Hello everyone! It took a little longer than expected to finish this chapter, but thanks to carrietheninja I was able to plod through it! Overall, I had lots of fun writing this chapter. I know I am teetering on having Ichigo and Rukia being a bit OOC this chapter, but I tried to keep them as true to their characters as I could. Anyway...enjoy!

Oh, and sorry it's a bit shorter than the last one *is shot*

Bleach is owned by Kubo Tite

Chapter 7: Nobody Knows

The False Valediction


The bond you have...what exactly are you to him, or he to you?

She wanted to scream. She didn't know the answer. How could she?Her hands shook as they kept handfuls of her uniform in their white-knuckled grasp.

A warrior's tears are not shed for nakama, Rukia.

That solemn thought repeated in Rukia's head until she felt the room spin. She drew her fingertips over her throat. She felt so dizzy, and she could barely breathe. How could she answer that question? Ichigo's heart had broken in front of her. "Ichigo's tears… a fearless man's tears fell for me?" She furiously shook her head, cursing silently when it made her head pulse with aching even further. She was asking herself questions she already knew the answer to. Answers she should have been the only one to know. Nobody had known… nobody was supposed to know. Confusion and chaos were taking over her mind. She couldn't stop it.

As if a dam had broken within the far reaches of her mind, the memories of it all suddenly flooded her, taking her over.

She could still feel that cold floor beneath her, and the empty feeling when she'd thought herself dead. She already was, but that didn't matter. Her soul had almost died… he'd probably thought he'd lost her. She remembered the shadow above her and the unsteady pelt of teardrops on her face. She could remember so vividly his face, his hand cupping hers around his cheek and smearing, no, marring his face with her blood. His glistening amber eyes had looked almost hollow. They were so void, empty, as if the fire behind them had been doused the moment he'd looked at her. He'd stared at her with such intensity. He had reached out to her in the only way he knew how, and that look in his eyes haunted her.

He had called to her, pain ripping through his voice. It had crackled and quaked through the baritone she was so familiar with. She could still hear him scream her name, a distant echo in her conscience. "Ru...ki...a…"

"Rukia."

A solid voice reverberated the air. It wasn't Ichigo's voice. The stern calling of her name brought Rukia out of her reverie, although the process of pulling herself out of her memories was hardly gentle. As the voice spoke again, she brought herself back to her captain as he spoke to her again.

"I know. I know about Ichigo's tears… what he shed for you in the battle against Aizen."

She quivered slightly as she looked up at her mentor. That was what she had been afraid of, and she loathed the fact that she was trembling. Kuchikis don't tremble. "I look pitiful...pathetic." Rukia clenched her fists. "I have to do this. Proudly." She had to force herself to remain stoic for the sake of her pride. Rising from her chair, she looked down and smoothed out the crinkles in her uniform where she had balled it into her hands. She turned her face toward her captain once more, this time robing herself in the cold rigidity of a practiced Kuchiki noble.

"Who am I to Kurosaki Ichigo, or he to me?"

She picked up her soul's snow white companion, forged in a silvery steel blade. She drew it out quickly and held it before her. She studied her own reflection in its metal before bringing the flat end of the cold steel to her lips.

"I changed his world."

Her voice quivered only slightly, serving as the only indication that she was shaken. Her amethyst eyes pierced through the air, even as they swam in liquid emotion. She drew the blade away from herself and sliced it through the open air. Anger was brimming behind her steely face, itching to break through the facade in any way possible. As she spoke, it found its exit as she formed the words her tongue lashed from behind her teeth.

"I, Rukia Kuchiki, committed treason to create the unofficial savior and hero of Soul Society. With my own zanpakuto, I stabbed him with all the force in my body. I burried it to the hilt in his heart." She roughly sheathed her zanpakuto to emphasize the last bitter sentiments in her statement. Her fingers left the hilt, gingerly, and hung by her hips.

Ukitake could not believe what he was seeing and hearing.

Her fingers lay deceptively still and lax by her sides, while her shoulders were square and tight. It was all a bit frightening, the ailing man admitted. Rukia could either stroll out for a cup of tea, or slice someone in half from her current stance. He hoped when she moved it would not be to do the latter.

"How exactly do you wish for me to answer that question, Captain Ukitake?"

The man visibly tensed. He hadn't expected her to react this way. Her emotions had shifted so quickly from meek embarrassment to a rigid Kuchiki facade. Ukitake swallowed. Rukia was nowhere near as collected as she appeared. Just moments ago, she was so emotionally overwhelmed, she hadn't even heard him say her name the first few times. Her whole body had been shaking! Yet that vulnerability had dissipated almost as quickly as it had washed over her. Somehow, he had thoroughly pissed his subordinate off, and he had no intention of keeping things that way. He forced a jovial laugh from his lips.

"My, my. You are certainly looking like a cornered animal. Where did my subordinate go?" He coughed lightly and dabbed his mouth with a linen cloth, habit from frequently falling ill. He did not need to fake frailty to put a little guilt in his unseated favorite. He was frail, and Ukitake knew it would naturally eat at her conscience. "Usually I'd try and convince her to stop worrying! This is quite a predicament."

To his relief, her stance eased a little. He smiled. "Her eyes look a little less… forboding," Ukitake noticed, grateful her glare was nowhere near as harsh. Rukia was coming back to him.

He sighed. "You've never been so cold with your poor sick Captain before."

"I…" Rukia's face softened. Her facade crashed down all at once. "I'm such a fool! What was I doing just then?" She hadn't meant to be cold. She mentally chided herself for her little display. Who was she, acting as though she could overstep her superior? She had overreacted, unable to quell the panic that had surfaced itself through her steely charade. That was all it had been. A charade. Rukia let her body slacken, crumpling back onto the chair behind her. Her hands knotted together with worry. She sincerely hoped she hadn't offended the man she respected. She shamefully bowed her head and kneeled to the floor, bracing her fists on both sides of her body, much as she would address her brother.

"I sincerely apologize, Captain Ukitake! It won't happen again."

To her surprise, the silver-haired man touched her shoulder. She raised her head to find him smiling. "It's quite alright. I was worried you were becoming your older brother for a moment. I never knew you could explode so… icily." He chuckled lightly. "Maybe Kurosaki Ichigo is rubbing off on you a little?"

"Eh?! Captain!"

"Ah, excuse me. I only meant to poke a little fun." His grin fell a little as he became more serious. "I'm not trying to corner you, Kuchiki. I just thought as your Captain, and as the only one in the Gotei 13 who knows of this… that you would want to talk about what happened."

"Y-you're the only one who knows?" Rukia's eyes were glassy as she gulped and tried to hold back her melancholy relief. Ukitake couldn't really blame her. He probably would have felt the same way in her situation.

"Other than Urahara Kisuke, yes."

"Urahara? Why does the shopkeeper know?"

"He was actually tasked with organizing surveillance of the Hueco Mundo infiltration. Being the devious man he always is, he reviewed all of it before forwarding almost everything to Soul Society."

"I can't believe it. He watched and then left...Ichi...my… that part out."

"He was kind enough to recognize that particular moment would be sensitive to both you and Kurosaki. He kindly asked me, as your captain, to keep that particular bit."

Rukia slowly digested the information, overcome by its bittersweet taste in her mouth. She shook her head again, forcing out any remnants of helplessness from her face as she gathered her strength.

"Does Ichigo know about this?"

"No."

"Captain, why did you tell me this?"

"I already told you."

"Captain..."

Ukitake gently smiled. "You're my subordinate."

"That's not a very good reason," Rukia mumbled to herself.

"I know it isn't. The reason does not matter. You should think about this, or at least what it means for you. Talk to me when you are ready. Maybe spend some time with Kurosaki to figure things out..."

Rukia blushed. "I can't!"

"It could help you make up your mind, or sort out your feelings."

"I don't need to figure out my feelings, they don't matter! I especially can't go running around with a human academy student! Not when I have so much to do. I have a duty to my squad, to my clan, and to my brother. Besides, he irritates me!"

Ukitake chuckled. Somehow, her frustration was cute, in a way. Ukitake couldn't help but feel like a fatherly figure, trying to coax her and protect her at the same time. "Leave the papers for tomorrow, and go spend some time outside and clear your head. Fresh air will be good for you; it does wonders for me. As for myself, I'm going to send Kiyone and Sentaro off on an errand, go take a walk by the koi pond and have a relaxing cup of tea. Something with jasmine."

Ukitake smiled at the prospect of having a quiet walk and good tea. It would be very relaxing indeed if he could manage to send his noisy 3rd and 4th seats away.

Rukia smiled. This was just the dynamic she hoped she would always have with her Captain. He was a good-hearted person who she felt really respected her for her abilities rather than her history. He didn't care what district in Rukongai she had come from or what her adopted noble family name was. He opened his heart to those who served beneath him and protected his squad members. She was his subordinate, just like he said. "I have too many brotherly figures," she mused, barely keeping herself from rolling her eyes.

Rukia rose from her chair and gathered the forms she had completed. She would make sure she had at least turned in what she had finished before she sought a way to amuse herself. Duty before disport, as she had been taught rather dryly by her older brother. When her captain finally left, she glanced out the window. It was just an hour or two past noon. Sighing heavily, she found herself grateful that it was still early in the day. She did have a few feelings she needed to sort through… at least before the next few hours rolled past.

Later this afternoon she would meet Ichigo again, and she needed to be able to face him in the same way she always did. It wasn't yet time to fly kites, and she had plenty of time to kill. Rummaging in a nearby box, she happily pulled out a Chappy manga and flopped onto her futon.

At least her favorite character would take her thoughts off of the strawberry for a while. She turned the page eagerly only to find herself re-reading it several times.

"Or not…" she voiced aloud. Groaning, she flopped back onto the flimsy standard-issue futon.

"Idiot. What am I supposed to do with you?"

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Ah, Kido hell was over.

After finishing a thoroughly engaging lesson with Byakuya, Ichigo felt disgusting. His body was soaked. The cloth of his academy uniform clung to his skin, the sweat from his body turning the white fabric slightly transparent. His hair was wet and plastered to his forehead, glistening beads trailing down from his scalp. He licked a sweat droplet that slid down to his lips. It was salty and dirty tasting. Nasty.

He didn't think he smelled wonderful in the slightest. In fact, he was pretty damn sure he reeked. A nice soak would do wonders for his hygiene as well as his muscles. They were aching, and he also sported several painful gashes across his torso and arms. He looked down at his ragged and dirty academy uniform. Maybe he'd need another one of those, too… and this time in the right color. "None of that red, girl-colored bullshit," he mumbled beneath his breath. He'd had enough of that practical joke Mei had pulled. Coiling his body, he sprang into the air, flash stepping to a place he knew he could soak with both privacy and peace of mind.

Yoruichi and Urahara's "playground," as they had called it.

When he reached the cave on the edge of Soul society, he looked at the entrance with appreciation. It had been here that he had strove so hard to achieve power to protect. He'd achieved bankai inside these rugged walls. Now, he was back in the same place once again, striving to obtain more. He walked deeper into the cave until he found the massive training grounds, fully equipped with open space and a healing hot spring. It would be perfect. He rested Zangetsu against a boulder and began to pull his torn sleeves off of his arms. His upper torso finally bear of the clinging material, he turned to head toward the hot spring.

"Ah, Kurosaki-san, nice of you to join us!"

Ichigo tripped over a large rock as he spotted a very recognizable shopkeeper lounging in the spring, green and white striped hat hanging low and shading his mischievous eyes. The rest of his clothes were strewn about the rocks around the spring. Next to him, a very naked tanned woman with violet hair sunk into the steam, the water level barely covering her ample bosom. Ichigo turned tomato red in color.

"U-Urahara? Yoruichi?"

"Yo, Ichigo." Yoruichi flashed him a Cheshire grin. "Still acting like a virgin boy, as always."

"Sh-shut up!" Ichigo crossed his arms, huffing as he let them hang on his chest. He flicked his eyes toward some undefined rock formation. Anywhere except at Yoruichi.

Urahara chuckled at him. "Please, please. Don't let my little kitten deter you from getting in with-OW! Yoruichi that hurt!" He rubbed his upper right shoulder, a dark red mark of abuse emerging on the skin.

"Kisuke..." The tanned female shot the blond a deadly look. The single word was low and warning. "Don't call me your little 'kitten.'"

"Hai, hai…"

Urahara shifted his hat further back onto his head, sighing happily. "You should feel the water, Ichigo. It's quite nice. Healing."

"Not with your crazy bare ass in it." Ichigo scowled.

Yoruichi laughed at him. "Your loss. You look like shit."

"I came here to use the spring to heal up from training with Byakuya, but I didn't think you two would be in it. Whatever happened to hanging out in the living world?"

Yoruichi shifted in the water, chuckling when the color returned to Ichigo's face. "Got bored."

Urahara lifted his arms out of the spring and rested them on the rocky sides. "We came here to spar, just like old times. Nice to know that it still has the purpose we built it for."

"Well, isn't that nostalgic and wonderful for you two?! I'm out of here." Ichigo ran a hand through his hair and grimaced at the sweat that wet his fingers. He would have to shower in the Academy dorms, and tough out the injuries. He might be able to convince Hanatarou to heal him later, if he was lucky enough to find free time. He turned from his two mentors and walked toward the tall ladder that led up from the cave.

"Hey, Ichigo."

He looked over his shoulder to find a towel-wrapped (to his relief) Yoruichi standing with folded arms.

"Yeah?"

"Stay for a minute. You're gonna want to talk to Kisuke."

"About what?"

"Kuchiki Rukia."

Ichigo turned his eyes back away from her. He sighed loudly. He could already tell what this was about, and was tired of this conversation already.

"What about her, Yoruichi? Is this about the rest of my friends, Renji, Chad, and Orihime, too? What about Ishida?"

"This isn't about your friends Ichigo. This is about you and Kuchiki."

"She's my friend." Ichigo tensed. Just where the hell were they going with this? Angry, he shook his head. He already knew the answer to that question. He spun around to face them, his eyes narrowed. "She's my best friend. There is no 'me and Kuchiki.' You should know that."

Yoruichi sighed, snatching her discarded clothing before narrowing her yellow eyes at him.

"Kisuke, he's all yours. Good luck."

"But Yoruichi… won't you pleeeeease-" Urahara's whining was cut off by his gurgling, his face shoved into the water by a tan foot.

"No, I'm not gonna stay and dress here. You have something to do, yeah? Damned pervert." A small ripple of air and upturned dirt, and she was gone.

"Pah!" Urahara whipped his head up from the spring, sputtering and flailing to replace his infamous hat in its proper place- soggy though it was. Ichigo stared at him, trying to muffle a snort. He had to admit, those two together were hilarious to watch.

"Sorry about that, Kurosaki-san."

"Whatever, Sandal-hat. I want to know what the hell you guys are going on about."

"Please, sit in the spring and I'll explain everything."

"Like I said before, with your bare ass? Hell no."

"I assure you, I am clothed. See?" Through a lopsided grin, Urahara raised a leg out of the water, the black fabric of his usual pants hanging from his calf.

"Alright. I'll get in."

Ichigo felt instant relief as he lowered himself into the familiar warmth of the spring. At least if he was going to sit and endure a talk he didn't want to have with Urahara, the spring's healing properties would ease his physical pains.

"Kurosaki, there is something I've been meaning to ask you." The changes in Urahara's demeanor were instantly apparent. His voice was low, his tone serious. "Why the hell he'd be so damn serious about something that isn't happening between Rukia and I…I don't have a freaking clue," Ichigo thought. Just to make sure , he prompted his mentor.

"About Rukia?"

"Yes. Before I do, however, I need to back up and explain a few things."

"Fine." Ichigo closed his eyes and lowered himself deeper into the spring, the water level bobbing up and down against his chin. He was only half-listening. He'd had this conversation before with Byakuya, and he'd be damned if he had to explain himself to every soul with a hint of reiatsu that Rukia Kuchiki was not some crazy love interest of his.

"Do you remember what I did during the war with Aizen?"

Ichigo huffed. No brainer. "You built the false Karakura town, opened all the ways to enter Hueco Mundo for the infiltration, and aided Soul Society in understanding the Arrancar."

"Bingo!" Urahara grinned proudly before reverting to his more somber demeanor. "I also had one more task: to surveil everything that happened in Hueco Mundo, and to relay that surveillance to Soul Society."

"What does this have to do with Rukia?"

"My surveillance captured every single event that happened in Hueco Mundo, down to the last fight with Aizen."

"Congratulations. You did your job?"

"Kurosaki, I saw everything… tearful though some moments were."

Realization chilled Ichigo's body, like the trickle of ice through his veins. His heart began to pound rapidly as his eyes opened in shock. "Tearful? Oh shit… he couldn't mean… There's no way he recorded that. He didn't see…did he?" Ichigo's mind panicked. Nobody was supposed to know. Not about this. Yet what exactly could he do if his mentor knew?

"Kurosaki, I specifically did not forward on one particular segment. Simple splicing hid the short video I believed that you and Rukia would not want all of Soul Society to see."

So he knew. "Shit, shit shit! This can't be happening!" Ichigo's thoughts were racing and desperate. He wanted to remain calm on the outside; he didn't want to be seen as weak. Yet there really was no point in hiding it, even if he wanted to. More than anything, he wanted this not to be happening. How could it be?

"I believe you know what segment I am speaking of."

Ichigo rose from the water, the heavy water droplets weighing his hair down and shading his eyes from view. While he voiced nothing, rivulets of water formed zigzags across his skin, their slow trickle disturbed by the the tremulous quaking of his muscles. The rapid rise and fall of his broad shoulders, the jagged twitch of his bony fingers...the strained lines in his neck and hard grooves in his cheeks from the clench in his jaw- all spoke for him. Nobody could mistake that in that moment, Kurosaki Ichigo was not pleased.

Urahara shifted his sitting position within the spring, readying his muscles for a physical outburst that would not surprise him. The rhythmically random, syncopated plop plip-plip of droplets hitting the water were the only noise. Yet Urahara knew well enough that the near silence was filled by viscid tension. He was in quite a situation, but he had well planned for the rage he could see rising from Kurosaki's pores. All possibilities considered, he was most curious which approach the boy he considered his pupil would take.

"You sick bastard..."

Urahara's face remained expressionless. The insult did not phase him in the slightest. He was still waiting for Kurosaki's real wrath, and if he was patient enough, it would come.

"Rukia and I are not here for your sadistic, perverted entertainment. We're not a stupid movie you can watch as many times as you want, or the pieces of a board game for you to play with!"

Urahara's mouth ghosted a smile as he draped a towel around his neck. That his pupil should find him a demented, conniving pervert amused him. Yoruichi would usually side with that thought. Although, she had other reasons to think that way… and that thought alone was enough to make him chuckle.

Ichigo fumed. Was Urahara laughing at him? The asshole wasn't even taking him seriously! Trudging through the waist-high water, he roughly grabbed the towel around Urahara's neck and tugged it forward, forcing his mentor to look him in the eye. He wanted to know what was going on, and now.

"Stay out of our damn business, or I'll make you regret it."

Urahara's smile grew. "So, cute little Rukia does mean something to you?"

"Are you stupid? She's my best friend! I've risked my life to save her from being executed, if you've forgotten." Ichigo growled. He wasn't getting anywhere, and was getting frustrated with the lack of progress. He narrowed his eyes. Time to cut to the chase.

"Why?" The question was clipped and cold, the lace of feral undertones the only emotion in the single word.

Urahara shrugged it off with a smile. "Because I can."

"Lying bastard. I know you've got cards up your sleeves. What were your intentions when you did it? You wanna blackmail me? Huh? Do you just want me in your debt? Is that it? I wanna know what you're not telling me. So, spit it out, damnit!" Ichigo choked up his grip on Urahara's towel, jerking the man forward for added effect. He grudgingly resisted the urge to shake the man unconscious.

"What reason would I have to hide something from you? I was honest about keeping it, wasn't I? I'm withholding it from Soul Society, Kurosaki, not you. You could say that I did it out of sympathy. I was worried about you and Rukia."

"I don't believe any of that for one second, especially that you were worried about her."

"You think I don't care about Rukia-chan? I'm offended."

"It's not like you've ever cared about her well-being before! You hid the Hogyoku, your dangerous invention, inside of her, and didn't even think of what it could do to her soul! Then, for your own selfish reasons, you gave her that gigai that could have taken everything she'd worked for away from her! You wouldn't have cared if she'd lost her shinigami powers completely! What the hell gives, Sandal-hat?"

Urahara sighed. Now this was interesting. He never expected Kurosaki Ichigo to pull those incidences into his hothead arguments. It was all quite amusing. Urahara fought the laughter that pulled at his cheeks, his teeth flashing through the grin that barely held back the urge. This was too much fun.

"Why would I want to hurt your precious Rukia?"

"Shut up. I'm the one asking the the questions here."

"You have the wrong idea, Kurosaki-san. Your imagination is a little-OOF!"

Urahara's face contorted as he grunted through the pain from being shoved into the rocky sides of the spring. Through his squinted eyes, he saw his pupil wading away from him. Groaning, he rubbed the abused part of his back. It wasn't too painful; it was more of a surprise. Sighing once more, he closed his eyes and adjusted his hat on his head. He was going to have to change his approach. With Ichigo like this, there was no way he could talk some sense into him. Not before he calmed down. A light clattering noise ruffled the air, and a breeze whooshed across Urahara's face. Just what was his pupil doing? When the shopkeeper opened his eyes, he sucked in a small breath and held it.

Well, this was unexpected.

The world around him blurred as his eyes strained to focus on his surroundings, his vision thrown off by the large blade inches from his nose. As his eyes focused in on the tip, the blonde was left stunned and cross-eyed from the close proximity of Ichigo's recognizable weapon.

Ichigo stared down the large blade with a narrowed gaze. The frayed tail of the white wrapping dabbled the water of the spring, and water droplets chased each other from his arms to the steel side of his zanpakuto. The steam swirled around him as he gingerly tapped his stores of reiatsu. "Easy does it," he cautioned himself. No need to let all of Soul Society know what he was up to. He also didn't want to actually hurt Urahara, but he definitely wasn't past threatening the man a little. This was his interrogation, and he wanted answers. Now was his chance.

"So you saw what happened between Rukia and I. I don't give a shit what you think, or what you felt your duty to whoever was when you decided to hide it. I'll get your reasons out of you, no matter what! You'll tell me what you're hiding. I'm not gonna give you the chance to hurt her."

"Fair enough. So I didn't do it for cute little Rukia."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"I didn't do it for myself either. I don't really get anything out of it."

"Bullshit."

"Okay, I got a little out of it." Urahara shifted, and Ichigo inched the blade closer.

"Keep talking."

"Nobody told me to do this, but…"

"But what?"

"I knew I could do something with it once I saw it. So I spliced it."

"What are you planing to use it for?"

"I'm not necessarily using it per se…"

Ichigo shook with anger. Each time he thought the shopkeeper would finally come clean, the man started dancing around his questions. Enough was enough. He pushed the blade closer, and watched as Urahara's adams apple bobbed dangerously close to the tip as he gulped.

"My, my… you're serious." The shopkeeper no longer smiled. After a breath, he continued. "I originally did it because Soul Society would give you trouble for it. I couldn't have them giving my favorite pupil trouble. As an afterthought, I found the situation all too interesting not to tell somebody about it."

"Damnit Urahara! You made it sound like you were the only one who knew! Who'd you tell?"

"Captain Ukitake, and a dear friend of mine I trust not to divulge this little bit of information."

"Why would you tell Ukitake, and who the hell is this second person?"

"Ukitake is Rukia's captain. He had the right to know, seeing as he's her primary fatherly figure. Byakuya's too cold and traditional; he never would have understood the situation. Am I right in that sense, Kurosaki?"

"Okay, that makes sense. I just… she doesn't need to know."

"What makes you say that?"

"I thought I told you I'm the one asking the questions."

Urahara smiled as he tipped his head, his dark eyes barely twinkling beneath the shade of the brim. "So you did."

Ichigo scoffed. "Who's the friend?"

"Nobody of consequence."

"Don't try that with me. I need to know."

"It's an old crazy friend of mine. Quite excitable, I might add. He's been hiding out from soul society for longer than I have, so it's not as though he's in contact with many shinigami, and very few even know about his existence. He's hid himself well, considering that massive amount of reiatsu he carries. He's suppressed it for years. The scruffy dog isn't gonna tell anyone. Who would he tell about two young shinigami who are in constant denial of their feelings for each other?"

"Fine, but there aren't any feelings! There's nothing to deny!" Ichigo let out an exasperated sigh. How long would he have to beat it into people's heads that he and Rukia were not lovers playing cat and mouse? Ichigo shivered at the thought. The idea was disturbing.

Urahara pushed the side of the blade away from his throat. "I meant no harm. You deserved the right to know about it. So now you do. That being said, now that I've kept it from Sereitei, you need to do something about what's going on between you and Rukia."

Ichigo hoisted the sword and rested it on his shoulder. "Whatever. My cue to leave." He looked down at his body, flexing his muscles. Just a bit of soreness. He was thankful he'd stuck it out in the spring. Now he needed to change before he saw Rukia. Even as he walked, he was lost in thought. "This has been crazy. People know about that incident, and I don't even know what it was! Everything is so confusing. How am I going to face you now, Rukia?" he thought. As he headed for the ladder, he paused as he heard Urahara's voice.

"Don't hesitate, Kurosaki."

Ichigo flicked his eyes over his shoulder at the shopkeeper, still lounging in the spring. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Even from afar, he could see Urahara's grin as he spoke. "He who hesitates is a damned fool."

"Always with the riddles," Ichigo muttered. He hauled himself up the ladder, Zangetsu bouncing against bare back with each step upwards. He would have plenty of time to get ready and, as much as he needed it right now, to think.

As his pupil finally left, Urahara picked up his cellphone under his white jacket behind him. He quickly dialed a number, and pressed the phone to his ear.

Riiiing. Riiiiing. Riiiiing. Riiiiing. Riiiing.

Thanks for calling the Kurosaki family clinic! Isshin Kurosaki is off to take care of his lovely daughters and son, and can't take your call, so pleeeeeease…

Urahara flipped the cell shut and chuckled. The voicemail never ceased to amuse him. No matter. He'd try him again later.

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Walking down the sidewalk, Orihime couldn't help but hum an unrecognizable peppy tune. Her happiness just couldn't be contained, radiating from the bounce in her step to the bright singsong melody that buzzed from her lips. It was the weekend and the weather was too gorgeous to be sour. Not to mention, she was meeting her friends for shakes before the weather got too cold for the chilled beverages to be enjoyed any longer. It was rare her school friends could all get together anymore (excluding Ichigo, since he wasn't in the living world), and she would enjoy the opportunity to simply spend time together.

As she approached the shop, Tatsuki waved at her from the windows. She beamed, gleefully waving back before rushing to the door to join her.

"Hey Hime."

"Good afternoon, Tatsuki! Is anyone else here yet?"

"Not yet. Ishida said he would be a bit late because he has his textile club meetings on Saturdays."

"Textile club… that does sound like him," Orihime chirped, giggling slightly. Tatsuki smiled. Things were always better when Orihime was in a cheery mood, like today. She strolled up next to her friend, who was now glancing at the selection of shakes to choose from. Orihime's eyes were wide, her mouth slightly agape as she looked eagerly at the options. Her fingertip absentmindedly tapped her bottom lip as she cocked her head to the side. Tatsuki grinned. She looked rather goofy, but that was her Hime.

"What do you think you'll get?"

Orihime turned to her excitedly. "I think I'll get with the berry-berry milkshake when everyone gets here! Hey, do you think they could add bean paste and cinnamon to it?"

Tatsuki resisted the urge to cringe. She never got used to her friends strangely deviant tastes. "I don't think they have bean paste at a malt shop, but they might have the cinnamon."

After glancing at the menu a bit longer, the two companions found a large, rounded corner booth and awaited their friends. Slowly , they trickled in. Soon enough, the spacious booth was crowded, everyone eagerly chatting. Chad, Kiego, Mizuiro, Ishida and even the wild Chizuru had joined them. With everyone there, the table was roucus with conversation, bickering, and Kiego's whines of his bachelorhood. When the waitress stopped at their table, they each ordered a frosty shake to enjoy. In between sips, they carried on with their gossip, discussions over subjects in school, and the changing seasons. Before they knew it, the cold winter would take over Japan and blanket Karakura town. That was still a few months off, but it did not prevent the group of friends from idly chatting about winter vacations in the same breath as Halloween.

Orihime found herself withdrawing from the multitude of conversations and enjoying her berry-berry cinnamon shake instead. She was perfectly content listening in on what everyone else was doing, but she also found that she was not the only quiet one. Ishida Uryuu sat just across from her, more fascinated by the contents of his butterscotch shake than the people he sat next to. There was a sadness in his eyes, she noted, and he seemed to be uncomfortable in the cacophony of the people sitting beside him at the table. Orihime frowned and toyed with a piece of hair that had untucked itself from behind her blue five-petal pins. She knew that Ishida was quiet, but not normally this quiet. Determined to cheer him up, Orihime reached for her small handbag and pulled out a pen. With a quick doodle and a short scrawl on a paper napkin, her message was complete. She slid the napkin across the table and smiled when she saw Ishida pick up the note.

Next to a messy sketch of a sleeping cat, the note read: I'm bored too. Want to go enjoy the weather with me?

Ishida looked across the table at Orihime, her smiled genuine and soft. He grinned ruefully at her and wrote a reply underneath her message.

Didn't know I was so obvious. Sure, I'd like that.

Orihime nodded happily before clearing her throat. "Sorry guys, but I think I'm going to head out. Ishida-san, would you mind walking with me?"

Tatsuki looked at her, confused. "I can go with-"

Ishida waved a hand at her, cutting her off. "That won't be necessary. I'd be happy to accompany you, Inoue-san."

They excused themselves quickly to avoid any form of interrogation, leaving money to pay for the shakes before bursting outside into the cool autumn air. After they had began walking down the sidewalk, Orihime grabbed Ishida's arm and hugged it. "Ahh, thank you! I thought spending some time with everyone would be fun, but it was a bit too noisy... but the weather is nice!"

Ishida chuckled nervously and adjusted the frame of his glasses on the bridge of his nose, hoping he wasn't blushing (and knowing full well he was).

"Don't worry, it's n-nothing. What would you like t-to do, Inoue...s-san?"

"Maybe some karaoke?"

"I'm sure you have a lovely voice, but I myself cannot sing well."

"Ah, well then maybe we can walk to the park! You can tell me all about your textile club!"

"Are you sure, Inoue-san? I don't want to bore you with something you don't have interest in."

"Not at all! I'm sure you make beautiful things. Tell me about them, Ishida-kun."

As they walked, Orihime remained interlocked in Ishida's arm. She was a little surprised he had not removed his arm from her grasp, as she knew he wasn't exactly a touchy person. It was in that moment, that Orihime noticed something else. Rather than brushing her aside, Ishida's other hand seemed to be caught between inching up to hold her hand in place on his forearm and shaking nervously at his side. She blushed a little. Had he always been this way around her? They walked, content in conversation and soaking in the fresh air and sunlight . A light breeze rustled the thinning foliage, sending a light sprinkling of leaves that swirled in eddies of air around them. Orihime listened closely, genuinely interested in Ishida's involvement in textile club. She was not surprised to find that he was as talented in the craft of making clothes as he had demonstrated countless times in their history as friends. Yet she couldn't help becoming distracted for fleeting moments of time, taken with the details that had suddenly begun to catch her attention. She could hear the subtle quaking of his voice when she looked at him, and the way a subtle tinge of color would grace his cheeks when she smiled. His walking pace was slow, which was not any different. It was the way he walked beside her that had changed. No longer did he carry himself with a clear plan or purpose, but seemed to walk simply to enjoy her company. He rarely tore his eyes from her face, facing forward only to make sure they did not stray or collide with any trees or lamp posts. Such subtle details she had never noticed. Why were they coming to her attention now? How could she see them? Questions flooded her conscience that she could not answer. One thing, however, was crystal clear. Ishida Uryuu cared for her more deeply than she had assumed, and she had no idea how she felt about it.

Deciding to push aside her confusion, she chatted happily with Ishida about a flowered yukata he was currently designing. There was nothing she could do in her current state. She needed girl advice, and she had an idea of exactly who she would go to. For now, she would enjoy the weather, the weekend, and the man she was holding on to.


Alright, so what did you guys think? No Mei this chapter!! She's off deviously plotting things away from the spotlight. Plus, there's other drama brewing that has nothing to do with her at the moment.

So, did you guess that it was Isshin before Urahara picked up his cellphone?

Reviews are love. I love them. I'll give you love if you review!