Title: Lady in Waiting, Chapter 1 - The Month of Unohana

Warnings: AU, het (IchiHime), historical geekery

Disclaimer: These characters belong to a lot of Japanese people, namely people like Tite Kubo and Shonen Jump. You'll notice how none of those are me. The LiveJournal format that you'll probably be reading this in (if you're one of my friends) is rough draft and is subject to revision. Consider this a 'sneak peek'. If something sits the wrong way with you, let me know. This will probably (never) be updated weekly, until I eventually drop it like every other project ever. Not responsible for epileptic seizures or allergic reactions. May contain eye-and-brain-bleeding levels of radioactive ANGST and/or peanut products. Please sit a reasonable distance from your computer screen.

Author's Note: I decided to work on this at the same time as The Devil's Plaything! I liked the idea so much that I couldn't get it out of my head! Anyway, as this is set in the Heian era, footnotes are actually necessary. Because this site doesn't like them as much as Microsoft Word, they're denoted with a number inside parentheses, and are at the bottom of the story. Anyway, if you'd like further reading on this era, The Tale of Genji and the Pillowbook of Sei Shonagon are both great places to start. 'Forced Affections' is also a good essay on the topic of romance in Heian era Japan, although I can't really link it in the body of the story. For the moment, though, please enjoy this fic!

It happened sometime in the beginning of the Fourth Month, the month of the Unohana flower. (1)

One warm day, after having observed the daily comings and goings of palace life over the course of the past couple of years, a young kirin decided that he would get a closer look. So, shedding his deer-like animal form in favor of that of a young man of the Outer Palace Guard, he climbed a bushy, low-hanging tree in the western courtyard of the Imperial Princess' palace and waited patiently.

Had he decided to disguise himself as a regular man of rank, he wouldn't have chanced standing out so much. Were he to be seen, though, it would've been a much greater spectacle than as a regular guard; he couldn't confess to knowing enough about men of rank to be able to impersonate one. As it was, though, the red cloak of the guard uniform was hidden by the thick foliage of the tree anyway, so it wasn't of much concern at the moment.

Of course, he was going to stand out anyway. His bright, short-cropped red hair would never be fashionable in a court full of men with long black hair. Likewise, his brusque manner and customary scowl would have been considered quite unpleasant and off-putting. Even his given name, Ichigo, would have earned him his fair share of scorn for its unusual nature. It was far better for him to remain hidden than to expose himself to humans; he would be content to watch them from afar as he was now.

Towards the end of the first quarter of the tenth watch (2), when the sun was starting to drift lower in the sky, they emerged into the courtyard. It was the Princess - the Emperor's younger sister - and her ladies in waiting. They floated around the grounds like a shoal of brightly colored fish, resplendent in their multicolored robes and hakama, chattering unguardedly with one another. They were color coordinated with the season and with each other, their costumes the differing shades of green of new foliage.

As for their faces and hair, there was a fair variety; most had let their lustrous black hair grow as far down their backs as they could manage, but two in particular stood out. One had wavy golden hair trailing down the back of her light green kazami, and a cheerful, open countenance. Her eyebrows were plucked in the customary fashion, but her up-turned, wide, sparkling blue eyes were a contrast to the dark, narrow eyes of her companions. Although most of the other court ladies would disagree, Ichigo thought she was fairly charming.

The other, however, caught his attention and kept it. This one had long, straight hair a few shades darker than his and large, smiling amber eyes. Although he couldn't quite hear their conversation, the animated way in which she spoke was apparent even at his distance. With the way everyone seemed to pay attention when she spoke, he assumed she must be the Princess Imperial. When her companions laughed at her antics, though, he took note that not all of them seemed to be doing so in good humor.

A small stab of defensiveness struck Ichigo then. In the short time he'd been watching the girls, the lively redhead had stood out as his favorite. It irritated him that some of the other girls seemed to be mocking her. It irritated him even more that she didn't seem to mind or even notice.

And then, after another quarter of a watch, just as the sun was beginning to set, they began to head back inside. The ladies drifted back to their veranda and inside the palace at a leisurely pace until finally the redhead was left to trail behind and bring up the rear. Instead of mounting the wooden deck and going inside, though, she stopped and turned towards the tree on the far side of the courtyard. For a second, Ichigo could've sworn the girl was staring straight at him, blinking in confusion. His heart caught in his throat - had he been spotted? But no; she turned after a second to head back into the palace, shaking her head.

Ichigo released the breath he'd been holding. He felt a surge of relief, as well as a tiny stab of disappointment. Sure, he'd gotten away with accidentally spying on the girls and he should feel relieved for that, but part of him had wanted the pretty redheaded girl to notice him, too. It was a foreign feeling to him, to be sure. It had been many years since he'd last interacted with humans, let alone cared about the approval of one.

In fact, Ichigo was so relieved at not being seen that he let his grip go slack on the branch he was holding. Before he knew it, he'd lost his balance and was falling headlong to the ground, snapping twigs and branches all along the way down. He hit the grassy turf with a loud crash, a tangle of red robes, leaves, legs, and arms landing in a heap beneath the bushy tree.

As he sat up and rubbed the quickly-swelling lump on his head, he was mortified to realize that the redheaded girl had not only seen that embarrassing fall, but was now rushing over to him. He swore inwardly, a more colorful string of words probably never having fallen upon that girl's ears.

"Are you alright, Guard-san?" she cried, coming to rest beside him on the ground and kneeling to get a better look at him. Ichigo fought the urge to bolt; this was exactly the type of situation he'd hoped to avoid. He even flinched when she reached out to touch the knot on his forehead.

"I'm... I'm fine," he croaked, his voice unused to human speech after not having been used for so long. Ichigo was sure he was blushing now; his cheeks felt hot as he stared openly at the girl's lovely face. "Don't concern yourself with me, Your Highness." The girl cocked her head, giving him an adorably confused look.

"Highness?" she echoed back at him, her bottom lip puckering in a small pout.

"You're the Princess Imperial, aren't you?" Ichigo asked, suddenly fearing he'd guessed wrong after all. The girl blinked for a moment before giggling behind her sleeve. Her laugh reminded him of the tinkling of glass or the shell rattles the priests used during the holy festivals.

"Oh no!" she replied cheerily, "You must be new, huh? Rukia-hime is the Princess - I'm just one of her ladies in waiting." Ichigo's cheeks still burned as she giggled at his folly.

"Err, yeah," he said sheepishly, seizing the opportunity she'd given him, "I'm new here. Just got here this week. Brand new recruit. I'm... I'm Ichigo. Kurosaki Ichigo." He hoped that was enough of a reason that she wouldn't question why he didn't introduce himself with his rank; even though he'd observed the court denizens for years, he still couldn't figure out their ranking system.

"I'm Inoue no Orihime," she said sweetly, giving him a charming smile. But suddenly, Orihime blinked as a distressed look washed over her face. The redheaded girl began looking around her robes frantically for something. Ichigo watched her curiously as she checked her wide sleeves and made small, frustrated noises.

"Oh no!" she cried, before finally finding the long, slender object she'd been seeking, "Oh, thank goodness! I completely forgot!" Her voice had lost none of its immediate worry, but as she snapped the fan open in front of her face, Ichigo could tell she had visibly relaxed.

"Your... You forgot your fan?" he asked, puzzled.

"Yes!" she answered, fretting behind the green and gold silk and wood, "You're not supposed to see my face! I-If anyone saw us talking like this, they would say horrible things!" Ichigo's brows knitted together in confusion. Sure, he'd witnessed the ladies hiding behind their fans from time to time, but he figured that was just some kind of coy game. As he thought on it, though, he did realize that he'd rarely seen men with them behind their curtains of state when they were in the palace. When they were out on the grounds, they never included men in their walking parties.

"Is it that bad?" he replied, more than a bit frustrated that he could no longer talk directly to her. She lowered her fan for a second, looking at him shyly over the tips of the frame before raising it again to cover her eyes.

"You must really be from the country," Orihime responded quietly, "Men aren't supposed to be able to see us unless we invite them behind our curtains of state. And even then, we're really not supposed to. But I hear Rangiku-san talk about it with the other girls sometimes."

"Y-Yeah," Ichigo seized her offering quickly, "I'm from the country. I didn't know any of that." Country, forest, same difference, right? Besides, he had never noticed anything like that with his own mother and sisters, and they were human as well. But again, they were related to him and were quite well secluded in the countryside. He had also been quite a bit younger the last time he'd seen them.

"I... I should go," she replied hesitantly, "If I'm gone any longer, people will start to talk." Realizing she intended him to rise before her and help her up, Ichigo got to his feet and dusted himself off.

"Here," he said unceremoniously, jabbing an outstretched hand in Orihime's direction. She took it, her hand delicate and small in his larger, warmer one. As she rose, she kept a desperate hold on the fan in her other hand, being careful now not to let it slip again.

"Thank you, Kurosaki-kun," she replied graciously, reluctantly releasing his hand and smoothing her hakama and skirts out, "Maybe... Maybe I'll see you when you're on patrol from now on?"

Ichigo's ears perked at this. She wanted to see him again? Well, if he was going to pretend to be a guard, why not go all out? He struck down the idea as soon as it had formed, though. No, it wouldn't do to go sneaking about the palace, getting attached to human girls. Still, he couldn't bring himself to give her any answer but a positive one.

"Sure," he said, a small smile forming on his lips, "I'll come check up on you sometime." Although he couldn't see her face, Orihime seemed pleased with this answer and practically bounced as she turned back towards the veranda.

"I look forward to it!" she replied happily before making her way quickly back to the deck. Her robes fluttered out around her, flapping at her extra activity in a way that would've been scandalous had anyone witnessed it but Ichigo.

As for the young redheaded kirin, an unfamiliar feeling welled within his chest. For years he'd studiously avoided human contact, instead opting to keep to the edges of the palace and watch them all from a distance. The one time his curiosity had finally gotten the better of him, of course he'd run into a girl that would cause him to want to rejoin human society on some level. Part of him wanted to pull his hair out, but another, small part of him was excited, even eager, to see what this girl had to offer him.

Ichigo sighed, taking the opportunity to switch back into a purely stag-like form in the descending twilight before heading out into the forest for a nice run.

"It's true, Tatsuki-chan!"

The girl with the shoulder-length hair shook her head over her teacup. Orihime fretted at her skeptical look, wondering why she didn't seem to believe her story about the guard in the tree.

"It's not like I watch the guards every second of the day," Tatsuki said, "But I'd definitely notice one with hair that bright. And short! Are you sure you didn't imagine it?"

They had retired to Orihime's room, moving the curtain of state to the northern end of the room. The sliding door that was set into the north wall opened onto the veranda; a simple bamboo blind was drawn up to let the cool evening air into the room. As it was dark outside and the opening faced the northern courtyard, there was little chance of them being seen from outside. Even if someone should chance by the veranda, they couldn't enter the room from the northern end anyway, nor could Orihime exit from that avenue; it was considered extremely unlucky.

"But this isn't like the time with the tanuki or the kappa!" Orihime protested, recalling some earlier conversation, "I actually spoke to him! And he's really shy and coarse - he said he came from the countryside!" A blush dusted her cheeks as she recounted a portion of their conversation to Tatsuki; any of the other ladies would probably disagree, but she had thought his rough scowl and harsh voice were charming. She could imagine him apprehending villainous bandits with ease, heroically saving imperiled ladies and children from danger, and getting rewarded for valor by the Emperor himself.

"Orihime," Tatsuki chided, her plucked eyebrows knitting together, "That's not good, either. You're a lady of the sixth rank - some country bumpkin guard recruit is way beneath you. Especially one that doesn't have the good sense to be polite in the palace." Even though her words scolded, Orihime could tell that it was out of genuine concern for her welfare. Still, they gave her some distress.

"I know," she said, her voice reflecting some shame, "I just feel bad for him. He seemed so out of place, and I know he'll get teased for his hair..." Tatsuki's face reflected her own worry; Orihime herself was often shunned for her hair color around the court. Although she tried not to let on like it bothered her, Tatsuki knew better, and could often be found snidely taking some of the other ladies down a peg or two when they belittled her good-natured friend. Fortunately, most of it was kept away from the Princess Imperial, who adored Orihime.

"You're too soft-hearted for your own good," Tatsuki said, sighing fondly as she patted her best friend on the head, "Just don't encourage him, okay? You could do way better than some guard with bad manners from the sticks."

"Alright," the redhead said sheepishly, the blush still spread over her face, "But I'm not really interested in the gentlemen here..." Tatsuki gave her a mischievous wink and grinned at her over her teacup.

"Not even Masataka?" she asked slyly, "What about Yukinori? Lots of the other girls are crazy over them."


Unbeknownst to the two young ladies, a silent visitor hovered just beyond their veranda. Had they looked past their blinds, they may have seen him; but as he made no sound and disturbed no blade of grass as he walked, the chances of them noticing him were slim.

Having nearly exhausted himself with his run through the bordering forests, Ichigo had picked his way back to the palace grounds before coming to stop in the northern courtyard. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop on the girl he'd met earlier; indeed, it was wholly coincidental that he should be minding his own business, eating fresh grass in the palace courtyards when he overheard her now-familiar voice. Having heard her voice, he found himself drifting closer, almost of his hooves' own accord.

At his current vantage point, then, he could see beneath Orihime's half-raised blinds. She was turned in profile towards her friend, whose face he could also see. This gave him a tiny bit of perverse delight in circumventing social restrictions; when he spoke to her as a man from here on out, she'd be careful to conceal her face from him. But in this form, even if she were to turn directly towards him, she'd only see a stag.

Not that it would be any less surprising. Ichigo was unlike any deer Orihime would have ever seen. He was no smaller than a large buck, but his coloring was all different; the tan hide that deer were known to have was covered in a blaze of reddish-gold spots, almost resembling the scales of a fish. Instead of branching into separate points, his horns twisted straight back from his forehead in twin spires. Instead of a deer's regular abrupt tail, Ichigo's looked more like a lion's, whipping his hindquarters with the small tuft at the end. And as for his neck, it was covered in a thick red mane, not at all different from the color of his human hair.

So it was in this state that Ichigo lingered outside Orihime's open balcony, mulling over his predicament. He was curious about her and frustrated at that curiosity. He didn't want to become mixed up with humans, as animalistic as he was, yet there he stood, eager at the prospect of speaking to one again. Worse than that, when he finally had decided to pursue that inclination, it occurred to him that it would involve more than just speaking to the girl herself. There was no way he could rely on chance to see her again. Sure, she might take a walk outside in the courtyard sometime or another, but that would mean navigating the flock of girls that were bound to be with her. Not just that, but there was no telling when that would be - he might catch her tomorrow, or it might be a month from now.

Seeing her alone in her room was almost too great a prospect to even entertain. To start with, he had no idea what the protocol was for visiting a girl in her room; he was just as likely to make a fool of himself and earn her scorn as to have another pleasant conversation with her, he figured. And from the way her friend talked, it wasn't as if his human form would even be particularly welcome. His hair and face would draw attention, even if his actions did not.

Worse yet, he knew very well that there was a powerful, prodigious onmyouji (3) somewhere on the premises; he had sealed that open northern veranda against creatures such as himself, for instance, and that was the least of his powers. Every supernatural creature he'd come into contact with on the palace grounds had spoken of him; a proud, stern young man who had risen to the top of the palace's Ministry of Divination at a very young age. This phenomenal man was even said to have been descended from Abe no Seimei himself (4). Some of those creatures spoke of him in terms of anger, some in awe. Either way, he brooked no misbehavior by spirits or creatures on the palace grounds whatsoever. And while Ichigo knew humans generally saw kirin as lucky, benevolent creatures, he still had no desire to cross the onmyouji. It would be more trouble than it was worth.

Still, the barrier on Orihime's outside wall meant that the only way in for Ichigo would be through the interior doorway. Which meant he would have to enter the palace itself. Which meant using his human form to walk amongst humans. It was a nerve-wracking proposition, to be sure, and left a bitter taste in Ichigo's mouth. In fact, he was so busy scowling and being irritated over it that he failed to notice the bluish-gray swish of fur cross the wooden veranda in front of him.

"What's with that sappy look, Kurosaki?"

Ichigo shook his head, his mane whipping the sides of his neck as he looked up. The creature on the balcony was a sleek, almost silver cat, its piercing sea-green eyes boring into Ichigo with barely disguised mischief. Unlike the average cat, however, this one swished two tails about his legs. He could also, of course, communicate in the human tongue and stand on his hind legs. When reared up in that manner, he was almost half the height of a human. And although Ichigo had never seen it, he knew full well that the creature before him, a nekomata, was capable of disguising himself as a human as well.

"Since when is the way I look any of your business, Grimmjow?" he asked sourly. Not only was the cat's intrusion very unwelcome, Ichigo usually found himself unable to trust Grimmjow. His presence rarely, if ever, constituted anything pleasant. Worse, unlike most of his feline brethren, this particular nekomata was neither benevolent nor harmless. He was selfish, crude, and capricious, and often argued with Ichigo over the slightest provocation.

At present, however, the large two-tailed cat merely turned his head to see what Ichigo had been studying with such intense interest only a moment ago. Upon seeing the two girls just on the other side of the sliding door, the whiskers over Grimmjow's eyes rose, a toothy grin stretching across his face.

"Aww, looks like our little kirin has a crush!" the cat gloated, prancing away from the open door and into the shadows beyond it, "You sure can pick 'em, Kurosaki. Leave it to you to start following that girl around." Ichigo knew Grimmjow had dropped that into the conversation to prompt him to ask for information. He loathed being indebted to the obnoxious cat for anything. But at the same time, it was clear that Grimmjow knew something more about Orihime than Ichigo did. He knew his mind wouldn't be settled until he knew what the cat did.

"If I did, you'd be the last person I'd let know," Ichigo snorted, feigning disinterest, "And what about her? She seems fine to me." Grimmjow laughed, a guttural barking sound, leaving Ichigo wanting to hit him with his hooves. He stopped, sitting on his haunches and flicking his tails boredly.

"You really are clueless, aren't you?" he asked, his eyes glittering in the moonlight, "She's the ugliest girl in the entire court! I can't believe you didn't notice it!" Ichigo cocked his head at Grimmjow; was the cat trying to mock him or something?

"What, did she chase you out of her room or something?" Unlike Ichigo, Grimmjow could walk freely about the palace as a regular cat whenever he chose.

"I guess it can't be helped," Grimmjow condescended, rising to his hind legs, "You can't just walk in whenever you feel like it. But I hear plenty of things while I'm in there. Most of the other ladies hate her and not a single man has come to visit her in her room in the whole time she's been here. Isn't it sad?" Ichigo wanted to roll his eyes. Secretly, though, he took note that he had no competition; almost as soon as he'd had the wayward thought, he stuffed it back down.

"So what exactly is wrong with her?" he asked skeptically, feeling that resentment from earlier bubble up again, "She looked perfectly pleasant to me."

"What's not wrong with her according to those people?" Grimmjow replied with a snort, "Her hair's an outrageous color, her eyes are too wide and the wrong shape, and even though she reads and writes well, there doesn't seem to be much between her ears, if you know what I mean." Ichigo could feel his teeth grinding together as the cat smirked at him.

"Of course," he continued, "That's just what I hear. Most of the girls talking about her are pretty ugly themselves, you know. Nasty little bitches, these court ladies; one of 'em or the other is always stealing combs or ink wells or paper out of her room. Petty shit like that." Ichigo snorted and tossed his head back, flicking his mane over his neck.

"So what you're saying is," he drawled, "That humans are mean-spirited idiots." The cat shrugged.

"You could say that," he said lightly, "None of the human men here are willing to be seen actually talking to her or anything. Pretty stupid if you ask me. Of course, I think she's decent. But I've got my eyes on a bigger prize than her." This actually did pique Ichigo's curiosity; Grimmjow had his eyes on a human girl?

"I get the feeling you're going to tell me whether I ask or not," Ichigo said flatly, masking his actual curiosity at the leading statement.

"Of course I am," Grimmjow said, walking down the veranda on his hind legs, not at all unlike the humans he had just been ridiculing, "But if you change your mind when you see her, I'll kick your ass."

With that, the nekomata led Ichigo down along the veranda to the next room with an open door. This one had the blinds half-drawn as well, giving him a clear picture of the woman inside. Unlike Orihime, however, she was laying on her side, her shapely back turned to the two creatures just outside her door. Her golden, wheat-colored hair fell over her back and pooled by her shoulder in waves, and Ichigo thought he could make out a letter of some sort in her hands. And unlike Orihime, she was laying beneath her layers of clothing from earlier in the day, completely exposed to the cool night air behind her curtain of state (5). This he recognized as the lady with the blue eyes from earlier in the evening.

"Her?" Ichigo asked skeptically, "Wouldn't she have the same problems as Inoue?" Grimmjow dropped to his forepaws, taking on the appearance of a regular tomcat as he shrugged.

"Like I said, humans are idiots," he said nonchalantly, "She's different, though. The other women don't like her, but the men sure do. She makes sure she gets the pick of the litter."

As if on cue, something on the far side of the blonde woman's room stirred and Ichigo heard footsteps moving towards them. A voice called the lady's name - Rangiku he thought it was - and she sat up, letting the jackets that were covering her fall about her waist.

Presently, a scarred man with short, spiky black hair and thin, serious eyes rounded her curtain of state. While there was a rough-hewn sort of attractiveness in the man's manner, Ichigo couldn't help but think he looked even courser than he himself must appear. As for Rangiku, she greeted him warmly, rising from her bed and embracing him with a kiss. Then, just as he seemed to be about to return the affections, she turned back towards her blinds. Ichigo could have sworn she looked right at the two of them with a wink before dropping the blinds and obscuring their view. Even with the blinds drawn, he could still clearly see the silhouettes of the two lovers cast by the lamplight and hear murmurs of their voices. Blushing beneath his fur, Ichigo turned to paw at the ground in embarrassment.

"That guy," Grimmjow pointed out helpfully, "Is the Captain of the Palace Guards. Sounds impressive, but it's not exactly a high rank with the nobility. Either way, pretty good catch for such an 'ugly' girl, huh?" There was amusement in the cat's voice, but it made Ichigo raise a skeptical eyebrow.

"If she already has a mate, what makes you think you stand a chance?" he asked incredulously. Surely he wasn't intending to abduct a human woman?

"You're pretty naive, aren't you, Kurosaki?" the cat asked, cocking a whiskered eyebrow, "It's not like they're actually trying to make human kittens or anything. It's for fun." Ichigo raised his head and watched the shadows move against the blinds, blush burning his furred skin. He could hear soft voices from beyond the bamboo slats, little moans and groans that he'd never heard before in his short life.

"Fun?" he repeated, not sure he believed it, "She sounds like she's in pain." If it was possible for a cat to roar with laughter, that was exactly what Grimmjow was doing at that moment.

"You really are a virgin, ain't you?" the cat said, wiping tears from his green eyes with a paw, "Guys like those noises - they're erotic. It's supposed to be even better if they're scared." This was shocking to Ichigo; if one wanted to love a girl, why would one want to scare her? He couldn't imagine enjoying knowing he'd frightened Orihime. He pictured wide, terrified, honey-colored eyes full of tears turned on him. This realization caused him to duck his head again in embarrassment.

"You're an ass, Grimmjow," Ichigo grumbled, "You'd really do that to a girl you were trying to mate?" The cat snorted to swallow his laughter.

"Why not?" he asked lightly, prancing back and forth across the veranda in his own cat-like way, "It's not like they get a choice in the matter." (6) This truly horrified Ichigo; that something so intimate could be forced on one of these women, particularly on one as unassuming as Orihime, was simply awful.

"What do you mean they don't get a choice?" he replied, his voice rising with anger, "You don't think that's wrong?" Grimmjow shrugged, amusement twinkling in his eyes.

"That's the way it's done, kid," he said with perfect indifference, "If the woman doesn't like it, all she has to do is ignore his letters the next day. Most guys take the hint." The silver cat leapt from the wooden balcony, landing concisely in the grass beside Ichigo.

"What about you?" Ichigo snorted, pawing dangerously close to one of the nekomata's tails, "You act like you're an expert." Maybe it was hatefully said, but Ichigo saw no reason to disguise his disgust at the perverted tomcat.

"Not with human women," the cat replied, lifting his tails out of the kirin's reach, "But I've seen enough in the palace to know what I'm talking about. That's why as soon as I find a way around that annoying onmyouji's barriers, and that guard captain leaves her alone for a night, it's going to be my turn." His tails were now a banner waving behind him in assumed triumph as Grimmjow began sauntering past Ichigo.

"Besides," he added, "It's not like she's any stranger to beasts like us. There was a white kitsune that used to visit her all the time, 'til that onmyouji kicked him out of the palace. Not that I'm intending to let that happen to me..."

"You're disgusting," Ichigo said, tossing his mane and moving back towards Orihime's open door.

"Maybe!" Grimmjow cheerfully returned, "But I'm also right. Careful someone else doesn't move in on your territory, Kurosaki. Even with all her little 'flaws', that girl won't get looked over forever."

Ichigo watched the obnoxious tomcat stroll off towards the forest. He didn't even want to consider where he could be going or what he might go off to do now. No, his attention was focused on the girl still chatting with her friend in her well-lit room. As irritating as Grimmjow was, Ichigo had no reason to believe he was lying in what he'd said. And if that was true, could he really afford not to see to Orihime himself? There would be no harm in at least watching out for her, even if it meant interacting with humans. She wouldn't even have to know he was there, really - just pretending to post guard outside her door for some of the night would be enough to forestall any unwanted advances.

With renewed spirit, Ichigo decided that he'd watch from outside this evening and then find a way inside around the onmyouji's barriers with the morrow.

(1) In the Heian era, the lunar calendar was used. The fourth month would've been somewhere between the end of April and the end of May. While it was pronounced 'Fourth Month' (as in modern Japanese), it was spelled out 'Unohana Month', after the flowers of the same name.

(2) The day was divided between twelve watches, each two hours long and named after a figure of the Chinese zodiac. Hence, the first quarter of the tenth watch would be about 6:30pm.

(3) Onmyouji were/are something of a cross between court magicians, priests, astrologers, and exorcists. In Heian Japan, they had charge of an entire bureau in the palace, the Ministry of Divination. They were also responsible for keeping track of time in the palace.

(4) The most famous onmyouji of all time. Depending upon the source, he either had no children or had adopted some, so the claim of the court onmyouji being descended from him is dubious at best.

(5) During the Heian era, people used their clothes from the day for their blankets. In other words, Rangiku is in bed for the evening.

(6) As bad as this sounds, Grimmjow's sentiments weren't uncommon during this era – Ichigo is actually the odd man out.