A soft, hesitant knock on the door nearly knocked her soul out of her body, nearly giving her a cardiac arrest. It nearly made her feel something forbidden. Her heart starts beating faster, and this time she knows fully it’s something other than fear. It’s foreign, it’s wonderful, it’s maddening; but the consequences, she imagines, are frightening.
Every single time, he knocks only once as a secret sign, “It’s me.” There was no verbal agreement, no deal, she just knew. It was him because, who else was this stupid? She waits patiently. She waits for him to go away, for his disbelievingly strong cologne to go away that was permeating the air through the crack below her door to dissipate. She doesn’t move an inch, forgets breathing for a while. Her eyes are glued to the floor beneath the door. His legs cast a shadow.
Her heart clenches unexpectedly as his shadow disappears. Did he actually leave? She can’t believe she’s asking herself that.
She labels tonight as the night her heart went AWOL; later she concludes — every night he’s there, her heart knows no bounds. His shadow comes back again and she thinks she’s going to have a heart attack soon. The weak door creaks slightly. She realizes he’s standing against it.
Two soft knocks, “Please,” he hoarsely whispers. But to her, it’s much louder and clearer than anything she’s ever heard.
She has no choice now. She wraps her thin blanket around her, drops her magazine on her bed and skips towards the door.
He nearly tumbles in as she opens her door. He quickly regains himself and turns to her. They have a staring contest; neither of them blinks, neither of them smiles.
She breaks away her gaze, taking a quick glance below her. He doesn’t cross her threshold. He stands firmly behind the line. She knows he won’t cross it unless she allows to. She admired that.
She stares up at him, silently loving the fact that she’s smaller than him. She only admitted to herself about that. He looms over, casting his wide shadow over her, blocking away the glaring light away from her.
She doesn’t waste much time. She takes a step back, against her heart’s wishes and clenches the door. “I’m off duty.” She gets ready to slam the door on his face, as coldly as she possibly could.
She almost does, but she momentarily forgets how strong he is. He smirks, his lone hand resting firmly on her door, blocking it from making any contact with his face, “I know.”
She musters up her strongest glare. Arches her eyebrows, hoping to convey whatever fake malice she can come up with.
He mimes a similar movement back, no malice apparent in his smile, and he doesn’t even try to mask his sheer amusement. She sighs helplessly, but stands her guard. “I’m off duty.” She repeats, “Why do you… why?” She lamely finishes, unable to muster up anything different to say. How many times have they had this conversation, verbal or not?
His eyes soften as looks at her, a range of emotions already reaching her without words. Tiredly, he lets go of her door and leans on the frame. He closes his eyes for a moment, racking a hand through his unruly mop of hair.
As he finally opens his eyes, she knows what he’ll say. She now firmly knows why he is here tonight, and every night. His words have become memorized, etched into her brains and has her longing every day, every time she remembers them, for something that was impossible for her. Something forbidden, something wonderful — every single time he appears on her doorstep, on duty or off it.
And now she prays he doesn’t say them.
But has Whoever she prays to have been merciful to her?
Her life flashes in front of her eyes. Nope, not once.
“I want to help you… and…” he leaves his next words unspoken, and she dreadfully knows what they are. She thanks for all the years she has spent on this line of work for giving her the ability or curse to control her emotions and her tears. Her eyes sting, threatens to unleash tears but they don’t.
Her shaky voice manages to say his name; she relishes upon the fact that she can say his name without coating with anything she doesn’t feel. He’s been the only one. “Just… give up.” Every time, she tries to talk him out of it. She doesn’t want to; she wants nothing more than to comply with his wishes. She knows she can’t.
His face hardens, determination flashing on his features. “No.” His firm answer leaves no room for denial. Too bad it’s the only option for her.
Her shoulders droop, her head hangs low, clutches the door for support, she feels as if she’s slipping away and she sighs. She’s tired of putting up with him every time, tired of fighting her emotions… just tired and sick of it all.
“I’m tired. Please…” she chokes on her next words, the throbbing pain in her chest now more than before. “I’m tired.”
He heaves an exasperated sigh. She knows he’s tired of doing this over and over again. But in these last few days, his determination has been off the charts. After all, he only has a few weeks left.
“Forget about me.” This time, she stares into his eyes, hoping that he would listen her, just this one time. “I’m not worth it. You can’t change what I have become. I’m too… tainted.” She wanted to avoid being so dramatic and clichéd, but that word suited her more than anything she could think of.
“This…” he starts, slowly gathering strength to speak one last time, “This is not you.” He sternly says and it seemed like truly believed what he said.
She puts a hand on his chest, feeling the beating of his heart and the warmth spreading through. She applies a small pressure on his chest and manages to push him back. She steps back into her room and starts closing her door.
A look of panic spreads through his face. She stops halfway into closing, leaving just enough gap for her face to peek through.
“You have only a week left in this town. You wasted 4 months of your trip here, with me. This town has a lot to offer. I suggest you see those before you leave… and not waste any more time on me.”
And she truly meant everything she said. “It’s futile.” She smiled a rueful smile, the best one she could offer to him.
He gaped at her. He frowned at her. He stared with empty eyes at her. It was not the expression she wanted to see for the last time on his face, but she settled for what she got. Mustering all the energy she had, she closed the door.
She leaned against the door and let tears stream down her face. She was alone in her room now, no one else there to see her. She could let free everything.
She pressed her ear to her door and waited, while silently crying. Soon, she heard loud thumps echoing through.
And with that, she knew he had walked away.
For the next remaining days, Rukia had waited for him. It had been a bad habit of hers to wait for him after she blew him off like that. He always came back, with more determination than the previous day.
A week rolled by and she realized today was the day Ichigo would leave. As a habit she waited with bated breath when he would come knocking and say one last goodbye to her.
Her customers came in and went out. She paid no heed to them or to the money they left.
Midnight came faster than she realized, and she knew what she had known all along.
He had left and her life was back to normal.