Disclaimer: Bleach is owned by Tite Kubo, not me.

Author's note: I am so sorry for not updating when I should. For those who don't know yet, my stupid computer went stupid on me and destroyed all my Bleach files. I tried to get them back as soon as possible, but it turns out that I can't retrieve them anymore, which was a shame considering I'd only just finished chapter three. Plus there was school, teen dramas and of course my own Ichiruki dilemma to pile on my back. But I don't think any of my excuses cut it as to why my update was so late, for that I am again deeply sorry for the long wait.

Here's my way of making it up. I hope you enjoy, and of course, it fits to your usual standards! I appreciated the list of reviews I'd received while I was away; they've really helped me get back to this.


Chapter Three: A Battle of Will

To say Ichigo got the least amount of sleep in the history of the least amount of sleep was an understatement. He was dead tired – a feeling he SHOULD have technically felt a few hours prior. He'd stayed awake on that bed, staring at the ceiling with wide, bloodshot eyes, and unable to fall back asleep even if he tried. It took almost the entire night to quell his spasmodic heartbeat, let alone stop thinking about that disturbing yet exhilarating dream he had of a certain someone that slept peacefully unaware inside his bedroom closet.

Ichigo cursed. Last night she'd nearly driven him insane with all the things she'd been doing to him. She had single-handedly, whether she was aware of it or not, managed to not only make him blush red in the face whenever he saw her, but she now had him thinking about her, staring at her constantly, filling his mind with these delusional thoughts like wanting desperately to be with her.

He knew Rukia was a force to be reckoned with the moment he laid eyes on her, but she was beginning to take 'complicated' to a whole new level. Ichigo thought that if he spent just one more second in her presence, he'd snap!

So, he got up to prepare for an early departure.

However the fates hated him with a passion and as he made his way towards the door he found himself face to face with a Kuchiki Rukia, who had not only just come out of the washroom, but was clad in a towel, her hair dripping wet.

Ichigo didn't know how long he stood there, his mouth hanging in the air, ready for the flies to make a nest in it, but all resilience he had of completely avoiding her simply flew out the window the moment he laid eyes on her. And to his horror… he could NOT look away.

Rukia, meanwhile, was just as shocked as he was, but for a totally different reason.

Rukia couldn't believe her eyes. It was an act of Kami of some sort. Or maybe there was some cosmic shift in the universe and the entire balance was now titled, hanging on by a single thread but just barely. What was it that humans always called when the miraculous or the impossible happens: when pigs fly? The sun has exploded? The sky is falling? Whatever! All Rukia was sure about when she woke up that morning was… she must still be asleep and this was all just a bizarre dream formed by the insane part of her sub-consciousness.

What did humans do when they are in this type of shock again? She asked herself; racking her brain for something she'd past read from one of her "sources" AKA manga. Oh yes… Rukia pinched herself, biting her cheek so as to kill the cry of pain she'd just felt. But to no avail, the pigs continued to fly and the sky went on falling.

There, standing before her, fully dressed and gawking like a total moron– was Ichigo. It was mind-bobbling, not to mention hardly conceivable even if she willed herself to believe it ten times over.

Perhaps SHE'D been the one to sleep in? No, even the impossible couldn't get even more impossible than this. Rukia glanced at the clock and had to keep herself from really doubling over in shock – it was only six o'clock! What the HELL was Ichigo doing awake at six-FREAKING-o'clock!

For the longest she could remember, Ichigo hated getting up early – no scratch that – he hated being woken up early. There WAS a difference. He'd chew the heads off anyone who woke him up even five minutes earlier than the sun. It was true, the many times she'd seen him kick his father out of his room was proof enough, and on occasion even she'd gotten the typical Ichigo temper if she so much as even suggested it! Yet here he was, up and about, as though waking up at 6 am was something he did on a regular basis.

She stared back and wondered what he was going to say to her. To her surprise, he didn't say anything, and stayed where he was, expression like he'd been hit in the face by a football; his jaw slacken. Rukia frowned. What the hell was he staring at her for?

"Ichigo. Ichigo! ICHIGO, OI!" With that she socked him in the face, hard, and with a surge of satisfaction running through her at the sight of him keeled over backwards from the unexpected punch she threw at him. Hmph. That'd show him for ignoring her like that, she thought, pleased. Besides, his stare was unnerving; it was making her feel…slightly nervous beneath his scrutiny, with her heart beating faster than what was usual. She didn't understand this at all. That punch seemed have done it, however; Ichigo was looking back at her with a renewed expression that mirrored her own just once before: dead pissed.

"What—"And with this he gritted his teeth, "—the hell was that for?" he demanded. He rubbed the part where she'd socked him good, glaring irately at her and scowling like he'd never had in his life.

Rukia huffed; glad that the awkwardness had disappeared between them and her heart was no longer pounding in her ears. "I was calling your name," she said simply, walking passed him towards her closet. "The least you could do is respond instead of staring like an idio—"

Ichigo jerked out of his reverie, seemingly realizing something at that moment in time as his brown eyes grew slightly larger. Rukia frowned. Really, she thought, what was with him? He was acting so odd that she felt a spike of concern overcome her.

"Never mind!" he snapped, his cheeks red – probably bruised from the blow five minutes ago. "I'm going."

"You're going already? Where?" she said, bewildered. "To school? But it's only six-thirty!"

Ichigo glared at her heatedly. She was so damn curious it was annoying, not to mention she had a knack at pointing out the obvious. He wanted to yell at her, tell her this was all her fault, tell her that the very reason he was leaving so early in the day was because… was because…

You're messing with my head, that's why! And I want you out, permanently before I go completely bonkers!

He wasn't going to admit THAT, not in a million years. He'd take this admittance with him to the grave whether he was tortured, starved or forced to go into hiding – he'd never tell!

"None of your business!" he said sharply, hoping it was smothered enough of the usual venom to conceal his 'un-Ichigo-like' behavior. He didn't wait for Rukia to say anything, much less wanted to for that matter, and whirled around, stomping out angrily out the door.

Rukia watched the door for a moment, looked to his desk where his knapsack was still on the chair and wondered just how long he'd realize that he'd left without it.

Not that long actually – Rukia heard someone running up the stairs, practically thrashing each step and making a ruckus. Honestly, did he want to wake up the whole neighborhood? The door opened and Ichigo was back, swiftly moving passed her and grabbing his back – he threw it over his shoulder and went out the way he came, not even glancing her way as he did.

She was more confused than ever. Rukia had thought maybe he was going to explain… tell her the reason why he was acting so out of the ordinary… so…so…

Detached… like he was when I first met him…

Yet still she waited… waited for him to say something, anything. But Ichigo didn't. He didn't leave room for any details, had just simply tightened the hold on his bag and left the room.

Rukia didn't know how long she'd stood there, watching that door… that place Ichigo had been before he departed. There was something deep within her that stirred… she couldn't describe it; it was prickling, it was sizzling, it was overwhelming… no, that wasn't it…

It was painful. That was the word; painful. But what was so painful? She wondered. Ichigo acting so cold to her…? She was used to it. The fact that he barely even looked at her…? Close… but that couldn't be it either. Or how he had completely pushed her aside as though she wasn't there…? The pain pulsated at the thought… as though properly responding to what she was really feeling in her heart.

So what if he was acting odd? So what if he barely glanced her way before he left, not even a muttered 'good-morning' or a 'see you later'? So what?

She was Kuchiki Rukia the Shinigami and he was Kurosaki Ichigo the Human. Differences among differences piled between them, like a bridge between their worlds. She couldn't expect anything from these differences to change, even if she didn't like them. And how could she have forgotten where she'd belonged? Had she spent too long in this world that the lines between her and the rest of the humanity were beginning to blur?

It would be pointless if she'd became attached to anything here because it was inevitable… sooner or later… whether she wanted to or not… she would have to return; go back to Soul Society. And the departure would only be painful if she got close to anything…or anyone.

Especially Ichigo.

Emotions…friends…they're all… really troublesome…

Rukia looked out the window, watched as she could see the sun finally peeking over the tops of the other houses across. She did her best to wash out her feelings, drown down the obvious sensation of pain dabbing salt at her heart…

They're all troublesome… She repeated.

But to Rukia's dismay, she could not believe it.

Ichigo cursed.

He left the house at forty-minutes passed six and up ahead he could see the tall standing structure of Karakura High. He'd spent the passed five minutes of that walk taking deep breaths, shaking out all emotions that had run itself wild around him and muttered a mantra he'd made up along the way – only because it felt suitable that he should have a mantra when it was Kuchiki Rukia he was trying rid of from his thoughts.

"She's not in my head…" he muttered, taking another deep breath, "She's not in my head…" He gulped another large breath of air when a particular image of Rukia in her short, uniform skirt fleeted through his mind, clear and mind-blowing, as though she were actually standing there before him. Ichigo crinkled his brow, shaking his head; trying to block out that specific image – or any image at all really and repeating his mantra loudly again to himself. "She's not in my head…This is me: bitter, aloof and socially distant… She's not in my head… she means nothing… absolutely nothing—"

…Rukia clad in a bathrobe, her hair dripping wet and her skin smooth – okay that was it!

Ichigo cursed again. He was at least some distance away from her and yet he was still finding it difficult NOT to think about her. It didn't help, to say the least, that he was feeling immensely guilty for leaving the way he had – that had been cold, almost unfair, heck even HE had to agree that his actions were unjustified.

Well, the rational side of himself suddenly said, it IS her fault. If she wasn't such a pain and got out of your head faster, maybe you wouldn't have to resort to this.

"Yeah…" Ichigo muttered, stuffing his hands into his pockets, "that's it…entirely her fault, not mine."

Who was he kidding? He'd been a jerk and that was that. Ichigo scowled. It was only temporary, he kept thinking, just until he could straighten his head again, get back in gear… rid of all these messed up thoughts of her everywhere…

That's it, Ichi-Nii, said a voice that sounded relatively like Karin, deny it; it's always helped me.

Oh, Onii-chan is so mean! Yuzu cried. You should go apologize to Rukia-neechan right away!

What are you waiting for, my son? The season of love never waits for –

Shut it, pops!

He got to school at seven exact – well, he technically arrived fifteen minutes before seven, but he made a pit stop to the local convenient store and bought himself a large cup of coffee. Yes, he hated coffee to the core, but well… he needed something to last him the rest of the day, otherwise he'd keel over and never make it to see last period.

Ichigo had arrived at school, more tired than ever (obviously the coffee was a complete scam and wasn't doing its job with keeping him awake), with a look even grumpier than what was normal. Many people he knew passed by him, noting his weary appearance and the hideous scowl he wore on his face; they even had the nerve to whisper amongst themselves and point at him, as though he were walking around with two heads instead of one.

If he wasn't so exhausted he'd have given them all a piece of his mind, but considering that he was indeed exhausted he settled with the most terrifying death-glare he could muster. Needless to say, people had ceased to make eye contact with him and were doing their best to completely evacuate the halls. And any space occupied by either of them was assured by a lengthy gap; incase Ichigo snapped and decided to kill them they'd have enough room and time to get away from him, unscathed – or just barely.

However, some of the really bolder ones – or maybe they were just plain stupid and had plans of an early death, like Keigo – jumped him from behind, nearly giving him a heart attack, and yelling 'good-morning!' at the top of their lungs. It was a tone that he'd surely be shot for by any non-morning person. And as coincidental as it was, Ichigo happened to be a VERY non-morning person.

"ICHIIIIIGOOOO!" Keigo cried with a passion.

Ichigo counted to ten, and if Keigo didn't get off him by then… well… let's just say he'd be VERY sorry he hadn't. And of course, typically Keigo had exceeded the ten second mark, he'd have to be punished accordingly, Ichigo decided.

Keigo was thrown at the other end of the hallway with a force equivalent to ten thousand Ichigos – which was saying a lot, considering he barely slept the night before. Keigo crashed and slid down against the wall, starry-eyed and completely out-cold. Ichigo was breathing hard from the strength he'd just exerted, but he felt a surge of satisfaction at the sight of a knocked out Keigo sitting on the floor.

"That guy never learns…" said a voice by Ichigo's side. It was Mizuiro, and he was shaking his head disgracefully over at the slump figure in the distance. He looked back to Ichigo and momentarily blinked, taken aback. "Whoa… Ichigo… what's with you? You look like the dead!"

"Gee… thanks," said Ichigo flatly. However, he was certain Mizuiro was right about his appearance and didn't sock him for such an unwanted remark.

They started on their way to class, leaving Keigo behind, who was still under severe comatose, while a dozen other freshmen students nearly toppled over him. Some even poked the side of his head with a stick to see whether he was still alive or not; Keigo merely snorted in reply, a bubble popping, but remained immobile.

"No seriously, Ichigo," Mizuiro went on. "You have bags under your eyes, y-your…face seems to be…uh… sulkier than usual and y-you're drinking coffee not to mention—" He cut himself off and a look of comprehension came over his face. He said, his voice quiet and understanding, "Oh."

He was suddenly smirking – it was out of the blue, like something had just dawned to him then – a sure enough sign that whatever perverted remark he had swirling at the back of his head was going to make its way up front.

"Constantly thinking of Kuchiki-san, huh? It's made you unable to sleep to the point of insomnia—"

Ichigo stubbed his toe on an invisible step. It wasn't because what Mizuiro had said was completely unexpected – but he also happened to…well…not be entirely wrong in his assumption. Not that Ichigo was going to voice this out. He regained himself quickly and threw Mizuiro a glare that said 'You want to join Keigo too? Just keep talking!'

Mizuiro was quick as always to change subjects; he cleared his throat and scratched the back of his head, focusing on some non-suspecting particle that only he could see.


To his further annoyance, Keigo had resumed ability to move and walk, and had come around to Ichigo's other side with his head wrapped thickly in bandages. However, it did not help hide the exceedingly large bump on his head and could be seen sporting for the world to easily see.

"You're still alive?" Ichigo muttered, irritated. "I thought I got rid of you five minutes ago."

"Oh! How cold!" cried Keigo, dramatically. "Hmph! Well, maybe you're forgetting, Ichigo," he went on boastfully, "my head's thicker than steel! It'll take a lot more than a few punches to slow me down."

"I've noticed," Ichigo said bitterly.

Keigo didn't seem to hear this. He was busy looking around, his eyes bright with hope and his smile jauntier than ever. Ichigo had a feeling he knew what was coming and a rise of annoyance once again spread over him.

"Ah… where is she?" Keigo cooed, as though on cue. "Where is the beautiful, sweet, innocent, kind, wonderful, absolutely amazing, not to mention VERY sexy—"

"I don't know," Ichigo growled, trying not to picture Rukia as any one of those qualities, however failing dreadfully. If that wasn't bad enough, the image of Rukia that morning kept popping up in his head, which was a distraction all on its own. "Shut up," he added.

"Oh THERE she is!" Keigo went on, practically shoving Ichigo to the side as he pranced happily over to Rukia. "Good morning, Kuchiki-san!"

Ichigo glanced at the pair through narrowed eyes. Was he irritated? Hell yeah! One because Keigo (the dumb-ass) was ass-licking his way into Rukia's good graces, and two, Rukia was actually buying it! She worked that poised, butter-sweet smile of hers and curtsied, which had Keigo totally floored in seconds and was now shaking her hand so vigorously that Rukia's entire arm shook from his mirth. He continued to shower her with nonsensical compliments, which Rukia, of course, pretended to take to heart, turning her head away, trying to cover her face in attempt for modesty.

Ichigo watched this, feeling disgusted by the display as each minute passed by.

He didn't particularly like the idea of Keigo holding her hand and wondered briefly when the hell he was going to let go… or better yet… when she was going to pull away? Ichigo knew Rukia was going for convincing, but was it really necessary that she'd engaged in proximate contact – with Keigo, no doubt? Ichigo thought Keigo was holding Rukia's hand way longer than he should and resisted practically running over there to pry his leeching fingers off her completely.

Of course, he didn't – it would look wrong his part, not to mention Mizuiro would give him that smug 'I told you so' look which he hated, and that was definitely worse than watching Keigo flirt with Rukia, who unbeknownst to herself, was flirting back! No, instead, he sucked it and endured the painful ordeal like a man.

Then for what seemed like forever, Keigo finally released Rukia's hand (much to Ichigo's relief) and led her toward Ichigo and Mizuiro.

"Good morning, Kuchiki-san!" said Mizuiro at once.

Rukia smiled brightly and curtsied ("Oh my heart!" Keigo sighed.) "Good morning to you too, Kojima-san!" she said. Then she raised her midnight blue eyes up at him, and like a magnet Ichigo couldn't look away. She was gazing at him as though she were trying to read his thoughts, with an expression on her face he barely recognized. It wasn't hard to get lost in her eyes he began to realize; staring at them long enough during these few seconds had now made him an expert. At last she spoke, the far-off glaze in her stare now gone and her voice coated with sugar and fakeness, "Good morning, Kurosaki-kun!"

Ichigo felt his eye twitch. "Good morning," he grumbled, casting his eyes at the ground. He felt looking at her was a bad idea – it was bound to make him do crazy things, he was positive.

"Ah… do you think I can have a word before class, Kurosaki-kun?" said Rukia sweetly.

Ichigo knew he was being watched by both Keigo and Mizuiro, who were not only the biggest morons he'd ever met but they also happen to be the main source of all gossip. He didn't want them spreading around that he and Rukia were languishing around school premises – before class started no doubt – together…alone… in a private location…and did he mention TOGETHER? The belief about them first being a couple was high tide and had spread throughout the school faster than he could say 'holy crap!' and he was pretty sure he knew just who the two idiots that'd started it all were.

And besides, Ichigo viewed himself as a practical guy, so… naturally he said:

"NO frigging way," he said flatly.

Rukia's smile seemed to have stretched beyond the borders of fake sweetness and had hit 'hidden lethalness.' He could see her smile being forced as she suppressed herself from flaring up at him; Ichigo couldn't help but smirk, enjoying her mere slip.

"Oh… but I insist, Kurosaki-kun," Rukia went on, just as amiably. "It is…what you call: very important!"

Like hell it is! He thought, scowling. "Didn't you hear me?" he said loudly. "I said no friggin—"


"Oh, no! Kurosaki-kun!" Rukia cried dramatically, rushing forward to his fallen state.

"Ow…y-you… b-bitch…" Ichigo mumbled, barely coherent in his speech as the pain rushed from his lower regions throughout his entire gut area, disabling his vocal cords from properly giving Rukia the good cussing of her life. Rukia however ignored his futile attempts to glare at her, and instead had opted to helping him up, looking immensely worried.

Yeah right.

"Oh dear, Kurosaki-kun, you look ill! Here, let me help you to the nurse's offices!" she declared, dragging him off with her and waved goodbye to both Mizuiro and Keigo, who looked as though they weren't quite sure what the hell had just happened.

As soon as Ichigo and Rukia were out of sight, Mizuiro looked to Keigo, with something akin to uncertainty on his face.

"Um… did you see that?" he asked.

"Did she just—"said Keigo, equally flummoxed.

Then in unison they said, "Nah!"

They proceeded to walk to class without a care in the world.

Rukia led – err dragged him off outside the school, blatantly ignoring (or rather hadn't noticed, period!) several passing students that'd spotted them and who just couldn't help but watch them walk off…together… alone… to a private location…and did he mention TOGETHER? It wasn't until they reached the roof of the building that Rukia finally relinquished her hold on him.

"Okay," she said as she crossed her arms, "spill it."

But exactly what he was supposed to 'spill' didn't concern him the instant that she released him. Ichigo didn't realize the impact of how much he needed that support until his face landed into the concrete with a loud and echoing CRASH, which made several flocks of bird scatter from the trees. Ichigo moaned.

"What's with you?" he heard Rukia ask him.

Ichigo felt like screaming. His eye did a double twitch because the situation evidently called for it. As if she had the nerve to ask him what was with HIM? It was her damn fault he could barely feel the lower half of his body! He scoffed. He looked at her and felt the usual prickle of annoyance resurface. It was so typical that Rukia was totally undeterred by this, looking at him so innocently, so curiously… so annoyingly cute he could just take her right now and… no! Ichigo shook his head. Get yourself in gear; this is NOT the time to think Kuchiki Rukia is cute! Not that he thought she was cute or anything, but – gaah – that was so not the point! The point was, however: did it ever occur to her that she may have totally wiped out his chances of ever having children?

He moaned again. That could only mean…

"What do you mean you can't have any children? What about my grandchildren? I want my grandchildren, Ichigo! I shall beat you until you finally produce me a child—"

Ichigo's expression fell.

…his dad would definitely be on his case for the rest of his life if something like that were to happen. Ichigo just prayed to Kami that he hadn't been turned completely sterile. See? Rukia equals BAD, he thought, so as to appease himself for even thinking she had the slightest possibility of being…being… well, cute. Ichigo breathed in and out; trying to set that mantra he'd instigated back into focus. Rukia equals bad. Rukia equals annoying. Rukia equals NOT cute to the point of him just wanting to –

"Well?" Rukia frowned at him; her arms at her hips and looking… impatient.

And suddenly, Ichigo found it quite easy to hate her again. "Well?" he repeated, grinding his teeth, "what do you mean 'well'?" That should be MY line!

"You've been acting really strange since yesterday," Rukia pointed out.

Ichigo blinked. He hadn't been expecting that, but then again… he hadn't been expecting a lot of things. Rukia had caught him off guard, yet once again. She was an expert in that department, he mused. His life had been simple; at least then he still knew what he wanted, still had his mind in check… but now… Rukia was doing something to him, and he didn't like it.

I refuse to admit she can do anything to me…

"Pfft… as if…what makes you think that way?" he scoffed, but he couldn't disagree with the fact that she'd been partially… correct… he HAD been acting strange (how could he not, with these messed up thoughts?), of course, he didn't tell her that. She'd push on it more if he did.

"Well, you're not denying it," said Rukia, defiantly. "Don't think I haven't noticed." Ichigo snorted. Rukia noticing something… there was a first. "You're distracted," she said, ignoring this, and taking a step closer.

Ichigo entertained the thought of pulling her nearer, his hands wrapped around her and following the sequence of that dream he had previously, leaning in and… he shook his head. That wasn't funny anymore. Not one bit.

"You've also been avoiding me," she said softly, now staring at him in a way that made him nervous. Ichigo felt that familiar stab of guiltiness return to him at once. It was like she was trying to read his thoughts again. Trust me, he thought; looking away from her, you'd kill me if you knew

But… maybe she already did? Ichigo paled at the sudden idea. Was this why she had put him through such agony just to talk with him, because she somehow – unbelievably – caught wind of what was going on through his mind and was now confronting him to stop? Ichigo snorted. Believe me…

He'd been trying to do just that.

Had he been that obvious? Damnit… I knew I should have made a better mantra! Did SHE even had any idea the pain he went through to ensure he hadn't jumped her –

Aarrgh! Ichigo swallowed weakly. He was cracking again… but he couldn't… not now; not in front of her.

"Don't be an idiot…" he said, his voice slightly hoarse. "Why would I—"

"Don't give me that," she said, looking at him annoyed. "You won't look at me… you won't look at me right now—"

That's because I can't! Ichigo clenched his fists tightly.

"If there's something I did… tell me," she insisted, her tone a little dejected. "Stop trying to cover up."

Cover up…

Again… there was that jab of guilt that instantly washed over him. He gritted his teeth together, trying to force it down. It wasn't a matter of what you did, he thought. You didn't do a thing… It's me… all me…

When will she understand that he couldn't simply tell her? That pushing him was only making him shrink away even more? He needed space… not a pep talk.


He became aware a few seconds too late that the distance between them had vanished; Rukia now stood before him, so close that he could see the light of her blue eyes, smell that overwhelming scent known as Rukia… she was so close that he could almost…

He instantly backed away. Damnit. He couldn't do this. He couldn't push her away.

"See?" Rukia declared angrily, pointing at him accusingly. "So you are avoiding me! What. Is. It?"

Ichigo's glare intensified. "I told you that I'm not!"

"And I told you not to give me that!" Rukia snapped. "Besides… if you're not then why haven't you looked me in the eye yet?"

Ichigo didn't reply and kept his back to her. But his lack of response caused her to smirk, claiming her obvious victory that she had, yes, nailed the target dead on.

"Hah!" she said, coming around to face him. He was looking anywhere else except down at her; a vein throbbing at the side of his temple ensuring her that he was, indeed, pissed. Her grin widened. "I knew it," she said to his further annoyance. "I knew it."

Ichigo scowled. She didn't know crap.

"Well, what is it then?" she prompted, placing both hands back to her hips. "I'm not going to let you leave until you tell me exactly what it is!"

He looked at her with wide eyes. "But we have class! You're bound to let me go sometime!"

"Screw class! That's not the case right now," Rukia said, rolling her eyes. "And please—"She scowled, "don't insult my intelligence by making petty excuses, now spill! I. Want.To. Know!"

Ichigo glared at her, and she, in turn, glared back – with equal intensity. Rukia, he thought, was S-T-U-B-B-O-R-N. She didn't look as though she were about to back down any time soon either. Ichigo inwardly groan. This wasn't what he needed right now.

What do you need then…? Said a voice in his head.

Anything but this… He thought firmly. He couldn't stand having her demand for such reasons as to why he was acting so peculiar, why he couldn't look at her and why he couldn't tell her… when the reason WAS her… SHE was the reason he couldn't look at her in the eye, why he couldn't tell her… He wished, just wished… that it'd finally dawn to her and she'd just let this go!

"Well?" she demanded, tapping her foot. "I'm waiting!" Ichigo scowled. Like hell I'm telling you! "Don't make me pin you down and FORCE you to tell me," she said warningly.

Ichigo did a double take. Mostly because what she'd said was completely and utterly unexpected. And the other…. well…

What the hell? He thought, incredulous. What did she – was she serious? Rukia's lips were a firm line and her jaw was set straight, as though daring him to defy her. Yeah… he thought, seconds later… she was SO serious.

Somehow, the idea of Rukia on top of him, her arms and legs sprawled at his sides, not to mention that skirt bellowing in front of him, didn't do wonders to his imagination. In fact, it'd managed to push the flow of blood from his feet all the way up his face, making it go redder than it'd ever been in his life. He felt heat radiating at the back of his neck and swarming fast to the rest of him. Of course, Rukia hardly seemed bothered. Ichigo's scowl deepened.

She claimed that his dramatic change in behavior had gone unnoticed by her; however, she stood there and still didn't have a clue. Not one damn clue.

"Pfft… I don't need this." He began walking away. "I don't need this. Not from you."

"Hey!" she said sternly, grabbing him by the arm to stop him. "I'm not done talking—"

"Well, I am!" he yelled, whirling on her.

Needless to say the outburst had thrown her off guard. He would have felt extremely satisfied by this if not for the fact that he was now starching mad. She had pushed the last of his buttons. Before he knew it, he was speaking, words were being said – harsh, cruel, and hurtful – by a voice that sounded a lot like his own but he could barely recognize the source behind it.

Maybe it was because he hardly slept the night before… maybe it was because he was so sick of Keigo and Mizuiro assuming so many things about him and the "nature" of his relationship with Rukia… maybe… it was because he was so downright tired of the fact that he couldn't get her out of his head… that he'd finally snapped.

However, he couldn't stop them now… his words…they had taken a life of their own.

"You don't know shit so just drop it. Stop trying to get involved with affairs that are not any of your concern." Ichigo's voice shook. "Y-You think you know me? You think simply because you've seen and heard things about me that no one else has that you know me; that you can just nitpick your way into my business? Well you can't, Rukia, you god damn can't. You don't know me at all, not a thing. This is me, here, the REAL me." He pointed at himself, swallowing – he was losing it, he thought… he was losing it…but he couldn't. He felt his heart harden again and pushed it away, in a place where not anybody, not even Rukia, could get to it. "Don't…not everything is easy to say. This is my damn problem. Mine. Not yours. So… stop… just stop…"

Stop doing this to me…

He knew right away that that had been the wrong thing to say. Ichigo knew he should apologize, take it back… but he knew he couldn't… he was too much of a coward, too proud, and too angry, to say he was wrong.

So when he finally pulled his arm away, Rukia didn't protest, didn't hold on… but simply let him. Her total determination a few seconds ago seemed to have faded at his words and once again, Ichigo felt terribly, wholly, responsible. Just stop…He silently pleaded, trying to wear the blame away. Just stop…

Rukia stood there, watching him, unable to do anything but simply watch him.

"It's always like this, huh?" He heard her say; it was so soft, barely coherent… that he almost hadn't heard it. Her voice sounded… empty…almost tired even. "Every time… it's always like this… I can't do anything…"

Ichigo clenched his fists until they were almost white.

"I told you… this is nothing," he said in a forced, would-be calm voice.

Their words… their dialogue… everything… it was like speaking to a stranger… They had argued before, many times before actually… but something about this dispute was different, not at all like the other ones.

Because the guilt felt real… was real…

"Hm…" Rukia mused, nodding. "I guess you're right." She gave him a small twisted smile. "So much for trying, huh?"

Ichigo didn't answer; he felt like his vocal chords had completely malfunctioned on him. Rukia's smile didn't waver, but it was fake… all fake… She walked passed him toward the stairs, her eyes cold… distant… it was almost like he was staring at that girl he'd met one year ago, the one who saved his life, who gave him strength to save those he loved, rather than the girl that went to school with him, hung out with him, lived with him…shared laughs and argued with him…

"And for the record," she said quietly, "I was simply concerned; I wasn't expecting anything of you if that's what you thought I was doing… I can't have you distracted if a Hollow should show up is all." Ichigo looked at her then and swallowed. "But you're right… I don't know you…" Rukia sighed. "I'm just sorry I bothered… Maybe… that person I thought I knew wasn't real after all… maybe he'd only been a dream I'd just made up…" She shook her head. "I'll never know, now will I?"

She didn't say anything else, didn't even wait for an answer (not that he could give her one) and disappeared down the stairs. Ichigo watched after her, stunned an above all else, extremely guilty.

Well, said the voice again in his ear, now you've done it. You've successfully managed to make more of an ass of yourself than you already are…

Shut up… Ichigo hissed, shutting his eyes. Shut up. The voice left him. But Ichigo was left with an imprint of those words…

Well… he'd gotten his wish, didn't he? He thought bitterly. He wanted Rukia to give him some space, to drop this topic and leave him be… and she did. Mission accomplished. Hurray.

So then why, he wondered, did he feel so incredibly empty?

Walking back to class was a longer journey than he'd first anticipated. After the fact, he'd spent a good ten minutes cursing to himself and mentally whacking his behind for royally screwing things up. He was not particularly skilled in admitting he was wrong, but as such, when it came to apologizing… especially when the person he was to be apologizing to was no one other than Rukia herself his talent for anything of the like was zero. Not only would Rukia hit him over the head for being such an idiot, but she'd give him the lecture of the life time, coupled by an entire week of 'I told you so!' and that ever infuriating expression of total smugness he knew she'd not resist to throw his way. That was how Rukia was… proud and boasting; unafraid to flaunt it.

It was made apologizing so incredibly difficult. Ichigo would rather fight Hallows and endure his father's incessant nonsense than ever admit he was sorry to Kuchiki Rukia. But sadly, and ironically enough, that was just what Ichigo was now working up his courage to say. He was so worked up over this that he winded up walking right into someone.

It took a while for Ichigo to realize just who it was he'd bumped into. And when he did, his irritation shifted to a new kind of annoyance. "Ishida," he stated flatly.

The said boy pushed his glasses back up, revealing blue eyes behind the lenses. "Kurosaki," he turned, just as coolly.

It was like the temperature in the room fell down about a hundred degrees. The rest of the students in the area shivered but wondered how it could be so cold in such a warm summer morning.

"I see you're here early this morning," said Ishida.

Ichigo huffed. "Just because I don't camp outside the school like you, it doesn't mean I can't be early," he retorted.

"I don't," said Ishida, coldly. "I wouldn't expect you to know punctuality, considering you can hardly keep up with me when it comes to tracing down Hollows."

Ichigo had came so fast, hardly anyone saw him coming. He was practically shoving his face into Ishida's by this time, spluttering angrily, "Is that another challenge, you Quincy-wimp!"

Ishida glared, just as irritated. "Yeah? So what if it was?" he hissed back. "Not like you can do anything about it. You Shinigami are noth—"

"Oh, please," Ichigo snapped. They were practically at each other's throats, ready for that signal just kill each other. "As if I have to hear this 'ooh, the Quincy are better and you Shinigami are trash, blah blah blah' shit every fucking time I see you—"

Ishida grabbed him by the collar. "You have a problem with Quincies, you low-rate—"

Ichigo glared back and grabbed him by the shirt. "No, just one: and he's dark-haired, dorky-looking and wears a girly outfit—"

"Why you, little – that happens to be a traditional dress robe of the Quincies," said Ishida, getting formal now, "made of the finest silk and sp—"

"Oh please!" Ichigo spat, rolling his eyes, "As if I need a lesson on fashion—"

"Okay, you two, break it up!" The teacher was at the door, staring at the both of them. Ichigo and Ishida were red in the face, their faces practically shoved against one another's and spitting out how much they despised one another. "You're acting like a bickering couple!"

They looked absolutely horrified that she'd even suggested such a thing.

Ichigo shoved Ishida back, glaring at the other boy. Ishida readjusted his collar shirt, gaining some composure over himself and glared back, equally as venomous.

"That kind of behavior is not tolerated in my class, or in this school for that matter," said the teacher strictly, eying them both through narrow eyes. "Ishida, I am surprised with you," she added reproachfully to the dark-haired boy, "I expected more rational behavior on your part and I am very disappointed with you."

"Sorry, Sensei…" said Ishida, grimacing, "I assure you, it won't happen again."

The teacher gave him a curt nod before finally resting her disapproving eyes on Ichigo. Judging from her stern expression, Ichigo didn't think she'd be giving him the same speech as she did with Ishida.

"As for you, Kurosaki-kun," she said, her voice weary, "you've been in trouble too many times already with the school faculty. Do not give me a reason to give you detention – again."

Ichigo inward scowled. He could just feel it – that stupid Ishida-bastard was smirking his stupid Quincy face off and enjoying this, wasn't he?

"Sorry, Sensei…" he managed to grit out, "It won't happen again."

The teacher nodded, although her frown didn't waver. "If I see this again it's straight to the principal's office, got it?"

"Yes, Sensei," they mumbled.

She nodded again. "Good, now take your seats…Kami..." she muttered and started for the blackboard as both Ichigo and Ishida made their way to their seats. As Ichigo took his seat, Ishida sent him a withering look from where he was, and in turn, Ichigo did the same, hoping his message was carried out across: This is SO not over, you bastard!

He took a seat beside Rukia, whom he half expected to tell him that he shouldn't have been provoked by Ishida and simply ignored the other boy, rather than get himself into trouble. But, to his slight surprise, she didn't. Rukia sat, eyes on the board, as if the whole exchange in front of the class was an act of her imagination and had not transpired. The whole class had seen it, practically, had all watched him and Ishida in amazement, as though really expecting an all out brawl to ensue right before their very eyes. No… Rukia didn't appear as though she knew he was even there!

He watched her for a couple seconds as she kept her back to him and took her things out from her bag… He was vaguely aware that he was getting distracted again when his eyes followed the way her hair fell over her blue eyes and a sudden fact dawning to him that he really wanted to push it away; he'd quickly shook from his temporary stupor, or whatever insanity he was undergoing, and regained focus.

He wasted about another three minutes arguing with himself about the supposed apology he was about to make (and looked very stupid by the way) before she finally turned to him, slightly surprised as she did as if she wasn't expecting him of all people to turn up in the same class as her, while he, finally, just about grasped enough nerve in him to open his mouth, to blurt out that vile yet heartfelt apology of his… when – the bitch – she turned away, her nose high in the air, and ignored him! HIM!

It took all of Ichigo's will power not to yell at her, but remembering he was in class and the teacher was beginning the lesson, he held his tongue. The teacher probably wouldn't take it well if he suddenly screamed 'BITCH, LISTEN TO ME!' at the top of his lungs, and when he was in enough trouble as it is… No, despite him desperately wanting to lash out at Rukia, he had no choice but to suppress this particular urge to simply kill her right then and there down to a minimum.

That… didn't mean he had to be happy about it, though. Rukia did an awful great job of ignoring him totally; she kept her eyes ahead, making no indication that he was sitting just a few meters from her, scowling, for the world to see basically, in her direction. It perhaps got exceedingly worse when the teacher started pairing them up into partners.

Rukia got partnered up with… to his further distaste… Keigo, who was now telling her something or other that was making Rukia smile – was it nervously? – a wide smile on his face that made Ichigo desperately want to wipe off. What the hell was he telling her? He wanted to know, watching with narrowed eyes as Keigo rested an innocent hand on Rukia's shoulder. Rukia laughed heartily; making no indication she was going to push that hand away. Ichigo did all he can not to jump from his seat and practically stomp over there. Really, what the hell was he telling her? If it was something perverted o-or stupid like everything else Keigo said, he was going to seriously beat the crap out of him –

"Uh… Kurosaki-kun?"

Ichigo blinked out of his… plots to kill Keigo completely and turned his eyes to his own partner. Inoue Orihime. She was a nice girl, smart and was best friends with a childhood pal of his; Ichigo never had a problem with her… but she was kind of odd… to the point where he sometimes worried about her.

"Uh… right, sorry, Inoue," Ichigo mumbled, tearing his eyes from the scene.

Inoue tilted her head to the side, curiously. "Is there something the matter?"

"Huh? Uh… well, not exactly," he muttered, avoiding her stare. But she followed his gaze, as it kept leading back and forth between Keigo and Rukia. After a moment, she gasped, a wide smile forming fast on her face.

"I know what it is!" she said, suddenly, jabbing her hand with a fist; a look of blazed determination on her face.

Ichigo choked. "Y-You do?"

Inoue nodded, still with that unwavering blaze. "Yes! Something is obviously troubling Kurosaki-kun, because his face looks different than normal!" she said firmly.

Ichigo could only stare at her. His FACE looked different than normal? But what was normal? For the life of him, he had absolutely NO inkling what in the world she was talking about.

She pointed at his slightly confused expression, nearly stabbing him in the eye as she did with such enthusiasm. "See? Different! Kurosaki-kun's face is usually like this—" with that, she scrunched up her face in what he suppose was what he must look like in a regular basis… whatever the hell that meant… "But now, it's like this—"Needless to say, the expression she had on before didn't look that much different to this new expression she wore now, although she did look slightly more constipated-looking when she did that.

It made him wonder… was that REALLY how he looked like in actual life? Inoue smiled brightly when she was finished… demonstrating differences between his facial expressions, as though unfazed by this entirely. Ichigo, on the other hand, was still figuring out if this was the part where he said something?

In the end, he just cleared his throat and mumbled, "Uh… thanks, Inoue… I think."

Inoue's smile grew exceptionally, but she leaned in closer to him, a though confiding a secret. "Is it about Kuchiki-san?" she whispered.

Ichigo stared at her. How she managed to draw that conclusion up from her previous statements, he didn't know.

Inoue grinned knowingly, but her face grew serious… well, as serious as Inoue Orihime could get without looking like him.

"I can tell," she said.

"She did seem upset when she came into class," she told him quietly, glancing at Rukia as she did. Ichigo did the same. Keigo was still talking and talking, however Rukia hardly looked like she was paying attention anymore. She was staring ahead, her eyes far off. Inoue was right… she did look upset. More like angry and miserable cued a voice that sounded a lot like Karin again.

Just say your sorry, Onii-chan! Yuzu said encouragingly.

Ichigo, if you do not produce me a child this very instant, I will—

I said SHUT UP, pops! Ichigo cried.

"Kuchiki-san doesn't look like herself either…" Inoue said sadly, startling Ichigo. She looked at him, her brows furrowed. "Did…did something happen, Kurosaki-kun?"

Ichigo swallowed as he looked back at her. What was he suppose to say? Yes, something had happened? No, nothing? Maybe? It's none of your business?

"Ten minutes till class ends, everyone," the teacher hollered out to the class. "Wrap up your discussions and start preparing for next period."

Ichigo looked away, shook his head, and started getting up. "It's nothing, Inoue," he said, in a reassuring tone while he gathered his things. Inoue looked at him oddly. He smiled slightly, thinking maybe she'd draw another surprising conclusion from nothing. "Thanks though…"

He didn't wait for a response and quickly slipped away to his own desk, silently mulling over Inoue's words to himself. Rukia had gotten up and started for her desk. Ichigo watched as she packed her things away, her head bowed down and her back facing him, still refusing to look at him. Once or twice, Ichigo felt an urge to turn her around, make her face him and… SCREAM!

Yes, scream… for all the crazy things that she was making him do! He shouldn't care, should he, that she was dead pissed at him to the point where she may never speak to him again? He shouldn't be stressing over this, figuring out ways how to say he was sorry, when this was supposed to be a bonus, wasn't it? In fact, he should be damn celebrating right now! That would mean he wouldn't have her on his back every friggin' second anymore! Meaning… no more of that hitting, no more of that ear-breaking yelling… no more of that annoying everything! But noo… she just had to make him feel like this… like he'd go insane if she didn't punch him o-or insult him again! Kami… she was driving him mad!

The bell rang, signaling the end of that period. Ichigo watched Rukia storm out in the opposite direction. He was sourly tempted to go follow her, but something else grabbed his attention before he could do so.

Keigo sighed dreamily. "That last half hour with Kuchiki-san was the best moment of my life!" he said, causing Ichigo to twitch in irritation.

"Yeah, well… it was the worse moment of my life," said Mizuiro bitterly.

"Hahaha! Yeah… too bad for you. Arisawa… man," Keigo whistled, as if really feeling sorry for him (when really, he thought this was down right hilarious). "She'd be hot if she wasn't so scary…"

"Yeah, if she wasn't so busy trying to kick your ass all the time, you mean?" Mizuiro retorted. He glared indignantly when Keigo started snickering. "It's not funny. I felt like every time I said something she'd kill me!"

"Sucks to be you," said Keigo smugly. He started humming a merry tune.

"What are you so happy about?" Mizuiro demanded. "Last time I checked Kuchiki-san was totally ignoring you."

"What?" said Keigo, oblivious to Ichigo's glare, as he continued to face Mizuiro's ever skeptical look, "can't a guy be happy without a reason to be?"

"Unless that guy is an idiot, then no," Ichigo hissed. He stopped Keigo in the halls. "What is it?"

"What's what?"

"Don't play dumb with me, you know what," said Ichigo impatiently.

It took a while for Keigo to finally register what he was getting at.

"Hey, hey, that's not fair!" he spluttered resentfully. "You had Inoue-san, and she has big breasts – I say you were the luckiest out of all three—"

"Shut up," Ichigo growled. "What did you talk to Ruk—Kuchiki-san about?"

"It's nothing – you wouldn't be interested—"

"That's it. I'm throwing you out the window now," said Ichigo flippantly, grabbing the other boy by the collar.

Keigo let out a terrified squeak. "Okay, okay!" he said hastily. "Geez…" Ichigo threw him a warning look. "Okay, okay… w-well… you know that party I'm throwing tomorrow night…?" Ichigo nodded. "Well… there's going to be a lot of people… a lot of good friends, a lot of – hey, here's a fancy idea, Ichigo, you want to come?"

"What?" Ichigo said, bewildered. He shook his head. "No."

"What?" Keigo said, this time it was his turn to be bewildered.

"I said no," Ichigo repeated.

Keigo was shocked; no… more than shocked… he was having a heart attack! He grabbed Ichigo by the front of his shirt. "B-But why!"



"Just because," Ichigo said flatly.

"Oh, cold, Ichigo, cold!" Keigo cried, tears falling down his face like a waterfall. "Every time I invite you, you always say no! And when I ask why, you're only reason is because?" He looked dramatically toward Mizuiro. "I think we lost him… Ichigo has gone officially over to the dark side…he can no longer be saved…"

Ichigo glared at him, more than annoyed now. "What the hell are you—"

"Here, Ichigo!" Keigo brightened significantly, "considering you'll be needing this and all—"he handed him a headband, that said: NERD KING at the top in thick black marker.

Needless to say, Keigo was the thrown out the window anyway.

"Alright, alright, every one gather around!" said the P.E teacher. Everyone did as they were told, coming closer as they awaited the teacher's further instructions.

"Ow… my arm hurts…" Keigo complained for the one hundredth time since he was chucked out the window, clutching his left arm.

"Should have kept your mouth shut," said Mizuiro cheerfully.

"Still…" Keigo pouted. He looked at Ichigo with large, teary eyes and started whimpering.

"Oh, shut up," Ichigo hissed, who long after the fact had proceeded to rip the stupid headband into tiny pieces and throw them where Keigo lay, stars encircling his head. "You deserved that one."

Keigo sniffed and looked at his shoes. "Even while being injured severely… he is still so cold…" he said, dejected.

Ichigo rolled his eyes, ignoring this. He let his eyes wander to Rukia, who was standing on the other side of the crowd.

"Today we will be learning something new!"

Everyone cast weary looks to the other students, but nonetheless paid attention.

"Today," the teacher went on, "we're going to start: self-defense."

That started the entire class completely; they started murmuring amongst themselves.

The teacher smiled as if this was the kind of affect he'd been hoping for.

"But this isn't going to be like your regular self-defense class… no…instead of simply defending this time without aggression, you'll be invoking wrestling-typemovements to bring forth your opponent down."

"Wow…" said Mizuiro in awe, "is he serious?"

The teacher waited for several seconds as this new information settled to everyone, whose soft muttering was now a full-fledged uproar, before quieting them down again.

"Yes, yes, I know… normally the faculty doesn't permit for such violence to be taught, even if it's only a class, but… well, you're all growing up… meaning we can't protect you guys forever. This is the real world," he said grimly.

"What does he expect we might have to face?" Mizuiro muttered to Ichigo, who didn't reply.

"There will be a time when you need to defend yourself…" At several people's horrified looks, he chuckled, "No, no… I do not expect you to be killed while walking home from school or whatever… this is just a preparation… incase you're in a jam…who knows, it might help."

"If it will help me escape from Ichigo, then okay, he's convinced me!" said Keigo with glee.

Ichigo scowled. "Don't count on it," he said.

The teacher smiled and clapped his hands. "Now, shall we get started?"

As a starter, he taught them a few moves, some of which Ichigo had already learned during his time at the dojo when he was a child. They were a few simple moves, but nonetheless they proved useful. The teacher had them run a few tests no and then, evaluated their performances, before finally pairing them into twos.

Keigo, to Ichigo's relief and satisfaction, had not been paired up with Rukia this time. Instead, he'd been paired with Tatsuki, who was grinning evilly and cracking her knuckles. Keigo looked like he was about ready to faint from sheer fright. Mizuiro had been paired with Inoue, and was smirking cockily at Keigo and mouthing 'Sucks to be you!' in his direction.

Rukia, meanwhile, had been paired with Sado. A guy of a few words, however, Ichigo liked him enough; he wasn't a nuisance like Keigo and Mizuiro were. At least, Ichigo could be certain that Sado wouldn't be pulling off any "moves" while he was trying to overpower Rukia that was for sure. But then again….Ichigo thought… what the hell did he care, right?

"The purpose of this arrangement," spoke the teacher again, "is to use the methods I'd taught you and bring them onto the field. Use them to bring down your partner as you'd do if you were facing an actual opponent. If you can take them down then the accomplishment is yours. Now, I'll be coming around to see how you are doing. After five maybe ten minutes, I'll blow the whistle and you will switch with the person to your left; that way there are varying strengths and you can learn from your experiences. I want you to not only be able to put these moves into good use but also your minds."

"Well, I guess Keigo is out in this department," Mizuiro muttered. Ichigo snickered.

"Hey!" Keigo whined. "I heard that!"

"And while, yes, the moves you will be doing may cause some minor injuries, but please, let's keep this clean and to a minimum. Meaning there'll be absolutely no fooling around in this class or any use of these moves to invoke violence of any sort – this is a defense class." He gave every one a stern look, especially to some in particular… like Ichigo. "If I find that any of these moves are being misused… I'll personally punish you myself. Is that clear?"

Everyone agreed.

He cleared his throat.

"Now… on my mark: one, two, three—"he blew the whistle.

Ichigo scowled and faced his opponent. Yes, he was glad that Rukia hadn't been paired with another lecher… but unfortunately for him… he'd been paired with, of all people…

"Let's just get this over with, Kurosaki," Ishida muttered, displeased by the enlisted pairings. He kept rubbing his temple with his thumb, like he was getting a headache or something.

"Yeah," Ichigo agreed, "there's no point for me to waste my time with you. We all know what the outcome will be anyway."

Ishida didn't miss a beat. "You're right. To have you cry here in defeat would only embarrass me," he said.

"Made that one up, did you?" Ichigo sneered. "Just like that girl dress you wea—"

"For the last time, it's not a dress!" Ishida snapped. "It's a traditional hand-made robe sewn together with the finest material by the most respectable of… oh just forget it!"

He threw a punch and easily, Ichigo dodged it. "I hope your taste in clothes do better than your punch," he said, smirking. Another punch; Ichigo dodged again. "Oh no, I'm soo scared, please don't hit me with your girl punches, Ishida-kun; you might overwhelm me with your incredible outfit and total manliness—"


"Hah! Take that, Kurosaki, you—"


The whistle blew. Everyone did as they were told and switched with person to their left; however Ichigo was too busy trying to choke Ishida to death to bother noticing.

"Hey! HEY, break it up, you two!" The teacher snapped. He glared at the both of them as they reluctantly parted; Ichigo had been ready to deliver a punch to the face and Ishida was just about ready to strangle him. The both of them had identical red bruises sprouting on opposite cheeks. "What happened to what I said about misuse of violence?" The teacher grabbed the both of them by the front of their shirts and hissed under his breath, "I said when I blow the whistle you change with the person to your left – did I or did I not make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir…" they both mumbled, eyeing each other angrily.

"Good. And just so there's no further squabbling between the both of you – Awisawa, you pair up with Kurosaki. Ishida, you go with Inoue." When they didn't move, he bellowed, "NOW!"

Grumbling and his face sore, Ichigo moved next with Tatsuki furiously, who didn't just overpower Keigo using the moves their teacher showed them; she'd destroyed him! Keigo was paired with Mizuiro now, looking like he'd just narrowly escaped death! Tatsuki was known to be all around aggressive, and Ichigo knew he hardly stood a chance against her… being well a boxing champion, however at the moment he was too darn pissed to even care for his life.

"What's with you?" she said, eyeing his grumpier appearance.

Ichigo didn't worthy her question with an answer. Instead… he noticed something else.

Rukia, for the first time in like forever, was staring at him. Actually looking at him! Slightly defiant from his previous experience, he stared back, his expression hard and angry. Rukia looked back, hardly fazed. And… for a moment, it was like old times…

She was giving him that weird look again, he noted; like she was trying to read his mind but couldn't seem to… He didn't have time to think or say anything for that matter, because as fast as she'd been to look at him she was faster to avert her eyes, as though that whole exchange between them had been simply imagined. Judging from the severe frown on her face, she looked just as angry as he was. However, before he could evaluate on it any further the whistle blew.

Needless to say, in three seconds flat, Tatsuki not only managed to bring him down, but she'd managed to twist both his arms around his back, making him cringe in pain and scream for mercy. Geez Tatsuki was brutal!

The whistle blew five minutes after that rather painful ordeal, to his relief and he moved to the following person.


The matches when on forever, it felt, and kept coming. Pretty soon, he'd lost count of the number he'd already faced and who he hadn't.

Ichigo and Mizuiro. Whistle blow. Ichigo and Sado. Whistle blow. Ichigo and Inoue. Whistle blow. Ichigo and Keigo. And so forth and so on…damn… he was getting a headache not to mention exhausted…

The whistle blew again, followed by the teacher's voice, "Okay, last pair! GO!"

Thank Kami… he thought, grumbling as he moved to the person to his left.

However, as he turned, it was the person he least expected, the last person in the world, really, he anticipated to be right there before him… and just the sight of her made him stand still, his heart on hold, unable to do or say anything but simply look at her.


She looked back at him, her blue eyes fiery, and with a new expression on her face; one that Ichigo could distinguish right away, even at a distance...

A look that spelled: you're SO dead.

"Okay, on my mark!" the teacher called out. "One, two, three—"

And the whistle blew.

A/N: YAY, finished chapter three, finally! Phew! A super long chapter too! Twenty-six pages, can you believe that? I hope it's good enough for you guys and that the wait has been worth the while. Just so you know, my hands are going to fall off soon (smiles), but that's okay, so long as the chapter has been completed!

Special thanks to Steven for looking over this chapter a billion times with me and also for encouraging me, especially during times when all hope seemed lost for this fic. Thank you!

Anyway, review, review, review!