Chapter 22

"So... Is there any particular place where you would like to go to?" Ichigo stopped in front of his garage after they had brought back his B-King from Rukia's hideout. It was cold as hell, but Rukia was so excited she had barely managed to get through all the lessons today. She was fidgeting, spacing out, she didn't even eat her lunch properly. After he had met her in their usual spot, she had tormented him to go for his bike at once not to waste time.

"No, I only would like to go train a bit in Death God's base, what do you think? I am so far behind the rest, who trained past few weeks intensely; I need to at least make a few laps and straights to get back into the shape." She jumped from Ichigo's bike and took her Ninja from the garage.

"Finally." She whispered, looking at her bike with tenderness.

Ichigo observed as she adjusted herself on the saddle with complete euphoria; everything about her screamed that this was the only thing that could give her so much happiness.

Ichigo's mouth smiled involuntarily, because he knew that feeling very well; he could imagine how she felt- if someone took away his B-King from him for that long time he would probably go crazy.

Watching with amusement Rukia's frantic moves, he thought that he was a really lucky man to have found such a girl.

"Ok, calm down and let's go. There isn't much time left until the training… I wonder… hey Ichigo, which day we have today?" she put on the helmet confidently.

"Great, don't you even know what day is it today? That's scary." He silenced seeing her glare. "It's Thursday." He added after the piercing, sapphire sight from inside of the helmet had drilled into his brain.

"Thursday you say… I wonder if Renji will show up indeed." Ichigo froze for a moment, while Rukia's engine roared wildly as she pressed the accelerator hardly on purpose.

"Now, I like it." Even though he couldn't see her face, he could bet she was grinning.

"Wait, why would he show up today?" He asked rying to sound nonchalantly, as if he didn't care about the answer.

"Didn't I tell you?" Her surprised gaze landed on him. "He's going to join Death Gods, I must have mentioned something."

Actually, she hasn't.

Ichigo's blood buzzed slightly. "Are you kidding me? Who knows?" He spat through the gritted teeth, not being able to hold back.

So from now on, he'll have to handle him not only as Rukia's friend, who comes occasionally to his house, or worse, Rukia comes to his; but also as a colleague in their group?

"Only Urahara and Tatsuki know, we haven't told anyone yet. Renji was supposed to pass the test tonight, and I hope he'll make it. Considering the situation we need someone like him this spring. I can't believe I haven't told you. But well, I guess it's only your fault, because whenever we're alone, you prefer physical activity rather than the conversation." She said contrariwise and Ichigo couldn't help but chuckle at that comment, because she was damn right. "Let's go already, I didn't get my bike back just to sit on it and talk!" with that she started off with a small screeching of her tires and left him behind.

Ichigo only rolled his eyes and rushed after her.

Now the only thing that mattered was her Ninja, so it was obvious she was thinking about it all the time.

Maybe it was better this way, when he didn't know for so long.

At least his nerves were calm until today.

%%%

Rukia panted slightly as she finally stopped. It has been a couple of hours since she and Ichigo have reached the base and now, she was dead tired even though the actual training hasn't started yet.

She had been worse than she thought.

The bike has been a lot better thanks to Mayuri, but hell, it was now heavier and more difficult to ride. She hasn't noticed that small change while riding it a while back for a few streets.

Now it wasn't the only problem.

It was faster, but the acceleration was different and it was hard to get used to it.

Most of all, she felt her physical form was awfully low.

Rukia was more than usually aware of the muscles of her back and shoulders, and tomorrow morning she'll probably have to face painful sourdoughs.

Screw it all, she finally had her bike back and it wasn't like she cared about that much.

She was only pissed, because it happened so late.

And curious, what exactly Ichigo had promised Urahara that he agreed to give the machine back.

"Not bad." Ichigo parked between her and the wall of tires, taking off his helmet.

"Bull shit. It's horrible. If I race somebody today, I will be simply dead." She got off the bike and sat at the top of the pile, looking down at Ichigo, whose face dropped at the mention of racing.

"You definitely won't race anybody. I'm going to take care of it." Rukia knew that worried tone.

"Well, that's not for you to decide. I am not some fragile being, so I can take care of myself, remember that." She needed to repeat it to him once again, because he was the type of guy who would protect her from her own shadow if he found it necessary.

"I know." He looked away, slightly embarrassed.

Rukia smiled at that view. She was thinking about one thing for some time… maybe it was the best time to let him know?

Was it really what she wanted?

"Hey, don't make such face." Her foot kicked him lightly in the chest as she was sitting above him. "I wanted to ask you something… or tell… whatever you call it…" Now it was her turn for being embarrassed and she felt horrible with that. She hated that feeling, especially in front of Ichigo, who made her feel like this way too often for her comfort.

"What is it?"

"You know… lately… I've been thinking…" It was hard to say something like that to him, it was some kind of commitment.

"Just say it, shorty."

"Don't call me that, it's not helping!" She kicked him harder this time, and noticed how he increased the distance between them, so that her legs couldn't reach him anymore.

"So? You'd better hurry up, because I think I hear some roaring, somebody's coming." Rukia ear strained and cursed inwardly.

So the time was limited.

She took a deep breath.

"I believe you."

He laughed shortly. "There's nothing to believe, you can hear them all the way, can't you?" He didn't get it, and she wasn't ready for involving bigger words than that. She didn't want him to think he was that good.

Well, maybe he was, but he didn't have to know that she thought so.

"No… I'm not talking about the bikes… I'm saying that I… I believe you… and I want to go out. Officially. I'm sick and tired of the attic and meeting halfway to the school…" She wanted to continue on listing the advantages of being together, so that the part of her decision would be justified by simple convenience, but Ichigo didn't give her that chance and silenced her with a kiss that stole the breath from her lungs. She had no idea what he had done to her, but she was in flames, aching for air.

When the heat became unbearable, she broke apart and looked into those brown eyes she grew to trust so much.

She still couldn't believe what exactly had he done to let all her fears go away. It was just so natural and she didn't want to hide anymore. She wanted to go to the cinema, restaurant, walk hand in hand…

"Just… don't lie to me." She said, while the cold tips of their noses were still touching each other.

Rukia felt as Ichigo's lips gently brushed her.

"I won't." He whispered and made a step back, since the roaring became louder and louder.

"Now, let's go back to the training." She jumped off the tires and waved to Matsumoto, who rode towards them with a great speed; there was also Hisagi, Toshiro, Yoruichi and Ishida behind her, and it was only a matter of time, for everybody to gather.

Rukia walked away smiling from ear to ear to the container, so that they could start the fire inside to warm up a little until the rest will come.

Soon the riders appeared near them and a light, friendly talk started, while they were drawing their hands towards the flames.

She loved that atmosphere; people laughing, joking around and keeping themselves warm even though it was a freezing evening; Ichigo's arm bumping into hers from time to time, since he didn't walk away from her as he usually did during trainings. That of course brought a few curious looks, but Rukia didn't care.

She just allowed herself to be happy.

"Hey, Rukia…" She heard Tatsuki's whisper on her right side. "Is he coming tonight?"

"I don't know… he said he would, but I haven't spoken to him since then." She replied normally, since there was only Ichigo and Tatsuki in the reach of her voice.

She saw the girl's perplexed sight.

"It's OK, he knows." She nodded at him.

"Oh." Tatsuki looked at the fire. "I hope he'll come."

"Me too." With that they both put on their leather gloves and moved away from the fire to mount their bikes.

"Time for some training." Tatsuki grinned towards Rukia before she put her helmet on, and then they both started off, racing on the straight in front of them, just for fun.

%%%

Ichigo was measuring time for Kenpachi on the longest lap in their base, when he saw Urahara waving his hand.

This usually meant that something was going on.

He immediately waved at Kenpachi, whose motorbike roared loudly, as he pushed it to its limits. He won't be pleased that they were interrupted, however he obediently slowed down and approached him.

"What's up?" He asked angrily as he stopped beside Ichigo.

"I don't know, I only saw Urahara waving."

"Shit, just when I was in the middle of the lap. Bastard." Kenpachi pressed the accelerator hardly and set off, leaving a snow swirling behind him.

As always, hot-tempered if it was about bikes.

Ichigo had a feeling that this issue was somehow connected with Renji. After all he was supposed to come here today.

When he joined the rest, he saw that his assumptions were correct.

Next to Urahara was standing Renji Abarai, in all his tall and tattooed glory, wearing black clothes exactly just like the rest.

Ichigo smirked.

He wasn't in yet, but behaved as if it was only formality.

He begged that he would get him for a race, he would show him how much he doesn't want him here.

"Ok, guys, this is Renji Abarai." Urahara started pointing at the new comer. "A few of you know him from the past, but we all met him during New Year, when he was a great help. He wants to join and I suggest accepting him, even though we suspended the call until the final race with Espadas, what's your opinion?"

Small murmuring among Dead Gods occurred, some were wondering if it's the same guy indeed- mostly Matsumoto, who was the one drunk the most that night and could not completely recall the New Year's night-, but not many people had red hair and face tattooed in tribal signs.

"Sure, he only needs to race, just like everybody." Hisagi stated, leaning freely on the tires. Everyone nodded in agreement.

"Wait, what race?" Renji seemed to be a bit disoriented and Ichigo smirked at this expression. He loved Rukia even more for not telling him about the race thing in the beginning…

Wait.

Did I just think… love?

He shook his head slightly, trying to clear his mind and push the uncomfortable thought at the back of his head.

He focused more on Renji's tattoos, but still he couldn't follow the conversation which was held right in front of him. People were still talking, discussing something, Urahara seemed to be deep in thought, yet still all he heard was rumbling word love in his head. That was just crazy.

"Ichigo."

"Ichigo."

"ICHIGO!" Somebody tapped his head from back and he noticed Rukia right in front of his eyes. Seeing her only made things worse.

It seemed like his brain finally admitted defeat and…

…and it seemed like… like it was love.

"Rukia?" He asked dumbly after seeing her angry expression. He saw how her lips were moving, saying something to him, but the fact that he actually loved her was still too shocking to start function normally.

"Are you even listening to me? Ichigo what the hell is wrong with you! MOVE!" She started to pull his sleeve and something in her tone made him worry.

But still.

Do I really love her?

"Come on! What the hell do you think you're doing? Get a hold of yourself!" She hit him once again at the back of his head and he started to finally look at the surroundings.

The rest have already gone to another place, gathered around something.

Or, most likely around somebody, because his eyes perceived the white helmet.

"What the hell…?"

"I told you! What is wrong with you, dumbass? Come on!" She pulled his sleeve harder and made him run to the place where everyone was.

After they came closer, he saw characteristic dyed hair in the emerald color.

No matter how many times he looked at her, it still remained the biggest secret how in the world could she choose to do something like that on her head?

"Nel? What are you doing here tonight?" he said loudly, when he noticed she was talking to Yoruichi.

Hearing his voice, she looked for him in the surrounding crowd and grinned as a child, who was given its favorite candy.

"Ichigo!" She got off of her bike and took off her helmet within a fraction of second, the next one, Ichigo felt her hanging on his neck, squeezing him as if she wanted him to die.

"Nel…" he whispered, when his throat became completely dry. "Let go of me… I can't breathe."

"Oh, sorry, Ichigo! I'm so happy to see you! It's been a while, hasn't it?" She finally made a step back, and just to be sure he did one as well.

"Yeah, what's up?" he felt a dozen of eyes landed on Nel.

"Right, I only saw you and totally forgot what did I come for. You're sooo cute!" She smiled widely again and caressed his cheek delicately.

Suddenly he felt that his right hand was crushed in the vice.

He glanced there and saw Rukia, whose eyes were throwing lightings at poor Nel.

"Well, I gotta go, because I said I'm going to take some fuel for my bike and I'll be right back, but I suppose you can expect guests today. I told them it's useless and you had nothing to do with Grimmjow's death, but they simply won't believe." She threw her long green hair at her back and sat back on her motorcycle, while the rest opened their mouth in astonishment.

"Wait… Grimmjow… is dead?" Hisagi stated with disbelief.

"Yeah, didn't you know?" Nel asked cheerfully, as if she was talking about the weather. "His body was found yesterday in the pond, near suburbs, totally beaten up. I know this guy asked for trouble every day, but I still feel sorry for him. Nobody should end like that." She made a slight pause, but nobody dared to speak… Grimmjow Jaggerjaques, the most aggressive and fierce Espada… dead? They have always thought that there was nothing what could destroy him. After every battle he returned, bruised and scarred, but stronger as well. And now… he was found in the frozen pond.

"Well, most of us think that you have something in common with his death, so that they decided to pay you a visit tonight. And if there's anybody new in your group- her sight stopped at Rukia for a moment- then they should get the hell outta here, because they just want blood. They realize that the shorter you train here, the weaker you are. I just wanted to warn you, so I came. Now, I really have to get back. I hope nobody will get hurt. See you." She put on her helmet and none Death God had a strength or courage to ask her anything before she disappeared w oddali.

It was just… it was the news out of this world.

The good one was that the worst of Espada won't come tonight. But the worse one was that they will have to face about twenty or thirty aggressive people, who were strong and driven with fury.

For Ichigo that meant only one thing.

"Go home." He whispered and received the response he expected and feared at the same time.

"No way."

Rukia stood still beside him, gripping his shoulder harder than ever before, watching after Nel, who has already disappeared behind the bend.

What scared him the most was the determination in her eyes; the determination to stay and fight.

His heart was beating heavily, because he couldn't immobilize her with force once again. It would not be fair.

And standing in their base, watching her upright and proud position, surrounded by frantic conversation between Death Gods, he could not believe that the one thing he noticed was the beauty of the girl beside him.

~~ A shorter one this time :) I'm a bit tired with this fic already and just want to finish it. I am hoping against my reasoning that there are a few people who still would like to know how it ends. Just a couple more chapters ;)

I'm sending huge greetings and chocolate cookies to everyone :)

M.