Cross My Heart

Chapter One

Disclaimer: If it weren't for physics and law enforcement, I would rule the world and all anime in it. However, the mastermind behind the original story lines and characters of Bleach is Tite Kubo, the lucky bastard.

I had always heard from my elders that my days in school would be the best of my life. I wasn't exactly sure if I could trust them at the time, because the education they were talking about was general knowledge school - I was on my way to the Shinigami Academy. There were very few people who could convince me that learning about how to exterminate hollows was better than actually doing it. I was eager to just get all those six years over with and be on my way to life in the Seireitei as a full-fledged soul reaper, facing the call of duty and protecting the world from wayward spirits. Growing up seemed to be taking far too long for my liking.

But they were right, in the end. When I looked back on it now, as an adult and successful death god with a sturdy seat in the Eigth Division, I realized that things really were so much simpler then; I had much less to worry about. The world was something unknown that I yearned to uncover. I didn't fully know what darkness could be hidden in the shadows. I was just a kid - an immature, naive, happy-go-lucky kid. Things just always had a way of working out for me when there were friends by my side to help me through the tough times. I guess that aspect of life hadn't changed much, but I could still remember the beginning like it was yesterday. Back then, we were all just a group of friends looking for an adventure.

Things changed. Not necessarily for better or worse, but life just wasn't the same now as it was during my years in the Academy. The golden years where everything seemed to be on such a smaller scale; The world actually made sense to me at that time. I could understand what people expected of me and what my companions needed from me. I was in control of my own destiny with a bright future ahead of me.

Sometimes I wished I could go back to those times...

"Okay then, we're going, Shiro-chan," Momo spoke, rubbing her hand through the young boy's snow-white locks as he scowled irritably.

"Quit calling me Shiro-chan! And don't pat my head!" he snapped, slapping her hand away and crossing his arms. I giggled softly at the sight, not wanting to interrupt the twos' goodbye.

"When you enroll in the same place as Airi-chan and I, I'll call you by your name," she retorted genially, placing her hands on her hips. The boy put on deeper scowl.

"Screw that," he said bluntly, not caring for manners. "As if I'd want to go to Death God School."

Smiling, Momo ran across a small bridge and joined me on the other side of the stream. Toushiro uncrossed his arms, watching after her.

"After I move into the dorm, I'll still come back on holidays to see you," she called back to him, completely unfazed by his rude speech and seemingly apparent less-than-friendly feelings towards her. "Ja ne!"

She dashed down the street, heading back to the shinigami academy. I followed her lead, hearing Toushiro's voice calling after us.

"Don't come back, Bed-Wetter-Momo. And leave your friends at home!"

I paused, turning back to him with a grin while he sent a glare my way.

I had met Hinamori during the entrance exam at the academy and the two of us had hit it off right away (probably because of our shared gender and smaller-than-average statures). She had even invited me to visit her home, which was where we were depating from now, a few days before classes began. I accepted, eager to have a close friend for the first time since my childhood. The little boy, Toushiro, had made it clear from the beginning that he didn't like my company. In fact, he had never said a single kind thing to me for the entire stay. But I didn't mind - I found his attitude almost cute. He was a brat, that was for sure, but I just couldn't find it in me to get mad at him. I had a feeling every brash and impolite thing that came out of his mouth was simply a bluff and I knew for a fact that he cared for Momo a lot. Why he acted as if she was worthless I didn't know, but Hinamori and I both knew he didn't really mean any of it. They were enviously close: like siblings, almost. And I liked to think that he liked me just a bit more than he let on as well.

"Aw, that's not very nice, Chotte-chan. Someone will think you don't like us," I said with a small pout, fighting to keep down smirk while taking in Toushiro's reaction.

"What did you just call me?! You're barely taller than I am! Who are you calling little?! Get outta here, and don't even think about coming around ever again!"

Laughing, I turned again and ran to catch up with Hinamori. Looking over my shoulder while still trotting along, I called back to him, noticing the hand imnedded beneath his waist band, "By the way, Chisai-chan, what'cha scratchin' down there?"

Toushiro twitched violently, whipping the hand up from beneath his shorts and snatching a small rock laying on the ground.

"OUT, OUT, OUT!!" he hollered, chucking the rock after my cackling form as I sped up, moving out of his range and soon catching up with Momo on the road.

"See you next holiday, Chi-chan!" I laughed back to him, his next remark lost in the wind as I came up behind the girl. She smiled at me as we met, both jogging leisurely down the streets towards our destination.

"I think he likes you, Airi-chan," she said with a closed-eyed smile while turning her head in my direction. I giggled slightly, facing her as well while still moving as fast as my tiny legs could take me.

"How can you tell?" I asked in curiosity, wondering if she was only teasing.

"If he didn't like you, he would have been awfully cold towards you the whole time," she explained with mirth. I sniggered, thinking back to the boy.

"So then, I suppose that was him being nice?" I inquired as the academy came into view. She beamed, facing ahead when the building came nearer.

"Pretty much," she replied as we shared a laugh, slowing down to a walk as we stepped through the doors. Hundreds of students milled around the halls, some looking for their classes and others catching up with their friends. Momo and I walked side by side in silence, both of us caught up in gazing around the immense building, taking it all in.

"Sugoi..." I muttered as I turned my head, sakura petals blowing in with the wind from outside. A voice echoed across the wide hall, welcoming new students and explaining the criteria of the institution. I barely listened.

Momo and I made our way across the entrance hall, turning down another, much narrower path with far less people. Only then did I snap out of the trance.

"Wow, this place is amazing!" I gushed, nearly trembling with enthusiasm over the prospect of spending the next six years here in training to become a shinigami. Momo nodded excitedly, though not quite so hysterical as me.

"Aa, I know! I can't believe we both got into Class 1! Imagine that! This year is going to be so much fun, and I bet we'll learn a lot, too!"

"Well of course we're gunna learn a lot, stupid! That's what we're here for!" I chuckled, reading the signs outside of each of the doors. "Hey, this is us! Class 1."

Grabbing hold of her hand, I dragged the girl behind me through the door, halting as we entered the classroom. Looking around, the room was about half full of students, some chatting animatedly and others simply waiting politely for the class to start. Grinning eagerly, I pulled Hinamori forward, choosing a seat carefully to ensure we sat together somewhere that wasn't in the front seats.

"I can walk by myself you know, Airi-chan," Momo squeaked as I led her down one of the rows. I startled, letting her arm drop as I rubbed the back of my neck bashfully.

"Gomen, Momo-chan! I'm just so glad this is finally happening. I guess I should try to calm down a bit..."

"Its fine," she waved it off, taking her seat and ushering me to do the same. I complied to her request and we spent the next few minutes talking about what to expect from the class, briefly interrupted when a tall crimson haired boy nearly crashed through the door grumbling about being late. Not two minutes after the incident, a large bald man wearing glasses walked into the room, an air of importance radiating off of him. The class hushed immediately, sitting up straight in their seats and watching the man carefully.

"I am your primary instructor, Oounbara Gengorou," he barked, making me jump in my seat slightly. "This freshmen class 1 is a so-called special advanced class where are gathered those who achieved the most exemplary scores on their exams. In order for you men and women to become not only members of various squads, but eventually Death Gods at the top thereof, I hope you will do your best in training."

After that briefing the man wasted no time and went straight on with the day's lesson. I soon found myself losing interest, gazing around the room quietly and watching my peers instead. From amidst the heads of browns, blacks, and blues, two people stood out - one that same crimson haired boy who fell into the room not all that long ago and the other a blonde male. The former looked as if he wished to be anywhere else, hunched over on the table with his chin resting in his hand and not paying the slightest bit of attention to the teacher as he stared aimlessly into the wall. I held back a small laugh, smirking at the sight of him. He definitely was a strange one.

Switching my gaze to the latter, I found that he was the complete opposite of the other boy. This one had his eyes glued to our sensei, giving all of his attention and looking completely enraptured in the lesson - similar to the expressions on most of the other students. Blinking, I glanced to my side at Momo, finding her just as attentive as the blond boy. Maybe I was should be finding his talk interesting? Sighing to myself I shook my head, leaning forward over the desk and resting my chin on top of folded hands, trying to concentrate on whatever the sensei was ranting about.

'Great, I'm in a class full of nerds...'

"Gah, Hinamori! Where are you?" I whispered to myself in frustration, having lost sight of my friend in the thick throng of people heading out of the building. It was currently the mid-day break where all students would exit their classrooms and hang around the grounds: getting lunch, practicing, or just enjoying each other's company and horsing around. While exiting the classroom, the rush of the crowd had separated us. Being as small as I was, I was easily over looked by my much taller peers and was continually getting tossed around like popcorn, only occasionally receiving a small 'sumimasen' or 'gomen' by the few who managed to notice me. Not to mention that the fact that I couldn't see a thing from amidst all the tall figures! Growling slightly under my breath and cursing my height, I managed to maneuver myself to the edge of the hallway so I was pressed up against the wall and out of the stampede path.

Taking my chance as an empty space drifted by, I leaped up as high as I could into the air (only just about reaching everyone else's heads). Looking around frantically, I tried to spot any sight of my friend in the rush of students. Unfortunately, the couple of seconds I remained suspended in the air were not nearly enough to catch a glimpse of anyone familiar in the crowd. Landing back on the floor I snorted heavily, biting my lip in thought. At that moment, however, an unusually firm body smashed into me, sandwiching me between the hard wall and nearly equally hard man. Failing to take in any air with my innards currently being squished, I barely managed to glare at the offender from the corner of my eyes, seeing only a mass of red. When the person had finally managed to remove themself from me I instantly slid down to the floor, gasping for breath and clutching my side.

"Rukia! What the hell was that for!?" a loud voice exclaimed angrily from directly beside me. Guessing this was the man who had bumped into me, I awaited the other's response.

"Whatever are you talking about, Renji? I didn't do a thing," a woman's voice answered slyly, also sounding agitated. Cracking my eyes open as my breathing stabilized, I saw the same red haired boy from my class exchanging glares with a smaller dark-haired girl, both looking murderous. Taking notice to me, the girl broke the glare with the boy and face me, gazing at me with nearly no emotion.

"Oh, are you alright there? I'm sorry about my friend: he's just an idiot," she said with a earnest (and evil) smile, seeming to ignore the growl of the said 'friend' behind her. Nodding slightly, I pulled myself up to my feet, watching the two with apprehension. They seemed like a rather odd little duo and I wasn't fully sure how to handle them.

"Now Renji, why don't you apologize to the poor girl you nearly squashed because of your inelegance? Maybe someone in that advanced class of yours will teach you how to walk properly so something like this doesn't happen again," the female sneered in a falsely sweet tone, mocking the 'advanced' reference. The boy behind her grew an alarmingly large tick mark on the side of his head but all the same turned his attention to me. Scanning me up and down, his face seemed to calm down before he blurted, "What are you, some kind of midget?"

My brow twitched dangerously, but before I could even think of how to react the girl beat me to it. Colliding her fist harshly with the boy's skull, she screamed, "Baka! That's no way to treat someone you almost knocked out! She could be the daughter of some noble family for all we know! Be nice!"

Glaring heatedly, the boy sharply faced his friend and stared viciously down at her. Despite her size (she was petite, barely reaching his elbow and rather scrawny compared to his muscular frame) the girl showed no sign of intimidation, glaring straight back with just as much vigor.

"Why the hell should I care?! So what if she's some snot-nosed, rich little princess; It makes no difference to me!"

"Ahou! This is exactly why you're always getting into so much trouble! You have to start learning some self-control or else you'll just end up like everyone else!"

At the girl's words he seemed to sober greatly, almost looking rueful. His partner mimicked his responce, sighing and pinching the bridge of her nose. Choosing to speak up, I broke into the silence with some colorful words of my own.

"Excuse me? Just so you know, I'm not some 'snot-nosed, rich little princes', and I'm also not a midget. Besides, I hear they liked to be called 'little-people' rather than midgets - it's less offensive. But then again, that's only what I hear; I don't know personally. Now, either you can apologize and we can go on without any hard feelings, or you can insult me some more and face my all-powerful, freshman Death God wrath! Now, which one will it be?"

I crossed my arms, cocking a brow and awaiting the answer. The girl opened her eyes, smiling at me kindly while the boy just snorted, copying my crossed arms and grunting out an apology. I nodded my head in acceptance. Turning to walk away, I called back a polite, "It was nice to meet you, but I have previous arrangements. Ja!"

They both nodded in acknowledgement, turning away together and shuffling down the hall. I took a step forward and was almost immediately smashed into from behind. With a small squeak, I realized I had completely forgotten how crowded the halls still were, and walking out into the middle of them without looking and waiting for an opening was a very bad idea - you'd get run over! Just like I had...

Closing my eyes and bringing my arms up to my face for protection, I braced myself for the fall. Only, instead of connecting with the cold, hard, dirty floor, two hands wrapped themselves around my forearms with a protective grip, holding me steady before pulling me carefully up to my feet.

Opening my eyes and blinking, I took notice that I hadn't been run over by eager students leaving class, but was being held against someone's chest while their fingers quickly released me.

"Moshiwake gozaimasen! I wasn't watching where I was going, and you just came out of nowhere! That would have been quite the fall. I'm glad I managed to catch you in time, ne?"

Pulling my neck back as far as it could go, I looked up towards the ceiling and saw the blond boy from my class blocking my view with his face. He blinked down at me before smiling, a small but noticeable blush crawling across the bridge of his nose from the awkward situation. Only then noticing that I had made no move to remove myself from my proximity to his chest I hurriedly stepped forward, turning around to face him properly. He moved a hand to the back of his neck shyly, still grinning with the pink tinge lined across his cheeks.

"Anou... gomenasai!" I hurried to pull myself together. "I should have looked out before I just walking into the crowd. It's just that I'm looking for a friend of mine, but I'm having a hard time finding her. You may not have noticed, but I'm a bit on the shorter side and can't see over all of the people. Also, the other students can't see me since I'm under their field of vision. I can barely make my way through the crowd..." I trailed off, scratching my cheek and lowering my head, suddenly feeling a bit stupid for my habit of rambling. The boy chuckled at my explanation with good humor, looking down at me with gentle eyes.

"Well then, would you like me to help you get out of here?" he asked. "I think I might be of help to you, seeing as I'm quite a bit taller."

I blinked, looking back up at him. His blue eyes, I noted, twinkled as he spoke, giving off a very trusting impression. I smiled, fully convinced just from that one look, and nodded.

"That would be nice of you! I'd really appreciate it."

"No problem," he dismissed it, taking hold of my upper arms and guiding me in front of him so that my back faced his front again. "Just stay ahead of me and I'll keep a hold on you so you don't stray off. Now, I'll have to be your eyes for you. What does your friend look like?"

We began walking, steps in sync so that neither of us scuffed the other's feet while making our way down the hall. This was much easier than my previous method, althought still slower than I would have liked. By keeping me within a close distance in front of him, the boy was able to navigate while making sure I didn't get run into by anyone who couldn't see me. Concentrating on keeping our feet from colliding, I offered, "Etou...she's wearing a female student's shihakushou uniform..."

The boy chuckled loudly, though not in a mocking way. "That's not exactly much help! Can't you think of any other way to describe her?" he inquired pleasantly.

"Well, she's taller than me, but still pretty short. She has shoulder-length, dark hair in two pigtails and a really innocent face..."

'Hmm'ing to himself, the boy scanned the small, packed hall while still keeping an gaze on where we were heading. After a moment he rubbed my shoulder, shaking his head slightly.

"Sorry, I didn't see anyone who would come close to fitting that description. Perhaps she already found her way outside to the main entrance and is waiting for you there?" he offered, keeping a protective watch as a few riled up students bounded down the hall recklessly, pushing others out of their way.

"Yeah, maybe..."

We traveled on in silence after that, the compact hall seeming much longer than it had when Momo and I had made our way down earlier. As we finally reached the doorway to the entrance, students pooled out in all directions, the space much more generous and giving everyone plenty of room to get where ever they were heading without a problem. Releasing my shoulders the boy looked around, apparently in attempt to spot Hinamori again. Deciding to assist him in my own hunt, I used my previous method of hopping up as high as I could. Hearing his laughter from my side I stopped, turning to face him curiously.

"What is it?" I asked, knowing very well what he was chortling about. It wasn't everyday you saw a girl leaping up and down in the air. He shook his head dismissively with a smile, looking away from me and into the crowds again.

"Nothing. It's just... you remind me of a little dog or something when you jump around like that."

I smile slightly, going back to my own way of searching.

"A girl's gotta get by somehow," I retorted, my legs beginning to get burn from the repetitive action. I heard another chuckle from him, but he gave no verbal response. A moment later, his eyes seemed to perk up and he gently laid his hand on my elbow to cease my actions.

"Is that her over there," he pointed as I squinted, ducking down a bit to see under a few passerby's legs. My gaze brightened as I saw Momo standing off to the side nervously, wringing her hands together and looking out over the bustling students. Grinning happily, I nodded with a cheerful "Hai!" and sprinted after her, engulfing her in a hug as I reached her side. Startled at first, she froze before noticing it was only me and turned, returning the embrace happily.

"Oh thank goodness, I thought you'd gotten lost or something," she said in relief as we pulled away and faced one another. Laughing airily and rubbing the back of my head, I offered an offhanded smile.

"Well, I did get squashed into a wall by that tall red hair guy who nearly broke the doors this morning - not to mention everyone kept bumping into me in the hall - but then that blond boy from our class helped me get out here safely. He's right over there, you should meet him!" I exclaimed joyfully, grabbing her hand and bringing her to where I had last been standing with the boy. But as we reached the spot, he was nowhere in sight. Twirling around in a circle, I couldn't spot him anywhere in the hall.

"It seems as if he left already," Hinamori said quietly, glancing around for any sign of the blond male I had mentioned. I nodded reluctantly, feeling disappointed that I hadn't gotten to introduce the two.

"Aa, I suppose you're right. I didn't even get to say thank you! I hope he doesn't think that I was trying to get away from him..."

"I'm sure he doesn't think that. He probably just had somewhere to go. You could always talk to him again later," Momo reassured me, leading the way out into the court yard.

"Ee, I guess that's true..."

"You said he was in our class, right? What was his name?" she questioned curiously, beginning to walk and waiting for me to follow. I cast one last glance around the emptying room before reluctantly trailing after her. I had momentarily forgotten about her question, only remembering it after we had stepped outside the building. I though back, stopping in my tracks as I pondered back on it.

"I...don't know," I responded quietly, not believing it myself. The guy had sacrificed his own time to help a stranger like me out, and I never even asked for his name?! How rude of me! If it wasn't bad enough that I just ditched the guy without any words of appreciation, but then I never even bothered to introduce myself either? What kind of impression was I trying to make here?! It made me feel horrible when I thought back to it. I swore that the next time I saw him in class, I'd march right up to him and apologize.

Momo blinked over her shoulder, sending me a comforting expression and urging me along the road.

"I'm sure you'll be able to talk with him again soon," she assured me. "For now, let's go out to lunch. I heard that there's a restaurant down a bit that serves academy students for free. Do you want to check it out?" she suggested. I nodded in agreement, realizing that I was getting hungry.

"Yosh, ikimashou."

As we walked down the mildly busy street, I couldn't help but to feel aggravated. Not only had I made myself seem like a jerk to the blond boy, but I had also met three new people, all of which I shared a conversation with, but I hadn't manage to get even oneof their names! Not formally, at least; I remembered that the crimson head and the girl he was with called each other by name, but I hadn't thought to memorize the brandings.

Sighing softly to myself, I vowed that I would learn each of their names at the very least, if not become friends with the odd company. There was no rush, really. After all, I would spend the next year in their class. We were all in the same year, so chances were that we'd be seeing quite a bit of each other over the next six years of school...

Nodding decidedly, I followed Momo into a decent sized building, the tempting aroma of food pulling me from my thoughts.

(A/N) Newly re-named, slightly revised, and every bit as suckish ;P