A/N: Oh my goodness! I am so sorry my lovely readers! I completely and totally lied to you about the 24hours thing! TnT
I've been finding myself more and more exhausted from work lately! Please forgive me and accept my undying love in the form of this next chapter! Also, plans are in motion for next chapter (it's half written - i paused to upload this one) and it involves nothing but GrimmIchi! *o* Hopefully that'll sate your desires a little after this longer chapter about poor, exhausted Ichi's day in the clinic? Yes? Maybe?

Here goes! Enjoy!~

Chapter 8 – Well, That Was Awkward and Exhausting

Ichigo quietly hummed to himself as he sterilized his hands and grabbed a pair of rubber gloves. His father had just left for his retraining and Ichigo was finally alone in the clinic. He loved these days, they were perfect; Ichigo got to put his schooling to the test, help the people in his town, and he even got the advantage at learning new medical practices and discoveries. The latter because he and his father had agreed that if Ichigo were to watch the clinic for Isshin's retraining, then the man had to show his son all that he had learned during his time away.

"Alright, I wonder who's next? Hmmmm whoooo's neeeext?" He called out, looking around his nearly-empty waiting room, "That's odd, I don't see anyone!"

He grinned as a small, indignant voice giggled and shouted, "Me! Me! I am! Over here!"

Ichigo feigned looking around, purposefully facing away from the little girl as she grew more hysterical by the second. "Huh? I thought I heard something?" he scratched at his head, "Maybe it's just coming from the kids outside. Ah well… and I had this delicious lollipop here to give away, guess I'll just have to eat it instea-"

The reaction was instantaneous.

Ichigo suddenly found himself with a living, breathing backpack clutching tightly at his shoulders. "Me! Me! I'm here! I'm next! That lollipop is for me!"

Ichigo twisted and caught sight of bubblegum pink hair, "Oh Yachiru! I didn't see you there! You're awfully quiet today…" He turned and smiled politely at the girl's father, "Hello Mr. Kenpachi. If you'd like to come with us, please?" And walked into the patient room, Yachiru-backpack still firmly in place as the two argued back and forth about whether or not she was actually there on time.

The girl was only in for her routine check-up. However, she was a bit much for Zaraki to keep an eye on all by himself all the time, so instead of bothering to follow Yachiru around everywhere to keep her from eating everything in sight, he just brought her in to be checked on twice as often as regular kids.

"You're all good. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Yachiru: You're immune system is beautiful. I doubt you'll ever have to deal with the common cold or allergies. However, if you ever feel nauseous then you need to come to us at once, or better yet, go to the hospital because if you ever do get sick, it'll be very extreme."

"Mno-fpoblum!" Yachiru agreed around her lollipop.

"Thanks Ichigo," Zaraki stood and shook his hand, "Say hello to your old man for me."

"Will do. Have a great day you two, and stay outta trouble!"

"Ha! Let's go squirt." He turned to leave but paused in the doorway to wait for Yachiru as she tugged Ichigo down to her level.

"Thank you Dr. Icchi!"

Ichigo rolled his eyes at the old nickname, "It's just Ichigo, and I'm not a doctor yet."

"Actually, you might as well be," Zaraki corrected from the door, "You know your stuff, kid. Better than my last doc I had, anyway. See you in a couple weeks." He beckoned to his little girl and the two stepped outside, leaving Ichigo still crouched on his knee and grinning from ear to ear at the compliment.

The rest of the morning and afternoon passed by relatively calmly: most patients had long grown accustomed to Ichigo's presence while his father worked, always helping the man out, organizing, filing, etc. To see him alone was just another day and most weren't all too concerned about his lack of a title.

Some however, were not so trusting.

"Good evening Mr. Kurosutchi, how are things going?"

The man huffed, "Well it wouldn't be going well if I had to come here, now would it?"

Ichigo inwardly cringed at the man's lack of respect but kept up his usual 'patient-face.' The face was made for people just like Mayuri, he no patience for anything that was beneath him, and unluckily, he viewed everything as beneath him.

"What seems to be the trouble today, sir?"

The man drew back his coat and revealed a baby-carrier strapped to his body. The contraption seemed incredibly convoluted and Ichigo assumed Mayuri had made it himself – the man was always coming in with new gizmos to sell to Isshin.

He unstrapped his child and held him up; the blue-haired baby that usually had beautiful bronzed skin was sweating profusely and pale-grey in colour. Ichigo recognized the issue immediately.

"Oh wow! I know what that is, here let me have a closer look at him an-"

"Actually I'll just wait for your father." The man cut in, pulling his child towards his chest, seemingly to shield it from the younger male.

Ichigo caught the man's eyes, "He isn't in today – he's away for a meeting. But I've been studying this in school; actually what you baby has there is exactly what I'm being tested on. If you don't mind I can take a look an-"

"Do you have the proper paperwork? Are you certified to look at my baby?"

"Well, er, I don't have the paperwork. I know I can't prescribe anything but I can tell you what's wrong and suggest the proper way to take care of it. For instance, your baby there looks like he has-"

"Then I don't want to hear it!" Mayuri shouted, hiding his baby from Ichigo's sight – as if the poor thing would explode if he only landed his eyes on him, "I will not have my child looked at by some unqualified hooligan who thinks he can just throw on a lab coat and call himself a doctor! Absolutely ludicrous!" The man strapped his child back into his seat and stormed out of the clinic without another word.

Ichigo sighed; it wasn't his first time dealing with a less-than-enthusiastic patient. He was used to it by now, however, the rejection and name-calling always stung just a little bit. 'I'm studying this stuff right now in school. It's fresher in my mind than even my dad's! He'd most likely have to look that up in his books… Argh! Whatever, it's his prerogative. I just hope he takes that kid to the hospital then…' He sighed, 'I can't blame someone for wanting a professional doctor, it's not like I can even prescribe or do much more than first-aid legally. Zaraki, like a few of our regulars, trust me enough to 'suggest' medicines and fluids. But not everyone will, and that's fine. It's fine. Be civil.'

Ichigo talked himself out of his scowl and went back to organizing his notes that day for his father.

As he worked, he heard a commotion outside begin to escalate rather dangerously. Once he heard screaming he decided to go check it out.

Poking his head out the door, Ichigo noticed three little kids all screaming at each other and fighting rather brutally. One of the kids was sitting on the ground, wailing and rocking with her hand pressed tightly to her chest, an identical girl stood protectively in front of her, trading blows and hair-pulling with the last girl – this last one seemed to be the instigator by Ichigo's judgment.

"Hey ladies! Break it up already and come inside the clinic so I can check if you're hurt." He watched as the three little girls picked themselves up and trudged towards him, the third hanging back a little with eyes downcast. Ichigo opened the door for them and decided, judging from what he could tell was wrong with these girls; he'd have no trouble in patching them up.

"Okay then, you ladies sit right here and I will see to you one at a time." He turned and crouched in front of the girl who was coddling her hand, "I know you're hurting sweetheart but can you wait a second while I look at your friend here? She's bleeding quite a bit and I should stop it." The girl nodded frantically and Ichigo stood, taking down a first aid kit and setting to work on the dirtied knee.

After he cleaned the mess of blood and dirt away, the wound only seemed to be a scrape – possibly from being ground against the pavement – and Ichigo easily sterilized and patched it up.

Moving on to the first girl, he carefully unraveled her hand and watched her face and he tested each of her fingers. After being able to move each just fine (only one was more painful than the others), he checked her wrist and noted, again, nothing broken. He deduced it must just be a sprained finger and quickly splinted it with the finger next to it to help it heal.

Letting the two twins huddle together, Ichigo turned his attention to the last girl and cursed under his breath. Sitting there, covered in dirt and looking every bit like the little demon she was, sat Lilynette Gingerbuck. She caught his eye and stuck her tongue out at him.

Ichigo checked the ankle that the green-haired girl had been favouring, while remaining calm and professional on the outside. Inside, however, his emotions were in turmoil. 'She must've been picking on these twins here,' he thought, 'It's not fair for me to make any assumptions yet… but… she did kind of ruin any sort of civil relationship I could've had with Starrk… Ah well, I shouldn't cry over spilled milk, right? That's not what a professional does.' And he left it at that.

Patching up Lilynette proved to be a little more difficult since the girl would not cooperate. She complained about the pain but refused to remove her shoe herself, making Ichigo do it for her. Then she complained he was hurting her and wouldn't let him continue.

Left without consent and not a licensed doctor, Ichigo found himself out of options as he dialed Starrk's cellphone number. 'This is just freaking perfect, I bet he won't let me help her either, like Mayuri…'

"Hello, Starrk speaking."

"Hey Starrk, it's Ichigo Kurosaki calling…"

"Ichigo? I thought I made it clear I was no longer interested in-"

"-I know, I know." Ichigo sighed, shielding his eyes with his palm, "Look, I'm calling for your daughter, Lilynette. She and a few girls got into a fight outside my family's clinic. She's okay but she won't let me look at her injuries." he peeked through his fingers at the young girl, "and without consent or a parent to let me look at her…" he trailed off pointedly.

A loud sigh came through the cellphone; clearly Starrk was not unused to Lilynette's behaviour. "Alright, tell me where you are and I'll be there in ten minutes."

As soon as Ichigo hung up he heard the front doors open and shut again. The two little girls had returned and the splinted one was holding something.

Lilynette's football.

Ichigo recognized it right away. Why wouldn't he? He had an up-close-and-personal experience with it recently.

He watched as the twins hesitantly approached Lilynette, ball held protectively between them. The green-haired girl all but snarled when she spotted the toy.

"Give it back! Give back my ball RIGHT NOW!" she demanded.

The girls held their ground, "We never wanted to steal it in the first place! We only wanted to play with you!" Yelled the more aggressive of the two, shielding her splinted twin behind herself, "We didn't want to fight! Honest!"

"As if! You took the ball from me!"

"No!" The girl insisted, taking a step towards Lilynette, "We only wanted to play! The ball bounced away so I caught it and was going to bring it back right away! I swear! I was going to ask you to teach us how to throw it, that's all."

"You're lying! You're a thief!" The green-haired girl spat, gingerly standing from her seat and curling her tiny fists.

"You're making it up! Why did you attack us?! My sister wasn't even involved! You punched her arm!"

Ichigo snapped his attention to the mentioned girl's arm, indeed a purple bruise was forming, and he silently made his way over to inspect it. Crouching by her side, he silently took her hand and nodded towards the injury. The girl stared up at him with watery eyes as she quietly nodded her ascent.

Both didn't speak so the other two girls could continue to talk things out.

Unfortunately, Lilynette was finished with 'talking.'

He was able to inspect the bruise and verify it was nothing more before Ichigo noticed the tense static in the air. He caught the dangerous glint in Lilynette's pink eyes and stood to intercept just as she broke into a run and flung herself at the scraped-up twin. He stuck out his arm and caught the wild body around her middle, pulling his arm towards himself and trapping Lilynette against himself. The girl thrashed and screamed as the twins backed away, ball forgotten before they turned to run out the clinic doors.

Lady Luck happened to not be on Ichigo's side today. For just as the girls exited, Starrk Gingerbuck entered.

And the only thing he saw was Ichigo restraining a green flurry from the backs of her arms that sounded a lot like his own daughter.

"Ichigo? Lilynette? What the hell is going on here?!"

'Oh for fuck sakes, I just can't catch a break here!' Ichigo internally groaned, releasing the girl and straightening himself out. "Umm, hey Starr- I mean, Mr. Gingerbuck." He switched gears, 'When I'm in the clinic I have to use last names.' He quickly reminded himself of his father's rule. "This is not as bad as it looks – er – however it looks."

Starrk crossed his arms and held his ground, eyeing both a fidgety Ichigo and crying Lilynette, "Oh really? Because it's becoming a pattern for me to find you hurting my daughter."

The young girl took the opportunity to cry louder and crawl into the nearest chair. The tiny ball she curled herself into made her look incredibly pathetic and small, while she wailed and rubbed at her nose loudly.

It worked like a charm on her father.

The man had already knelt in front of her and asked what happened. Ichigo didn't even bother to pay attention to what wild story the girl concocted this time as the two murmured together, he just looked up towards the security cameras hanging around the clinic.

At least dear Lady Luck hadn't disregarded him completely.

Once Starrk predictably rounded on Ichigo in a perfect angry-grizzly bear-mother rendition, the student tilted his head and motioned the man towards the back of the clinic. Starrk hesitantly followed, probably wishing to bash Ichigo's head in but deciding to humour him first.

Besides, he probably didn't want to resort to such violence in front of his precious little princess, right?

As Ichigo opened the door to the surveillance room, Starrk finally understood and growled out, "This better be pretty telling Ichigo, I'm seriously considering making a report on you…"

Ichigo only rolled his eyes in the dim room, flicked on the computer and started scrolling back through the last half hour of taping.

He silently thanked his father a thousand times over for installing the cameras and having Ichigo keep them on 24/7 – just in case. Ichigo had thought it was a waste of money and electricity but now he was a firm supporter.

He set up the tapes to roll from when he heard the girls fighting and offered his chair to Starrk. Letting the tape roll, Ichigo decided he didn't need to watch what had literally just happened to him and leaned against the wall, head up and eyes closed.

It was silent in the room for some time as Starrk took in the shenanigans that his daughter had been up to, listening to the girls scream at each other before finally she hurled herself at the poor twins. There was a pause before Ichigo heard the chair creak and Starrk took his hands. Surprised, he opened his eyes.

"I am so sorry, I – wow. I never even thought…" Starrk shook his head, "She's never done anything like this before and –"

"Actually," Ichigo cut in, tugging his hands away from the man, "She did the same thing at the park." He pushed himself off the wall and shut down the computer, the room felt a lot less bright with only the one dim light on.

"Ichigo, wait… If that's true then –"

"Of course it's true!" the younger male cut in, eyes flashing angrily, "I don't hurt people, Starrk! I don't hurt children either! I'm a doctor for crying out loud! Or," he deflated, catching himself before he really began to yell in the small room, "or at least I will be when I'm done with school."

"I'm sorry, I never -"

"Don't worry about it. Just… can I look at her ankle? She seemed to be limping and I want to check it isn't serious."

"Of course, anything at all." Starrk moved closer, trapping Ichigo against the wall and lifting his chin. Their eyes met and Ichigo suddenly felt like the room had shrunk to the size of a closet – this man just demanded attention. Starrk moved even closer, "Any way I could make it up to you… doctor?" He murmured, dipping his head and eyeing Ichigo's lips.

Ichigo turned his head to the side and huffed, "Sorry, I'm not interested anymore. I don't take well to being accused of hurting children. You clearly aren't as observant as I thought you were or you never would have suspected me in the first place." He faced Starrk again, pushing gently on the man's caging arms, "I know she's your daughter but even she can lie for attention. Ask yourself, what reason at all would I have for hurting her, what could I possibly gain out of hurting Lilynette?"

Starrk stared into his eyes wordlessly and finally nodded, taking a step back to allow Ichigo to exit the room.

The student immediately went to Lilynette's side, crouching down and informing her of her father's permission to be examined. The girl stopped fussing as soon as she heard and accepted the probing touches to her foot without further complaint. Ichigo felt Starrk's eyes on him but wasn't worried as he worked on the girl. He took in the pained wince on her face as he gently tested one of her small toes, and smiled. "The good news, Lilynette, is your ankle seems to be okay. Nothing major is broken and that's great."

"What's the bad news?" She asked timidly, experimentally wiggling her toes and cringing at the pain.

Ichigo quickly put a soothing hand on her ankle, "Don't do that yet. The bad news is that your toe here is hurt. Since I have no credentials yet I can't do much more than splint it for you, but I'm afraid it could be sprained or worse, broken." He told the girl, reopening the splint kit he had used on the one twin girl earlier, "I'm going to wrap your toes together now to make sure you don't hurt it further but you're going to have to go to the hospital to double-check that it isn't serious." He glanced over at Starrk, "Your father will make sure everything is okay, so you have nothing to worry about." The man nodded and he turned back to his patient, "Just sit tight and you'll be out of here in no time." He cooed, effectively calming the squirming girl.

He finished in record time and packed away his kit, and made a note of what materials he used, the current date and Lilynette's name in his work journal at the front desk. He jolted when he felt a hand on his shoulder; Starrk's eyes once again too close for comfort.

"Ichigo, I really am sorry for misjudging you." The guy looked properly apologetic and this pleased Ichigo. What? Being accused of hurting someone, especially a child, was depressing not to mention insulting.

"Well I'm just glad you know the truth now and Lilynette wasn't hurt any worse. Just make sure you get her x-rayed in case there's a fracture in one of her bones – that could be an issue if left – "

"I'll get her looked at," Starrk insisted quickly, "but listen…" he pulled the younger man closer by the waist with one hand while he trailed the other softly down the side of Ichigo's face. The student shivered at the feather-like touch to his sensitive cheeks and Starrk took that as an invitation, ducking down and claiming his lips for a second time.

However this kiss was not as chaste as their first.

Starrk manipulated his lips so Ichigo would part his own, unknowingly allowing access for the older man's tongue to take advantage. That tongue took it's time moistening the inexperienced pair of lips before lazily delving past them and reaching into the rich warmth beyond them. At the unusual feeling of a wiggling tongue in his mouth and the sudden jolt of arousal to his nether regions, Ichigo snapped his eyes opened and finally registered what was happening.

He pulled his head away while simultaneously pushing Starrk back a bit. As the two separated, Ichigo noticed his breathing had been affected a lot more than Starrk's had and for some reason that irked him. Ichigo wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve and shook his head to clear it, 'Damn, this man just keeps taking my firsts! And I didn't even want it that time, he just… well… he's incredibly good at what he does… God that's so embarrassing!'

"Just a second here," he backed away a little further, noticing that Starrk followed his movement by taking the same steps closer. "Hold on! I need a second!"

"No Ichigo, let me make it up to you. I know I made a stupid mistake but let me fix it. Let me fix us." He stepped back into the younger male's personal space, "Give me another chance."

Ichigo just shook his head, holding up his hands to keep space between the two, "No Sta- no you listen to me," he refused to call the man by his last name because it was professional and the other man was so not being professional right now. He also didn't deserve the respect but Ichigo also didn't want to break his father's rule either, "I'm not interested anymore. I am not okay with being threatened for hurting a child. I realize it was a mistake and everyone makes mistakes. I understand. That's not the main issue here." He squared his shoulders and looked Starrk dead in the eyes, "You don't have enough room for me in your life."

"Now hang on a sec-"

"No let me finish. You don't have enough room for me because of Lilynette and I would never come between the two of you. The problem is that when she's involved, she's all you can see. Even on our very first date you talked more about her than yourself." Ichigo lowered his gaze and felt his heart give a slight squeeze, urging him to finish this quickly, "You're heart just doesn't have enough room for me." He gave a sad grin to the slightly taller man, "And she doesn't seem to like me anyway."

Both turned to the girl and she stuck her tongue out, huffing indignantly and fingering the football threads.

Ichigo let out a quiet chuckle and turned back to the brunette still occupying his personal space. He literally saw the eyes spark with a dangerous idea just before Starrk leaned forward and growled low in his ear, "You don't have to see her all the time you know, we could just meet for … coffee… every once in a while." He pulled back and winked at the bright blush he caused.

Ichigo decided to mirror Starrk's movement as he leaned towards the other's ear (more so Lilynette wouldn't hear than for Starrk's benefit), "Actually, I'm not interested in a relationship that's only about sex during lunch breaks. I want the real deal with love and trust and I can't have that with you. You've already proved you will put your love for Lilynette before logic and trust." He stepped back, "Again, I'm not saying that's a bad thing. That's just how you want to do things, but that's not the way I want to do things." Ichigo rubbed at the back of his neck, suddenly really embarrassed. "I'm uh, really happy you wanted to try but I honestly don't want another date… I'm sorry."

Starrk's eyes slid closed and he let his breath whoosh out and he sighed, "You're much more mature than I gave you credit for… This is killing me." His eyes popped open again, "I can't believe I was such an idiot, Tatsuki was right about you being such a great catch." He sighed again, and shuffled over to his daughter, Ichigo thought the man suddenly looked very tired and aged.

"Daddy? Why do you seem so sad? Did the bad man hurt you?"

The innocent question caused Ichigo to wince as Starrk just laughed, "No baby," he grabbed her hand, "I'm the one that brought this on myself, and he isn't a bad man. His name is Ichigo." He looked back at the aspiring doctor as the little family made to leave the clinic, "Please, call me if you change your mind. I don't care what time of day it is either, I'd love to hear from you." He all but begged.

Ichigo awkwardly ducked his head, "Uh-hm, y-yeah, catch you later and uh, don't forget to have her foot looked at!" He glanced up, catching the sad smile on Starrk's face as the two Gingerbucks stepped into the real world and out of Ichigo's.

'Phew. Glad that's finally over! That was so awkward, oh my god… Shit – Renji is gonna freak!'