Rukia woke to the sound of familiar voices. Very familiar voices that filled her heart with relief.
She'd had a couple of hours sleep, she guessed, back in her own bed for the first time in nearly a year. And now she rose, listening to a heated discussion outside, and dressed in a purple kimono with violet and green flowers winding across the fabric. This would be the first time Ichigo had ever seen here wearing her own clothes. She wondered idly if that affected her choice in any way. She tied a green sash about her waist and stepped outside. The two men, who had been bickering, at once fell silent. "Good morning," she said and sat down on the decking between them, stretching her bare feet into the short grass. Ichigo grinned:
"Rukia. I thought you were meant to be resting."
"How could I? You too were being so loud. What are you doing here?"
"Ichigo's still recovering," said Renji.
"That's not true. I'm fine. I was in the dojo when Kenpachi came in and told me he wants to fight me."
"So, instead of fighting, Ichigo made a break for it. Effectively, he's in hiding."
"Shut up!" The young human laughed, and Rukia smiled, folding her hands in her lap and listening to the ebb and flow of their conversation. Extraordinary how Ichigo fit in here. He and Renji, she supposed, were comrades in arms now. But they teased and mocked one another as if they were brothers. Strange how the world revolved. Strange how it had brought her back here.
"Rukia," said Renji. They had been quiet for a time, she realised: "Did you see Kuchiki-taichou last night?"
"Yes. Unohana said he will make a full recovery. It will take time. A few weeks, perhaps, before he can return to his duties."
"Why do you care?" Ichigo asked: "I thought you hated him."
"I do! It would be strange not to have him around to hate though."
"Yeah, you're right." Renji grinned: "I should go tell him that."
"He saved my life," said Rukia.
"He was also willing to stand by and watch you die," Ichigo countered. She caught his eye:
"Right, I'm going to tell him. Are you gonna stay here and hide from Kenpachi for the rest of your sorry life?" asked Renji, getting to his feet. Ichigo straightened with a scowl:
"I'm going to see how the others are doing." He turned back to look at Rukia: "Why did you come here last night?"
"There were some things I needed to pick up."
"I'm surprised Unohana let you go. She's keeping a close watch on the rest of us. We're all invalids, don't you know?"
"I wasn't injured."
He stared hard at her. Damn it, why was it that no-one seemed to believe her when she said that? All things considered, she thought she was doing quite well: "It'll just take a little time for my powers to return."
His face broke into a mischevious grin:
"You've been saying that since I met you. And the girl with the powers; will she be very different?"
"You'll just have to wait and see."
"Well, we're getting everything ready for the journey home, so do you want to start packing?"
"I have to sort out a few things here and there are some people I need to visit."
"Yes. There's something I need to tell them."
She stared at him, her face, briefly, wide open and filled with an emotion he didn't understand. Then she nodded:
"Yes, that's exactly it."