him awake and break the spell.
He wraps himself around his dream-girl, burying his nose in her hair, nuzzling her temples, locking her knees between his.
He's had this dream often enough now that it's become a game to him, to see how long he can make it last before he wakes up.
Her fingertips circle his lips lightly, tracing the crease, flowing down to his chin. He presses light kisses on each fingertip.
Her huge eyes darken, he thinks, as he leans forward. He moves forward against her lips, not-quite-kissing with only her fingers between them. Then she closes her eyes and takes her fingers away, letting him take possession.
She slides her impatient arms around his neck, whispering his name on a sigh.
A crack of lightning makes his eyes fly open. This time, he hopes desperately he'll see her purple eyes looking back at him, even for a moment.
But his arms are empty and his heart is full of grief.
Disoriented for a moment, he sits up, and puts his head in his hands.
Ichigo has asked Urahara many times if Rukia Kuchiki ever visits since she left. The answer is always no. After the third dream, Ichigo stopped asking.
He scrubs his eyes with the heels of his hands, hard enough that he sees fireworks when he opens them again. "Definitely a dream," he tells himself. "She would never."
Ichigo leaves his room and heads downstairs, hungry as only a teenage boy could be.
When he closes the door, a flash of lightning illuminates the room, revealing a girl in a black shihakusho. She hugs her knees, her lips swollen and her eyes wet.