by Tari Gwaemir
"Kingdom of the mad."
Ichigo woke up to the sound of gasping. He lifted his head and peered blearily at the empty space beside him, the rumpled sheets and blankets laid bare to the moonlight. He blinked and wearily got out of bed, put on his slippers, and walked quietly to the closet. He pressed his ear to the wood. There she was.
"Rukia?" he asked calmly, as calmly as he could.
There was no answer, only the hitch of a long, shuddering breath.
He opened the door. She looked at him with her small, pale face, her eyes bloated. She continued to gasp, as if suffocating. He listened to the sharp inhalations, the desperate exhalations, and studied her curious lack of expression. There was no sorrow, only the marks of dried tears and the rhythm of her sobs.
He waited. Slowly, the gasps receded, and she coughed a little while rubbing at her eyes. Then he asked, "What is it?"
"I don't know," she answered, her voice steady and unshaken. "I woke up crying from a dream, and I couldn't breathe. I came here, so as not to wake you."
"What was the dream about?"
She looked at him contemptuously, her chin tilted as if in challenge. "How should I remember, you fool?"
Ichigo lifted an eyebrow.
She glared and then turned away, looking at her feet, propped up against the closet wall. "I dreamed of eating souls. Consuming them, one after another. I was so hungry, I thought I could devour the living world and still not be full. It was a hunger that could not be satisfied."
"Ah," Ichigo murmured. He touched her lightly on the shoulder, but drew back quickly before she could snap at him. After a long silence, he quietly, very quietly shut the door and sat down on the floor, in shadow, on the edge of moonlight.