Hi there! (*^ー^)ノ

Woohoo, a quick update! v(^-^)v But mainly because this chapter is pretty short, at least for my standards…

Anyway, many thanks to those who reviewed!

Byakuya Sama, yume girl 91, Draceline, Sith, wickedsistah1024, CookieMonster666, ASUKA, kluxces, ColourPearl, BloodLustLove, Sweet Scrifice

Thank you very much! (*^人^*) Your reviews mean a lot to me, especially because they were the first ones to this story and gave me the courage to continue it. Thank you once again!

And it's been brought up in your reviews that there's slight OOCness here. And yes, I know it, but this is how I intended it to be. After all in this fic they are normal humans, there are no Hollows, no Shinigamis, no Arrancars (okay, it'll be fun, I hope xD), they don't run around with swords, there's no war in the air, so the characters, in my opinion at least, actually should be more relaxed, more easily express their feelings (of course without overdoing it (^▽^;) Ulquiorra won't be grinning like an idiot, don't worry – although the vision of him though disturbing is hilarious (≧▽≦)). So yeah, hope you'll see it from my point of view.

Enough of my babbling and do enjoy this chapter!

(And sorry for any mistakes…)

朝霧 -Asagiri-

3:00 A.M.

by Asagiri

Chapter 2

Mysterious Man

The clock showed 3:00 A.M. and as if it was accompanied by an alarm, Rukia woke up. She was lying on top of Ichigo with her head on his chest. He had his arms around her and was snoring slightly. The petite woman smiled at this softly. Hoping that nevertheless she would fall asleep again, she moved a little hiding her face in the crook of his neck, breathing in his masculine scent. She loved it; it was so Ichigo-like and always made her feel warm inside.

At least ten minutes had passed, yet not only she wasn't getting any sleepy, but she had problems with keeping her eyes closed. Knowing it was useless, she wriggled herself gently from the redhead's hold and went downstairs to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.

It was chilly there because the heating was turned off for the night and so as not to freeze unnecessarily, she put on a fluffy bathrobe. She quickly washed the dishes that Ichigo had left after his supper. While sitting by the table and drinking her hot beverage, she thought that the walk from yesterday morning wasn't such a bad idea and so she dressed and went to the park.

Within few minutes she reached its gates, but instead of walking in, she decided to look for another entrance just to lend some variety to her stroll. Not far away she found another gateway and entered through it.

Walking leisurely, she arrived in front of a magnificent cryptometria. It was impressively huge and Rukia wouldn't be surprised if it was at least few hundred years old. It was marked with shimenawa and in front of it was a small shintō altar which looked pretty old itself with all the moss that covered it. With a delicate mist in the air, the place looked positively mystical. She approached the altar and clasped her hands together in a silent prayer to the gods that resided in this grand tree.

The petite woman admired the cryptometria for few more minutes and after that she continued her stroll, hoping to discover some other magical spots in the park. Eventually she reached the lake.

And from the corner of her eye she saw him.

It was the same man she had spotted yesterday or so she supposed for he was wearing a similar jacket. This time she was closer, around 15 metres from him, so she could see some details about him.

He was young, but she could tell he was older than her, Rukia guessed he was around 24-26 years old. Tall, around the same height as Ichigo, the man had dark hair and pale skin that kind of glowed in the dimness of the morning giving him a supernatural and quite eerie aura. He was wearing a white waist-long jacket, black jeans and stylish shoes. In his right hand he was holding a cigarette, bringing it from time to time to his mouth. Bad habit, she mused.

He didn't look like a psychopath, but you could never tell them – they were good at concealing their true nature after all.

Exhaling the smoke, the man looked at her and she felt a cold shiver running down her spine.

She had stared at him for too long! He might get provoked or something! With her heart beating chaotically in fright, Rukia turned to the left so she wouldn't pass in front of him and trying to appear as nonchalant as possible she made her way to the closest gates of the park. She walked quite fast, but not too fast as not to provoke him unnecessarily. But the truth was, she just wanted to run off.

With relief she noted that no sound of footsteps followed her and when she reached the exit, she allowed herself a small sigh of relaxation. Nevertheless without slowing down she alertly headed home.

Ulquiorra watched her form disappearing in the distance. It was the same woman as yesterday, he was sure of it, even though last time she had been quite far away for him to take a good look. She was wearing a navy jacket that reached her hips and had quite an unusual hairdo…

Did she too couldn't sleep?

Nevertheless it wasn't wise of her to walk alone at this hour. It was true that the neighbourhood was rather peaceful and she even was the first person he met in the park since he had started coming here around a month ago, but still it wasn't too safe for a companionless woman. It asked for trouble.

Well, it wasn't his business.

After finishing his cigarette, he looked at the slowly brightening sky and decided it was time to go home and get ready for the day.

It was Friday, 3:56 in the morning and Rukia was sitting by the kitchen table, looking wearily from her laptop to a stack of papers. She was trying to make a project for Marketing Management that was due to the last week of May, but she wasn't making any progress at all for she just couldn't focus at this hour. Well, she had started at least… And there was still more than a week…

She hadn't been in the park for last two mornings. She had to admit she was kind of afraid of that man even though he hadn't done anything that might have made her suspicious or feel threatened. He had just sat on a bench, smoked a cigarette and spared her a glance, nothing more. Thinking it over she guessed her fear was quite irrational.

So the petite woman decided that tomorrow she would go there. She would prefer running into a psychopath than struggle with this project, honestly. Of course if she woke up. And she supposed that she would, although most definitely wouldn't complain if she didn't. It was quite wearisome – after all she wasn't getting more than five hours (and that was at most) of sleep per day, counting occasional naps during the day.

After this decision, she somehow made a plan for her project, more or less finished the introduction and started writing a paragraph regarding the first point on her list (one sentence is a start, right?). At least some progress…

Rukia sighed heavily and looked at the clock.

5:43 A.M.

Gathering her papers, she moved them and the laptop to a table in the living room and started preparing a breakfast for them. Not a long time later she heard the alarm clock and soon enough Ichigo entered the kitchen.

"Mornin'," he said while stifling a yawn and sat by the table.

"Morning, morning," Rukia replied with a smile, giving him a cup of coffee.

"You have no idea how much I love you," he told her and grabbed the cup bringing it to his nose inhaling deeply its smell. Sadly, it was still too hot to drink or he would end up with first-degree burns on his tongue.

"Just for coffee?" she asked him teasingly, while putting a plate with warm toasts in front of him.

"Yeah, and generally for breakfast too," smirked Ichigo jokingly, earning himself a gentle hit in the back of his head.

Rukia crossed arms in front of her chest expectantly, but couldn't help smiling. "You want your scrambled eggs or not?"

"And of course I love you for your personality," he gave her a wide grin. "And, oh, how beautiful you are! Both your inner and outer beauty is simply breathtaking…"

She shook her head at his words. "You're impossible."

"That's why you love me," the already broad smile on his face only grew bigger.

"Now I wonder…"

"Oi!" the carrot-top scowled, but soon chuckled shaking his head.

Smiling, Rukia gave him his portion of scrambled eggs and when his attention turned to his breakfast, she quickly bent a little and kissed him on his cheek. "Happy now?"

"Like never before."

"Good," she said and sitting in her chair, she started eating her morning meal.

Soon they finished their breakfast and when Ichigo went to the bathroom to prepare himself for the day, she cleaned the table and washed the dishes. Today only he was leaving early for the work. On Friday mornings she usually wasn't going to the corporation, but straight to Tōdai for two classes and only then she went to Ukitake-san's office. Maybe he would help her a little with her project?

Not a long time later the redhead emerged from the bathroom ready for the day. He still had around 20 minutes before leaving, so he sat on the sofa in the living room and turned on TV to watch some anime. He noticed her papers and laptop lying on the table.

"You woke earlier than usual?" he asked her.

"Hmm?" Rukia's head appeared in the kitchen door and she looked at her things. "Ah, yeah," she answered, smiling. "A little." It wasn't exactly a lie… She just didn't want him worrying over pointless thing when he was already enough stressed out with all the work at the hospital. "I have around a week to finish a project for Marketing Management and thought that I should start it. Wrote a little and I guess I should finish it on time."

"Ah so? Good luck then," he smiled encouragingly and returned to his anime.

"Thanks," she replied and after finishing everything in the kitchen, she joined him on the sofa resting her head on his shoulder. Ichigo automatically sneaked his arm around her slim waist.

"Damn, such a good moment and I have to get going," he complained looking at the clock.

Rukia smiled at him. "Can't be helped. You don't want to be late, do you?"

"Yeah," he agreed sourly. "I don't want the old man getting on my nerves more than necessary."

She kissed him softly on his cheek. "Have a good day."

"You too."

This night Rukia yet again took a different path and found herself in a sakura alley. The cherry blossom trees were slowly withering and now were more of green than pinkish white. Looking at them she quite regretted not coming here when they were in a full bloom. Maybe next year they would come for o-hanami here instead of Ueno Park? Maybe it would be less crowded, who knew?

Strolling, her feet took her eventually to the centre of the park. She looked around, but the man was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe he stopped coming?, she wondered, feeling quite disappointed for she kind of wanted to face him as ridiculously as it sounded. She wanted to challenge her fear and make sure it was irrational. Yes, she was daring her luck. Oh well… Maybe it was better this way?

The tension she didn't know she had been feeling until now left her and with a small skip to her step she went to offer a prayer at the shintō altar by the cryptometria. Next time she would take her camera to take a picture of it, it was truly magnificent.

However her plans went quickly forgotten for when she was going around the tree, unexpectedly that man appeared in front of her. She froze in her tracks.

He was standing in front of the altar sideways to her, his hands clasped together in a prayer. Totally innocent-like behaviour, right?

Yet Rukia wanted to run for her life. Psychopath, definitely one!

He looked a little bit different from the last time she had seen him. And that 'little bit' made a lot of difference. Except for the white jacket with a high collar he was wearing black clothes - a T-shirt with some print, tattered jeans and combat-like boots. His nails were painted black and there were two dark marks on his cheeks symmetrically cascading from his eyes down to his jaw line.

Rukia was scared.

He stopped praying and put his hands inside jacket's pockets and turned to look at her.

Now she was positively horrified. Her heart was thumping rapidly and she broke out in a cold sweat. She tried not to look at him as not to provoke him or anything, but still their eyes locked together. That was when Rukia noticed something unusual – his eyes. By no means were they Asian eyes for they were big and green and she doubted he was wearing contacts. However his facial features were rather delicate that of Japanese… Was he Hāfu? Most probably.

Ulquiorra observed her and was quite amused by her reaction – her eyes were widened in a genuine fear. If she was so scared of encountering people, she shouldn't have left home at this hour or at least not alone. Okay, maybe his appearance wasn't helping much…

After their live, Grimmjow the idiot had started pissing him off more than usually, so not wanting to hear any of his stupid and nonsensical ramble, he had only changed his shirt and left for home without removing the make-up. And before going to his apartment, he had decided to go to the park. It became his habit by now, coming here at early morning hours… The tranquillity of this place calmed him and until she hadn't appeared, nothing disturbed his peace. Not that he minded her presence, the park was big enough for the two of them.

Speaking of her, she hadn't been coming here for few last days…

Rukia didn't know what to do. She was too scared to even twitch, her heart was still breaking the world record in beat rate. What should she do now? She was stupid to come here, unarmed. She should have taken at least a knife with her!

The man took a step in her direction.

Already stiff, Rukia tensed up even more and her heart froze in a cardiac arrest.

Unfazed, Ulquiorra unhurriedly passed next to her and went to sit on his bench for a while. He would have one cigarette and then return home.

Only when the sound of his footsteps faded in the distance, did she start to breath again. Her knees were shaking uncontrollably under her. She would give a lot for a cup of o-saké… Or make it few. The guy nearly killed her!

She quickly approached the altar and ardently thanked the merciful gods for watching over her so she had escaped this encounter unharmed. After that, making sure she wouldn't come across him again, she scurried home, thinking that she would never ever return there. Not without a knife or Ichigo, at least.

If you have any questions about anything in this fic, feel free too ask. There might be some things not commonly known, at least at first glance, like:

shimenawa – "(...) rice straw rope used for ritual purification in the Shintō religion. (...) A space bound by shimenawa often indicates a sacred or pure space, such as that of a shrine. (...) They are also used to mark trees that are believed to be inhabited by spirits called Kodama. (...)" – from Wikipedia.

Hāfu – eng. half, a neutral (at least as far as I know… (^_^;)) term for someone of mixed blood, half-Japanese half-foreigner. I decided to use this one word instead of few descriptive, because it's less troublesome and sounds better ;)

And if you wondered, I don't have the bloodiest idea about economy, so do forgive me if I write some nonsense σ(;´▽`A``

Until then!

朝霧 -Asagiri-