I started writing this third chapter towards the end of February, when I had a few snow days, but I got back into my usual Naruto swing, and now that inspiration for this has randomly struck, I'm finishing it up now, the beginning-middle-ish of May. This chapter includes a lot of chasing, running, playing sorts of themes, which I do love in possessive-anime-pairing relationships. Please do enjoy. HitsuRuki works from me shall be coming in the near future, once this is posted…

Epilogue Commence.

February 20th, 1:26 AM

Wasn't it strange, that when one had a very happy day at work or at home or anywhere, they found themselves plagued by frightening dreams that same night? Rukia would have pondered this for a long time, she being her thoughtful self, if she were awake. But she wasn't. She lay on her comfortable bed in her room in the Kuchiki manor. It was late at night, and she'd spent the day having fun watching hilarious children's movies with Inoue Orihime.

The girl had an infatuation with an American company called "Disney" and many animated films they made. Rukia and Orihime (and even Kon) had watched a huge batch of the company's films ("CLASSICS!" insisted Orihime) in a row. It had been a pleasant afternoon, filled with movies, snacks—Rukia found she loved popcorn—and laughs.

Quite odd, then, that Rukia was having a nightmare.

Rukia often found that her nightmares and even good dreams were of absurd and random things, leaving her to think quietly to herself about them for the rest of the day. Her most recent good dream had shown two old men driving a hot air balloon that used an inflatable elephant, that was tied to the basket and ran through the sky like Santa's reindeer, instead of an actual balloon.

Many people taunted the old men for using the elephant and not an actual balloon, but cheered for them when the men completed a journey around the globe. Rukia could remember nothing of this dream that connected to her real life.

Her most recent nightmare featured a terminally sick girl—in the unexplainable way that dreamers know things, Rukia knew this girl had six weeks to live—running over a bridge over a quiet river in the middle of a forest. The girl dove into the river and hid under the bridge so that the giant bear chasing her would hopefully not see her.

The bear had somehow seen through the bridge's wooden planks and smashed its paw right through to fish out the girl before snapping her spine in his jaws and dragging her into the woods. Again, Rukia found nothing in this dream that connected to her real life—yet another dream that had no rhyme or reason.

This nightmare, the one petite Rukia was having now, was again absurd and illogical. There were two young brothers playing on a playground in which they lived. The park was surrounded by a soundless black fog that obscured everything from sight beyond the park's boundaries. The eldest looked about twelve, and Rukia knew his name was River, and the younger, perhaps eight or nine, was Kid. The two had been alone for as long as they could remember, and named themselves. They played all the time on their playground, ignorant of the ominous blackness around them. Even at that not-very-frightening point in the dream, in the waking world, our dreaming shinigami shivered.

For no reason at all, a baby human appeared on their playground one day, and was named Place by the two brothers. A blue praying mantis came out of the blackness a few days later onto the playground, demanding to eat Place for his midmorning meal. The brothers refused, but after the mantis chewed off River's arm, Kid handed over the infant which was swallowed whole. The mantis bid them good day and left, and River and Kid went on playing on their playground, ignoring always River's bleeding stump of an arm.

At that point she awoke. Rukia could never remember waking up from a dream by suddenly and dramatically sitting up in bed as she often saw on the human world television shows, but this time, she awoke with her eyes shooting open in surprise. She slept usually facing the bare, blue-painted wall that her bed was set against, and that was the case this time. This was mostly because, under the bed, almost against the wall, she kept a little finger-sized, fluffy Chappy figure.

When she awoke from nightmares late at night it was nice to reach down and squeeze the little white rabbit to reassure herself that all was well. This was one of the only secrets she had managed to keep from Hitsugaya after the eight or nine months they'd been together—the last thing she needed him to know was that she, sort of, slept with a stuffed animal. She was just beyond a hundred and twenty-five years old, and sleeping with stuffed animals was just beyond childish. So Rukia slept with her stuffed animal in secret.

Come to think of it—now that she was going to be kept awake for awhile by the nightmare, she may as well spend time thinking—how old exactly was Hitsugaya? She couldn't remember ever asking him. 'I'm older than him, I guarantee,' she thought, and didn't know why she laughed at that.

Even though her last thought was amusing, Rukia found that out of nowhere she was remembering the nightmare again, and picturing the two brothers watching the mantis eat the infant human. She closed her eyes and sighed, moving her right hand down under the bed, searching for the squeezable and fluffy Chappy figure. She stopped the movement when her hand was inches above the wooden floor—was that a hand on the edge of her vision? Lord, it was!

Not liking what she knew she'd find, the shinigami turned her head and bit her tongue to keep from making a cry or jumping up. Indeed, there he was: Hitsugaya Toushirou, still in his day-to-day captain's garb, who had made himself comfortable on her little bed made for one person only, dead asleep and one arm draped over her stomach.

Almost every night he'd come in through her window after she fell asleep, and she woke up to see said captain holding her affectionately close like a child would their favorite doll. True, she'd agreed to let him do this, but waking up to Hitsugaya Toushirou almost every morning took…several weeks of getting used to. And since he hadn't been here in the last week, it was strange to suddenly have him in her bed again.

'Thank the gods I didn't touch the figure,' she thought with relief. 'With my luck, he would probably wake up and give me another of his rabbit comments…' Wait, was he even really asleep? Since he was here—awfully close, by the by—she may as well test if he was truly asleep or faking it. Well, what better and more simple method was there other than asking if he was asleep?

"Hitsugaya-taichou…Toushirou…Toushirou!" she whispered his name, captain title and given name, about ten times and even poked him between the eyes, which usually got his attention no matter what he was doing, and the result was nothing. She sat up on the bed and moved away slightly, and the captain's hand slid slowly off her hip. Surely, if he was awake he'd…yup, there it was.

Slowly his hand had been sliding off her slim belly and just before it slipped all the way off and onto the bedsheets it lashed out again, wrapped around her hips and pulled her forcefully down towards him. When he opened one teal eye halfway, she realized that he really had been asleep; that expression was just too tired and lazy to be fake. Her moving away had somehow woke him up. "Go back to sleep, Rukia." he murmured in a tired voice that matched his expression.

"I will when you explain exactly what you're doing in my bed."

"Sleeping. And I don't see the problem when I've done this dozens of times before," he grinned.

"I thought you would have told me you planned to do so yesterday, so I would have a warning!"

"Why would I do that and miss your funny face?" And he closed his eye again and sighed.

"I would have really appreciated a warning the day before. I nearly had a heart attack when you were suddenly there after over eight days of not being there. If you surprise me like this again, you're going to wish you had brought your Zanpakuto with you."

"Are you thinking of punishing me, Rukia?" Rukia's blood froze as she realized what she'd said. Hoping not to show her nervousness, she went on, "Yes! You should have brought your whole squad with you as well. Why, I should—"

"You've got no right to do that," he said, beginning to sit up. "You still haven't finished being disciplined for leaving last November…and after you left the hospital as well." Our petite Rukia was immediately backed into the corner of the bed, nearly in danger of falling into the tiny crack between the bedside and the wall. Trapped, she was, between the wall and her lover who was coming closer every second and licking his lips quite happily.

If it was not obvious before, one should know that Hitsugaya didn't and would never forget that Rukia had been gone for an entire month at the end of last year. In his view, no matter how much he knew Rukia wouldn't leave him again for anything, she deserved constant reminders to never dare to do so again. Her leaving was likely the only thing in the world that scared him. One of his favorite methods of affection, as was known around Soul Society, was to pounce on Rukia and pin her down tight and secure…and go from there. Here was another example of how much he loved that method.

Not really knowing how to defend this time—he was in her bed, for crying out loud—she put out a hand onto his shoulder and stalled as quickly as she could. "Wait!" was, of course, the only word that came to mind. "You have three seconds." Hitsugaya said flatly.

"How old are you?" Oh how tactful Rukia was. Asking the question that every partially intelligent person on the planet took less than a moment to answer.

"One hundred forty-nine."

He was older than her? By nearly twenty years?! "You must be—by the time I entered the shinigami academy, you were—"

"Already there and probably halfway to graduation. Now respect you elder's wishes and come here, rabbit."

Rukia's most vulnerable spot was her neck, and, wearing nightclothes she'd borrowed from Ichigo's young, stylish sister Yuzu, it was conveniently exposed; he attacked there first. It'd been too long since he'd bitten her there, and they both knew she'd done her best to avoid him giving another love mark for almost two weeks now. She was much overdue.

Rukia made a little "yip" sound and jumped a bit when he delivered this one. Like usual, she put one hand on his stomach and one over the curve of his shoulder, the two spots she thought were best for pushing him away. This usually never succeeded, but it did have its rare moments, so she tried every time.

Hitsugaya's own hands were, one, on her back to help pull her close, and two, on the back of her head for the same purpose. It was ridiculously cute how the rabbit enjoyed everything he did to her and yet tried to stop it from happening. Once he was done with the biting, he licked the spot over and over again, which always lessened Rukia's struggles for the next few minutes.

Her left hand, pushing against his stomach, rubbed against a spot on his abs that for no reason was particularly sensitive tonight and he made a little moaning sigh like a dog happy to be having its ears rubbed. Rukia, having no idea what she was doing, continued the motion until Hitsugaya decided it was time to thank her for it.

A kiss on the jaw-line was one of Rukia's favorites, Hitsugaya knew she'd never admit, so he delivered one of these. This was also one of his own favorites, for the longer he went on with it, the more Rukia would try to resist making some sort of sound that confirmed she was enjoying it. So he gave continuous kisses along the left side of her face, one hand holding her tight around her hips and the other around her shoulders.

Once in awhile he'd look up and see her with her eyes closed, blush turning her cheeks pink, and fighting back rabbitish little mews and murmurs. Sights like these made Hitsugaya persist the loving with more vigor than before, because it was so goddamned adorable and she hadn't a clue how much it affected him, how much it urged him to continue in hope that she wouldn't be able to hold in those rabbitish mews.

Some five minutes later he decided he should stop for both their sakes, his because he was afraid he might go too far and face both the rabbit's wrath and her brother's in the morning, and hers because he knew she'd hate to "go too far" on accident instead of a night when both parties agreed. So for tonight he was just fine with watching her sleep until he fell into sleep as well.

If it wasn't obvious before, and it really should have been, Hitsugaya Toushirou was madly freaking in love, and he had been for a long time, so years ago when his heart told him to positively annihilate the many male suitors after Rukia's, he gladly obeyed. For that heart was his and his only, and now that he had it there was almost nothing that could have made him happier.

Thinking this way made our favorite captain go back to December 21st, the day Rukia had left the hospital after being recovered unconscious from Canadian wilderness. Thinking this way made him remember how it felt to chase the rabbit around Seireitei. It was not as he'd expected.

December 21st, 12:09 PM (three months ago, roughly)

"Don't tell me 'run, rabbit!' You can't mean that seriously!" the petite shinigami gawked. "You're telling me to run around after I've spent five days dragging my injured self around the world without sleep? Thirty seconds after I walked out the hospital doors?"

"If you don't want me to catch you, then yes," was Hitsugaya's rather cheerful reply.

"I…I really don't think I'll be much of a chase right out of the hospital." Rukia murmured. Hitsugaya would have none of this. Even with a light coating of snow on the ground, the air around them seemed to warm. "Don't talk like that, rabbit. You're the fastest little creature I've ever seen. If you really don't want to run—"

In the space of a second the white-haired captain appeared inches before Rukia, towering over her like always and licking his lips in preparation for a fine treat. Rukia's innocent eyes went wide and she was speeding away in the next moment.

Hitsugaya Toushirou felt the thrill bursting inside him and gave chase. Hunting his rabbit.

As he'd said, Rukia was one fast little devil and knew how to use her agility to her advantage. Hitsugaya really would have trouble catching her.

Only five or six minutes had passed, and Rukia had only sped across five dozen or so rooftops when she saw a claw of blue ice flying towards her. She dodged and the claw spiraled around the spot she'd just moved away from, wrapping around nothing but air. She almost forgot the tactic she was up against. When she turned her head to look behind her, Hitsugaya was there, waiting with open arms.

The captain nearly grasped her skinny arm but caught the black sleeve of her shinigami outfit instead. It was just enough for Rukia to get away with only a little patch of her sleeve missing. The captain's eyes widened in disbelief that he had missed her by such a little fraction. He spent a good three seconds with that expression on his face, standing stupidly on the rooftop, and it was more than enough for Rukia to run off and out of sight.

Now that he couldn't see where she was, it was not only a hunting game. It was hide-and-seek. Hitsugaya loved both these games, and loved the prize for winning even more.

December 21st, 12:31 PM

'That stupid snow-dragon-ice-face little bastard! How could he make me do this kind of activity straight out of the hospital? Is he trying to put me back in there again? He could just tell Unohana-taichou to put me back in again instead of doing this!' Rukia was mildly pissed at her lover, yes.

She'd been avoiding him for a good fifteen minutes by moving in shadowy-but-safe alleyways in Seireitei, moving in crowds and hiding her reiatsu to the best of her ability. Rukia didn't know how long it would take for her newly-recovered body to tire, and also hadn't a clue how long Hitsugaya would continue to look for her.

To keep herself safe the little shinigami had had to keep from any of her friends of her acquaintances in Seireitei, lest they take Hitsugaya's side and try to keep her from running. This was definitely not a pro but a very big con, as it meant she had very few allies in this game which she didn't want to play at all…except for…perhaps…

'Would Nii-sama help me?' she wondered, ducking between two huge carts of smoked fish behind a sushi shop. 'I think he would…he's allright with Hitsugaya-taichou and I being together…but wait, he also approves of Hitsugaya-taichou sneaking into my bed at night…oh, gods. He might actually not help me.'

A breeze passed above Rukia's head. She snapped her neck up to look and was barely able to see the white flash of Hitsugaya's clothes and hair as he jumped over the rooftop above her. He'd just missed her!

'I'll have to put it off for a while, at least…' Rukia decided, wishing above all things that she had her Zanpakuto with her. 'Hitsugaya-taichou may give up, or I may not grow tired after all, or I may think of something else in the meantime…'

Then a hand grasped her throat and another slammed the wall of the shop behind her, and Rukia was afraid for her life. She lifted one hand and punched instinctively, trying to injure if not kill her attacker whose identity she hoped she didn't know. But she did. The invader's other free hand caught hers just before it could make contact with his face. He somehow undid her fisted fingers and laced them into his own. Rukia tensed and tried not to make a noise as the invader kissed the edge of her knuckle.

"I can't believe I jumped right over you." Hitsugaya murmured with his eyes closed. "My rabbit is always clever. Sometimes too clever for her own good." The hand that had been loosely around Rukia's throat moved behind her head and Hitsugaya moved in closer.

Luckily, oh so luckily, Hitsugaya's other hand was still resting against the wall behind Rukia, giving her a space through which to duck under and break away. Rukia took this chance immediately and used her own free hand to push at Hitsugaya's stomach. Luck was with her again. Hitsugaya was distracted enough that he couldn't help but react sensually to his love's touch and arch a bit. In doing this movement he gave Rukia the perfect chance to get up and run away, and this she did. The rabbit was free again.

The rabbit realized that Hitsugaya had been expecting the game to be over quickly. He made a growling noise, an angry growling noise, and ran after her into the near-empty street. He hadn't expected her to be running around for more than a few minutes. God only knew how long it would take him to catch her again.

Her speed took her out of Hitsugaya's sight and reiatsu-sensing range within the minute, and this time she kept moving instead of hiding with her back against a wall. For a few minutes she decided to be daring and did what she often found herself doing: losing herself in her thoughts.

What had come to mind and was now really puzzling her was the fact that Hitsugaya had offered to let her run around and be chased. He had done this, and yet the day before he'd been so worried that Rukia might spontaneously leave again that he hardly ever left her alone. Hitsugaya had been with her every moment that she'd slept on the hospital bed, often acting as a gigantic pillow or bed or purring to lull her to sleep again. All this he had done because he'd been foolishly afraid that after her month-long escapade Rukia would run away again.

And just now, he'd made an animalistic sound that suggested he was not happy in the least to know she'd been out of his sight for more than fifteen minutes. Hitsugaya really hadn't meant for her to be running around for that long. He'd meant to catch her quickly, to assure himself that she wasn't going anywhere.

Now he was furious that his plan had backfired. Now he would be, Rukia assumed, genuinely angry and frightened that he didn't know where she was. (The drop in temperature around her confirmed her theory. He was definitely close now.)

So Rukia increased her speed, leaping high over the Seireitei walls and out into Rukongai, out into the place where the average souls lived. Here, both of them would be at a disadvantage: neither of them would have any allies, anyone who could offer to help or hurt either of them. Maybe with this souring his mood Hitsugaya would give up the game and Rukia could go home and read a book or sip tea in peace for a bit.

Of course, there was always that wee little chance that a winged pig would be born and fly around like some insane pigeon.

Rukia would wait it out as long as she could, but her body was already beginning to tire. Her mind wasn't tiring though, her mind and her thoughts were always awhirl like a howling tornado. And this howling-tornado-mind of Rukia's was beginning to imagine a little grey-furred rabbit sitting on the ground, and then running off like a mad creature, chased by a colossal white dragon larger than any poor rabbit could ever imagine.

Rukia hoped that if she was caught Hitsugaya would only give a quick, playful kiss. Her mind had involuntarily thought up a hundred other things she hoped to the gods he wouldn't think to do.

December 21st, 2:45 PM

Not here. Not here. Not there. Where?

Where, dammit?!

His rabbit was gone. For two entire hours she'd been gone. No one in Rukongai had seen her. They wouldn't dare lie to him when he was searching in such a mood. None of the citizens were lying when they said they didn't know where she was. Naturally, when he described her or just mentioned her name almost every soul smiled in admiration and respect of the kind, beautiful Kuchiki and knew exactly who he meant, but of course they didn't know anything that Hitsugaya needed.

Gone. Because he'd been so stupid he couldn't control a game that he'd started himself. Because he'd caught her once and assumed she wouldn't try to leave again. Rukia had assured him again and again in her hospital room yesterday that she would never disappear again, but Hitsugaya had kept a close hold on her anyway, intending to watch her every move always. The laws of the universe dictated that the one time he wasn't touching or watching her, she would disappear and his heart would wrench itself to pieces all over again.

She'd nearly died to get him a gift. She'd run to the point of exhaustion, all around the world, obtaining ludicrous items to create a necklace to acknowledge the fact that yes, she was his rabbit and she did love him, however shy she was to say it aloud. If he and his team of comrades hadn't come in time the innocent Kuchiki girl may have died of blood loss out in the forests of Canada, or the hollows may have found her and torn her apart.

And she was gone again, because he thought game was over so easily. He didn't think his rabbit would rise up and run away again. She had promised not to run away again. And the very next day, she'd done exactly that.

In Hitsugaya's mind, this was deserving of the gravest punishment. Once he got his hands on Rukia she wouldn't leave his line of sight till the next ice age. And that was to say the least of the real punishment.

Heart racing, eyes bright with fright and fury, the dragon searched for his missing rabbit.

Around his neck was a gorgeous necklace, bearing the charm of a white rabbit wearing a black harness and tiny gold slippers.

December 21st, 5:57 PM

Rukia had left Rukongai around two o' clock, believing it was best to hide in the woods outside civilization, where Hitsugaya rarely went, where she often went to train, where she knew many places to hide. She hadn't seen hide nor hair of the captain since just before leaving Rukongai. She had been hiding in a cozy little shed behind some resident's house, and from a little hole in the wall she'd looked out into the street beyond and seen Hitsugaya standing regally in his captain's garb at the top of some sort of totem pole. He was absolutely motionless save for his eyes which swiveled around the street like an enraged animal. The sight had slightly unnerved Rukia.

Now she was happy to be sitting comfortably in the middle of a thick bush that had a gap of sorts in its middle. It may have been an evergreen of some sort, for it was still fully leaved even in the dead of winter. It was a sort of place where children would make a their own little fort and hide out. Only those who had been inside it before knew there was a hollow space in the middle where a person could hide and sit comfortably. Rukia (who had hidden her reiatsu, naturally) couldn't be seen, even if Hitsugaya sat right next to the huge shrub.

But the fact that she was in a safe place and hadn't seen Hitsugaya for hours was not calming to Rukia. It had been not long ago, but in the last two minutes or so she'd become aware of another presence around her. The black-haired shinigami couldn't pinpoint whose reiatsu it was she was sensing, but she knew without thinking that something was stalking her.

Odds were, it knew she was hiding within the bush as well. It was waiting for her to move, to try to make a break for it. But she wouldn't risk such a thing. She couldn't tell where this unknown stalker was, what direction they would attack from, or even if they were strong or weak enough to even be a threat to her. Rukia could only move her eyes around the walls and ceiling of leaves and listen.

"Come out and attack me, coward!" she wanted to cry out, but didn't dare. There was still a small chance, a pathetically miniscule chance, that the stalker wasn't sure she was there and would eventually be convinced of that fact and leave. Rukia prayed to the gods this would be the case.

'O God who art in Heaven, and all his helpful angels, please hear me. I've never asked you for anything because I thought I could perhaps lift a little burden from your shoulders by solving my own problems…but it would be very nice if, just once, you let me know if this stranger is really a threat or not…I've been a very good person, I think, and I won't ask for anything else.'

Rukia couldn't remember the last time she had prayed, and felt stupid doing so now. If there truly was some higher power up there watching over everything, would he or she be confused or insulted if this random black-haired shinigami asked for a favor? Was it stupid or wrong to ask the heavenly beings for something if one wasn't religious?

Rukia narrowed her eyes. She couldn't lose herself in her thoughts now! Now she had to be completely on the alert, now she had to—

One hundred degrees west!

She had no weapon but her own body and she knew it. With all the strength her little body Rukia summoned power to her right hand and prepared to crash her fist into the thing that had jumped down at her from above, from the west direction. She stood up, her head and torso crashing through the barrier of leaves, and her fist slammed into the flesh of her attacker…


Said redhead shinigami was falling onto Rukia. The hideout-bush was crushed underneath the both of them. Rukia was crushed under Renji. Her fist had hit his shoulder, broken deep into the skin. She pulled her hand away and found it was coated with blood. She'd punched into his body.

"Renji, what in the world were you doing? I thought I was being stalked!" she cried, trying to push him up into a sitting position. Renji found the energy to do action this himself, with one hand over his bleeding shoulder, and—laughing.

He toppled onto his side in the frost-coated grass, laughing and bleeding and Rukia sat on her rump looking quite dumbfounded. Trying to explain, Renji said, "I was…running around for exercise with Izuru and I—ke-heh-dammit-OWW!" He stopped to sit up and did a strange mixture of laughing and hissing in pain. "I remember you and me used to hide out in this bush thing sometimes and, gahh! And I checked to see if you were there because I heard…Hitsugaya-taichou was chasing you around again and I just knew you were hiding in there…and…hahah! You stabbed me, Rukia! Look at this!"

Renji appeared very amused and agonized at once. Rukia struggled to wipe away the blood around her old friend's shoulder. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! You could have called my name, you know that, right? Why did you—assault me like that? I didn't mean to do this to you!"

"You stabbed me, Rukia! Stabbed me!" He was full-out laughing now.

"Come on, tell me why you did that!"

"I dunno, I was…just messin' around….hahhaa! Wait'll I tell your brother about this, he might actually laugh! Think of it: Kuchiki Rukia stabs and injures best friend in play-fight…that's fucking awesome!"

The Kuchiki would have delivered a slap or uppercut to her friend's head for that comment, but was too engrossed in feeling the wind on her skin. It had grown noticeably colder. Even Renji should have been able to—"Hey, did it just get crazy cold out here?"—okay, so even Renji could feel it.

"Hitsugaya-taichou's around here." Renji murmured. He still held his shoulder, but was looking all around the trees. Most were bare and dark as winter would have them, but those that still retained leaves were now losing them. The ground, which had had only a light dusting of winter frost, grew thick with white. "I'll get in hella trouble for going against him. Hey, if you're gonna get out of here, you'd better—"

"Already on it, bye, Renji!" Rukia was calling to him from at least fifty feet away, running as fast as her legs could take her. All around her, winter was coming alive. The air grew colder. Rukia's breath formed misty vapor as she exhaled. The wind whistled by in a freezing breeze. Something was rushing behind her. She could hear its footsteps crunching on the frosty grass. It was having trouble keeping pace with her. But it wasn't far behind.

'It's going to be allright…calm down…' Rukia tried to convince herself that it was only Hitsugaya chasing her, hardly ten feet behind her, preparing to pounce and smother her with unnecessary kisses and caresses as he usually did. But with such coldness in the air, such ferocious reiatsu behind her, such adrenaline forcing her to run on and on, this was hard to believe.

She opened her mouth to try and tell him to stop, that he won, that the game was over, that he was going too far. But no words would leave her mouth. Rukia was afraid to turn around. She pictured some creature from her nightmares would be there, cackling and preparing to drag her into its mouth.

The nightmare-creature pounced. Rukia was slammed to the forest floor. She briefly considered laying here on her stomach, still and submissive to convey a message to the nightmare-creature that she meant no harm. Thank the gods, she didn't give that ridiculous notion another thought, and flipped over onto her back to face the creature and fight it. But it wasn't a nightmare-creature. As logic had told her, it was her ice-elemental lover, Hitsugaya. The look in his eyes, though, the horrific neon glowing in them, made her wonder briefly what the hell was wrong with him.

In the next moment Hitsugaya had one of her arms pinned in the snow and the other pulling her as close to his body as possible. Her skinny legs were caught under his more powerful ones and she was completely immobile. "What are you—"

Hitsugaya crushed their lips together, purring in a desperate tone Rukia couldn't ever recall hearing before. She tried to move back, away from the forcefulness but the ice-controller wouldn't allow her. He broke their kiss thrice to allow them to breathe but started again as they left off. After this his lips left hers and his eyes closed.

He rubbed their bodies close together in a cat-like motion and Rukia's face flushed pink at the strange action. "My rabbit…mine…" he growled. Like lightning Hitsugaya was attacking his love's always-vulnerable neck with lips and tongue and moaned blissfully at her typical reaction of trying to hold back her innocent noises. Through these actions, Rukia tried to form words that weren't tainted by stupid-sounded mews or squeaks. After a full three minutes of Hitsugaya's relentless attention, she finally was able to come up with one sentence. "Hitsugaya-taichou, stop! I'm trying to—!" She stopped to keep from making any noise when he swept his tongue slowly and mercilessly over her jaw line. She knew what she'd done wrong.

"Toushirou, Toushirou, okay?! Toushirou, please—please!—stop?" Hitsugaya Toushirou did not stop…exactly. He kept nuzzling his love's face and tightening his hold over her hand, but the "worst" of his attentions had stopped.

"You were…" Rukia was trying to recover her unconscious, nose-bleeding dignity. "You were chasing me like a madman. What was wrong?" Her answer was for him to press their bodies closer than they were, however impossible it looked. He lifted his head and looked her in the eye, his expression was severe, to say the least.

"You swore to never leave again." Rukia gaped at him, her mouth parted a bit. "Never leave? I believe you were the one who said 'run, rabbit,' about six hours ago. Wasn't it your idea to chase me around?"

Hitsugaya broke the laws of the universe by pressing himself closer still to petite Rukia. "You were even faster and smarter than I expected. I didn't think it would take this long." This was answer enough for Rukia. Her earlier theory had been right. The chasing game had happened because Hitsugaya wanted to catch Rukia and remind himself that she wasn't going anywhere ever again. Their last several kisses were meant only to assure himself that Rukia would stay with him.

The petite shinigami smiled. "Well, pardon me for doing exactly as you said." Hitsugaya nuzzled her in response, still desperate to feel that his rabbit was truly here and safe. The gentle action turned less innocent when he rubbed their bodies together in a familiar feline motion. Rukia felt every curve and muscle of his body, and surely he must have felt the same for her.

"Now finally I can punish you for it." Rukia pretended not to understand his sentence, but he elaborated anyway. "A month of leaving me distraught and thinking you were dead, and half a day of the same thing straight after you were rescued and brought home…this is beyond any mischievous prank you've ever played, my rabbit."

She tried pathetically to stall. "Are you sure you want to do that when Renji's probably close enough to hear us?" Hitsugaya's teal eyes flashed a frighteningly dark shade. "Renji?" he repeated. "Renji can't do anything, rabbit. You aren't his. You are no one's but mine, are you not?"

Rukia tried to move herself up to stare at him till their noses were touching, but his grip had her arms pinned in the grass and she could only go about halfway. "I didn't suggest I was Renji's anything! Now can we please go back to Seireitei? I'm thinking about sleeping for fifteen hours again after all this."

The white-haired captain kissed her forehead. "I'll let you up on the condition that…that you let me sleep in your bed whenever I please." Rukia was silent and expressionless, and it took her a good twenty seconds to finally say, "You're kidding."

"Do you want to lay here for the rest of winter?" As he said this, his lips went dangerously close to Rukia's collarbone, and with a squeak she said, "Fine, fine! Whenever you like!" Purring happily, Hitsugaya sealed their deal with a kiss. "Good. Now I can keep track of where you sneak off to at night."

And as they walked back through Rukongai to Seireitei, Hitsugaya made sure he was watching Rukia's every move. He'd be damned if any disappearance schemes like this ever happened again. Any big ones, anyway.

April 23rd, 10:03 PM (several months after the above events)

Today had been one of Rukia's most relaxing days…well, ever. Byakuya had graciously made sure that she wasn't assigned to any hollow-slayings or squad meetings that day and allowed her to wander Seireitei, lost in her thoughts as she often was, without interruption. Hitsugaya was gone almost the entire day on a sparring session with Ichigo and Inoue, and Rukia was left to her own business without his usual romantic interlude. She got to meditate, sample sixty-seven flavors of tea, take a nap in the highest tree branch she could find, and star-gaze when the sun went down. And her Nii-sama had even decreed that she be allowed to sleep in tomorrow before resuming her duties!

Rukia loved her brother so very much. And she was contemplating ways to thank him as she made her way to her room for the night. Her usual nightclothes were being washed and her new ones were a long-sleeved grey set patterned with pretty black moons. They were very comfortable, and this comfort kept distracting her while thinking of thank-you gestures for her brother.

She turned her doorknob and was feeling a good night's sleep coming on, and perhaps some good dreams, too, when she saw her visitor, sitting very comfortably on her bed. The little shinigami suddenly understood why her elder brother had cleared her schedule for her, and she especially understood why he was letting her sleep in tomorrow.

"Holy mother of GOD, Toushirou! Put some pants on!"

I've been waiting to put that ending for a long time. Is it suggesting a lemon afterward? You tell me.

My comments are thus: My first plan for this epilogue was for Hitsugaya to lend Rukia his Zanpakuto while he went somewhere it wasn't needed, as a gesture of his trust towards her. But then Rukia lost Hyorinmaru for some reason, and had to get it back before Hitsugaya knew what was up. But I decided to expand on the last sentence of last chapter because I like the whole "chase, hit-and-run" element.

Enjoy this story. It's done. I worked very hard and annihilated Hitsugaya's character to please you guys.