Summary: AU. It's a perfectly normal, quiet afternoon for the students at Karakura High; until a gunshot shatters the silence… and their world… Multiple pairings.

A.N: This is in an alternate-universe… otherwise they would have gone all Shinigami on their ass.


The scratching of pens and the restless rustlings of their exam papers did nothing to break the monotonous quiet that had settled upon them like a thick blanket, smothering all the excitement. It was late in the afternoon, they were all dead tired and looking forward to going home after finishing the last hour of this gruelling end of the year exam that they were now all so intently embroiled in. As it was, such stupor induced calm was not out of the norm.

Occasionally, a soft, cool breeze would waft in through the half open window, relieving the students momentarily from the blistering heat of the afternoon sun's rays.

Ichigo Kurosaki leaned back, stretching out his arms and dragged a hand through his spiky orange hair; then placed both his hands behind his head, observing his long shadow that was cast on the floor with unusual interest, before closing his eyes. He was someone who always appreciated silence; he would always take time to enjoy it whenever he could. He'd already handed in his exam anyway; just killing time now.

With his sixth sense, he felt eyes settle upon him and opened his own just in time to catch Tatsuki's twinkling gaze. A slow, rare smile stretched across his face as an unreasonable amount of unbridled joy seeped through his veins like some kind of infectious disease. There was no apparent reason for his sudden burst of inherent content, but he suddenly felt that it was on days like this, where the sun was shining high in the sky, and he was surrounded by friends, that made life worth living (albeit exams, but even they could not dampen his spirit); it was days like this where Ichigo finally felt blissfully happy, as if nothing could touch him. And days like this were rare; that was, ever since his mother's death.

He gazed up at the ceiling, stifling a yawn and started to count the spit balls stuck to the panels. He was just about to start on a second panel, having finished counting his first; when an ear-splitting bang dispelled the heavy trance. It was like someone loosed a dozen canons at once right outside their classroom. Louder than any rock concert that any of them had been too. The very echo of the sound reverberated through their beings, and caused their hearts to flutter and falter.

Everyone's gazes were torn immediately from their test papers as they each craned their necks and strained their ears to try and locate the source of the disruption; curiosity getting the better of their intrinsic focus. They weren't to be disappointed. A split second later, they heard the sound of someone cocking a gun. It was so out of place that the first thing that crossed their minds was that, surely this must be some kind of a sick joke? It honestly couldn't be real, could it? There was a shocked silence as they waited, and stared at each other, half puzzled, half terrified.

Another gunshot sounded; it was just as horrendously loud as the first. It shattered the shocked silence; tearing through the stunned bewilderment as easily a knife would through fabric. The veil of unreality suddenly lifted; they found their voices and that was when the screaming began.

The mass of students surged to their feet in a panicked stampede, papers, pens, erasers and book bags strewn about and completely forgotten. As they continued to try and get out the door as quickly as possible; most things were trampled beneath the cascade of feet.

It had reached a point where it seemed like only every few seconds now, that the eerie, spine-chilling symphony of horrified wails was punctuated by a deafening barrage of gunfire.

Ichigo's felt fear root him to his desk as his mind raced. What could he do against an armed madman? Fists and feet were useless. He was helpless. Helpless. There was nothing he could do… they'd all be killed. He watched the scene in front of him through blank eyes; his brain taking what seemed like hours to register what he saw. He realized, as the haze in his mind cleared as if someone had fanned it away, that Chizuru had dashed out into the hall before the teacher could retain any sort of order. He heard her utter a strangled sort of yelp before sliding back in the class; her eyes wide and filled with fear. " He's coming this way!" she cried, and then dashed to stand beside Orihime, who had stayed behind in the class with most of the student body.

The screaming swelled to a magnificent crescendo, but was outdone by another gunshot; louder than ever now.

" We're all going to die!" Ryo shrieked suddenly, sprinting forward; the cold, track star's sudden revealing of a shattered demeanour shocked the class and stopped the screaming momentarily, as they watched her reach the door quicker than they had ever seen her run.

She froze with one foot in the hall, and with a strident thud as bullet lodged into her skull, she flew backwards; fireworks of blood blasted into the air as her back arched gracefully. It took her ages to hit the floor. But once her mangled face turned and her misted eyes stared through her cracked glasses at the class huddled at the back; it triggered the symphony of screeches once more.

The teacher opened her mouth to say something, no doubt it was some kind of instruction; but not a single word escaped her mouth, when she suddenly collapsed to the ground. A neat, round circle through her temple.

Ichigo watched in horror as Keigo was shot down; the whole class dived to the floor, desperate cries still constant. The icy grip of fear released him, engulfed by the fiery deluge of anger. He hated being helpless. He had to help the others. He had to stop him before anyone else was hurt. He clenched his fists, his nails digging into his palm as he stood up; the masked shooter turned to Tatsuki. He gazed at the scene with narrowed eyes, his mind a blur, calculating; his heart lodged in his throat as he saw the finger tighten around the trigger. Coming to a quick decision, he leapt and tackled her to the ground. The bullet whizzed over their heads harmlessly and lodged into the wall of the classroom, peppering them with an infinitesimal number of splinters.

Before he could rise, Orihime fell with blood pouring from her side; her body hit the floor with a loud thump amidst the frightened screeches. " Inoue!" he screamed, reaching out towards her. Then Chad was hit; he staggered a few steps, his mouth half open in shock. Another shot rang out; he crumpled and fell onto Ichigo's outstretched hand like a puppet whose strings had been cut. "Chad?" he gasped, as a jolt of pain rushed through his arm. Chad didn't respond.

Tatsuki crawled wordlessly to Orihime's side and laid a protective hand upon her arm while Ichigo pushed himself to his feet; the man was reloading. Then he unexpectedly fumbled with the clip. Here was his chance; he could take him down. Moving lithely between the rows of scattered desks, Ichigo felt nothing but the overwhelming desire to protect his friends. Everything seemed to slow and blur, as if in a dream; only one thing was clear to him at the moment; the shooter. Only a few feet away now…

Instinctively, shooter looked up; his eyes flashed and he leapt out the door, his long legs taking easy strides. Ichigo's foot connected with the wall with a loud thud. Recollecting himself with amazing speed, he started to run after him, ignoring the throbbing, dull pain in his heel. " Bastard!" he shouted, " Coward! Come back here!"

A hand grabbed his ankle, nearly tripping him. He glanced down, and all traces of annoyance vanished as he dropped down beside his friend. " Keigo! Are you alright?"

Keigo, lying on his stomach, coughed and spat out a wad of blood and bile. " Ichigo, don't be stupid…" he wheezed, "…he has… has a gun. Don't… g-get… yourself killed." Ichigo stared at Keigo with an expression of mixed pity and sorrow, his mind in turmoil. How could this have happened… here?

A rattling of the doorknob stole Ichigo's gaze from his wounded classmate. He caught a glimpse of the man's teeth gleaming in the dimming sunlight through the small window of the door. Ichigo tried to move; but the vice-like, death grip that Keigo had on his ankle, would not relent. " Keigo, let go," he said fiercely. " I can't let him hurt anyone else. I have to stop him." He was startled to feel Keigo's grip loosening and looked down in horror. " Keigo!" he cried, gripping his friend's shoulder and shaking him hard. "KEIGO!"

It settled then; as his head lolled limply from side to side; as Ichigo stared into his soulless eyes. It was so different from what he was used to seeing. It couldn't be true, he couldn't be gone. He'd come back, annoying and perky as ever… right? He'll come back… " Keigo?" he whispered tentatively, giving one last shake to the limp form.

Keigo, one of life's constants… gone? His muscles slowly slacked as he stared at his friend. He did not notice the screaming, nor the gunshots that faded into the distance as the shooter moved on. He didn't even notice the pools of blood that continued to spread out across the recently waxed floor, soaking the knees of his pants and the soles of his shoes in crimson.

Keigo was dead. Chad was dead. Orihime was…

" No!" He hissed; tearing his gaze away from Keigo's sightless ones and charged at the door, pounding at it until his knuckles bled; but it was chained shut. His hands grasped the knob so tightly that the parts of his hands that weren't covered with trails of blood, shone bone-white. He shook the door violently in its frame and yelled until his throat was raw. But still it would not give way, and no one came to open it. What infuriated him even more was that he knew that killer could still get in whenever he wanted; but they could not flee. " Let me out!" he cried, his voice hoarse. " You bastard! Come back here and open this door! You son of a –"

His voice died away as he felt someone touch his shoulder, then he stiffened as the grip tightened firmly.

Despite himself, he let her pull him gently away from the door. " Ichigo, there's nothing you can do now," she said softly; her eyes shone with tears as she grasped his hand tightly in her own, completely ignoring the blood from his still bleeding hands; she attempted a smile and intertwined her fingers with his, pleading with him without saying a word.

He didn't move, he just stared at her blankly.

" Ichigo…" She squeezed his hand gently as he finally turned his face towards her. " Please…"

" Rukia …"

" Come on," she said quietly, " Let's barricade the doors. We can't let him in again. We'll be ready this time."

" Is he gone?" Rangiku Matsumoto whispered urgently, wiping absentmindedly at the gash above her left brow. The sticky half congealed blood already coated the back of her hands and still continued to drip down her face; which her half hearted attempts to wipe it away only succeeded in smearing it.

Gunshots sounded along the corridor. Kira Izuru flinched and hunched his shoulders, retreating towards the corner, near Hitsugaya.

" I'd say he's coming back," said Urahara, his lips tightened. He glanced down at the petite Chinese girl, concern etched into every inch of his handsome face. " Is she holding up?"

" She's been shot three times, Kisuke. She's losing a lot of blood…" Yoruichi said faintly from her spot on the ground where she kneeled; her tears flowing freely down her face, mingling with the splattered droplets of blood that decorated her entire being. "We've got to do something… We've got to stop him, somehow."

She paused, and no one spoke.

" Where are the damn cops anyway?" she wondered, disdain coated her words. She glanced down at the small body that she sat protectively beside; deathly pale and covered in blood. She bit her lip as she slowly wiped at the steady flow of blood from Soi Fon's forehead and gazed back at her best friend; completely oblivious to the fact that her clothes were soaked so thoroughly, that there was almost no traces of grey or white left.

Urahara knelt down, tearing a long strip from his own shirt and wordlessly began to wound it around Soi Fon's head. When he finished, he laid a heavy hand on Yoruichi's shoulder. No one spoke until another barrage of thunderous gunfire sounded, like some kind of death knell. The sound was so familiar now, that no one reacted.

Hitsugaya withdrew his head sharply from the doorway and confirmed their fears. " He is heading back this way," he announced grimly, trying not to notice the hopelessness reflected in their gazes. He dragged his fingers through his blindingly white hair, sighing heavily as his eyes were drawn involuntarily towards the prone, and very still form of Hinamori; she was the first to be hit… the shooter had entered, his brutally cold eyes had scanned the room, then the barrel pointed at her; she didn't even have the time to scream before she was murdered. As he watched her, the second before the gun went off, he thought he saw something; a name had started to form upon her lips. But had never completed… the more he thought about it, the more sure he was of it. Hinamori had definitely known the shooter.

" We could bar him out," suggested Kira. " We can pile up the desks in front of the door."

Yoruichi gestured at the countless bodies, scattered across the floor like abandoned dolls, lying in pools of blood. And those who were still alive were better off dead. Their eyes as blank and as lifeless like the corpses they sat beside; only shells of what they once were; their souls having already retreated into the little corner deep inside themselves to save their sanity. Lost all hope; they were simply waiting for the man to come back to end their lives, well… what was left of it. " If we bar him out, he'll just go to another room," she said quietly; her eyes strayed to the body lying beside her and caught the unblinking gaze of Rukia's brother's cold, lifeless eyes. " And what good will that do?" she laughed harshly. " There's barely anyone left here."

There was no time. No warning. They had had no chance. They just fell, one by one, all unable to stop the single, tiny bullet that had ended their lives so abruptly. They couldn't even say goodbye before it tore through their flesh and ripped the life out of them… and perhaps it wouldn't have mattered so much if they had at least had a chance to live their lives. But they didn't, and now they were gone. Just like that, in the blink of an eye at the random whim of an armed madman.

Urahara straightened and gazed at them; a fierce glint shining in his normally emotionless pale grey eyes. " We've got nothing to lose, then."

Another series of shots jolted them into action. It was so close now…

They worked quickly, without speaking and fully knowing that this could very well be the last moments of their lives. There was nothing to say. No words to express the incredulity, the hollowness and the anguish that filled their mind and hearts. What were the chances that they would actually survive? But they had to do something… they were the only ones who could.

" Quickly," urged Urahara, dragging another classmate to the side, careful not to slip or vomit.

It almost seemed like they were they were wading through rivers of blood. Each step took a seemingly Herculean effort with the grief settled within their bones; weighing their spirits, minds and bodies down more effectively than any physical burden. Though they fervently tried not admit it, they were exhausted, defeated…and deathly afraid. This was the end; and there was no doubt about it. Death was at their doorstep, just waiting to claim them and they were literally minutes away from opening the door to greet it.

Urahara let go of his classmate's body, exhaled with relief and wiped his hands on his jeans; he strode over quickly and crouched beside Yoruichi. " Everything is set to go?" he asked quietly, dread knotted in the pit of his stomach. He knew there was no question; what they were about to do, had to be done. He didn't want to, but they were obliged. It was the only way to stop him. Urahara shuddered suddenly; he just didn't want to sink that low.

" Just in time," Yoruichi murmured. They stared at each other for a moment, then turned away, and waited with bated breath as they heard footsteps drawing inevitably closer and closer to them. He was coming…

The door flew open with the jarring force of the kick.

" NOW!"

Ichigo shoved the desks against the door, piling them together with the help of Rukia and Renji. The rest of them were still crying hysterically; though a few had come to their senses and tried to call the police. He spotted a chair, and a gap near the doorknob; an idea sparked in his mind. " Rukia, move aside for a moment." He picked it up, and jammed it into the opening so it wedged tightly. Gripping the leg of the chair, he wiggled it experimentally. " This won't hold long, so we'll have to lean against this," he said calmly, stepping back to survey the result of their conjoined effort.

He just turned away when they heard the chains being tossed against the floor, and then the gunshot that followed after. Jumping to hold the desks securely in place, the trio glanced at each other grimly, an unspoken understanding sparked between them. Apprehension and fear sank into their bones as they waited for the next onslaught. If it didn't hold…

The gunman loosed a series of shots into the door. He twisted the damaged knob, and realized that there was no way he could get in without force. They heard him curse, and then he rammed into the door. They were pushed back; completely shocked at the force of that one attack. It was held ajar for a second as he stepped back for another blow. They shoved the desks, the door slammed shut again.

The second impact was so forceful they slid back a couple of inches; and he got a hand in. They pressed their bodies against the layers of desks, using their full body weight and digging their heels in to weather the attack as the shooter tried persistently to shoulder his way in.

" Help us!" Rukia yelled in panic as they were nearly overwhelmed. Her eyes widened as she felt her knees give way. Choking back the despair that threatened to overcome her, she screamed incoherently at the rest of the relatively uninjured who huddled against the back of the classroom; simply too afraid to do anything.

" Damn," cursed Renji, as the gunman got his elbow through the door.

"The filthy bastard!" gasped Rukia as they withstood another blow. " What is wrong with him? Why is he so strong?!" Sweat dripped down her brow, but she dared not wipe it away. It was like the man was possessed; driven by some insurmountable force that would surely eventually overwhelm them…

With one stupendous effort and their last vestiges of strength they shoved the piles of desks, hearing a loud bang as it connected with the half open door; it held for a moment as they strained; then it gave way and slammed shut.

There was silence.

" Is he gone?"

Yoruichi stood there, chest heaving as if she had run for hours; Urahara held her back with a firm hand as they gazed at the fallen man at their feet. Bullet casings lay in the ever growing pool of blood. But this time, it was his blood. She couldn't help but feel the bitter satisfaction seeping through her soul. They had taken a life; but that wasn't to say it wasn't justified. They had simply killed a man who would kill them as soon as he'd look at them. There was no shame. No crime. It was justified self-defence; they stopped him from murdering anyone else. Yet, she felt dirty… tainted. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the guilt that was eating away at her thoughts and her heart at that very moment. He wasn't guilty at all for shooting all of them. Hell, he nearly killed her whole class… so why did she feel guilt for stopping him?

Matsumoto clutched her right shoulder, trying to stop the flow from the newly accumulated wound in the last scuffle. He had shot wildly as he was overwhelmed. She gritted her teeth as she tried to convince herself, quite unsuccessfully that they would all be alright; and that what Urahara said was true. She trusted Kisuke, he was an aspiring doctor and a genius after all, but then again, how was she to know that he wasn't lying just to make her feel better?

Beside her, sitting on the ground, was Hitsugaya with his sweater balled up in his hands, pressed against the gaping hole of a wound in his leg. He wasn't so lucky; the bullet was likely to be still lodged into the bone. Despite the agony that seared through his thigh, he couldn't help, but smile (in reality, it was more of a grimace). He still felt the adrenaline coursing through his veins; and his heart still pounded violently against his chest, almost as if it were trying to escape. He looked around at the battered looking group of survivors, gratitude flooded his senses and he briefly forgot about the pain; they were still alive. That was all that mattered now.

" He's dead," said Kira, staring down at the corpse; his icy blue eyes were unfathomable. His pale face was adorned with freckles. Crimson freckles. "He's dead," he repeated hollowly, as if he was trying to assure himself. He wiped his face with his already blood-sodden sleeve, unintentionally streaking his face with even more dark red, and stuck his hands deep into his pockets.

" Yeah, but who is he?" wondered Matsumoto, the tremor in her voice was all too palpable no matter how hard she tried to hide it. She tried futilely to blink away the droplets that coated her thick, long lashes.

" Bastard," hissed Yoruichi venomously, rolling the body over with a vicious kick.

Urahara looked at the rest of them; they made no move, so he knelt down and reached for the black cloth that covered the corpse's face. He dug his fingers into the soft fabric, and tugged it off.

There was a sharp intake of breath.

They all knew that face.

All too well.

" How could he… How could we not have seen… why…?" Kira stammered; his eyes wide and glassy. " This is impossible… he couldn't… he wouldn't! …"

Yoruichi whirled as she heard a faint noise from somewhere in the corner of the room.

Kuukaku forced her eyes open, wincing as the sharp, searing pain jolted throughout her entire being. She coughed twice and struggled up to her elbows.

" You alright?" asked Yoruichi, leaning over her.

" Shit, that son of a…" she cursed and closed her eyes, breathing shallowly. After a few moments of gathering her usual composure; she opened them again. Obliging herself to smile, she stared up at her friend. " It hurts like a bitch," she said, using her customary profanity; then grinned wickedly to keep up her false facade. " I'll survive though…" Squinting, she nodded her head in the direction of the other end of the classroom.

Yoruichi lifted her head to look; her eyes widened in surprise as she saw Soi Fon stirring; with a small cry she loped over to her side and fell to her knees; she picked up the small body and cradled her head in her arms; she ran her fingers gently through the once silky, fine black hair, now coated with drying blood. Almost immediately a small, pale hand, rose and wavered; then touched her face. On contact, she suppressed a shiver; it was colder than ice. She did not deny her instincts, and let her own hand leap to her cheek to cover Soi's.

" Yoruichi-sama…" Soi Fon whispered, a small sigh escaping from her lips; a trickle of blood leaked down the corner of her mouth. " Yoruichi… is that you?" Her hand slipped through, her fingers trailing down Yoruichi's tear and blood streaked face and came to a stop at her lips, where they lingered.

" Soi, you're g-going to be alright…" she stammered; choking back a sob as Soi Fon coughed weakly, splattering blood over the front of her already crusted, crimson shirt; but Yoruichi couldn't care less, the only thing she cared about was the one she held tightly in her arms. " He's finished… and help is coming soon…" she struggled to continue to suppress the tears and to keep her voice steady. She tightened her hold around Soi Fon's shoulders, holding her closer to her own body; desperate not to let go; a crystal-like tear landed right below her left eye. " Soi… you can't see me anymore, can you?" She felt the burning in her eyes grow stronger, and harder to contain; she swallowed hard, " Can you hear the sirens, Soi? They're coming… Just hold on…"

" Yoruichi-sama…" Soi murmured; her voice so soft, it was barely audible. " Please don't cry…" Her hand trembled as she wiped away the rebellious tears from Yoruichi's face; her slender, pianist fingers stroked her cheek fleetingly. " Be strong… again…" she said faintly, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips, "… for me."

Yoruichi nodded, clenching her jaw and not trusting herself to speak as Soi Fon's hand fell limply. She bent forward a little closer, to catch it… and hold it… one last time.

She let herself go; her whole body shook as she cried, she couldn't help it. She couldn't be strong. She didn't need to be strong anymore.

When the first bullet entered Soi Fon's body; her world had frozen. On the second it had cracked. On the third, it shattered. But just the simple knowledge that Soi Fon was still alive had held what was left of her world together; hopelessly fragile, but still existing. Now that Soi Fon was gone, there was nothing left. Not one single, broken piece.

Ichigo, Rukia and Renji worked furiously; pulling the desks away from the door where Matsumoto waited impatiently outside.

Often when they pulled one off, several others would cause a deafening crash as it hit the ground. But it didn't matter. Finally, they pulled the last one away, and Matsumoto slid in; her hand still clutching her badly wounded shoulder. Strands of her majestic, wavy hair was plastered against her face by the sticky, still drying blood that still slowly leaked from the graze on the left side of her forehead, near her temple. She had given up in trying to wipe the waterfall of crimson away and now it covered the whole side of her face.

Rukia gasped as she saw the gore that covered the normally perky, free-spirited, strawberry blonde, and stepped forward to help. Matsumoto shook her head and waved her aside, doubled over to try and catch her breath. It was blatantly obvious that she sprinted down to them from the other side of school.


" What happened?" asked Rukia; fear laced her hushed tones. She knew there was a reason to why she was being personally addressed, and she knew that she wouldn't like it. Her stomach heaved as she tried to stay as composed as possible.

" I'm sorry."

Rukia's eyes went blank. Those were the worst words she could have said. She denied it feverishly, though she knew, deep in her mind and in her heart, why Matsumoto was apologizing. " I'm sorry… I don't understand?—"

" Byakuya is d—"

" No!" cried Rukia softly, clamping her hands over her mouth as if she could muffle her grief by doing so. She felt like a ten ton anchor just dropped from the sky and crushed her life like a human foot would do to a little, insignificant ant. The shock disguised the pain, but she knew she'd feel it all the more sharply later on. But at the moment, she simply felt numb. It wasn't possible; it couldn't have happened… Byakuya couldn't be… dead.

She turned away and sagged against the wall, feeling the cool, white painted bricks soothe her delirious mind; she wished she could sink into it and disappear. She didn't want feel anything anymore, she didn't want to exist. She didn't want to live; there was no point … her brother was dead. Her brother was dead. What more could they take from her? What more could she lose?

" I'm sorry, Rukia," said Matsumoto softly as she looked away; she clearly did not enjoy being the bringer of bad news. "But he's gone now… He's finished…" she trailed away; her words rang hollow. Bringing down the killer wouldn't bring back the dead. So what good were those words? They wouldn't alleviate the pain or the suffering of those who were fortunate enough to survive… those who were fortunate enough to be left behind.

Ichigo swallowed, not daring to believe that it was finally ended. It seemed too surreal to have even happened. And like the rest of the students that were still conscious and alive; he prayed that it was simply a really bad dream; one that he could wake up from and forget. But he knew that would never happen. This was real; so very, very real. He shook his head; trying once more to escape from this awful, harsh nightmare. But he knew it was folly; it was reality. There was no waking up; he was already awake. He suddenly felt exhaustion settle as he forced the words out of his throat to ask the question that they were all dying to know the answer to. " Who was he?"

" I wonder… is it really all over?" Hitsugaya winced as he shifted his leg aside.

It was startling. She was always stronger than even he was; she never cried. He'd never even seen traces of tears on her face or in her eyes. He used to often joke about how perhaps she was born without tear-ducts; and now… Urahara turned his back on Yoruichi, feeling guilty. He wanted to drape his arms around her; he wanted to comfort her. He wanted to bear her pain. But he couldn't. No one could.

He faced Hitsugaya and alarm spread across his features like wildfire. " Where's Matsumoto?"

Hitsugaya tossed his head backwards. Puzzlement knotted his brow and he did a double take. His eyes widened in unease. " She was just here… a second ago –"

" Who was he?"

" Aizen Sosuke." The second the words left her mouth; a bullet shattered the window and another black clad, armed man clambered through. No one moved; they were frozen on the spot in shock. They stared at him with deadpan faces; completely uncomprehending. They had just been told that it was over; and they knew they should have known better…

" There's another one—!?" Renji cried in disbelief as the guns swivelled towards him.

It was deathly quiet as they stared down the barrels of guns for the umpteenth time that day. But the man did not shoot. He simply stared at Renji; and stood there, completely and unnervingly still. The sadistic, wide grin he was wearing when he appeared had evaporated from his face.

Ichigo slowly shifted off more to the side, millimetre by millimetre to get a better angle for his attack, wondering idly, as he held his breath, why the gunman didn't act yet. Then with a horrible jolt, he realized the shooter wasn't looking at Renji; his gaze was fixed on Matsumoto.

They heard a voices coming down the corridor, louder and louder. Someone was barking out orders; the heavy showers of footfalls made it impossible to tell how many. But they knew that the cavalry had come.

The shooter heard it as well, knowing he had little time, he twisted towards Rukia and he pulled the trigger. But instead of the bang that they were all expecting to hear, there was a click. He stared at it for a split second; everything seemed to have frozen. Then, with seemingly inhuman speed, the other gun whipped towards her; and this time the bullet flew.

Ichigo watched helplessly; he was too far, too late... to save anyone.

Rukia stepped forward with her hands outstretched as if somehow, she could grab him from harm's way. She had seen him hurtle towards her out of the corner of her eye, the split second before they heard the gun go off, but before she realized what he was doing… doing for her; there was nothing more to be done.

The force of the bullet propelled him into her; they fell backwards in an explosion of blood; a tangle of arms and legs. They hit the ground together; with her eyes closed and her teeth gritted from the pain, she dimly registered that warm, thick liquid was running down her legs. There was confusion. Did the gunman still somehow managed to hit her? She opened her eyes, her vision cleared and she spotted a mop of scarlet hair; and a head in her lap. Shock hit her like an eighteen wheeler.

Too late.

The door flew open once more, a swarm of cops flooded through, their firearms raised.

Eons too late.

" Freeze!"

The gunman smiled that creepy smile, once again; his eyes bore into Matsumoto as time stood still. She stood there, staring at him. She shook her head; the movement was so minuscule that almost no one noticed it. Her red tears rimmed her eyes and clung to her long lashes, hanging suspended in the air before splashing onto the blood soaked ground.

He gave her the smallest of smiles and in one swift movement; he pressed the gun to his head… and pulled the trigger.

Blood splattered against the remains of the shattered window; dripping down the glass like rain.

Matsumoto let out a piercing shriek as the body fell and she lunged forward; but was grabbed by the police that were lined up behind her. She sobbed hysterically; the two cops who held her by her arms tried to calm her in vain as the others gathered around the body.

Ichigo knelt down beside Rukia. He slowly and gently pried her hands off Renji's face.

She stared up blankly at him.

Afraid, lost… alone.

He tried to move his lips to form a smile, but couldn't.

He wished he could say something, he tried to say something. But couldn't.

She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck.

And she wept.

He closed his eyes and held her tightly, feeling her tears soak his blood stained shirt.

Their worlds were broken; they lost so many pieces, there were still some left… but they could never put them back together.

Their lives were…

They were…