The night was full of sounds.

Footsteps swift in their pursuit, metal clicking, as guns are drawn, static from the communicator earpieces crackle though nobody flinches; they are used it. Just one more thing familiar in the nights of hunting; where the only thing protecting you from certain death at the hands of the abominations called witches, is the swinging glass vial of clear ice blue fluid hanging around your neck.

"Kurosaki, come in."

The smooth efficient voice of the twenty-something year old leader broke through the static, "I'm here. Now where is he, Hanataro?"

In a dusky office in the top floor of a brick building, a skinny teenage boy hunched over a computer desk. His unevenly cut black hair hung down into his eyes, the bright glow of the Lcd screen before him cast an eerie glow to his puppy-dog features. "From your right…down the alleyway," he paused. The screen changed as the night-vision surveillance camera swiveled, following the shady figure of a man walking. When the minuscule lens focused in on his face, the man suddenly smirked and began running.

"Damn! He's caught onto us…to the right. No wait he's leaving the range of the cameras—"

A soft feminine voice interrupted, "I see him, Hanataro. He passed by me just now."

"Miss Rangiku! Don't pursue—" Hanataro frowned at the computer watching as a tall buxom woman strode by, her black coat flapping. It wouldn't be any use to recall her back; once Rangiku Matsumoto-clairvoyant and unofficial second in command set her sights upon something nothing and nobody could dissuade her otherwise.

Distantly Rangiku's black clad figure disappeared, her heels clicked faintly then came to an abrupt stop. Hanataro thought he heard the click of a safety go off but from the camera's vantage point on top of a light post at the corner only darkness could be seen. Then wind rushed, a groan and a thud resounded and…after a moment Rangiku tottered beneath the light post.

"The orbo's not working! He got away…damn it." She held her hand to her stomach, "got me good, the bastard." She moved her hand away to reveal a darkening wet spot. Hanataro caught his breath, "see that, Kurosaki? Now shouldn't we call it off—?"

"No." Came the young man stepping forward out of the shadows. His orange hair stuck up in spikes, his brown eyes gleamed with hidden anger though his expression and voice were calm, "Rangiku, stay where you are. Abarai and Hinamori follow me."

"Roger." Said the two hunters in unison.

Rangiku scowled, "Wait! I can—" she took a few steps and then stopped and she clenched her fists. Frustration plain on her face mixed with pain. She breathed in deeply for a minute or two, creases smoothing out; Kurosaki waited. "Let me go with you. It's not that bad--" she pleaded, her breaths hitched and a spasm of pain rocked her body.

"Miss Rangiku, please do as Kurosaki-san says. You're in no condition to help them out right now!" said Hanataro through the earpiece. Rangiku sighed; she knew they were right but if she didn't push herself… "Ichigo…please I have to do this," she raised her head, her gray eyes looking hopefully at the still statue of the man before her. "I have to avenge him! Gin…"

"Rangiku!" Kurosaki suddenly snapped. "You have to stay behind. Understand?" his voice dropped a few octaves, "Ichimaru would have understood. Do you think he'd want you to risk your life over something as trivial as this?" Rangiku lowered her eyes to the ground; her shoulders began to shake; a broad gloved hand reached out and patted her arm firmly.

"No tears. Okay?" Kurosaki leaned in, for once his scowl was relaxed and his eyes reflected warmth rather than sardonic mistrust. "I'll take care of this one. Just leave it to us. You go on ahead to Raven's 13." He dismissed her with one last faint smile. Rangiku watched him walk away, his face she noticed hardened, losing that brief smile. She shook her head, would that he ever be truly happy? She doubted it. Rangiku went down the block to where a gray sedan was parked, she slid behind the drivers seat and started it up. In the rearview mirror and sans the static from the communicator, two voices came through.

"Are you what they call witch hunters?" this one was unfamiliar save for the few seconds she'd heard it when he chanted the words to activate his craft. The other was Kurosaki's dry and bored as usual, "probably."

Two gunshots rang out and Rangiku smiled in the mirror.

~~~*~~~

The young woman stepped onto the curb cautiously; the skirt of her long black dress fell modestly into place as she straightened up. From inside the cab, the driver asked curiously, "this the place?" The girl turned, luggage in hand, "yes, thank you." She wasn't very tall indeed her height was maybe around 5'2. It possibly could have been 5'0 because of the thick heels of the gray ankle boots she had on. Her face was pale and thin but not unattractively so, her eyes were large and a peculiar shade of violet-blue not often found in Japan.

She was pretty but not conventionally so, more like a certain quiet beauty. Delicate yet perhaps not in the way she walked determinedly up to the wrought iron gates and rang the buzzer. The cab drove off, responding to other important calls. In time a gruff male voice came through the tiny speaker box, "yes? What business do you have in Raven's 13?"

"Um…my name is Rukia Kuchiki. I'm here about—"

"How many times do I have to tell you, Yasutora? About answering the nosy people who come to our gates?!" a new voice joined in. Yasutora seemingly hesitated, "but the girl…"

"No buts!"

Fumbling and static came through and then, "I'm sorry but we must ask you to leave. Raven's 13 is a privately owned building and we do not appreciate solicitors wandering about!"

"But I'm not a—" Rukia frowned as the box crackled and then communication was cut off. She tapped the speaker once more to make sure. Nothing. Her eyes went up the brick building's façade; a window up at the very top was open. A hand appeared and slid it shut suddenly then a man's face looked out. He locked eyes with her so far below; his features she couldn't see much of and raised her hand to shield her eyes from the muted sun's glare.

She swore he scowled.

She blinked and then he was gone. Away from the window, perhaps this was Kurosaki? The cold, respectable leader of the witch hunting team SCG-J? She thought maybe, reports about him had filtered into HQ's trainee school about his hard-line approach and absolute hatred of craft users; a polite term coined by HQ for those who are in reality Witches.

Witches who are employed by Solomon HQ for the sole purpose of eradicating fellow witches by virtue of their powers. Like her; she was a craft user sent to replace Senna Kano, a member of the team who'd been killed in the line of duty three months before. Rukia knew Senna had been Kurosaki's partner, those up at HQ had said this much whether or not they had gotten along well was up for speculation. He certainly hadn't seemed very upset over her death.

Rukia sighed; just standing there wasn't going to gain her admittance to the building beyond. Recalling now, she remembered seeing a small restaurant down the road…Urahara's cafe she thought. Maybe she should go kill some time there and maybe figure out something to do about her current predicament…

~~~*~~~

Inside the office on the top floor, raised voices rattled the glass panes. "Well it's not my fault Abarai is so incompetent! Try having him drive around…speed demon he is!" Rangiku stood by the coffee maker; in one manicured hand she held a white cup. Standing several feet away and scowling intensely was Toshiro Hitsugaya, chief and all around tightwad for the office budget especially for the gas their vehicles seemed to be consuming at an alarming rate.

"I've already had to apologize to administrator Aizen for us going over budget twice this month! How many times do—" Hitsugaya paused after noticing the man who walked quietly in. "Oh, administrator, pardon me!" Hitsugaya turned away from Rangiku and immediately went after Aizen. "It's Matsumoto's fault! She wasted three of the bullets sent to us from the factory and drives around the car like there's no tomorrow! For the cases she says, but I know it's to sneak off and go shopping!"

Rangiku sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes heavenward. Beneath her yellow scoop-necked blouse was wrapped a layer of bandages. Aizen after listening to Hitsugaya's tirade simply smiled, "it's okay, Toshiro-kun." He patted the top of Hitsugaya's head much like you would a child's. The brown-haired man adjusted his glasses and beamed Rangiku's way. "I'll simply place another order and ask them to step up orbo production."

When he went into the side door leading to his private office, Hitsugaya had followed him; the collective hunters sighed in relief. The collective being Rangiku, Momo Hinamori and Hanataro Yamada, Renji still hadn't made an appearance and as Rangiku moved to the other side of the wide desks neither had their leader.

"Hey, anybody seen Kurosaki?"

Momo glanced up and gratefully took the steaming mug of coffee from Rangiku, "um I think he had said something about heading over to Urahara's. You know he goes there a lot." Rangiku frowned and glanced over to the wide windows, "maybe. Today HQ was supposed to send us a new hunter. A replacement for Senna…though I doubt he'll treat him any better."

"A craft user by the stats they sent us," Hanataro piped up. "And by the way it's a she." He added after Rangiku and Momo looked over at him.

"Another girl?"

~~~*~~~

Rukia was walking down the narrow corridor when she first saw him. Orange hair, unsmiling mouth, brown eyes narrowed in suspicion and annoyance. His lean frame was clothed in black from head-to-toe, black pants, black vest and open black trench. She ducked into a niche at the corridor's middle to let him pass.

They locked gazes, his head turning slightly her way. His eyes retained the frozen emotionless look in them; Rukia stepped into the hallway after he'd gone by, staring at his back until the main door closed with a clang then she walked into the bar area. A dozen tiny tables were grouped about in the large room; a wide counter ran along the back wall where a shaggy blond man with a smiling face and hooded eyes greeted her.

"Good afternoon, young lady. What may I get you? I am the proprietor Kisuke Urahara, please take a seat," he waved a hand casually toward the tables near the bay windows. Rukia smiled faintly and sat down, her eyes wandered to the windows and the view they afforded; secretly she wondered if she might catch a glimpse of the orange-haired man as he went by.

"Your espresso, miss?" Kisuke returned a little while later, bearing a small tray with a teeny white mug, its fragrant full-bodied smell tingling her senses. "Thank you," Rukia said demurely as he set the cup down in front of her. She stirred the dark liquid with a small spoon. "Isn't it awfully bitter?" Kisuke asked curiously. Rukia took a quick sip before answering, "not really. I've gotten used to it…where I lived before we had it all the time instead of tea."

"Ah…Italy?"

"Yes! How did you know?"

"Just a lucky guess is all. I'm known for that around here," Kisuke winked a shadowy blue eye at her.

~~~*~~~

"Ah here's our qua defacto leader himself," Rangiku trailed off, "and he's late!" she crowed happily after taking a quick glance at her wristwatch. Kurosaki raised an eyebrow at her, "and you're one to talk, Rangiku? Remember, he who is without sin may cast the first stone."

"Oh so now you read the bible? And I believe the quote should be, the pot calling the kettle black. Right, Hinamori? Abarai?" Rangiku waited for her supporters to agree but they were grouped over Hanataro's shoulder staring intently at the Lcd screen as text flashed across it.

"What is it? New orders?" immediately serious Rangiku went over and joined them. Kurosaki sighed and stood on the side, his coat draped neatly over his arm. "Not new orders. Changes to an existing order," Hanataro clarified, his round eyes roved hurriedly over the Japanese characters. His fingers tapped the keys and a separate window popped up in the corner, "last night's was Aoshi Shimabara. We caught him…but apparently he had a partner. Sayu Kudo. A witch with similar powers."

"Meaning?" Rangiku muttered.

"We have priority to capture her as soon as possible," Kurosaki said after peering at the screen where Hanataro pointed. Momo crossed her arms and her pretty face darkened, "let's just hope she's not as strong as Aoshi…Rangiku. Think you can go with us?"

The three hunters looked her way expectantly. Rangiku lowered her eyes and tugged at the edge of her blouse, "I don't know…I feel alright but once in a while I get a twinge here and there." She shrugged, "I'll go. Even if I can't do much it's better than just you three by yourselves. Especially considering…" she hesitated, "Abarai's rookie tendencies!"

"I am not a rookie! Matsumoto!" aforementioned red head squawked angrily.

Everybody chuckled.

~~~*~~~

She wasn't sure why she went there. Her heart pounded and her mouth felt dry despite the coffee and tea, Urahara had plied on her. Rukia slowly pushed the metal sheet up; it was dark inside the warehouse. She peered in and seeing nothing was about to give up and leave…then a sound like a groan and a muffled curse reached her ears.

She ducked beneath the sliding metal frame door and took a few cautious steps forward from the vague light coming from outside she discerned a wide circle made of sand on the cement floor. Kneeling down beside it, her eyes traced the familiar symbols of Thurisaz conjoined by Mercury's wheel…the craft of binding!

Another thud this time followed by a crash and then someone laughed. Low and chillingly…

~~~*~~~

Rangiku stayed near the eastern entrance, her gun drawn and de-pressurized. While Momo went in with Renji, the two hunters exchanged wary glances at the dubious location their orders had led them to. Shelves that were up to the ceiling created a maze of tiny enclosures and dark spaces. Kurosaki went in alone as per custom though Rangiku remarked before they separated that having the replacement hunter with them would have been nice.

To this Kurosaki merely snorted, as if he needed back up. Hah!

Momo put in the code given to them by Hanataro, the doors opened with a subtle snap. She withdrew her gun, a smaller version of Rangiku's, in its oval shape and tiny bullet chamber. Renji did the same, pulling his out of a thigh holster. He clicked the safety off and pointed it straight ahead while walking in.

"You go on," Momo whispered, her eyes sweeping the right. Renji nodded and stalked around the front of the first row of shelves. At the end he peered out, looking down another row, seeing nothing he waved quickly to Momo. As she went toward him, her flat heels crunched something on the floor. She paused and looking closely at it she exclaimed, "sand?"

Kurosaki heard her through the earpiece, "a craft! Be careful!"

Renji drew back away from the shelves, the light from their combined flashlights bounced in crazy arks, Momo backed up against him. He could feel her trembling; slowly she raised her flashlight and shone it in the farther corner…a woman in a white dress grinned manically at them.

"Shit." Renji muttered.

A whooshing wind slammed into them and Momo was slammed to the ground. Her dark hair fell in her face, a groan escaped her lips. The sand beneath her shoes glinted and she was swept backward into the shelf repeatedly. "Momo!" Renji yelled, he leveled the gun and fired but the bullet went awry and exploded into tiny glass fragments.

Footsteps pounded on the other side of the shelves, Kurosaki came into sight, panting but his aim was sure. The gun was suddenly yanked from him and thrown away in a wide ark. An invisible force slammed into his chest making him stagger, the crystalline liquid sizzled in its vial, glowing an electric blue. Kurosaki stood his ground as the orbo began negating the witch's craft. His hand crept inside his coat where a tiny revolver was kept for times such as these.

Then…before he knew it, the orbo pendant had shattered and his back slammed with enough force so that his spine was jolted, to the hard floor. "Kurosaki! Damn it!" Renji was pinned to the opposite wall, his body rigid with the binding spell. Momo opened her eyes; Kurosaki's gun lifted into the air before her and the trigger was pressed back…

"Momo!!!"

A sheet of clear ice appeared, blocking the bullet's path. Cold air rushed in replacing the stifling atmosphere with an aura of cleanliness. Suddenly she could move, her head turned toward the solitary figure standing at the end of the shelves. A girl wearing a long dress and a violet pea coat was there; her lips moved and ice daggers appeared slashing through Mercury's binding chain.

Kurosaki blinked when the strange girl moved closer, recognition came over his expression, "you? No…a craft user." She glanced down at him then turned away, the witch was her target. "You've twisted the God power Mercury for your own selfish ends…I'm afraid I can't forgive you." Though her voice was rather quiet the tone in which her words were spoken gave off a forbidding aura and slight malice.

"Hah! Little girl, think you can take me on? With Aoshi beside me I am unstoppable!" Sayu Kudo declared. Deducing from the woman's crazed look and glazed eyes, the hunters easily realized the woman had lost her mind. Good Gods…could this girl really defeat her?

Rukia for her part wasn't afraid. The training at HQ had taught her not to be. Face forward and never look back had been one instructor's particular motto and now she had to wonder just how Kaien-dono was doing. She sighed and then looked at the task at hand; the rune of binding wasn't to be taken lightly, Isa had its advantages but…her eyes flashed blue for a second when she summoned another ice sheet as a shield. Mercury's hammer struck mercilessly at the glistening surface eager to entrap her.

Maybe a bit more effort might have to be put into this one.

Rukia closed her eyes, gathering the frigid air about her into a swirling mass that she then slammed into the witch's circle of power. An icy cage drew up around her, cutting off Thurisaz. Rukia briefly opened her eyes and vivid blue flashed again. The ice crashed down…trapping Sayu in a frozen prison. Kurosaki tried to stand up and nearly slid. He scowled and inched forward on the iced up floor. He took one look at the imprisoned witch and the icicles sprouting up on every available space and said in scathing tones, "you need to get better in your aiming. Make it less to clean up."

Momo climbed up to her feet, "Ichigo! That wasn't very nice!" He ignored her and without another glance back, left. Renji scratched his head and then smiled reassuringly to Rukia, "ignore the man in the black trench. He's always been a real tight ass. Anyway you must be our new hunter, right? Renji Abarai, proclaimed rookie by everybody and this here's my substitute partner-Momo Hinamori, the peach darling of our little group."

"Rukia Kuchiki," she said, taking the hand he held out. A woman came running up suddenly, "oh my Gods! Are you guys all right? Kurosaki just came out and…" Rangiku stopped, her eyes passing over the small girl and the entire scene before her.

"And I'm Rangiku Matsumoto!" Rangiku squealed a minute later after grabbing Rukia and smothering her with the infamous chest. "Rangiku-the boobs of the team," Renji muttered; inwardly wishing it was he being smothered by the busty woman. Momo simply smiled, "welcome to the SCG-J team, Rukia!"

~~~To be continued-or not? ~~~

A/N: don't own Bleach. Eek I'm tired…R&R anyone?