Author's Notes: … I'm exhausted. But extremely happy that another chapter's been churned out, this time mostly in Ichigo's POV! (: I apologize for taking such a long time.

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Tumbling Down.
Chapter Four.

Kurosaki Ichigo on the outside was a better-than-average student who did pretty okay in his schoolwork (contradicting the belief that most kids in Seireitei Academy paid their way into the school and had nothing but air for brains) and excelled in his extra-curricular activities such as baseball. He was also portrayed as a slightly cold (because of the perpetual frown on his face; but oh so cool, to his fan-girls) and laidback person, who screwed around occasionally but never got too serious into a relationship with someone else. No one knew much about his family, aside from the fact that his father was some high-flying businessman who churned lots of money. His mother was almost non-existent, because he always went tight-lipped every time someone questioned him about her. As for siblings, no one was sure, actually. But then again, those were just boring aspects of a normal person's life and didn't interest the masses at all. They were just eager to know about which girl had been granted a date with him next Saturday, or which baseball game his team had won yet again. Every school needed someone prominent like this (Kuchiki Byakuya was just too high and mighty for this role), and he played his part pretty well, in everybody else's opinion. Well, except for Kuchiki Rukia, but that was beside the point.

But the school's favorite orange-head was actually rather different on the inside, if anyone cared to delve deeper. He did well in his academics only because he studied, just like everyone else did, and he won baseball matches only because he practiced, just like everyone else did. The rumors that flew about saying that many girls had lost their virginity to him were almost always false, although no one would believe him if he denied these incidences. So he stopped trying to argue his way out of these situations, after a while. It didn't hurt that they kept him popular; not that he cared much for fame.

In fact, his life was pretty mundane, just like everyone else's in Seireitei Academy. They were lucky to be born into rich families, and paid their way into everywhere they went (save for a few like our dear Kurosaki), some might turn out becoming really successful with the strong backing their parents provided, some might just lag behind others and have no choice but to learn the ropes of business and take over what their fathers built up so painfully, and some might just lead normal and simple lives. There were no "Oh no, my boss is going to fire me from my part-time job because I missed three days of work when I had a high fever and now I can't pay for my school fees" problems that they had to deal with – the most detrimental ones would probably be something like "Which bag should I buy; the Louis Vuitton one or the Gucci one!"

And so, Ichigo was actually pretty pleased with the existence of a certain puny Kuchiki, because she kept his life entertaining, and she seemed different from everyone else in the school. For one, she didn't worship the ground he treaded on (not one bit), and harbored a sense of great dislike for him – he was sure that she'd quite forgotten what had happened to cause their mutual enmity. It had been a single incident in the past that probably set off a spark, and sent things rolling downhill from then on. They'd been twelve (maybe thirteen?), when he entered her class as the "new transfer student", introducing himself with a slight grimace because he knew that people would laugh at his seemingly girlish name. There was no point in explaining because all those morons just didn't get it anyway. At that time, their hormones were still pretty much under control, and no one thought of how great it would be to be the girlfriend of the richest boy in the country (besides Kuchiki Byakuya, perhaps); there were no fake smiles or flirting – if you thought the name "Ichigo" was amusing, you just laughed straight into the person's face. Come to think of it, Ichigo actually liked those "innocent" times much better.

Anyway. He'd been surprised that the black-haired girl sitting near the window wasn't laughing or shouting, "He's named after a fruit!" like all the other dumb-asses in the class, even though the Kanji of his name had been printed clearly across the blackboard by the teacher, and it looked nothing like "strawberry". She was just staring out of the window, looking positively disinterested with what was happening around her, and that pissed Ichigo off for some reason. It wasn't that he was an attention-maniac and was unused to having people not being paying attention to him; he just wanted her to turn her head to glance at him once, at least. At present time, he mused that he'd actually liked the girl when he first set his eyes upon her, although he was sure that those feelings had died out after many years of plotting against each other for the stupidest issues ever.

Because Fate loves to mess up the lives of people, Ichigo was assigned to the empty seat behind the girl with jet black hair that made it look almost indigo. She didn't even bat an eyelid when he walked past her, and that just infuriated him even further. And he believed that this was the reason why he'd started throwing random objects from his pencil case at her head, watching them bounce off with fascination. He recalled that the blue eraser that he'd been quite fond of had been the last straw. In the midst of class (he vaguely remembered that it had been arithmetic), she'd stood up and drawn herself to full height, which wasn't such a formidable thing really, although her blazing violet eyes frightened him rather although he wouldn't admit it, and promptly socked him in the face. With a crack, he felt as though he'd fallen into a hot spring head-first, followed by warm liquid which began to flow down his nose and onto his brand new school shirt.

Ichigo remembered with a triumphant chuckle that the girl had been sent to the principal's office straight away, while the teacher (a female, of course) cooed at him and helped him into the sick bay. The downside was, his nose remained crooked for the rest of his life – but the other girls seemed to like it very much that way, so he left it like that. Very quickly after, he found out that the fiery violet-eyed girl was the younger sister of Kuchiki Byakuya, and her name was Rukia. Her Royal Highness had presented him with the prized information of her first name while she was pounding him to death in the school playground after he'd called her "Bunny Underwear" too many a time. He can still remember that particular painful scene very vividly – she'd been swinging on the rusty school swing, up, down, up, down, and reaching higher heights each time she kicked off. He'd been incredibly jealous, because he never could bring himself to swing up so high. Scowling, he planted himself in front of her and yelled, "BUNNY UNDERWEAR, GET OFF NOW!" Predictably, she merely shrugged and continued her momentum. "Didn't you hear me, Bunny Underwear?" the boy questioned, still frowning. Now, although Kurosaki Ichigo may seem like an asshole (at the tender age of twelve, imagine that!), but in actual fact he was rather nice to everyone besides Rukia. It had always baffled him about how worked up he would get if matters concerned the girl who wore white underwear with pink bunny prints – he'd never figured out the reason behind her fetish with rabbits either.

When the fifth "Bunny Underwear" was out of his mouth, Ichigo suddenly found himself lying on the ground with a throbbing pain at the back of his head, and the girl herself atop him in a straddling position, her fists driving hard punches into his face. Fortunately for them, they had been quite blissfully unaware of the fact that their current position was rather suggestive. As the small-sized girl hit him, she growled, "My name is Rukia. RU-KI-A. Kuchiki Rukia. And I like my underwear so shut up!"

He had been lucky to get away without a disfigured face. He hadn't dared to retaliate, because even at twelve years old, he had a policy about not hitting women, although he considered scrapping the idea as the nurse applied iodine to his wounds and earned several inhuman howls from the orange-haired boy. Somewhere across the hall, Rukia smirked jubilantly, even though she was in detention. One point to Kuchiki Rukia.

What Ichigo didn't know was that she had been terrified to discover that she'd violated another school rule in less than two weeks, and prayed with all her might that her brother would somehow never come to know about it. Of course, her wish had not been granted and she was subjected to one of his frighteningly silent lectures and demeaning gazes as her hands trembled on her lap. Without Renji and Shuuhei standing outside her room bodyguard-style, she would've fainted from the stress she was under, when her brother was within a one-meter circumference.

And so, Rukia remained the winner throughout all their "battles" during that year, although she did try to avoid violence lest Byakuya was called to the principal's office to settle his younger sister's problems yet again. Her opponent was badly humiliated with 298375906349 points to her, and perhaps 73 points to him. It was rather devastating for his male ego, really.

The four seasons passed quickly, and it was a new year again. They were both thirteen, and were officially teenagers. Eighth grade, the grade just before one would be christened as a "high school student". Frankly, our two protagonists didn't really care about the school system; so long as their grades didn't really slip that much and they could continue to have fun. Fun, in Ichigo's terms, was to win Rukia in the meaningless war between the both of them – it never occurred to him that he'd started it by throwing things at her in class. Going headfirst against her had been a bad option, as he'd learnt throughout his first year in this new school.

No matter, there was always the new tactic.

As the students filed into the school in their starched uniforms and expensive cars, both Kurosaki and Kuchiki caught each others' glances, and for a moment there was a staring contest between the two eighth-graders, even though they seemed very much like preschool students. The gaze was broken soon after, when Byakuya looked at Ichigo with the famous withering look that sent many running to their mothers. Shuddering inwardly, the orange-haired boy managed a queasy smile at the Kuchiki, much to Rukia's amusement. It was cruel, but she did enjoy seeing her brother's glare being directed at someone else – it was even better that the "someone else" was someone that she didn't like at all.

Similar to the year before, they shared several classes together, much to the dismay of the both of them. By now, Ichigo had made several close friends like Sado Yasutora, Ishida Uryuu and Inoue Orihime. It made Rukia feel a sort of hollow feeling in the place where her heart was, but she dismissed it as being sad about having no one to bully. No, she was not jealous, she was sure. Besides, she had her trusty friends too – Abarai Renji and Hisagi Shuuhei. She wasn't very close to any of the girls, but hey, Inoue-san's friends were all guys too, so it didn't worry Rukia too much.

Because Fate wants to play yet again, they landed in the same arithmetic class, with her seat next to the window and his seat behind her. Simultaneously, they sighed. Then glared at one another with a certain kind of vengeance that no one else could mimic.

"What're you sighing about?" Rukia asked in hushed tones (sounding as though she was afraid of something), since the teacher was still droning away about statistical graphs. He wasn't fooled, because her back was arched straight, and her violet eyes had sparks dancing around in them – she was in battle mode already, on their first week of school. A year ago, he would've insulted her verbally and earned another fist in his face (ah, déjà vu), but now, he simply smirked at her.

She gaped.

He smirked again, because that had been the expression he'd predicted from her, as he practiced that laidback and irritating expression that he had on his face at the moment in front of the mirror he had at home. She was definitely unused to the new combating strategy that he was applying, but quickly clamped her mouth shut and willed herself to look normal again, succeeding after a few tries. After all, a member of the Kuchiki family must never display their emotions so clearly in public.

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At present, he couldn't really remember what happened after that, except for the fact that he had actually won Rukia that time because she didn't have a comeback. Hmm, maybe he would ask her about it later in the morning during class just to irritate her and to gloat about The Day His Winning Streak Started.

For now, he just wanted to get some fresh air to clear his head a little. No one else seemed to be up, but then again it was one in the morning and people did not get up from their beds to take a walk around the school at such a timing, usually. Problems at home were plaguing his mind, and depriving him of the sleep that he desperately needed, especially since the baseball championships were coming up really soon. Apparently, his father had found a new woman – something that displeased Ichigo rather, because he knew that the old man had never gotten over his mother, and that was just unfair to all the women he set his eyes on. Of course, there were those who threw themselves at the older Kurosaki's feet because of his wealth and power… Ichigo didn't feel any sort of pity towards them. It seemed as though the relationship this time wouldn't last too long either. He sighed, letting out a whoosh of air that he hadn't realized he was holding.

Thinking of "the enemy" had been relaxing, and it took his mind off family matters. He didn't quite understand why, but every time he pictured her scowling face, he would feel as though his problems had dissipated away. It wasn't because she was the "love of his life" or anything near to that, but probably because he found her interesting. She stood out from the rest, with her fiery temper and cutting remarks, and the way she never got into bitch fights with the rest of the female population in school, but wouldn't hesitate to drive her heel into someone's crotch whenever she felt like doing so. Perhaps she was a feminist, or a lesbian. Ichigo toyed with that idea for a while, but dropped it soon after. If she was really inclined to those of her own sex, she would've made a move on her room-mate (Hinamori, was it?) a long, long time ago.

His thoughts were cut off abruptly when he heard shuffling – shuffling that sounded very much like someone walking down the corridor towards him. Brown eyes with a tinge of orange glanced at his surroundings, slowly widening when he realized in horror that he was in the girls' dormitory and would suffer dire consequences if that shuffling turned out to be a teacher because there was no way he would be able to convince the teacher that he hadn't just deflowered a girl and was on his way back to his own room. Besides, the "lights-out" timing was eleven, unless you desperately needed to get to the library for some last-minute studying before a test the next day. Quietly but swiftly, Ichigo made his way across the corridor in a half-skip, cursing under his breath because he knew he looked utterly ridiculous. By the time he'd reached the safety of the vending machine that was big enough to hide his tall form, the shuffling had stopped. He frowned. How annoying. Ah well, he might as well get a drink while he was at it – at least he could say that he'd gotten up because of an unexplainable craving for Coke.

The corridor was dark, and the only light came from the "EXIT" sign above the door that led to a flight of steps, and from the white light of the vending machine. As Ichigo stepped out from beside the vending machine, he did not expect to see a pale face peering at him, looking as though she'd just crawled out of a coffin. It did not occur to him that he looked almost as scary, and that people do not just hop out from behind vending machines in the dead of the night.

Both parties screamed, then covered their mouths with their hands, then squinted at each other for a while before the moment of realization, and then dropped their hands and glared at each other.

"What the fuck are you doing out here, at two in the morning?" Rukia spoke first, not even attempting to mask the irritation in her tone. She looked disheveled, with dark circles around her eyes and her lips set in a very thin line. That usually meant that she was going to cry, or that she was in pain. Ah, female troubles that they claimed he would never understand even though he'd paid attention to "The Menstrual Cycle" in Bio class.

"I was getting a drink, until you crept over looking very much like Sadako," he answered truthfully, before dropping a few coins into the vending machine and hitting the button for a can of Coke. He watched her eyebrows knit together as though she was in deep thought.

"Who the fuck is Sadako?" she asked after a pause, stepping in to buy her own drink. Hot coffee, he predicted. Her finger pressed the button below the picture of a cup with swirling coffee within. Bingo.

It surprised him really, that he knew so much about Rukia. Sometimes, he wondered if she knew that much about him too.

Sighing, he replied, "She's the freaky girl from The Ring. You know, the one who climbed out of a well and terrorized everyone through a video tape, yada yada." She continued staring at him blankly.

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Clearly, you aren't up to date about the entertainment world AT ALL," he informed her before taking a swig of his Coke. Eck, sugar overload.

"Nii-sama never did like me to watch shows that killed your brain cells," she said, meaning it as a retort although her tone was a tad too subdued to be an insult. Ichigo looked at her, eyes narrowing slightly. He never did like Kuchiki Byakuya – not in the way he was loggerheads with Rukia, but the way one wouldn't want to touch dry ice because it was so cold that you could feel a burning sensation if you came into contact with it. Right now, he wasn't pleased with the melancholic vibes that the younger Kuchiki was giving off; the Rukia he had grown up with wasn't like this at all.

"Here, throw this away," he commanded, shoving an empty Coke can at her. The dustbin was just a few steps away, but he just wanted to make her angry by reminding her that she was still his property for four more days.

It worked, and she snatched the can away from him heatedly before stomping off to dispose of it, together with her half-filled coffee cup. Tonight, it just seemed too bitter. Besides, her estrogen levels were fluctuating so badly that she felt her taste-buds had changed too.

When she came back, she declared resolutely, "Once this bet is over, I NEVER want to have anything to do with you again, Kurosaki." Somehow this idea made him feel unsettled, and he told himself it was because he wouldn't have anyone to argue with him anymore. "And then you can go hang out with all those disgusting girls who throw themselves at you just because you're richer than they are," she added, sounding a little… Jealous? He smirked.

"Why, feeling jealous?" he voiced out his previous thought, still smirking at her. She looked at him with an expression that clearly spelt, "What The Fuck?" His own expression didn't waver.

"I don't even like you, so why would I be jealous?" Rukia scoffed, giving him her signature "I am mightier than you" look. He felt that she should patent it, because no one could make someone else feel so small with a single glare – he would've liked to say that he was immune to the effects of it, but he wasn't, even after three years.

He didn't know what possessed him to say the following statement, but he said it anyway. "I bet I can make you fall head over heels in love with me in six months," he said quietly, brown eyes gazing into her violet ones. She blinked.

"What?" she asked, her voice equally quiet.

He felt himself grinning and gaining confidence. "I said, I bet I can make you fall in love with me in merely six months."

Rukia made a weird clicking sound at the back of her throat and pretended to be deep in thought. A few seconds ticked by. "No, you can't. What do you think we are, main characters of an oh-so-wonderfully-unrealistic romance novel? No one makes bets like that these days," she rattled on sarcastically into his face. Hmm, the reaction he'd foreseen. Violent objection.

"Well, Shuuhei did," Ichigo countered, gesturing to the both of them, who were currently members of such a bet. He heard a low growl from her. "That's DIFFERENT," she shot back stubbornly, even though her argument wasn't backed at all.

"Then you're just scared," he said after a period of silence from the two of them. She sent a fist into his stomach, which he managed to block, but with much effort. Oomph, her punches were still as strong as ever. That didn't stop him from taunting her further. "You're scared that you'll really be smitten by me and lose the bet."

She let out a strangled scream and looked as though she was going to beat him to pulp when she turned pale and doubled over, hand clutching at her abdomen. He thought she was just acting, but when she didn't get up after a few seconds, he stooped down as well so that they were at the same eye level.

Are you all right, he wanted to say, but that would've been too uncharacteristic of him to do. Instead, he stuck out his index finger and flicked her forehead. "We'll settle this tomorrow morning," he decided, peering at her pale face.

When the piercing pain stopped, she looked up and glowered at him. "I'm not scared. But you can't measure LOVE, so the bet's just going to fall through," she said matter-of-factly, putting a hand against the vending machine to support herself as she got up from the ground. He frowned. Trust this Kuchiki to think logically when she was in pain.

"That's easy. Love is just a nice word for physical attraction, so the winner just has to makes the other person want to kiss him or her," Ichigo said in a business-like tone. The raven-haired girl sneered in response, "How clichéd and disgusting."

"Well, I'm confident enough about winning this bet, so I can understand why you don't want to participate in it," he replied easily, because he knew that would spark off an array of predictable emotions from Rukia which would ultimately lead to her accepting his challenge in the end.

After a certain amount of internal turmoil which Ichigo watched with amusement, Rukia finally relented, spinning around to glare at him once again.

"I accept it. However, it's only on the condition that I get to decide what the winner and the loser gets because my chances of me wanting to kiss you are perhaps less than you wanting to kiss me, I'd expect," she said in one whole breath. No matter, he knew neither of them would win anyway, because they were both too stubborn to budge. It was enough that she would be there to bicker with him and keep him amused for six months, at least.

"Deal."

To be continued.

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To readers: Yayee, six more months of IchiRuki goodness. You didn't think I'd stop at seven days, would you? XD My spacing's always wonked out when I upload it and that makes me quite irritated indeed. I hope it doesn't pose as a big problem for any of you dear readers out there. Anyway, this chapter serves to tell more about Ichigo's character, and how their eternal feud came to be. Also, the bet has been "extended", much to Rukia's annoyance. Watch out for more interaction between the two! I'll probably bring in new characters soon – they're the ones I usually work with, so you can guess who. XD Oh, another note is that Ichigo's father is most probably not Isshin, because Isshin is hardly the role of a mean-and-cold father. Maybe Ryuuken, but then poor Uryuu would be father-less.

Thanks to: kurenoharu, Phoe-chan, Jeebus dirtface, cynlee, rukiaprincess, kittyblah, nightxXxshad, Makino114, Fenris Amon, Lunair, mikigm31, TwilightHack, ruukii, FuturePast, dopeyPoo, Yami no Shoujou, SHiNiGAMiLENNE, dOkei, Placid Snowflake, TurkWriter, jiaxi, Syneiam, mochi rabbit, Statik, xXxReixXx, eBooeBoo, gossa, inugrlluvsanime, Sonatre, Elukazina, Drunken Panda12,ahhmeii, aster1point5, Roxysan

KagomeHigurashi66: I love that pairing too (now, ain't that obvious?)! XD

notnow: Yes, I think he's a little too subdued in canon, don't you think? (:

kisuteri: Kumi-chan! XDD I'm glad that you like this fic! –glomps-

jadeb: I am honored!

rukiagiugiu and all those who waited for my update: I apologize. Really. ):

Thank you all so much for reviewing! –hugs all- Hope this chapter will bring in more reviews too! (: