A/N: this applies to each and every chapter (in case I forget my disclaimer)--I do NOT own Bleach. I just appreciate it, very much so!

"Are you sure about this?" he asked, his voice smoothing over his own uncertainty. A smile threatened to surface, as the corners of his mouth twitched with anticipation.

She kept her head bowed, staring at the wooden floor as she counted the boards. Her eyes traced over the wood grain patterns that were weaved throughout. Her knees were beginning to hurt from the weight of her slim frame. She nodded.

"I'm not so sure this is the best way to go about it," he said thoughtfully, his tone toying with her request.

Her head shot up as she glared at him, her violet eyes flashing their disdain as she pushed the stray lock of hair from her eyes. "I want to do this!" she said, slowly anonciating every word, for effect. "I need to learn this!"

He studied her for a few moments as he pondered his role in the request. She had rushed into his store, yelling his name. Tessai had calmly asked her to lower her voice, as his master was still asleep. Despite her slender frame, she easily pushed the larger man aside--only screaming Urahara's name much more loudly. Kisuke was dismayed at the interruption of his beauty sleep, but she was one of his best customers. He decided that she probably had a rational explanation for waking him up this early...in the afternoon. He yawned as he opened the do with mild frustration—only to find her kneeling outside his door. They had been arguing for some time, as it was obvious by the way Tessai paced nervously on the front entranceway. Of course, the Kido Master's anxiety was exacerbated by Ururu's nervous mannerisms as she sneaked glances while sweeping the dust off the steps. Rukia cleared her throat, calling Kisuke's attention back to the matter-at-hand.

"Hmm, we shall see…" he said half-heartedly, snapping his fan open. The summer heat was already making him aggravated.

"We will not see!" she hissed, her anger apparent by the redness that was creeping up her neck and into her face.

"Oh?" Urahara said, his voice remaining calm. He arched an eyebrow beneath his shaggy blonde locks.

"I want to learn now. Today. I will start right now if you wish to teach me. Show me how you taught Ichigo," she whispered, casting her eyes to the floor.

So that was it! he thought to himself, smirking behind his fan. She wants to surpass Ichigo, of course. "I do not think it is wise to teach you simply so you can keep up with the competition," his voice held a strange melody to it.

She risked peek at his face as she grasped the meaning of his words. Her eyes widened with recognition and embarrassment. She suspected he was smiling behind that stupid fan. "I—what?? I am not doing this to compete with anyone! I want to learn! I am tired of always being the weakling. Always being injured. Always weighing everyone down," she mumbled, tugging at her black hakama—her knuckles turning white. "I'm from a noble family, I should begin acting like one. I'm an embarrassment to onii-san. I want to become stronger, and if you won't help me, then I am wasting my time." She spoke quickly, as if ashamed of herself.

Kisuke was taken aback by her fervored speech. She was practically begging the Sereiti outcast to help her. It was humiliating enough…even he had no right to make the young noblewoman beg. "Fine," he said, closing his fan in one swift movement. She is not aware of her own strength, he thought, examining her more closely. She is at least lieutenant level, I'm sure of it. She is just timid--afraid of the real power that I can sense from her. Too bad Byakuya keeps her ability to achieve rank out of her reach.

"Fine?" she echoed, looking up at him with a mixture of confusion and excitement. She was almost afraid she had imagined those words.

He nodded, "I think you are being reasonable enough. I would like to add something: you are not an embarrassment, Kuchiki Rukia. You are a strong shinigami who has yet to blossom." He let his eyes wander over her upper torso, much to Rukia's dismay.

Her smile disappeared. She crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at him murderously. "Pervert," she muttered. He smirked in response.

"Would tomorrow afternoon work for you, Rukia?" he said, smiling from underneath his disheveled hair. "I have some business to attend to, er, this afternoon. This way, I can be fully prepared for your training tomorrow."

She smiled as she pushed erself to her feet. "Hai!" She began to run--no float--out of the shop. She even hugged a very confused Tessai along the way.

"Good, I also want to finish my beauty sleep," he muttered, stepping into his room as her soft footsteps ceased altogether. When he was positive she had gone, he peeked his head out of the narrow doorway, "Tessai?"

"Yes, boss!" the burly man said, standing as straight as humanly possible, his face still red from the surprise intimacy.

"Could you find Yoruichi and ask her to retrieve my invention. I'm going to teach Rukia to summon her bankai," he told him matter-of-factly.

"Yes!" Tessai bellowed before disappearing.

Urahara shook his head as he looked at the spot where Rukia had been kneeling moments earlier. He had no intention of just teaching her how attain her bankai. No, she would have to earn that. It was going to be a grueling training, but had no doubts that she would endure. If it was strength she wanted, he would tutor her. But it was not going to be easy. She did, after all, wake him up from his slumber. That girl has no idea what she is in for, he thought as he slid the door shut behind him.

Rukia slowly walked back to the Kurosaki's residence with a smile plastered lighting up her face. She was finally doing something on her own accord! She easily and effortlessly leaped from the ground onto the window ledge outside of Ichigo's room. She carefully slid the window open, keeping her eyes on the napping orange-haired boy.

She silently watched him as she dangled her legs over the window's edge, perching herself on the sill. Her excitement over Kisuke's promise was making her giddy. And a bit mischevious. In one swift movement, she pushed herself off of the sill, landing feet-first on Ichigo's stomach. He awoke with a loud wheeze as the air was knocked out of his lungs. He immediately sprang to his feet, ready for battle.

"R-Rukia! What the hell was that for?" he grumbled, rubbing his tender abdomen.

Kon, who must have been in the closet—undoubtedly smelling Rukia's undergarments again—slid open the door as he tearfully screeched his endearment, "Nee-san!" The stuffed animal launched himself at the slender woman, wrapping his pudgy arms around her neck. He prepared for her harsh and violent punishment, but was surprised to be met with none.

"Oi, what's that all about?" Ichigo asked, staring at Kon's fully intact body. He scratched his mop of orange hair.

"I should let him get away with it every once in a while," Rukia said as she smiled innocently. She slowly removed Kon's arms from around her neck as he tried peeking down the v-neck of her uniform. "Ok, enough…I said enough!" she hissed before sending his fabric body colliding head-first into the closet door.

"Nee-san, I love you!" Kon sang as he was tossed aside.

"Why are you in such a good mood?" Ichigo asked, eyeing her cautiously. He knew something was different.

"What? Am I usually so unbearable to be around?" she asked defensively. Her eyes flashed her annoyance, and soon the Old Rukia returned.

Ichigo waved his arms frantically, realizing he could no longer relish her good mood, "No, no, I just meant, uh…"

"Ichigo! Dinner is ready!" Yuzu's soft voice rang out. "Daddy! Food!" she said, her voice more distant this time. Rukia could hear a crash outside, followed by Karin's rambling, "You stupid idiot!" and Kurosaki Isshin's whimpering. She smiled at the Kurosaki family dynamics.

Ichigo sighed, slumping his shoulders in defeat. "I guess I should eat whatever Yuzu prepared. She works harder than that old man. You coming, midget?"

"No, I think I'm going to stay here, and catch up on the events happening in Seretei," she replied.

"Are...you..ok, Rukia?" he asked, concern in his voice. His hand was on the door handle, but he was studying Rukia's face.

She met his gaze, embarrassed at how much he was fawning over her. Her face reddened as she replied indignantly, "Yes! I'm not hungry. Now go eat, idiot!"

He risked a grin as he shut the door behind him. She quietly climbed into the closet, slipping herself into something more comfortable. She heard a light rustling, and responded by driving her elbow into the pillow, "Pervert!" she screeched. She quickly reached under the pillow and pulled the modified soul from his hiding place. His eyes bulged at her bound breasts and otherwise-naked upper body. "Nee-sannnn," he drooled. She quickly tossed him out of the closet, too anxious for tomorrow's training to even punish the voyeuristic stuffed animal.

She slipped into her night garments and laid back on her folded arms. Tomorrow would mark the start of her training. She would become stronger. Finally. She would no longer have to depend on Ichigo or Byakuya to help her in times of need. No longer would she be the weakling of the group. Rukia would be able to hold her own—and then some. She smiled at the excitement her thoughts created. Wait until Ichigo sees how strong I have become, she told herself. She shook her head, Why am I always thinking of that silly boy? It should be my own brother I wish to impress, he's always disappointed in me. She felt her stomach drop at the thought of Kuchiki Byakuya. He was constantly coming to her aid and enduring injury to save his younger, clumsier, adopted sister. She was ashamed of how much she depended on the young heir. She knew it was mainly because of a stupid promise to her long-deceased sister, Hisana. Rukia rolled onto her side, thinking about how he had never seemed to take an interest in Rukia's accomplishments—not that she had any. He didn't like Ichigo, that much she was sure about.

She smiled at how enraged the Kuchiki captain became when Ichigo addressed him so informally. Though Byakuya didn't show it, she could see the subtle signs of his restraint: the twitch in his jaw, the brief narrowing of his eyelids, the crease in his forehead, and how his fingers curved for his zanpakuto each time he was aggravated. Though he displayed a cool demeanor, Rukia knew that there must have been something about him that made her sister marry him. Surely she wasn't attracted to his cold exterior? He had to have a warm personality, right? She wanted more than anything to see her brother smile at her and be proud of her strength as a shinigami.

She didn't want to have to stand behind Renji and Ichigo anymore; she wanted to stand beside them. She was tired of being protected, tired of being seen as weak. She knew, as rumors circulated about her snowy white sword, that there was much more to her zanpakuto than even she could comprehend. She had never been able to coax her bankai from its slumber. She had always felt disconnected from the beautiful sword, as if she were an ugly duckling holding a beautiful swan. Her sword was regarded as the most beautiful, and Rukia was never regarded as anything but the "adopted brat sister" of the most important noble in Seretei. She knew it was an embarrassment for Byakuya to have a sister who couldn't even attain a Lieutenant rank.

She rolled onto her other side, facing the dark wall in the back of the closet. Her dark hair fell into her eyes. Why can I have the most beautiful sword and lack the ability to call upon it? Sure, Sode no Shirayuki was an amazing shikai, but she could only summon three dances after all this time. Did her Zanpakuto dislike her? Did it know how important it was to her? She had spoken to the sword many times, thanking it for its dedication, hoping to feel something in return.

She sighed, rolling onto her back. She could hear Ichigo slipping back into his room, his feet shuffling along the wooden floor. She heard his chair creak as he sat down to finish his studies. She thought of how strong he was. His power originally came from me, right? she pondered. Does that mean I am just as powerful, if not more? She thought back to the night when she lent him her shinigami powers to save his family from a stray hollow. He had instantly been transformed into one of the strongest soul reapers the Society had ever seen—as shown by the way he fought the entire Gotei Thirteen to save her. So, if she could give that power to Ichigo, surely she could also call upon that strength for herself, right?

Perhaps training with Urahara would bring out the strong shinigami that she was confident lived inside of her. She excelled with Kido, but was weak, defensively. She could also try to increase the effect of her physical attacks--it couldn't hurt. She smiled at the thought of meeting her bankai. If anyone could help her, it was Urahara. He had been rumored to have learned his in a matter of days. It was unheard of, that is, until Ichigo had done something similar. The new shinigami had told Rukia that it was an invention of Urahara's that helped him find his own bankai, and she hoped that the same method would work to her advantage. She was under no disillusionment that she would have to work hard for her reward. But, she was ready.

She smiled into the darkness as her eyelids grew heavy with thoughts of her becoming an elite shinigami. She wanted the whole world to know that she was capable of protecting the ones she loved too. Her last thoughts were of seeing Ichigo's smiling, proud face as she revealed her new self to the world. She barely felt Kon snuggle against her as she drifted off into the realm of peaceful dreams.