Disclaimer: Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite.
Part II Mission 6
"Okay, since you told me to be honest with you… I hate your guts." – 'Akimoto Haru'
1 year ago – The Principal
"Ah~ so you attend *Kyodai?"
[*Kyodai: shortened version of Kyoto Daigaku (aka Kyoto University)]
The man couldn't have looked less interested in the attractive young woman before him. Feigning obliviousness to his disinterest, the black haired girl stated, "I heard that you came from overseas. How did you like it? I studied in Germany for a while. You know I'm half German, right?" She laughed.
"Bambietta. That's supposed to be a German name?" He raised an eyebrow.
Bambietta shrugged. "My mother thought it sounded German enough."
Looking at the young woman through half lidded eyes, he said dully, "Sounds more like a mangled Italian version of Bambi."
Bambietta pouted. "That's not the point." She propped her chin on a slender hand. "So I heard you double major in business and engineering?"
The twenty-year-old abruptly stood up. "This is a waste of my time. Will you or won't you?"
Crossing her legs, Bambietta openly showed her irritation for the first time. "What, sleep with you?" She pretended to ponder. "Hmm…" She smiled widely and stood up, leaning in close to his face. "Well, even though you're the biggest prick I've ever met… you're such a stud, it makes up for that." She leaned up to give him a peck on the lips. Fluttering her eyelashes at him, Bambietta whispered, "So yes. I'll give you a night to remember. And maybe you'll lose a bit of that cockiness, who knows?"
"What's wrong with me staying here? You think I'll come onto you or something? Don't worry. I don't swing that way." – The Principal
1 year ago – Karin
Balancing a trayful of martinis, Karin wove her way through a small section of the crowd that was milling around to a classical piece she didn't recognize. As if she could recognize any classical music at all.
After she and Asuka had confirmed the arrival of their principal, they had diffused into the crowd. Karin carefully avoided the platform and the front tables where the couple of honor reigned, but her sense of duty forced her to orbit around her principal, who was never far from the couple. He hugged Rukia, congratulated them, and even shook hands with Isshin, who gave a huge smile, one which only people close to him would know was forced.
Karin offered drinks to guests who took the drinks without even glancing at her, which suited her just fine. But when she wandered over to Miyako, she saw that unlike before, the woman now wore a dark expression, making her look just as worried as Karin felt about her proximity with her family.
In the pretense of handing Miyako a martini, Karin whispered, "What's wrong?"
Tight lipped, Miyako jerked her head towards a black-haired man who stood half a head taller than every other man at the party. At first, Karin didn't see what was wrong with him, besides the fact that he was dressed a bit casually for an engagement party, in suspenders and no jacket, as well as the oddity of him reading a book.
But when he looked up, she saw a scar on his forehead. His eyes locked on hers. Though brown, they were not warm like Renji's; they were stone-cold. He smiled, but the smile did not reach his eyes.
Karin was tempted to stare him down, but she looked away first. In her line of work, it wasn't any good to attract attention. "I'll keep an eye on him," Karin grimly promised.
Once again, Karin looked around, cursing the fact that she stood several inches shorter than the men and unable to see the vista of faces within the plaza. She surreptitiously took several steps up the stairs nearby and looked out among the crowd.
She saw a flash of silver hair; that must be her princi… Karin did a double take.
The hair was short. And that build… Karin felt her heart stop. The figure turned around, and her suspicions were confirmed.
It was Gin.
He turned towards her; and though she couldn't see his eyes, she somehow knew he was looking at her.
Why was he here?
She panicked when he started to move towards her. She ducked into the crowd, but it was too late.
"Any drinks left?"
Karin wanted to scream in frustration when she heard the familiar drawl. Why, why, why, why? What vendetta did fate have against her? Had she committed some unforgivable sin in her past life?
She turned around and smiled like her teeth hurt. "Hello, Preceptor Gin."
Gin's smile widened. "Aw, drop the title already. You aint a student no more." He cocked his head a bit to examine Karin. "You surprised?"
Barely keeping her hand from trembling, she held out the tray for Gin to take a glass from. "You could say that."
"Part time job?" he teased, as he took a martini glass.
His playfulness made Karin relax, albeit minimally. "You know full well what company I work for." She glared at him accusingly. "Were you one of the recommendation team?"
Gin looked up towards the sky. "I wonder now." He brushed his bangs back, and then reached over to brush Karin's bangs back as well. "Time for a haircut?"
Although not so nervous as to flinch away from his touch, Karin still raked her bangs back over her eyes so as to avoid unnecessary attention. "Maybe…" The tall man Miyako had pointed out to her passed by again. "Or not…" she said, with narrowed eyes trained on the man as he walked by.
Gin followed her gaze curiously. "Lookin' at that tall guy over there?"
Karin quickly tried to shrug it off. "Just looking around in general."
Not buying it, Gin commented, "He's Tsukishima. I'd steer clear of him if I were ya." Karin made a vague sound, and Gin gave her a look, his smile considerably smaller. "I won't ask what you're doing here if you don't ask me."
Mouth twisting, Karin muttered, "Not fair… You know what I'm here for."
"Naw, not really. I dunno whether you're here for personal or professional reasons." Karin glimpsed a glint of blue. "Or a bit of both."
Cheeks reddening at how close he was to the mark, Karin turned to go. "I should get going."
Gin too, turned away. "Right. Your part time job. Gotcha."
Karin almost wanted to turn back, to ask Gin all the questions bursting out of her; what was he doing here? How did he know the name of the mysterious man? Had something happened to his job at The Academy? Would she ever see him again? But she bit her tongue and moved away.
Though brief, the encounter left Karin feeling thoroughly worn out. But she glanced around again, and this time saw Tatsuki and Yumichika. Karin made her way to them.
Tatsuki looked surprisingly sexy in a black dress with a plunging back and a skirt slit up to mid-thigh. "Wow, you look great."
Looking suspiciously at Karin, Tatsuki said dryly, "You sound surprised." She looked down at her dress, and sighed. "It doesn't suit me, and it's so unpractical."
Karin shrugged. "Dresses suit you more than you think." Yumichika looked as elegant as usual in a designer suit with a purple vest, tie, and handkerchief. He even had a dusting of eyeshadow, Karin noted with mild distaste.
"What about me?" Yumichika puffed out his chest like a peacock.
"Yeah, you too." Karin said dismissively. Ignoring his offended look, Karin pointed the tall man out to them as well. "Hey. That tall guy. Tsukishima. Have you heard of him?"
Still pouting, Yumichika gave a negative. "But he looks unpleasantly pleasant."
Tatsuki added, "Guys who smile too much are bad news." She shot a glance at the foot of the podium where Karin's petite predecessor and brother stood. "I'll watch out for him as I go and congratulate them."
The tall man named Tsukishima started to move away from them, closer to Juushirou.
"I'll watch from around here. Signal me if you see him do anything suspicious." Karin hastily said as Tatsuki nodded and moved in the same direction.
Karin watched from afar like a hawk as Tsukishima circled around the couple and Juushirou like a bird of prey. She couldn't tell who, if anybody, his target was; her family or her principal.
But then she saw Tatsuki pound on Ichigo's back and hug Rukia in turn. In that order. Ichigo first, then Rukia.
Karin thought that her eyes had briefly deceived her.
That wasn't right. Tatsuki only knew Rukia. Why would she…?
Her heart plummeted. Arisawa Tatsuki. Tatsuki.The name had always niggled at her mind, like a loose tooth.
It was only now Karin remembered the incident back in 5th grade.
Ichigo had come in battered and bruised. Karin had been mildly surprised.
"Well this is rare. Is this where you say, 'you should see the other guy'?" Karin queried.
Ichigo collapsed on the couch with a huge sigh. "Actually, no. It was a girl." Karin raised her eyebrows. "…And she doesn't have a single scratch." He stared at the ceiling for a bit and then amended, "Well, that's because I make it a policy not to hit girls, no matter how scary they are."
Karin snorted, giving way to what she thought of Ichigo's chivalry. "No matter how scary the girl was, you should've been able to dodge her attacks… Who was this fearsome girl?"
Grimacing as he gingerly tested his split lip, Ichigo answered, "Tatsuki, a classmate. A karate champion. I've told you about her before."
"Oh, that karate girl." Karin prodded at the bruise on his cheekbone. "Any particular reason why you became her punching bag this time? What did you do to piss her off this time?"
Swatting her hand away, Ichigo groaned, "Nothing…"
After finally remembering why Tatsuki's name had sounded familiar, Karin felt like she had walked straight into a nest of vipers.
First joining the team that protected the president of Ammo Co. himself; then finding out her brother's fiancée had been her predecessor; then being forced to follow her principal to the engagement ceremony… meeting Gin at the ceremony… and now that one of her co-workers had been one of her brother's friends.
Just after Tatsuki had greeted the couple, the music stopped and an announcer stepped on the stage; when Karin saw the identity of the announcer, she nearly dropped the tray, martinis and all.
"…I'm not a Kurosaki anymore." – Kurosaki Karin
1 year ago – Ichigo
Ichigo looked around ruefully. Riruka strikes again… At least Rukia loved it; he could sense it in her bouncing steps, if not in her huge eyes. If Rukia was happy, that was good enough for him. The Karin he knew, however, would stay as far as she could from the cutesy deco. So much for seeing Karin.
When Isshin saw Ichigo, he immediately put him in a headlock.
"Ow ow ow ow!" Ichigo elbowed Isshin in the jaw and was able to escape from the hold. Massaging his throat, Ichigo asked irritably, "Oyaji! The hell was that for?" Several guests glanced their way, alarmed, and Isshin immediately grinned widely at them. "Two-face…" Ichigo muttered.
With the toothy grin still on his face, Isshin hissed, "You're late!"
Presently, both father and son heard Rukia exclaim, "Kaichou!"
Vaguely registering that was not how she addressed his father and realizing whom she must be talking to, Ichigo resisted the urge to facepalm. As Juushiro entered his line of sight, Ichigo could feelthe heat radiating from his father. From the beam on his face, obviously, Rukia's former boss did not reciprocate Isshin's hatred. That or he was doing an excellent job of hiding it.
"Congratulations, Rukia-kun, Ichigo-san." He turned to the glowering Isshin and held out a hand. "How long has it been, Isshin-san? It's good to see you well."
Pasting a too-wide-to-be-real grin on his face, Isshin answered, "About a year and 56 days? You look very pale. And even bonier than before."
Juushirou seemed to take this at face value. "Oh… I didn't realize that I looked that unwell. Well, I just wanted to attend this ceremony no matter what. Rukia's like my own daughter."
"Haha!" Isshin's laugh too, seemed too loud to be real. "Well, she'll be my daughter now." He didn't seem to get the reaction he wanted, as Juushirou nodded happily.
"Well, I don't want to take up too much of your time; you should go to greet the other guests."
Once Juushirou was out of earshot, Isshin growled out of the corner of his mouth, "Where were you for the rehearsal? Didn't you want to hold this ceremony yourself?"
Ichigo's mouth twisted. "No. That was you.I just put a condition on how the ceremony would be held."
Grouchily, Isshin said, "Well don't blame me if the tabloids put you down as an idiot."
"Rukia-chan, do you really want to marry this idiot?"
Smiling, Rukia bantered back, "His idiocy is one of his charms."
Isshin harrumphed. "Well, we'll have the MC go on stage at 4, and then you'll take Rukia on stage and say a toast before you cut the cake. That'll be easy for even you to remember, Ichigo. I hope you have a speech ready. "
"Yeah yeah, gotcha, Oyaji." Ichigo wasn't too chuffed about his so-called "speech"; he could wing it. "C'mon, let's go Rukia."
Glaring daggers at his son, Isshin called out to Rukia, "Keep that kid in line, Rukia-chan."
Waving, Rukia called back, "That's one of my top priorities, right up there with getting engaged!"
"I'll be counting on you, then. I'll be sitting over at the table with your brother and grandfather!"
Ichigo glared at Rukia, who was now thanking the people who were congratulating them on their engagement. "You never told me you got along so well with my dad."
Rukia crossed her arms. "You never asked."
Ichigo rolled his eyes. Rukia returned to accepting congratulations from all around them. As Ichigo too, started to absently thank guests for attending the engagement ceremony, despite himself, he began to look around for a familiar face.
And he found one.
Rukia twirled around at the name and echoed Ichigo. Tatsuki put up a hand to greet them. "Yo. Been a while." She grinned cheekily and slapped Ichigo's back (he grimaced) and then she turned to Rukia to hug her.
Rukia said, "I was wondering where all the other bodyguards were when I saw Kaichou. Are Kaien-san and Miyako-san here? Where are the others?"
Tatsuki rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, Kaien and Miyako are here as 'guests' and so is Ayasegawa. And yours truly, obviously. I keep thinking Ayasegawa would look better in this than I do."
Rukia assured, "You look great, Tatsuki."
Ichigo shrugged. "Yeah, a dress suits you more than you think."
Snorting, Tatsuki said, "That's the second time I've heard that today." Seeing Rukia's inquisitive look, Tatsuki answered, "Your replacement said it too."
"Oh, the one Kaien-san was always talking about…?" Rukia looked around once again. "Where – "
Tatsuki jabbed her thumb somewhere over her shoulder. "He and Asuka came as caterers."
Ichigo deadpanned. "Oi oi. You guys even infiltrated the catering company? What do you take this party for? An assassination fest?"
Tatsuki dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Cool it, Carrot head. It's just a precaution. I've only had to really fight 3 times since I joined the team."
"Fighting's not all you do as a bodyguard." Rukia pointedly reminded her.
Rolling her eyes, Tatsuki said, "I know, I know, an 'Executive Protector has to protect his principal from all potential harm.' Kaien's already hammered that into my ears."
The classical music faded, as did the guests' socializing as they realized that the ceremony was starting. The people who weren't already sitting seated themselves at various flowery tables. Rukia grabbed Ichigo's hand and dragged him over to where
"Ah. Ah. Testing, testing."
A huge squeal sounded from the mic, eliciting a wince from every guest. Then he tapped the surface of the mic; an amplified tapping sound. Seeing his father's rapidly darkening face expression, when the platinum blonde man leaned in to blow air into the mic, Ichigo wanted to tell the man to stop if he wanted to die a natural death. But too late, Ichigo winced along with every other guest at the amplified blowing sound that made it sound like they were holding the ceremony in a tornado.
Oblivious of Isshin's wrath, the MC said, "There. Perfect."
"First, I'd like to welcome you to Ichigo-san's engagement ceremony on behalf of the Kurosaki and Kuchiki families! My name is Urahara Kisuke, and I'll be the MC for today."
Urahara Kisuke…Ichigo thought the name sounded really familiar.
As Ichigo's facial features literally arrange themselves into a question mark, Rukia answered his silent question in a low voice. "He's the headmaster of The Academy."
Ichigo recognized the name. "The Academy? As in…"
"The most prestigious bodyguard academy – "
Urahara Kisuke's amplified voice drowned their conversation out.
"We are here today to celebrate an upcoming union of two individuals we know very well. Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia."
Who opened up a engagement ceremony like that? Nevertheless, Ichigo settled down in his chair, expecting a long speech.
"Please give a warm round of applause to welcome them onto the stage."
So much for a long speech.
Exchanging doubtful looks with Rukia, Ichigo stood up. He gave his hand to Rukia to help her up, and as she stood up, he bent over to whisper in her ear, "Who chose this guy?"
Rukia gave a barely visible shrug. "Probably your father."
That Urahara guy was giving a huge smile and a thumbs-up towards Isshin's direction.
Ichigo led Rukia up to the front and mounted the stage. He barely refrained from rolling his eyes when Urahara motioned towards the podium. Reluctantly, Ichigo stood at the podium and cleared his throat. He leaned closer to the mic.
"Um. Hey." Ichigo paused; he swore he could hear crickets in the background.
"You're my 'executive protector.' So save me from being bored out of my skull." – The Principal
1 year ago – Karin
"Ah, ah. Testing, testing."
A huge screech sounded from the mic, but Karin barely noticed it; she was too busy staring at the man onstage.
" – My name is Urahara Kisuke, and I'll be the MC for today."
What was that accursed headmaster doing here? Was she doomed to be haunted by staff members of The Academy for the rest of her life? Sure, he wasn't wearing his doubly accursed hat at the moment… But this was turning out to be a day filled with a series of very, very foul events.
Karin scrambled back to the catering truck for refuge. She placed the tray of empty glasses down and stared blankly down at the cart of hors d'oeuvres.
"Hey. Are you getting a tray or what?" An irritated voice sounded from her right.
Looking up and seeing a man scowling at her, Karin said dully, "Oh, sorry." Glowering at her after her less-than-satisfactory apology, the man snatched up a tray of deviled eggs and stalked away.
Karin couldn't have cared less; her older brother had started to talk. It was the first time in years she had heard his voice.
"It's the first time in a while that I've talked in public, so sorry if I botch it." The guests laughed and Karin choked out a cough. No need to worry about that; her brother had always been good at impromptu speeches. It was voicing his emotions that he had been bad at. "Here I am, in my 20's, shaking in my shoes even when I'm talking at my own engagement party. Some things never change, huh?"
Karin gave a watery chuckle, wondering whether Ichigo still fell asleep with his head at the footboard.
" – she may come from a wealthy family, she may be smart, she may be beautiful, but that's not why I… no, we – chose each other. She's a little stubborn," the short woman shot Ichigo an mock annoyed look as the audience laughed, "But that's what makes her perfect to me. She's supported me through the hardest times of my life. And I… – I have no idea what she saw in me at all – "
As the audience laughed, Karin gazed at her brother's happy grin, filled with odd feelings as her older brother gave his speech. Ichi-nii's an adult now. He'll be happily married soon.
Urahara's perky voice poked through her thoughts. "Now, now, it's time to cut the cake!"
As Rukia picked up the cake-knife, Karin tore her eyes away from the couple and picked up the tray of salmon rolls hors d'oeuvres as well. Checking to see if the notepad she would take down orders in was still in her pocket, she made for a table at the back.
She casually glanced at the table near the front where her principal sat at. Her blood ran cold when she saw the tall man named Tsukishima seated right next to him.
Apparently, Juushirou had deemed it as rude manners to the hosts to have his every step followed by his bodyguards, so Rojuurou and Soifon both stood at the edge of the plaza. Tatsuki and Yumichika sat two tables back, too far to protect Juushirou. Miyako and Kaien sat at a table even further back. Asuka had been assigned another table.
That left it to Karin to protect Juushirou.
It would be fine if she kept her back to her family's table, Karin reassured herself.
So Karin approached table three, where Juushirou sat. A caterer looking extremely intimidated by the people he would serve hovered near the table. Karin leant close to him and muttered, "Don't worry, I'll handle this table. You take table 25."
Casting her a grateful look, the relieved caterer skittered off to the table Karin was assigned to.
Smiling more confidently than she felt, Karin placed down the salmon rolls in front of each guest.
She lingered after she had passed out the hors d'oeuvres, but Tsukishima showed no signs of hostility towards Juushirou.
After most of the people had cleared their plates, Karin quietly asked Juushirou if he was done with his course; when he nodded, she took his plate; she followed suit for other guests around the table, who had nearly finished their plates. For a nanosecond, she paused before she asked passed over Tsukishima – he had barely eaten.
"Excuse me. I'm finished here."
Surprised, Karin briefly met his cold brown eyes. She didn't bother putting on a fake smile. "Well then… sir. I'll take your plate." Frowning down at the barely touched dish of salmon rolls, Karin made her way back to the catering truck to pick up entrées.
Again, Tsukishima didn't touch his dish. Though Karin was not a real caterer, the untouched food was beginning to annoy her. On the last course, Karin asked, "Is the food not matching to your taste?"
Tsukishima smiled. "I'm just not very hungry today. But I think I would like dessert."
Karin twisted out a grimace of a smile. "As you please." She stomped off. The dessert was shaved ice, topped with fresh fruit, tapioca pearls as well as little bits of mochi. Just looking at it made Karin's mouth water. In fact, all the caterers looked long suffering whilst ferrying back and forth the shaved ice.
But Tsukishima was not doing anything suspicious. Karin had thought herself a good judge of character, but this time, she thought as she passed out the shaved ice, she may have been wrong.
But just as she was about to turn to leave, she saw Tsukishima's hand near the shaved ice. Juushirou's shaved ice. She was hit by a sudden realization. Not thinking about etiquette, her hand shot out to grip the spoon before Juushirou could.
She shoved the shaved ice into her mouth and swallowed, without even tasting it. At first, it seemed fine, but suddenly the world spun around. Karin's last thought was, 'I hope this doesn't ruin Ichi-nii's engagement.' before she hit the ground.
A/N: This is seriously the hardest chapter I've written. Ever. Not just for this story. EVER.