The White Within, Chapter VII


Time meant nothing to him anymore, and if it could stop to lFet this moment last on he'd be forever grateful.

Here, with Rukia in his arms, her soft lips tentative under his, her sweet little sighs...

He broke away from her, realizing that she had been struggling for breath, and was stunned and pleased when her arms encircled his neck to hold herself close to him. He turned slightly and rested his cheek against her hair. He could feel the heat of her blushing face on the skin of his neck where she laid on his shoulder. "Ichigo," she murmured softly, and he smiled.

"You have no idea," he told her. "How long I've been dying to do that."

She smiled at that. "Really?"


Her skin burned hot and he laughed quietly. Effortlessly, he suddenly pulled them both up. Him to his feet, and she high up in his arms. He cradled her. "Rukia," he whispered and her eyes twinkled. "It's not shrimp anymore?"

He laughed as he sat down on the trunk of the tree with Rukia on his lap. She glanced at his light expression with wonder. Her hand reached for his forehead and splayed her fingers carefully along his brow. "You're not frowning," she noted.

He grinned at her and took her hand in his, twining them. "I'm too happy for that right now," he said truthfully. She smiled softly and stared at their hands. "Ichigo..."

"Yeah?" he asked.

She bit her lip, and apprehension suddenly hovered over his heart. "I don't think..." she began.

She looked at him with wide eyes. "I've never though of you in such a completely romantic way," she confessed.

His stomach emptied, but he held himself together. Hadn't he braced himself for such blows anyway? He had promised himself after all.

'But talk is cheap and so are thoughts apparently,' he though with an inward grimace. He looked at her carefully and found her gazing at their connected hands. He made to pull away, rather reluctantly, he didn't want to force her.

Her fingers tightened and prevented him from parting. "But...," she sighed, and his hopes kicked in full-gear. "If that's how you feel about me, then because of the way I feel about you, I don't think that falling in love will be too hard." She smiled at their twined hands. "In fact, I'm sure that it would have happened sooner or later."

"Yeah?" he asked, feeling lightheaded from the surge of relief that was flooding over every part of him.

She nodded and looked at him earnestly. "You must be why I fell out of love with Renji," she told him.

His head tilted and an eyebrow rose. "Hmm," he mused. "Well then I guess I'd better try my hardest to help you love me in the way I love you."

Indeed time changed everything, and as it moved along by Ichigo hoped that it would connect himself and Rukia in many more ways.


She watched him walk back home with a sprite-ness that she hadn't seen for a long time. It made her extremely curious, to know what or whom had brought this side of Ichigo out.

Beside her, also looking through the glass of their room's window, her sister Yuzu giggled. "Do you think Ichi-nii will marry that girl he mentioned, Karin chan?" she asked. "He really looks like he's in love."

Karin grinned. "Let's see with time. I don't think Orihime and my mom will just let it happen without a final fight."

Yuzu frowned. "Mom wouldn't interfere if it made Ichi-nii sad," she pointed out, looking at him with concern. "And it's not like he would just take any tactic of theirs sitting down."

The dark-haired woman nodded. "Fair point." Her eyes glanced at her sister with curiosity. "But if it came to it, whose side would you be on? Mom's or Ichi-nii's?"

Yuzu crossed her arms over her chest carefully and her brow furrowed. "I guess Ichi-nii's in this situation."

Karin smiled. "Good. Because I think mom's about to do something not so nice." She pointed to Ichi-nii suddenly halting on the walkway, and their mother appearing out of nowhere...with Inoue Orihime in tow.


She had spent her day off with Masaki san and her mother, drinking tea and chatting good-naturedly. As afternoon had fallen her mother had left for home, and Orihime had opted to stay behind.

"Don't make a nuisance of yourself," had reminded Lady Inoue as she left. "Especially with Ichigo san. I know how he hates it when you...well, you know what I mean."

Masaki san hadn't agreed with her mother. "You should be more persistent, Orihime," she advised as night claimed the sky. "Simply waiting for him to change his mind is not going to win him over. You have to let him know how much you love him."

Orihime nodded. "I know. But it makes me so sad when I try to speak to him and he just automatically dismisses me or make excuses to get away."

"Yes, I've noticed. But I believe that's because he thinks the only thing you have to say to him involves renewing your relationship."

Orihime's eyes widened. "Do you mean that if..."

Masaki san looked excited. "You always ask him to start over...but as his love. What if you asked him to begin again, but as friends? If that's successful then your friendship will grow and you'll be able to be close again. I have no doubt that he'll fall in love with you once more if things follow that course."

And so their plan unfolded, and eventually all there was to do was to wait for Kurosaki kun to come home so they could put it into effect.

"It's getting quite late, Ichigo should be home since he wasn't on duty today," commented said man's mother as she and Orihime sat outside the manor, under the main porch.

They waited a little while longer, until the auburn-haired girl felt his reiatsu approaching. "He's coming," she informed, and the two stood up simultaneously.

Masaki san went first, and Orihime followed suit, wondering if what they were about to put into play would work, or if he would just simply say no as usual. He stopped and they crossed the difference of distance to reach him. He regarded them warily.

"Hey, mom," he said. "What are you two doing?"

Orihime blushed brightly as Masaki san took her hand and brought her forward to face her son. "Orihime chan has something to ask you, Ichigo..."

It was obvious that he was going to protest, his brow furrowed and that 'I'm sorry' look dawned in his eyes.

His mouth opened, but Masaki san held up her hand. "Before you say anything, please know that this won't be the usual question. So please, let her ask..."

His eyes narrowed, and a few moments passed as he considered it. "Fine," he relented at last, and Orihime smiled gratefully.

"I'm asking you to start over with me as friends, Kurosaki kun,"she said. "Nothing more and nothing less."

She could tell that he had been surprised, even though his expression only shifted to show that emotion for a second. He regarded her with an apathetic look. "What are you doing, Inoue?" he asked with the tone to match.

She met his eyes dead on. "I meant what I said, Kurosaki kun. Simply that."

His face contorted with disbelief. "Sure, then," he said, sarcasm spewing. "Let's be friends." He started walking again, and didn't look at her as he passed. "But you only get one chance, Inoue. I won't say it again."

She nodded deftly. 'I'll have to make you eat your words, Kurosaki kun...'


The stars in the sky were luminescent, and she couldn't help but to smile at the sight of them. In fact, everything she passed showed off its beauty. She saw something to admire of the lizard that scurried before her feet, the loud crow of an unidentifiable bird off in the forest, the patterns of the paved road she walked on.

Perhaps Ichigo's kisses were magical? She felt buoyant and weightless, and everything around her was heightened. She regarded the glowing moon, and her lips smiled again. 'I want to fall in love with him,' she thought.

She floated to her dorm in the figurative sense, her smile never wavering.

The starlight streamed through her window and cast across her bedspread, and when she lay in it she felt like this was the corporeal truth to how she felt at the moment. Glowing bright, beaming...

Her eyes closed wistfully, and she made believe that the darkness around her was his embrace. Holding her close, and warmly, with his heated breath across her lips...

Red burned her face and she opened her eyes slowly, not so embarrassed now that she was alone to herself...but the emotion was hard to get rid of. Her hand caressed her lips, ones that quirked into a smile. "I wonder what this makes us?" she wondered. "Is he my lover?" The thought made her cringe. "That sounds a little strange, and not something you could really say aloud."

She decided to let him tell her. She was sure he had more expertise with the subject. And that sudden thought made her frown a tad. "I wonder if he kissed her too..." Her mind conjured a memory of Inoue Orihime. She sighed lowly. "I'm sure they did. How could he have resisted a girl like her."

Her eyes closed again and she curled her legs up to her chest and hugged her pillow against herself. She hoped her dreams made her forget what she had just mused on.


He waited at the crossroads, a little impatient to see her again, and somewhat irritated that she had never tried to come to him; wasn't he the spirit of her sword? In fact, she was only coming today because he was going to pull her into his current residence himself.

A door suddenly materialized before him, and two seconds later she walked through it. Her approach was cautious, and she ceased movement completely when she caught sight of him. "You," she whispered, surprised.

He nodded curtly, a little relieved that she had not forgotten him.

His insecurities vanished when she smiled at him. A happy one too, radiant and beautiful as always. His gaze softened and his lips curved warmly. "Hello, Rukia."

She walked away from the door, letting it close behind her on its own, and approached him with paced steps. "I'm sorry to say I don't know your name yet," she said quietly, apologetically.

"You haven't had the chance to hear it yet," he amended and held out his hand for her to place her palm in. She did so without hesitation and it made him chuckle quietly. She met his eyes curiously. "Is there something funny?"

He shook his head once. "Not at all."

Suddenly her eyes widened, and her lips parted in awe. "Where is this?" she gasped. She looked at him with clear distress. "Come to think about it, how did I get here in the first place? Away from the school."

He clutched her hand to reassure her. "Do not worry. You are safe here. It is after all, your mind we're in."

She stared at him with shock. Then disbelief. And finally, to his surprise, resignation. He raised an eyebrow and she shrugged. "I guess I should have expected something freaky like that."

This time his mirth materialized as sound and she smiled at its music. "Did you bring me here?"

He nodded. "I thought it was time for you and I to have a private conversation, one without...that boy." His eyes had narrowed distastefully and she felt curiosity well up. "You mean Ichigo?" she said, and he cringed. "Yes...him."

He suddenly let go of her and turned around to face the landscape that puzzled her extremely. He offered her his palm, and once more she took it. "Would you like a tour?" he asked, and she nodded.

They walked to the end of the road, where the crossroads converged on either side of the giant oak tree that lived in the middle. There was a sign to her eye level. It read: Rukia with an arrow to the right, and Ichigo with one to the left. "Our minds have soldered too?" she asked, amazed.

He nodded, and touched their hands to the tree."Yes, and no. To an extent. Hence, the landscape before us."

On her side there were temperate mountains, colored by green vegetation and flowers. It was raining too. She smiled. "How pretty."

He raised an eyebrow. "Our soul was not like this before Kurosaki Ichigo," he told her, and she looked at him with surprise. "Then what was it like?" she asked.

He pointed to the sky. "See there, what do you notice?" She strained her eyes, squinting for some clue, and when she found it she gasped. "There's snow falling..."

"However, due to...that boy, and his temperate soul, the snow never makes it to the ground, it transforms into rain."

She nodded and looked at Ichigo's side, threshed with frosted buildings. "And so Ichigo's world, covered in snow as it is, used to be warm?"

"Right," he affirmed. "But know that when I leave your mind, all of this will disappear into what it was originally."

She puzzled. "Do you mean that there will be snow?"

He shook his head. "No. I meant that the landscape will go away, since this is merely a makeshift representation of your soul. Mind and soul are not the same."

"You dragged my soul into my mind?"

Again, he shook his head. "Not quite. I have not had access to that since the fiasco in the human world." He looked sheepish. "In actuality, this place is a connection to Kurosaki Ichigo's soul."

She looked at him with mild frustration. "I'm...confused," she admitted. "Are we in my mind or in Ichigo's soul?"

He looked at her with an apologetic smile. "We were in your mind until we touched the tree. That, in effect, was like taking an instant portal to that boy's soul. See, I don't like being in here too much, so I live in your mind for now."

Rukia nodded slowly. "I see. But...what's so bad about Ichigo?"

He shrugged. "I don't much get along with his spirit. He resents the cold in Ichigo's side, and he can't cross to your share since he has a strong aversion to rain. He wishes that you would challenge him already, so that balance will be restored."

She looked hopeful all of a sudden. "I've been wanting to deal with that too," she said quietly. "It's just that Ichigo and I have...not been in good terms as of late. But we are now," she corrected, and her cheeks flushed abruptly. "So, you can tell his spirit that I want to challenge him after the tournament."

She glanced at him and her eyes widened when she caught his murderous gaze. "Yes, that boy caused you a lot of pain," he said, but more to himself. "I'd like to repay him for that, so yes, as soon as possible will work just fine with me."

She touched his hand tentatively. "Please don't be angry at him. You should know that the blame is mine." His gaze softened, and he sat at the foot of the tree, his back leaning against it for support. "It's hard not to be angry when I could do nothing to ease your sadness."

She followed his lead and carefully laid her head against his shoulder as she twined their fingers. "Thank you. It means a lot that someone cares for me like that," she whispered in a voice laced with wistfulness. "Even if I don't understand why."

He raised their hands to his lips, and she gasped when her skin met them tenderly. "Please know that I love you," he told her. "More than anyone else."

Her eyes were wide. "We just met," she gasped, and he shifted himself to face her, and she slowly did the same until their knees touched, an unknown pull ushering her. He looked at her with an expression she had seen sparingly over her life, and very much more since meeting Ichigo. It was a look that told her he was happy to see her. "I've been waiting for a long time," he justified.

"I...don't understand."

He leaned forward until he could touch her cheek softly with his hand. "I am a part of your soul, Rukia. I always have been. But this is the first time that I have been able to meet you. You always died so young every time you were reborn. Tragedy has always seemed to follow you, and I could never help you."

She reached out to him, tracing her fingers under the curve of his eye, and he realized that he had been crying unknowingly. "You make me very happy," he whispered. Her eyes were wide, "I'm sorry," she told him with a voice that cracked at the last syllable, "that you had to wait for me." He smiled. "But you are here now, and that means everything."


"Do you see that, Rukia? That is a place you must never go, and must never heed attention to. The man trapped in there is dangerous, Ichigo sealed him there for a reason."

"He trapped someone in his soul?" asked Rukia, disbelieving. "Why? How?"

Her beautiful spirit shrugged. "Apparently he was born in the boy during the Winter War. He is what makes him a Vizard."

She didn't know what that was, an being so made a mental note to ask Ichigo about it later.

There were many tall buildings in Ichigo's side, but there was one that stood out from the rest. It was the same in every way as the others, other than the fact that it was bleached white, and covered in black chains.

"What is his name?" she wondered, and her spirit raised an eyebrow. "I don't think he had one. The boy's spirit talks about him as 'He' when he is brought up."

Rukia felt a pang of sorrow for the being trapped in the building. "Being completely nameless must be so sad," she whispered, and her spirit pulled her away before she asked anything else.

His hand tightened around hers. "There is a reason for why he is sealed. Never let curiosity take you to him."


There was an envelope on her floor, clearly it had been slid under her door, and she noticed it as soon as she woke up in the morning. Picking it up, she realized that it was from her Swords Instructor. She scanned the letter with speed. It read:

Rukia san, please come to Training Area 7 this morning. I'll be expecting you at nine. If you don't show up I will find you...and we both know that will be

Sincerely, Mao Hikaru.

Rukia looked at her clock and saw that it was twelve minutes to nine. She blanched and dropped the paper as she rushed to get dressed and ready.

Five minutes later she was running out of her dorm and heading full speed to her destination, paying little attention to the people, just maneuvering around them as she gained momentum.

She was coming up to a dispersed crowd, and so she concentrated heavily, letting her sight go ahead of her to devise a map for her to follow along them. Just behind the crowd was the training area, and she saw her instructor there holding a pocket watch, grinning widely at her in the distance.

Her eyes narrowed and she pushed herself forward. Then, something unexpected happened. Suddenly, she was flying, flying fast and free, and totally beyond her control, and yet still maneuvering along the startled crowd.

It was as if all the sound had been drained from her immediate world. All her ears could perceive was the inaudible collision of her lightning quick steps against the concrete. It felt as if everything had slowed down, and yet she knew by the pressure on her body and the reiatsu under her soles that she was moving with the light.

The wall ahead of her was closer than it seemed, and closing in just as it felt. She threw her arms over her face and screwed her eyes shut, bracing herself for a hard impact.

...and yet it never came.

The breath was taken from her by a different means. Someone had grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back with all their force. She gasped as they tumbled backwards, and hissed when her head met with the hard planes of that someone's chest as she fell with him to the floor.

She breathed in and rolled out of his grasp, a grateful smile ready on her lips. Only, it could not rest and fell when she met the visage of her savior.

"You?" she whispered. "Renji."

He looked at her with an unfathomable expression for about a second, and then he coiled his body and sprung up right on his feet. He regarded her with the same look and then after a second, and she read nothing in his face not even hesitation, he gave her his hand. She took it without thinking.

He did not let go of her, and she was shocked out of movement by how her body was reacting to his touch. She felt flooded with sadness and happiness, longing, and bitterness. The last emotion was the strongest, and so she pulled away quickly.

Abruptly, sound came back as a sharp sense, and she could hear the crowd behind her chattering, and she became aware of her instructor calling her name and heading her way. He reached them in a second.

She expected to be reprimanded for being late, or making a spectacle of herself, but his expression told her otherwise. He was grinning from ear to ear. "I knew it!" he shouted as he clapped her shoulders exuberantly, making her bend at the knees. He straightened her out and laughed. "That was great, Rukia. Have you ever tried that before, or was it just an accident?"

She didn't quite know how to respond, so she shook her head. "A-accident," she managed to say.

He grinned again. "That was Shumpo, you silly girl. I knew it! I knew I made the right decision by sponsoring you!" He braced his hands on her shoulders and leaned down to look her in the eyes. It was a little unnerving to see him so excited. "What else have you been hiding?" he demanded.

She merely stared at him wide-eyed, and unconsciously she turned to look at her good Samaritan. Her instructor glanced at him as well. "Good call, we don't want your enemies to know what you're capable of," he reasoned, which threw her off guard at the sound of enemies. "He's not my enemy," she whispered, again without the leave of her rational mind.

Her instructor looked puzzled. 'Then what is he?"

Her mouth was really misbehaving today. "My friend. Renji is my friend."

This time Renji's expression molded to depict emotion. He looked surprised, pained, torn, bitter. At the last her own bitterness surfaced, and she could not stop her eyes from clouding over with tears. His rearranged into guilt. "Sorry," he whispered awkwardly, and then turned to leave.

She had to hold herself from stopping him.

Her instructor snapped her out of her musings. "C'mon then, we're late. I'll take the blame, of course. You don't deserve getting chewed out after that."

She nodded, and followed his lead as he led her by the wrist into the training area. Number seven was a dojo, and seated in the middle of it in two parallel rows were Shihouin Ayae and across from her the Kido Instructor who was smoking his trademark cigarette. Next to her was a boy whose name she could not remember, and facing him was the Tactics Theory Instructor. They all looked up as they entered, and her sponsor reverted into his usual stoic self. "Forgive me, I was held up in something." He sat down, and Rukia did the same. "Let us commence this meeting then."

He met each of the participant's eyes and Rukia almost smiled when he glanced at her and his lip quirked. It seemed his cold side was a facade after all. She would make sure to have more talks with him in the future if he really wasn't the icicle he made out to be.

"You are the Normal's team for the First Year class. Congratulations on being selected. I hope that you have all been honing your skills, as you will be fighting the fight of your lives as of yet in this tournament. Give it your all is must."

He took a breath and then continued. "Today we will be going over all of the rules, and the agenda for the tournament. First of all, as it was drawn out, know that the first years will be the last to go, so you all will have your turn exactly a week from today. As well, this upcoming week will be yours to do with what you will. You do not have to attend class, and your final tests will be perfect scores without you having to take them."

Rukia's eyes widened, and she glanced to her right and saw that Shihouin was smiling and the boy was looking her way. He grinned excitedly, and she reciprocated his gesture.

Her instructor went on. "As well, we are to tell you about a special prize that will be awarded in all of the years. It will be different for every winner, but just know that it's there."

She wondered who would emerge victorious out of the first years, and what prize they would receive.

"Now, let me tell you the rules..."


Ichigo scowled heavily, ticked off by the scrunity the people in the room were bestowing upon him. "So, what do you want?" he asked when none of said people looked like they were going to speak first. Next to him, his father sighed. "Be more respectful to your family Elders, Ichigo," he warned sternly. But when he glanced at the goat-chin he saw him shoot a wink.

He rolled his eyes.

One of the Elders cleared their throats, clearly wanting to speak. 'Great,' thought Ichigo.

All together the Kurosaki Elders filled the large room nicely, and to be honest, sitting on a dais to symbolize his own standing over them always unnerved him.

The Elder stood. "Ichigo sama. I have been wondering, if you intended to restore your relationship with Miss Inoue Orihime?" he asked, his eyes grave.

Ichigo groaned and glared at his father. "This is what this is about?" he demanded. "I have so skip my Shinigami duties for that load of bull of a question?"

His dad shrugged sheepishly. "They've been asking and asking. I thought it would be better to have you answer so they'll just stop," he whispered. "Just humor them, son."

Scoffing, Ichigo turned to the Elder. "No, I'm not getting back together with Inoue. What the hell gave you that stupid idea?"

The man looked startled. "I thought that perhaps you would be kind to her, especially since she has insisted upo-"

Ichigo wave his hand to stop him. "Look. I know she's insisted. But I'm not going to concede, so don't think anything of it."

"In fact," joined in Ishinn, a proud smile on his face that Ichigo was immediately wary of. "My boy here is quite interested in someone else." He winked at his son, and Ichigo had to suppress the urge to strangle him.

The Elders were suddenly murmuring; they sounded like gossiping crones. The one who was standing lifted a hand to stop them. "Who is the lady?" he asked. "When do you believe you will marry?"

Ichigo sighed. He had just started things with Rukia. He wasn't going to scare her off with the prospect of marriage. 'At least not yet,' he thought to himself.

He addressed the man. "Her name is Rukia. I just formalized my relationship with her. Actually, that was merely yesterday. So, don't bug me with marriage right now. We're barely starting the getting to know each other romantically after all."

His father nodded. "We don't want to scare her off, especially if she's willing to put up with a brat like this boy." Again, thought Ichigo, 'must not strangle goat-chin.'

His Elder raised an eyebrow. "But she is formally your partner?"

Ichigo nodded.

"Then, we would like to know more about her, as your Elders it is our duty-"

"Yeah right," laughed Ichigo. "You're just butting in like always. Do me a favor, stay out of it."

The man did not appear to have heard him. "What is her family name, her age, her disposition, education?" he asked. "If you do not tell us yourself, then we will find out by our own means." Ichigo frowned heavily at the threat-like statement. He didn't want Rukia to deal with Noble Elders again.

"She came from Rukongai as a baby, so she doesn't know her family name," he answered. "She's young. Sixteen. Right now she's attending the academy, and she's pretty much everything and more I could ever have hoped for in the person I, there..." He shrugged.

The Elder was looking at him with a surprised expression. "But Ichigo sama," he said. "There are so many better prospects for you out there than a child with no name. If not Inoue san, then perhaps you might want to reconsider Miss Shihouin Ayae. She would also be a wonderful match for you. And it would generate ties to another Main Noble family. Why choose a no-name girl when Shihouin could be yours?"

Ichigo could feel his blood boiling as the man finished. "Shihouin Ayae is a freaking shrew," he growled. "I know that from experience, so I won't concede to her." He stood suddenly, and with Shumpo in his steps made himself flash right before the elder, knowing and counting on his expression being terrifying. "And don't you ever insult Rukia again, any of you," he threatened in a low voice, liking how he towered over the old man, and how he didn't spew out whatever he wanted now when they were on the same ground. "Or I swear that the first thing that I will do as your clan leader will be to strip you all of your title of Elder and throw you out into the street. Got it? I'll do it. That's a promise."

The man nodded reluctantly. "Then, we need to know how serious you are."

Ichigo sighed. "I'm going to marry her someday, of that I'm more sure of than I've been of anything else in my whole life. It won't be soon, but she'll be my wife someday."

The Elder nodded. "I'm glad for at least that," he said, and Ichigo smiled a little, realizing that perhaps the man really did just want what was best for him. "You guys should just say so when you're worried about me," he chastised. "Beating around the bush ticks me off."

One of the Elders in the back laughed. "Elder Kuro was worried, like us, that you might not like girls anymore," he chortled, and then the laughter started full round at Ichigo's expense.

His cheeks colored, and he glared at the Elder named Kuro who had spoken on behalf of all of them.

"Is that so?"

The man burst into laughter like everyone else and Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Alright. That's enough. I mean it. C'mon. Hey. Damn it! Stop laughing!"


She waited for him outside the West Gate of Sereitei, wondering what he had meant by the Hell Butterfly he had sent to her. "Carpe Diem," it had related, and she did not understand it at all. To pass the time she smoothed down the material of her uniform, leveling nonexistent wrinkles.

She looked up suddenly when she felt a tug on her heart, or so it had felt. But it hadn't hurt, in fact it was rather a pleasant feeling, like someone calling to her with a soft caress.

He was suddenly in her sight, his lips curved and his frown softening when she waved. He shumpoed the rest of the way and quickly offered her his hand. "Ready to seize the day, Rukia?" he asked as she gave it and he twined their fingers. She looked at him with surprise.

"Is that what Carpe Diem is?" she mused, and he nodded. That made her smile, and then she noticed something hanging on Ichigo's arm. It was quite a big basket. "What's in there?" she asked, but he shrugged. "You'll find out later, Shrimp."

Her lips pursed and he laughed. "Let's go then?" She conceded with a nod and he hooked the basket by the handles around his neck and then knelt down to carry her on his back. She blushed slightly as his arms lifted her against him, and at the strong feel of his shoulders as she laid her hands on them.

"Ready?" he asked, and she nodded. "Yes."

"Then let's go," he grinned before letting Shumpo carry them away.


She looked like she had never been anywhere so quite like the clearing they were in. "The grass is so green, those flowers are so bright," she reveled, her eyes wide and excited. He knew how she felt, only the object of his reverence was her.

Really, the bright sun was nothing compared to her eyes; the floral beauty had nothing on her smile. He wondered what she would do if he told her that? A snort almost escaped him when he realized that when he had been her age he had always ignored such attentions from females and never took kindly to those kinds of comments. He told her so.

"When you were sixteen," she mused as she laid back onto the grass and extended her arms above her to let them tread through the soft grass. Her lips quirked. "I imagine Inoue had to beat back all of your admirers with sticks."

He frowned and moved to lay next to her on his stomach, his forearms supporting him so he could look at her and she notice his un amused expression. "Inoue and I met later," he corrected. "When I started the academy. She was my senpai, a sixth year, she was put in charge of making sure I knew everything I needed to know before the exit exam."

"When you were fifty," she offered and he nodded. "Do I seem really old to you?" he wondered to her and her eyes narrowed in contemplation. "I never really dwelled too much on that subject, since everyone around me is so much older. In fact, age has become somewhat irrelevant," she responded slowly. "But now...right now, that you mentioned yourself when you were my age, I can't help thinking that maybe I'm not suited for you."

He had to bite his lip to keep his mouth form falling open in shock. "What!?"he exclaimed. "How did you reason that?" Her eyes had widened, and he realized that he had moved to loom over her. She averted her sight, and then moved, rolling to her side. He made her turn over, and made sure she was looking at him when she answered. "It's just that you've had all this time, to grow, become stronger, to mature. I must seem like a child to you. Why would you choose a child instead of a woman?"

She wasn't whining. In her eyes he could see that she was simply curious. He smiled. "Sure I have all of that," he agreed. "But because I have that I know that you're the one I want. I wasn't romantic back then, and I wasn't with Inoue either. But with you, I can't help but to be, or I want to be, and that only assures me more that you're exactly who I've been waiting for. Got it?"

Her cheeks slowly colored and she smiled bashfully. "What do you call what we are?" she asked. "I'm not really sure. Lovers?"

He cringed at the word just as she did and they both laughed. "It doesn't really fit," he mused. "What you are to me is so much more. But, if you want a name, then know that you're my girlfriend. We're dating. I'm guessing those two terms are lost on you?"

She shook her head. "No, I know. I just wanted to know how you would say it."

He reached out to stroke her face and she leaned into his hand as if second nature. "Love ya, Shrimp," he whispered, loving the feel of her soft skin on his fingers. Her eyes closed slowly and he pulled her closer, arranging them until her dark hair was resting on his splayed forearm. "Love you," she answered, drawing open her eyelids, revealing enticing blue.

He kept his eyes on hers as he brushed her lips with his own, slowly until her eyes closed to deepen their connection. Something was building in his chest, and he couldn't say it was unpleasant. It was warm like her, as tender as the way her mouth moved with his, overwhelming like her taste.

He pulled away and grinned at her dazed expression. He burrowed his face into the crook of her neck, framed by her soft hair. "I'm completely yours," he whispered in her ear.


She walked into the first year's library and headed for the librarian's desk with hesitation. She was not sure if she was still there, since it was pretty late, already almost eleven at night. As she turned at the end of a wing of shelves she could see the desk clearly, and was content when she saw the woman she sought.

"How can I help you?" she asked Rukia with a smile. She smiled back. "I wanted to know where I might look for books on Zanpakuto spirits."

The lady pulled out a piece of paper and jotted something down. "You'll have to look in the honors class' library of your year for those books," she said. "I've written where on this," she added as she gave Rukia the paper. She nodded and took it. "Thank you," she said, and went on her way.

She had been in the first year's honors library before. In reality, it was as nice as the normal's one, but it stocked more advanced literature, on subjects her class had not been expected to cover at all in first year. She grinned, she had always been proud of her class for the fact that they had trashed that expectation. As a result the place had to be shared by both classes now.

She went in and headed in the direction her instructions dictated, and raised an eyebrow when she saw how amazingly empty the hall was, especially since exams had dawned. There were only a few people scattered here and there, she noted. When she reached her destination she browsed across the titles on the spines of the books, specifically looking for those that had to do with ice spirits. She did not find a book dedicated to them primarily, but she did find a rather large volume that talked about all the different kinds that were known about with in-depth study. She found that there were three such books, and all ridiculously large. She hoped the author, this Urahara Kisuke as written on the spine, did a good job with them. She decided to take the first one for the night and just skim it.

She lifted it out of the shelf and winced at how heavy it was, and almost dropped it on her feet when she felt a hand tap her shoulder lightly. She glanced back and was close to letting it fall from her grasp when she realized that the person behind her was none other than Abarai Renji.

"You," she whispered uncertainly. "What? Am I in your way?"

He looked affronted. "No. I just wondered if you needed help with that? I could carry it for you if you'd let me. I...I want to talk, Rukia."

She wanted to shake his hand off, to turn and kick him where it hurt. But, a part of her wanted to be reconciled with him. A piece of her heart, she knew, was his. Right now it was broken in shards, and she wanted to mend it so the pain would dissipate forever. "Alright," she allowed, and he took the heavy book from her hands and took it to the checkout desk while she fumbled in her pockets for her library card.

Ten minutes later they were walking outside to her dorm, and he still had not said a word. "You can talk as we walk, Renji. I'm not going to let you into my room," she informed.

He nodded. "I guess I just wanted to tell you I was sorry that our friendship's falling apart. That I really miss you. Today..." he looked at her with a pained expression. "I didn't even think you still considered me a friend before today."

Rukia shrugged. "I don't really know why I said that. I suppose a part of me still clings to you with that title in mind."

"Unconsciously said," he whispered, and she nodded. "But that isn't to say that you'll never forgive me, right?" he asked, his voice suddenly tight, his eyes looking straight ahead. She followed his gaze and found a familiar color in the distance. Orange. Ichigo's orange hair as he waited, sitting on the steps of her dorm.

"You had the potential to hurt me more than anyone else," she said softly. "And you used it. You knew that Shihouin was the person who placed second in that respect, and you used that as well. Know I do think I will forgive you Renji. I just don't know when..."

She met Ichigo's curious eyes from afar, and was startled when the book dropped out of Renji's hold with a loud thump, and as his narrowing amber eyes were suddenly gone, obscured by Renji's torso. She looked up immediately to his face and her eyes widened when his hands were on her shoulders, and his lips were on hers, painful and bruising.

Just as fast they were gone. Renji was gone. And Ichigo stood before her, his expression livid, his hands carefully touching her arms. "Are you alright?" he asked her lowly, and she nodded, out of her rationality, completely confounded. His eyes were narrowed with anger. "Good, for the moment. I'll be back, just let me deal with this..." He didn't finish, and he let go of her, and set to walk in the direction he had tossed Renji, who was getting up off the ground. He looked dazed.

"I think your chances of forgiveness were just shattered," he growled. "Much like how your teeth are going to be when I'm through with you."

Rukia paled and ran to him, catching his arm and puling backwards, forcing him to stop. He did, and regarded her with a weary expression. "Rukia, let me deal with this imbecile please," he growled.

She shook her head. " will not touch him. He's a student; you'll be in for a world of trouble if you hurt him. Please, just go. I'll meet you tomorrow. You know where," she pleaded.

He looked like he didn't care about consequences, but at her pleading look submitted. "Fine," he agreed. "I'll let you deal with it." He glared at Renji. "I look forward to your initiation test when you try out for the Gotei Thirteen," he said with cynicism in every word. He grinned ruefully. "I'll make sure to treat you as you deserve then."

Rukia paled again and he tousled her hair. "Later, Rukia." He was gone in a flash.

She sighed and stood still for a moment, closing her eyes and giving Renji time to get up.

Then, after he did, she bent on her knees to retrieve her book, not looking at Renji even when she straightened. "I don't know why you did that," she said. "But, for your sake, don't try it again."

"Or your boyfriend will beat me up?" he asked sarcastically. She glared at him then. "No," she corrected icily. "I'll be the one to do that."

She turned and headed into her dorm, determined not to look at him once more tonight.


She waited for his, her spirit's agreement, sulking the entire time. Truth be told, he wanted to laugh at her expression, how endearing it was to him. But then again the cause of her displeasure made him irritated as well, and so he could sympathize.

"Are you sure?" he prompted. "It seems foolish to speed up the process just for that insolent fool."

She sighed heavily. "Yes. I know that. But, I really would like to pay Renji back. He deserves it. And, I want to do it well so that Ichigo doesn't go after him later in life." She grimaced. "I don't believe that will end well for anyone."

He nodded. "That seems reasonable," he allowed. "Have you talked about this with Kurosaki?" She shook her head. "I'm supposed to talk to him tomorrow."

She looked at him, as he was sitting next to her. "Will you let Ichigo's spirit know?" she asked. "Yes," he told her. "I'll do that while you go back and get some sleep." They both got up. "I'll be going to Kurosaki's mind. He's there right now," he added.

She watched as he pressed his hand on the sign that read Ichigo's name and promptly disappeared. She raised her palm to go back to her mind and through the door there to go back to her conscious. However, something stopped her just an instant before she completed her action. She dropped her hand in confusion. She could have sworn she had heard someone singing off in the distance.

"Let your inhibitions go," someone sang indeed, their tone playful. She looked on curiously to Ichigo's side, clearly where the voice had originated, and was coming from.

"Never let curiosity take you to him," whispered her spirit's reminder in her mind's ear. But...something urged her to disregard that advice. In fact, it was more than curiosity, something in her was pulling her to go to whomever was calling to her.

She followed that sensation, and was soon startled to find herself outside the building where she knew Ichigo kept a man imprisoned. It seemed the voice was calling out from within its locked walls. She was not sure if she should go on, but as the man began to sing again she felt all her wariness dissipate.

"Make every touch electrical..."

She stepped forward and at once the chains surrounding the building moved and left the door unbound, letting her through.

The inside was not what she expected. Dark as the chains she had imagined it to be, but instead she was dazzled by white. The walls were bare, but gleaming like diamonds with the hue. She was snapped out of her musings by the voice, still singing from somewhere above. She found a flight of stairs and climbed them steadily until she reached a door a few minutes later. She turned the knob and walked into a room.

"I want to touch you deep inside
And find the secrets that you hide..."

It was white as downstairs, but ahead of her instead of a wall there was a clouded mirror. She walked to it and reached out to touch it. It was ice cold.

"When you fears are cast aside will you remember me?" the man finished, his voice laughing and coming from behind the glass.

"Show yourself," she said clearly. Her hand still pressed on the hazy surface.

"I'm afraid that's all I can do," said the voice apologetically, with a hint of laughter. Her eyes narrowed and she scrutinized the glass, trying to see through it. It was then that she noticed the outline of a person right before her, and the frame of his hand placed over hers. They would have touched had it not been for the glass.

"What is your name?" she asked, her eyes wide with surprise.

"I don't have one, Queen love. The King never gave me one."

"King?" said Rukia, confused, lowering her arm, and making out that he copied her.

"My partner," laughed the man. "He never liked me. He only used me, and then locked me up. It's natural that he didn't bother to give me a name," he reasoned.

She was frowning. "Do you mean Ichigo?"

"That's the one," he affirmed. "You silly Queen."

Her eyebrow rose. "Why do you call me that?"

He was laughing again. "You are the King's lady. His Queen by default."

She couldn't stop her mirth at his jestful words. "You're very funny," she noted amidst a smile.

She saw him place his hand against the glass. "Little girl, little Queen, tell me your name. I do so wish to know it. Tell me now, and you won't need to swear allegiance to the likes of them," he enticed

She felt her heart begin to hammer away. But not with fear. This was not fear. It was... It was...excitement. She was exalted, and she didn't know why. Perhaps it had been his tone, not pleading but giving her an offer laced with something she did not comprehend.

"I'd be yours," he whispered. "Yours only, and you would save me from this prison, and I would love you forever my Queen. You could give me a name."

She reached out. "I would give you a name," she whispered as well.

She spread her fingers, wanting to fit them with his, knowing that as soon as she touched the hazy mirror she would be making an alliance with him. She would set him free. She would give him a name, to the poor man who had never had one. She had always felt dejected about not knowing her own family name, but in this man's case she held no candle, and she wanted to help him. Her fingertips touched the ice of the mirror...


Orihime could not believe what her mother had just told her. "Are you certain?" she demanded, as she sat up in bed, throwing the covers away from her to reach her mother who was standing at the foot of her bed, her voice small and pleadingly unsure. "Who told you?"

Her mother, in actuality her aunt, but she had adopted her as her own so long ago, sighed sadly. "One of the Kurosaki Elders is familiar with one of ours, and he let it slip that their heir was going to marry soon. I'm so sorry Orihime, love. Surely it can not be you. His elder would have told ours if it was. I'm only telling you now so that you do not hear it from somebody else."

Tears fell like jewels from her eyes. "I don't believe it," she gasped. "It can't be true. Kurosaki kun can not be so cruel to me." Her mother embraced her warmly. "My darling, please don't cry. It breaks my heart, sweetling."

But Orihime could not stem her sorrow. "I love him," she whispered in building sobs against her mother's shoulder. "I love him. How can this be?"

Lady Inoue shook her head. "It's over, my love. Now is when you will have to forget about that love."

Her sobs increased.


Her hand rested against the ice of the mirror for a second. Only that because someone tore it away from the glass surface and pulled her back by her waist before more than a second could pass. Their embrace was hard, and their grip on her wrist was painful. "Rukia, why did you come here?" she heard in her ear.

"Take her from here," someone else said, and she recognized the voice of Ichigo's spirit. "I will take care of him."

"No," she whispered, thinking of what she had seen in that instant that she had touched the glass. She had seen what he looked like. "Not him," she continued. "That's not his name. His name is...Shiro."

"Damn it," growled whomever was holding her, and this time she identified him as her own spirit. "Damn it," he repeated as he lifted her into his arms and made to leave the room. She suddenly felt so impossibly weak, as if all of her strength had been drained, leaving her dry. It was as if someone had taken all of her bones, leaving her limp in only skin and muscle. She could not protest as her spirit took them away from Shiro.

He said nothing as they walked, and as he sat down with her at the base of the tree that grew at the crossroads between the representations of her and Ichigo's souls with her in his lap he continued his silence. She could feel the ice of his skin on her back where his arm held her, on her face that rested against his shoulder. He said nothing until Ichigo's spirit returned.

"He did not make a full allegiance with the girl," he said lowly, and her spirit let out the breath he had been holding. "Then, a partial one then?" he asked cautiously.

"Yes," said the man in the black trench coat. "But it is small enough to hold no importance. Even Ichigo will not notice it unless she tells him and he looks hard."

Her spirit nodded. "Would it be better to erase her memory of this event?" he asked. "Yes," said the man. "However, she will remember if she sees him again."

Her beautiful spirit growled. "That will never happen again. I will not allow it."

"Nor will I. And Ichigo will never know. Most likely he will blow what happened out of proportion."

"Then it is agreed," said her spirit, and her everything went dark. Shiro's white engulfed by it.


Kaien whistled as a certain fourth seat passed by the training arena where he was instructing some Shinigami under his third seat squad. The field they were in was a few feet from the rise of land that the certain somebody was walking by.

She stopped at the noise and raised an eyebrow. He grinned ruefully and she pursed her lips trying not to laugh. He glanced at his companions. "Carry on guys, Kaien-dono has some pressing matters to attend to." They all chortled and laughed, but he paid them no heed as he shumpoed to the certain lady.

"Miyako, how are you on this lovely day?" he asked casually as he bowed to her in mock seriousness. She laughed. "Very well thank you. I see that you are as silly as always," she noted.

He shrugged as he straightened. "I try, my love."

She extended her hand and he took it. "Shall we skive off on our duties?" she proposed, quirking her brow. He smiled. "I was just riding the same wavelength," he told her, pulling her away from the sight of his shinigami. "Quite unlike you, though," he pointed out.

They walked into a part of their division that was covered by trees and had a patch of the lake that stretched all over it. She laughed as they took a seat on the grass. "Normally yes, but it feels like so long since I've seen you." She pouted at him. "You haven't been seeing another woman have you?" she asked playfully.

He looked thoughtful. "I don't see her as a woman. Not like I do you," he added, looking at her suggestively, and she smacked his arm. "And who is this girl then?" she inquired.

He pulled her onto his lap. "The kid we took to the human world," he told her. "She's become Ichigo's and my protegee, and so I've been helping out too since she's to be in the academy's tournament."

Miyako's eyes were wide. "Do you mean the girl Ichigo was pinning after these past months?" she asked. "So he left her to you completely?" Kaien nodded. "Pretty much. Not that I minded. She's a good kid. And you won't believe it, but she's Hisana's sister too."

Miyako gasped. "Are you serious?"

He nodded. "Honestly, I don't know how that escaped me when I first saw her. I mean, Rukia's practically the splitting image of Hisana. I realized it during my hearing, and kind of shot it out to Byakuya."

"Oh my," sighed Miyako. "How did he take that. Never mind, what has he done about it? Have you told her about Hisana at all?"

Kaien shook his head. "Hisana didn't want her sister to know about her, remember. Which is why she refused Byakuya's offer to adopt her as his sister. Since he has no reason he can tell her that has nothing to do with her resemblance to his late wife."

Miyako sighed. "Poor Byakuya."

He laughed. "That guy's not the type to give up. He says he'll just keep her safe from a distance. Admirable, no? I always knew he had it in him."

Miyako smiled. "You doubted him, didn't you?" she teased, to which he pouted ridiculously.

He cupped her face tenderly and pulled her closer to his to brush their lips together. "I love ya," he murmured. She smiled. "I love you too, you goof."


All morning she had the feeling that she had forgotten something important. But she couldn't quite place it. Deciding to forget it, reasoning that she would remember eventually, she put it out of her mind and left for the library. She wanted to read some more about Zanpakuto spirits before she went to meet Ichigo at his tree house later.

She took a seat at one of the back tables in the honors library, reading from the book she had checked out the night before. She skimmed across the pages, noting that this Urahara Kisuke was a very smart and interesting author. She felt like she had heard his name somewhere before, but she could not remember from where. 'I'm forgetting things left and right today,' she sighed inwardly.

She let herself become absorbed with her reading and barely noticed as the chair across from her scrapped back as it was pulled, and then shifted as someone sat down. It was only when said person cleared their throat that, startled, she looked up. Her eyes narrowed discontented. "Renji," she said. "What do you want?"

He was glaring. "I wanted to talk," he said lowly. "About last night."

She raised an eyebrow. "I'm listening, although I suggest that you just forget it and never do that again. Just because you hate Ichigo for reasons unknown to me doesn't mean you had the right to do that. You're truly not the person I used to know anymore."

His glare was abashed, as if he were directing it to himself. "I'm sorry about that. I don't really know why I did it. I guess I was jealous again."

To those words she froze. "What? Why?"

He shot her an un amused look. "Why did you think I was mad about? Why do you think I did what I did with Shihouin?"

She shrugged dispassionately. "I just thought you were being unreasonable. Or really, I never thought about why, just that you were."

His face was burning red, it looked like he was on fire, and she would have liked to laugh, but it was as if she had forgotten how to do it. "I was jealous that you had gone off with some guy when you promised to come and watch me try out for the tournament," he said softly, embarrassed. "I hated the thought of you with another man. So, I let Shihouin into my life, thinking that you'd be jealous too and that you'd ditch that guy."

She froze for a moment, her eyes widening with surprise, then shook her head. "Renji, I didn't know you felt that way. I just thought you were trying to hurt me because I hurt your pride by forgetting about your tryouts, especially when you invoked Shihouin and she told me that you didn't care about how she made me miserable."

He was looking at her stoically. "But then I saw you kiss him," he said, and she froze again. "She had me follow her into that maze out in the garden and I saw you two." His hands on the table fisted and his jaw clenched.

She blanched. "Y-you saw," she breathed.

He nodded curtly and then gazed hard into her eyes. "Do you love him, Rukia?"

She looked at the table sadly. "I'm falling in love with him," she admitted. She looked back to him and saw that he looked like he had accepted her feelings. "I'm not just going to stand by if you're not completely in love with him yet," he said suddenly. "I'll kill him before it gets to that," he vowed.

Rukia's eyes widened and she glared at him. "Renji! don't you dare! I'll kill you if you touch him!" she promised lowly.

His eyes darkened with ire. "You would? And what if he hurts me? You'd just stand by?"

Her eyes widened in fear. "I would never let him touch you!" she gasped. "He wouldn't. Just how you wouldn't either. You're just talking nonesense because you're angry."

His eyes closed. "Rukia, are you two together? Has he asked you?"

She looked away again. "I said yes," she answered.

He nodded, biting his lip. "I see."

"I'm sorry Renji. What..." She looked to him, her heart breaking. "What do I do? What do we do? To make it better?"

He took her hand. "Does he make you happy? In a way better than I did?"

She shook her head. "Not better. Renji you're my family, I love you too. I hate that I'm hurting you." Tears blurred her vision and she clutched at his hand.

He smiled sadly. "I love you too, Rukia. You know, I think... I think this place separated us, made where we stand for each other blur. It distorted what we had." His eyes warmed. "Why don't we start again? As friends. And maybe then you'll be able to decide comfortably if you'd rather fall in love with me rather than that guy."

She bit her lip and nodded.

He squeezed her hand in his and then pulled away. "I'll see you at the tournament." He stood and got out of his chair. "Do your best, I know you'll do great."

Her shoulders shook as she tried to control her tears.

"We'll always be best friends, Rukia, if nothing else," he said before he left, and she buried her face into her arms, letting her sadness flow from inside of her.


"So, Zan-umm, my spirit told me that you'd like to make the allegiances now?" he verified as he lounged on the floor of his tree house. Rukia, beside him, also sprawled on the ground nodded. "That's right."

"Hmm," hummed Ichigo. "When?"

"Today?" asked Rukia, turning her face to look at him. He turned her way and raised an eyebrow. "I suppose we can. I'll have to ask Urahara san..."

She shot up to sitting, her eyes wide. Ichigo followed suit, startled. "What? What's wrong?"

She shook her head and laughed. "It's nothing. It's just that I picked up a book with his name and I thought the name sounded really familiar." She smiled at him. "So you must have mentioned him to be your friend?"

He shrugged. "I don't recall ever mentioning him. But, he's Twelfth Division's Captain, and I guess I could call him my friend," he admitted as he scratched his head thoughtfully.

She looked embarrassed. "A Captain. I see. But why would we have to go see him?"

He grinned. "He has this room that's perfect for what we'll be doing. It's where I learned Bankai."

Rukia's eyes went wide and she stared at him with a mix of disbelief and awe. "You wield Bankai?" she gasped. "How?"

He shrugged and grinned. "Nice to know you like me for me for me and not my Bankai," he teased.

She turned red. "I always seem to forget that you're the hero of the Winter War," she murmured, looking away from him.

He sighed and stroked her head. "I'm kind of glad for that. I want you to love me not be in awe of me."

She glanced at him with sudden unease, her thoughts straying to her most recent conversation with Renji. "What...what if I can't feel that way?" she murmured.

His eyes narrowed with confusion. "Why? Is there something that would impede it?"

She looked away. "I talked with Renji this morning," she said, and then launched to tell him exactly what happened.

He frowned through the whole story, occasionally glaring holes into the wood of the floor, and sometimes grinding his teeth. She found that it made the situation funny, with all of his reactions. She told him so, and his expression lightened. "I'm glad I could make you feel better in that way at least," he said.

Rukia smiled back tentatively. "Renji is my family. I love him. However, I love you in a different way. But...I don't know if I could stand breaking apart my only family"

He was frowning thoughtfully. "If he understood," he began. "That you only see him as a brother, then he would back off?" he asked. She nodded. He grinned. "I think he only pissed me off so much because he was hurting you. Other than that I'm pretty sure I could get along with him. Maybe even be friends. Would you like that?"

She was looking at him like he had just done the most incredible feat in the world. " would do that?" she asked, amazed. He nodded. "Sure, he seemed like a cool guy apart from a few things. Why not?"

Suddenly she was in his arms, and he took the opportunity to press his cheek against hers, nuzzling her gently, loving the feel and scent of her hair. He pulled her onto his lap and kissed her blushing cheek. "I love you. I would do anything for you, Shrimp." His mouth moved to her ear. "Remember, I'm completely yours?"

She turned more red than ever.


She stared amazed at the vast expanse of the place Ichigo had brought her to. "This is incredible," she said.

The orange-head nodded. "You bet. Now, I'm going to call out my spirit. You try to do the same, and if you can't then we'll have to resort to something else."

She nodded, and watched as Ichigo concentrated, and as suddenly the trench-coat man materialized beside him. He nodded at her. "I am relived that you have agreed to proceed so soon."

Rukia gulped and closed her eyes. 'Are you there?' she thought to her spirit. 'Please come out...'

At once she felt someone's hand envelop her own. She glanced at it and her eyes widened when she saw the pale skin of her beautiful spirit. He was regarding her with a smile. "You called, Rukia?"

She grinned. "We'll be starting now." He nodded and looked at Ichigo. "I will challenge you first, and vice versa."

"Fine," said Ichigo. He looked at his spirit with a wary look. "Try to make it like how I got Shikai, please?" he asked. The man nodded. "Thanks oji-san," he said.

Rukia looked at her spirit. "Will you behave?" He nodded guardedly. "If that is what you wish."

The two then walked off away from her and the cloak man. After a few seconds they shumpoed away, and she was left completely alone. She gulped nervously as the man gave her his full attention.

"When Ichigo achieved Shikai it was by finding his soul-cutter amid an endless number of boxes as his soul crumbled," he said. "Yours will be different, as you can not go back there for the moment."

She nodded.

The man drew his sword, Ichigo's sword, and pointed it towards her. "Your challenge, to have me swear allegiance to you will be to get through one task."

At once, from the tip of the blade a black cloud expelled and engulfed her. She closed her eyes instinctively and waited for the smoke to clear, fluttering her eyes open every few seconds to check how it had moved.

When it had cleared completely she realized that she was no longer standing in the wasteland that Ichigo had brought her to, but in a room with two doors. As she approached them the doors simultaneously opened and she stepped back from surprise.

Peering into them she saw two figures approaching the doorway. They both stopped before they could cross the threshold. They were wearing thoroughly concealing cloaks, and as she gazed at them wondering what she was supposed to do they pulled back their hoods.

Two mirror images of herself stood before her, both wearing expressionless faces. "We will tell you one truth and one lie," said the one on the right. "You will pick the one who tells the truth," finished the left.

"I see," said Rukia. "Go ahead then?"

The one on the right went first. "What I want most in the world is to be strong."

The second one spoke right after. "What I want most in the world is to be the strongest."

She contemplated their words. Sure she wanted to be strong. But the strongest? Compared to people like Ichigo that wasn't possible. "I want to be strong," she agreed. "And I want to be the strongest, but to my capacity."

They both nodded, and then drew back. At once the world around her shifted and she was once again standing in the wasteland expanse. Before her the man stood. "It is important to understand what you want when you have the power to mold. He extended his hand, and she went to him, giving him her own.

He shook hands with her. "What is your name?" he asked.

"Rukia," she answered with a small smile. "And what is yours?"

"Zangetsu," he told her. "You have passed my test, and so now I ally myself with you."


"What was your test for Ichigo?" she asked her spirit, who seemed to be fuming. They were both alone in the wasteland-room. Zangetsu having left his corporeal form, and Ichigo having left the room so that she could take her last test.

He scoffed. "I gave him the task of cutting me once," he said, showing her his arm where a shallow cut reddened his skin. "And then, when I told him my name, an honor for him, he laughed!"

Rukia raised an eyebrow. "Is your name funny?" she inquired.

"No!" he shouted. "It is not funny. Whatever that fool may think. ...He said it was, girly."

She smiled. "I see. Well, I might think differently, so let's get started shall we?"

He nodded, and gave her his hand, which she took. "Your task will be to find me," he told her. "I will be hiding, and you will have to pick me out of a few choices. What we will gain from that will be your connection to me. Think of a way to find me when you can't see me."

"Okay," said Rukia, and suddenly he was no longer holding her hand. As well, before her appeared a glimmering white wall. It was absolutely blank, and so she wondered is this was truly where her spirit was hiding from her.

She approached it cautiously and then splayed her hand over it's surface. She drew back abruptly when she felt fingers touch against her own. She gasped when she saw a white hand retreating into the wall.

"So you are in that wall," she verified. Closing the distance again she held her hand out, and the white wall extended its own to her. "Is this you, Spirit?" she asked, as his fingertips graced her hers.

The hand suddenly enveloped hers completely, clutching down hard, so that she had to use her weight in order to pull herself away. Her eyes were widened with surprise. "I guess I will have to draw out the real you. But how?"

She plopped down cross-legged on the floor in order to muse on how to solve that very question. She figured it would not be as easy as merely asking him to come out. As well, she remembered that finding him was supposed to be her doing. Therefore, she was not supposed to draw him out. Gathering herself she stepped up to the wall again. She started from one side, running her hand across the surface, hoping to feel him.

"He will be cold, but warm," she whispered to herself. "His heart will beat with mine. His eyes will be looking at me. He's smiling." She stopped almost at the end of the wall and pressed her hand on the surface once more. A hand clasped hers securely, but this time she did not pull back. He emerged then, his eyes bright and a ready smile on his lips.

"Found you," she said, and he took her in his arms. "Your name?" he whispered in her ear.

"Rukia," she answered. "Your name?"

"Sode no Shirayuki," he said at long last.


"I haven't felt this giddy in a while!" exclaimed the sandal-hatted man as he fanned himself exuberantly.

Beside him, Ichigo winced. "Shut up, you're going make her nervous, Getta-Boshi." Next to him, Rukia smiled. "I'm fine," she assured.

Kisuke walked them to the boundaries of his division. "Still, that was quite an amazing Shikai. More impressive and beautiful than on video, for sure. I hope to see it at the Tournament," he winked.

Ichigo shook his head. "That probably won't happen. She won't need it most likely." He shot Rukia a "we discussed this" look, to which she nodded. "Most surely," she agreed.

Kisuke sighed comically. "Very well. I'll be there anyway." He bowed to Rukia, and she did the same. "It was very nice to meet you," she told him. "Thank you for letting us use your facilities."

He laughed. "Think nothing of it. I'll just put it on Ichigo san's tab."

Said man rolled his eyes. "Sure, whatever."


She slept more late on Friday morning than ever. It left her feeling sore and in bad need of a good stretch. As she made her bed she passed by her door, and became aware that there was a note addressed to her slipped under it. She wondered if it was from her Swords Instructor again as she picked it up. Opening it she frowned at its contents.

It read: Miss Inoue Orihime sincerely requests your presence in visitor hall's Green room this Friday at one in the afternoon. Please be prompt.

She could not resist the urge to roll her eyes, and as she did so she caught sight of the clock on her wall, which said it was 1:20 already. "I'm already late," she noted dully. "Should I even go?"

In the end she pushed herself to get dressed and left her dorm, smiling at the crowded festivities of the Tournament. Finally, she went into the appointed room she was to go to in Visitor's Hall. As she turned the bend of the corridor she saw that the person who had invited her was barely showing up. She smiled at that, it seemed like sleeping in today had been a great idea.

She walked up to the door and smiled at the servant in Noble House livery. "I'm here to see Miss Inoue Orihime," she said. The man nodded and opened the door. "Your visitor is here, Miss Inoue," he announced.

"Have her come in," answered said girl from inside, her voice all sunshine.

Rukia wondered if now would be a good time to turn back, as she walked in. But before she could decide the door was shut behind her.

Inoue Orihime was sitting on a cushion, her face relaxed, her lips smiling lightly. However, she did not turn to greet her. "Please sit," she said, raising her hand to indicate to the cushion five feet away from her, separated from her person by a low table.

Rukia obeyed, hesitating, but completing. "I assume you want to talk about Ichigo," she prompted, not wanting to beat around the bush.

Something flashed in the auburn headed woman's eyes. To her it looked like hurt. "He lets you call him that?" she asked, her voice drained of sunshine.

Rukia nodded, thinking she should not have started after all.

"I have heard that you will marry," continued Inoue, also getting to the point.

Her eyes widened and she placed her palms on the table to steady herself at the mind-blowing news. "What?" she demanded. "We aren't. How did you come by such an idea?"

Inoue looked suddenly relieved, as if a huge tension had been removed from her shoulders. "You aren't? Well, that's wonderful." She laughed a little and bopped herself on the head comically. "It was a silly idea anyway. I don't know why I considered it so seriously, really." She stood up. "But thank you for clarifying it for me. I'm grateful. I'm sorry that I wasted any of your time though. I heard you will be in the Tournament, so I'm sure every minute is precious."

Rukia scowled and stood up too.

Inoue continued. "You're just his student, right?" she asked with a smile.

"No." She looked away. "I mean yes. But not just that."

She peeked at the woman and saw that she had frozen. "Then you are his lover?" she said lowly.

She winced. "Girlfriend," she corrected.

Inoue shook her head, as if she couldn't believe it. "That's wrong," she gasped. "You can't be his..."

She raised an eyebrow. "So you think."

In a flash Inoue left her stuttering behind. "So I know," she declared. "It's not so hard to understand. Kurosaki kun and I were meant to be. He is the one I love, and will always love, so I will not allow you to take him from me…" She shook her head. "As if you could. You're a child. And he must be using you to make me jealous. To make me try harder. That must be it."

Rukia glared. "As I said, so you think...Now, I have many things to do today, so I'll be going now."

Inoue said nothing, she looked again as if a horrible mistake had been corrected. "Yes, of course. But, let's meet again. I'm sure we could be friends once Kurosaki kun is no longer using you, no?"

"Yes, let's," agreed Rukia with a sickly smile as she left the room.


Kaien scratched his head thoughtfully. "I don't know what to tell ya. But I can go find out, since this is now bothering me too."

Ichigo shook his head. "Nah. She's probably resting right now. The end of the Tournament starts tomorrow, and that's her year's turn."

Miyako sighed. "So she's been avoiding you completely. And you have no clue?"

Again, he shook his head.

Kaien raised an eyebrow. "You sound like you know something," he accused Miyako. "Spill or I will tickle you."

She laughed at that, but her face became grave as she met Ichigo's furrowed gaze. "Tatsuki told me that Orihime went to see her at the school on Friday. That sounds like it meets your time implications, right?"

Kaien nearly laughed as his friend mimicked a chameleon. First he blanched, then his face turned red, and then pink as he calmed down. "I see," he managed to say. "Well, I'm not going to give Inoue the pleasure of seeing me loose her." He stood up, knocking over his sake dish. "I'm going. Thanks for the drink. I'll see ya tomorrow," he growled as he shumpoed out the door of Miyako's barracks.

"What do you think he'll do?" wondered Miyako. Kaien shrugged. "No idea. When it comes to Rukia, Ichigo can be quite unpredictable."


She felt like shit. Probably because she was shit. Honestly, how could she ignore Ichigo like she had been doing? She knew she was being selfish. But, anything Inoue Orihime always messed with her self-esteem when she thought about it too much.

"Ichigo loves me," she said into the dark quiet of her bedroom. "He said so, and I believe him. But, I can't see why he picked me over her. She's right, I'm a girl compared to her. There must be something wrong with him."

"I resent that," someone said outside her window. Her open window. She sat up abruptly, recognizing the voice. "Ichigo," she whispered as he pushed back the spring and leaped swiftly into her room.

Her eyes grew somber as he took leave to lay on her bed, next to her. He propped his head on his arms. "So, you feel like that because Inoue came to see you?" he asked.

She glanced at him.. "You knew?"

His shoulder moved to the beat of a shrug. "I just found out from a friend of mine, who found out from Tatsuki, you know, Inoue's friend. I set off for here as soon as I knew."

He turned over and raised an eyebrow at her. She was mirroring his position, her eyes wide. "You came so soon?" she whispered.

He scoffed. "Well duh. I don't want anything she said to affect us. I knew it had because you've been avoiding me since Friday."

He could see her cheeks blush red even in the dark. "I'm sorry about that," she murmured.

He laughed. "Yeah. It's fine though. I know how you feel."


He nodded. "When I see Abarai I turn into a jealous monster; not pretty."

She chuckled. "I didn't know you went by pretty."

He grinned and pressed his forehead against hers. "Well, you know..."

She curled against him as she laughed, and he wrapped his arms around her. "I think handsome suits you better, Sir Pretty."

He kissed her hair. "Only if you're right next to me, and let me call you Beautiful."

He shoulders shook from laughter. "Let me think about it."


She ran as fast as she could, not risking trying Shumpo just because she had a bad feeling she would pummel right into a wall.

So comfortable in Ichigo's arms, she had ignored her alarm, and thanks to him hitting the snooze button repeatedly she was now going to be late for her pre-Tournament meeting.

"Fool," she muttered as she charged, echoing the whispered yells she had repeated like a mantra as she got ready. She sighed angrily when she realized that she had changed right in front of him without any misgivings. "But only because I forgot to have them," she muttered as she approached the stadium where the tournament was being held, her cheeks red.

She dashed between people until she came to the waiting room that lead to the arena. She composed herself and opened the door.

"Finally," said Shihouin Aye. "I was beginning to think you chickened out too."

True to her words she was the only teammate present. The boy was missing, and so were all the instructors. She asked about the latters.

"They're late," said Shihouin, who was sitting on one of the two benches that lined the walls of the waiting room. There was no wall adjacent to her, giving them a complete view of the arena.

Rukia sat down one seat away from her and sighed. Just then the door swung open and the breathless third member of their team stumbled in, followed in calmly by the three instructors.

"I see you two were on time," said the Kido Instructor. "You, Aoi Tenma, should follow their example."

Rukia shook her head. "I was late too," she admitted.

"Enough of that," interjected the Swords Instructor. "Let's cut to the chase. You all know the rules, so I'll just summarize some key aspects."

"One," he said, "As First Years you are not to touch your opponent once they are incapacitated, or have obtained a win. Two, you may not touch your opponent if they surrender. And three, you may not kill intentionally, or really at all. The most important rule is to follow the rules. People do get penalized if they don't."

The three nodded.

Suddenly a gong rang out and they all jumped in sync, which made the instructors laugh. "Relax, you are all exceptional within an exceptional class. Be confident, you deserve to be."

Shihouin smiled, Aoi grinned, and Rukia nodded, her lips curving.

A knock on the door broke everyone from their musings. The swords instructor answered it, and motioned for Rukia. "You have a friend come to wish you good luck," he told her with a sly wink, which she adamantly ignored. She went through the door and shut it behind her, only to meet Hisagi Shuuhei before her.

"Sempai!" she exclaimed.

He smiled at her. "I wanted to wish you good luck, although you don't need it," he said. She mirrored his smile. "Thank you sempai. Are you going to watch?"

He nodded.

"Come watch with me then. Your presence will help my nerves. And I don't think the instructors will mind, given that you're a sixth year."

He nodded and she turned to lead them in, but stopped when she realized he had not moved. "Rukia san," he said taking her hand in his. He smiled. "Kaien dono told me to tell you..." he but his lip, she supposed to stop himself from laughing. "...To kick some honors class butt."

She laughed and he could not suppress his own mirth, and joined her. "You will do so anyway," he predicted.

She grinned and gestured to the door. "Will you come?"

He shook his head. "I can't sit with you, but I will be watching. I will be one of the guardians," he explained, referring to the students who made sure nothing incredibly bad happened within the arena.

"I see. But thank you for coming to see me, Sempai. It means a lot to me."

He nodded, and her eyes widened as he suddenly leaned down over her and kissed her cheek. His lips were soft and warm, and against her skin felt like rose petals. He drew back slowly, his eyes taking hers in.

"Sempai, why did you kiss me?" she asked.

He smiled. "For good luck; yours and mine." And then he walked away.


"Wowzers," hooted Kaien, impressed. "Look at the Gotei's Section. This is the first time I've seen it so full of Captains. It must be a record."

Ichigo raised an eyebrow. "You're right," he agreed as they moved to said place. "There's Uraraha and Yoruichi. Ukitake and Shinsui. Byakuya and Retsu san. Hell, even Toushiro"

"Not to mention the Vice-Captains," put in Miyako.

The three took their seats at the end of a row, Miyako between the two men. Sitting next to Ichigo was Shihouin Yoruichi. "How are you?" she asked with a grin. "Kisuke tells me you have a sweetheart these days."

Ichigo glared at the man next to her, who hid behind his fan with a crazy laugh. "Now, Ichigo san. Don't be so shy."

"Who's being shy!" he demanded, reaching over to take away his fan. Yoruichi intercepted him however. "Behave," she commanded the two.

Ichigo huffed and arranged himself back into his seat. "Why are you two here anyway? What's with the excess of Captains?"

Yoruichi smiled. "I'm here to see my youngest sibling compete, you should know that. Kisuke is here to accompany me. However, I would have come anyway even if my sister was not in this. I'd like to see the fruits of your labor with that child you took to the human world. And see that Shikai again."

Kaien laughed. "You'll be lucky to see it. Ichigo told her not to use it."

Yoruichi slapped Ichigo across the back of the head. "Why? She could very well win if she uses it. Idiot!"

"Whatever," he growled. "I just wanted her to see how good she's gotten without having to resort to power like that."

"You shouldn't impose your lessons on her," said a voice behind them, and they all turned to be greeted by Unohana Retsu's smile. "Retsu san," said Ichigo in greeting, his eyes inquisitive.

"I mean," she continued. 'That you should let her learn that, if she wishes, on her own. She might not make the same mistakes, since no one is the same."

Ichigo blinked, then nodded. "Yeah. You're right." He smiled back at her. "Thank you."

Next to her was his Godfather. "Kurosaki," he greeted. "We shall see how well you've trained her."

Ichigo grinned. "She'll blow you away."


"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the last part of this Century's One-Hundred Year's Tournament. In this final installment the First Year's Honor's Class will be competing against their Normals Class counterparts," announced the commentarian seated at a table on the edgo of the arena, among a panel of three teachers that would be keeping score and an eye on the participants. "As you all know by now three of the four fighting styles will be used in three battles: Kidou, the demon arts; Hakuda, hand-to-hand combat; and Zanjutsu, which is the art of sword battle. The winner of each battle is awarded a point for their win. At then end, all the points are counted, and the team with the most points will the winning class. The person with the most points, usually on the winning team, as always will receive a special prize personalized to their merits."

The commentarian stood up, revealing to the crowd who he was: none other than the handsome school Healer. "And now without further ado let this last stretch of this Hundred Years Tournament commence!" He gestured to his right, where the Honors Class sat. "For the first part, Kidou will be the name of the game. Please welcome Honors participant Abarai Renji." Renji came out onto the arena and the student crowd erupted in cheers. "And from the Normals class, Shihouin Ayae." The same reaction was paid to her.

Ichigo raised an eyebrow at the unlikely match and winced when beside him Yoruichi stood and whistled loudly. "Beat his butt Ayae!" she yelled, pumping her fist in the air. "Go! Go! Go!"

"You're excited," he noted sarcastically, and was taken aback by the evil smile she shot at him. "Get up and cheer," she said slowly. "You too Kisuke." Both men paled and stood up abruptly, Kaien joining them as Urahara waved his fan to and fro, chanting "Go Ayae chan!" as he swayed. Ichigo considered it enough to be on his feet. 'I wonder how Renji will fare. Is he any good with kidou?' he wondered.

On the field Shihouin Ayae took a confident breath, she was sure that her Kido abilities surpassed her opponent's. She raised an eyebrow at him, and he grimaced. She knew he would have regards about hurting her, and to her that made things more simple.

She approached him as he did her until they were center stage. They bowed to each other as instructed, and moved far apart once having straightened.

"Are you ready?" asked Renji, ever courteous. She nodded firmly and raised a hand in his direction. His body coiled to spring away once she launched her attack. "O Lord, mask of flesh and bone, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of man, truth and temperance, upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws!" she recited. Her palm moved quickly, following Renji's movements. "Hadou 33, Sokatsui!"

Renji went flying, the ball of blue fire had not hit him, but the force of the blast threw him off his feet. The blast rammed into the barrier that protected the audience, and before Renji could get up Ayae took her chance. "Bakudou 1, Sai!" she yelled, restraining his movements, causing him to fall on his side.

One of the guardians came forward at once, she recognized him as Hisagi Shuuhei, and began the countdown. "Two," he said at last. "One! Abarai Renji looses this round. Winner: Shihouin Ayae!"

Above them, in midair a blank cube suddenly appeared, and within a second a scoreboard appeared on each plane. It read "Team 1: 0" and "Team 2: 1."

She smiled and released her spell on Renji, who rose and smiled slightly to her. "Nice one," he told her. She scoffed. "And yet so boring. You should have come at me seriously, Renji san, it would have made things more interesting."

He shrugged, and turned away to go back into his team's waiting room. She could see them all stand up to greet him. Ayae sighed and smiled at Hisagi, then did the same.

Rukia and Aoi stood as she approached. The latter was grinning and clapping. Rukia was smiling.

"Well," she said nonchalantly whilst taking a seat, who do you think they'll call next?"

Aoi Tenma pointed to his chest exuberantly. "I hope it's me."

The commentarian's voice suddenly rang out. "For the next battle, please welcome Team One's participant: Hinamori Momo!" Cheers erupted. "And from Team Two: Aoi Tenma!" Said person jumped up abruptly from his seat and bolted into the stadium. Ayae sighed. "Would it kill him to not act like a child," she drawled. "Honestly."

Rukia sniggered, and watched as the two contestants bowed to each other.

On the field Hinamori Momo smiled once at the boy she was going to fight and then moved back abruptly. She wanted to make a win with haste since she wanted to catch up with team one at any cost. Before Aoi could finish his chant she had hit him with the same binding spell Shihouin had used on Abarai kun.

Aoi Tenma pouted at her as Hisagi Sempai counted down from ten. "Two," he said. "One! Aoi Tenma looses this round. Winner: Hinamori Momo!" She wasted no time to release him from her spell. She gave him her hand to help him to his feet and he winked at her before taking his leave. Her cheeks flooded with red as the student and visitor audience laughed.

"Flirting, Hinamori?" asked Renji with a grin, and she blushed as she took a seat. "I don't know what you mean, Abarai kun," she said casually. She looked at Kira. "It seems like you'll be fighting Rukia san," she said.

The blonde boy smiled at Abarai kun. "Do you have any tips for me?" he asked. "Is she good at Kido?"

The red-head grinned at Hinamori and then looked back at him. "That's right. You weren't there when we had a joint lesson with the Normals class. Rukia kicked butt. So watch out for her."

The commentarian suddenly called out his name and he smiled. "I'll be sure to do that," he said as he walked onto the field. From across it he could see his opponent waiting for her name to be called. It occurred to him then that he had never heard Abarai kun use her last name, and it had never occured to him to ask. He looked at the commentarian who still had not said her name when he had reached his position in the middle of the field, and then back to the girl who looked confused by that same reason. Her teammates also had similar looks.

The audience seemed confused too.

The commentarian cleared his throat. "And...and from the Normals participant, Ku...Kuchiki Rukia!" he said finally. A very heavy silence suddenly enveloped the crowd, and then lots of whispered conversation. He watched as Rukia san's eyes went wide, and as her male teammate, Aoi, ushered her gently to the field. She pulled back however, a very angry look on her face, and refused to move. One of the Normals instructors came up to her and spoke with her quickly. He shook his head exasperatedly and then left the room, walking onto the field and heading to the commentarian's table, where he and three other teachers were speaking in hushed tones. They all stopped when a Hell Butterfly flew to them from the stands, he glanced up just in time to see Captain Kuchiki Byakuya sit down, and then become obscured as a tall orange-headed Shinigami stood to loom over him.

When the Team Two instructor arrived to the commentarians table they spoke with him immediately, and after a moment he walked back to his team's waiting room. The commentarian stood up and smiled widely. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Kuchiki Rukia, from the Normals Team!"

Rukia san walked to the field this time, with such a blank cold look on her face that he was sure she was a Kuchiki before he once again remembered her Inuzuri origins. She bowed to him as he did, but with such a grace that he again was not sure if she was a noble or not.

"I wish you well, Kira Izuru," she told him before moving back, and he followed suit. She stood still and he blinked. He did not want to make the first movement. And yet, after a minute she had not moved, and had such an expression of indifference that he knew she was never going to do so, and so force him into moving first. He raised his palm and began to chant low but clear, moving parallel to her. She only moved her head to watch him. He bit his lip as reiatsu surged in his palm, and then rushed at her, "Hadou 31, Sakkahou!" he yelled.

She didn't move as the red fire left his hand, and his eyes widened, he stopped in his tracks. He gasped when she suddenly crouched low, barely missing his attack, and then with feet so quick rushed at him, "Bakudou 1, Sai!" she yelled, and he was bound while standing up.

Hisagi Shuuhei began to count, coming up to stand by Rukia san's side. "Two," he said. "One! Kira Izuru looses this round! Winner: Kuchiki Rukia!"

She was not watching him as she released her seal, instead sharing a confounded look with Hisagi Sempai. "Rukia san," he said, "What's going on?" Her cold look was back. "I have no clue," she said before looking at Kira and nodding. He nodded as well and she turned to walk back to her team. Hisagi Sempai raised an eyebrow. "Go back, at the rate these battles are going I don't think there will be a break for the second part."

Kira nodded and walked back to his team. Renji was watching Rukia san with wide eyes, he met Kira's when he came back. "Since when is Rukia a Kuchiki?" he asked, knowing he would not be getting an answer.

The commentarian rose from his seat. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the scoreboard please! Team Two is in the lead with two points, and Team One stands with one win! Please stay in your seats, as the second part of this last stage of the tournament continues immediately!" His hand swept to the Honors Team. "Part Two consists of the Hakuda, hand-to-hand battles. The rules to obtain a win are simple. The participants must either hold down their opponents for ten seconds, obtain a surrender, or knock them out completely. And now, without further wait, please welcome Team One's Kira Izuru! And from Team Two, Shihouin Ayae!"

On the stands Shihouin Yoruichi frowned again as the person on her right ground their teeth together. "Kurosaki Ichigo," she said calmly, "If you keep doing that I'm going to personally make sure you don't walk out of here with any teeth."

Beside her Ichigo glared at her. "I'm just frustrated alright," he hissed. "Why the heck did Byakuya lie? Did you see that look on her face?"

Yoruichi made to smack him but somebody behind him did the job first, although the impact was pretty soft, the message had gotten through. "Retsu san?" whined Ichigo. "Why'd you hit me?"

She raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Because it is rude to speak about a person when they are right behind you. Please wait until later to get an explanation, as you have already agreed to."

Ichigo glared at his godfather, and the man looked coldly back. "Fine," he muttered and turned back to face the arena.

Yoruichi sighed, glad that the baby had been properly chastised. She looked intently at the field where her youngest sibling ducked, avoiding a kick from the blond Kira Izuru. She smiled at the determined look on her face, and the skill of her movements as she kicked the boy on the chest, sending him flying.

Kira however was pretty good too, he didn't loose his balance and got up so fast that she knew her sister had lost even before she did. The boy rushed her and lifted her over his shoulders, dumping her on the floor and pinning her before she had the chance to get away. A guardian came to them and ensued to count. "Two," she said. "One! Shihouin Ayae looses this round. Winner: Kira Izuru!"

Urahara sighed beside her. "This type of battle is more fun when watching the older students. First years always make it look like a brawl." She nodded. "But who doesn't like some good street fighting every now and then?" she grinned.

She gave her sister a thumbs up when she noticed her glancing over, and dropped her hand in disappointment when she deliberately ignored her. "Brat," she heard Ichigo mutter, and she smacked his shoulder. "You shouldn't talk," she laughed.

On the sidelines of the field the handsome Healer stood up and smiled. "Ladies and gentlemen please welcome, from Team One, Abarai Renji. And from Team Two, Aoi Tenma!"

Renji walked out to the field and reached the center a few seconds before Aoi. They both bowed, and when they straightened Renji coughed. "Has Rukia said anything?" he asked.

The boy shook his head. "Not a word." His brow furrowed in concern, "She looks like she's in shock, and more confusing, she has Kuchiki Taichou's expression pretty down, wouldn't you say?"

Renji nodded and stepped back. "Shall we?" Aoi grinned. "You're on, get ready to loose again!"

The boy rushed at him, and Renji followed suit. They took the battle to a mercy game, Renji having caught his fist in his hand, and the second blow as well. He thought this was a stupid strategy since he could obviously overpower him.

Suddenly, with a force he didn't look he had Aoi pushed him back, and with surprising agility maneuvered his body so that he could jump up and kick Renji across the face.

Renji fell, and Aoi landed awkwardly on his feet, but rushed forward to jump on his opponent, holding him down so he couldn't get back up. Renji, in a daze, could only hear Hisagi Sempai reach one in his countdown. "Abarai Renji looses this round. Winner: Aoi Tenma!"

As soon as those words were out the weight on his back was gone, and Hisagi Senpai was lifting him to his feet. "C'mon Abarai, there's a fourth squad member who's going to patch you up. Geez, that Aoi! Your eye is bleeding."

On the other side of the field Tenma was jumping up and down, holding Ayae's hands as she mimicked him excitedly. "Can you believe it!" she shouted. "We're doing so well! It's 3 to 2!"

Tenma grinned and dropped her hands, he crouched down before Rukia where she was sitting and took her hands. "Rukia san, do your best. Use that speed!" She smiled at him slightly and nodded. "I'll do my best, Tenma san."

The commentarian suddenly began to speak. "From Team One, Hinamori Momo. From Team Two, Kuchiki Rukia!"

Aoi moved back as she stood up and walked onto the field, that indifferent expression on her face once again. "Do you know anything about this, Ayae san?" he asked. The blond shook her head, her calculating eyes on the short girl's back. "Nothing at all," she said. He raised an eyebrow at her. "I don't believe you," he smiled. She smiled back. "Maybe I do know something, but not enough to say anything. Better?"

He grinned.

On the field Hinamori Momo bowed and smiled at the girl. "Let's do our best, Rukia san." Said girl nodded and stepped back. Momo did the same. She wondered if she would remain motionless until she herself was forced to make the first move like Kira?

But she didn't have to wait, it turned out. Rukia san rushed at her and aimed a kick to her side. Momo dodged, but regretted it in a second when her opponent moved fast and her fist met her stomach. Momo doubled over and fell to her knees, out of breath.

Rukia san stood over her. "Do you wish to give up or get up? I won't attack you while you're down."

Momo got up, breathing in harshly. "I'll get up," she said.

Rukia san waited until she was on her feet, and then threw a punch again, to her face, but Momo caught it with both her hands. She gasped when one of her legs made contact with her side, but didn't let go, even when she lost balance, and brought down Rukia san with her.

She maneuvered over her and pinned her arms down to her sides. "Sorry, Rukia san," she apologized, and breathed in as Hisagi Senpai rushed over.

Rukia san began to struggle, shifting her body, trying to shake Momo's hands off hers, but she would not let go. Her teeth gritted and Momo's eyes widened when she felt her opponent's shoes under her belly. "Sorry, Hinamori san," she said, her voice as cold as her expression, and she shoved, knocking the breath from her lungs.

Rukia san was suddenly over her, rolling her over and pulling her arms over her back. Hisagi Senpai counted down, and she couldn't get up, not while she was so dizzy. "One!" shouted Hisagi Senpai. "Hinamori Momo looses this round. Winner: Kuchiki Rukia!"

Rukia san's grip dropped at once, and those same hands helped her up. Hinamori looked up and met blue again. "I'm sorry, does it hurt?" asked Rukia san softly. Momo smiled. "I'm just dizzy," she said, and Rukia san's hands left their support when Hisagi Senpai lifted her into his arms. Rukia san smiled, and then turned to walk back to her team.

Kira kun and Abarai kun hovered as Hisagi Senpai deposited her gently on a seat, and moved back as the fourth squad member that had healed Abarai kun's eye came forward. "Hanatarou san?" she said. He smiled. "Where does it hurt?"

She waved her hand over her belly. "She got me pretty good here, but I think it's just bruising." He nodded. "I'll heal that then," he said. "I'm sure you'll want to be at your best for the next part, right?"

She smiled. "Yes, we need to catch up."

Meanwhile the Healer stood up and made to speak. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please take a look at the scoreboard. Honors Team One has accumulated two points, currently loosing to Normals Team Two who has four wins. Now, due to the speed of the previous battles we will be continuing on to the final third part of this last stretch of the tournament. This will be Zanjutsu, art of the sword battles. The rules for these rounds are as follows: the participants may acquire a win if their opponents submit, or if they are the first to cut their opponents three times. In which case, please welcome, from the Honors Team One, Kira Izuru, and from the Normals Team Two, Aoi Tenma!"

Center stage, Hisagi Shuuhei waited for the two young men to arrive to him. He held the swords they would be using, one in each hand. The two arrived, bowed to each other, and then grasped the hilts of their respective swords, drawing them from their holsters which Shuuhei gripped. He stepped back.

"You may commence at my mark," he told them. "I will call you back to position after every cut. Ready? You may begin!"

Aoi grinned and rushed at Kira, who rushed as well and defended. Aoi pushed forward, attempting to overwhelm Kira, who pushed back. The latter then pushed harder, unbalancing Aoi, and he took the chance to swipe his blade on one of Aoi's legs.

Shuuhei walked forward and motioned for the two to part. "Kira Izuru remains unscathed. Aoi Tenma has one cut," he announced. He stepped back. "Ready? Commence again!"

Kira began first this time, and Aoi ducked, but not quickly enough. He drew back and gaped at Kira as a few tendrils of his spiky hair floated to the ground. "So mean," he whined, and then charged at Kira who blocked his swing, pushed his back again, and took a swipe at the side of his other leg. Aoi winced and they both moved back to position where Shuuhei waited. "Kira Izuru still remains unscathed. Aoi Tenma has been cut twice," he updated. He stepped back. "Ready now? Commence again!"

Aoi's brow was furrowed, and Kira knew that he was frustrated now. He decided to go first again, swinging down, and forcing Aoi to his knee as he defended. He tried to get back up, but Kira refused to let down. "Damn it," cursed Aoi, and with a yell he pushed up, pushing Kira back up. He lunged at him, but Kira dodged and sliced a shallow cut on his calf from behind. Aoi fell, a startled sound coming from his mouth.

Shuuhei stepped forward and motioned for the two to take their places. "Kira Izuru remained unscathed for the whole duration. Aoi Tenma received three cuts. Winner: Kira Izuru!"

They both bowed and Kira smiled. Aoi grinned. "For cutting my hair I've just made it my life mission to someday somehow give you a haircut too." Kira looked a little scared, and Shuuhei, sighing, motioned for them to clear off.

The commentarian waited for them to go get off the field before standing up. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Honors Team One stands with 3 wins. Normals Team Two has 4 points. Team One is catching up! And so, please welcome from Team One Hinamori Momo, and from Team Two, Shihouin Ayae!"

The two girls came onto the field, then bowed, and proceeded to take the swords from Hisagi's grasp. "You two know the rules," he said. "Ready? Begin!"

Ayae began first, swinging her blade heavily in order to unbalance her opponent. Her strategy worked, and as Momo swayed on her feet she hissed and fell completely when she felt the sting of the blade on her leg.

Hisagi Senpai called them back. "Hinamori Momo has one cut. Shihouin Ayae remains unscathed." He moved back. "Ready? Commence again!"

Momo moved first this time, her blade cutting sharply a shallow horizontal line down Shihouin's arm. The blond clutched her arm and glared. Momo moved back into position as Hisagi Senpai stepped forward. "Hinamori Momo has one cut. Shihouin Ayae has one cut," he announced. He stepped back. "Ready? Continue!"

Shihouin swung her sword down hard, leaving Momo no leverage, all she could do was defend and attempt to push back to shake her off. Shihouin pushed harder, and as Momo stepped back her opponent's sword swung vertically, cutting her arm with a shallow wound as well. She grinned, satisfied, and Momo scowled. They both walked back into position. Hisagi Senpai was already there. "Hinamori has two cuts, Shihouin has one. Ready? Commence once more!"

Momo drew back, her sword on guard, and moved slowly as Shihouin approached her with just as much caution. "Afraid?" she said, her eyebrow raised. Momo frowned. "Not at all, there is no reason to be afraid of you." The blond scoffed and rushed her, Momo dodged abruptly, and swung her sword to cut the blond across the back of her leg. She stumbled, but caught herself. "How you dare, but from the back of course you coward!" she yelled and rushed her again, catching Momo by surprise, their swords clashed, and she felt her eyes widen at the fury in those yellow-green eyes.

She could hear Hisagi Senpai close at hand, yelling for Shihouin to stop. The metal of their swords ground as they pushed, and in panic Momo raised her leg and kicked Shihouin in the stomach. Her blade slipped, as was the force that held Momo's own in place. The next thing that dominated her vision was the spray of blood that surged from Shihouin where her blade cut down from throat to torso. All the fury was gone now. Surprise rose in the blond's eyes as horror came to her own, and then fell as her eyelids closed. Momo's did not.

Hisagi Senpai caught Shihouin from behind before she fell. Momo fell to her knees, her sword dropping too beside her. "No," she whispered. "I didn't mean to do that."

Hands were on her shoulders, Abarai Kun's and Kira Kun's, pulling her up and away as a small crowd of fourth squad members rushed to Shihouin. One of them was not. It was a shinigami woman whose attire gave her away as the captain of the second division. Shihouin's sister.

Her teammates dragged her back to their waiting room, seating her on one of the chairs. Her Swords Instructor came forward and took her hands. "Get a hold of yourself Hinamori, everyone saw that it was an accident. Besides, she continued attacking after you scored a win. She was in the wrong, not you."

"Yeah!" said Renji, his eyes looking worried for her. "Sensei's right Hinamori." Kira was nodding too. They all looked back across the field, where in Team Two's waiting room fourth squad was treating Shihouin.

Suddenly they all heard the commentarian over the noise of the crowd clearing his throat, and most of the noise died down. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he said. "We will be continuing the final part of the tournament after this announcement. The score stands as following: before this battle Team One had 3 wins, and Team Two had 4 wins. Now, due to a disregard of the rules, the panel has ruled Shihouin Ayae disqualified from part three, making Hinamori Momo the winner, and awarding her team one point as grievance. The score is now: Team One: 5 points; Team Two: 4 points. Without further ado then, let us have the next contestants! Please welcome Abarai Renji, from Honors Team One, and from Normals Team Two: Kuchiki Rukia!"

Momo looked up as her teacher scoffed. "Those brats, the extra point wasn't necessary. That child couldn't possibly beat Abarai at Zanjutsu." She looked at Renji as he looked at the arena. "No," he said. "She said she was horrible at swords." Then, Renji left, and Momo felt sorry for him. "But he might let her win," she said softly. "Because of all that he's hurt her."

Her teacher glanced at her. "Are you certain?" Momo looked at her in the eyes. "Not at all."

In the stands Ichigo was grinning widely. "Urahara san, watch her kick his butt." Kaien sharing his mood, stood up and whooped. "Go, Rukia!" he yelled. "Beat that guy!" He turned to look at Byakuya. "Don't blink alright," he laughed.

Center stage Rukia wasn't feeling their confidence. She, despite of herself was worrying about Shihouin. And it really hadn't sunk in that she was going to fight Renji...and at swords. She bowed to him when he bowed to her, and tentatively took her sword from Hisagi Senpai, who gave her a smile. "Good luck to both of you," he said, looking at her. "Don't be nervous Rukia san, just remember everything you've learned. I'm sure this tournament's battles have been comparatively easy."

She smiled and she found that she was no longer nervous, or worried. Shihouin would be fine. And, there was no reason to feel incompetent. Ichigo, Kaien dono, and Hisagi Senpai had all made sure that she was not. She smiled at Renji. "Don't be nice to me, fight me as you would Tenma san or any boy." She grinned now. "Or else I'll make you stand guard tonight."

His eyes widened at her words, recognition to that old threat that they once used: he who does not bring something to eat or drink looses, and he who looses gets to stand guard at night. He smiled. What Rukia did not know was that he never had minded guard duty, not when it meant he could watch her sleep.

But her challenge had riled him, and he decided to answer it with all he was.

"You're on," he said, grinning. "Just remember you asked for it."

She mirrored him.

Hisagi Senpai smiled. "You two know the rules. Are you ready?"

The two nodded.

"Then, commence!"

She was upon him in an instant, her blade crashing down on his, forcing his knees to bend so he was at eye level with her. "Besides," she ground out. "I owe you for that kiss, don't I?"

He laughed and pushed hard, throwing her off him. She landed gracefully, skidding back, and smiled. "Look at your shoulder, Renji," she told him. He did so, and his eyes went wide when a clean slash appeared on the white sleeve, and then as the edges turned red from as a wound he barely felt bled.

Hisagi Senpai stepped forward, nodding to Rukia. "I saw when she cut you, Abarai," he confirmed. "It was before you defended. Her blade slashed down, and then spun and caught yours. I suppose you didn't see it?"

The red-head shook his head. "No, I didn't." He went back into position, and Hisagi Senpai spoke. "Abarai Renji has one cut, Kuchiki Rukia remains unscathed." He looked at them. "Ready? Then commence again!"

Renji stepped back, still stunned that Rukia had gotten him, and even more without him noticing. She raised an eyebrow. "What is it? Do you want me to move first again?" He scowled. "You're really fast," he accused.

Her eyes turned sad. "Renji, speed is my only leverage. I will use it, make no mistake. And...I'm not going to play around anymore. My team is counting on me to win this. Thus, to me you won't be my friend anymore, but as an obstacle I must remove."

As she said this her expression drained of emotion. The look that had dawned on her when she had been called a Kuchiki was born again, and in her eyes he saw nothing that recalled their friendship. "Then," he said. "I'll take you on with the same thought in mind, Kuchiki Rukia."

She moved, her steps quick, her sword held out at her side, and then raised and swinging down. He caught it with his own blade, grunting as his knees buckled slightly. "Liar," he ground. "You're pretty overwhelming as well. Why don't you show me all you've got?"

Her eyebrow raised, and then she drew back. "Are you certain?" she asked. He grinned. "Absolutely!"

She rushed him without warning, and he swung his sword to deflect hers, intending to knock it out of her hands and strike her arm. He grunted when their swords clashed together and that idea was rendered useless. And gasped when where her sword crossed his the blade began to break. Her eyes regarded him coldly and her arms pushed harder, breaking through the metal, and slicing down his chest in a long shallow cut.

He moved back and watched as she swiped her blade across the air, cleaning his blood off the steel. She said nothing to him, this Kuchiki Rukia. Hisagi Senpai suddenly obscured her from his vision, holding out an empty hand, and another sword in the other. Renji handed him his broken one and took the other.

Hisagi Senpai then gestured to the stands with his head. "Not too worry Abarai, everyone's as surprised as you are. These swords were made so that they could not be broken easily. That is to say then, that you should fight very seriously now." He cleared his throat. "Abarai Renji now has two cuts. Kuchiki Rukia remains unscathed." He looked at Renji with a serious look, and regarded Rukia with one too. "Ready?" She nodded, so did he. "Then, begin!"

Rukia rushed at him again, and he dodged, swinging his sword in her wake. She turned in a step he could barely see and intercepted his sword. The momentum was so powerful that he almost let go of the hilt. He stumbled back, but straightened his composure, adrenaline pumped his blood faster and so apparently his movements. Rukia had speed. But if he could shake the aftermath of her attacks fast enough, then he determined that he could catch up to her.

She lunged at him again, he swung his sword across the air, and she ducked under his swing, and her body was close enough for him to feel the heat of her breath. His eyes widened and he stumbled back. Suddenly, as if she were a vanishing mirage, Rukia was not inches from his person with her sword pointing at his chest. His blood froze when he felt the sharp bite of steel on his right arm. "You loose, Renji," Kuchiki Rukia said in an indifferent tone.

His sword dropped to the ground and hers left his body. She handed it to Hisagi Senpai who was grinning triumphantly at her. "Kuchiki Rukia remained unscathed for the whole duration. Abarai Renji received three cuts. Winner: Kuchiki Rukia!"

She made to go back to her team but Hisagi Senpai shook his head, and so she stayed. She looked apologetically at Renji who looked a little stunned. "You did great, Rukia," he congratulated, and she smiled. "Thank you Renji. So did you."

The Healer stood and everyone's attention went to him. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Team One and Team Two are now tied. Therefore, the tournament panel has decided to go into an overtime special. So, all contestants with the exception of Shihouin Ayae please make your way center stage. One point max will be awarded to each successful participant and added to their team's overall total according to their performance. The name of the game is Hohou, the art of movement. As such, each person will take a turn attempting Shumpo. The panel will then decide how much to award. Then, without further ado, Hisagi san, please instruct the participants!"

Said man cleared his throat and motioned for them to stand on a line one after the other while he turned and walked fifty feet away from them. He spoke in a loud clear voice. "While none of you have ever tried Shumpo, you have all by now learned the theory. What you will be doing now is applying it. Hopefully you will obtain a result, and if not then no one will blame you." He glanced at the first in line. "Abarai Renji, you are first. Go ahead and try to Shumpo towards me. You have one minute to move."

Rukia watched as Renji blanched and then screwed his eyes tight in concentration. Her eyebrow raised when she sensed reiatsu circle his feet. She sincerely hoped he wouldn't blow himself up. A minute passed, and every time he stepped nothing happened. Sighing in disappointment he moved aside. Hisagi Senpai motioned to the next person. "Hinamori Momo, please take your turn."

She nodded, and tried to do the same as Abarai kun. Reiatsu encircled her feet, and she took a step. She moved forward fast, but not quite to Hisagi Senpai, and not fast enough for it to be true Shumpo. She toppled and Hisagi Senpai Shumpoed to catch her. He straightened her and she walked to where Abarai Kun was standing. They both looked at the Judges apprehensively and waited. The Healer stood. "Hinamori Momo, this panel awards you half a point for your efforts!"

Hisagi Sempai called Kira next. The blond boy swallowed and let reiatsu cover the soles of his feet. As Hinamori san and Abarai kun before him he could not precisely direct it yet and it encircled his feet. He stepped and rushed forward for a second before falling over on his stomach. Trying not to laugh along with the audience Hisagi Senpai helped him to his feet and Kira walked to where Hinamori san stood beaming at him. The Healer stood again. "Kira Izuru, this panel awards you half a point."

Aoi Tenma stepped up next and squeezed his eyes tight. Reiatsu swirled around his feet chaotically. He took a step and was thrown backwards, knocking into a surprised Rukia who extended her arms to catch him. They tumbled and fell to the ground. Tenma was gaping when Hisagi Senpai reached him and pulled him off Rukia who startled took his other hand to get on her feet. He grinned and left as Tenma apologized. "Rukia san, you don't by any chance know how to Shumpo do you?" She smiled slightly. "We'll see, Tenma san." He winked, his expression lighting up, and left to join the others.

Rukia took a deep breath as Hisagi Senpai motioned for her to begin and readied his arms, knowing full well that they extent of her knowledge with Shumpo, as she had told Ichigo about her little accident, and he had told him. Reiatsu covered the undersides of her feet, and she took a step. The speed was mind boggling, she felt almost intangible as she moved. So light and free, untouchable. Before she knew it she was too near Hisagi Senpai and could not stop herself. She rammed right into his outstretched arms, the momentum too much, resulting in him stumbling back. He managed to stay on his feet.

She looked up at him with startled eyes, but with a wide smile when she realized she had done it. "Thank you Senpai," she said before stepping back from his arms and then walking back to the others. He followed, trying not to smile himself. The Healer stood up, his expression bright. "Kuchiki Rukia, this panel awards you one point! Meaning, a tie continues to exist." He cleared his throat. "However, we always prepare for something like this. That being said, I will ask you all to present to the audience and us the panel, in a sudden death match, one special skill. The max is one point. So, Hisagi san, if you will?"

Shuuhei motioned for Abarai who shook his head quickly, then Kira who did the same, and finally Momo who shook her head slowly. He sighed. "Aoi Tenma?" He laughed. "I can try to juggle Rukia san?" She glared at him, and Renji laughed quietly. Shuuhei smiled at Rukia. "Kuchiki Rukia?" She frowned and cast a nervous glance at the audience where he knew Ichigo san was sitting. Yet, she stepped forward, surprising everyone.

She walked to him. "May I borrow a sword?" she asked and he nodded, running to the side of the field where he had laid them aside. He ran back having retrieved one. She took it tentatively in her hands, and he noted that her hands were not shaking. "I can do this," she whispered softly. He moved back and she held the sword diagonally to her chest. "Mae," she said clearly, her eyes closing, spinning the blade down so that the tip faced the ground from above. "So," and the sword glowed a silken white around the blade, a ribbon descending from the end of the guard in a circle, "de no Shirayuki." White snow dazzled around her, and her eyes opened again, her expression serene and accomplished.

Hisagi smiled at her encouragingly. "Keep going." She glanced up at him. "Then, you will have to move." He shumpoed away from her, next to Abarai whose jaw seemed to have unhinged. She returned the blade to its original stance. "Some no Mae," she breathed, and swung the blade in an arc to her side, the white ribbon following in its wake. The earth before her feet began to glow in a circle, and then resonated into a tall pillar that climbed towards the heavens in the form of shimmering ice. It held its form for a moment, as if allowing the spectators to revel in its beauty, and then released its shape, breaking down and showering down to the earth in sparkling pieces of ice that dissipated before reaching it.

In the midst of it all, Rukia smiled slightly at her success. She had never done it quite as well as now in the few times she had attempted the attack.

Shuuhei shumpoed near her and approached her with a smile. "That was incredible," he congratulated her. She smiled, and suddenly the sword in her hands glowed white before returning to normal. It fell from her grasp to the ground, and his eyes widened as she went down after it. He caught her effortlessly in his arms. A moment later a swoosh of reiatsu abruptly informed him that they were no longer alone, as Kurosaki Ichigo had shumpoed down from the stands to them. Their eyes met and after a moment's hesitation Shuuhei relinquished the girl in his arms to the orange-haired man. How do you deny someone with such frightened eyes some solace? You do not. Ichigo san held her in his arms for a second, and then in a flash the two were gone.

'Take care of her," he said to no one.

"Senpai!" he heard behind him, and he turned to meet Abarai's frantic eyes. "What happened to Rukia? Is she going to be alright?" he demanded. He looked so distraught that Shuuhei patted his shoulder reassuringly. "She'll be fine. She probably just ran out of energy. In any case Ichigo san will make sure she's properly attended to."

"Kurosaki Ichigo?" asked Aoi.

Shuuhei nodded.

Even Hinamori looked astounded. "Isn't he the Hero of the Winter War?"

"Yep," said Aoi. "But what is he to Rukia san?"

"Her boyfriend," muttered Abarai.

Aoi whistled, and then raised an eyebrow in Shuuhei's direction. "Senpai, did you know Rukia san could call Shikai?"

He looked away. "Oh, look. It seems the panel has decided what to award Rukia san." Aoi pouted but complied.

The Healer stood up, looking elated. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe it's safe to say that Kuchiki's was quite the skill for a first year. Therefore, this panel awards Kuchiki Rukia the full point. As it stands now: Team Two is the winner for the first time ever the winner for the first years! Meaning, that if they wish it any of its members can claim a seat in their year's advanced class!"

Grinning, Aoi Tenma yelled out, "As if!" towards the normals audience. "We just kicked some advanced class butt! Who wants to go there now!"

The normals class cheered and hooted, whilst Hisagi whacked Aoi across the head. Renji glared at him, and Kira and Hinamori tried not to laugh.

The Healer coughed, clearing his throat, and continued. "And now, moving on to who will receive the individual prize for this tournament: In Team One: Abarai Renji scored 0, Kira Izuru scored 2, and Hinamori Momo scored 2 as well. Team Two: Shihouin Ayae scored 1, Aoi Tenma scored 1...and Kuchiki Rukia scored 3...making her the winner!"

"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to come see the first years in this last part of the Hundred Years Tournament. You have just witnessed for the first time a Normals class to rival the Advanced, and a first year skilled enough to use Shumpo fairly well and most impressive of all able to summon Shikai and use it as well fairly well. Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of the school festival. Kuchiki Rukia's prize will be announced during the finale of it at midnight. With that said, I bid you all farewell!"

Aoi turned and bowed to Hinamori. "Forgive me if I caused you discomfort before. It was a pleasure to combat against you." He smiled, as he raised himself up, at Kira and Renji too. "You two as well. So, goodbye!"

"Wait," said Kira suddenly. "Do you really have no intention of joining the Advanced Class?" Aoi stopped and grinned. "Duh. I have too much fun in mine. See you around, Kira!"

Renji looked at Hisagi when Aoi was gone. "Sempai, if you're going to look for Rukia, then let me go with you."

Shuuhei glanced at him. "I'm not actually." He motioned for him to come closer, to speak in his ear. Renji obliged. "And unless you want to be hurt you shouldn't either." Abarai looked at him with a surprised look. "Senpai, you..."

He waved him off. "Congratulations for being here, you all did well even if you didn't win. It was probably the first time that Team Two wasn't utterly decimated, so you were up against opponents who stood on the same ground."

"Except for Rukia san," pointed out Kira. Shuuhei smiled lightly. "True. See you all in Sereitei."

Hinamori pulled on Renji's sleeve. "What's wrong? What did Hisagi Senpai say to you? Are you going to look for Rukia san?"

Renji looked after his retreating back. "I won't look for her now. He said I would be hurt, since she's with that guy..."

"Was that it?" probed Kira. "You seem shocked."

He regarded his friends with a dazed expression. "It seems he's into Rukia too."

Kira sighed sympathetically, and Hinamori patted his hand. "Do your best, Abarai Kun," they said together.

He turned red and waved them away. "Don't say such embarrassing things anymore! Geez."


The first thing she felt was the futon underneath her back, and the first thing she saw as her eyes fluttered open was a close-up of Ichigo's face. It wasn't something she was expecting, and so she screamed and kicked up her leg.

He let out a muffled yell and toppled over on the floor.

Loud laughing ensued, and she looked up to see Kaien-dono cracking up. "Oh, you're so funny, Rukia. Do that again."

Ichigo got back on his feet, glaring at Rukia. "What the hell did I ever do to you, Shrimp?" he demanded.

She rolled her eyes. "Sorry, it's scary to wake up to the orange beast."

His face and ears turned red, clashing horribly with his hair. Kaien-dono's laughing reached the point where it became inaudible as his air ran out.

Ichigo grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her up to meet her eyes in his level. "Don't. Ever. Say. That. Again. Do. You. Understand."

"I understand that you need to learn how to use complete sentences," she drawled. "Oh, orange beast monkey sama."

He swore he saw red, but when he saw her smile, the light in her eyes, and heard her honest-to-goodness laugh, he decided she could call him whatever she wanted. He ruffled her hair. "You seem to land in in Healing rooms quite often," he stated. She stopped her mirth as did Kaien. The latter waved to her and left the room.


He crouched down and she sat up. "When you fell...I..."

The distress in his eyes was clear, and something inside of her clenched at his expression. "I'm sorry I worried you."

He smiled lightly, and she touched his hand, which he took. "I promise," she said. "To avoid danger whenever possible."

Ichigo sighed. "I guess that's all I can ask."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "So, did Team Two win?"

He grinned. "You bet. You won it for them, you unbelievable Shrimp." She decided to ignore that last part. "That's great. And, do you know how Shihouin is?" He shook his head. "No, I haven't left you since you fell. But I'm sure she's fine by now. Her sister is with her."

She nodded. "Even though I dislike her, I can't help but to be worried. She and I got along better today, when she wasn't focusing on hurting me, and I wasn't focusing on hating her."

He stroked her cheek. "Stop worrying about others. Focus on yourself. I want you to think about you first from now on." She smiled at him a little sarcastically. "It doesn't always work that way. Something called circumstance." She pushed the covers away and he stood to help her to her feet. "I want to go talk to Byakuya," he told her. "He lied to you. He said he wouldn't force you to be in his family. And yet he did, and when I confronted him when they called you Kuchiki Rukia he wouldn't answer any of my questions."

She looked at her feet. "I don't think he did what you think. He promised me." She looked at him with a determined expression. "And I believe that he kept his word."

There was a laugh at her words. Pleasant to the ears, and amused. "I'm glad to hear you have faith in him, little Rukia, because it wasn't he that gave you his name."

She looked up, and Ichigo turned around. "You!" he exclaimed in surprise.


I'm really feeling glad to have finished this chapter, it was definitely a struggle to write, which is why I took so long. That the struggle is over is my early birthday present, haha. However, I hope that it turned out alright and that you guys enjoyed it! Thank you to all my reviewers! I can't believe I got 40 reviews for chapter 6. They all made me very happy!

If you have some time, I'd like to ask that you head over to Livejournal and check out Bleachness. They're having a January contest, and I helped a certain Bunnisteffi by betaing. Please check it out, she's quite amazing with words and I'm sure you'll all be as impressed with her story as I was. And if it's not too much to ask, why not take the poll I have on my profile.

And now that I'm done being shameless, here's a preview for chapter 8:

0. "Kuchiki Rukia, your prize is..."

"Are you serious?"

1. "Forgive me, Rukia. But there is something I must tell you."

"How can that be?"

2. "Kuchiki san, I won't let him hurt you."

"No, I won't let him hurt you."

3. "Found you! Now which one of you has Shikai?"

"I'm the one your are looking for."

4. "You might not understand. But I want you like I've never wanted anyone else."

"I'm only yours."

5. "I wish you would look at me in the way I want."

"There must be a way..."

6. "Ichigo, tell me about the Winter War..."

"I'm afraid you'll hate me if I do."

7. "Little Queen, don't you remember me?"

"Get out of my head!"

Sound interesting? Fabulous!

Please read and review, it would make me very, very, very happy! Until next time then!