A/N: Listen, this apology could probably take me months to type as well, so I'll just cut to the chase. My computer crashed. Majorly. My brother is not touching it again anytime soon. Seriously. It's still sitting in my living room, unfixed. Thank God for the library. That's all I'm gonna say, though. I don't want to load you up with too many excuses. I feel bad. Thanks everyone for staying with me. Forgive me if there's another long wait between chapters. I really hope not, 'cuz I'm gonna try, but I'm busy, and no computer, causes problems. Forgive my mistakes too, because I'm posting this really quick before my time's up. Hope the chapter doesn't suck too bad, 'cuz I'm not going to have a chance to edit it. Sorry, sorry, sorry.


Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. Except the amazing kind that makes me stand over the washing machine and almost pass out 'cuz I can't inhale enough. (And you wonder what's wrong with me… xD) Also, the chapter title is a song by a band called A Perfect Circle. It was what I was listening to when I finished the chapter. Amazing song, by the way.

Chapter 14: The Noose

Rukia ran. She didn't turn around to spare Ichigo another glance. She couldn't. Tears that had threatened to fall began to do so, clouding her vision. All she knew was that she needed to get away. It was imperative. She couldn't see him right now. How could she have been so stupid? They had talked about this. They weren't going to do anything about what had happened when they had died. They'd agreed on it. Why had she kissed him? How could she have let herself kiss him? Was she that much of an idiot? Was he that much a fool to let her-

Rukia found herself in a very uncomfortable position on the ground a moment later. Her backside collided painfully with the floor and a much taller and larger built person landed on top of her. "Oof!" she exclaimed upon contact.

The person on top of her was off her in mere seconds, a glare on his face. He had a scar on his cheek and angry black eyes. He glared down at her. "Watch where you're going, bitch," he growled.

She was too upset to do anything else except glare at the person who had knocked her down. He scowled angrily, and held up his hand, shaping it into a fist. He swung at her. In her still disconcerted state, she barely managed to avoid the first strike at her. She wasn't so lucky the second time. The fist collided painfully with the side of her face. She winced in pain.

"You can't do anything about it." Shirayuki's voice was a cold whisper in her ear. "Keep up the charade, remember? You and Ichigo agreed."

Yeah, Rukia mumbled mentally. And what a lovely idea, that's turning out to be.

She barely managed to duck another oncoming blow.

And why did I agree to this again? She growled the question mentally. Does that include not being able to fight back at all?

For a minute, Shirayuki didn't respond. After a minute, she did. "I think… you shouldn't show anything. Just don't let yourself get killed. Duck, but don't hit back."

This was a bad idea, Rukia grumbled mentally again.

The boy took one more swing, which was unable to avoid. It sent her sprawling across the floor. She growled angrily in her mind. What had happened to her great sense of balance?

The boy leered down at her. "Better luck next time, bitch. Watch where you're going, too." With that, the well-built upperclassman, sauntered away.

Rukia remained on the ground, her breathing heavy. She stared at the place where the older student had stood. Shirayuki's voice was cold in her ear as always. "How the mighty have fallen," she began softly. "Years ago, you could have taken him on, no problem. Issues of the heart have clouded your ability to sense what is going on around you. Do not let them incapacitate you entirely. I will not be wielded by a weakling."

Rukia continued to sit, dumbfounded. Shirayuki was right; Ichigo was at fault for this, at least- in some aspect. He was making her be caught off guard like this. She sighed, and tried to raise herself off the ground. It was harder than she had expected. Shirayuki had disappeared, which brought another sigh from the young Shinigami. Shirayuki had a habit of making some kind of off-handed, obscure comment and then disappearing.

She stood up slowly, wincing as she did so. This was definitely something she didn't need. She began to make her way down the hall in a bit of a daze. She barely remembered the way to her room from the dining room, let alone wherever she was. Stupid Strawberry. Why had she talked with him? She could have just gone with Koiyuki and Akina and dealt with him in the morning. Why hadn't she? She wasn't paying attention to where she was going. Why bother? It wasn't like she knew where she was in the first place. Her eyes widened in surprise as she began to recognize the hall she was standing in. It was her hallway! The one her room was in. What luck, she thought blandly.

200, 201, 202… 203! Thank goodness, she sighed.

Rukia slid into her room slowly, carefully. Her roommates looked up in surprise. Half of her face remained hidden in shadow as she clung close to the door. "What took you so long?" Koiyuki asked as she towel-dried her hair.

Rukia shrugged, wincing slightly as she jarred her already sore shoulder. "Detour," she responded, slightly hesitantly.

Akina glanced up from her already customary place on her bed. "You sound strange," she commented softly, and then immediately glanced back down at her manga.

"She's right," Koiyuki agreed, turning to fully face her. "Why are you still by the door? Get out of the dark," she suggested.

Rukia was frozen. She had to move, but- Koiyuki walked over and gripped the young Kuchiki by the shoulder- the bad shoulder- and she couldn't help the gasp that escaped her. Koiyuki's eyes widened in horror as she took in Rukia's face. She must have already been bruising. Great. "How- Who- what-"

"N-nothing," Rukia's voice wavered as Koiyuki stared at her and Akina rose to a sitting position on her bed.

"Who?" Akina whispered, her large brown eyes widening even more.

Rukia's mind started at the beginning. "I-ichigo," she began, but then that memory topped with the pain in her face and shoulder brought too much weight down on the small girl's shoulders and the young Shinigami broke into tears.

Koiyuki wrapped her arms around Rukia comfortingly. "Sh," she whispered, not knowing whom she was channeling, her father- yeah right- or her mother- equally unlikely. "It's okay." She glanced over at Akina. "Can you get me a wet rag or something?" she asked.

The quiet girl rose immediately to her feet and ran into their bathroom. "Sh," Koiyuki whispered again. "You're okay. He's not here."


Ichigo sulked into the room he was sharing with the other two boys, his hands shoved into his pockets. His mood was definitely worse than it had been earlier, which was certainly saying something. He hadn't been in a very good mood in a while it seemed. He was attempting- as best he could- to tune out Hichigo, who was shouting something about rain… and...emo…

Why had he kissed her? How could he have possibly been so stupid? They had agreed on something and he had broken it. Stupid, stupid, stupid-

"Oh, so you're finally back?"

Hikaru was standing in the bathroom doorway, wearing only a pair of sweatpants; his black hair glistening with water. "What took so long?"

"Took the long way back," Ichigo replied, half heartedly. "Needed some quiet time." As quiet as I can get with you, he growled at his Hollow.

Hikaru shrugged. "Okay." He tossed his wet towel over a chair and went to climb into his bed. "Kageromaru's conked out. He ate too much, I guess. Light's out in half an hour, but they don't really enforce that. Just make sure you stay in the room. I'm gonna hit the pillow," he informed Ichigo unnecessarily. "Tomorrow's gonna be a long, early day." He swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Classes start at seven, breakfast at six. You can have the bed over here or the one over him." He indicated the two top bunks. Unlike the girls' rooms, the beds were set up as two bunk beds and rooms usually were set up for four boys. "Anyway, goodnight Ichigo-san."

"Night," he mumbled, making his way towards the bathroom. There was a pair of school pajamas under the sink. One more set for him and another for Kageromaru. Hm, he thought, weird place to put pajamas. He grabbed a set and a towel and made his way towards the showers.


Rukia stood under the shower's water ten minutes after she had begun to cry. She stared at the nozzle through teary eyes. Hot didn't feel bad on her skin, but cold was what Shirayuki liked and maybe she could help.

Suddenly she could feel her zanpakuto behind her. She spun around to look at her, but she didn't see her. "Use cold," Shirayuki suggested. "I'll see what I can do about the injuries."

"I should never have agreed with Ichigo. We shouldn't be hiding and lying. Imagine all the good we could do if we stopped pretending." Rukia leaned forward, switching the warm water to cold. She found quickly that the icy water felt better than the hot.

"You all agreed. It's best this way. It's better for you. You are expected of less this way. You will be able to train in peace."

Rukia closed her eyes slowly, taking a deep breath of icy air. "If all goes well at least." She sighed heavily. "I should try to use some kind of Kidou on this, huh?"

"I will help."


Ichigo slipped out of the shower and tied the towel around his waist. He stared into the mirror and glared at his reflection. "I'm so stupid," he muttered in annoyance.

"King…" Hichigo's voice was an annoying whisper in his ear. "Can it stop raining anytime soon?"

Ichigo rolled his eyes as he reached out to wipe the fog-covered mirror. "Dunno how," he muttered.

"So… now you talk to yourself?" an angry voice demanded from behind him.

Ichigo withheld a yelp as he spun around in shock, grabbing desperately at his towel to make sure it stayed up. "Shit!" he exclaimed. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" he glared angrily back at Koiyuki who stood framed in the doorway, pajama clad. "What the hell are you doing here?!"

Koiyuki stormed through the door, closing it behind her. "How dare you!" she exclaimed, her voice jumping up an octave.

"She's come to have her way with you, King! Beware the female Pineapple!"

Ichigo repressed a sigh and a smirk. You really are bored, aren't you? "What do you mean, 'how dare I?'" he demanded. "You're the one in my bathroom. I could ask-"


Ichigo's eyes widened as Koiyuki's palm smacked across his face. He blinked several times. "Why did you let her do that, King!?" Hichigo demanded.

Didn't see it coming, he replied.

"How dare you!"

"What did I do?" Ichigo shouted angrily at the small redhead. He could feel Hichigo getting angrier and angrier in the back of his mind.

Koiyuki's eyes blazed. "How dare you!" she growled yet again. "Rukia came back to our room black and blue, and the only thing she managed to stumble out was your name."

Ichigo stopped listening after that. Someone had hurt Rukia. Some bastard had hurt Rukia. He could feel Hichigo's shock, and suddenly he was the angry one... not his Hollow half. He gritted his teeth. "What did you say?" he demanded.

"You asshole! I can't believe you attacked Rukia!" Koiyuki was as angry as he was, it seemed. She began to advance towards him. "I'm going to talk to the Headmistress tomorrow," she told him. "I'm going to get you expelled before you have a chance to begin learning."

She lifted her hand, in what seemed to be an attempt to smack him again. She reached back, and then forward, but he caught the hand before it came into contact. He took a deep breath, trying, as hard as he could, to keep himself calm. "Abarai," he hissed, refusing to let go of her hand, "I didn't touch Rukia. We talked. Whatever happened to her happened after we left." He swallowed. "I don't know what happened to her, but trust me, I plan to find out."

Koiyuki froze, and then yanked her arm back, trying to escape Ichigo's grasp. "Why should I believe you. You're half the person you're supposed to be. The Kurosaki Ichigo in my parents' stories would be angry. Furious. He wouldn't stand around. He'd already be outside trying to find out what happened." She glared at him and then wretched her hand free. "You're too calm," she growled. "I know you did it."

Ichigo was trying desperately to keep himself from doing just that. Hichigo's growing anger definitely helping. "You don't know how hard it is not to do just that," he told her tersely. "I'll find out what happened to her, and I'll get back at whoever did it. Trust me on that."

Koiyuki looked up, and met his eyes. She took a step back when she saw the unbridled fury in them. Swallowing, she nodded slightly. "Okay... maybe I do believe you."

Ichigo sighed heavily. What had happened? Who could possibly have a grudge on Rukia already? She hadn't done anything yet... had she? Had either of them unwillingly pissed off someone already? All they had done was eat dinner. Right? "You ought to," he told her. "Did Rukia say anything else that might've have actually told you who hurt her?"

Koiyuki shrugged. "I don't know," she replied slowly. She might have. I don't think so, though," she looked off to the side. "I just remember her saying some bullshit about taking a detour or something." She sighed, and leaned further back against the door. "To be honest, after I saw her face, I wasn't really paying attention. She said your name and I assumed it was your fault."

Ichigo nodded slowly. "Right. If she'd said your name in front of me, I'm sure I would have done the same thing." He leaned back away from her, against the sink. He glanced down at himself and went red in the face as he realized he was still in a towel. "Uh, listen," he stammered out. "Why don't we talk in the morning…." He suggested. "Tell me if Rukia tells you anything else, okay?"

Koiyuki frowned at him. "Uh… yeah, sure, whatever. You getting tired, Kurosaki?" she leered at him. Suddenly it hit her as she looked at him. Her face colored as she took in his well-toned, and still damp chest. Somewhere in the back of her mind she realized just how good looking he was, and she was sure her face matched her hair. "Yeah, I'll, uh, see you in the morning, Kuro…saki…" she muttered and slid out the door.

Ichigo watched the girl fly out of the room, and a frown crossed his face. "What was that about, King?"

He shrugged. "I dunno," he muttered in reply. "We have to figure out who hurt Rukia," he told his Hollow."

"And kick their ass!"

Ichigo nodded slowly, beginning to pull his pajama top on. "Exactly," he sighed. "They're going to regret making that decision."

End Chapter 14: The Noose

A/N: Again, my apologies to you. Thanks for the patience, and thanks for reading.