Genre: Comedy/romance. Futurefic.
Warnings: No real spoilers aside from the fact that there will someday be a winter war and a reference to 186. Rated PG-13/R-ish (no explicit content, but certain Shenanigans are quite obvious.)

A thousand and one thanks to Raynos and Tenebris for beta, rampant encouragement, and crack, and to Aino for moral support and mutual fic-poking.


For once, nighttime in Karakura was peaceful. There were no spiritual wars or rampaging monsters, and all was quiet.







"Ichigo, that's a hollow."


"Ah…we should…kill it…"


"Ichigo! Do your duty!"

He pulled away from Rukia and glared. "Well, if you'd stop kissing me, I could!"

"Maybe I would have if you'd removed your tongue from my mouth!"

"Oh, like you didn't like it there."


"What? It's true!"

"Ichigo. THE HOLLOW."

He snarled and whirled to face the masked monster that was charging towards them. He stuck out his blade, and the creature roared and ran right into it. He gave her a proud look. "Happy now?"

"Satisfied," she sniffed. He noted with detached pride that she was still flushed.

"Can we get back to what we were doing, then?" He leaned in only to nearly get a mouthful of her hair as she brushed past him. "Hey!"

"Sorry," she said. She actually sounded like it for once. . "But we should stay alert. It's likely we'll receive more orders tonight."

He glanced mournfully at the dark patch of sidewalk where they'd so recently been making out. "I don't hear the cell phone yet."

"It's best that we're not distracted when we do," she said, her voice settling into a tone of cool professionalism.

He sighed and gave up on getting any more smooches that night. He knew that tone. It was Rukia-the-utterly-focused-shinigami tone, and definitely not the Rukia-the-warm-and-enthusiastic-girlfriend tone. He watched her move forward and after a few steps, followed her.

They were still figuring out this partner thing. When he'd first become a shinigami, the dynamic had been easy—she bossed him around and he did what she said, to a degree. Then had come the rescue mission, and the war with Aizen, and even though they were both at fighting strength, the…difficulties…had meant they'd barely been able to fight together at all until the end. Not until that night Ichigo remembered through a haze of blood and pain, the night that ended with the near-deaths of most of their friends, the expulsion of his hollow, and the end of Aizen and his band of monsters.

Going back to normal had seemed like an impossible goal, but they'd had to try. What else were they gonna do? . Ichigo had gone back to high school to try and salvage his grades enough to get into a decent university. As his father liked to point out (and how bizarre was it that his father knew about Soul Society, had always known), while being a shinigami meant a certain job security, he had to find something to do until he eventually died.

He went to school. He studied. He still hunted hollows—but now, having returned to her role of Karakura's district shinigami, Rukia helped him, though he was certain that if asked, she'd insist he was the one helping her. Technically he didn't have to, but now that he was almost done with high school and she was no longer posing as a living student, it was one of the only ways they got to spend time together.

Over time, they'd re-forged their partnership. Sometimes he led, sometimes she did, and he was getting better at letting her do it. It had been during one of the times she was leading—beating the hell out of a very startled hollow, actually—that he'd looked at her and seen her. Really seen her, like she was the only thing sharply in focus against a blurry background. His mouth had gone a little dry, and she'd given him a funny look after she finished with the hollow.

He hadn't kissed her that night, or even for a few nights after. But eventually, he had, and that story was another adventure all its own that he didn't want to think more about tonight if he wanted to stay focused. He'd been terrified it'd fuck everything up between them, but somehow, it had worked.

And it had kept working, except for the fact that the only time they got to be together in a boyfriend-girlfriend sort of way was also the same time they were supposed to be together in a partner-partner way. Effective partnerships did not involve getting sidetracked from duty by one's partner's mouth, or so Rukia kept insisting until they got sidetracked again. It seemed to be happening more frequently lately.

For the rest of their patrol, Ichigo kept his mind on NOT keeping his hands on Rukia. They only got the order for one more hollow, a small one that she took care of. By the time they circled back around to the street outside his house, it was about time for him to get some sleep before school in the morning.

"Goodnight," Rukia said, drawing Shirayuki to unlock the gate to Soul Society. "I'll see you soon—try not to fall apart without me."

"Uh huh." He smirked. "Rukia."


He pulled her against him instead of answering, finally finishing the kiss they'd been forced to abandon earlier. She stiffened in surprise but relaxed after a moment, sliding her free arm around his neck and kissing back. He pulled her closer and smiled against her lips—yeah, he really liked this partnership.

The goodnight kiss quickly grew into a goodnight more-than-kiss. It was funny, he thought muzzily, that Rukia, queen of control freaks everywhere, could never seem to control her hands when they got like this. Not that he minded.

He was nibbling just below her jaw to get her to make some of those sighing noises he liked when he heard a non-Rukia noise. It sounded like…a giggle.

"Hee hee hee."

Yep. Definitely a giggle.

Rukia must've heard it too, cuz she wheeled around to face the source of the laughter—a little girl, probably about seven before she died, with a broken chain hanging off her chest..

"You were kissing." The ghost girl stuck her tongue out. "Gross."

Rukia glared and he could have sworn he heard a growl before she whipped Shirayuki around to perform konso. It might have been his imagination, but it came out a little harder than was necessary. "Ichigo, this isn't working," she said as the spirit's hell butterfly flapped away.

His stomach dropped. "You want to break up?"

"What? No!" She looked startled. "I mean we can't continue to mix our duty and our…personal time like this. It's distracting us too much."

"Well, what do you want to do?" He scratched his temple. "I've got school, you've got your stuff to do. I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of stopping altogether."

"No." She thought about that. "We need to get it out of our systems," she concluded. "Before patrols."

"How?" He shifted uncomfortable. Out of his system? He could take to jerking off more, he supposed, but that didn't seem like a Rukia suggestion, and Pops would probably notice the extra showers and have questions…

"There is a way," she said slowly. She seemed to be turning an idea over in her head before looking him straight in the eye. "We should become intimate."

Ichigo blinked. "What?"

She rolled her eyes. "We should have sex."

"Ah. Oka—WHAT?"

He gaped. She stood there calmly. "You have any objections to this?"

HELL NO, his libido screamed, but all he managed to get out was "Uhhh…nuh-uh."

"But not now," she said firmly. "We are finished for tonight and I am expected at home." She leaned forward to give him a peck on the lips. "Goodnight."

He watched as she unlocked the gate and stepped through, and kept staring at nothing even after she and it had faded from sight.

After a while, he turned and headed back inside to his body.

And went directly to the shower.

It was three days before Rukia stepped through the gate to the living world again. Despite the fact that she had resumed her original mission, it wasn't necessary for her to spend all her time there. The detection department was able to give her an estimate on when hollows were most likely to appear, following up with specific locations via cell phone. It was efficient. It made sense.

It sucked, she decided. Because without an official reason to cross over, it was nearly impossible for her to take the time to visit Ichigo without encouraging grins from Sentaro or Kiyone. Or those understanding nods from Captain Ukitake, which were almost worse.

She could have gritted her teeth and gone anyway if she really wanted to—and she did, but something held her back, as if part of her needed to take the time to digest what she'd said to Ichigo, to realize she really had said it and he hadn't rejected her.

She took that time. And when she received the order to go to the living world that night, she was ready to see him, ready to talk.

Apparently Ichigo didn't feel the same way, because by the time she reached his house, he had already returned from his entrance exam cram session and popped himself out of his body. "Let's go," he grunted at her, and leapt past her out his window.

Well. If that was how he wanted it.

She let him lead the way for a while. Ichigo didn't have the sensitivity to locate wandering souls on his own without a lot of concentration, but with his reiatsu, that didn't really matter, since they tended to gravitate towards him anyway

He kept giving her the strangest looks, though: hesitant and sidelong, out of the corner of his eyes, as if he wanted to say something but couldn't. She finally decided she'd have enough and wheeled around to step in front of him, stopping him in his tracks. "Out with it."

"With what?" He was scowling, but it lacked his usual conviction.

"Whatever it is you keep trying to say. I am not blind, Ichigo."

"Whatever." He looked away for a moment. "You could talk too, you know," he blurted.

She raised an eyebrow. "I was under the impression that that was what I was doing."

"I mean really talk, Rukia," he said. "You don't—you don't just shock a guy and then leave without saying anything?"

Ah. That. "You didn't look interested in talking when I arrived," she said gently.

"Maybe I wasn't," he said. "But—geez, can I help it if I was a little confused?"

"So," she said. "What do you want to talk about?"

He shot her a look before turning away. "Do you mean it?"

"About talking? Of course."

He made a face. "About…sex," he mumbled. He looked tense all over, as if he expected her to bite his head off or laugh in his face.

She did neither. "Of course," she said. "Have I ever said anything I don't mean?"

"You want a list?"

"No," she said. "And yes. Of course I meant it."


"But not right now," she said. "That would rather defeat the purpose of keeping us focused on our duties."

"I know that! What, you think I'm some pig who can't wait? Not like I don't have plenty of practice at that." He kicked at the pavement. "Duty, huh?"

She nodded. "This district is our responsibility—"

"So you wouldn't want to otherwise?"

She shut her mouth and gave him a long look. "That is not what I meant," she said softly. "You think I would offer myself to you out of sheer efficiency?"

"Hell, I don't know." He exhaled noisily. "You kinda caught me by surprise. Not like we've really talked about that before."

"We have been together for some time now," she pointed out. "And known each other longer than that. You never imagined we might…?"

"No," he said, far too quickly. "…yes. Maybe. Not in any specific sort of way. Look, can we do this somewhere more private?"

"There is no one around," she said. "And if there was, they would likely be incapable of detecting our presence."

"I don't care." He scowled. "Middle of the sidewalk ain't the ideal place for this."

"All right, all right." She looked around. "How about…there?" She pointed.

The roof of the local dentist's office had probably never been the setting for a discussion about sex before; but, Rukia thought, there was a first time for everything.

Ichigo settled beside her, close enough that he could see her but wasn't looking right at her. "So, you seriously…?"

"Yes," she said, exasperated. "Why does this shock you so? We spend half our time together glued to one another and you don't think I'm physically attracted to you? Moron." Her tone was harsh, but she meant what she said. Even now, she was sure he wouldn't understand how delicious he looked standing there, his strong profile against the night sky. The tenets of nobility that had been ground into her frowned upon showing such feelings, but they were beyond that now.

He gave her a sidelong glance. "You never said anything about it before."

"Such things must be worked up to," she said. "I feel we have." She moved forward to place a hand on his chest. "Don't doubt that I want you."

He smiled faintly. "And you just assume I want to too, huh?"

She stiffened. "If you don't—" She tried pulling away, but his arm around her waist stopped her.

"Hell yeah I do," he said. "Just wanted to see how sure of yourself you were. You could work on your seduction technique."

"Please. I know you cannot resist me."

"Maybe not." He smile faded behind a tense expression. "Rukia. You know I've never…I haven't…"

"You're a virgin." She leaned in again, refusing to break eye contact. "Of course I know that."

"You don't have to make it sound like it's so obvious!"

"Isn't it? You were fifteen when I met you. Then came the war. Then we were together, so unless you're telling me you did something for which I will have to hack off a piece of your anatomy…"

"Fine, fine," he grumbled. "Yeah. I am. But you're not, right?"

"No," she said. "Though it has been…quite some time."

"I figured, old as you are. Even if you won't tell me exactly how old."

"As I said, disclosing one's age is a lady's prerogative."

"Uh huh." The tension on his face didn't fade. "I just don't want to be…" He shifted his weight and mumbled, in a voice she could barely hear, "…bad."

"I don't think you have anything to worry about," she said. "You have nothing to be ashamed of. We all start with no experience, and we all have a first time. I would be honored to be yours." She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "And this is one avenue in which it is particularly enjoyable to practice until it is done right. It's all right if the first try is a bumpy one."

"Guess so," he said. He did look a little more sure of himself, and she felt something in her ease. "Yours too?"


"Your first time," he said. "I mean, I know you might not remember, it being so long ago and all, but I bet you weren't Ms. Moves at the time."

"I—suppose not." A wave of memories swam through her head. The warmth of the alcohol in her belly, the strange freeness she felt, the warm hands on her the next morning…

Ichigo cocked his head, frowning. "You okay?"

"Of course," she snapped. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"You had a funny expression is all."

"It's not funny. I am not funny."

"If you say so." He looked unconvinced.

"I do," she snapped. "Anyway, some things are private, Ichigo. You shouldn't worry about the past."

"I'm not!" His eyes widened in surprise. "Sorry, I just—"

The tinny beep-beep-beep of her spirit cell phone interrupted the conversation. Rukia thought she had never been so glad to hear the thing go off. She flipped it open for a quick glance, then stuffed it back in her top and unsheathed her sword. "Come on," she said, jumping to the edge of the roof. "This way."

Even as she leapt and heard him follow her, she had a feeling that this conversation was not ended—only paused. That was good enough…for now.

Girls, Ichigo decided, were a lot harder to figure out than any of his school subjects. Sure, there were no exams on girls, but that didn't change the fact that a lot of the time, you looked at them and still felt like you'd failed some test.

He had no doubt that this applied to all girls, but at the moment it was one particular girl who was exasperating him. It wasn't so much what she'd done than what she hadn't done. "We have to be more focused, Ichigo," she'd said. "Let's have sex, Ichigo. I don't mind that you're a virgin, do me anyway, Ichigo."

And then…nothing. Which in theory wasn't so bad, considering he was still studying for his university entrance exams—and hadn't that been a bitch to do with all these new, enticing images flying around his head?—but he'd managed to focus somewhat. Except Rukia hadn't said or done anything since to indicate that his patience would be rewarded.

"Oi oi ICHIGO!" The clash of a sword and Ikkaku's annoyed voice shook him out of his thoughts. "Pay ATTENTION!"

"Wha—OOF." A second strong blow knocked him right off his feet.

Ikkaku loomed above him. "What is wrong with you today?" He sounded disgusted. "You're here in Soul Society to train, man. If you'd rather daydream, I'm sure the Fourth has some time on their hands." He held out a hand.

Ichigo took it and hoisted himself to his feet. "Just an off day, I guess."

"Right." Ikkaku rolled his eyes. "I should go tell Captain not to bother, there's no way you'll give him a decent fight now."

Ichigo opened his mouth to protest, then snapped it right shut. After two years of dodging Kenpachi during training trips, it would be nice not to have to look over his shoulder constantly. "Fine."

"Seriously, what is with you?" Ikkaku asked as they strode out of the eleventh division training grounds. "You're off your game. You try that in a fight with a hollow and you're fucked. And that would just be pathetic. We wouldn't even bother to have beer at your funeral."

"Whatever." Ichigo scowled. "I've just got stuff on my mind."

"More school shit? I dunno why you bother with that. You can't fight in your schools without getting in trouble, and you've already got a job waiting here."

"I'm also not dead yet," he said. "And it's not school. Mostly."

"Ah." Ikkaku nodded. "Girl trouble."

"What would you know about that?"

Ikkaku laughed and clapped him on the back. "More than you, kid. Just be careful. Just cuz Captain Zaraki won't bother with you now doesn't mean Kuchiki will hesitate if he catches you banging his sister."

Ichigo glared. "I'm not—never mind."

"Sure." Ikkaku smirked. "Hey, when you've decided to finish being a pussy, stop by here again. Yumi and Hisagi want to go drinking tonight and you're coming with."

"Yeah, sure," he said. "See you then."

It wasn't that he couldn't wait now that they'd agreed to do…that, Ichigo thought as he trudged in the direction of the thirteenth's grounds. But no matter what she'd said, Rukia had looked distinctly nervous when he'd mentioned her first time. He didn't get it. Did it really matter? Not like he really WANTED to think about Rukia and another guy, but if it was so long ago, why was she weird about it? Aside from the fact that Rukia was just weird in general.

Speak of the devil—there she was a familiar tiny figure walking ahead of him. He dashed forward to catch her. "Oi, Rukia!"

She gave him that look that passed for a smile when she saw him. "Good morning," she said. "I can't stop—I need to deliver this for Captain Ukitake." She held up a scroll neatly tied up with a string.

"No problem. I'll walk with."

"Aren't you supposed to be training with the Eleventh today? How did that go?"

"Don't ask," he said, rolling his eyes. "You know the Eleventh."

"Unfortunately. And I know you should fit right in with their style of brawn-over-brains."

"Ha ha." He made a face and grabbed her shoulder, stopping her. "Hey, hold on for a minute. I wanted to ask you something. About what we talked about last time…"

And there was that nervousness again, that flash in her eyes behind her calm expression. "Yes?"

"Well…when?" He fidgeted. "I ain't trying to be pushy or anything, but you kinda get a guy's hopes up…"

"Oh…oh!" For another second, she looked almost relieved. "Well, not while you're here," she said. "I have my own space and my own privacy at home, but…I don't think it's a good idea."

"No," he agreed fervently, trying not to picture Byakuya's face if he caught them. "Living world is better. Definitely."

She nodded. "And you have your entrance exams in a week. I don't want to distract you from your studies."

He made a face. "Yeah, cuz thinking about this won't distract me or anything."

"I will not be responsible for harming your education," she said. "If you cannot control your libidinous thoughts, that is your own problem."


She just smiled. "After your exams," she said. "Study hard. Do well. And afterwards, that weekend…then."

"Well…good." If his mouth had gone a little dry, he would never admit it. "That's good." He paused. "And Rukia, about the last thing we talked about last time—I just wanted you to—"

"I really do have to go, Ichigo," she said, rushing forward. "Captain Kyouraku urgently needs these. I'll see you later."

And there it was again. He'd only meant to tell her that whatever it was that made her nervous, she didn't need to be. Apparently she didn't agree.

He kicked at the ground. What was her deal, anyway? What was so bad that it disturbed even her normal air of absolute cool? The past was the past and it didn't have anything to do with where they were now, unless—


His feet turned to carry him towards the sixth division as he put it together. That was the only thing that made sense. Ichigo had figured out a long time ago that the tattooed jerk felt more for Rukia than just a childhood bond. The look on his face when Rukia had almost died had more than confirmed that. He'd never known if anything more had gone on between them, and never felt the need to ask Rukia, but it fit—he and Renji were pretty good friends now, and if she confessed they'd once been more, she probably thought that would make things weird between them.

She wasn't entirely wrong. The idea of her and Renji together like that did make him want to throw up a little, but things weren't like that anymore. Ichigo could deal. He'd have to make sure Renji could, too, and that he wouldn't make Rukia more uncomfortable.

The main office of the sixth was nearly empty when he arrived. Ichigo could tell by the lack of glower-y reiatsu that its captain was absent—a good thing, since his presence would make conversation difficult. "I need to talk to your vice-captain about how he slept with the girl I'm about to sleep with, who just happens to be your sister."

Renji was in the middle of a tremendous stack of paperwork when Ichigo stepped inside. "Oh, it's you," he said after glancing up. "Whatever you want, make it quick. Captain wants these done by the end of the day. I swear he goes out of his way to make his forms all flowery and shit just to confuse me."

"Uh huh." How was he supposed to start something like this, anyway? "Listen…you know Rukia and I are together now."

"Yep." He kept scribbling.

"We have been for a while, and we're getting pretty close," he continued. "And you're her best friend, and I just wanted to see if you were…okay with that."

Renji finally did look up and set down his brush. "Oh," he said. "You're finally going to bone her, huh?"

"I—that's—" He felt his face heat up. "That's none of your business!"

"Whatever, man. Just don't let Byakuya find out. He'll skewer your ass, speedy bankai or no. If you ask me, you should—"

"I didn't ask you," he interrupted. "Not about that."

"So what, you're asking permission from ME then?" Renji frowned. "Do whatever you want. I just don't want to hear about it or picture it, okay? The thought of you naked would give me nightmares for a month." He shook his head. "And if you being with Rukia bothered me, I would've taken you out and beaten your ass by now."

"Right. As if you could," he scoffed. "So you don't—"

"Don't go there, Kurosaki." Renji gave him a warning look. "Not with me. Just keep her happy, okay? I might not be blood related, but that doesn't mean she's not my family."

"Just family?"

Renji gave him a long look. "Just family," he said. "You got nothing to worry about, idiot. She loves you."

"Okay," he said. "Thanks."

That wasn't how he'd expected that conversation to go. It was good to have Renji's blessing, he supposed, though he'd never thought of asking for it before. But whatever, if it meant he wasn't gonna be weird about it, that was fine.

Except he was back to Rukia being weird about something again. An apparently not-Renji something, but… He tried not to think about it, tried to distract himself with more training and, later that day, drinks. Either she'd tell him eventually, or it was probably none of his business. He could just let it go.


Well, he could try.

For all its size, Seireitei was beginning to feel stifling to Rukia. Boring, too. Silly, really considering that there were a hundred things she could do beyond her already-completed duties if she needed something.

Normally, she would've, but there were other things on her mind, like Ichigo. And sex. And—most importantly—sex with Ichigo. It had seemed like such a simple idea at first. They needed to be less distracted while on the job, and she for one needed to jump him before she went crazy. The stupid boy, to think the waiting didn't bother her. She had needs, too, and she'd had to wait for him to see her that way, to get used to expressing physical affection—to mature.

It had been a long wait.

Now it was nearly over, but not quite. He needed to study and do well on his exams, she told herself firmly every time she thought of crossing the worlds, going to his room, tossing Kon out the window and climbing on top of him then and there. She could be patient. Besides, there were certain preparations to make.

This was how she found herself preparing to leave for the living world in a gigai. Not alone, unfortunately.

"Oi." Renji leaned through the doorway. "That doesn't look like standard gear for a mission."

"Who said it was supposed to be?"

"Sentaro and Kiyone," he replied. "Least, that's what they said it was when I asked where you were."

She scowled. "An error in paperwork, nothing more."

"Uh huh." He smirked. "And not you wanting a gigai without admitting it's to visit your boyfriend, huh?"

"I am not going to see him," she said, mentally adding probably. Today was the first of two days of entrance exams, so he would be busy. Besides, that wasn't what this trip was for. "And it will be a short journey. No need to trouble my superiors."

"Right." He eyed her. "You know you're full of crap, right?"

"Can I HELP you with something, Renji?"

"Nah, I just came by to escape from your brother," he said. "Otherwise I think he's gonna suffocate me in paperwork, and that's just not a manly way to go." He picked at his fingernails. "Better than how Ichigo'll go if he gets wind of what's going on, though."

"And that's supposed to mean what, exactly?"

"Your boy came to see me the other day when he was here," he said. "Subtle he ain't. He wanted to know if I was gonna kick his ass now that you're making a man of him."

She glared. "That's none of your business."

"And I'm happy it's not," he said. "Not something I want to picture." He grinned. "He also thought we slept together."

"He what?! Why?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. Maybe he wanted to get my blessing or something."

"Well, that was very stupid of him."

"You should stop giving him funny ideas."

Before he could blink, she jabbed him in the ribs. "I didn't," she said. "And YOU should get back to work, or I might have to tell my brother how his vice-captain likes to skip out on his duties."

"Okay, okay," he wheezed. "See you later."

She still felt disgruntled by the time she landed in the living world. Stupid Ichigo—why on earth would he think she'd been with Renji? He'd been like a brother to her. More to the point, if she'd been with Renji, why would she be with Ichigo now? She would never understand human boys.

Her first stop was Ichigo's house. She entered his room through the window, despite the fact that his father and sisters knew who she was now and would certainly welcome her. Since Ichigo was out, they would want to know what she was there for, and that explanation could make things…awkward.

"NEE-SAN!" Kon shouted for joy as soon as he saw her. He jumped from his position on the bed's pillow to hug her ankles, but she dodged, hopping down from the bed to the floor.

"Ichigo isn't here," he grumbled. "He's off taking his tests. Why bother, he's so stupid he'll fail anyway!"

She ignored him and looked around, scanning the room. Where did he keep it?

"But I'm still here to entertain you. Oh, if only I had a body to please poor nee-san!"

"Kon," she interrupted him. "Do you know where Ichigo keeps his spare cash?"

He blinked. "What?"

"His money. I know he doesn't keep it all in his wallet."

If cloth and poor stitching could grin, she would've sworn that was what Kon did. "Yay!" he cheered. "Rob him blind and run away with me, nee-san!" He clambered up to Ichigo's desk. "It's in here."

There were a few messy stacks of yen in the front drawer. She grabbed a handful, thought about it for a second, then grabbed another. This wasn't technically robbery—or it was, but only technically. She was doing this all for his benefit after all.

"Nee-san? Nee-san, where are you going?" Kon called as she stepped onto the window sill once more.

"Don't tell Ichigo I was here," she said, and stepped off.

With that accomplished, she set a course in the direction of Karakura's shopping district, shrugging off any pangs of guilt. Hopefully, by the time Ichigo discovered the petty theft, he wouldn't care anymore.

She'd given this a lot of thought. Sex was normal and natural, she knew, but every culture had certain ways of doing it, and she'd never done it in the living world before. Ichigo hadn't, either, but that didn't mean there wouldn't be…expectations.

She knew how it was. She'd read manga.

She remembered the shop from years ago when she'd still been living in Ichigo's closet. They'd been walking through town after a successful kill and she'd asked him what it sold. He'd turned red and begun yelling at her. Hopefully, the store's wares would have the same effect this time around, though for quite different reasons.

Inside, she found herself surrounded by lace and shiny fabric. The racks were stuffed—perhaps they had room for more of the garments because they used so little material in each one.

A smartly-dressed saleswoman stopped beside her. "Welcome," she said. "May I help you find something?"

"Yes," Rukia said. The saleswoman would be the expert, surely. Inexplicably, she felt her face warm, but she told herself this was silly—look at what the shop sold. It would be stupid to be coy. "I need something to wear for sex."

The woman gave her a blank, wide-eyed look for a long moment, then seemed to snap back to herself. "Of course," she said. "Right this way."

By the time the first day of exams let out, Ichigo was ready to scrub his brain clean. It wasn't that they were that hard—he didn't think he was going to come in #1 or anything, but he felt pretty good about them—they were just so relentless. He kinda wanted to not have to use his brain for a while. Going shinigami and taking it out on some hollows might help, but he had things to do first.

"Ichigo!" Mizuiro caught up with him outside the building. "How'd ya think you did?"

Ichigo shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Wasn't as bad as they made it sound."

"I thought so too," he said. "Keigo's still weeping in a corner about how awful it was, though."

"Where are you headed now?"

"Ayuko's," he said, grinning. "She promised me a special reward if I did well on the tests."

Ichigo raised an eyebrow. "You don't have to worry about her parents?"

"Nope. Gone for the weekend. They trust her. She is a university student now, after all."


Mizuiro gave him a look. "Having trouble with that yourself?"

For a moment, Ichigo hesitated—his and Rukia's…date, whatever, was looming imminently and he still hadn't decided WHERE it would be. Of all his friends, Mizuiro might understand—but he just couldn't come out and say it. "Nah," he said. "Everything's fine."

"Okay," Mizuiro said after a long moment. "Sure. But you know, it's not always this easy. Her parents are around a lot. We have to find other places to be alone."

"Such as?"

"Love hotel."

"Okay, I really didn't need to know that, man."

"What? There's nothing wrong with them," he said brightly. "Plenty of people Ayuko's age still live at home. There's a very nice one down on the east side, you know. Very clean and welcoming. Very private." He adjusted his bag. "It's where I'd go if I needed to."

"Uh huh." He nodded. "See you later, Mizuiro."


A love hotel. That was a solution he hadn't considered, once he'd realized there was a problem. The daze of "Rukia wants to have sex with me, holy shit" had lasted several days before it faded enough for him to realize that they lacked a properly private location. They usually got distracted while on patrol, but doing it outside was not an option. His room was right out, too—even if he could successfully get rid of Kon, there was still his family. His father had shown a natural aversion to locked doors years ago, and just knowing his sisters would be in the house made his skin crawl.

The idea of going to Urahara for this kind of help was even worse.

That left him with pretty much nothing but a love hotel. He scowled to keep from blushing at the thought. It wasn't that he couldn't understand the need for them. He could appreciate their purpose—in theory. He'd just never applied that theory to him. Going to a place for sex and nothing else, with everyone who might pass by knowing what his goal was, seemed…tawdry. Tacky.

But then, Mizuiro wasn't a tacky kind of guy, no matter how much he hung out with Keigo. And he'd said it was private.

Well, there was only one way to find out. He started jogging towards home. He hadn't brought pill-Kon with him to the tests—they were important enough that Soul Society was going to have to handle any problems themselves unless a hollow attacked the school—but he was generally a lazy bum during the afternoon anyway. He should still be hanging around Ichigo's room.

As he jogged, he passed a flower shop and wondered if he should get some for Rukia when the time came. Was that what you were supposed to do the first time you slept with someone? Did she even like flowers? Hell. He'd worry about that later.

"Ichigo!" Kon jumped to his feet when he opened the door. "Nee-san wasn't here!"

"What?" He frowned. "Why would she be?"

"Er…no reason. I must have had a dream about her! OH, NEE-SAN, IF ONLY YOU WOULD MAKE MY DREAMS COME TRUE."

"Whatever." Ichigo rolled his eyes. "We're switching for a while."

After some quick badge action, he left Kon to his body—along with a warning not to do anything perverted—and leapt out the window in shinigami form. He didn't bother unsheathing Zangetsu. This was a recon mission.

He was glad he had the option of being hidden from most people's eyes when he reached the side of town that Mizuiro had indicated. He didn't see anyone he knew, but it was still light enough out that he wouldn't have wanted to take any chances.

It was easy to recognize the love hotels when he reached them. Even if he hadn't noticed the signs, they stood out with their distinct lack of windows. He didn't know which one Mizuro had been talking about, but he picked by process of elimination—there were only a few in the area, and only one without a garish neon sign. Glancing around to make sure there was no one around with inconveniently strong spiritual sense, he slipped inside.

A glowing neon penis. Hookers lounging around the entranceway. Lewd acts being performed all around. Surprisingly, the love hotel had none of these things—or maybe it wasn't that surprising. He didn't know; he had nothing to compare it to.

The lobby was surprisingly sedate. He'd come through the wall next to a large fake potted plant. Across the room, a normal-looking young couple were engaged in some kind of transaction at a semi-opened window in the wall. Huh. Mizuiro'd been right. This place was so private you couldn't even see the faces of whoever worked here.

Still, this was only the outer area—what if the inside rooms were really crazy?

Only one way to find out.

He followed the couple to a hall that led to the actual rooms. He stopped before they reached theirs—he wasn't THAT much of a pervert, even if he was here—and lay his head against one of the doors, very lightly. He couldn't hear anything on the other side, but if he stuck his head through and it was occupied…

He moved.

Five minutes later, he was out of the love hotel and moving away at a good clip. The room, fortunately, had been unused. And like the rest of the place, it had seemed pretty normal, if you ignored the specifics of the room rates and timeframes posted on the back of the door. He'd caught himself reading them and seriously considering.

Was he really going to do this? Should he have to go buy some space just to get laid? Maybe Soul Society was the better option, even in Byakuya was there, lurking in corners, ready to castrate him. There had to be someplace private and away from him, otherwise how had Rukia ever found time to lose her own virginity there?

And that was another thing! He stomped around a corner, keeping an eye out for any errant hollows—stabbing something would help with his irritation. He DIDN'T care about Rukia's past—hell, if he could deal with her having screwed someone who was still their friend, that proved it. Except Renji had sounded an awful lot like he'd never been with Rukia like that—so what the hell was she hiding from him? Did she think he was so immature he couldn't handle it?

What in the world could possibly be so bad? Fuck, she'd had to kill her own vice-captain and she'd shared that, eventually. Either she thought he was a giant pussy, or she thought he'd really freak out. It had to be someone he knew if she thought he'd be upset, but if not Renji, then who could it be? They'd had to have spent enough time with Rukia to get close to her. But how, without Byakuya filleting him?

He stopped on the pavement, a sudden thought rocking him. Rukia had said herself she had gone a long time without real friends…and she did look just like Byakuya's dead wife, they said, and who knew what weird shit nobles found acceptable…could it be him?

Naaaaah. His brain must just be tired from the exams. Byakuya was a bastard, but he wasn't a complete freak. And Rukia was the model of propriety—usually—so there was no way she'd go for that. It wasn't even like the prick was good-looking.

"Ichigo? What are you doing?"

He turned. "Rukia," he said in surprise. "What are you doing here? And why are you in a gigai?"

"For a mission," she said, making a dismissive gesture with the hand that wasn't carrying some kind of bag. "Of sorts. And you didn't answer my question. What are you doing? You shouldn't be hunting hollows, you should be resting for the rest of your tests tomorrow."

"Gimme a break." He grimaced. "I've studied so much either I know shit or I don't. And I've already got Yuzu on my back about doing well, I don't need you too."

"Excuse me for caring."

"You're excused," he huffed, refusing to give in to emotional blackmail. "Look, you want to patrol or not?"

"No." She looked down her nose at him—an amazing feat for someone so short. "But I'll walk you home."

She pulled a container of soul candy from her dress pocket and swallowed a pill, then neatly stepped out of her gigai as it blinked and grinned. "Pyon!"

"Go wait for me at the usual place," she instructed the temporary soul firmly. "And don't try that on."

Pyon pouted before trotting off obediently. Rukia turned back to him and smiled, taking his hand in hers. "Shall we?"

It was easier to follow her lead than put up a fight, so he went. "Seriously. Why are you in a gigai? I didn't even know you were going to be here today."

She squeezed his hand tightly, nails just barely digging into his skin. "It's nothing you need to concern yourself with. It was only going to be a short trip so I saw no reason to bother you," she said. "But since I sensed your reiatsu, I wanted to find out what stupid thing you were doing instead of preparing for your examinations."

"You're one to talk, considering you never even finished school."

"That just means I know the value of education," she said. "And some people need the extra help." There was no real bite to her words; whatever she'd been doing, it seemed to have put her in a good mood. The walked along together, holding hands like any other normal couple, if you didn't count the invisibility and the swords

"So," she continued. "What were you doing? That isn't your usual area of town."

He looked away. "Just…checking out some stuff for this weekend. Making plans."

"Oh?" She sounded amused. "I was not aware it took more than two people."

He flushed. "I dunno," he muttered. "You tell me, you're the expert."

She dropped his hand and stopped. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," he said. "It means I haven't done this before and you have. That's all."

"Are you being stupid on purpose or is it a result of using all your brains on your tests today?" she demanded.

"I'm not," he said. "Look, I said something dumb, nothing new there. Can we drop it?"

"No," she said, studying his face. "You are acting very strangely."

"Not any stranger than you." He didn't mean to say it, but it slipped out.

"How am I strange?!"

"Anytime we come remotely near a discussion of first times," he said, "you keep getting all antsy. You practically run off when I ask about yours."

She stared at him as if she was trying to figure out a difficult puzzle. "You are…bothered that I didn't tell you about it? Why?"

"I ain't," he said. "I just—you don't have to hide anything from me."

"It is not hiding," she said. "I don't know why you should care about such things that happened before you were even born."

"I don't! And can you not say that? That sounds really creepy."

"Fine." She folded her arms over her chest. "I am older than you are, Ichigo. Many things have happened in my life that you don't know about. That doesn't make them important. If I feel like sharing, I will."

"Okay," he said.


"I'm going home now."


They walked the rest of the way in silence as the sun went down. He turned to her outside his house, not sure if he was going to apologize or grump some more, but she just stood on her toes to kiss him—on the cheek, not the lips—and turned to go. "Good luck on your exams," she called behind her.


She'd been right about one thing; despite the fact that it was barely past dinnertime, Ichigo felt the need to rest. Take a nap and give his brain a break.

Business hours were done for the day, so he took a detour into the clinic before heading to his room. He knew exactly what shelf to look for in the storage cabinet—Pops had made sure he'd known about it years ago, before Ichigo had even thought about girls in any special way and definitely too early. Stupid pervert. Still, he thought as he grabbed a packet of condoms, it was better than going to a drugstore. Not that he was even sure he'd still need them.

Theoretically, Rukia knew, she should be going to the living world to beat the daylights out of Ichigo. However unintentionally, he had impugned her honor, and a true Kuchiki would never stand for that.

But for some reason, she found herself securing her gigai, making sure her hair was perfect, that she did not have objectionable breath, and stepping through the gate—bag in hand—for an entirely different purpose. Maybe it was the expression on Ichigo's face that clearly said he had not meant to imply that about her. Maybe it was the fact that, for whatever reason, she had not punched him at the time and the moment had passed.

Maybe she was just going soft.

The hell butterflies in her stomach started flapping as she neared Ichigo's house. She wasn't sure what to expect from him. She certainly hadn't expected him to dwell on a single experience from long before they'd met the way he had.

She could tell him, she supposed, though she could feel a flush threaten when she thought about it.. It certainly wasn't anything she was ashamed of. He could deal with it—he'd have to.

But did he have to have such lousy timing with his fit of macho idiocy?

Ichigo was sitting on the end of his bed when she leapt to his window, flipping through a magazine. The butterflies began flapping again. Instead of one of his obnoxiously loud t-shirts, he wore a blue button-down shirt. "Hi."

He looked up. "Hey," he said.

She hopped across the bed to sit beside him. "How were the rest of your exams? Did you score well?"

"Dunno." He shrugged. "It'll take a while to get em back. Felt okay, though. Nothing was super tough."

She smiled. "You should be proud of yourself."

"I guess," he said. "It'd be nice to get into a decent school."

"Don't brush aside your achievements, Ichigo. Enough people will be willing to do that for you. I'm proud of you." She leaned in to kiss him.

He looked a little happier when they pulled apart. "I wasn't sure if you'd show up," he admitted. "Figured I pissed you off the other day."

She gave him another quick kiss. "You did," she said. "But if I've grown used to it."

"Yeah, and I've gotten used to you smacking me around when it happens."

"Maybe later," she said. "Besides, if I left you to stew in your own stupidity, we'd still have a problem on our hands."

"And that is?"

She smoothed her skirt. "You cannot keep your hands off me," she said. "It's about duty, Ichigo."

A slow grin spread across his face. "Yeah," he said. "You got that right."

She moved in to kiss him again, but he surprised her by standing up. "What are you doing?"

"Out," he said. "What, you thought we were staying here? My sisters are one the other side of the wall. This is NOT an ideal location for…stuff."

"Ichigo." She put her hands on her hips. "If you think outdoors is even an option—"

"No!" He made a face. "Just…hop outside and wait for me, okay? I told my family I'm staying at Keigo's tonight and if you come downstairs with me they'll know."

"So I'm your dirty little secret now. How romantic."

He scowled and started to say something, but then seemed to think better of it and kissed her with such intensity she could practically feel her toes curl. "I'll see you in a couple minutes," he said.

She nodded, a little dazed. "Right."

Rukia expected to wait a few minutes for him to extricate himself from family manners, but he was outside within in a minute, interlocking his arm with hers and steering her away from the house. "Where are we going?"

"A place I know," he answered vaguely.

"It had better not be Urahara's. I promise you that you will never see me naked if you take me there."

"It's not! Geez, it's just a hotel, will you shut up already?"

"Oh." She considered that. "That sounds fine."

He said nothing more, but she felt him grow tenser as they walked. "Where is this hotel?" she asked. She glanced around them. "Is there something special about it? Why do we have to walk so far?"

"Shut up," he growled, pulling her along at a rapid pace until they reached a plain gray building. "Here. Inside."

It was just as quiet inside as it had been on the street. No one greeted them; very different from Soul Society inns, not that she'd had the occasion to use one in a very long time. "Gotta pay first," Ichigo grunted. His grip on her arm was iron by this point.

She watched him frown at a monitor set into the wall, then tap out a selection. Ah. A form of those computer' things. A partition in the wall slid open to reveal a pair of waiting hands. Ichigo pulled his wallet out and stared at its contents for a moment, as if counting, then shrugged and pulled out a few bills, which he handed to the phantom hands. A key slid through the window before the partition closed once more.

"What was that about?" Rukia asked as he tugged on her arm to lead her away. "Why do the employees hide their faces? That doesn't seem very hospitable. Have you been here often?"

He stopped at a door and fumbled to unlock it. "It's a hotel for sex," he muttered.

"Well, obviously. That is why we are here."

"It's a hotel just for sex." He got the door open but glared at her for a minute before stepping inside. "For couples who want private sex that psycho fathers and innocent sisters don't have to hear. Is that okay?"

"You're being loud in the hallway," she pointed out. "People can probably hear."

He made a strangled noise and stomped into their room. She trailed behind him. "It is a nice room," she said after a moment. It was. Plain—there was only a bed and a bit of furniture—but it was clean and not industrial-quality.

"Yeah." He had an odd expression.

"It's all right, Ichigo." She reached up to touch his face. "This is just fine."

His face softened. "Rukia—"

"I'll be right back!" With a whirl, she trotted into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

Ichigo stared as his girlfriend, the woman who had proclaimed her intention to engage in carnal activities with him, disappeared into the bathroom with her bag. Huh. Did she need to use the toilet before they started? Was that something all girls did?

He sat down on the very edge of the bed and looked around. It was identical to the room he'd surreptitiously checked out the other day. There was a bedside stand, a table and chairs in the corner and a TV across the way, but nothing in the way of room decorations. He guessed the quality of the room wasn't the main attraction, but it did look a little bare. Maybe he should have bought flowers after all.

Rukia had been in there longer than was necessary, even if she took her time about it. He stood and tapped on the door. "Rukia? You okay?" Muffled swearing was the only reply before he heard the door click.

It swung open and Rukia marched out. "These things are far too complicated," she said. "It's is the best I can do so you'll have to be satisfied with this."

His jaw dropped. Instead of the dress she'd arrived in, Rukia was wearing this black, silky, semi-see-through thing with criss-crossing straps. She was showing way more skin than she ever did and damn did she look good. "Where did you get that?" he practically squeaked.

"At the store." She frowned. "I know these occasions require certain clothing choices, Ichigo, I am not completely uninformed. The saleswoman was most helpful, though she neglected to inform me the straps would be so complicated."

"You didn't try it on?" It was a stupid question, but his brain was not in a fit state at the moment, from a combination of surprise and blood pooling elsewhere.

"In public?!"

"No, they have rooms for—never mind." He kept looking—hell, he couldn't keep his eyes off her.

"Wait, where did you get the money for it?"

"You don't like it?"

"No, I—I mean, yes, it's—"

"Good." She smiled, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear. "So."


She moved in close. "This is the part where you kiss me."

"Oh—yeah—okay." He halfway wanted to cringe at how stupid he sounded, but decided the best way to shut himself up was to do what she said. He rested his hands on her shoulders as he leaned in to kiss her, unsure of where else was appropriate with that thing she was wearing.

The kiss was good, warm and familiar—they'd refined their technique over the last year. He was content to just keep doing it until she pulled away. "You can touch me elsewhere, you know."

"I know," he said. "Just—don't want to rush."

"No one will interrupt us."

She guided his hand lower before kissing him again and Ichigo suddenly felt completely stupid, standing in a love hotel room fully dressed, groping a half-naked girl. She seemed to sense his discomfort. "Perhaps we should move to the bed?" she whispered in his ear.

They shuffled back to sit down on the mattress, whereupon she immediately pushed him back so they were lying across it, pressed together.

This was a little better. Rukia made a little sighing sound when he ran the back of his fingers down her neck and encountered the straps on her nightie. He opened one eye to take a better look at them. They were those spaghetti-string things, but instead of one on each shoulder, there were several, and kinda went over each other to make a pattern.

He slid a hand under one set, wondering exactly how to get the thing off her shoulders. Tugging one way didn't seem to work. He grew so engrossed in trying to figure it out that he stopped paying attention to what Rukia was doing.

Until she stopped. "Ichigo, is there a problem?"

"Uhh." He tried to pull his hand out. "I think I'm kinda…tangled here."

She sighed and untangled the straps from his fingers. "There. Better."

He nodded and bent down to kiss her again, resting his weight on his forearms. He made his way up her neck and across her cheek, but she wouldn't turn her head to kiss him. "Rukia?"

"You're on my hair."

"Oh!" He quickly moved to shift his weight, but in all the fumbling slipped, yanking at her hair.


"Sorry, I'm sorry." Before he could do anything worse, he pulled away completely. They stared at one another for a long moment.

Then the edges of Rukia's mouth curved up as she fought back a smile. "Ichigo…"

"I suck." He flopped back to rest on his elbows. "I really suck at this."

"No, you don't," she said immediately. "No one said it had to be perfect."

"Perfect's a lost cause at this point. I can't even get you undressed without feeling like a complete moron. And that's supposed to be the easy part."

"Nothing ever comes easy with you," she said. "I know that. I like that. A little awkwardness isn't the worst thing in the world."

He shrugged. "Guess I was hoping to get lucky and skip that. Maybe it's supposed to be weird at first. Not like I'd know."

"Oh." That one syllable, almost a breath of air, held some unidentifiable emotion. "Is that still bothering you?"

She looked—not disappointed, not sad, but close enough to each that if he thought pulling her hair was a crap thing to do during foreplay, he'd created a new low. "That's not what I meant."

"I'll tell you, you know. If it bothers you." She sat up.

"No, Rukia, it doesn't." He let out a puff of air, trying to pull his thoughts together in a way that made sense. "Whatever you've done is your own business. It ain't got nothing to do with us today."

"But it's still on your mind."

"Only because you looked so freaked out about talking about it," he said. "You don't have to tell me anything. But you should know by now that you can. I don't like you thinking I'm gonna judge you for stuff that happened before we ever met."

"I didn't mean to make you think I was hiding anything," she said, reaching out to rest a hand on his knee. "I hadn't thought of it in so long and you—surprised me. And I didn't want to make you uncomfortable. I know how humans expect these events to go."

"Then you're one up on me." He dropped his head. "I just kept thinking it should be—I don't know, meaningful or something, and I can't even offer you a nice dinner, just a little room in a place where people pay by the hour to screw."

"I am not hungry," she said, looking a little lost but determined to find her way back to the conversation's path. "And I don't understand what it matters what others in this hotel do. They are not going to join us."

He made a face at the idea. "Still," he said. "Seems like it should be more romantic than this. Don't girls like that?"

She punched him so it only hurt a little bit. "And you're such a romantic person by inclination."

"Hey, there's nothing wrong with trying! I mean, look at you, you went out and bought that, and you look great, and I'm just…me."

"I want you," she said. "I don't care about expectations. I took your money and bought this because that is what people do in the living world and I wanted to put you at ease."

"You took my—"

"I don't care what kind of place this is," she interrupted. "It doesn't matter what other people do here. I don't need you to romance me or build up to this. Our whole relationship has been building this, and now—I just want you, Ichigo. The way you are." She touched the top button of his shirt. "Except, perhaps, with fewer clothes."

He shook his head. "You're really bossy, you know that?"

"Yes," she said. "And you are lucky to have me."

"No argument there." He ran his hands up her sides. "Steer me through the curves?"

"I think that is an acceptable arrangement," she said firmly, and pressed her mouth to his.

This time around, the kissing was much less awkward. The love hotel and everything outside the circle of Rukia's arms disappeared, just like when they were close after a good hunt. Except this time they didn't have to stop.

In a matter of minutes, he was down to his boxers, thanks to Rukia's skilled hands (and no thanks at all to his elbows, which kept getting in the way.) She was reaching to pull those down when—
"Wait." He pulled away and climbed off the bed, fumbling for the wallet in his pants.

"What now?" She sounded frustrated.

"Uh, this." He held up the condom. "You know what it is, right?"

She rolled her eyes. "That is one of the oldest forms of birth control in human civilization. Of course I know what it is. But it is unnecessary. Gigai cannot get pregnant."

"So you say." He tore it open. "But I was conceived by one, even if I don't want to think about, so I say we're not taking any chances."

"Fine. Then hurry up." She rose to her knees and reached behind her. Ichigo heard the sound of a zipper, and then she was pulling the thrice-damned straps down her shoulder, and the rest of the nightie off her body.

"Now," she said, kicking it off and lying back on the pillow, naked. "Perhaps I can shut you up for a while."

And she did.

But not for too long.

"Oh, damn…oh, Rukia…I need…."

"Ichigo…I…where are you aiming?"


"…roll over."


"Roll over on your back."

"…RUKIA…that's so…"




"…you can move now, Ichigo."

"Rukia…show me where to—"



"Yes, there."


"Oh yes, there."


"Don't be an idiot, Ichigo."


"THERE is especially important."



"Rukia…oh shit, SHIT…"



Ichigo didn't say much once she'd climbed off of him and they'd disposed of—ahem—certain things, but Rukia didn't mind; she enjoyed listening to the thump of his heartbeat and feeling his breathing slow as she rested her head on his chest.

She couldn't remember the last time she felt this warm and relaxed. Part of her itched for more, but the rest was content to stay where she was for the moment.

After a while, Ichigo sighed and seemed to return to her plane of reality. She pressed her lips to his shoulder. "Recovered?"

"I don't know about that," he said. "That was…is it supposed to be like that the first time? Cuz that was—damn."

"I couldn't tell you," she said. "I don't remember."

He stilled. "What? Okay, I know you're not that old…"

She twisted around so she could see his face better. Perhaps it was the relaxation, or just that lying here against him, with nothing between them, there was no reason to dissemble.

"It was a while after I graduated from the academy," she said. "I had settled into the house of Kuchiki but I had not fully adapted. Even after years in school, the danger of Rukongai—the freedom of it—had left their imprint. By this time Renji had already received a place in the ranks and been reassigned to the Eleventh."

"He said you never—"

She placed a finger over his lips. He didn't pull away. "Listen or take a nap, I don't care."

It had been more than loneliness, she'd felt at the time. The Kuchiki house was wonderful in the sense that everything was made of the finest materials and she never had to hoard food, but there was no connection there, not with anything. Her new brother never looked at her, and while the servants did, they did not know her. Perhaps that was why her walk had taken her to the headquarters of the Eleventh division, where she might find the only one who did.

She only knew most eleventh members by sight from passing by on the way to her own division. When she ventured inside their offices, only the bald one and the excessively pretty one were inside. "Oi, what you want?" the first one asked when he noticed her.

"I'm looking for Renji," she said. "Abarai Renji. Is he here?"

"Oh, the new guy? Nah, he's on a mission. Won't be back until tomorrow." He seemed to lose interest, but the pretty one smiled at her.

"Don't be so rude to our guest, Ikkaku," he said. "Is there anything else we can help you with, miss…?"

"Kuchiki," she said. "Kuchiki Rukia."

He raised an eyebrow. "Nobility, eh? You honor our humble abode."

"I'm adopted," she said, not sure why she felt the need to stress that suddenly. "And thank you, but no, that was all I wanted."

"A pity."

"Well, whatever," Ikkaku announced. "I think we're done here, Yumi. Let's go drinking before the Captain gets back and dumps more paperwork on us."

He nodded. "An excellent plan." He smiled a dazzling smile at Rukia. "Would you care to join us, Miss Kuchiki?"

Her brother would be expecting her home soon—if he noticed her presence, which was not at all a certainty. "…all right."

"Wait, wait," Ichigo said. "You said you didn't remember? What, did those two morons get you drunk and just leave you in a bar to get taken advantage of?"

"I'm pretty sure they didn't."

These strange men from the roughest of the divisions didn't know her any better than her new family did, but there had been something comforting about that night. The Rukongai bar they'd gone to hadn't been in her old district, but just being there was a little more like the old days. She didn't talk about herself much, but what she had said, they'd listened to before cracking more bawdy jokes. Ikkaku had been surprised they hadn't offended her, and she'd had to explain how she'd run a gang of four equally-crude boys for years, and then demonstrate some dirty jokes of her own.

There had been beer. And laughter. And then more beer. And at some point, Ikkaku had exhibited skepticism that she could keep up their well-honed drinking pace. She'd been determined to prove them wrong.

That was when things grew fuzzy.

When the blackness abated, Rukia blinked awake to feel someone stroking her hair. And she heard—what was that? Some odd scraping sound in the background. When she pried her eyes open, she found that

Ikkaku was whittling.

In bed.

Next to her.

He appeared not to be wearing anything, but verifying that would involve lifting the sheet to check.

He nodded at her. "Mornin'."

"Good morning," she said automatically. It was only then that she realized that she wasn't wearing anything either.

Ichigo stared. "You mean…"

She shrugged.

"I was gonna grab us some grub, but someone here said it wasn't beautiful enough," Ikkaku said. He jerked a thumb over her shoulder and she turned to see Yumichika smiling at her benevolently.

"Not that you should worry about it, Rukia-chan. You were beautiful enough as it was last night."

"I was?"

He nodded solemnly. "You were."

"Oh." She thought about it. "I wish I could remember a damn thing."

"And that's about it," she finished. "Now you know the story of how I lost my virginity. It's not that exciting."

"Not exciting." Ichigo gaped at her. "You and Ikkaku—and Yumichika? I thought he was gay!"

"So do a lot of people," she said. "He said something about being beauty-sexual. I don't know, it was decades ago."

He shook his head, still looking a little dazed. "I can't believe they never even hinted at it to me. Ikkaku was ribbing me about girl trouble! And he knew—"

"I doubt he really remembered," she said. "It was…a pleasant enough evening, but just once, and there was no reason for him to think it was a big deal. To be honest, I think they kept going after I dressed and took my leave." She looked at him carefully. "Should I not have told you?"

"…no, it's okay," he said. "Not that I'm not weirded out, but…wait, how do you know if it was a good evening if you don't remember? How do you know they didn't take advantage of you?"

She raised her chin high. "No one takes advantage of a Kuchiki," she said. "It's all right, Ichigo. I woke up a little sore and a lot hungover, but I felt less alone for a while. It wasn't what I'd planned for my first time, but it wasn't traumatizing." She pressed herself closer against him. "It's not the first time that matters most. It's what comes after. And we've got a lot of after to look forward to. Besides, I don't even remember if it was good."

"Uh huh." He cracked a small smile. "Speaking of good…"

"Tonight, it was."

"So…did you…?"

Her smile slipped. "Well…no. Not quite. Almost," she quickly added when his face fell. "Don't be disappointed, it still felt good, and it's harder for women—"

"Right," he interjected, rolling them over so he was on top of her. "We're doing this again."

She closed her eyes, growing a little breathless as he kissed her neck and ran his hand between her legs. "Well, we might as well get your money's worth out of the night…"

"You're damn right we will." He moved lower down her body. "We're partners, right? You instruct me. I'll follow through. Improves our teamwork."

"Mmmm." She let her head fall back against the pillow. "We'll have to see if you…show adequate progress…a little to the left please…"

"Shut up, Rukia."

She did.

But not for long.