The Frameup

By Rukilex

Author's Note: One-shot kiriban for NekoFeathers. Ichigo is a cop, doing time for the murder of his best friend and partner. His only alibi must remain a secret – the night he spent with the wife of the most powerful crime boss in Tokyo, Sousuke Aizen. IchiRuki, AU. Inspired by the Nightwish song, "Over the Hills and Far Away."

Characters belong to Kubo-sensei, of course! Story is mine.

He rolled over, his hand pulling her tighter against his chest. She murmured something, half-asleep; he clasped his hand around her waist and closed his eyes. "This won't go well," he thought with a soft sigh, thinking of what would happen when Aizen found out. That the older man regularly cheated on her with the women who populated his club was irrelevant – this would be a matter of honor.

"Fool," he told himself. "You've been a cop long enough. You should know not to get involved…" But he had gotten himself involved, far more deeply than he had planned.

It was supposed to have been a simple job: infiltrate Aizen's organization and copy the accounting files (the undoctored ones) onto his thumb drive. Simple, right? Except that he had run into her, and now he was in so deep he was going to drown.

Rukia. Pretty little brunette with an acid sense of humor, married to the most powerful mob boss in Toyko. Or would it be better to call her Aizen's "prisoner?" No, she had chosen to marry the bastard two years before, defying her own brother and grandfather to elope. She'd been young, naïve to think that he'd give up the other women for her. And by the time she'd fully understood what the man did for a living and why he had married her, it was too late. She had never loved Aizen, but what difference did that really make now?

"Shit," he thought. "Bastard'll kill both of us if he finds out." He should just stay away, pretend this never happened. He'd have a far better chance of surviving if he did and so would she. Except that he was in love with her, and he couldn't just let her go…

"Get up!" The prison guard hit Ichigo on the back of the head. He rolled over; his entire body ached. The guards had beaten him up just about every night now since he had been sent here, three months before. He couldn't really blame them; he didn't like cop-killers much himself. There was only one other human being who knew he wasn't one, and he wouldn't risk her life to save his miserable one.

He stood up. His face was bruised, his right eye puffy, his shirt ripped at the shoulder where they had grabbed him. "They did a number on you, didn't they?" the guard asked. He was grinning.

"What d'you want?" Ichigo demanded, stretching his neck and curling and uncurling his fingers to see if any were broken (he decided his left pinky was broken again).

"Warden wants to see you," the guard replied, pushing him towards the cell door and unlocking it.

Minutes later, standing in the Warden's office, hands cuffed uncomfortably behind his back, he waited for the man to look up from his desk. "Kurosaki," old man Yamamoto said, pushing the stack of papers aside and meeting Ichigo's eyes. "You look like hell."

"I'm great," Ichigo replied, nonplussed. "Your guys treat me like I'm royalty."

Yamamoto frowned. He was old school, but Ichigo knew he didn't approve of the way the guards treated their "special" prisoner.

"So what can I do for you, Warden?" Ichigo asked.

"We received a package addressed to you," Yamamoto replied, his expression impassive.

"Candy?" Ichigo offered.

Yamamoto turned to the guard standing by Ichigo and said, "Leave us." The guard turned and left the room, closing the office door behind him. Yamamoto waited a moment longer, then opened his desk drawer and pulled out a small, brown padded envelope.

"This came yesterday," he said.

"Mind telling me what's inside?" Ichigo countered. It wasn't as if he could just take the package and open it himself.

Yamamoto chuckled. "I'll show you," he replied. Then, opening the end of the envelope wide and pouring its contents out onto his desk: a silver chain with a pendant that had once held a stone. The stone was now just smashed bits of what looked like green glass shards and powder.

Ichigo inhaled sharply.

"Recognize it?" Yamamoto asked. His face was dead serious again.

"No," Ichigo lied.

"Kuchiki Ginrei is an old friend of mine," Yamamoto continued, undaunted. "He would not wish for anything to happen to his granddaughter."

"Even if I knew what this was about," Ichigo replied, "what would you expect me to do about it?"

Yamamoto took a bit of the remainder of the stone between his fingers, rolling it around between them. "He knows, Kurosaki." Ichigo said nothing.

He had met her at a party to celebrate Kuchiki Byakuya's promotion to Tokyo Police Commissioner, held at the Kuchiki Estate. It was six months before she had married Aizen Sousuke, but she was there alone, dressed in a short cocktail dress which hugged her tiny body like a second skin. He had almost not gone to the party, but his partner, Yasutora Sado, had insisted. "You need to start off on the right foot with the boss this time, Ichigo," Chad had told him.

"You mean kiss up to that pompous bastard?" Ichigo had laughed, downing his second scotch in ten minutes and feeling his shoulders loosen up a bit. A few more, and he'd be invincible.

"I wouldn't put it that way," Chad had said, sighing and shaking his head. "But, yeah, that's what I mean…"

Ichigo had laughed, walking over to the bar and ordering another drink. Except that he had never made it to the bar; he had run headlong into her, spilling booze all over her dress.

"You might want to watch where you're running," she had said, frowning at him.

"Can I help you clean that up?" he had offered, following her into the ladies room to the stunned expressions of the women inside. She had glared at him and told him she was more than capable of fending for herself. Hangdog, he had retreated to the party, asking Chad about the woman he had dumped his drink on, curious about her.

"She's the Commissioner's sister," Chad had responded.

"Great," Ichigo had said. It wasn't as if he were Byakuya's favorite – he had already been reprimanded for some unorthodox undercover work a year ago, when the younger Kuchiki had been the assistant Commissioner. "So much for kissing up."

He had caught up with her again about an hour later, on the balcony overlooking the impressive, manicured gardens. "I'm really sorry…" he had started to say, but she had sighed deeply and shaken her head, saying, "I have plenty of other dresses." That's when he had realized she had changed her clothes.

"Idiot," he had thought. "What the hell kind of detective are you? You're supposed to be observant." Except that he couldn't stop staring at her violet eyes, and the way a bit of her black hair hung between her eyes, untamed.

"Yeah," he had said, stupidly.

"So how do you know my brother?" she had asked. He had told her he was a cop and she hadn't seemed to care. They had talked about this and that – about Tokyo in the spring, baseball, the best udon restaurants. It had been a comfortable twenty minutes of respite from the crowd inside, interrupted by one of the servants telling her that her brother requested her presence for a toast.

He had meant to call her afterwards, to ask her to join him for noodles at the neighborhood joint, but he had lost his nerve, then lost himself in his work. A year passed, and he heard that she had married Aizen Sousuke.

Back in his cell, Ichigo forced his heart to slow as it pounded madly against his ribs. "He'll kill her," he thought desperately, "and there's nothing I can do about it."

He rubbed his eyes, pacing back and forth by the metal bars like an animal. Of course Aizen had figured it out – why else would he send a greeting card with the necklace Ichigo had given Rukia?

"First Chad," he thought bitterly, "and next it will be her." He stopped and slammed his bare fist against the concrete wall. The pain helped him focus.

He remembered the morning he had received the call that Chad was dead; Rukia had just left his apartment, headed for her brother's place, where she always stayed when Aizen was abroad on business. He had kissed her and held her against his chest, murmuring words of encouragement. "We'll find a way out of this," he had said. But the hole had been deep and dangerous; far more dangerous than either of them had realized, at that moment. It had been the first and only time they had spent the night together. He had hoped there'd be more, but then he'd gotten the call on his cell.

At first, he had thought it was a joke. He had rushed to the scene, only to find that he was the prime suspect in his own partner's murder. That he had been set up? Yeah, they might have believed that – he had been playing dirty cop with Aizen. Then what about his alibi? What alibi could he have given? He would not put Rukia at risk to save his own skin.

He hit his fist against the wall again, then watched it bleed.

"If you touch her, you bastard," he thought, his mind tight with fear, "I'll kill you."

It had all been rather exciting, in the beginning. Summoned to Commissioner Kuchiki's office, Ichigo had been offered an undercover assignment to dig up financial information about Aizen's business empire. Ichigo hadn't been fooled. He knew that Byakuya's motivation was not entirely to see justice done; he also wanted Rukia out from Aizen's clutches.

"My sister knows nothing of what Aizen is capable," Byakuya had told Ichigo, his face unreadable, impassive. "She believes he is what most of the citizens of Tokyo believe – a legitimate businessman." Byakuya had admitted that he'd tried to dissuade Rukia from marrying Aizen, but she had thought herself in love with the charming entrepreneur. "He married her to spite me," the dark-haired Commissioner had said. "It's all a game to him, and he knows she may come in handy at some point."

The ruse had been simple: Ichigo would do Aizen's organization a "favor." It had been easy to take Ichigo's reputation as a rebel cop and turn him into a cop "for hire." With Byakuya's help, Ichigo had set up Aizen's rival drug lords, giving Aizen's organization more and more of the market. In return, Aizen had paid Ichigo handsomely, taking him into his inner circle of men, coming to trust the orange-haired cop and to rely on him to take care of his dirty business. Except that Ichigo had not expected to fall in love.

He had run into her in one of the maze-like hallways of Aizen's palatial estate, her eyes red from crying, her face tear-stained. She had recognized him, accusing him of having been sent to spy on her by her brother. She had been right, of course, but he had denied it, saying only that he had business with her husband, but nothing more. Later, she would accuse him of being corrupt, something which had stung him to the core (and which he had gone to great lengths to convince Aizen of), but to begin with, he had just listened to her.

She had told him how Aizen had swept her off her feet; how he had treated her with the respect and attention she had never received from her brother or grandfather. She told him how she had been happy, if only for a few months, until the realization of why Aizen had married her had become too obvious to ignore. It was around that time, she had explained, that she had first become aware of the other women who stole in and out of the enormous house nearly every night. It had been nearly a year since she had spent the night in her own husband's rooms. She had not said more; he had understood the implications.

Even as he worked his way into Aizen's organization, Ichigo had taken time to seek Rukia out whenever he could. At first, it had been just short conversations here and there, but later they had taken tea in the kitchens and even short walks together in the gardens. If Aizen even noticed, he had ignored their friendship, happy to appease his wife and secure in the fact that Ichigo knew better than to cross the line between friendship and romantic liaison.

Somehow, sometime along the line, Aizen had discovered the truth about Ichigo – not of the affair, but of his allegiances – it was the only reason Ichigo could come up with as to why the bastard would have killed Chad and framed him for the murder. If Aizen had known Ichigo and Rukia had been lovers, Ichigo was sure it would have been him lying dead on the cold Tokyo street. Business was, well, business, but sleeping with the crime boss's wife, that something else entirely.

Ichigo had denied any involvement in Chad's murder, of course. Chad had been his partner, his best friend. Hell, he'd even cried for the guy in the privacy of his own room. And then they were taking him into custody, putting him on trial for the hit. His gun, his fingerprints,no alibi. Byakuya Kuchiki knew better of course; so did Ichigo's colleagues. But the D.A. didn't care; the grand jury indicted Ichigo faster than you could say, "dirty cop," and he'd pled to manslaughter to take the heat off of Rukia. They'd called him lucky, that the D.A. had taken the plea.

"Lucky, like hell," he thought, looking at his knuckles and wiping the blood on his shirt.

It was after midnight that he heard footsteps outside his cell. "Fine," he thought, "let them beat the shit out of me again. It'll make 'em happy." But it wasn't the usual guard.

"Don't say a word," the man said, a broad-shouldered redhead who looked vaguely familiar. "Turn around." Ichigo obliged, thinking he was an idiot to let the guy put cuffs on him and that he'd deserve the black eye and busted lip he'd probably be getting. Only something in his gut told him this guy was different.

The one guard they passed – the only one they even saw – ignored them. Minutes later, they were outside, and he was sitting in an unmarked car.

"Get down," said his companion.

"Mind telling me where you're taking me?" Ichigo asked, as they drove out of the prison gates. The redhead said nothing until they were about two miles outside the prison.

"Name's Abarai. Renji Abarai," said the redhead as he stopped the car behind an abandoned building.

Ichigo braced himself. How would they kill him? Gun to the head? Beat him to death?

The redhead pulled a set of keys from his jacket pocket and, pushing Ichigo's left shoulder so that the handcuffs were visible against the seat, proceeded to unlock them. "I might have a chance if I can get out of the car," thought Ichigo. "There's probably somewhere around here to hide…"

"Kuchiki sent me," Renji Abarai said, getting out of the car and opening the trunk. Against his better judgment, Ichigo stayed put. "Here," said Renji, tossing him a bag of clothes. "Get changed."

Ichigo did as he was told, trading his prison overalls for a pair of low-rise jeans and a black t-shirt with a faded Rolling Stones logo. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Renji do the same. Back in the car again a few minutes later, Renji handed Ichigo a gun, a few cartridges and a small knife.

"Who are you?" Ichigo asked, strapping the knife to his ankle and then inserting the magazine in the gun.

"I'm a fed," Renji replied, gunning the engine and heading for downtown.

"Since when do the feds work for Kuchiki?" Ichigo demanded, skeptical now.

"Since he used to be my boss, and he asked me to get you out," Renji retorted, driving by Shinjuku Station and heading north.

"You expect me to believe that sh…"

"Believe what ya' want," Renji retorted, unfazed. "My loyalties don't change, no matter who I'm with. I owe Byakuya my life a few times over. If he calls, I come runnin'."

Ichigo scowled, but withheld his opinion of the dark-haired police commissioner. Who was he to argue with the guy who'd gotten him out of the prison. "And Yamamoto?"

"Let's just say he looked the other way," Renji replied. "Seems like none of 'em think you had anything to do with Yasutora's death. I'm guessin' the little sister's the reason you played hero." Ichigo said nothing. "Not that I care, personally, but Byakuya's worried," Renji continued, "thinks Aizen's onto you two. Wants your help gettin' her outta there."

Ichigo grunted.

"It's a setup, isn't it?" Renji asked.

"Probably," Ichigo replied.

"Good," Renji grinned as the car sped towards the residential district. "Been lookin' for something interestin' to keep me goin'." Ichigo noticed the gun strapped under Renji's jacket – non-regulation – a Walther PPK .380.

"Fucking cowboys," Ichigo thought. He had never trusted the feds. Not like he had any choice.

They entered the compound at the side; an entrance Ichigo had often used and for which he still remembered the code. That, too, left him feeling uncomfortable. Aizen would have changed the codes. Definitely a setup. That was fine with him – he was already in prison for life. What would another lifetime sentence mean now? And if he got killed, well that was okay, too, as long as he got Rukia out of there first.

"I knew your partner, Sado," Renji said, as they slipped inside. "Good guy. Worked with him on a few drug busts when you were on medical leave with a bullet in your gut. Said you took it for him. Saved his life."

"Mm," Ichigo grunted.

"I was sorry to hear about 'im," Renji finished.


"Where d'you think they're holding her?"

"In the living area," Ichigo answered, without hesitation. It was a trap, after all. Time to get even. Aizen wouldn't have bothered trying to stash her away. "This way." He opened a door and they ran up several flights of stairs. Pausing at the top landing, he pointed his gun in his right hand and, with his left, turned the handle of the doorway.

The large room was lit with firelight which danced off the floor to ceiling glass windows. The Italian furniture was sleek and outrageously expensive. Here and there were scattered expensive glass vases and artwork. Aizen had always had impeccable taste, in his home, his clothing…his wife. In the shadows, Ichigo counted four guards, all but one of whom he recognized. Without seeing their faces, he knew they wanted his blood; nothing was worse than being taken for a fool.

"Welcome, Ichigo Kurosaki."

Behind Aizen, sitting in a chair, was Rukia. The dim light made her pale features look even more ghostly. There were dark circles beneath her eyes and she was thinner than he remembered. He knew she was frightened, but she held herself with dignity, in spite of what she knew was to come.

He hadn't meant it to happen; she hadn't either. He had just been walking down a hallway, and there she was.

"I'm leaving him, Ichigo," she said, her pale cheeks pink with shame, her eyes red from crying.

"What happened?" he asked. Stupid question; he could have guessed.

"I walked in on him," she whispered. "There were two of them with him, in bed… He laughed, Ichigo. He called me a romantic fool…said he married me because of my brother…that he'd have the last laugh at Byakuya's expense."

"Bastard," Ichigo said, as she threw her arms around him and began to sob openly.

"Please," she begged. "I have to get out of this place. Please… I have an apartment in Tokyo. Please take me there."

How could he refuse her?

"Let her go," Ichigo growled, gun trained on Aizen, stalling for time, trying to get the lay of the land. Aizen was unarmed. If Ichigo could take out two of the guards, they might have a chance to make it out of here in one piece. He turned to Renji, but the redhead wasn't there. "When the hell did he disappear on me?" Another setup? He knew the whole breakout bullshit had been too good to be true.

"You're a fuckin' idiot, Kurosaki," he told himself.

Aizen smiled.

Without lowering his weapon, Ichigo calmly said, "Let her go."

"That would be simpler for you, wouldn't it, Kurosaki?" Aizen replied, unfazed. "But if I were to let her go, it would be far less interesting for me. At least, if you are going to play with my toys" – he emphasized the word for effect – "you can give me something in return."

Ichigo's jaw clenched, and a muscle in his cheek jumped involuntarily. Behind Aizen, the sun had begun to turn the morning sky slightly purple – it would be light soon.

"Please…" Rukia said. Ichigo guessed she had already tried to dissuade Aizen, with little to show for it.

"Please?" Aizen repeated, turning towards her and taking her chin in his hand. "Is that what you said when he held you? When you gave yourself to him willingly? When you shouted his name and he…"

"Shut up!" Ichigo shouted, his hand so tense on the trigger of the gun that he had to will his hand to relax.

"It's all right, Ichigo," Rukia said, her voice stronger now. Her eyes met his briefly, nodding imperceptibly. She put her hand on Aizen's wrist, and pulled it away from her face, standing up to face him. "It was over long before he came here, Sousuke," she said, her violet eyes nearly the same color as the morning sky.

"Do you think I care about that?" Aizen replied, his expression unchanged. "You are still just a child, Rukia, to think that you were ever more than just my plaything."

"Then why…?" she began, her face a strange mixture of sadness and anger. "Why not just let him go – let me go? If I meant nothing to you…"

"Nothing," he mused. "An interesting concept. No, not nothing. I will not have the likes of him disrupting what I had so carefully planned."

Ichigo shifted on his feet. Aizen's words rang empty in his ears, but he could not dismiss the realization that the man surely intended to kill them both, here and now. The guards had not moved.

"You're right," Rukia said, catching Ichigo's eyes for just a brief instant. "I was naïve. I thought you could offer me something I never felt I had. I was a child."

Aizen laughed softly. "Poor child," he said. "Unloved, unwanted. Adopted because of guilt, remorse. A poor substitute for your sister."

"You're wrong, Sousuke." She faced him unflinchingly. "That is what I believed. It was not the truth."

"Indeed," Aizen replied. "And this boy – he taught you this?"

"He taught me that love has many different facets," Rukia answered, her face now calm, at peace.

"How touching."

"Let him go, Sousuke." Her words were like ice.

"I think not, child," Aizen answered.

Ichigo's eyes caught a brief flicker of movement from outside the windows. He held his breath.

"Enough of this," said Aizen, turning away from Rukia. "Kill him."

Many things happened at once. Ichigo dove to the floor, rolling to avoid the gunfire. Rukia shouted. There was the sound of glass shattering and a flash of red hair from behind Aizen. From behind him, Ichigo heard footsteps running up the steps and the sound of a door opening behind him. He looked up to see Aizen, his eyes narrowed, grabbing Rukia by the arm.

"Don't touch her!" he shouted, getting to his feet and charging Aizen. All around him there were shouts as police and federal agents entered the room, shooting.

Ichigo felt several bullets fly by his head as he ran towards Aizen and Rukia. By now, Aizen had a gun in his hand, and he had turned to point it at Ichigo. They were only about eight feet apart, and Ichigo was looking down the barrel.

"Shit!" he thought, moving blindly – unthinkingly – towards Aizen.

"No!" shouted Rukia, as Aizen pulled the trigger. But, as the sound of the shot ran in Ichigo's ears, Aizen seemed to move slightly to his right. Ichigo felt the bullet enter his body – it burned like fire. At the same moment, Ichigo threw himself at Aizen, who stumbled sideways and then began to fall.

"Rukia!" Ichigo yelled, ignoring the pain and pushing her out of the way. Aizen, on his knees now, looked at them both with dawning surprise. A trickle of blood escaped his lips, the words he tried to utter just bubbles of air. That's when Ichigo saw the knife protruding from the old man's back.

"I couldn't let him hurt you," Rukia whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks. Ichigo smiled at her, feeling something warm and sticky run down his forearm. The room began to spin. "Ichigo!" she yelled. "Ichigo, no!"

The world went black.

He kneeled before the Yasutora cemetary marker. Behind him stood Renji, silent, somber. This had been the first place Ichigo had asked to go, when Renji picked Ichigo up from the prison.

"You didn't let him down," Renji said later, as they sped back towards Tokyo.

"Yeah," was Ichigo's only reply. His body ached; his arm was still in a sling.

"Where's home?" Renji asked.

"Shinjuku, near the station."

"You gonna think about Byakuya's offer?"

"Yeah," Ichigo said.

He couldn't remember how long he slept. Days, maybe. The phone rang from time to time, but he ignored it. Through the haze of pain meds and beer, he vaguely remembered Renji appearing at his door several times. The redhead had said nothing about Ichigo's sorry state of appearance, stopping only long enough to drop off a bento dinner and reminding Ichigo that Byakuya was waiting to speak with him. "When you're ready," he had said.

He had not seen Rukia since the night of the raid; he wouldn't trouble her. What they had, he told himself, was a fluke – they had both been caught up in events beyond their control. He would look back on the night they had spent together, nearly a year ago now, and smile. That was good enough.

It was nearly six weeks after his release from the prison hospital that Ichigo had received another visitor at his apartment.

"You look well, Kurosaki," Byakuya had said, not waiting for an invitation, but slipping his shoes off at the door and walking into the apartment. Ichigo had not protested.

"What do you want from me?" Ichigo had rudely demanded.

"You already know," Byakuya had replied.

"I told Abarai I'd think about it."

"We could use men like you, working with us," the dark-haired commissioner had replied. "Honest, good men."

The words had surprised Ichigo, but he had forced himself not to react.

"I appreciate what you did, getting me out of that place," Ichigo had offered.

"With my sister's statement, and the statement of one of Aizen's surviving guards, the Governor signed the full pardon," Byakuya had explained, taking an envelope from his pocket and handing it to Ichigo.


Byakuya had paused briefly, then nodded and turned back to the door. Slipping on his shoes, he had looked back at Ichigo. "No," he had said. Ichigo had frowned, unsure as to Byakuya's meaning. "It is I who should thank you," he continued, "for saving my sister's life."

And with that, he had left without another word. Ichigo had merely stared at the doorway for several minutes.

Ichigo lay back on the couch, eyes shut, his feet on the coffee table that, for the first time in nearly two months, was not covered with empty beer bottles. His head ached; his shoulder, too. He had, for the first time that day, but the arm sling aside.

There was a knock on the door. "Come," he said, not bothering to get up or even open his eyes. The door opened. "Alright, alright, Abarai, I give," he laughed. "Soon as my arm's better, I'll go see Kenpachi."


Ichigo started, opening his eyes to see Rukia standing in the doorway. He jumped up from the couch, "I…ah….yeah. I told Captain Kenpachi I'd come to work for him. Seems like Abarai decided to come back to the force. He likes to scare away partners, and I…" He swallowed hard. "But you don't want to hear about my work," he added, sheepishly.

"No," Rukia said, "I'm happy to, I…" Her cheeks looked slightly red. She bit her lip then, without warning, ran to him and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. Ichigo winced. "I…I'm sorry, I didn't mean…" She released him quickly, stepping back, looking even more uncomfortable than before.

"Don't apologize."

For a moment, Rukia said nothing. Then her face relaxed, and she said, "You always did make me feel like a complete fool, you know."

Ichigo grinned. "You saved my life," he said, rubbing his shoulder. "A few more inches and…"

"Least I could do, after all the stupid things I did. It's a wonder my brother will still speak to me. I married the bastard even though he told me not to, then I killed my own husband. And you…" She ran a hand absentmindedly through her black hair. Her eyes filled with tears. "When I saw the blood, I thought you…damn you!"

"What?" Ichigo stared, dumbfounded.

"What the hell were you doing, playing superhero? You could have been killed!"

"I…" he stammered, shocked by her sudden change of attitude. "It wasn't like I could just let him kill you…"

"Damn you, Ichigo! He could have killed you, and then I never would have…" But her words were cut off by her lips against his, and he could feel the wetness of her tears against his cheek. The kiss deepened and, in spite of the ache in his shoulder, he pulled her more tightly against his chest.

"Never could have…?" he prompted, as their lips finally parted. The edges of his mouth quirked slightly upwards as he spoke.

She pushed him gently away and walked over to the balcony. The glass doors were open to the warm summer night and the lights of the city shimmered in the breeze. He watched her move, noting the way her hair blew about her face with the wind. After a minute or so, he walked behind her and wrapped his arms around her tiny waist, pressing his lips to the top of her head.

"Why didn't you come and see me after you were released?" she asked, still looking out over the city.

"I wasn't sure you wanted me to," he answered.

"You are a stupid, stupid man," she said, turning around and scowling at him. "Did you think my feelings for you had changed?"

"I wasn't sure."

"Why didn't you just ask?"

"I…" he offered, afraid to speak the truth.

"Well, they haven't," she said vehemently. He just stared at her. "What? Did you think I slept with you to get back at my husband?"

"I, well…" he heard himself babble.

"The reason I slept with you…what I wanted to tell you…I would have gone to my brother, told him the truth, but you made me promise you…" She looked up at him with those wide, violet eyes, and he thought he would die right there. He grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her again.

"I almost went to my brother a dozen times, you know," she continued after the kiss ended. "I wanted to tell him what happened that night – that you were with me. But he knew, Ichigo. Somehow, he knew. He told me not to tell him anything, that he would make it right, that he'd get you out of there."

"He was right, Rukia."

"It was my fault," Rukia said, shaking her head. "If I hadn't worn the necklace…"

"Nah," he told her, kissing her once more, "it was the reason Byakuya needed to justify sending the cops to Aizen's place."

"I love you, Ichigo," she whispered, as her tears fell.

He grinned outright this time. "I was kinda hopin' for that," he said, brushing her hair from her eyes and stroking her cheek.


"I was hoping you'd say that," he said, more clearly this time.

Rukia fell silent. "I love you Rukia," Ichigo admitted. "I realized it the first night I spent in that cell."

"Let me stay here with you," she whispered, burying her head in his chest.

"Yeah," he answered, knowing with certainty that he was in far deeper than he'd ever planned or expected. "I'd like that. I'd like that a lot."