A quick but edited one-shot, companion piece of sorts to my other story, to let you guys know I'm still alive. :) And yes, there is a new chapter of Death is Not Goodbye in the works, a nice long one full of battles and maybe a bit of fluffiness at the edges. But this idea came to me and demanded to be written as I was watching Ichigo's eyes be described as 'melting deep-brown orbs' (or a variation thereof, always with the last word intact) for the maybe zillionth time- in a fic that wasn't even labeled as romance. Seriously, eyes do not look like orbs unless they are surgically removed from a person's head! XD

Anyway, please R&R. Criticism always loved. :)

Rukia had always loved chocolate, ever since Renji first handed her a piece back when they were both students. Back before she had become a Kuchiki, with all the honor and duties the name implied. At the time, she had wondered briefly at the blush visible on the tips of Renji's ears and nose as he placed the little brown rectangle, printed with words in a foreign alphabet, in her cupped hands.

"What's this?" she asked with curiosity, raising the faintly sticky lump to the light to get a better look at it.

"Chocolate," Renji told her with pride, the strange syllables slow on his tongue.

"Oh." Rukia inspected the lump again, but knowing its name did not make its purpose any clearer.

"You eat it," Renji told her with a bit of exasperation but mostly fondness in his voice. She looked up at him briefly, sensing the dull flicker of a feeling that went beyond familial affection in his tone. That one flicker was something she was noticing more and more often, but she had not yet dared to try and puzzle it out. After all, I have absolutely no evidence that he sees me as anything more than a little sister.

Gingerly she picked at the chocolate with a fingernail, leaving a tiny curl of brown shavings behind. "Are you certain this is edible?"


Renji was watching her, so she broke off a piece of the present and placed it in her mouth.

Instantly her eyes opened wider in surprise. The chocolate was sweet- something she hadn't expected- and creamy; it melted as she ate and the resulting texture was rich and thick. Even after she had swallowed the candy, a heavy scent that was pleasurably bitter lingered in the corners of her mouth and on her tongue.

"Well?" Renji was smirking a little at her reaction, already sure of her response but wanting to hear it anyway. Others might have thought this was from arrogance, but Rukia knew he was happy that his gift had pleased her.

"It's delicious, Renji. Thank you very much." Rukia broke another piece off of the square and let it melt slowly on her tongue.

"That's not the only kind, ya know. What you got is milk chocolate, but there's black chocolateand white too," he informed her, squarely set in 'dispensing priceless pearls of wisdom' mode.

Renji, telling her things, always reminded Rukia of the not-too-long-ago times he had shown her the secrets of surviving in Rukongai. It brought back to her just how many gifts he had given her over the years.

"Should I get you something back?" she asked tentatively, wanting to express her gratitude but not quite knowing how with this new, grown-up Renji. He was so much taller and bigger than her, almost but not quite intimidating. He laughed a little, nervously, and put one hand behind his head in a couldn't-care-less pose.

"Nah, that's fine. It's no big deal, cause that's the cheap stuff you have there."

"Wait, you got me the 'cheap stuff'?"

The old routines of loving insults, at least, were intact and comfortable still. Rukia fell into them with ease.

"What, you expect me to spend good money on a second-class student?"

They parted ways soon after, because neither teachers nor classes waited for friendships, but for the rest of the week Rukia portioned out her chocolate carefully, savoring each bite with appreciation of something more than merely the taste.

It had been Byakuya who had introduced her to the second kind of chocolate. Shortly after she had joined the Kuchiki clan, when she was still struggling to find a niche for a new Shinigami who was too common to hobnob with the other nobles and too noble to form friendships with the commoners, there had been a formal dinner of introduction.

All that day she had experienced a feeling of odd lightness in her stomach, and could not even ease it through a chat with Kaien, the one person who dared to josh her as Renji had done before she had become a Kuchiki.

But when she had entered her apartments to begin the long process of dressing for the dinner, sitting directly in the middle of the bare floor was a folded note in a red-edged envelope. Resting next to the note, reposing in state on a square of deep scarlet rice paper, was a small piece of something creamy white in color.

Rukia recognized the chocolate as soon as she had picked it up, feeling the familiar texture against her fingers. A delicious smell drifted from the small lump as it was warmed by her skin: vanilla, cream, sugar. On top of the confection, three tiny sakura petals formed the points of a triangle. The delicate interplay of spiky shell-pink against smooth cream and brilliant red made her smile, and she knew who the chocolate was from before she even opened the note.

"Honored sister,

Transportation will await you in two hours. I will accompany you personally. Therefore, please be ready.

Kuchiki Byakuya."

The silky white chocolate lingered on her tongue, bringing with it calmness and, incredibly, the taste of a future that might not be as bitter as she had thought.

Kaien had been the one to show her what Renji had called 'black chocolate', tossing her an obviously home-made lump in the shape of a star in congratulations the day she had achieved First Dance with Sode no Shirayuki. She'd instantly loved the bitter taste and almost crumbly texture of the candy. It was exciting and different, the way the sweet sugar played against the strong cacao-just the way being with Kaien was exciting and different.

But the taste of dark chocolate was forever tainted for her. Kaien knew how she loved chocolate, and just before the news of his wife's possession he had slipped her a piece of it with a wink and a promise of a picnic for the three of them later.

It had melted, forgotten, in her mouth as she had watched the battle between Kaien and the Hollow that had consumed his loved one. And traces of it had lingered and mixed in her memory with the hot copper smell of blood as Sode no Shirayuki had driven through the body of her captain. The feeling of that moment…the sound her sword had made going into him…those were things she never, ever wanted to remember, and so she had sworn off chocolate. It helped, a little, during the day, but it did not stop the nightmares.

And here she was again, confronted with yet another kind of chocolate. But this time it wasn't the kind she could eat.

It was the color of the eyes of a human boy, the most ordinary brown eyes on the planet- or so she told herself. After all, his eyes didn't match his hair. They weren't soft, smoldering or deep the way the eyes of the heroes in her favorite romance novels were; nor were they cat-like and thick-lashed like the eyes of the boys in her favorite shoujo mangas. They were merely light-sensitive organs belonging to one Kurosaki Ichigo and often reflecting his personality: brash, hot-tempered, impulsive.

But yet they were almost the exact color of that first milk chocolate from Renji; in them he occasionally let show kindness as soft and sweet as white chocolate. And in the boy himself she found the delicious enigma of dark chocolate: forceful yet yielding, dominant yet shy, harsh yet smooth, bitter yet sweet.

Once she had thought, in the privacy of her closet, that the best sweet she had ever received was not on that could be eaten but the look in Ichigo's eyes as he came swooping in like a true hero- grand entrance as always!- to save her. She'd quickly squashed it. She was too old, she reasoned, and dead, and besides there was the echo in her brain of 'I have absolutely no evidence' and the hot copper/cacao smell of Kaien's dying.

Now, though, the world had fallen apart and been put back together again…

…and just possibly, in this new life, there was room once more for chocolate.