Disclaimer:I do not own Bleach. I make no profit.
Warning:m. completely re-written. more liberal dialogue .
*10.30.14 previous ch3 merged with ch2 to make it a 4k-word chapter
"You almost got me a while back…was that little stunt a…fluke, Princess?" He asked, slightly annoyed.
Rukia looked up to see his face very close to hers; it was too shadowy that she could barely made out his angular features. She forced herself to tighten her grip on her katana and added more force. Her little eyebrows furrowed in overt exertion.
They broke off and exchanged hits few more times with Rukia attacking viciously. He parried each of her slashes like how a master would to a student.
Rukia sidestepped him and aimed an attack at his back just as when he turned around and deflected her blade with a loud clang. Rukia audibly gasped.
"Eyes up, look at me." He barked suddenly. Rukia instinctively looked up, ungratefully so, remembering her years of training when her trainer bossed her around.
He warned, "Princess, my left hand is free, I can grab you, you know." Rukia blinked, quickly broke contact, retreated few steps back and anticipated his other left hand coming for her but saw nothing. She looked up to see him lightly shaking his head.
"You dare toy with me?" She hissed, katana firmly pointing at his face. How dare he? Rukia put her katana in defensive position while he casually put it in his shoulder.
"Lady, in a real world fight, I won't even bother telling you what I'll do, I'll just do it. And you are obviously not aware of that. You sure you still want to fight me?"
Rukia will never let such insult pass by. "Arrogance." Rukia hissed through gritted teeth. Of course, she's well aware of that and she greatly hated her fleeting inability to remember those things she studied.
With a disgruntled sigh, he suddenly said, "I give up, I can't take you seriously…" He lowered his katana, and then brought a hand to scratch his head. "…goddamn, I thought I could."
"And please, you have a terrible grasp of your surroundings," he added.
Rukia's temper rose up a notch. She answered stubbornly, "I will not be lectured by an uncouth ingrate."
"Then you should know that you should have placed yourself where you can see the reflection of my blade. I can see you clearly." Ichigo taunted. Here she was, standing behind the shoji screen where the moon rays hit her squarely, her clothes exude the same shimmering rays as the moon -her katana is white.
And that's the worst tactic to use in a nighttime battle.
"Then maybe, you should have done something with your hair as well." She retorted and found the general's scowl oddly amusing.
"Shut up, it's natural."
"I highly doubt it."
The candle extinguished itself already, there was no light except for the moon's rays. She hated to admit it, but he was correct. His clothes were black and so was his blade. He was the one camouflaged –thankfully, except for his hair. Still, she mentally beat herself for missing such trivial details.
"Will you come with me now?"
"No." And Rukia tried to attack him with another blow, a straight and stronger one. Ichigo did not parry it, he swiftly moved to the side and they changed position, he was now closer to the shoji screen.
"What's wrong with you? One hit and I already know how bad you are. Seriously princess, just stop it and come with me peacefully." Ichigo lowered his sheathed katana.
"I will not!" She cried and launched another barrage of multitude attacks.
Ichigo parried each one with relative ease. His left hand remained free. He let her drive him further to the edges, to the shoji screen, all the while; he watched her footwork keenly and wondered why she wasn't tripping with all these stupid and graceful twirls.
"What the-?" He was more annoyed than curious now.
She's fast but she greatly lacked experience. She was terribly graceful too.
Her face does not show emotion when changing slash directions. He parried her slashes with the slightest of efforts. Her hits bore no force that can match an experienced fighter, she was still a theoretical fighter; she knew where to hit and how to hit, but lacked the proper execution.
And she's blithely unprepared for unconventional and atypical simple tactics.
Seeing an opening, he tripped her.
"Oh!" Rukia swiftly landed on the creases of her white furisode, katana still in her grip.
Rukia managed to roll on her side gracefully and stand with her head high and katana pointing at him. Rukia ignored the strained muscle on her ankle. There were beads of sweat forming in her forehead and her hair was even messier in its messy bun. She glared at the slightly amused man in front of her.
"I'll have you know, Kurosaki-san, that it was such a cheap tactic." She frowned, her cheeks tinted with the slightest of blush.
Ichigo chortled, "Yeah, but you fell for it. Literally."
Rukia's chilly glare deepened.
"Princess, I think we're done. Can you come with me now?" Once again, he held out his hand for the petite lady.
"No." Rukia said calmly. She stole a glance at the Shoji screen behind him. The guards, where were they?
Ichigo followed the princess's covert glance at the shoji. "You're waiting for these people, aren't you? Your guards?" He jerked his thumb behind him.
"They are not-" Rukia stopped, she almost said their plan. Then it registered, what does he know about them, "what?"
"That's too bad." Ichigo slashed a part of the paper and wood fusuma and the dismantled weak structure revealed a heap of the unconscious bodies of the guards who were supposed to ambush him lay before her.
"You! What have you done? These people had families and children-" Rukia steadied herself, she cannot run to them.
"Quiet down, lady." Kurosaki answered nonchalantly. "I didn't kill them… they're just unconscious." He usually didn't kill people unless there was a need to do it. Kurosaki Ichigo was not much of a murderer. "Lady, we are warriors, we sure as hell know what we're doing. Give us more credit, why don't you?"
Rukia kept quiet instead and tried hard to calm down the sudden rise of panic in her chest. She needed to think fast. Considering Kurosaki's brute strength, the soldiers must be given immediate medic attention. Though she noticed –as her eyes darted from the soldiers to Kurosaki- not all of them were seriously injured, none have missing limbs or decapitated heads like what she initially feared.
Her breathing became fast-paced as she contemplated ways. She could run, but he'll catch up to her. She could injure him, but it doesn't seem so plausible right now; she was losing to him. She hated it but yes, she was badly losing to him.
If what he said was true, she needed to notify those stationed outside. Think! How? Never had she been this invigorated, anxious, and very cautious all at the same time.
If she could get him outside, she can outrun and outsmart him.
But what she had in mind was risky. Hit him hard and fast then run.
Rukia ran towards him again, her sword swerved to the side and ready to strike again.
He parried her attack easily. He predicted it, she knew it. She glanced at his face to see him scowling at her stubbornness, his fierce amber eyes looking at her questioningly, "really?" She heard him say but she was busy looking for an opening.
Rukia never actually looked forward to being underestimated, but if he so underestimated her, then his defenses must be at their lowest, and this –she thought hopefully- might be his only opening.
She meant for another horizontal slash hit to his neck but he countered it with a vertical one. His scowl hardened, but kept his eyes on her. Rukia pulled back for a double handed strike to his middle but it only made halfway when Kurosaki blocked it with a particularly strong blow. Rukia felt the force and it made her unbalanced for a second. She would have retreated a few steps back to regain her composure. However, the image of their soldiers' unconscious bodies on her mind prevented her from doing so, from taking more time, they need immediate support and she cannot waste more time hesitating and thinking. Instead, she continued to try and push him back as viciously as she could. She used her elbow –a move Renji did once, her injured ankle, she twirled –something she recently learned watching a dance but haven't perfected yet and most important of all, she used Kurosaki's evident confusion against him.
Kurosaki reacted to her sudden onslaught of attacks with something akin to concern. She saw his eyebrows heavily furrowed at her and if he wasn't that distracted, he might have been hurling curses at her.
To Rukia's dismay, he still parried her attacks as swiftly, as easily. It was something natural to him, Rukia construed it.
Rukia continued with her barrage, Kurosaki let her drive him once again. Kurosaki stepped a leg forward. He's going to attack, Rukia thought. She readied her katana in defense but when none came, Kurosaki's face was still looking at her questioningly and he's leg was still in its position, Rukia's breath hitched and her heart skipped an important beat.
With a final twirl, a huff of exertion, her blade held up high and tiny droplets of blood shimmering in the air, she knew she got his left thigh.
It was her first success hit -Rukia might have smiled.
She felt elation, but horribly brief, as she hadn't realized that behind her was a corner wall. She inwardly groaned, Kurosaki was hugely blocking her path. She could run now, but he wasn't down yet.
Ichigo looked down to see blood sipping his hakama. It was not without pain, she might have cut half an inch-deep, but he was more concerned to the fact that she indeed managed to hit him.
His head cocked to the side, "well damn, I wasn't expecting that." He stood straight and outright ignored his injury.
Ichigo walked to the side while eyeing the woman carefully, his glare travelled from her face, to her heaving chest –her slightly parted kimono was…er…quite distracting- to the blood dripping from her sword –his blood.
Ichigo seriously wondered if she was truly a princess or a mean, violent petite man in a lady's clothes. But then, another look at her creamy skin and supple swell pitched the thought outside the fusuma doors. She's a princess who almost decapitated and amputated him.
Should he? Ichigo held his sheathed katana tighter and his thumb played with the edge of its sheath. Should he? Ichigo pushed his thumb and he felt the cold steel of his katana and considered carefully. Should he?
Fuck it, she earned it.
Rukia watched him slide his katana from its black sheath, tossed it far. He ignored his bloody injury outright and she felt horribly uneasy, wasn't that enough?
He didn't point the bare blade at her.
The woman was still very much composed –save for the flicker in her eyes when she saw him draw out his blade. He knew he should not feel any kind of admiration like some stupid sappy man, but she was surprisingly unlike other ladies –and he sounded like some stupid sappy man. Perhaps it was her unexpected behavior and nothing more.
And for the briefest of moment, he wondered what would happen to her the moment she arrived in Suigetsu.
Kurosaki pinned her with a hard glare, she realized how much his amber eyes burn. Her heart skipped another beat, the general was definitely serious now. "Lady,"
It was the first time he addressed her with such seriousness; it was devoid of the mocking undertones he used earlier. Her hand unconsciously tightened around the hilt of her katana. She only needed to get past him, it suddenly felt ten times harder.
He knew her right ankle became injured, her unsteady hold on her katana was a giveaway as well, strained breathing and flushed cheeks –she was obviously exhausted but her eyes were as sharp as ever. And for some reason, with all the running around she did, her clothes remained unruffled and infuriatingly white.
Ichigo had an idea that was sure to halt her movements and let him get this over with before he could seriously hurt her.
He never really wished to exchange katana hits with a princess anyway.
The moment the white gossamer cloth—the sleeve of her furisode—flew above her head, so did her temper.
"You!" The man dared to use extremely underhanded tricks, how dare he?!
Rukia could have lashed out more a creative curse, but did her no good to lose temper that early in the battle. One's concentration would be seriously impaired. Must avoid at all co-!
Amused at finally hearing her swear, Ichigo decided to taunt her more. "Ha!" Ichigo picked up the fabric, "Well, you can't expect me NOT to take advantage of what opening I have now, can you?" he sneered, held the sheer fabric and waved it at her face. "Please, I'm not all brawns you know." And to provoke her even more, he held the fabric close to his nose and smelled it in front of her, "Jasmine."
Another slash and he created a long slit on her kimono. With his free hand, he used one hand while she needed both hands; he held the left sleeve of her kimono and mischievously tugged at it. "You know if you don't stop, I'll have you naked within the next few minutes." Rukia tried to break away to land another attack, but to her dismay, Kurosaki moved fast and earned him the other sleeve and the hem of her kimono.
"You are utterly-!" Rukia cut herself off when she couldn't find an insult suitable to him. He was so brash and rude and-
"Utterly what, princess?" the man's mocking tone reached her ear, and she couldn't be angrier.
"You know, you could avoid losing the rest of that fabric covering if you put down your katana and come with me," Ichigo reasoned. "See? This is why you ladies shouldn't mix katanas and furisodes together…" he began to muse, when Rukia charged at him again, this time harder and with more force. Ichigo found she lacked experience and her hits were feeble and shallow, something he easily countered, but her stubbornness so struck him that he let her attack him even if he could end it immediately.
Though he was slowly stripping her to get her to stop, she did not even care as she continued to try and hack him.
"You are talkative," Rukia suddenly said and surprised herself at the minute disruption of her façade. Ichigo, too, was caught off guard. But she immediately recovered and attacked him once more.
Wait, he was talkative. More than usual, he thought as he parried another ignorable hit from her. And he wasn't usually talkative. Typically Ichigo, on bouts like this, beat this shit up fast but try to have fun too, if possible.
Ichigo peered back at her, amused. Her eyebrows tightly knitted and, her large eyes glared at him. Her small dainty hands clasped her white katana's hilt. She was dead serious.
He looked down and noticed that her hands were too close to each other and with just a slight tilt of his katana and minimal force, she would lose her grip on her sword and be left weaponless against him.
Oh hell no, one of the basics that were mind-burned to a newbie was the proper sword grip.
"Your grip is too loose," Ichigo said. For a moment, Rukia clearly saw the glint in his eyes and quickly realized what he had in mind. Rukia tried to break the contact at the last second, but he was exponentially faster and sent her white katana flying before her very eyes. "Who the hell taught you sword fighting? Your grasp is not even proper." Her katana landed with a soft thud very far from where she stood.
Rukia backed away immediately clutching her injured hand; she had to admit: it really hurt, the force of his sword thrusts, hits, and slices contained a solid, unbending force. It surely knocked an untrained body and broke an inexpert hand.
Or maybe, that was an understatement, because his power overwhelmed even a veteran. And he was going easy on her.
"And you dare lecture me?"
Still refusing to back down, Rukia held her stance: Kuchiki pride ingrained so deep in her brain. Her clothes frayed with slits going high and sleeves jagged, yet she stood straight, katana-less and eyes blazing.
"Do not dare insult the sword masters here; I have the best teachers in Seireitei. Do you think they will let me without any skill?"
"Skill? What skill? Like, your katana getting knocked off?"
"Silence! You boorish-!"
Ichigo scoffed, "Please, I learned through years of real experience, princess. Something you obviously don't have…. but I must commend, your blade is really pretty."
He taunted her, that was a given. But he also admitted that she, despite having an awful lot of disadvantages against him, held out really well. He expected her to run and have that royal hissy fit, but damn, she remained glaring at him, her cheeks flushed.
"Will you surrender now, princess?"
Abarai Renji held the small scrap of paper and wondered when the hell Rickichi ever made a written note? The boy was always too eager to please, too eager that he would take all the hustle just to personally deliver a jug of cold water to him, more so if it was an important message.
A night like this, when everyone informed in Seireitei stand on their toes, surely that boy would not attempt a dumbass communication move where the risk of interception is damn high.
Renji dropped the paper then signaled two of his soldiers to move and check the compound. He would be damned if he didn't double check.
Renji leaned back on his makeshift chair in his makeshift tent. It was filled with mostly temporary, crude stuff. He doesn't know how long it will take for him to stay; it will probably be a week or so.
He bravely forgone the Kuchiki clan head's directive –that is, to follow him in the young Samurai's castle- and instead, remained to oversee the night. He already sent out two horses to where the older Kuchiki was and informed him of his sister's choice and his decision to remain with her. She's his sister, hopefully, the clan head won't be as upset. But like hell, he'll probably be more upset that the man dared to attack Sereitei.
Renji personally didn't believe the news about Kurosaki being here, like they will repeat the same tactic, it was common sense! But Rukia's reaction had him uneasy, so he decided to stay and execute standard security procedure. So he waited, along with his subordinates, in the main entrance. He had sentries roving the walls and edges of the woods. Unlikely that the man will somehow find a way to slip past through, very unlikely. And if he doesn't show tonight -if he's really here- he'll send a search party to the woods tomorrow.
If the rumors were indeed true, he'd rather intercept Kurosaki right here near the gates. This Kurosaki man will never reach the compound. He'll be damned twice if Kurosaki got past him.
Rukia was every bit of pain the ass just like her brother. Her under-exposure to the reality of violence led her to believe in an ideal plan and no amount of persuasion can change her mind. So he barricaded every entryway that led to the main compound, he made sure that if Kurosaki is to attack, he'll never reach Rukia. She'll be beyond enraged with him, he was so damn sure of it, but he'd be damned thrice if he couldn't keep her safe.
The woman jumped out of the opened fusuma and ran. Fuck.
Great. It's the last thing he needed.
Ichigo kicked the small wood debris; he, too, ran out of the door, not caring about the weather or his current state.
That woman was going to bloody pay.
He ran through the estate garden furiously, long strides to compensate for the woman's agile movements. Damn it. Damn it.
And as he ran, his head swiped side to side looking for any possible hiding place and for some hidden men ready to ambush him. God fucking damn it.
And that reminded him: "Shit!" he could be going to her trap head-on, but then he remembered, he and Ishida took care of them, well, most of them. He couldn't have missed something or could he?
God damn, he wasn't one for some stupid chase game! He should have grabbed her and got the hell out of this place.
Ichigo's angry, loud steps overcame the night insects. It was a wide garden with scant small lanterns placed randomly. There were uneven stone steps and stupid pots that suddenly turned up too. He ran straight to bamboo fences several times and sadly, there weren't enough curses in the curse book to cover his irritation.
He kicked the shishi-odoshi -or bamboo water fountain- nearby and heard it crumble savagely against the concrete wall; he reached the edge of the garden.
Then it started to rain.
It was a February night, but Rukia was sweating and heaving like its summer. She tried hard to normalize her breathing and still her shaking body.
She was currently between this garden stone -she hoped was big enough to cover her- and estate wall, to her right were large trees that could either conceal her or prevent her escape. The rain pelted her tiny body, and her drenched kimono-clad skin became miraculously oblivious to the rain.
'There was really no one,' Rukia concluded. The alarms were all destroyed, and the three gates leading to this compound were unlocked from the inside but barred from the outside. She was trapped in her own trap. And Kurosaki was surely out there, near her. She heard him cursing and destroying everything viciously; he will soon find her and this rock.
Still, panic was far from the last thing on her mind. She couldn't lose her famed composure now, not ever.
What she most feared came true: the disadvantage of carrying a mission only a few knew: limitation. Communications were easily blocked because of its limited scope; resources were also being barren, and backups were hard to reach now that they reached a non-existent third plan.
She neither had reinforcement nor did they have any idea of what's currently going on. She needed to alert the other soldiers without disrupting the silence of Seireitei.
Also, she could not carelessly climb the walls or trees as she had no idea what's waiting for her outside the compound.
What had he done? How did he know of the alarms? How did he accomplish all of these? It was making her head ache.
Rukia looked up at the sky. Outside the walls of the compound was the usual midnight of Seireitei. Everything was silent –except for the slight pitter-patter of rain. People were unaware of this, peacefully asleep in their bed. Rukia heaved a somewhat relieved sigh. Still, she would have chosen this rather than have the whole of Sereitei panicking.
Considering all her left options, which was nothing except a secret passageway leading outside to stealthily-
"Hate to say it, but Ishida's got some serious brain in him."
Rukia eyes shot sideward and saw him leaning on the stone, rubbing his bruised forehead continuously with his large hand that almost covered his one eye. He was furious, his posture slouched and was almost beside her.
On reflex, Rukia moved away from the rock and clenched her fist. Her eyes automatically sought for any way out. He blocked her way and to emphasize it, he held his hand holding his katana sideways and stuck it in the wall beside him, completely blocking her way.
It was just simple, how did it get so critical like this?
Rukia stared at him, her façade very non-indicative of her current internal predicament. Ishida Uryu.
Her voice gave nothing away when she spoke, "The marksman."
The orange haired man's lip curved into a chilling sneer, "I never said he's an archer." Then his head tilted in a way that said that he was somewhat amused, "For a princess, you're very informed. Why is that?"
Her lips pursed. She did not answer, silently cursing herself for being careless.
Ichigo continued, "Actually, it's Ishida who wrecked your city's communication and confused the orders. He also blocked all the entrances and exits in this compound, leaving me to carry out our mission, prevent reinforcements in and you from escaping."
What? With just one man? No.
"Lies!" she hissed.
Ichigo scoffed and challenged, "Oh? Look around you. Do you see anyone? Do you hear anyone coming for you? Can you get out of those gates? No?" he added mockingly, amused at her disbelief, "Well, let me tell you lady, plain and straight. We are alone."
Ichigo had his patience exceptionally thin, so for the last time, "Now, let's do this the easy way. Come with me."
Maybe. Rukia thought, this Ishida might have blocked the exits, but he didn't know that this very compound was located at the very edge of the city. The place outside the eastern wall was the forest. And no single estate or compound here was ever built without secret passages leading outside, and of course, they were not without roving sentries. If she could escape this man using the passage and enter using another passage, she could alert the guards to immediately surround the area and break down the gates.
All she had to do was run. Run. Run really fast.
So she did, she ran, without any second thought, even if she's too close to Kurosaki. She used her height and bended slightly lower, she stomped on his foot, hard, and slipped past the katana. She ran to the opposite side, but she had not even covered ten meters when his hand caught her left wrist in a death grip and refused to let go.
"Go on, struggle more and this will goddamn bruise," He spat, tightening his death grip on her wrist. "Beat it!" His other hand shot out to grab her at the back of the neck.
"Let go!" she screamed at his face. One look at his fierce amber eyes, he had enough and he wouldn't let her go.
With no other ladylike choice left, Rukia balled her right fist and punched him; her fist connected with his left cheek with a sharp crack, and he stumbled back, freeing her right wrist.
She took the split-second opportunity and grabbed the hem of her kimono and ran like her life depended on it and in this case, her life did depend on it. Her punch was definitely unladylike and unheard of, but she was unarmed and starting to become desperate to escape him.
She did not use the passageway like she originally planned, she could not risk exposing it to Kurosaki's eyes and have him find an easy way to follow her. So instead, she employed her previous skill back when she was still in Rukongai. She ran until she reached the edge and climbed the nearest tree; her palm and foot laden with splinters, the fist she used to punch Kurosaki had cracked and started turning to purple.
With one last look at Kurosaki, who ran towards her full tilt, his eyes looked extremely feral and locked to hers while blood trickles in his mouth, she jumped and landed outside Seireitei's wall just in time as a curse from him erupted and the rain became a heavy, full storm.
Ishida had shot two of the guards that came to check, four more from the other side. And he stored them neatly in the locked supply room.
Kurosaki was staying way too much that the front guards started sending more and more.
Ishida walked warily towards the shadowed alley and waited for the soldier to get out of his horse, and when he did, Ishida released another arrow and hit the armored man in the neck.
He quietly walked towards the body, thinking about how this mission was not for two-man infiltration.
Where is Kurosaki?
It was raining hard while Renji contemplated his actions. He sent two guards and none returned as of yet. Would checking result in that much time consumed?
None had disturbed the gates so far, his soldiers reported nothing out of the ordinary –though they did find two illegal merchants trying to sell pearls and amethyst.
Of course he suspected them as diversion, and detained them. Then he reinforced his barricade two-fold, but still they encountered nothing.
But then, when was the last progress report from the main compound came?
He glanced down at the paper scroll and the writings said it was sundown.
Sundown? That was hours ago and the reports came in regularly every hour.
Renji stood up, hurriedly went outside and ordered a platoon to scout the compound and he issued a clear directive that they are to return and report to him immediately.
There's no way that Kurosaki infiltrated them already.
The heavy rain morphed into a thundering rain, but it was not at all a hindrance to Rukia; she kept on going.
Even if she had close to zero visibility, she never stopped for a second. Rukia could look for the hidden doors leading inside and followed her original plan. But she opted against it, Kurosaki had seen her go outside the wall and if he indeed followed her, he would be most likely skirting the woods, thinking she would find a way to get back in. If he hadn't witnessed her jump, this could work.
To make her current situation worse, she realized she was uncertain where the doors were located; she could not estimate the time and effort it would take.
Barefoot, swatted in a ripped kimono, unarmed, and soaked to the bones, Rukia honestly thought there was still way to escape him.
The rain stung her eyes, it had become bloodshot and she couldn't effectively use both of her hands. She just had to move forward, and so Rukia started to plan again. Find a way stealthily get back inside unseen until she heard a loud rustling of leaves, irritated grunt, and an unmistakable booming "the hell-?" closely behind her.
She felt dread but did not stop to look behind her or even asses his distance, she frantically moved forward. Small, thorny twigs that littered the Forrest floor snapped and stabbed her sole, she knew she probably left a trail of blood but trusted the rainwater to erase it. She looked side to side, everywhere she looked was tree, and they were tall but she doubted her ability to climb at this point.
She heard loud snapping behind her and watched anxiously as leaves began to shake. She forced herself to move and run in a direction she didn't know anymore. She felt another burst of dread as she heard another angry grunt behind her –his direction.
That's when she realized, with her depleted energy, large odds, and white clothes, he would eventually, inevitably catch up to her.
But Rukia struggled to calm her breathing and keep her mind from making illogical decisions and to rationally decide.
Bam. Rukia heard a –from the sound of it- a thin tree fall behind her and a string of angry curses from him.
He was getting really close.
Like it did moments ago at the estate, her heart leaped -dreadfully. So dreadful that all she could hear was the sound of her ragged breathing over the deafening thunder and this horrible tight knot in her stomach won't go away. Her legs had a life of their own, she couldn't tell exactly what became of her legs, they felt wobbly yet they won't stop moving.
She abandoned her earlier plans, she could not even remember the specific details anymore; she just needed to keep her distance. Miraculously, she spotted a river behind the trees and safe place the other bank offered.
She had to cross that river.
Ichigo, despite the rain, continued to hunt for her.
Amidst the heavy pounding of the rain on the ground, Ichigo actually heard leaves rustling and frantic footsteps toward a certain direction -credited to his years of handling guerilla approaches under various weather conditions.
He saw a swat of white running towards the direction of the river, he knew it was her. So he bolted to its direction and saw her familiar black hair
Then he saw her rushing to the river. "Oi- what the hell are you doing?!"
And like an adrenaline rush usually reserved for battle, Ichigo surged forward and ran faster before the lady completely immersed herself in the water and killed by the currents.
"DON'T YOU DARE!" he bellowed amidst the heavy rain. He was uncertain if the lady heard him. He raised his sword and began cutting large leaves that blocked his path to her. He went faster, and faster. The lady was already knee-deep and the river current was unforgiving. "Goddamit! Hey!"
He drove his sword to the edge of the river, held on to it before he slid down, grabbed her waist roughly, and slammed her angrily to his chest.
Rukia yelped as she felt one strong arm wrap itself securely around her waist, and she felt her back smashed against a very hard surface. She then realized that it was Kurosaki's arm, she jerked against him ferociously.
"Let go! Let go! You imbecile! Let go of me this instant!"
"SHUT UP!" And she quieted.
Her back was pressed flatly against him and she could feel the erratic and strong thrumming of his heart. It was a very compromising position for an unmarried maiden. But that wasn't his concern right now.
He got out the water with relative ease and unceremoniously dropped the woman on the wet groaned.
Rukia winced and raised her arm up to stand when she was suddenly flipped and pinned to the ground by Kurosaki. He was on all-fours and he held her arms above her head.
She looked up to see a very furious man, his body shielded her from the rain. And he looked terribly livid.
"WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!"
Rukia unexpectedly cringed. Despite the jagged beating on her chest, she started to say calmly "I would have to ask you to let go of-"
"What do you think you're doing? You dumb ass?! You want to cross the fucking river?!"
His breath warm and blowing on her face, and the droplets from his hair dropping her face steadily. She was also close to losing her consciousness.
He scared her, intimidated her even and he was far from finished. "I don't know if you're stupid or brave, but don't do that again!" After a few seconds, he spoke in an almost incredulous but relieved tone, "Bitch, you are crazy!"
Rukia was far from giving up as well, she gathered the last of her energy and struggled –to her dismay- weakly. "Get off me-"
This woman was weakened heavily by the heavy rain, running, and her creeping desperation. He wouldn't want her to get hurt further
"Idiot. You injured my leg and you fucking punched me! So yeah, it's about damn time I say enough already!"
He was more concerned that she begun doing dangerous stunt and started to hurt herself in the process just to escape him.
"But…I need to escape you…" she said weakly, in a very small voice that caused Ichigo to almost regret shouting point blank at her face, almost.
The angry scowl on his face softened; exhaustion and desperation was so clearly upon her that she was too tired to maintain her earlier façade. Something told him that she would never, ever utter those words and that this was a moment of weakness and desperation he wasn't supposed to see.
"Are you hurt?" he asked quietly, his stare completely boring into hers. He was worried and he hated that it showed.
She blinked twice but didn't answer him.
To avoid thinking how weirdly adorable that was in being caught extremely off-guard, he averted his gaze and roughly said, "Give up. You are coming with me. You lost, get over it."
Ichigo rolled over and slumped on the cold, wet ground beside her. This woman was a handful.
They were both being pelted heavily by the rain. He peered up at the gray sky and thought it was still as unforgiving as the river current. Fuck.
He looked back at her to see her eyes tightly closed. If it wasn't raining, he might have thought she was crying.
Heaving a satisfied and overdue sigh, he finally completed his third objective. Ichigo raised his upper body and propped himself up with his elbow. His muscles were unaffected by the cold whereas, she was visibly stiff to the cold. The skin beneath her thigh exposed –his doing, of course- he reached out and covered her exposed legs with what was left of her torn skirt.
Ichigo slowly got up, assured that the woman won't attempt anything stupid again. He picked up his katana, put the sheath back and hung it in its sash. He went back to the woman.
Her bloodshot eyes popped open and stared at him, before she tried raising her arms to shrug him off, but she could not raise them past her elbows.
"Enough…" He mumbled again, gently this time though there was still a frown on his face, "you already put up a fight against me. Enough." He held her head against his chest, his other arm slipped beneath both of her legs and carried her.
She already earned his respect.
"But I still hate your brain, you damn woman." He muttered.
"And as for the trouble you gave me…" He started, peering at her face. She was dozing off, her half-lidded eyes became unsteady.
Rukia wasn't listening.
His large left hand gently squeezed her firm shoulder. "You'll sleep in the straw mat, you hear?"
Unlikely -some stupid part of his brain remarked- because he knew he'll probably give her the softest sleeping cot available in his humble campsite. If he won't, Keigo definitely will.
"I'll give you moldy bread and stale water."
He continued though he knew there's no way that he'll feed a princess something moldy and stale. He'll most likely hunt animals, take fresh vegetables for her and have fruits for dessert. Does she like to eat rabbit meat? He wondered. He will also strain and boil water repeatedly just to make sure she'll get the cleanest water possible. Because god help him against Ishida's wrath if she ever caught a disease from drinking non-potable water.
"And you will walk beside my horse. It's a full day of travel, so you better sleep well. And I don't care about your noble legs."
Chad was too kind to let that happen and he will probably lend her his horse and offer to walk beside her. Ichigo grimaced, he had no choice but to let her ride his horse –with him in tow or together. He knew, nevertheless, that he won't really accomplish any of these, though he would really like to do all of these as a payback to the crafty bitch.
"You are finally coming with me." He said, as he hurriedly disappeared into the woods.
'No...' was Rukia's last thought before consciousness was slowly taken from her, her head cradled in his chest.
"What?" Ishida inquired.
The man gasped through a bloody nose before huffing and answering Ishida, "Wro-wr-wrong lady!"
"What do you mean?"
"P-p-plea-as-se! Spare me! Th-the real pr-princess isn't here!"
'Why am I not surprised?' Ishida thought grimly.
"Please don't say that. You are the captain of the guards, such honorable title. Please do have a little pride: do not beg." Ishida hit his neck and effectively knocked him unconscious. That was what all Ishida needed.
And that's when he knew: his earlier hunch was correct, and they engaged a dangerous risk and most probably lost. He had no idea about the circumstances Kurosaki was facing; he had not received a message from him to open one gate and escape from here. He's still inside…most probably.
He didn't ask for the true princess's location because the priority instantly shifted to getting out alive. Pursuing a mislaid princess at this moment, given the circumstance, was meaningless. He needed to find Kurosaki and terminate the mission.
Just as he was about to turn, he heard sudden and massive footsteps. He quickly pressed against a wall behind a crack. Through this very limited view, he saw a furious red-headed man leading men carrying swords behind him. The man cursed aloud before he destroyed the barred gates, entered the compound furiously, and began shouting a name Ishida could not make out.
Ishida stayed silent; he needed to make sure of Kurosaki's location. He readied his arrows and kept his senses alerted in case Kurosaki was still inside and in need of backup.
"Sir! Everyone was unconscious and there is no sign of the man and-"
"I am sorry, no sign of Ku-"
Kurosaki? He's no longer-? Then where-?
"Turn every fucking stone! Find R-!"
Ishida had to get out. But he couldn't easily trust their judgment. What if the idiot was still there? Just hidden while the people sent to look for him were even bigger idiots?
He couldn't move unless Kurosaki was one hundred percent confirmed not here. But if he was not here, then how the hell did he get out, and where would he go?
And so Ishida fell into standstill.
Kurosaki Ichigo certainly prided his earned experiences. He survived scalding temperatures, fought under heavy storms, and won a bloody winter war with nothing but his armor on and sword to accompany him until morning. His body had always been prepared for whatever circumstances, he trained hard and he adapted well.
Not this woman.
The heavy rain assailed them mercilessly –him, mostly. Because he took the much needed extra care to shield her face and body. She easily fit him.
He wondered how she can stay semi-conscious while large droplets of icy water basically abused her tiny body.
And body, he was trying and failing hard to ignore that she was pressed flatly against him.
Ichigo eyed the surrounding, almost zero visibility. No visible pathway just the trees around them. "Damn it." He had been looping the area for a few good minutes and there's nothing to shield them.
He looked down at her, her eyes half-opened and very droopy. "Hey can you hear me? When the rain stop, you and I will head for my camp."
Ichigo chose to move forward, and hoped for something.
"Damn you." he hissed angrily. He carried her like she's naked. The rain didn't make it any better. Her ripped dress, its goddamn color that made it quite transparent and water made it like her second skin. And what's worst is she's heavily pressed to him. "Damn you, really, damn you."
Ichigo jogged, occasionally stopping at large trees with large branches to temporarily shield them, and then he would run to another again until he could find a suitable shed.
Then he saw, heavily concealed by lushes of trees and thorny bushes, a small, worn-down straw cottage stood in the middle of a small clearing.
Ichigo charily laid the lady in a nearby large tree branch before he checked for any animals or snakes that could be sheltering themselves inside the cottage. He eased his way towards the cottage, opened the dilapidated shoji and peered inside, fortunately, none came jumping at him. It was just a small square, one room, in the middle was a irori with suspended, rusty pot hangers. It has no lights, dusty and generally worn-out. The smell was of wet clay and wood and it was unusually chilly inside. Deciding it was better than tree branches; he went back to the lady and carefully carried her inside.
He sat her down on the cold and wet ground. And immediately, to prevent any untoward reaction, Ichigo unhinge the bindings in his kamishino and fully shrugged the material off. Even knowing that it's too wet to do any comfort to her, he still squeezed it and draped around her, entirely for his benefit.
In the lady's cheek was a rosy blush, her long eyelashes rest on her cheeks and her lips form a thin line.
"Please don't provoke me." He whispered grudgingly.
To be continued
10.30.14 made changes again. i'm not fond of my voice here. next chapter is last chapter.