The first moment of consciousness was disorienting. Of crazily tilted buildings and black that hovered at the edge of her vision. Black..? Rukia's mind tried to connect these surroundings to those that had filled her waking vision beforehand. An empty alley and Hollows.
That's right! Her eyes snapped open. There had been Hollows-which wasn't surprising since the region of Karakura town was a magnet for the loathsome beings. Too quickly she tried to scramble up, concrete rippled below her vision.
"Steady." A hand caught at her shoulder, maintaining a light grip as she gratefully closed her eyes, breathing in and out. "Thanks.." she tried when her head felt less lightheaded. The other said nothing, keeping a silence that while wasn't annoying felt somehow comfortable.
"Where-" turning to the side where she sensed the other knelt, she came face-to hood with a young male. "W-who-!"
His thin mouth visible from the lower half of his uncovered face, adopted a slight, sardonic hint to it. "I might ask you the same. That is..more along the lines of why do you have me at your waist?"
Her mouth opened in a retort that she didn't know what the hell he was talking about as the only sword she had ever wielded was Sode no Shirayuki...but the words died a slow death in her throat. Her gaze traveling over the flared open white-trimmed black coat that had replaced her Shinigami uniform. Beneath it, for modesty's sake, she wore a short skirt, white bandages covered her torso and peeked out from the top of the V-necked collar, covering her petite breasts.
"The hell..." Rukia was aware of mounting panic rising inside her. Her hand as had been accustomed to doing whenever she had felt a need for reassurance beyond words, slipped over the long black and red diamond-patterned hilt stuck through the sash-like ribbon at her waist.
Her fingers encountered the square four-pronged guard.
This wasn't Sode no Shirayuki.
With effort, she kept up her facade of composure. To show undue panic now would be to disgrace the Kuchiki name. So, she looked. Raised her head defiantly and looked straight into the faintly amused face of the Zanpaku-to; though never having seen him before, knowing instinctively who he was.
"Where is Sode no Shirayuki?" she asked in her best, no-nonsense tone.
"Shouldn't it be with whom?"
It was snowing. Ichigo immediately detected the abrupt change in the temperature as cold flakes clung and melted through his shihakusho, trickling into freezing droplets rolling down his skin. Why was it snowing, though? Shouldn't old man Zangetsu have pulled him into the mindscape-or-or if he had just passed out...why would he be dreaming of a snowy plain? Thinking had never been Ichigo's forte, rather jump in with barely a conceivable notion on how to get out forming.
He remembered backing up Rukia and her yelling at him that she could handle it herself...but wasn't there something that came after-?
He was sure there was- however as he tried to recall that oh, so important missing thing- Ice gripped his throat. Ichigo likened the sensation to a collar made of ice cubes that suspiciously felt like delicate fingers clasping his flesh. As he began to struggle, his eyes stared into the most beautiful blue orbs he had ever seen. A pale white woman crouched over him, her voice a deadly icicle-thin whisper.
"Please calm down, Ms. Kuchiki."
Urahara's very calm, laissez-faire tones aggravated her.
"What do you mean? I am calm!" Stamping her foot, Rukia glowered at the innocent air the shopkeeper was affecting. For the last hour he had been trying to convince them-namely herself as Ichigo was still suffering the effects of frostbite that Inoue was trying to treat with little success; of the non-disaster their switching of Zanpaku-tos entailed.
Rukia could've screamed, desiring nothing but to punch the source of her rage into tomorrow. Though that meant risking her panties showing...as it seemed for the thousandth time the pervy former Taichou's eyes made an x-ray scan over the very short skirt and lingered on her bosom as if willing the skimpy coat to simply disappear.
"I must say, Ms. Kuchiki..you look quite lovely tonight!" Urahara chirped.
"Wha-! I-I didn't choose to be outfitted like this!" she grabbed the ragged ends of the coat, shaking them in emphasis. "Yeah!" Ichigo piped up, his nose decidedly less blue. Stumbling to his feet, he moved away from Inoue's overly friendly hands. "That's my ban-kai the midget stole! I mean mine-is er...cooler.." slanting his eyes surreptitiously away. "Lacking a mini-skirt and all-"
Her punch flew into his gut seconds later.
"Oh! But, Kurosaki-kun would look so adorable in a skirt!" Inoue clasped her hands and dreamily imagined.
Everyone ignored her.
"Ah, well...I do have a theory on that." Urahara waved his fan in Rukia and Ichigo's direction. Releasing the handful of his kimono, she stepped back, placing a hand on each hip. "Well? Let's hear it!"
"Yare-yare..patience is a virtue, Ms. Kuchiki."
"Not with her it isn't." Ichigo muttered, earning him a sharp glare highly reminiscent of Byakuya's. Wisely he put his palms up in silent total surrender. Rukia sniffed haughtily, "I happen to have a high amount of virtue, thank you very much."
Amber eyes rolled heavenward, "yeah..that's a little hard to imagine with you dressed like that."
His foot became the next victim.
Rukia ignored his holler, instead turning sharp violet eyes to Urahara's innocent fanning. "I'm waiting!"
"Hmm..oh! Oh, yes!" His staged act didn't fool her. She could tell he'd been fantasizing about the dangerously creeping hemline when she had been trying to thrash Ichigo. Pervert..
"Well! As we all know, Kurosaki-kun releases mass amounts of spirit pressure like an overflowing tap that someone forgot to turn off." This earned Urahara a heavy glower. "The off-shoot is that his Zanpaku-to never has to be released in shikai and is overwhelmingly large!"
"So, what? I happen to like Zangetsu the way he is!" the orange-haired sub scoffed.
"Moving on-moving on!" Urahara cheerfully disregarded him. "So, it stands to reason that Ms. Kuchiki here-" Rukia tilted her chin up, pursing her lips in a frown. "-Whom possesses much less reiatsu and is a lot less powerful than Kurosaki-kun-"
"-hey!" she snapped to attention, sensing the underlying insult.
"No offense meant, Ms. Kuchiki." Urahara placated with a mysterious smile that instantly gave her the creeps. "All I'm trying to say is, Kurosaki-kun's Zanpaku-to transformed into a more compact katana with the change in ownership."
Her brow rose, "it's not permanent is it? I mean I won't stay with Mr. dark and mysterious forever, right?"
"Don't forget me with Ice woman! I don't want her either!" Ichigo threw in scowling.
Rukia turned to him then, a vein twitching dangerously over her eye. "Ice woman? How dare you talk about the most beautiful Zanpaku-to in all of Seireitei in such a manner, you ingrate baka!"
"Ingrate baka!" Ichigo roared, becoming quite red in the face.
They got in each other's faces despite the differences in height.
"Actually you could say that now Sode no Shirayuki is the most beautiful Zanpaku-to in the living world." Urahara pointed out helpfully, grinning from ear to ear.
"You shut up!"
The shopkeeper chuckled, unfazed. "I cannot say if this permanent or not, however, I do expect things to continue on as they have- with a slight change in weaponry albeit."
"How so?" Rukia was immediately suspicious, part of her knowing yet denying what the former Taichou was going to say next.
"Why.." Urahara feigned innocence, "you must learn to use each other's Zanpaku-tos from now on. At least until I have a solution to- our um...little problem."
Both her and Ichigo's reactions were simultaneous.
Disclaimer: don't own Bleach.
AN: Thanks for reading :)
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Reviews appreciated :)