The thing was, he wasn’t really certain he was ready to be on his own. But he was certain it was time for him to get his own place and stop being a burden to Pops and the twins. They’d all protested loudly when Ichigo had announced he was moving out, but he’d managed to give them enough good reasons for the change that they had relented. He hadn’t even told them the real ones.
Ichigo was contemplating going down to the corner store and buying himself a hostess cupcake and a candle when Rukia appeared on the windowsill and stepped inside with her usual ease.
“Hey,” he greeted her. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to wish you a happy birthday.” She handed him the package she’d been carrying and settled herself on edge of his bed.
“Turning twenty is a big deal, right?”
“Er… yeah. I guess.” He looked down at the package. Ever since Inoue had taught Rukia about giftwrapping services a couple of years ago, all of her packages came neatly and professionally wrapped. Truth be told, he kind of missed the old clumsily wrapped gifts that reeked of Rukia’s own handywork. He took a deep breath and looked up at her.
“You know why I moved out of Pop’s place, right?”
She fixed him with a level stare. “You were afraid you’d lose control of your hollow and end up hurting your family.”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“I had hoped you would have more confidence in yourself by now.”
He turned the package over in his hands again and struggled to force the words out. “Look, Rukia… I want you to stop coming to visit me.”
“No,” came the firm reply.
“No,” she said again. “You want me to stop coming for the same reason you moved out, right? Because you’re afraid that thing inside you will try to eat me. I refuse.”
“Goddammit. You’re not my babysitter and you’re not responsible for me anymore, okay?”
“How did you end up with a hollow in the first place, Ichigo?” she sounded angry now. “Because you were coming to save me. Don’t tell me I’m not responsible.”
His annoyance with her suddenly dropped away and he looked at her with concern. “Hey, that’s not your fault.”
“Listen to me,” she glared back at him. “When you came after me in Soul Society, and I told you to go home and leave me there, did you listen to me?”
“No, but – “
“No, you didn’t. I’m not leaving, either, so just get used to it. I don’t care what stupid idea you have about protecting people by isolating yourself, but you can’t just cut me out of your life. And you’re a fool if you think you’re going to do the same to Chad and Inoue as well.”
The look on her face was one that he knew better than to argue with. Ichigo glanced down at the package in his hands again and let his eyes trace the straight and even lines of the ribbons one more time. The wrapping might be professionally done, but the card on top still had Rukia’s signature drawings in the “to” and “from” lines.
She raised an eyebrow.
She smiled at him. “You’re welcome. Now open your birthday present.”