Still kneeling where he’d tapped the zanpakutou’s hilt to the boy’s forehead, Ichigo blinked. He ought to be saying something to Rukia. But ordinary words would tear that peace like tissue paper. He couldn’t do it.
“Ichigo!” A small but powerful fist crashed into his skull. “We’re going to be missed if we don’t hurry.”
The walk back was quiet. Rukia fended off anyone who looked likely to question her with an innocent glance and a brilliant smile. And of course, as long as he stuck to shadows, no one could see him.
He hadn’t really had a chance to notice last night, but now he could feel it all. The sun, the odd solid-yet-not way the street felt under his sandals, the stray chill ethereal breezes left by passing spirits. “Is it always like that?”
“All Hollows share certain common characteristics-”
He yanked on the collar of her school uniform. “The konsou!”
“…What did you feel?”
Talk about personal questions. But maybe it was important. “Connected.” Step, breathe, think. “Like… something buried woke up, and reached out, and – made us the same. Just for an instant.” Ichigo scowled. “I didn’t even know that kid. Why did I feel like-” He couldn’t say it.
“Like he was kin?” Rukia’s voice was quiet. Almost neutral. “There are reasons we do not reveal ourselves to the inhabitants of this plane.” A hesitant breath. “Do you… wish to know?”
“I didn’t hurt him.” And it was kind of scary how sure he was. The kind of bedrock certainty that belonged to Mommy loves you and Dad’s nuts, but he loves you too.
“No.” Rukia kept walking. “The hell butterfly brings the soul home. Within a few hours, possibly a few days, a young boy will wake up in Soul Society. In Tsukikage. A purified soul, one of my people.” A bittersweet smile touched her eyes. “Divine power does not reach our plane easily. New souls are hard to attract. Few of us can have children. Someone will be glad to see him.”