A/N: Alright. Time to begin another fic. This will be my 29th fic, and my tenth for Bleach. Like the other 28, this one is also focused on a yuri pairing, this time Rukia Kuchiki X Orihime Inoue. If you do not approve of this pairing for whatever reason, it's not likely you will enjoy this fic. Also, be warned, that this story will at some point contain mature content. Anyway, Let's hope it turns out good.

Disclaimer: No matter how much some people may be convinced otherwise, I am not an octopus. I also do not own Bleach.

Doubts and fears weighed heavy on the young shinigami as she sat alone on a bed. She always wore a strong face, the harsh streets of Inuzuri and the icy protection of her brother had made anything less seem laughably foolish. Even so, Rukia couldn't say she felt strong sitting there at that moment. She felt somehow powerless.

It was easy to pick Ichigo off the ground, restore his spirits, steel his drive. Some harsh words and a confident stare was all it took. There weren't words harsh enough to convince herself though. She was scared. Momentarily losing her powers, being sentenced to execution, realizing she had been made a key piece in some grand plot, coming face to face with death, finally coming to understand her brother, all of it together was overwhelming.

Now there was this new enemy. Friends of hers and been badly injured in the initial struggle. The arrancar were horribly powerful. She hadn't confronted one yet herself and perhaps that was the issue, but her instincts told her the battles coming up would not be as easygoing as ones in the past. She couldn't help but wonder if her power would be enough. Would a mere unseated shinigami be able to even lift a finger against the likes of Sosuke Aizen and his minions?

She didn't like the answer she had for this question. She tried to put it at the back of her mind. Everyone else counted on her to be strong. That's who Rukia Kuchiki was.

"Hey Rukia, still awake I see," a voice half startled the girl as she sat and thought. She looked up to see Ichigo Kurosaki standing before her, a look of fatigue about him.

"Yeah." Rukia replied softly. FInding a firm tone, she then asked, "How did your training go tonight?"

"To tell the truth, it feels like I'm standing still. I know you said I need to get stronger, Rukia, but I'm not sure I know how at this point," the young man replied in a dark voice, looking down with a scowl.

"I doubt that's true. You just need to stop being afraid," Rukia coldly stated.

"Easy for you to say...." Ichigo glared.

"Perhaps. All I know is that we face a difficult opponent," the shinigami responded.

"You don't have to remind me," Ichigo snorted. "Still, even knowing I need to be stronger doesn't make it any easier."

"Things aren't going to be easy. That's why this is so important. You don't want to let anyone get hurt again, right?!" Rukia pointed out, her words as strict as necessary. Ichigo looked at the floor with a sober expression.

"Of course..." he replied in a low voice.

"Then work as hard as you must toward those goals. That's all you can do," Rukia advised in a steady voice.

Ichigo looked up at her then. He gave her a soft stare before asking in a concerned voice, "Then what about you, Rukia? Are you sure that you're ready for all of this?"

"I have confidence in my abilities," Rukia nodded.

"Even though they just recently returned, even with all you went through?" Ichigo continued to look at her.

"Well, I suppose a little training of my own couldn't hurt..." Rukia said in a slightly unsteady voice with a hint of a blush.

"No need to force yourself if you think your ready," Ichigo started in.

"No. I really am a little out of practice. A bit of training here and there could prove useful," Rukia argued as she stood up, preparing to leave.

"Suit yourself," Ichigo shrugged, looking a bit taken aback by the usually stubborn girl's sudden change of mind. "See ya tomorrow, I guess, then."

"Right," Rukia replied with a slight smile as she left.

Slipping out of her gigai and leaving it to rest in the bed prepared for her, Rukia left the Kurosaki home, Sode no Shirayuki in hand. Venturing a distance from the house she found a suitably open area, a small, empty park and began her quick training routine.

Sode no Shirayuki was swung through the night air time and again. It had been awhile now since Rukia had wielded her zanpakuto. She had to take extra care to make sure her strikes were clean and precise, as fluid as they were when she first picked them up from Kaien. When she felt comfortable swinging the unreleased sword, she activated her shikai. The beautiful, pristine white of Sode no Shirayuki's blade cut through the night again and again, leaving a chill in the air with each swing. Rukia could only hold the hope that this sword would be enough.

As she continued to push her reishi into her blade, Rukia began to consider why she was out here in the first place. She supposed the primary reason was that she was afraid her strength might not be enough. Part of her had just jumped at the chance to escape that depressing atmosphere, and allow Ichigo a moment alone. Of course part of it also likely stemmed from the fact that Ichigo had suggested it with such clear concern for her.

Ichigo Kurosaki was amazing. He had just been dragged into all this by chance but had quickly become so powerful. He had stood up for her, saved her life after she had given up on living and bested her brother in combat. What's more, he reminded Rukia far too much of Kaien, the first person to capture her heart. Though she would never admit to it to anyone in any circumstance, she supposed it wouldn't be a mistake to say she had some feelings for him.

But he was also complicated. The spot Ichigo was in now, was a tough one. Coming off a number of defeats, both to Aizen and then the arrancar, his mind a raging maelstrom thanks to the hollow inside of him, his current state of depression, his sense of hopelessness, it would have surprised no one. He was strong, so Rukia supposed he'd be able to snap out of it on his own eventually, but she preferred standing by him. He needed her support.

Rukia stilled her blade when she realized the sound of it effortlessly cutting through the air wasn't the only thing reaching her ears. It was very soft, but in the still, windless night she could just barely make out the sound of a light whimper, seemingly in approach. She let herself slip out of sight.

She watched quietly, unsure exactly why she was hiding as humans wouldn't be able to see her in the first place and her soul phone hadn't informed her of any hollows emerging that night. When two figures wandered into her line of sight, she felt even dumber. It was two of her friends, Orihime Inoue and Rangiku Matsumoto to be exact. She moved to remerge and greet them when she noticed something peculiar that stopped her in her tracks; the human girl was in full tears. She decided it might be best to stay hidden until they passed. If it was Rukia herself in such a miserable state, she would want as few people to see her as possible.

"I know you said it's stupid, Rangiku.... I know you said he needs me too... that I'm just as important... but it still hurts," Orihime muttered in a meek broken voice. She seemed miserable.

"Love is a tricky thing. When you feel that way, your heart doesn't want to see reality or listen to reason. I know that very well. That's why I'm walking with you now, Orihime. If holding you to my chest all those hours last night didn't bring a stop the tears, I'll stay with you until they have stopped, no matter how long that takes," Lieutenant Matsumoto spoke in a very warm, nurturing voice as she gave the girl a kind smile.

"Thank you. You're so nice, Rangiku..." Orihime said through tears. "But eventually you'll have to return to the Soul Society."

"Then I'll just have to stop those tears before then!" the shinigami woman declared.

"I'm not sure that's possible," Orihime started in a morose way that ill-suited her beautiful face. "He won't ever realize how I feel... and even if he does I'm sure he'd still be more interested in her than me."

"I doubt that, Orihime... And you do realize you could just tell him how you feel. He'd have to be pretty heartless to ignore you then," Matsumoto said while smirking.

"Maybe," Orihime gulped on some tears. "But I'm not sure I deserve it."

"Orihime! Don't say that!" the blonde shinigami scolded. The young girl shook her head vigorously.

"She's just so great... She's beautiful, and strong, and nice and fun to be around a-and... and the two of them get along so well, while all I ever seem to do is watch him from a distance," Orihime cried softly, but with a broken intensity. "I'm nothing compared to her. I'm hopeless." It was hard to watch the girl talk about herself in such a negative fashion. It made Rukia feel angry. She wanted to reassure the girl just as she had Ichigo.

"Didn't I tell you not to say that about yourself, you idiot! Don't you see, you're just as great as she is! You just need to have a little faith in yourself!" Rangiku near-shouted out her words. Rukia found herself nodding at the sentiments.

"I don't know. Maybe it'd be better if I just gave up on him..." Orihime whimpered, sadness clear in her eyes. Rukia clenched her fist tightly. Watching a dear friend reduced to such a level was hard. She hated just hiding there

"I doubt it's as simple as that, Orihime," the shinigami said with a dissatisfied glare.

"Maybe it is. It'd be hard... b-but someone like him deserves someone like her, more than he does me..." After these words, Rukia decided she had had enough.

"That's not true, Orihime! You're an amazing person! Whoever this girl is, you should never say she deserves the one you love more than you! You can't just give up and rely on a pitiful excuse like that! You have to fight! You have to be strong, just like you were when you faced danger for my sake!" Rukia found herself declaring boldly to the girl as she suddenly emerged.

Orihime responded with absolute shock, and what appeared to be a little fear, and then for some reason what appeared to be embarrassment. Rangiku glanced at Rukia, listened to her words and then struggled to hold in a laugh. This slightly confused Rukia, but she paid it no mind.

"R-Rukia?! W-what are... umm... what are you doing ... h-here!?" Orihime asked very nervously, her face having become very red. The tears at least came to a stop.

"I was training to keep my skills sharp on the other side of those bushes there," Rukia pointed in the direction of her hiding spot as she bent the truth to her advantage. "I heard voices, so I went to investigate, and well, I just happened to overhear your conversation..."

"Oh... I see... "

"You really can't continue to beat yourself up like that Orihime. I know a lot of things are happening at the moment, and that might make your normal life harder, but you gotta be strong," Rukia said in a strict tone with a firm nod.

"O-kay..." Orihime stuttered, giving a delayed nod of her own.

"Good. I know you have Lieutenant Matsumoto with you at the moment, but don't forget that I'm here for you too, Orihime," Rukia reminded, giving the girl an inviting smile.

"Thank you Rukia, y-you really are amazing…" Orihime replied, smiling as well.

"I might not know the most about love but if you need someone to confide to, I'm all ears," Rukia offered in a warm fashion. The human girl nervously twitched a little and averted her eyes. It was all rather odd.

"I'm sorry, but I don't think I can tell you all that much, Rukia...." Orihime blushed some more.

"Oh... is that so?" Rukia gave the girl a peculiar stare. "Alright... I guess."

"You sure, Orihime. Maybe you should tell her. Maybe this'll be easier if she knows where you stand, " a stupidly grinning Matsumoto suggested in between sporadic laughs.

"What's wrong with you?! What's going on here?!" Rukia demanded, realizing something was clearly happening that she was unaware of.

"I can't say it," Orihime shook her head softly.

"If you were a little more perceptive in regard to this girl's feelings here, you might understand why this is so awkward for her, Rukia," Matsumoto continued to smirk.

"R-Rangiku!" Orihime started, wanting to stop the other from revealing anymore.

"Her feelings...?" Rukia mulled the words over in her mind. More perceptive? Awkwardness? What was that supposed to mean? She wasn't quite sure. Then a thought hit her, and she was noticeably alarmed. "You can't mean that she--!?" she cut herself off.

"Yep... I'm afraid It's as you suspect," chimed Rangiku in a fairly serious fashion.

"Oh..." Rukia turned to Orihime and addressed her in a congenial, yet apologetic voice. "Well, I'm flattered you feel that way, Orihime... but I'm not sure I'm ready for that sort of thing."

"W-what?!" Orihime exclaimed, confused. Rangiku stated laughing.

"I'd expect something like this from Orihime, but for you to be this comically dense, it's just..." she said while shaking her head, before trailing off into more laughter. "Hate to disappoint, but Orihime's feelings aren't for you, Rukia."

"I was wrong, then?" Rukia asked, confused once more. "Come to think of it, it was a guy she was talking about earlier, and Orihime really doesn't seem the type for that sort of thing in the first place...."

"Uh, yeah," Rangiku gave a steady nod. Under her breath she muttered, "Surprised you didn't pick up on that sooner." Orihime's face remained a deep red.

"But if her feelings aren't for me, why would she be awkward around me as a result of them?" Rukia asked, still giving it thought.

"Tell me, Rukia, knowing our Orihime, who that you know would you guess she might have a cute little crush on?" the lieutenant questioned in a playful voice. Orihime quietly expressed protest.

"Ichigo, obviously," Rukia said blankly, without hesitation.

"Exactly!" the other shinigami affirmed.

"I see, I always suspected as much. I don't see how that makes things awkward with me though..." Rukia said in a deliberate fashion.

"Come now, you have to see that you're the 'strong', 'beautiful', and 'great' other girl she was talking about before," Matsumoto snickered.

"R-Rangiku!" Orihime protested once more, a blush on her face.

"What are you talking about? That would imply that there was something between me and Ichigo, which of course there isn't," Rukia stated in a bold, somewhat incredulous voice, that made it fairly simple to deduce she was lying.

"Oh, really?" Rangiku tilted her head. She turned to the human girl, "Hear that Orihime, guess it's all clear for you to snatch him up."

Rukia shook a bit at this. Wouldn't this be a good time to say something if she was in fact serious about Ichigo? "No, wait..." she spoke up.

"Oh, so you are interested?" Rangiku said, faking a surprised reaction.

Orihime began to stare at Rukia with uneasy eyes. Rukia should have said something, stood her ground, before she caught this stare. She didn't. The sorrowful hope displayed on the beautiful face of the girl made it impossible to say anything now. She was reminded of he tears the girl had earlier cried. Suddenly, Ichigo was a lot less important.

"Not in the slightest. He's just a good friend," Rukia said with a soft smile. "I was just going to say, it'd probably be better if you wait a little while, Orihime. He has a lot going on and might not be very receptive to you at this moment."

"I seriously doubt Orihime was planning to go and confess to him tonight, Rukia," Matsumoto laughed and shook her head.

"Right, of course..." Rukia forced her own unsteady laugh.

"Rukia..." Orihime said in a weak voice. She seemed happier now.

"I know Ichigo can be a bit thick at times, Orihime, so if you want me to help you in any way I'd be happy to," Rukia offered in a friendly voice, unsure why she was doing so.

"R-really, you'd even help me?" Orihime asked, looking to be in disbelief.

"Of course," Rukia reaffirmed.

"See Orihime, you can't just assume things," Rangiku said in a relaxed voice, taking a dee sigh.

Orihime gave a firm confident nod. A beautiful smile then appeared on her face. "Thank you Rukia! You're a great friend!"

"It's nothing. I know from experience that you'd go through trouble for me as well," Rukia said with a cool but accepting air.

"Yeah, but that was different!" Orihime gave another enthusiastic nod.

"I don't think so."

"O-kay then... thanks..." Orihime offered most contently.

"Right," Rukia returned with a smile. "Now, I should probably return to my training."

"Of course." Orihime gave a polite bow. "Thanks so much. See you soon, Rukia." Her and Rangiku began to walk.

"Bye," Rukia returned with a wave to the girl, who soon was a distance away.

Moments later Rukia drew Sode no Shirayuki once more and began to swing it. As she did she pondered what had just happened. She had been able to admit to herself she was starting to like Ichigo, yet here she was giving up on him entirely, even agreeing to help someone else get close to him.

She didn't understand it. She didn't understand herself. Was she really that nice a person to where she would sooner give up on her desires than disappoint a friend? She didn't believe she was; her life had been harsh and cold, the bad far outweighing the good. In the Rukongai she had learned friends were important and as a Kuchiki she had learned to be polite, but she had never thought of herself as being an overly kind person. It was all very odd.

What was odder still was one small detail. As Sode no Shirayuki soared through the air Rukia Kuchiki wore a smile on her face. She didn't know the reason she did this; the same dangers still loomed out there, she was still going to have to use the sword in her hands in the near future, and now she was going to have to back away from Ichigo. Things were even worse than before now. It didn't make sense to her that instead of the somber expression of earlier she now wore a smile on her face, but she couldn't help it. For some reason, at that moment, everything just felt right.

A/N: Chapter 1 end. So this is how my new fic begins. Kind of unique for a first chapter of one of my stories. The two girls haven't had a moment of alone time just yet, what with Rangiku there. Anyway, yes, it's Rukia centric. That was the only way I was going to get excited about this fic; it's only my second Rukia fic (as opposed to my fourth Orihime fic) so writing from her point of view was far more appealing an idea. Anyway, this fic should be kind of fun. In watching some of their interactions again, I was surprised to see how close a friendship the two seem to have. I was skeptical going in, but I'm thinking they'll work well together now. I'm sure you already were able to place it, but this fic takes place right after Rukia, Rangiku and the others show up during the arrancar arc, right before Grimmjow and Ichigo have their first fight. Much like with my Rangiku X Orihime fic which was placed at the same time, this small window has been extended significantly for the purposes of the story. Anyway, tell me your thoughts. I enjoy reviews.