A/N: Welcome to my first Bleach Fanfiction, Seven Days from Heaven. To those of you that have already read this, you may just wish to skip it- I've edited a lot, cleaning up the spelling and punctuation errors that slipped past me before I posted each chapter, and also fixed a few continuity/world errors, but other than that the story is pretty much the same as it was.

To the newcomers: It's a Tatsuki/Chad fic. The world is mostly canon, but the pairings are (so far at least) not. Many events will seem similar to the manga canon, but slightly different- that's because my memory isn't perfect. Either get over it and enjoy the story, or don't. However, if you see a glaringly obvious mistake, (Like the fact that I originally wrote that it took 4 days to reach Soul Society from the Living World) feel free to point it out- It may take me a while to fix, but eventually I will.

The story is set after Orihime's return from Hueco Mundo, but before the Winter War. This version of the Bleach universe is also being used in my epic Bleach fic currently being worked on, with a tentative tital of "Not a coward..." So if you liked it, keep an eye out for that one in the semi-near future. (I've promised to finish my Avatar 3-parter before I start posting that one) Oh, and as always, I don't own Bleach, Tite Kubo's characters, art, storyline, etc. I just write in his world because it's awesome. :D

Anyway, Enjoy.

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Chap. 1 – The first day

The last time Sado Yasutora– or 'Chad' as his closest friends called him had been in this much pain, he had been bleeding to death on the grounds of the eighth division's headquarters. When did she... learn to hit so hard?

The reason the gigantic young man was lying on the ground this time in many ways similar, but the causes were altogether different. Last time, he had been in the process of breaking into the Seireitei along with Ichigo and their other friends to rescue Rukia from execution. And what was she being executed for, anyway? We later found out that it was all just a plot created by that Aizen guy, but as far as I can tell she really did break a number of Soul Society's laws. Was the punishment just? I fought my hardest, almost died, because Ichigo needed help. But was it the right thing to do?

With a groan, Chad rose to a sitting position, gently rubbing his face. As far as he could tell, the girl hadn't done him any serious injury, but it sure as hell hurt. Abuelo, what should I have done? But the spirit of his long-passed grandfather had no reply. Chad could feel him, much as he always could, residing in both the coin he had worn around his neck since his grandfather's death, and throughout his right arm. The Right Arm of the Giant. El Directo. Grandfather's power, amplified by my still-growing spirit energy, further augmented by exposure to Ichigo's. That Kurosaki... he changed us all. But I can't complain. There has never been a better friend.

"Finally back with us, huh Chad?"

Wincing in pain at the sudden movement, the young man whipped his head around to see the spiked strawberry-blond hair of Ichigo Kurosaki himself leaning against a wall a few meters away. He was wearing the black robes that proclaimed him a Shinigami. In the distance, Chad could also see the tiny form of Rukia Kuchiki, long since returned to the living world, dragging the soulless body of Ichigo toward them.

"Yeah."

Ichigo gave a short laugh and said, "Typical. Rukia and I suddenly sense your reiatsu flare up in anger, then pain, so we rush over... and find you lying on the ground, no sign of your attacker. And all you can say is 'yeah'. Keigo would be going crazy right now."

The corner of Chad's mouth twitched, and Ichigo's lips curled into a smile in response. "It was... nothing. Sorry to worry you."

As Rukia approached, dragging Ichigo's body behind her by one arm, the substitute shinigami lurched off of the wall and walked over to Chad, offering a hand to help him up. "So, who was it? Or what? You looked like you got flattened. If you weren't so tough..."

"It was..." Tatsuki. But Ichigo would never understand if I told him. It doesn't matter anyway. "No one important."

Ichigo looked surprised, but shrugged it off quickly, knowing his friend well enough to leave him alone about it. It was obvious he didn't really want to talk about it– not that he ever really talked about anything. "Oi, Rukia! What took you so long?"

Bad idea.

Chad was right. Suddenly glaring, but still panting with exertion, the slight woman dropped Ichigo's body's arm and very slowly, deliberately, she stepped around to it's side and looked toward them. When she was sure Ichigo was watching, the shinigami slowly pulled back one foot and let loose with a vicious kick to his ribs. Even from meters away, they both heard ribs crack.

"What the hell, Rukia? That's gonna hurt when I get back in!" Ichigo ran over to his body at once and slung it over his shoulder, apparently unaware that the rough treatment would make the pain worse later.

"Serves you right. Leaving your body in the middle of the street like that... you almost got ran over. You're lucky it's just a couple broken ribs, strawberry!"

This time, Chad couldn't restrain his smile. The two of them were always fighting, but it was obvious to anyone that knew them the two cared deeply about each other. It's strange. She's so small and graceful, she looks more like a dancer than a warrior. But I only know a few people, here or in Soul Society, that can match her power. Me, maybe. Maybe. Probably Orihime and Uryu. The Captains. Ichigo. I don't know if Urahara or Yoruichi could hold their own against her anymore. She can take down Espada.

And then there's Ichigo. We all felt Captain-General Yamamoto's reiatsu when he fought against Captain Ukitake and... that other man. Ichigo could give the old man a run for his money on sheer power, though I think Yamamoto would win. He's hard millennia more experience than Ichigo. And Kido.

"Hey, Chad. You coming? Let's go to my place, have my dad check you out."

"I'll be fine," was the big man's reply, but a glare from Rukia convinced him to follow along.

---

"I've never seen anyone heal as quickly as you do, Mr. Yasutora," Isshin said an hour later, "I mean, you had no serious injuries like you said, but still. Your bruises are already yellowish, in a few more hours they'll be gone completely."

Chad grunted. She didn't really want to hurt me. But then, why... Why did she react like that at all?

"Heh, just like my son says. When you got hit by that motorcycle, we thought you were a goner, but you got up and walked away a little later. Now you get pummeled by a mystery assailant, and your body shrugs it off like it's nothing. I guess I can't complain about your attitude, though. So... who is she? Is it Orihime?"

What the... "Ori... Orihime? No." When did the old man get so perceptive?

The doctor puttered around the small office for a few more minutes, double-checking a few more of Chad's vital signs and finishing his medical report before either of them said another word.

"So... it wasn't Orihime. Rukia, then? I'd think it was more likely Ichigo would beat you up for that then her, though..." Isshin looked up at the light in the ceiling, scratching his stubbly chin. "Masaki would know for sure, but I never was good at this sort of thing."

"It wasn't Rukia or Ichigo."

The doctor gave a short, booming laugh and said while grinning widely, "So it's someone else, then. Well, no matter. I actually need a favor from you... can I tell you a secret, Sado?"

Chad said nothing. A secret? Why would he tell me a secret?

"You have to promise to keep it to yourself for now, though. I'm not ready for Ichigo to know yet, much less Karin and Yuzu. OK?"

What... secrets from his own family, but he'll tell me? What's going on?

"I guess."

"Excellent. Now... I'm an ex-shinigami. A former Captain of the Gotei 13."

Isshin had said it, expecting a great deal of surprise. He expected to see shock, amazement even, but he was sorely disappointed.

"OK." Chad's face was as impassive as ever. A former Captain? He's like Urahara and Yoruichi then. Why would he leave? Was it... Masaki?

The older man gave a wistful smile and continued, "Just like you, I guess. Yeah... I used to head up squad Five. Aizen was my lieutenant at the time. But that doesn't matter, now. The person he has become isn't the person he was, I think. He was still a child when he took over, more or less. It was a long time ago...

"But that's not really important. What matters is that I was still working as a shinigami, even though I had left Soul Society for good, when I met Masaki. We fell in love, got married, had three kids, and she died. You know most of that. What you don't know is that I know everything that's been going on. Kisuke Urahara, Yoruichi Shihouin, and Ryuken Ishida are all old friends of mine. We keep each other in touch."

This time, Isshin was pleased to see Chad's eyebrows raise a fraction of an inch.

"So, trust me when I say I know what I'm talking about. The Arrancar are something you can handle, maybe even an Espada if you're in Hueco Mundo. But don't try taking on Aizen, Gin, or Tousen, all right? You're strong, there's no doubt about that, but those guys are probably too much even for Ichigo as he is right now."

"No."

This time, it was the doctor who was surprised. "No? No what? You won't stop fighting?"

"I won't. Ichigo needs my help."

Isshin sighed, turning his chair to face Chad directly, "Listen, I don't mean you shouldn't fight. I'm saying you shouldn't 'look' for a fight. I've seen you, I know what your arms can do. Your Giant's Arm is more powerful than your Devil's Arm, right? And it's defensive in nature, even though it's offensive power is still greater than the other's. So you should be defensive, too. I don't know the history of your power, or where it came from any more than Kisuke does, but I can tell you right now that you are meant to protect, not to seek a fight. Be a guardian. Do you know what I mean?"

"Why do you have those fists?" Once again, the image of the old Mexican flashed into Chad's mind. "Use them to protect others."

Chad closed his eyes, and they were hard when he opened them again.

"I understand."

So be it. If I cannot take the fight to the Arrancar, I will guard our fortress of Karakura. There are many others that need protecting. Keigo. Mizuiro. Karin. Yuzu. ... Tatsuki. Whether she knows it or not. They will be able to do what they must, knowing I will be here watching their families and friends.

---

Earlier that morning...

"What do you want, Yasutora? I'm going to be late for the meet!"

The girl's short-cropped and wild black hair was swaying in the breeze, the tips still vibrating to the pent-up tension she must have felt. She never hesitates, not like Orihime. Or me.

"I just wanted to... wish you luck."

Tatsuki Arikawa flashed him a wide grin and the V sign before turning and dashing down the street. Just before she turned a distant corner, he heard her voice on the wind, "Thanks, Chad! Come watch it!"

The tickets were only four hundred and fifty yen, because it was a district-only championship. The season for martial arts tournaments was just beginning, and while Tatsuki was a favorite, there were some other up and comers that people thought might give her a run for her money, even in the lower levels of tournament fights. Chad wasn't really all that interested in formal martial arts. He'd taken boxing lessons from his grandfather while growing up, and had more than his share of real combat experience even at sixteen, but other than that his training was minimal.

This competition, though, he couldn't resist watching. He'd been to them before, mostly having been dragged along by Ichigo to root for Tatsuki. This was the first time he'd gone alone, because the substitute shinigami was once again training with the vizard, and he hadn't been able to find Orihime. Wouldn't be the first time I'm alone, I guess. And if he was honest with himself, the brown-skinned young man was finding it hard to even want to have company.

"Hi, Yasutora!"

Without further warning, a bespectacled redhead flopped onto the folding chair next to him and leaned against his right arm. His eyes confirmed who it was before his head had made the track to her face. Chizuru Honsho, their classes' resident flaming lesbian. What's this all about? We've spoken maybe fifty words the entire time we've known each other, and now she leans on me like we're... together. And isn't she... I don't know, after Orihime?

The girl must have noticed his stiffness, because she poked him in the ribs, hard, and giggled softly before saying in a low voice, "Relax, Sado. My parents are a few rows back and they don't know about... me, yet. I'm just using you to put them at ease. Sorry."

Is that all? Why couldn't she just have told me in advance?

"It's fine."

"So... you're here to watch Tatsuki, too?"

Chad grunted, and Chizuru continued, "She did really well in the first meet, took first place. I understand the top three from each meet advance, but the semifinal matches are based on points gained in the season so far, so she has to be consistently good to make it. But she was second in her age group last year, even with a broken arm, so I don't worry too much.

"Hey, are Ichigo, Rukia, and Hime coming? Do you know?"

She sure does... talk. "I don't think so."

Chizuru pouted before calmly snaking her arm around Chad's waist. "Damn. I wish Hime was here... even though my parents are, too. She's just so much fun, and so cute. Don't you think?"

Again, her only response was a grunt. She is funny, smart too. And I guess she's cute. She's not really my type, though. Still... if only Chizuru knew... about all of us, really. Maybe she'd realize Orihime just isn't like her. We're all so different from everyone else. This power we have... it sets us apart.

"What are you brooding for, Sado?"

He looked up to see Tatsuki, now in her spotless white gi, standing before them. Because they were seated in the first row, closest to the match, Tatsuki's eyes were level with Chad's. She seemed to be in a very bad mood about something.

"Hi, Arisawa!" Chizuru blurted, "Good luck in your matches today. We're rooting for you!"

Suddenly smiling, though Chad noticed it didn't include her dark eyes, the black haired girl beamed at the red head, "Thank you, Chizuru! I appreciate it. I'll make sure I win, just for you, OK?"

Without another word, the fighter stalked away to join the others lining up beside her age group's circle.

Chizuru placed one long, slender finger on her jawline and asked, "What was that about? She normally only gets that way when I'm hanging on Orihime."

Some matches were over quickly, others were drug out for ten minutes or more before a clear victor was found. Some of the fastest were Tatsuki's. This particular tournament made no allowance for gender, only age, so she was continually paired up against men, many of whom were either much bigger or much stronger than she was. Regardless of physical size, Tatsuki's quick movements, applied leverage, and superior technique led her to victory each time.

The final match was due to begin in just a minute, and she was already out in the center of the floor, stretching. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she had visible damp spots on her back and underarms, but she wasn't breathing very quickly. Her opponent was another male, this one a superior fighter as well. He looked vaguely familiar to Chad, but the young man couldn't place him.

"You know, she's really not my type," Chizuru said suddenly, "But Tatsuki really is pretty cute, too. Don't you think?"

"Yeah."

What. The. Hell. Did I just say that out loud? Why did I even agree? She's just Ichigo's and Orihime's friend, isn't she? I barely even know her.

Chizuru stiffened slightly beside him, but continued in a casual voice, "Don't get me wrong. She's all sweaty and gross right now, but she has so much confidence. That's what it is, I think. What makes her so sexy. Well, that and her physique. Nothing on Orihime there, of course, but she's pretty well-formed. Right?"

This time, Chad caught himself before he could answer. However, Chizuru squirmed a little closer to him and whispered in his ear, "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone."

As she was drawing back to where she had been leaning before, Tatsuki happened to glance in their direction.

When the match finally began, the black-haired fighter was shaking with suppressed rage, but if you'd asked her point-blank why, she would not have been able to say. When the referee cried "Hajime!", Tatsuki leapt directly at her opponent, immediately tackling him to the ground and landing two vicious punches to a spot on his ribs where he'd already been hit earlier that day.

"Not valid! Penalty to Arisawa, one point to Yajirobe!" the ref cried out after he'd separated the two. "You know tackles are not allowed, Arisawa, one more like that and I'm going to disqualify you. Are you two ready for a fair match?"

The young man, wincing from pain but grinning for the free point, nodded. Tatsuki growled her assent, and the match was on again.

Both fighters were very skilled, both fast. Chad looked down to see Chizuru's eyes flickering back and forth as fast as she could move them to track the two, and even he had trouble with it, and he'd been in life-and-death combat more times now than he could remember. They traded punches, palm heels, roundhouses, snap kicks, and other blows in a blur, but neither could land more than one or two blows per minute. Since the championship rules for this level of tournament required a point spread of three points to end a match, it was dragging out much longer than normal. Only twice in the first ten minutes did either combatant gain a two-point lead, but each time a flurry of attacks narrowed the margin out of the danger zone at once.

"Wow, she's really going at it. I'm starting to think she could take on those monsters you guys fight all the time if she really wanted to."

Even totally focused on the match as he was, Chad nearly fell out of the chair when Chizuru said that. Those monsters we're fighting... she can see them too? How come she's never said anything? Does she know about... Orihime?

"You don't have to act all surprised. Tatsuki, Keigo, and Mizuiro followed you guys into that weird shop a while back. They saw you go into that Gate, or whatever it was. Then a couple weeks ago, right before school got out, I walked in on them discussing it. They pretended there was nothing going on at first... that it was just a game. Then I told them I could see the monsters, too. And they told me all they knew."

"What they knew?" Damn, I hope it wasn't too much. It's better if they don't know.

"Yep. Mr. Urahara explained quite a bit of it to us. He told us about your powers, and a little about Orihime's, and the Soul Society and all that. He told us that that Renji guy, Toshiro-kun, Rangiku, and the bald and vain guys were all shinigami. Rukia too, of course, but most of us figured that out before he said it."

Damn. So he pretty much told them everything. Now how are we going to keep them out of it? They don't have any powers to protect themselves, much less everyone else. Tatsuki's a good fighter, but she'd get creamed in a fight with a Hollow, she's got tiny reiatsu. Kon has more. "Hn."

Chizuru's arm was pulled back quickly and she stood up suddenly, cheering out, "Go Tatsuki! We believe in you! Squish that ugly guy!"

His mind suddenly back at the match, he rose to stand beside Chizuru as Tatsuki looked over. "Get him, Arisawa!"

The fighter gave a quick nod in response, then performed a bow to the referee after the two warriors had returned to the start lines. "The match is now seventeen points to fifteen, Miss Arisawa in the lead. Begin!"

At first, Chad was afraid she would be disqualified, because just as she had before, Tatsuki had leapt straight toward the other man. This time, though, she gave a great leap and flipped over him, keeping her arms and legs tucked in so it was clear she wasn't attacking him illegally. No sooner had she begun descending than she came out of her roll with one foot down, taking the momentum in one muscled leg. Using her arms to spin her around as she came down, Tatsuki used her leg as a spring to come right back up, her other knee directed to the small of her opponent's unprotected back.

"Point, Arisawa! Match, Arisawa! The tournament, with a total of thirty-six points, goes to Arisawa!" the announcer cried after the ref's whistle blew. Tatsuki's knee was a fraction of an inch away from doing major damage to the poor man's spine. She gracefully returned to her normal stance and gave her opponent and the ref a bow as Chad and Chizuru ran toward her.

"Tatsuki, that was amazing!"

"Very good, Arisawa," Chad said. Her opponent was still in the same position he'd been when she jumped, his eyes wide. The girl, however, had a tight smile plastered on her face as she toweled her face and neck.

"Thanks, you two. I'll see you later."

And then she was gone, maneuvering through the cheering crowd away from her friends.

What? Is she... mad at us?

---

"Of course I'm mad! How do you think you guys think Orihime will feel with you guys hanging all over each other like that? Chizuru's liked her since middle school, and Chad, you're one of Ichigo's and our best friends. Now you show up to the meet together, all lovey-dovey, and you don't even tell anyone? You guys are despicable! Get out of the way, I'm going home. I don't want to see either of you right now, you make me sick!"

What? We didn't show up together... and it was only Chizuru that was 'lovey-dovey'. How can she even think I would do that to Orihime, even if I did like Tat... I mean... Chizuru?

"I don't–"

"Stow it, Sado! I said get out of the way! I need to meet my parents. Move."

Since Tatsuki had started yelling, Chizuru hadn't said a word. She must have known it wouldn't have done any good anyway, that the other girl needed some time to cool off before they explained. Or maybe she was just afraid. It's not like Arisawa doesn't beat her up often enough for touching Orihime. I wouldn't be surprised if she's terrified of Tatsuki.

After the warrior had stalked by them to join her family at the entrance to the Karakura High gymnasium, Chizuru and Sado were left alone again. The lesbian had convinced her parents to let Chad walk her home since they wanted to talk to Tatsuki after the match.

"She didn't like that... she knows I like Orihime, so why was she so mad? She must have known I was just pretending... right?"

It was the first words the red head has spoken for almost ten minutes after Tatsuki had stormed off, but Chad still had no reply ready.

"Maybe she's jealous of you? Nah, that can't be it. She hates it that I like Orihime, she'd be happy if I fell for a guy... I think. Maybe she's... nah, that's crazy."

An hour later, Chizuru had left Chad a little ways from her house, and being the gentleman he tried to be, he watched her walk up to her door and go inside, still mumbling to herself about what Tatsuki's problem was before he turned to make his way toward his own apartment.

He had unconsciously chosen a route that took him right past the Kurosaki Clinic and household, not even really aware that the path would also take him right by Ichigo's neighbor, Tatsuki Arisawa.

When she caught up to him, she was again in the casual clothes she'd been wearing when she passed him on the way to the tournament. It was typical Japanese shoolgirl casual wear. Tight t-shirt with a loose button-up thrown over it, jeans and sneakers. He'd sensed her before he heard her, an unusual thing in itself. While Chad was in his own way far more sensitive to reiatsu than Ichigo, not being one to blind himself with his own energy, Tatsuki had never really registered on his senses before today.

The giant young man turned to face her when she was still a few feet away. Her face and neck were pink, and a scowl was on her face.

"What do you think you two were doing back there, anyway?"

"Nothing." If she'll even believe the truth. Doesn't seem like it, right now."

"Nothing? I don't believe that for a second! You did a good job of pretending to watch the matches, but I could tell you weren't paying all that much attention, especially after she put her arm around you. So what were you really doing?"

"I was... watching you."

Arisawa seemed taken aback for a moment, but recovered quickly. "Oh, I see. The whole time we've been classmates, you act like your only friend is Ichigo. Then Rukia shows up and she's let into the circle, then Orihime and that Ishida guy, then Abarai and that weird little white-haired kid and his freakish sister, or whatever. And after all that, after practically ignoring the rest of your friends for a year, you suddenly start going out with Chizuru, and eyeing me? I don't believe a word of it!"

"No, I..."

Before he could finish the statement, Tatsuki's knee crashed into Chad's groin. After he'd hit the ground, the girl continued to kick and occasionally hit him, regardless of target. Arms, ribs, head, neck, she hit them all until he had actually passed out from the pain.

---