Disclaimer: I was away for most of the summer attending Governor's School and going to China as a spectator of the 2008 Olympics. And then school ate me. It's actually still eating me. I apologize for the long wait (and I don't own Bleach, by the way).

Tension and the Spark
-These deceptions shape you, mold you, and consume you-

It's always hardest in the mornings.

Always hardest to get up in the mornings, with her eyes shut tight and the blindness covering her like a warm and worn-out blanket. She breathes deeply, wanting to just stay in place—to just wallow in her self-pity for a while longer, but she can't. And she hates that she can't. Today's the day when everything happens, she knows. Today's the day when her secret is going to be brutally ripped out from the confines of her chest and shown to the world. Today's the day when she'll finally have to come to terms with what's happened to her. She sits up gradually, eyes still closed (as if that could somehow change the future, somehow protect her from reality) and clutches the bed frame with rapidly whitening fingers.

She needs to get up. Live just another day past the depression looming in the depths of her soul. Get past the memories of pain and disease and the sickening atmosphere of destitution and poverty. Get up, walk, and face the future.

Her entire body is shaking uncontrollably. She can't do this to the band and she can't do this to herself. She's barely hanging on as it is. But it's too late to change anything now and she gives a mirthless chuckle as her eyes finally open, the pretty shade of violet now a deeply troubled and bitter indigo.

It's always been too late for her.

A pair of sad hazel eyes regarding her from beneath a surgical cap. Blood-soaked scalpels and instruments that gleam brightly from underneath their coat of crimson. She swallows thickly and can't feel anything. Oh no, nothing. Too late, she repeats to herself, wanting to end it right there and then. Too late. We were too late. We couldn't save you. And the doctor is apologizing, bowing in a ridiculously bright green surgical gown, murmuring the same two words over and over again. Apologize, she thinks dully. Apologize while I crawl out—defeated and broken. Yeah, right. She wants to snarl.

You aren't sorry at all.

She shakes her head furiously, trying to get rid of the unwanted memory. It was the cherry on her rotting cake. It was the end of the long road, and the beginning? She scowls and narrows her eyes. She doesn't want to remember the beginning. Her movements are slow and pained as she stumbles over to the closet, ignoring the sharp protest from her good leg and the numbness from the bad one. She doesn't bother to care about her outfit, wonders if maybe the group will forgive her for this, wonders if she can ever show her face to them after today. She pulls on a black hoodie, simple and unadorned, and slips into a pair of equally dark sweatpants—the type she used to wear when she danced out on the streets at night. Her teeth hurt from clenching them so tightly for so long. She feels tired and exhausted—a soul weary feeling.

She walks into the bathroom, sleepily rubbing at one eye. There's the turning of the faucet and cold water splashing onto her face. The toothpaste tastes like sand in her mouth. She spits it out, gurgles, and rinses again mechanically. Hesitantly, she lifts her head to regard the face staring back at her. This is the true Kuchiki Rukia, the one without the masks and the barbed insults that coat her like thorns on a rose. She smiles a bit, broken on the edges, and sees her reflection do the same only with the depression darkening her expression and the exhaustion seeping away at her already thin frame. It brings back memories—too many memories that she'd rather forget.

"Look, bitch. I don't care if you're the next Goddess of Dancing or whatever shit like that. But you're taking away my rep and I'm not going to just stand here like some dumbass waiting to be shot and killed. Get your crew out of here. You don't belong." Cold, black eyes narrow in disdain and the girl gives one last angry look before turning, one hand discretely clutching a switchblade.

Her fists are clenched at her side in shame and rage. She shouldn't give into the voice telling her to take action; she should just do what the hip-hop dancer said. She should tell her gang to move onto the next town and wait for a competition or an event there. But she's sick of being stepped on repeatedly and she's sick of the disdainful and condescending looks, the snide and arrogant voices always talking trash about her. And before she knows what she's doing, she's launching herself forward in a desperate sprint; fists clenched and ready to fight. Fuck it, she thinks.

The next day, a bandaged but confident Rukia takes over the alleyways.

She doesn't even notice the mild throbbing or the slight swelling of her right leg.

She jerks awake suddenly, her head hitting the corner of a shelf in the bathroom. "Great," she utters disparagingly at no one and heads out the door. It's a chilly morning and her steps are brisk as she walks towards Shuuhei's apartment. Matsumoto's still asleep in their shared townhouse, and she doesn't expect her best friend to show up at the company anyways. There are things called security checks and appointments after all, and Matsumoto's charm won't work on tight-lipped female secretaries. Only guys are susceptible to the blonde's ensnaring charm.

Briefly, Hitsugaya's face flits across her mind's eye and she shakes her head in stubborn denial. No, she tells herself firmly. No way, no how. No guy in his right mind would ever want an invalid for a girlfriend. And she wouldn't want an arrogant, condescending, witty, intelligent…the thought stops there. No, she says again, just no. She sighs, long and lengthy, and quickens her pace as the familiar apartment appears. Five minutes of walking, maybe ten. Her right leg twinges in protest and she tells it to shut up and stop whining. It's all imagined anyways. Her right leg can't possibly hurt—not after two years. It's all in her head.

She wonders if it's the pain that won't let her go or…

Maybe if she's the one who can't let go of the pain.

"We got a fucking invitation! An offer! C'mon man!"

Renji's voice is still loud and harsh even at seven in the morning, much to the displeasure of the snowy-haired bassist. The guitarist is practically rabid with energy, one second shaking Ichigo up and down by the collar of his shirt, and the next second waving his hands frantically in front of Hisagi's face. "I can't believe it! And MG Studios, too!"

"If I'd known you'd be this excited, I would never have told you." Hisagi says quietly, one hand running through his hair in an agitated habit. "Rukia's not here yet. Maybe she forgot?" But the instant he says those words, he knows he's wrong. The short singer could be loud and rude sometimes, but she was serious about music. When she'd said she wouldn't miss it for the world, he'd believed her—though he still wonders why she'd sounded so sad.

"She's here." Hitsugaya mumbles, his first real words of the morning aside from 'shut up' and 'go die.' He shifts from his position by the window and goes to the door, unlatching it so she won't have to knock. It's a considerate gesture from him and the other three other band members quiet down when they see it. He pretends that he doesn't see Hisagi's eyes soften in brotherly approval or Ichigo and Renji's identical expressions of discomfort. He knows that they have been drawn in to Rukia's presence, attracted to her for the same reasons as him. But he doesn't care because the decision is hers in the end, and he's not interested either way. Self-denial is a habit he likes to practice often, after all.

"Wait, so do you actually like her?" Ichigo speaks up first, one hand shoved awkwardly into the back pocket of his jeans. "I mean, I won't steal from a brother…but it's just that…" He trails off, strangely unsettled for once in his life, as the bassist doesn't even bother to turn around. "Hey, are you even listening to me?"

Hitsugaya turns passive teal eyes on both the drummer and the second electric guitarist. His words are carefully chosen and neutral as he responds, the apathy so thick around him that it's almost suffocating. "I'm listening and I think that this is a waste of a discussion. What happens will happen and I'm not one to worry over matters of the heart. Do what you want and don't worry about stealing. You can't steal something that no one has. You can only take it and hope that it doesn't escape from your hold." He ends his sentence just in time for the door to open, the chilly morning air rushing around him and a small figure pushing past him to get inside.

"I'm here. Sorry for the wait." She doesn't elaborate on the reason why and the guys know enough about her to leave their questions unasked. "Let's go." Everyone notices the way the hood seems to hide her face and her defensive posture. She seems far away today, as if her mind is somewhere else. Her movements are slow and sluggish, the limp more pronounced than ever. It bothers all of them, even Hitsugaya with the expressionless façade. "Well?" She snaps suddenly, piercing violet eyes flashing with anger and frustration.

"Oh, yeah. Don't worry about it. We weren't in much of a hurry anyways. I was afraid you didn't get my message about today. You didn't pick up the phone when I called you yesterday." Hisagi says, his tone completely business-like. Her issues are her own and he trusts Matsumoto enough to tell him if there's something serious going on with their singer. He'll learn soon enough that no one can ever be trusted. But that's later.

"I got the message. Thanks for telling me that the Studio was actually a six-hour drive from here. Otherwise I would've definitely been late." She smiles a bit and the tension dissipates, with Ichigo and Renji joking with one another again. Hitsugaya is the only one left still regarding her with suspicion in his eyes. She deliberately avoids looking at him, focusing her gaze on a rapidly reddening Renji instead. The bassist snorts disdainfully and steps outside. She can't hide from him forever. She can't run away forever. And he'll be there when that happens.

Their footsteps echo loudly in the morning, lost in their own thoughts, no one notices when Rukia's mind drifts elsewhere—to a memory from the recesses of her mind. She's reliving her nightmares, she knows, but she can't help it. Can't help, can't stop, can't do anything against it. She's stuck watching the past before her eyes, butterflies slicing her stomach to pieces with deadly sharp wings as they flutter within her. She's not nervous, she realizes suddenly as the engine of the car starts up and Coldplay's Cemeteries of London fills the silence. She's not nervous.

She's downright panicking.

The sweat slides down the small of her back as she slams her hand on the ground, righting her vertical figure. The beats of the music prod her onwards and she slides effortlessly into the next choreographed position on the floor. Her back is arched, long locks of black hair falling past her face, her right arm supporting her figure as the left one reaches upward as if grasping for a dream. She breathes heavily for a moment and then two before pushing herself into a 'nike' position, her two legs forming a checkmark and her arms nearly trembling with effort.

The music keeps pounding, a feminine voice urging her onwards. Onwards. Go further.

She lowers herself into the jackhammer move and ends with a final twist of the body and a back flip. The spectators on the street whistle in admiration, throwing various odds and ends worth of money into her little pouch for donations. She smiles halfheartedly and takes a small bow before walking off of her makeshift stage. She's got enough to eat today, possibly enough for the rest of the week. She makes a move to enter the nearest ramen shop with a hidden knife strapped to the inside of her pant leg and the donations secured tightly to her arm, but a sudden jolt of pain stops her.

She looks down at the traitorous leg and curses softly. But she doesn't have enough money or time to go get it checked it out. The pain will fade, she thinks and continues on her way.

It's past midnight when she finally notices that the lower half of her leg is turning a sickly shade of pale blue.

"Yo, you alright? You kind of just spaced out for a couple minutes here." Ichigo playfully whacks her on the head and she shoots him a glare, shifting further away from his touch. The last thing she needs is for him to accidentally brush against her right leg. Although it doesn't matter in the end, she concludes morosely. They'll find out once the physical examination is done today. And when they do, they'll hate her for it. But that's alright. She already hates, despises, and abhors herself.

"Snap out of it." Hitsugaya says, irritated by the lost expression in her eyes. He wants the cool and aloof female back, not this fatalist dreamer. "We'll be there in a matter of hours and I don't want them to think you're stoned. I don't know what is throwing you off, but stop it and get back on track." He waits for a response, a witty barb sent his way or a look of heated anger. But there's only a fathomless silence and he turns his head to look at her, worry gnawing away at his mind once again.

She's lost.

And he doesn't why.

"Utopia, right?" The female secretary doesn't even look up to acknowledge them, pushing up her glasses instead and ringing the bell by her side. Hisagi opens his mouth to correct her pronunciation (because dammit, it's you-toe-pea-ya and not you-top-e-ay) but they're already being ushered away by two company lackeys. He snaps his mouth shut with an audible click and locks exasperating gazes with Ichigo, who looks just about as miffed as him. Only Rukia and Hitsugaya appear to be detached, taking in the surroundings blankly.

"Alright, I've got the guys. My name's Nick." A sandy-haired guy says, eyes critiquing the overall look of the group. He thinks they've got a pretty good chance. At least to the eye, they look like a completely perfect ad for…well anything, really. The orange-haired guy has an intimidating scowl on his face and a decently tall height. Two things that will send the fangirls running towards him. The red-haired one has the appeal of being casually cool. The white-haired one towards the end is a little short, but the eyes and that face make it a moot point. And the group leader, Hisagi? Hishi? Shuu something or other. The tattoos and the scars, while normally unattractive, just plain work. He can already picture a green light turning on for them. There's absolutely nothing to complain about. "My colleague will be taking care of the examination for…" he breaks off, glancing at the clipboard before nodding sagely. "Kuchiki Rukia."

The mentioned girl steps forward carefully, pale hands lifting the hood of her sweater off. "Let's get this done and over with." She murmurs softly and turns to follow the female worker.

Nick watches them go with an apprehensive light to his eyes. She's tough, he can tell and her eyes are simply magnificent. But as she walks away, he catches the faintest hint of a limp. He turns to look at her fellow bandmates and winces as he sees their equally concerned expressions. He has a bad feeling about that Kuchiki Rukia—an incredibly bad feeling. "We'll be heading to the left." He says, smiling artificially to cover up his momentary lapse. They stare at him with identically reluctant looks and his smile wilts underneath the combined forces of their gazes.

"Don't worry about her. She'll be fine."

"Unlike you," Hitsugaya mutters from underneath his breath and Renji hides his laughter behind a poorly conceived cough.

But the anxiety hangs around them, waiting and waiting for the perfect opportunity.

She quits the dancing crew the day she falls only to find herself unable to get back up again. They disband the next day and she's left staring at the pathetic and disease-infested leg. It's mottled now, some parts completely blue and others still tinged with a healthy light bronze. Her entire leg is numb except for times when it seems as if someone's stabbing her leg to pieces. She's given up. Let it go, a part of her seems to say. Let it go, it isn't as if you've ever had anything to begin with. Give up. Back down.

She never leaves her apartment, watching with morbid fascination as her leg begins to literally rot from the inside out. There's nowhere for her to go and no one willing to help a beggar from the streets. Talent? Ha! What a joke, she thinks cynically as she falls to sleep every night. Talent doesn't matter. It's never mattered at all.

One night, she goes to sleep, gritting her teeth and willing the tears of pain to go away.

She doesn't wake up again—at least not as the person she was before.

"Kuchiki Rukia, right?" The female aide asks lightly, manicured nails flipping through pages of personal information with the air of a trained professional. She gives the impression that she doesn't really give a damn, but she pretends to just for the sake of a paycheck. They're in a confined room, the door closing behind them with an air of quiet finality. The windows are shuttered and all of a sudden, Rukia truly feels as though she's locked herself in and thrown away the key. Maybe she's never had the key to begin with.

"You'll need to take off the sweatshirt. I'm assuming you wore something at least partially skin-tight? I need to see if your shape is alright." Again, that cool and professional tone of voice. Something about it both irks and soothes Rukia, like maybe this woman won't give a shit if there's something screwed up about her leg. But that's a lie and she knows it. The professional part tells her that. She doesn't respond to the question, shrugging off her black hoodie to reveal a purple tank top. She doesn't understand the need for this. It isn't important or even significant. She's not trying to be a model here, just a singer. It shouldn't matter what she looks like, whether her legs are too short, or if her chest is too small. She hates this. She feels like a cow being sent to the slaughterhouse and her eyes narrow at the thought. Because she's just that stupid to allow herself to be dragged into this, offering herself up like some pretty little sacrifice. She's just that stupid, just that blind.

"You work out. Your arms show some muscle on them, but I don't think it will pose a problem. Obviously, we're going to try and market you as a type of rebel girl who doesn't listen to society's rules. Your chest is a little on the small side, but extra padding should solve that problem. Don't worry, we can make it look natural." The words come out like bleak sentences typed out on a computer. It's like an automatic recording. Oh yes, you're imperfect, but don't worry. We'll hide that and make you look perfect so millions of girls can idolize you and then eventually spiral into anorexia. And everyone will be happy in the end. She snarls inwardly at the woman's words and her eyes glimmer with resentment. The MG Studios worker doesn't seem to notice though, lifting a slim hand to turn her head left and then right. "Lovely face. You have beautiful eyes and wonderful pale skin. Your hair will need to change, it covers that beauty."

She manages to choke out her next words—barely, through the anger coursing through her veins. "Do you need to change all of this?"

The woman looks back up, steel-like eyes flashing behind glasses. "But of course. You do want to be successful, don't you? Of course you do, dear. Now let me have a look at your legs. Would you mind if I asked you to change into a pair of our company shorts? I need to examine their shape." She poses the question like a demand, as if she isn't expecting any defiance upon Rukia's part. It's almost like she expects the violet-eyed female to be awed by having come this far.

But Rukia's next words interrupt the process, effectively cutting short everything. "I refuse."

"Excuse me?" The woman asks, an eyebrow arching gracefully into a look of surprise. "You refuse? You do realize that I won't be able to give you the green light if I can't finish my examination, right?"

Rukia nods, eyes practically flaring with sparks of heat and anger. "I understand perfectly and I still refuse." Her stance is defensive, arms crossed across her chest, head lifted high. She locks gazes with the examiner and cocks her head in a mocking challenge. Come, her stance seems to beckon cunningly. Come, and I'll show you what it means to be a real person and not some plastic surgery Barbie doll.

"Refusal denied, girl. You will put on those shorts." The worker snaps back, impatience and irritation fraying the edges of her previously calm and collected person.

"No." Rukia states simply, one hand reaching down to the bottom of her right leg, fingers curling around the edge of the fabric. "And do you want to know why? Because this too-small-chest, pretty little face, violet-eyed, leanly muscled dancer isn't fucking perfect." She hisses, her hand clenching violently around the pant leg and exhales a breath. She can't hide it within her like this. Better to go out with defiance panted in red paint across her face than to be forced and abused into it. Her heart pounds within the confines of her chest, almost screaming with the need to be released. She closes her eyes and jerks the pant leg up.

Her eyes open after a moment of still and deadly silence, a bitter smile curving her red lips. Her next words are soft and sweet, made from the pain of bearing a burden by herself, made from having a part of her torn away.

"Get it now? I'm worse than imperfect. I'm damaged."

"My God…" The worker whispers horrifically.

"My God."

She wakes up two weeks later in a hospital bed, with two nurses peering at her anxiously. They flitter and flutter about, adjusting her pillow and smoothing back her oily hair from her forehead. She's completely bewildered by the scene, wondering if maybe this is an extraordinarily vivid hallucination. But it's real as she flinches sharply from a shooting pain originating at her right leg. The shorter nurse notices and looks at her with an expression of great pity. It makes her skin crawl. "The morphine wore off, yeah?" It's a rhetorical question and the nurse opens a shelf by her side to withdraw a pack filled with clear liquid. She hooks it up to the IV and smiles reassuringly. "It'll take effect in about twenty minutes. Would you like me to call in your brother? He's been waiting all week for you to wake up."

What? She wants to scream? What in the world? She doesn't have a brother! She's never had anyone even remotely related to her, unless the memory of a sister placing her down on the street even counts. But a brother? Impossible. Preposterous. She thinks the nurse has been around too much medication. "I…what?" She croaks out, wincing as her rusty voice chords twinge with pain from irritation. Her leg gives another sharp flare and she jerks a bit to the side.

"I'll go get him." The nurse replies firmly, the pitying look back in her eyes again. The door shuts behind her and she's left staring at the white wall, confusion running amuck in her mind. Go get who? She mouths silently to the quiet as the other nurse exits as well. And more importantly, she wonders to herself with trepidation. Why? She grows irritated with the consistent nagging pain from her right leg and she pulls off the green covers brutally. Her scream is sharp and piercing, the blood rushing from her face. The sound dies away eventually, receding into a gurgle and then a choke. She looks frantically around for a knife, a blade, even a scalpel. Anything, anything to get her out of this hellish nightmare.

It doesn't take long for a patter of frantic footsteps to sound outside her room. The door bursts open, revealing a somber-faced doctor and a much younger man dressed in a business suit. "She knows." The doctor states calmly and her hysteria drives her into wild peals of laughter.

She knows? She knows? Of course she knows now! It's difficult to not notice when you're missing a leg! She shakes violently with laughter, tears running down her face as she gasps and gasps for a breath that never seems to come. "You took my leg! You fucking cut off my leg!" She shrieks, her hands tearing into her hair. Her eyes keep wildly rolling to the stump of flesh that extends barely half a foot from her waist. She doesn't even have a knee left! Nothing! Absolutely nothing!

"Sedate her!" The doctor commands and the nurses come running back in, the same pitying looks in their eyes, as they jam a needle into her skin.

Before she fades into the darkness, she locks gazes with the silent, gray-eyed man and lets all the hurt and the anger bleed through her slowly shutting eyes. His stoic expression changes for a brief moment in time, an expression of heart wrenching pain twisting his clear-cut features.

She doesn't hear him whisper that he's sorry.

"You can't fix this, can you? You can't cover this up." She says harshly, never letting the fabric fall back down. The metal gleams wickedly from underneath the artificial light and she laughs. Bitter, mocking, and every bit as twisted as her life. "I had an amputation, you know. It was a blood clot and it spread, cut off the circulation until my leg was practically rotting away. I would've died but I didn't." She doesn't say who saved her back then, gave her life in exchange for her leg. She doesn't say his name, doesn't feel as though she's worthy enough to even whisper it. "This is the best prosthetic leg that's on the market right now. Flexible and adjusted to, at the very least, minimize my limp. The metal frame gives it the shape of a human leg so my clothing won't sag visibly if I'm wearing loose pants. But I'm not deceiving you now."

The worker's mouth is still slightly open, horror and something resembling disgust haunting her eyes. "I'm sorry." She says, on default, and the words are so insincere. Because really, they don't even know one another. How can she possibly be sorry? "I think you know what this means," she says, glancing back down at her clipboard and marking a red slash on the examination sheet.

"Yeah, I know. I'd much rather have your rejection than your pity." Rukia replies, picking up her discarded sweater and slipping it back on. The pant leg falls back down, concealing the ugly fusion between metal and flesh—the fusion between nature and mechanical technology. Synthesized. Before the unnamed employee can even open her mouth, she's gone—the door clicking softly shut behind her.

"I was your sister's husband years ago." He says softly, as if afraid she'll lose her head and start screaming again. But she's made of sterner stuff than that and she's past hysteria and anger. She doesn't realize she's fallen straight into depression yet. But that's alright for now. "You used to perform at night for the crowds on the street directly in front of my office. My wife told me to adopt you and atone for her sins. She abandoned you when you were just a child." His expression wavers like a flickering flame for just a second, a display of regret and guilty creeping into his slate-gray eyes. She pretends not to notice, staring down at her ugly limb and replying bitterly.

"I should've died back there, wherever she'd left me. That was a much more merciful act than you give her credit for." She runs a hand down the cold metal, flinching as the temperature chills her skin and flinches as he lays a warm hand on her shoulder.

"Hisana wasted away of illness two years ago, I've been trying to find you ever since."

She looks back at him, moving the covers so that they can cover her disfigurement. "Disappointed, aren't you? I haven't even been officially adopted and you're already paying thousands of dollars for me. It's not too late to take it back, you know. I'm good at pretending things don't exist."

He doesn't say anything, but she knows he's the type to go through with actions—no matter the price or the damnation that will inevitably follow. She shuts her eyes and he leaves silently, the warmth of his hand lingering on her shoulder and making her feel the cold of her prosthetic leg all the more vividly. She curses him that night. For giving her another chance at life, for saving her. She curses him…

But she curses at herself even more.

"You won't make it," Nick says decisively. He snaps his phone shut and looks back up at the four faces with a mixture of defensiveness, worry, but most of all, regret. They would've made an amazing band, he thinks. But even the company can't take a one-legged female singer. It would cause a huge controversy. It just wasn't worth it. "Kuchiki Rukia failed her physical exam."

He expects the bandleader to step forward, fists ready to go. But the white-haired bassist is the first to speak, shifting hands out of his pockets with a deadly quiet voice. "Because she wasn't a plastic surgery piece of shit? Because she was more real than either you or your coworker could ever be? Because you just fucking decided to?" His hands are white, clenched so tightly that crescent marks imprint themselves on callused palms. "Fine, we'll find another company."

"Shut up and listen, Toshiro Hitsugaya." Hisagi murmurs, observant eyes already understanding that the issue goes far beyond a plain face or an undesirable body shape. "You know Rukia's good enough to pass. There's got to be a better explanation." He scuffs his shoes on the laminated floor and fixes an almost-bored expression on Nick.

"And if there isn't, well, we won't have a problem kicking your sorry little ass." Renji snaps out, cracking knuckles.

"She doesn't have a right leg." Nick shoots out, if only momentarily satisfied by their thunderstruck expressions. "An amputation took all of it. Your pretty little singer—"

"Is right here." Rukia announces firmly, walking in with confidence radiating from her every move. It masks her discomfort from having so many people and even though she holds her head high enough, her limp is more pronounced than ever. It's as if her right leg is falling to pieces all over again. "I failed. Great, now you can go celebrate on the streets. You bastard." She spits and turns her eyes back on her fellow bandmates. She isn't afraid of Nick—he's only a lackey without power or control. But she fears Shuuhei, Renji, Ichigo, and most of all…Hitsugaya. She's let them down knowingly and she knows they won't (and she won't) ever forget.

There's a deafening silence that seems to be louder than all the screams in the world. It digs into her skull, worming its way into her infested heart and then down to that goddamn leg. She forgets how to breathe.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Ichigo finally demands, eyes flashing amber even as Hitsugaya refuses to meet her eyes. "We had a right to know! But we don't even find out from you, we find out from some MG Studios lackey! I thought we were worth more than that, Rukia. I really did."

She bites her lips and looks away from him, her eyes going to her splayed out hands and then to the cursed leg. "I'm sorry. I really am. But I…"

"You don't need to tell us." Hitsugaya says calmly, waking up to her and gently laying a hand on her shoulder. She flinches from surprise and guilt and he quickly removes his hold on her. "We're all angry and hurt by what you did, but that doesn't mean you should spill everything out to us. Wait until you're ready. I don't want to take advantage of your confusion."

She watches as he walks out the door and wonders what more she has to lose.

Her confidence falls on itself like a house crumbling bit by bit and she bites her lip, one hand fisting the fabric of her sweatshirt. She feels the tears threatening to pour forth but she stubbornly holds them back, shaking with the effort. Her eyes are trained on the floor, unable to hold even a fleeting gaze with either of the men left. She can't bear the weight of their disappointment and accusations. She fights the tears off. She's stronger than this, better than this. She won't cry, can't cry. Because that would mean admitting she's finally lost something of value, something cherished and loved from the depths of her heart.

And she won't admit that she may have just snapped the last ties of friendship she's ever had.

Because then…


There really would be nothing left worth living for.

Author's Note: Wow. It's been half a year! Sorry guys, but I've been busy. So now you know what Rukia's issue is as well as most of her past. But don't worry, this story's not over yet. So keep hanging on. I'm really touched to have had so many loyal readers and let's work hard to reach 100 reviews, neh? I've never achieved that many reviews before and I'm really working hard on Tension and the Spark. Please continue to support me with your thoughtful comments and words of encouragement.

Question: Was Rukia too whiny in this chapter? This chapter is probably going to be the most depressing out of the entire story, so I focused all that boiling and simmering pain and hurt in here. I'm not sure if I overdid it or not, but if I didn't have a leg, I'd be pretty damn depressed.

Sneak Preview and Summary of Chapter Five

Summary: Left in disarray from Rukia's confession, the band struggles to piece itself back together again. But between Rukia's self-loathing and guilt and Hitsugaya's sudden frosty demeanor…No one's quite sure of the future anymore. That is, until help comes from a most unlikely source.

Hitsugaya understands Adam and Eve now, how their thirst for the forbidden finally gave them the most damning knowledge of all. He wanted to know Rukia, wanted to know the real her behind the witty insults and passionate singing. He wanted to know everything about her. But now that he knows, he has no idea what to do. His head jerks up at the sound of her light footsteps entering the room and he murmurs a halfway greeting.

"You don't need to pity me." She bites out suddenly, choking out the words. "I hate pity."

He raises his eyes slowly to meet her suspiciously bright violet gaze before lowering again. "It isn't pity," he says heavily, sighing. "I don't do pity."