Kelocena: it validated the reason (for him). In other words, just knowing Rukia existed might not have been enough of a reason to turn traitor for other people, but for Ichigo, it was because he knew she existed that his reason for turning traitor was validated. Hm. How long-winded. hahaha ;-p

SORRY for taking so long with this chapter; but I'm sure most of you can be sympathetic, 'cause my reason is very, very understandable: school is a b!tch. However, with midterms through, I'm free and clear for the next couple of weeks! Yayeeeeeeeeee :-D

This fic is rated R because of language, violence, and sensuality. If any of the aforementioned offends you, please do not read.

Review if you like. No flames, please.

Chapter 20

Their attack had started off relatively well. Rukia managed to suppress her aura enough so that she was virtually undetectable, acting the part of a regular human businesswoman. And for his part, Ichigo had to sneak in, using a maze of complicated sewer passages that would lead to the plumbing and eventually to a room where he'd then be able to roam freely.

"I look weird," Rukia had said, in reference to the blond wig she'd put on to disguise her face. "This is not my color at all."

"Just be glad you can change your hair color at all," Ichigo grumbled in reply. "Besides, I think it looks good on you."

She snorted, and looked away.

That had been the beginning. Rukia managed to weasel her way through the hunter security by acting as a newly-recruited hunter who didn't know how to get inside the building. Fortunately, she had always had uncanny good control with aura suppression, so masking even the slightest trace to pass through their aura detectors was relatively easy. However, she couldn't use her aura to "seduce" the security guards' wills, because then the detectors would go off like crazy. In any case, she got away from them quickly lest they recognized her.

Getting in was easy; making her way around wasn't. She was just relying mentally on the map Ichigo had drawn for her, and they had purposely planned this plan of attack during noon – the point where most hunters either slept or relaxed, and kept out of their duties. Therefore, Rukia encountered little foot traffic as she kept going on.

She kept going and going, following Ichigo's directions. And she was very close to the room where Ichigo suspected the hunter blood samples were kept, one of three…she was so close she could see the door, just a few meters away.

And then the moment she'd been waiting for had happened.

"Alert! Hunter alert! There's a trespasser down in sector 14-E, fifth floor! Suspected trespasser is Kurosaki Ichigo, so be on the lookout and I want all members at your posts!" A blaring voice came out over the loudspeaker, and Rukia cursed. A stream of guards was running towards her. In actuality, they were there to protect the door, but Rukia thought they were coming for her.

Yep, no use in hiding anymore.

Lashing out with her aura, she caught the whole front of them and knocked them flat, breaking through the laboratory door before any could regain their senses. Her eyes whisked around as panic slowly brewed.

No, there were no samples, this looked more like a library than a laboratory. For one, there was no refrigerator in the room…and if they were keeping the blood someplace, it would have to be kept cold. Muttering a short curse to herself, Rukia turned to leave the room as she hastily ripped the wig off.

There were more guards outside now, and they were all well-prepared with flamethrowers and automatic weapons hoisted on their shoulders. But none went off; only when she charged forward did artillery come her way, but she blocked it with her barrier and used shunpa to dodge. She raced past the throng of confused hunters, leaping easily over them with her aura-infused legs, and getting out of their line of fire as quickly as possible.

Cursing louder, Rukia extended her aura so that she could feel out Ichigo's. It surprised her that she found it easily, but apparently Ichigo had, like her, decided that further discretion was useless. He was a couple of floors below her, most likely checking out the other of the two rooms.

She had to find him in order to get out. Of course, Rukia knew the way out by the map, but there was no way in hell she was going to leave Ichigo behind – even if that meant they both got caught. Breathing in and out as she ran up floors, the rush she got from her shunpa reminded her that she was in a real situation…one where most odds were against her.

And as she finally dashed up the corridor, following Ichigo's aura and predicting their meeting point, she was across of him in a long bright corridor.


"Rukia, good, you're there, now we need to–"

And suddenly, he stopped talking as two more people burst from an adjacent corridor, nearly bumping into the stainless steel wall. Ichigo's eyes widened in recognition, and Rukia halted for just a second. Ichigo was on one side, she on the other. There was no way that they'd be able to meet, not with the two hunters standing battle-ready in between – and fighting to get past them would take precious time.

"Asano…and Ishida…" Ichigo said. Rukia noted that his eyes were suddenly hard. Why? Ichigo continued, "Asano, how the fuck did you get out of detainment? You're a fucking traitor from that time you tried to kill me!"

The sandy-haired man shrugged with a leer. "Well, oh great Kurosaki-taichou, ever since you went off your rocker Ichimaru-san said that you must've made up the accusations against me. Because, really, when have I ever shown the desire to hurt the captain who garners my utmost respect?" And he bowed with an exaggerated air of propriety.

"Shut the fuck up, Asano, you know what I said wasn't a lie!"

The other man simply shrugged again, and continued grinning.

Meanwhile, Rukia was facing off against the other man who had come down the corner and interrupted them. She'd only seen him once before, that time when her friends had come to bust her out and he had been holding a weapon. Sharp green eyes narrowed behind his square spectacles as he surveyed her, never lowering or moving his gaze.

That moment was broken between them as Ichigo lunged forward, intent on killing the man who so toyed with the legitimacy of his words. Asano had not been expecting the attack, and the hand on the flamethrower at his shoulder, matched with his human reaction rate, was far too slow to match Ichigo-Kaien's aura.

Ichigo got him right across the face. Asano reeled back; the dark-haired man – Ishida, his name was? – had to move quickly otherwise he'd have been bowled over. But Asano got up, spitting blood, and aiming his weapon. Rukia dodged the spectacled hunter and lunged, this time catching Asano across the back in a hit so vicious that she knew at once his backbone had broken. At the same time, Ichigo punched forward with a solid landing to his stomach. Asano sank to the ground without so much as a scream.

Rukia stood over him to watch the agony unfold on his face. No doubt about it. He was going to die. Her hit had cracked his spine in two and Ichigo's blow had caused severe internal damage. If he were a vampire he might have made it. Her lip curled at the thought.

Ichigo straightened to look the other hunter in the eye.

"Well, Ishida? Where's the horde of backup I'm sure you called for?"

The other man just continued meeting his gaze, saying nothing, not blinking. Ichigo knew they had no time for a standoff, but this just seemed to be unfolding without the limitations of escape restraining him.

It seemed to stretch on for what must have been only a minute, but felt like an hour according to Rukia's panic alarm. And yet, innately, she knew that this was something she could not interrupt.

Ishida spoke then, coolly and calmly. "I did not call for backup. Unless Orihime gives away your location via the security system, no one knows you are here in this precise location."

Rukia glanced at him.

"I'll have you know, Kurosaki Ichigo, you've caused a lot of trouble for this base by doing what you've done. These are things you can't change. They're also things you can never take back. But by following the path you believe is right, even should that path be heavily oppressed, I commend you for your fortitude."

She and Ichigo just continued to watch him. The time went on for another moment or two when suddenly Ishida broke eye contact and gave an unexpected, rueful smile.

"But then again, you've always been an unpredictable bastard."

At that, the corner of Ichigo's lip curled up. In the stroke of an instant, the atmosphere in the room went from crushing and defensive to almost lighthearted. Just by looking at Ichigo's face, somehow Rukia knew then that they would be okay.

"Ishida, you jackass, you really had me going for a minute there," Ichigo said, coming forward to punch his shoulder in a gesture of greeting. "But then again, you've always been a flowery bastard." He grinned, and Ishida smiled back.

"This is not the time for talk," Ishida said as he turned to look around them. "Even without my signaling so, other hunters will be coming up here soon. And I know they have already closed off other sections. It is best that you leave, now."

"But…Ichigo, did you find…?" Rukia asked the unanswered question. Had Ichigo found the blood samples, or would this infiltration all amount to nothing…?

"Yeah, I found them. They're all messed up and useless now because I poured a whole heckuva lot of cleaning detergent in 'em. Hope no one drops a match in there," he said, grinning. "Should go up better than a firework."

Ishida nodded. "Good. Then your mission is accomplished. Go out the way you were planning; I'll try to hold off any hunters that come this way for as long as I can. Now hurry and go, before something else happens." He cast a pointed look down at Asano's body, already dead on the floor. "Go on, hurry."

Ichigo nodded and, catching her wrist, propelled them both down the long corridor. But he stopped to give one last look to his friend – Rukia had figured out that they must have been very good friends – and for his final word.

"Hey, Ishida…"



Ishida smiled and waved his hand dismissively.

Ichigo snorted at the gesture.

"And you say I never say thank you…" the orange-haired former captain muttered. Tightening his hold on her wrist, Ichigo then dashed down the hall at a speed Rukia had no trouble following. Sights and rooms flashed by her eyes, but she hardly noticed them. And they were moving too fast for her to recall the map; Rukia just trusted in Ichigo's judgment.

"Who was that guy?" she asked him over the wind rushing past.

"A friend of mine," Ichigo said back. "Good guy – arrogant asshole – but a good guy."

Rukia allowed a smile to cross her face at his words.

The hunters they ran into after that were small and not of captain rank. They were defeated relatively easily and Ichigo and Rukia were able to move on, making good progress. So far they'd been running for nearly ten minutes straight, and there was still no end to the maze of twists and turns Ichigo was leading her on.

Suddenly he whipped her out of sight and into another small room, which led to a smaller corridor and another room. This room was dark, but there was a glass balcony, and beyond it Rukia could see the Tokyo city lights. A lavishly furnished room, it was painted in cool cream colors with handsome leather couches and a plush carpet under her feet.

However, Ichigo and Rukia noticed none of it in that one instant.

And that was due to the solitary figure in the room, obviously waiting for them: Yoruichi.

Ichigo halted right in his tracks, and the hand on her arm seemed to tighten until Rukia was sure he would've been bruising her wrist, had she been human. Her own breathing had stopped. It wasn't until Ichigo exhaled loudly did she notice.

"…Shihouin-san…" Ichigo said guardedly, stepping in front of her, "I do not know what you are doing here, but I can tell you that…I won't let you take Rukia back. I'll fight you to the death if I have to." His hand tensed, and Yoruichi finally looked at him. She had been staring outside at the crescent moon, the side profile of her face somehow holding back a world-weary secret and the burden of too many decisions past to change the transpired.

"Kurosaki Ichigo…" she said quietly. "…you know, I'm proud of you."

Rukia could only blink at her in stunned silence. Ichigo was doing the same.

"You weren't like me," she said, smiling a little sadly, and turning back to the moon. "You had the courage to follow through with the choices that you made, and I can see right now that you haven't regretted them. Not in the least bit."

Ichigo nodded slowly.

"It's not so often that I get to bear witness to the growth of one superb individual, though the trials and sufferings that ultimately shape a person were instrumental in your growth," she said. "You grew the most and the best…for that, I'm proud of you, Kurosaki Ichigo."

Rukia looked back and froth from Ichigo to this woman, wondering if Ichigo knew what she was talking about – she sure didn't. However, from the expression on his face, she could tell that this wasn't sinking in any further than it was for her.

The moonlight rolled and reflected off the muted velvet drapes; Rukia stared at it for an instant before realizing that it was because they were moving. Gently brushed aside, another figure stepped forward. This time it was Rukia to stand stock-still in recognition.


Ichigo was still partly in front of her, but since it seemed the dark-skinned hunter leader had no plans of attacking her, Rukia took a step forward to see her own leader better. "Urahara-san, what are you doing here?"

"The invasion alarms were already merrily blasting away when I arrived," he said, with a casual shrug. With the absence of his hat, the gesture looked particularly serious. "I had no trouble just finding my way…here."

"But…that's Shihouin Yoruichi, Urahara-san…are you going to fight?"

Urahara smiled a little over to her before turning to Yoruichi. To Rukia's amazement, from their met gazes, there was no hostility or enraged fire; it was Yoruichi's softened amber eyes that met his in a gentle understanding.

Rukia had no idea what was going on…that, or why the two highest leaders of Japan's secret war weren't killing each other on the spot. However, those thoughts and all others were abruptly shot into oblivion as Urahara stepped forward to Yoruichi, his hand coming to her back, and tipping her face up into a silent kiss.

If she had been human like Ichigo, she would've choked on her own breath too.

Suddenly it was like they weren't even in the same room. "Kisuke, you know, I've missed you all these years," Yoruichi said softly, still in his embrace.

"I know, Yoruichi. Shhh, shhh…don't say anything." And he embraced her once again before releasing her, though his hand traced her arm until they ended up connected. The crescent moon just beyond the window split them to two sides, hanging above their heads and directly above their clasped hands.

It took Rukia a while to find her voice. When she did, the only partial question that she was able to voice was: "…Urahara-san…what…?"

"I suppose this will take a bit of explaining, nah, Yoruichi?" Urahara said, turning to her. She nodded.

"Of course," she said. She was about to continue, but Ichigo cut her off.

"What the hell's going on, Shihouin-san? Why are you – with that vampire – acting like that – like a traitor – why – you…?" he sputtered, obviously unable to form a complete sentence with all the strings of his various thoughts piercing each other.

Yoruichi sighed. "Kurosaki Ichigo-san…as I'm sure you know well by now, this is no ordinary vampire. He is Urahara Kisuke, leader division main-seat holder, rightfully the most powerful vampire in Japan…and, once upon a time…he was my lover."

Well. Wasn't this peachy. Rukia blinked.

"Your lover?" Ichigo exploded.

"Correct," Urahara took over. "We were lovers and had been for many years, but then, unfortunately…due to youthful inexperience and misjudgment, an argument between us turned into a rift that would separate us for many of the following centuries…for the many following millenniums. An argument that would eventually spawn something else as well." He shot a look over to her, and her eyes were regretful.

"Wait, wait…centuries? Millenniums? Urahara-san, what are you talking about? Shihouin Yoruichi's a human; she can't survive through millenniums like we can unless she was reborn into several human lives or something…or…"

And suddenly Urahara's eyes on her were so expressive, Rukia gasped.

"Or unless…"

Urahara nodded.

Ichigo was lost. "What? Unless what? Rukia, what's going on?"

"…unless she was a vampire all along…" Rukia whispered, hands coming to her mouth in disbelief.

At her words, Ichigo's head shot to his former leader. The silence, like a blanket over the conversation, was suddenly almost suffocating. For a good minute, all Rukia could do was just stand there with her mind a slate of blank thoughts.

And finally, Ichigo spoke. "You mean…Yoruichi-san…you're a vampire?"

"Yes," she acknowledged. "As…as Kisuke has just told you, we were lovers a long time ago. Originally we were part of a tribe now known to history as the Ainu, the first people to move to Japan. Back in those days, contact between other people and faraway tribes were few and far in between. Vampirism was like a whisper of a myth. It seemed impossible.

"And yet, even as we settled down and prospered, it came from somewhere. I doubt anyone shall ever know the first true roots of vampirism. In any case, it came to Japan, to where Kisuke and I were living together…and Kisuke became a vampire."

She turned her face to the floor, hidden in the shadow. "Those first few days were frightening. You know newborn vampires cannot go out into sunlight, and in those days, it was only by Kisuke's farming a field that we were able to eat at all.

"However, he soon grew used to it, and even began to like the "bonuses" of being a vampire, like the faster speed and the heightened vision…and the healing rate. He figured out by himself that he had become an immortal. And because of this, one day, Kisuke told me he wanted to make me a vampire too."

She stopped. Even from this distance, Rukia could see how hard her hand was squeezing Urahara's. Therefore, he took up the story.

"To make a long story short, she resisted," he said softly, softer than Yoruichi had been speaking. "She didn't believe in eternal life, she didn't want to live for an eternity, she just wanted to be normal. I was…distraught at her reaction. At the time, she was the only thing I had in the world, and I was determined to keep her. Because of that…"

At this point, he too broke off to take an unnecessary breath, then resumed.

"Remember when I talked of youthful inexperience and misjudgment? That was I. Too blinded by my unrequited want of having Shihouin Yoruichi for eternity, we argued, and I mistakenly bit her during a surge of bloodlust I had not yet previously encountered."

He nodded at Ichigo and Rukia's shocked faces. "Yes, it was as you suspect. That turned her into a vampire. In addition, Yoruichi had been pregnant, the circumstances of which were unknown to me…and because of her turn from living to the dead, she lost the baby. Of course. As would have been expected." He cast a look at Rukia. And it seemed he was going to speak again, but Yoruichi cut him off.

"After he bit me, I could not forgive him. I wondered how he could say he loved me so much and yet do such a thing against my will. I wondered if the other vampires were brainwashing him. I wondered if I could stop it. I gathered a few of my human friends, talked of "demons," and organized a hunting party.

"At the time, Kisuke couldn't believe I had organized a party for the deliberate eradication of what he now considered "his race." I told him he was being stupid; that he was and would always be human. We argued again, and the rift grew deeper and wider.

"Eventually, some of the other villagers noticed the "special abilities" of the other vampires, and they began to organize special teams of people to hunt them. And when...others...learned of this kind of work we had going on for the hunting of vampires, eventually word spread, as did the practice of killing." She stopped.

However, Rukia understood, as unbelievable as it seemed. "…you mean that the argument between Urahara-san and yourself was the beginning of formation of hunters in the civilized world, right?"


"Correct," Yoruichi said.


"I can't believe this. I can't fucking believe this!" Ichigo raged, throwing up his hands and pointing accusatory fingers at his former leader. "You've been a vampire all this time and yet you lead the hunters and still love Japan's leading vampire at the same time? Weren't you the one always going on about the disgust of hypocrisy and all that fancy bullshit? What the hell did all that mean?"

"You see now why I am very proud of you," Yoruichi said quietly. "You were not like me. After the formation of the hunters in rural Japan, I felt too powerless to stop it…tried to feel that what I had done was right, even as the little nagging doubts at the back of my mind told me that something had gone all wrong. I didn't listen to that voice. You did."

She smiled a little at him. "I knew about you from the moment you enlisted; I could feel your aura. Of course, I'd known Shiba Kaien, a little distantly, but his soul was unmistakable. At the same time, I thought that you would be a valuable asset to the hunters. Over the years, this battle has become larger and bloodier than it ever has before…it was easy to convince myself that I hated the race of which I was and did not want to be. I watched over your growth, and it was superb. And somehow I'm not surprised that we are where we are today."

"Yoruichi-san…why…until now…why only now are you telling me this?"

"You weren't ready to learn it earlier," Urahara replied. "And besides, Yoruichi and I had to see whether your relationship would ever amount to anything – whether you would fight for it or whether you'd give it all up."

"Did we defy your odds?"

"In every possible way," Urahara smiled over at Ichigo's challenging look. "And by watching you come this far, you've made Yoruichi and I come to a new realization as well."

"What's that? Fight during the night but kiss during the day?"

"Don't sound so sarcastic, Kurosaki-san. No. We've decided to try and tone down our attacks upon each other…our ultimate goal is to dissolve the hunters completely, but we both know that that's nothing more than a fanciful dream. It is already too deeply ingrained, this secret war of ours, something that just cannot be wiped away from Earth's private files."

Urahara paused. "And so, at the culmination of this talk, where is this really leading? I'm sure you want to ask this…" He turned from Yoruichi, breaking the hand contact, and sliding the balcony door open. "I'm sorry to say, but this is probably the only way out of here that isn't being watched…so go. This is our apology to you both, Kurosaki Ichigo-san, Kuchiki Rukia-san, for all the transgressions you've endured under the light of our hypocrisy."

A door was open to them, a door to freedom – but now that they had it, somehow Rukia couldn't bring herself to move when there were still too many questions. "Urahara-san…?"

"I know. I know, Kuchiki-san. It's hard to accept."

"No, it's just…why didn't you tell me about Kaien before? Why did you wait until I stopped Ichigo's execution?"

"I saw no need to tell you of it before. And besides, in reference to the latter, it was just another test that Yoruichi and I saw fit to test your relationship." He smiled. "Go on. Yoruichi and I will try to keep the hunters and vampires off your trail. We'll try to keep it quiet, and try to get them to stop following you so that you can live freely and in peace. After all you've fought through…you deserve it."

Rukia's throat was too tight to speak. Slowly, her feet began to move, slowly, walking past without a word. Ichigo paused.

"Yoruichi-san…" He appeared to be fumbling for words. "Yoruichi-san, I..."

Yoruichi regarded him keenly. "Kurosaki Ichigo, I have said it three times, and will say again…I am very proud of you. You have been the best captain I have ever had the pleasure of commanding. Whatever may happen in our future, just know that Kisuke and I will always be on your side."

And Rukia watched the expression that crossed Ichigo's face, watched as he suddenly sank into a deep bow with his hands by his sides, a last gesture of untold respect. "Thank you…very much, Shihouin-san…" he said, the shadows obscuring his face.

"It is we who should be thanking you," Urahara said, as he came forward to once again take up Yoruichi's hand. "It is only because of you two that Yoruichi and I have been able to quell the misgivings of past arguments and come together once again." He smiled. "Now, go on. I can tell that other hunters are getting close."

Rukia nodded. She could feel them too.

She held out her hand. "Ichigo?"

And with a last look back, Ichigo took her hand as them jumped off the balcony together, flying down, down, straight down, until Rukia's wings gently spread and they soared off into the darkening azure sky. Soon they were no more than a speck on the horizon.

Urahara and Yoruichi stood watching them.

"They'll make it, won't they."

"Of course," Urahara agreed. "Because Kuchiki-san has Kurosaki Ichigo-san to hold her up whenever she crumbles."

Yoruichi laughed a little and turned to embrace him. "That sounds like a cheesy pickup line that you would've used on me, a long time ago."

"Maybe…" he said softly, his face drawing closer to hers, "…but now, you know, I seem to find that I don't need to."

By the time the rest of the hunters found Yoruichi, she was alone again, staring off at the sky with a gentle smile at the corner of her lips.