Amore e Morte

A/N- I miss summer vacation. I caught up on all the manga chapters of Bleach and I'm half-way through the Bountou saga of the anime. It's sorta lame, but it has Ishida as the star, so I've gotta watch it. Plus, if I squint really hard, there's Ishihime. Yeah, but I think it should be re-named the "Oh, those crazy vampires!" arc.
... Just like I think Naruto should be renamed "Oh, those crazy ninjas!" -Ahem- /End Tangent/
My thanks to all you super-cool people who reviewed. I heart you all.

Within five minutes of Ochi-sensei's impromptu sick leave, the class turned into a warzone of complete chaos. Renegade paper planes arced across the room until they ran out of imaginary fuel and fell to the floor. A follow-up round of spitballs whizzed through the air like tiny saliva-saturated missiles, making the more dramatic girls scream as if they were being disemboweled by a serial killer in a bad B-movie.

However, in an insolated corner of the room, something was amiss. In defiance of all the rules of the high school universe, five lone students were studying. In an unsupervised class. While everyone else was having fun.

Yes, in a strange reversal of roles, the habitual truants of a certain high school class were the only ones who weren't acting like bipolar monkeys on methamphetamines. Ichigo's magically-inclined posse huddled in a tight circle studying out of fear of failing midterms completely. ...Well, to be accurate, Ichigo was the only one with that particular fear. Though he'd also been gone for a while, Ishida wasn't terribly concerned; he could keep his spot in the top ten in the class without studying much. Orihime and Chad had actually been attending most classes, so they were only at the lamer-table out of loyalty to their friends. Rukia, of course, didn't need to pass high school, so she was mainly there to torture Ichigo.

"...So explain again why I should care about exactly how photosynthesis works? I'm not a plant..." Ichigo grumbled.

"I know!" Rukia said, waving her hand in the air enthusiastically, "It's so you'll... enhance your brain!"

She grinned proudly and bounced in her seat, ignoring the strange looks everyone was giving her. Beside her, Ishida pushed his glasses up his nose and winced.

"Don't tell me you actually listen to the guidance couselor's lectures... Not even I'M that nerdy."

"What? He gave me a juice box."

"..."

Rukia ignored his silence and went back to artistically expressing herself with her doodles of the unholy fusion of bunnies, marshmallows, and pure evil. Or, in other words, her notebook was covered in her freakish rendition of Peeps, which was especially disturbing since she'd never seen that particular Easter candy. Beside her, Orihime was doing some doodles of her own, which were equally disquieting. She finished up and turned the picture toward Ichigo. Most of it was assorted deadly-looking mechs interspersed with tiny cutesy trees and suns.

"Well, Ichigo, I remember it really easily if I think about it in pictures. See, it starts out with Mr. 3 Carbon Dioxide, alias 3CO2, who has a digimon named Mr. 6 Water, alias 6H2O, and then Mr. Photon beams down on them and they digivolve into-- Mr. C3H6O3 and Mr. 3O2, and so they protect their host, Mr. Photoautotroph from horrible starvation and they all live happily ever after with the flower children and tree huggers!"

"..."

Everyone stared incredulously at the... imaginative... ginger-haired girl, who puffed up with pride.

"See how easy? Wanna hear another one, Ichigo-kun?"

Ichigo sighed and nodded slowly.

"Anything's worth a try right now."

Orihime beamed and started in on her description of the Kreb's cycle. Meanwhile across the circle, Ishida nudged Chad and lowered his voice.

"H-How does she get such good test scores with logic like that?" Ishida stammered incredulously.

The quiet giant next to him shrugged.

"Hmm... I guess different peoples' brains really do work in different ways..."

"It's more than different; it's downright strange."

Ichigo's head dropped to his desk in despair and Orihime stopped her lecture and tentatively patted Ichigo on the head.

"There, there, you'll do fine-- or at least better than Keigo."

Ichigo sunk further in despair at the thought of being compared intellectually with Keigo.

Orihime smiled sweetly, then paused and turned back to Ishida and Chad. As she did, her carefree grin became almost imperceptibly tighter. For a second, Ishida panicked, sure that she'd heard him, then immediately dismissed this as paranoia. He was wrong. Girls can hear anything someone in the same room says about them, no matter how quiet. It's like a super-power.

"And I'm sure you two will do great, too! But, Ishida-kun... I realized the other day that if I want to take over the world with my army of genetically engineered fire-breathing rabbits when I grow up, I'm going to have to be first in my class if I want to qualify for evil genius status. Otherwise I'll just be a sardonic simpleton, and that'd ruin my street creds."
"Ah... that's interesting... Good luck?" Ishida floundered, trying to figure out an appropriate response to a sentence like that.

"Ishida-kun! Don't you get it?" Inoue scolded, grey eyes a tad challenging.

"Uhh... get what?"

"That means I'm gonna have to score higher than you this year. I'm sorry, Ishida-kun, but this is my future we're talking about. I didn't try last year 'cause then everyone would have called me the smart girl, and then they'd all ask me questions like they do with you and Ryo-chan and I'd never have any time for day-dreaming time at all, but I suppose I have to make sacrifices this year... I hope you don't mind..."

"'Didn't try last year'? But you ranked third!"

"Well, yeah, but that was mainly intuition... and the twenty minutes Ochi-sensei gave us to review in class..." Orihime said.

Everyone at the table gaped at her and Ishida joined Ichigo in the pit of despair. He'd studied two straight weeks for that damned test. Oblivious to the atmosphere of jealousy, Orihime stared off into space for a while until Tatsuki popped up beside her like the sneaky ninja she was and waved her bento in front of Orihime's dazed face.

"Hey, Earth to Orihime! It's lunchtime; you ready?"

Immediately, Orihime's eyes widened and she snapped out of her fantasy world.

"Huh? Oh, right! That's a first: I forgot all about food! Hold on a sec, ok?"

Orihime bolted out of her seat and practically ran to her locker to retrieve her prized culinary frankenstein of the day.

Tatsuki shrugged and took her friend's vacated seat in the circle.

"Why do you all look so gloomy? We practically have a day off today."

Ichigo sighed and rubbed the back of his neck with a free hand.

"I'm just trying to catch up on schoolwork and it's wearing me out."

"Yeah, why were you absent all those days? I had to make up a new excuse for you every day. You're just lucky I'm on the Student Disciplinary Committee, ya dumb slug." Tatsuki rolled her eyes and kicked his chair hard enough to make him lose balance and fall to the ground.

Rukia and Tatsuki barely even glanced at each other, but somehow they managed to perfect and communicate a whole devious plan in five seconds. It's another girl thing. Rukia snickered and subtly inched Ichigo's heavy chemistry book to the edge of the table until gravity kicked into action and sent ten pounds of knowledge colliding with Ichigo's head.

"Damn it, that hurt!"

"Oops! Sorry! Are you ok?" Rukia cooed innocently.

And even though he'd just seen her try to kill him, Ichigo and the others were almost fooled by her pseudo-concern. All the emotional supression the Kuchiki family thrives on is actually useful once in a while.

"Whatever. You deserved it, dumbass. Seriously, where were you all that time?"

Ichigo slumped back in his chair and put on his crankiest I-haven't-had-my-nap-today scowl. Tatuki fired back with the glare she usually reserved for Chizuru. Ichigo lost.

"I, uh, was sick. Really contagious."

Tatsuki raised a cynical eyebrow.

"Uh huh. What did you have, then?"

Ichigo scowled harder as he tried to think of a cool disease, but even though he lived in a clinic, his mind remained a total blank. He hoped he hadn't sustained any actual brain damage from Rukia and Tatsuki's prank. He really didn't want to end up like Ganju.

"Well?" Tatsuki challenged, eyes glinting with malicious amusement.

"Uhhh.. It was, uh, Polio! A nasty case, too. Almost had to get a wheelchair."

-Crap. I had to pick the lamest disease ever, didn't I? Well, Ichigo reasoned guiltily to himself, the last part wasn't quite a lie.

-His conscience scoffed. How do you figure?

-Err... some of the training the vizards put me through could have crippled me...

-You're an idiot.

-Hey! That makes you an idiot, too!

-Well, you're the king of idiots.

-Nuh-uh!

-Uh-huh!

-King, kingidy king kiiiing! Make way for the king of the morons!

-Nuh-uh!

As he was trying to think up a better argument to use against himself, Ichigo realized that something was familiar about his 'conscience's' voice. Something that reminded him of weird snake-tongues, creepy pale skin, and a fondness of masks.

-Hey! You're not me! Uh, sort of. Whatever. Stop eavesdropping before I kick your ass again.

-But I'm boooored!

-Go be all albino and angsty somewhere else!

-No.

-Don't make me go get Zangetsu!

- Hey, no fair! Tattle-tale!

- Find a snowstorm to get lost in.

- I know! Let's play a game together. It's called 'I hate you.'

- I'm NOT arguing with my evil alter ego... I'm NOT arguing with my evil alter ego...

"Ichigo, are you ok? You kind of had a... uhhh... Orihime moment there." Chad rumbled, trying to keep a straight face.

"He's fine." Tatsuki said, "I'll admit, you almost had me going with the staring into space thing, but I'm not dumb. 1) No one gets effing Polio any more. 2) I checked your house a couple times. You weren't even there."

"I, uhhh..."

Ichigo cast his eyes desperately around the room, trying to find something to inspire a brilliant excuse. Fortunately for him, a well-endowed diversion skipped into the room at that moment and was promptly mauled by a lesbian who'd been lying in wait for her love to get back. Tatsuki growled impatiently and started off to pry the parasite from her best friend, preferably with a crowe bar.

"You're not off the hook, you know!"

Ichigo sighed. "Yeah."

Lost in his mental morass of self-pity and guilt, he didn't even notice that the most abnormally-proportioned woman in the history of the world had plopped down in the chair next to him until he turned to say something to Chad and nearly ended up suffocating in the canyons of cushiness.

"Ichigo, you're such a bad boy! No wonder you're in trouble with chick-who-reminds-me-of-Yoruichi." Rangiku chuckled.

"Mmmmph!"

"Yoruichi? Hmm... I guess there is some similarity there..." Uryuu mused.

"I think he's stuck." Chad said.

"Mhgm.. mhmph." Ichigo agreed, losing more oxygen with each syllable.

Across the room, a ear-piercing cry was loosed from Keigo, who had happened to glance over and whose eyes were consequently now leaking wide tear-rivers.

"NOoOoOOO! Some guys get all the luck! IT'S NOT FAIR!"

From the other end of the room, another cry was let loose.

"NOoOoOOO! My curried peanut-butter guacamole sandwiches got soggy! IT'S NOT FAIR!" Orihime pouted.

"You can try my lunch-box if you want..." Chizuru began, until her face was smashed in by her real lunch-box, courtesy of Tatsuki.

In his isolated corner of the classroom, Hitsugaya put his fingers in his ears and groaned.

"The human world gives me a headache."

A/N- Ah, the cracktasticosity of it all. I decided to take a quick study-break from translating Moliere from French to English to work on this, and now here I am, two hours later, finishing the chapter at two in the morning. Le sigh. Ah well, it happens. Also, anyone notice how the preview I gave last chapter has nothing to do with this one? Oops. Well, you know the drill-- click the pretty periwinkle box to review or else I'll... uhhh... give you Polio.

...Don't make me do it.

...Really.