Thank you Aerisboots for the beta read! As always, you rock!!

Gift of the Guardian

Chapter Seven

Written by gokusgirl

~Whoa I think I'm losing it

Without you the harder it gets

Being without your smile (without your touch)

Sho nuff this is love that I'm feeling in everyway

I need your healing only you can give me that feeling

Girl you just don't know how I'm dealing with being so far away

I'm anticipating everyday I'm seeing you again

My homie lover friend

Always holding me down thru the thick and thin

And I'm grateful

I gets on my knees and say thank you

For the song you put inside me

And its such the sweetest melody

And its goes something like...whoooa

It was the longest ten days Ichigo ever endured.

His father did a good job in distracting him with a crash course of traditional Japanese etiquette and culture. He was systematically coached on how to sit, bow, eat, and respectfully speak in those ten grueling days. And no matter how harsh the training became, Ichigo kept his focus on the true reward – seeing Rukia again.

Towards the last days of training Ichigo did feel the strain of this father's instructions wearing down on him. So he exploded in anger when he accused his father of not knowing how he felt about his situation, and left in the middle of a conversation about his future expectations. His father didn't follow him, thinking that maybe he had been too harsh.

He lay on his back across his bed, his arms tucked under his head as he stared up at the ceiling in his bedroom. Ichigo sighed deeply, letting his eyes close. He felt his body relax under the immense strain of this training, and it wasn't long before he drifted off.

He wasn't asleep a half hour before a loud knock came at his bedroom door. He sat upright, rubbing his tired face as he stared sleepily at the door.

"Yeah," Ichigo grumbled, throwing his legs over the edge of the bed. When the door opened, he sucked his teeth with annoyance when he saw his father standing there. "Come to finish what you started?"

"I came to tell you that the portal is open now," Isshin replied as he leaned against the doorframe.

Ichigo eyes sprung open wide. "It is? Thanks Dad-" He stood up from his bed as he smiled happily.

"Wait a minute." Isshin told him as he held up a hand.

Ichigo slumped, scowling almost immediately as he flopped to back down on the bed. "What is it now?"

"I know you're ready to rush out the door and get through that portal…but I want to tell you something." Isshin paused, taking a deep breath as he continued when his son relented, folding his arms at his chest with a small pout. "When I was young man many years ago I came to the human world on a temporary basis."

"What division were you with?" Ichigo asked; his curiosity now peaked.

Isshin shook his head. "I wasn't with any division." He responded slowly.

"Then you were with the Stealth Forces." Ichigo suggested, and his father gave him a quizzical look. "The Royal Guard?"

Isshin paused, hunching his shoulders as he thought of what to say. "You can say it was with the Royal Guard…sure."

"So what seat-"

"This is not the point of my story," Isshin cut in quickly, watching Ichigo sulk. "When I came here, I saw your Mother for the first time sitting at a coffee shop… and I was mesmerized with her beauty."

Ichigo mouth opened with awe as he heard his father speak of his mother, and how he initially met her. When Isshin saw that his son was engrossed in his story, he continued.

"I had no idea that I would meet someone like her… I had no idea that I would fall in love with her. We began dating and I made frequent trips over here to see her; and eventually over time we became…more than friends if you know what I mean."

"I don't want to hear those details." Ichigo said with a crinkle of his nose.

"And you won't," Isshin laughed softly. "Well anyway to get those details out of way, I got your mother pregnant with you. And I married her right away after I found out. But when I came back over to the Soul Society to tell them about it, they were highly upset. They told me I had 'disrupted the natural order' of things by impregnating a human… and I needed to terminate Masaki and you."

Ichigo's jaw slacked. "…The Soul Society wanted you to kill us? Me and mother?"

"They said it was my duty," Isshin told him as he finally walked in his bedroom, sitting beside him on the bed. "But I refused. Instead, I told them I wanted to stay in the human world with my wife. They didn't want me to do this you see, but it was my choice. I had my Shinigami powers stripped from me, and I was exiled here permanently."

"But that doesn't make sense," Ichigo told him as he rubbed his chin. "If you were a Shinigami with no seat in any division and not even part of any faction, why did they choose to keep you alive?"

Isshin smile disappeared, replaced with a somber expression. "…I can't explain that to you son. Not now. All I can say is they couldn't kill me."

"But –"

"And that is not the point of my story either," Isshin interrupted him yet again. "My point is that there will be a time when you must make sacrifices for the ones you love, son. Remember that when you get there. Remember that whatever you give up, it's for Rukia and your child's sake. I would give my powers up again in a heartbeat if I had to for Masaki. So don't ever say I can't relate to what you're going through."

"Dad," Ichigo chocked out slowly, realizing his actions earlier had hurt his father. He reached out, rubbing his shoulder sadly. "I'm sorry for what I said. I had no idea."

Father looked a little forlorn, assumingly thinking of his wife, and their vibrant but short life they shared together. He let out a small laugh, shaking his head slowly as he came out of his revive.

"You go on now, Rukia is waiting for you." Isshin told him in a positive voice. "Don't forget everything I've taught you this past week."

"I won't, thanks again Dad," Ichigo told him has he stood. "You know you can be really annoying at times, but honestly I'm glad that you're my Dad."

Isshin stood, smiling warmly as he slapped his son across the back. "And you can be a huge asshole at times, but I'm glad you're my son."

They both stood there for a second before Ichigo awkwardly reached out to give him a hug. Isshin hugged him back, laughing softly as he drew back to gaze at his first born.

His little Ichigo.

"You're a man now," Isshin declared firmly as he planted his hands on his shoulders. "Now go and do what is right."

Captain Jushiro Ukitake of Division Thirteen strode quickly up the corridor of the Gotei 13 headquarters, maneuvering between officers as he sought out Captain Byakuya. A Gotei 13 meeting had recently adjourned and Byakuya had rushed out in a hurry – yet again. Ukitake had sent several requests to speak to the clan leader on Rukia's behalf, and he they all had been ignored. Today he was going to get answer out of Byakuya- even if it meant if he had to run him down to get it.

Ukitake eyes widened with joy when he recognized the kanji six on the back on the captain's robe from a distance, and Byakuya's long, pale green scarf that hung over his shoulders and neck. Walking faster, the captain waved his hands frantically.

"Captain Byakuya, if I could have a word sir!" Ukitake yelled up the long corridor, still walking hurriedly towards Byakuya's direction. Byakuya slowed down when he heard his name, but continued to walk when he realized it was Ukitake. This made Ukitake very upset, and he stopped walking, placing his hands on his very narrow hips. "You know I am ill, and yet you want me to exhaust myself running behind you Captain! That is very rude!"

Byakuya stopped walking, and slowly turned around to gaze at Captain Ukitake. He was about fifty feet from him, and judging the way the unhealthy captain was huffing, he'd followed him nearly out of entire complex. Byakuya walked over to the man, eyeing him down as he was now knelt against the wall, his hands planted on his knees.

"You wish to speak to me, Captain Ukitake?" Byakuya asked the wheezing man flatly.

"Yes," Rasped out Ukitake; who now stood straight and pushed a stray white hair out of his face. "I've been trying to talk to you all week."

"My apologies, Captain," Byakuya told him with a small bow. "I have been very busy. I have been unable to take visitors or answer any written requests. What do you want to talk about?"

"Well..." Ukitake started, looking nervously at the numerous officers that walked up and down the crowed corridor, thinking to himself that he would have preferred a quiet, discreet location to talk about matters. However, he had Byakuya's attention for now, and he'd better make the most of it. "I wanted to inquire about Rukia. Is she doing alright, sir?"

"She is well, Captain." Byakuya answered; his tone still flat.

"That is good. Well, I know that it's not a good time to talk about these things..."

"It is not." Byakuya replied quickly; his tone now sounding a little irritated.

"Yes." Ukitake spoke slowly. "Well there are many speculations on the paternity of Rukia's child. It was written in the scroll of the elders before Central 46 was formed that a child not of our world would be born here. Furthermore, this would be a sign of the return- "

"What is the point of this conversation?" Byakuya interrupted the captain rather harshly. "I find this talk to be very inappropriate to speak of in public. In addition, this alleged scroll you speak of is a myth, and pure nonsense."

"I tried contacting you at your residence, Captain." Ukitake told him evenly, trying his best to remain calm. "I only wanted to inform you of what I know. It is common knowledge that Rukia is intimately close with Ichigo Kurosaki. And recognizing this, I wanted to respectfully ask that you spare him."

An eyebrow rose with intrigue when he heard Ukitake speak of Ichigo. "I'm sure you do want that ryoka spared, Captain. After all, you were the one who highly recommended him to be a substitute Shinigami. I find it rather disconcerting that you want to save face over your duly noted blunder!"

"I'm not trying to save face." Ukitake spoke sternly, his cheeks flushed with anger. "I'm trying to save a father so he can see his child!"

"Renji Abarai has contested that claim," Byakuya spat. "He confronted me about his possible paternity only five days ago."

Ukitake scoffed at the mention of Renji's claim. "Possible."

"Yes. And I would appreciate it if you would hold your tongue of things you have no knowledge of. Good day to you, Captain." Byakuya turned around stiffly, walking into the clutter of officers that were in the hall and quickly disappeared.

It was only then that the feeble Captain of Division thirteen broke out into fits of uncontrollable coughs.

"Lady Kuchiki?" Servant Sora spoke meekly as she entered the patio. Rukia was sitting on a bench, eating some fruit and enjoying the comfortable temperature. Taking another bite of her cantaloupe, she smiled warmly at the young girl.

"Hello, Sora." Rukia said happily. In spite of being on house arrest at the Kuchiki estate, she felt better than she'd ever felt in weeks. She was eating whenever she wanted; her morning sickness was nearly gone, and she began to notice extreme changes in her appearance. Her hair, which sported the usual cropped style that barely touched the back of her neck, was now past her shoulders. And strangely her stomach began to show more than ever now. It was explained to her that timeframes in the Society and the human world were drastically different; so her child was growing at alarming rate. So much, in fact that she couldn't wear her Shinigami uniform anymore. She wore a custom tailored peach colored kimono today, woven silk that felt simply wonderful against her skin. Byakuya purchased several of these outfits for her recently; and Rukia could tell that he was still mad to some degree about the entire situation; but he was very protective of his adoptive sister, and ensured that her every need and necessity was met.

What made Rukia the happiest at this moment was the tiny flutters in her stomach recently.

The stirring of life.

As she thought of the life that she and Ichigo unknowing created, it made Rukia feel warm and fuzzy inside. Her mind whirled with ideas and thoughts of what their child looked like, and if she would have a girl or a boy. Even though the events surrounding her condition had been a bit turbulent lately; this moment- as she sank her teeth into sweet slices of cantaloupe as she felt the warm sun on her face…made it all worth the while.

(So then what is the time frame of this story? If she's going to pop virtually in weeks(?) time and Ichigo is already here then there is some other part to the story that hasn't been introduced fully yet? That's kind of a bummer but I think in retrospect I should have expected it.)

"You have a visitor, My Lady." Sora announced, and Rukia stopped chewing.

Frowning slightly, she set the bowl of fruit down beside her on the bench, brushing a stray hair out of her face. Her stomach clenched with dread – hoping that her visitor wasn't the persistent red-headed soon-to-be-captain of Division Three.

"Alright," Rukia muttered softly, standing as she began to walk up the steps that led back into the foyer. She stopped walking when she noticed Rangiku sauntering out onto the patio, flipping her long hair over her shoulder. "Rangiku-chan!" Rukia squealed delightfully, her face lighting up as she ran up the steps to greet her friend.

"Easy there, Rukia!" Rangiku laughed, and they briefly embraced. Rangiku pulled back to look down at Rukia, and was amazed to see that not only did Rukia had a maternal glow, but her hair was beginning to grow longer as well. On volition of their own, Rangiku's eyes floated down to Rukia's stomach, and she let out a small, wondrous gasp. The roundness of Rukia's stomach was evident; and seeing it for herself nearly took the wind right out of her.

Rukia's eyes followed down to her stomach as well, and she blushed with a small smile.

"Oh my…goodness, Rukia." Rangiku breathed, covering her mouth as she looked up at the younger woman.

"Umm…yeah. It's something, isn't it?" Rukia laughed nervously as she rubbed her stomach in circular motions.

Rangiku's hands instinctively reached out to touch her- but stopped short of a few inches. She looked at Rukia, silently asking for permission. Rukia nodded mutely, and Rangiku's hands nervously touched her stomach, gasping again as she felt how perfectly round it was.

She pulled her hand away – suddenly feeling her actions were intrusive. But as she looked back at Rukia, she smiled warmly, wringing her hands tensely. They both became silent, and soon Rangiku let out a gush of air, placing her hands on her hips.

"What the hell, Rukia. Why didn't you tell me?" Rangiku chided with a shake of her head.

"I was afraid, Rangiku. You have to understand that." Rukia told her, shying her eyes away.

"Well, I'm not fussing at you for not telling me… it's just that you nearly killed yourself by hiding it. I was really concerned."

"I know…and I'm sorry for that," Rukia swallowed, and she turned her gaze back at her busty friend. "How did you manage to get in here? Brother told me that no one was allowed to see me right now."

"My captain put in a good word for me, and I can only be here for another five minutes." Rangiku replied. "So… how do you feel, honey?"

"Full, but in a good way though," Rukia answered, and they both began to walk out into grassy area beyond the patio.

"So I heard that Renji is making a big stink of things." Rangiku told her.

"Yeah… he's the proverbial torn in my side right now."

"When is the inquisition?"

"It hasn't been announced yet, but I hope it's soon. I just want-" Rukia grew silent, and stopped walking as she paused. She whirled around to look at Rangiku, who looked at her strangely.

"What's the matter Rukia?" She asked her, watching as Rukia seemed to tremble.

And then she felt it.

Rukia's breathing began to waver as she felt the strongest, and yet the most familiar reiatsu pass through her. The sensation was like a warm blanket that enveloped her. It felt so intense that she stumbled slightly, her legs now feeling like raw noodles. And the small flutter in her stomach increased with the excitement that flowed right into her very being.

Rukia began to gradually smile, and her eyes began to water with the realization. Her throat tightened as she let out a joyful sob, and she covered her mouth as she looked at her friend. She knew now Rangiku felt what she did at this moment, but nearly not at the level or intensity. Her mouth fought to form the words that desperately wanted to spew from her mouth.

"He's here," Rukia finally gushed out happily, the tears falling down her face. "Ichigo is here!"

The portal left him in the very heart of the Rukongai. He couldn't recognize the district, but it looked like a merchant's market - only there wasn't a soul (literally) on the street. The desolate area put a warning flag up for Ichigo. Regaining his bearings from the vortex of the portal, he quickly assessed his surroundings, puzzled and still on guard. Something isn't particularly right with this scenario, he thought to himself.

His intuition proved true when he turned around to find a dozen of Stealth Force Guards and their leader standing several feet away from him. In spite of himself he slowly smirked, glad that he wasn't alone anymore, but judging the poise the guards held, they were ready to leap on him any second. And Soi Fon's face was unreadable- as always. What caught Ichigo's attention about her was how she stared at him. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up on end.

As Ichigo let his arms drop to his sides calmly, he noticed how the guards followed his movement. He stood there silently for a moment before clearing his throat.

"Captain." Ichigo spoke loudly, since they were several feet apart.

"Substitute Shinigami." Soi Fon replied after a tense pause.

Ichigo smirked. "This isn't the welcoming committee, isn't now?"

"No, it's not." Soi Fon answered immediately.

"Have I done something?" Ichigo asked as he furrowed his brows.

"Have you?" Soi Fon responded quickly.

Ichigo bristled. He was losing his patience with this back and forth. Sucking in a deep breath, he kept his hand planted firmly at his sides as he gave a curt bow.

"I respectfully request to have an audience with Captain Byakuya." Ichigo stated firmly.

"I don't care who you wish to talk to," Soi Fon spat acidly as she eyed him up and down. "What I do care about is your zanpakuto. By order of Captain Yama-jii , we are not allowed to carry our zanpakuto during times of peace. So once you have relinquished your weapon to us, you will be allowed to enter."

"How do I know you won't attack me after I give you my weapon?" Ichigo asked suspiciously with a raised eyebrow.

"You can enter dead or alive, make your choice." Soi Fon said dryly.

Ichigo cautiously looked over his shoulder to find more guards surrounding him. He looked back at Soi Fon, who was now smiling darkly at his indecisiveness.

"Alright," Ichigo sighed. "I'll do it." He raised his right hand upward, grasping hold of Zangetsu's wrapped handle. The sound of the guard's swords being unsheathed rang through Ichigo's ears, and he noticed how they inched closer to him, ready to strike with their weapons drawn.

"Holy….shiiiit!" Ichigo spoke lividly, not believing what he saw. These guys mean business!

"Hand over your weapon carefully, Kurosaki." Soi Fon warned him flatly. "If you want to live. One false move and my guards will slash you to ribbons."

"Alright, god dammit!" Ichigo seethed. "Just tell them back off."

"That is not an option." Soi Fon told him in a hard tone. "Carefully relinquish your weapon… now Kurosaki."

"Okay, Okay," Ichigo told her, his hand slowly withdrawing from Zangetsu's handle. He held both hands up, and the right hand cautiously unbuckled the red leather strap connected to the weapon's holster. Once the strap was undone, his zanpakuto fell on the ground behind him, making a loud banging noise as it hit the cobbled street. "Happy now?"

"Very." Soi Fon answered devilishly. She motioned to one the guards and he ran over to pick his weapon up.

"Uh, you're going to need more that one man to pick my weapon up, Captain." Ichigo told her, and he laughed when he saw how the guard struggled to pick up the heavy blade up.

"Shut your mouth, Kurosaki. Go help him." Soi Fon ordered two more men, and they swiftly ran over to assist the first man. After a few minutes of struggling, the weapon was finally picked up off the ground.

"You may follow me, Kurosaki." Soi Fon ordered Ichigo, and she turned on her heel and began to walk away. He followed behind her, with the Stealth Guard closely walking behind him.

He had been here in times of peace and was allowed to keep Zangetsu in the past. So Ichigo didn't have a clue to why he was greeted by an elite group of guards that he could have dispatched very easily. But he quickly remembered what his father told him, it's not about the brawn, but all about the brain.

He hoped his father was right. Because right now, it felt he was being led to his death.

To be continued

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~Lyrics titled Whoa by Jahiem.