Disclaimer: Creator Tite Kubo owns the manga and anime Bleach and its characters. No offense or infringement is intended.

A/N: I'M (still) ALIVE! Such a long and unexplained absence is really inexcusable (I'm sure I've said this already at least once before) but a whole 10 months?! I'm so sorry, dear readers. All I can say is that events happen in our lives and sometimes we have to put our beloved hobbies (that don't pay the bills) on hold. I never meant to step away from this cherished story for so long, even with a period of lack of inspiration at points. But every now and again, 'review' 'following' and 'favorite' notifications would sneak into my inbox. I knew I had to pick up this story and continue on.

And that's why I have to give many thanks to those of you who sent reviews for the previous chapters; kiwi4me, liferscove2118, TheSkandranon, hornyzombie, Troglodytarum, KatzeNoel, jesi ki kage, YellowWomanontheBrink, Kiss-Kiss-Kiss-Goodbye, Szayel's Angel, JJ, KarinBlaze, Evan Glaser, Bkwamper, A Fan Of Yours, Elvenlaughter, and Music-chan loves anime- the reviews for chapter 11 were so awesome! I hope at least a few of you, as well as some of my older fans, are still out there reading! Can't blame anyone if they never pick up this story again, but I'm hoping folks will return to this little gem.

So anyway, that's enough of my emotional spewing. When we last left off, Nemu had paid our dear girl a visit, taking over Hanataro's role for research. A hearing is set before the Central 46 and we'll get a peek into that. But first, Tatsuki has some questions for her new boyfriend. Enjoy the newest chapter!

Chapter 12: Anticipating

The following evening, day #11, Ichigo's room…

"God, I'm so glad that woman is finally gone!" Tatsuki exclaimed. She was lying on her back across Ichigo's bedroll, staring up at his ceiling as he'd done so many nights before.

Seated at the small writing desk nearby, Ichigo was so engrossed with his scribbled notes that he barely heard her. "Who? Nemu?" he asked absently. Thinking of another point he quickly jotted it down on his growing list.

"Uh, yeah. Dude, I have never had someone so all up in my business before! All the questions! And I had to charge with Uryu yesterday because she wouldn't leave me alone! She sat there and watched us the entire time! Uryu was less than thrilled… It was just bizarre!"

Half hearing her gripes, he still couldn't help but smirk to himself, "Not a fan of having your very own stalker?"

"Yeah, not especially. She tried to follow me into the bathroom," the girl groused. Guiltily he hoped that her complaining was running its course- he really needed to concentrate. But after a few quiet moments she blurted out, "So there's something up with her, right? The Vice-Captain? She's like a Fem-Bot or something?"

At that Ichigo paused, brows furrowing as he considered her words, "You know, I don't really know but I've had my suspicions. I think her father, Captain Kurostuchi, may have created her in his lab somehow. He's brilliant and insane- totally sick in the head. I wouldn't put it past him."

Tatsuki made a distasteful sound before adding, "Well, that's just creepy…" under her breath. At length the room fell to silence and he slipped easily back into his original train of thought. He was about to jot down yet another point when she interrupted, "Ichigo, what are you doing over there?"

"Making notes," he replied. "I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to say at your hearing before the Central 46 tomorrow," he added quietly.

He heard Tatsuki roll onto her side as she adjusted her position. He was certain he could feel her eyes on the back of his head as she finally focused on him. "Do you have to go? Couldn't you just stay here… with me?"

Ichigo stared down stubbornly at his notes, "Everyone agrees it'll be way better if I'm there." He subconsciously gulped, knowing he was downplaying it- in reality he and Yoruichi knew that if he wasn't there Tatsuki didn't stand a chance.

The young girl bit her lip self-consciously. "I don't even want to go there," she muttered. "I'm fine right here… with the Shibas, and you… guys…"

Ichigo sighed, shaking his head, "It's not about getting you in there anymore, Tatsuki. It's about making sure they leave us alone. It's about making sure they let us protect you."

She huffed, annoyed. "I don't need protecting while I'm here, do I? We've been here almost two weeks and nothing's happened. I think you're worrying too much…" she grumped.

He muttered absently, "When it comes to the shit I've seen, there's no such thing…" Too late the weight of his words registered and he finally glanced over at her. Tatsuki had become pensively silent.

She was staring pointedly down at his covers, fingers playing with the material, "The things you've seen… Jeez, no wonder you're so freaked. But Ichigo, really, it's just me," she shrugged. "It's still so crazy that there's such a fuss over little ol' me…" she finally peered up through her lashes at him.

He was looking over his shoulder at her, trying not to be distracted by the sight of her lying on his bed staring up at him from those bottomless eyes. Something about her petite form stretched out on top of his covers proved more tantalizing than he'd thought. Gulping down his less-than-innocent thoughts he offered, "I know you're not used to it, Tats, but, given the circumstances, you're kind of a big deal," and he shot her a wry smile.

She only frowned at him, "No I'm not! I'm just plain old Tatsuki…" but then her eyebrows huddled together, "…Succubus Edition." She propped herself up on outstretched arms, "…Damn, you're probably right. I keep forgetting about the whole 'threat to this entire world' thing…"

He sighed, returning his attention to his notes. It wasn't until he felt the weight of her arms against the tops of his shoulders that he realized she'd risen from his bed. He felt her lean against his back and that of the small wooden chair in which he was seated. He shuddered slightly as the tips of her hair tickled his ear as she settled her chin where his neck met his shoulder; it was the same spot the strap for Zangetsu usually rested. He shifted his papers so that she couldn't read his scrawl from over his shoulder.

He could hear the displeasure plainly in her voice as it echoed into his ear, "I don't know why you're so engrossed over here. I mean, my options are pretty clear… Best case scenario: they deem me harmless and leave me the hell alone- though I'll still never be permitted inside their gates. Worst case scenario: I'm deemed public enemy number one and they order my immediate execution…" Her words trailed off as her voice grew quieter. Ichigo felt the weight of her arms leave him as she suddenly stood up. "Oh shit…"

He finally dropped the papers on the desk, shaking his head, "Tats, don't worry. I'll never let it get to that."

"No that's not it…" she grumbled. The frustration in her tone was evident, "I've kind of accepted the notion of them wanting to kill me. No it's just…"

"Something worse?" Ichigo was about to turn towards her when he felt his chair pulled back several feet. Before he could protest, Tatsuki had placed herself between him and the desk.

"Well, in a way, yeah! Shit, Ichigo!" He watched confused as she paced several steps in front of him, her arms crossed tightly over her chest in obvious distress. However, before he could fully open his mouth to inquire as to just what was so damned disastrous he found her slim pointed finger hovering directly in his face. "You!"

"Uh, me?" he asked, still watching the tip of her finger until it found its way safely back to her jutting hip along with the rest of its mates.

The girl was on fire. "I just realized I'm in a big giant funk, whining over here like a little bitch just because I don't want you to leave! How pathetic is that?! See what you've done to me? Shit!" And with that she leaned back against his desk.

At first he could only blink. After a few moments he found his voice, "Um, are you mad… because you're gonna miss me?!" Then a huge smile broke across the young Shinigami's face, "Aww Tats, come here…"

He opened his arms for her but Tatsuki shooed them with a swipe of her hand, "No, don't touch me! I don't want to cuddle with you! I want to drop kick your ass across the Rukongai for making me care about you like this! Asshole!"

Tickled. He was absolutely tickled at the site of his bad-ass girlfriend flustered not over the fact that an entire society of ancient lawmakers probably wanted her dead, but rather over her own adorable embarrassment over her newfound clingy feelings toward him.

Despite the resulting death-glare, he chuckled. "It's a shame you can't appreciate the humor of this situation." He shimmied his chair closer but she retreated to the top of his desk, setting her bottom on his now-forgotten work.

"Yeah, yuck it up, chuckles. Meanwhile I'm falling apart over here! God, what's wrong with me?" she whined, dropping her head in her hands.

Ichigo simply couldn't control the laughter bubbling from an unreachable spot inside of him. "What? Nothing! There's nothing wrong with having someone you care enough about to miss when they're gone. Tell me how there's anything wrong with that!"

She refused to move her hands, instead parting her fingers only enough to stare through them like bars. Her words were muffled against her palms, "Jeez, of course you wouldn't understand!"

"Tats," he reached for her wrists but she stubbornly leaned back out of his grasp. Angry eyes glistened back at him from between her fingers. He reached again but she leaned even farther. Was she really that upset? Ichigo shot her a twisted frown, "Tats, come on…" In response she started lifting her foot as though she were going to cross her legs on his desk completely out of reach.

He knew it wasn't fair- he was faster than she'd ever be. In less time that it took to snap ones fingers Ichigo had yanked his chair forward, grabbed Tatsuki behind the knees and pulled with just the right amount of force. Before she knew it the girl was spilled provocatively in his lap, thighs straddling his hips as he caught her firmly around the middle.

She'd gripped his shoulders from sheer fright. When her world refocused she found herself chest-to-chest and nose-to-nose with her Shinigami boyfriend, his eyes dancing over a knowing smirk. "There, that's better…" he crooned.

"Really? That's your answer?" she quipped, leaning back just enough to keep their foreheads from bumping. But she was no longer frowning; instead she was fighting a losing battle with a tiny yet fierce little smile.

"Had to get your attention…" he shrugged. "…But my answer is yes, I do understand. Because this is where I want you-"

"-Smushed in your lap, stealing your oxygen?" She blurted, traces of unshed tears still shining in the corner of an eye despite her impish grin.

"Yes. Don't interrupt," he admonished, readjusting them in the chair. When she slid a few more centimeters forward she couldn't seem to blink fast enough or blush deeply enough. "Ever since this got serious, the more I'm with you the more I want to be with you, even like this. Especially like this…" He laughed when she rolled her eyes- he suspected it was only to keep from blushing down to her toes. "…But I won't deny it's weird. I'm not used to wanting something… someone as much as, um, this. It's… incredibly distracting," he admitted. The firm set of his jaw showed her he was far from kidding anymore.

"You too?" she whispered, her lower lip slipping between her teeth nervously.

"Yeah," he nodded. "So when I see my super-hot warrior girlfriend in similar straits it takes some of the pressure off. There's nothing wrong with you wanting to be with me. If you think I'm gonna let you stay mad over it then you're damn crazy."

He figured she'd have some cheeky response as soon as he'd finished but she just stared at him for several long moments after. He simply stared back, holding her gaze. After what felt like forever, she finally blinked and looked away, huffing audibly.

"Dude, you're really good with the well-timed speeches lately. I guess if you feel the same then it's not so horrible… Especially if you're gonna miss me more."

He smirked, feeling a certain triumph at her acquiescence, "Of course I'll miss you more. I'll be pining for you like a love-sick puppy. I miss you already."

She rolled her eyes again, "You can't miss me yet, idiot- I'm still sitting on you!"

Solemnly he nodded, "Yeah, I'm gonna reaffirm my earlier point of how… distracting you can be…" He wasn't kidding- with her weight in his lap he was amazed he could still string two coherent sentences together.

Now it was her turn to smirk. "Oh, I'm sorry… Am I distracting you from something?" she asked feigning innocence.

"Well, as a matter of fact…" and once again he took full advantage of his natural swiftness.

In a blink something had happened but it took Tatsuki a moment to process what it had been. She'd been lifted off of his lap for only a moment… by a firm hand on her butt! But as her eyes widened in shock Ichigo smugly held up a crumpled sheet of paper he'd retrieved from under her bottom, "…I can barely remember what I was doing before." With a wink he let the page drop discarded to the floor.

Tatsuki shook her head slowly, still deciding what her response should be, "You're a piece of work, Kurosaki."

He shrugged again, unapologetic, "Gotta keep up with you, gorgeous." Then he shot her an all too familiar look, "You know this is the part where you kiss me, right?"

"Oh? I'm supposed to reward you for dragging me into your lap and copping a feel?"

He whispered, "Maybe I'm just trying to make the most of our time before I have to go…"

She silenced him with a finger against his lips, "Shut up. No more of that. I'm gonna kiss you now as a clever distraction," and she watched him smile against her digit. "If that's alright with you?" she asked, and was rewarded with a slow head nod that raised her finger up and down against his mouth. Satisfied with his response she leaned forward and replaced her finger with her lips- softly at first before building to the crescendo.

Transformative… She made him feel like an entirely new person every time they came together. Even though it was only mouth against mouth, the bond of their mysterious connection made it feel as though she were kissing all of him, touching all of him, in a way so gentle and intimate that it rivaled any other emotion he'd ever felt. He wanted to give her everything- anything she could possibly desire. More than just his spirit energy. Her happiness, her freedom, her safety… His everything… He would do whatev-

"You think too much when we kiss. Should I be worried? Offended?" She raised an accusatory eyebrow at him.

He merely shook his head, "Not at all. Of all the girls I've been kissing, you're the most talented."

She threw her hands up, "Oh, he's got jokes! The nerve of this boy!" But all too soon she was settling level eyes on his, her smile slowly dissipating, "Seriously, what are we gonna do while you're gone?"

It took him a second to catch her meaning, "You mean for you? I won't be gone that long. You'll just go back to charging with the others like before."

She pouted, "But except for Uryu I haven't charged with them for at least three days now! What if it's different?"

Instantly he became oh so smug, "Are you alluding to my singular ability to completely satisfy your uniquely individual needs?"

Tatsuki smacked him in the head, "Pervert!" But then she side-glanced him, "…yes."

The jackal grin she got as her only response had her hitting him again. As Ichigo shielded himself he quipped, "You're just mad because I'm making you confront your mushy side."

Already bored with hitting him, she punctuated her words with a final slap, "You are my mushy side." She waited for him to finish laughing before she asked her next question, "So how long will this trial- I mean hearing- last tomorrow anyway?"

Ichigo shrugged, "Probably a few hours. Yoruichi and I will probably be gone most of the day. But don't worry- I'm sure we'll be home in time for dinner. With good news! So don't sweat it."

She silently frowned at him, as if as unconvinced of his words as he was. But instead of calling him out on it she merely shrugged, "Who's sweating?"

Then, before either of them could confront the fog of doubt collecting around them, he leaned forward and kissed her again.

In the Shiba personal quarters, Kukaku's suite…

Kukaku didn't bother to rise from her reclined spot when Yoruichi returned- she knew the woman didn't go for formality. That, and she was far too comfortable to get up.

The former Shinigami quietly crossed the room and sat back in the lounge chair she'd been occupying before being called away. Kukaku allowed her a sip from her sake cup before she asked, "What did the young Quincy want?"

"Ishida-san wished to confirm what I already suspected of Arisawa's unique abilities."

"She is requiring more reiatsu?" the Shiba matron guessed.

Yoruichi nodded, "She is. He suspects she is not aware that her demands have greatly increased. He said it was so significant that he could feel the difference in his own levels after she charged."

Kukaku raised an eyebrow, "You suspect it is because of Kurosaki?"

The darker woman tapped her chin in thought, "Not necessarily, though he could certainly play a role. His ability to tap into more spirit energy than most other Shinigami makes his involvement with the girl more suspicious. But the more troubling prospect would be if it was independent of him."

It took a moment for her meaning to sink in, "You're saying the girl's condition might naturally evolve into requiring more reiatsu independent of her source…"

Yoruichi nodded again, "Precisely, which would certainly make her more dangerous in the eyes of the Council."

The one armed woman frowned, "Your children do tend to keep things interesting, Shihouin-san. That poor girl…"

"She's a spunky little thing, thank goodness. But in the end she's just a human…" the purple-headed woman sighed.

Kukaku changed the subject somewhat, "Any other useful information from your Quincy?"

Yoruichi took another sip from her sake before answering, "Only that he was able to confirm the delay in energy transfer. Apparently there is a two to three second delay from the time Arisawa touches someone to the time she actually begins to absorb their reiatsu. I'm not yet certain of the significance or implications of this."

"It could be an advantage to her opponents…"

"Or a means for her to exert some control over her condition, even if only marginally."

"True…" Kukaku took a long sip of her own drink as she considered a thought, "Would you inform the Council of this?"

With a completely straight face the former Captain replied, "…Only if they dragged it out of me."

Kukaku smirked against her cup, "Indeed."

The next morning. Seireitei- Sector 20, The Great Hall, 10:05am…

"What the hell are they doing in there? It's been two hours and they still haven't let us in," Ichigo grumbled under his breath. They'd arrived promptly at the meeting hall of the Central 46 for Tatsuki's hearing, however to the boy's dismay the large doors had been closed and guarded. They'd been waiting in the hallway ever since.

Seated next to him on the hallway bench, Yoruichi inwardly sighed. Two hours might have been a record for her young student. "They're still in closed session, Ichigo. We may enter when that portion is complete," the woman stated coolly. She was sitting straight but seemed relaxed, as though settled in for the long haul. There were a few other Shinigami seated or milling about around them but Ichigo didn't recognize any of them.

"I understand that, but why did we have to be here at eight in the morning if we were just gonna sit around?" he whispered impatiently. He'd learned quickly that his normal voice carried deafeningly through the hallway.

She didn't even bother making eye contact. "The closed sessions are unpredictable. We need to be present when the selective session opens; we have no way of knowing where in the agenda Arisawa's argument will be."

Ichigo suddenly sat up to stare at his sensei, "What?! But… I thought this was her hearing? You mean this is just a regular Council Meeting?!" He asked indignantly.

At that Yoruichi raised a smooth brow at him, "There is no such thing as a regular Council Meeting. When the Central 46 convene it is to decide upon matters relating to all aspects of the governance of Soul Society- not merely to hear and pass judgment on the unfortunate circumstances regarding a single human girl. But we will be provided with adequate time and attention to present Arisawa's defense before a decision is made."

"But…" and at his protest she shot him a glare so full of warning it made him chose his words more carefully, "…I told her… we'd be back before she knew it. What if it takes longer?"

He barely caught her minute glance of their surroundings. However, that simple gesture made him briefly wonder if perhaps the walls had ears. "I'm certain it will take quite a while longer than you predicted. However I would think, of all people, she would understand our absence."

After a moment he silently folded his arms into his lap and settled more deeply into his seat.

Seireitei- Sector 20, The Great Hall, 1:37pm…

Ichigo and Yoruichi were now seated at the far end of the observation section within the hall. The closed session had ended shortly after twelve o'clock followed by a fifteen minute recess. The selective session was now into full swing; Ichigo was grateful they had pretty good seats, though he wished they were right in front.

He had anticipated formal proceedings, however was far from prepared for what was taking place in the selective session. Forty-six Council members were seated on multilevel elevated daises. All were dressed in traditional formal Japanese garb of layered kimonos and even hats; none wore the traditional black of the Shinigami, however all wore the white jackets similar to those donned by the Captains and Commander. In place of division numbers were symbols Ichigo assumed were district designations. Besides the members, all other participants were also formally dressed, wearing solid colored uniforms similar to those of a Shinigami, but again none of them black.

Despite his own Shinigami robes, Ichigo found Yoruichi and himself to be woefully underdressed. But he observed that they weren't the only ones- the majority of the audience members were similarly more casual. It seemed that despite the formality of the proceedings, no one minded the garb of the onlookers.

Besides the participants, the proceedings themselves had their own level of observed ceremony. An officiator led the agenda with crisp, enunciated delivery, introducing each new item to the floor and announcing the parties allowed to speak. The dialects spoken by the participants felt complex and ancient, sometimes so florid that Ichigo couldn't always catch what was said. In some instances the responses of the members were in dialects so thick and aged that they sounded foreign to his ear, until he wondered if they were still speaking Japanese. Some phrases even sounded distinctly Chinese though he couldn't have been sure. It all reminded him of the courtroom dramas he'd seen on late night tv, except infinitely more boring.

The Great Hall, 4:43pm…

Ichigo felt an elbow in his side and lifted his chin from off of his chest where it had drifted down. Thankfully he'd long ago perfected the art of sleeping with his eyes partway open (thank you European Studies class following lunch every day). Still, he knew that he probably seemed too comfortable if Yoruichi was prodding him in the ribs. Without appearing too obvious about it, he adjusted himself into what he hoped seemed a more alert position. The hard line at the edge of his sensei's mouth softened and he knew she approved.

A quick listen in on the floor's proceedings revealed the Council to be hearing testimony regarding a property dispute. The slow churning annoyance and anger that had somewhat dissipated during his nap now quickly reasserted itself.

In the lowest voice he could manage he inquired, "Any idea when we're up?"

With the slightest hint of a frown Yoruichi gave a single minute shake of the head.

Biting back the bitterness of his knee-jerk response he instead glanced around the audience in search of any familiar faces. "Will Hanataro be speaking? I don't see him."

Yoruichi looked down at the floor between them so that she could turn her face toward him. In a whisper he almost couldn't hear she replied, "I was told he would be allowed to present testimony, as would a few others." After an odd pause, she added, "…I do not know why he has not yet arrived."

About to inquire who the 'others' would be, he was instead halted by the sight of someone who had not been present before he'd fallen asleep. Vice-Captain Kurotsuchi was now sitting stone-faced in the section just to their left; she was staring directly at him.

He didn't bother masking the distain in his voice as he muttered, "Nemu's here."

Yoruichi nodded stiffly, knowingly.

He blinked, surprised, and then frowned as a sour taste watered the back of his mouth, "Is she here for Tatsuki's case?"

"I imagine so."

Involuntarily he folded his arms across his chest. "This sucks," he huffed more to himself than anyone else.

Yoruichi calmly resumed her low voice as she replied, "Thus far you have been exercising a level of patience as yet unparalleled in our encounters to date…"

Ichigo had an entire half-second to recognize and appreciate the compliment before she added, "…Please, continue to do so. Silently."

The Great Hall, 7:58pm…

"Wait, that's it? Did they just adjourn? But… but we haven't testified yet!" Ichigo whispered angrily to his sensei.

Yoruichi nodded resolutely, closing her eyes in frustration, "The selective session is breaking for the night; proceedings will resume in the morning."

"We've been at this all day? And they're still not finished?! What time is it anyway?" He didn't know why he finally asked; he'd been painfully aware all day of the fact that neither of them was wearing a watch. With no windows or clocks in the room, he'd lost all concept of time.

"It's 8 o'clock."

"At night?! No wonder I'm starving," he muttered, watching as the people were filing out of the great hall around them. As if on cue his stomach growled noisily.

Yoruichi cracked a smile despite herself, "Come. I will secure us quarters with the fourth division for tonight. I'm sure they would be willing to share their food as well."

Ichigo started heading for the large door, "Well, if it's all the same to you, I'm gonna head back to the inn for the night."

"Ichigo, wait." Her words halted him just at the door. He was about to make a joke about busting out of prison but the look on her face had him biting his tongue as he waited for her to catch up to him. When she took a deep breath before speaking, he knew it was yet more news he didn't want to hear, "Unfortunately, you cannot. Those who are set to testify must remain in Seireitei proper during the entire Council session. Any who leave may forfeit the right to appear before the Council."

It took running her words through his head several times before he could process their full meaning, "You mean if I go back to the inn tonight I might not be able to talk to the Council on Tatsuki's behalf?"

"Everyone in attendance must remain within the walls during the entire length of the proceedings. Those are the rules."

He was frowning a lot today, "So you keep reminding me. And its bull! They spent three hours determining the ownership of an old scroll today! This could go on for days! Did you know this was going to happen?"

She was scowling a lot today, clearly offended, "I had no way of knowing how many motions the Council would be set to hear for this session. Most of these sessions last no longer than a day. However…" She sighed guiltily before continuing, "…some have been known to last for several days at a time."

He paused for a few moments, playing several wildly ridiculous scenarios out in his head before finally accepting their current circumstances. "So we stay tonight."

"We stay tonight," his sensei echoed. "Come, we will go to the fourth."

Ichigo allowed her to lead, following closely behind with slumped shoulders; for some reason he felt as though he'd been in a battle all day. "Fine. At least I'll have a chance to ask Hanataro where the hell he's been. And food. There'd better be food," he demanded, his stomach once again giving an audible grumble.

The night was dark over their heads as they exited the Great Hall. Though the air around them was cool, the anger and frustration churning inside Ichigo had been slowly boiling all day. The waiting, the anticipation- it had all been so excruciating, but none as thoroughly torturing as his powerlessness. He was used to fighting his way out of his problems, but it was dawning on him that such an approach wouldn't work for this. How could he fix this? How could he be ready when the time was right?

In that instant, in the middle of the courtyard surrounding the Soul Society's oldest structure, the young substitute Shinigami resolved to confront his newest obstacle with all of the conviction he'd thus far poured into defeating his enemies. Full of quiet resolve, he continued silently in the path of his sensei.

Sereitei, The Great Hall, The following day…

It was a new day, a day in which Yoruichi had been utterly baffled since rising that morning. Uncertain of what could have prompted such a transformation, she could only marvel at the sudden change in her young pupil.

Today Ichigo was different. It was as if he had exited the doors of the Great Hall sullen and irritated- his usual immature teenaged self- and had reentered them with an unlimited amount of reserve, patience and attentiveness. Since the selective sessions had begun that morning he had not uttered a single word, instead concentrating all of his attention on every detail of the proceedings as they unfolded.

Watching him closely, she could see that he was absorbing every word spoken, every inflection uttered, every nuanced emotion expressed as each motion was heard. He took extreme interest in the outcomes, whether for or against, and seemed to be filing away in his brain all the factors affecting each. It was astounding, and she dared not utter a word for fear of breaking the bizarre spell.

She recalled that he was even unfazed when the young officer hosting them into the Fourth Division barracks last night seemed confused by Officer Yamada's absence. She'd assumed he was still at the Shiba Inn on special assignment from Capt. Unohana, unaware that he'd been relieved from those duties nearly four days prior. But she'd promised to consult Vice-Capt. Kotetsu the following day for his current whereabouts.

It was now well into the afternoon and the former Captain had hoped to hear from the Fourth Division before now- each passing minute surely was drawing young Arisawa's motion that much closer to being heard. She'd also hoped to gain more knowledge of Vice-Capt. Kurotsuchi's involvement in the girl's case- Yoruichi was convinced that the daughter of the Research Division's head had a definite ulterior motive. If previous experience were to be relied upon then that conniving man would stop at nothing…

The instant she noticed it, a chill ran through her veins.

"Ichigo... Ichigo!" It took several loud whispers of his name to break his concentration.

"What is it, Yoruichi?" He calmly whispered, "Tatsuki's motion hasn't been brought up yet."

"I know that," she hastily replied, "But we have a bigger problem. You need to return to the Inn right now."

So intense was his concentration on the proceedings that it took him several moments to fully focus on her. "What? That's ridiculous. If I leave the wall then I can't testify on Tatsuki's behalf. We both know I have to be here for that." However, the firm set of her features gave him pause, "…Why would you say that?"

She scanned the crowd around them once more to be certain before she explained, "Because none of the other witnesses I've arranged for Arisawa's motion are here. Not just Yamada-san, none of them. And Kurostuchi is not here."

He scanned the audience to confirm her words, "You're right. Nemu's not here. She must have stepped out…"

She grabbed his upper arm firmly, "No Ichigo, listen. I've been keeping an eye on the Vice Captain ever since she came to the Inn to interview Arisawa. When I say she's not here, I mean I am unable to sense her within the walls."

She watched his eyes suddenly widen in understanding, "She's left Seireitei…"

"Ichigo, you must go to the Inn. Now."

Without another word, he pushed himself through the crowded aisles and out of the building.

A/N: Yay! Already starting the next chapter, because you aren't gonna believe what Nemu's been up to! But wait, wasn't Szayel up to something several chapters ago? Hmm… Please feel free to leave you reviews as well as scalding admonishments on my horrible absence- I deserve it! But then do include your thoughts on the chapter!

P.S.- I went back and fixed a few critical typos in Chapters 9 and 10 (maybe now the jokes will make sense *eyeroll*). Love you guys!

Thanks, Mira :)