Disclaimer: Bleach is owned by Tite Kubo. He created this world, I'm just playing in it.

Finally, the second, and final chapter is here. Considering how much bloody hell I went through getting this one written, I don't even want to try for any more. As if trying to live up to the success of the first chapter wasn't hard enough, the stress bug decided to bite my ass hard. So bad in fact I nearly gave up writing altogether.

It took me no less than four false starts, with everything I had written getting completely nuked. I spent three months with no more than three pages of this that was worth keeping and I very nearly threw in the towel and gave up. But, I sat myself down one day, gave myself the mental equivalent of a slap in the face and went over all of the reasons that I like to write, went over how I go about writing, and managed to get myself back in working order and knocked the rest of this out in about a month.

Just as I was wrapping it up, the 'purge' began. So, instead of having a cow over it, I knew what the rules were when I posted it after all and should have done it before, I did what an author does...I edited. I edited the lemon out of Chapter 1, and posted the lemon version on other sites that allow it, and I edited it out of Chapter 2 as well. No problem at all. Story should have been complianty in the first place. My bad there.

The sites that the lemon versions are available at will be listed at the bottom of this chapter as well as on my profile page.

I hope that this chapter at least comes close to the awesome response I got, and continue to get for the first one. I tried to come up with something that kept with the theme of it.

Hopefully you will be kind enough to leave a review.

And if you have questions or commentary, I would love to respond to them. But that is a little hard to do if you leave such in an unsigned review. There were a number of reviews I would have liked to have answered to but couldn't because I had no way of linking back to the reviewer.

Any way, here's the second chapter. Hope you enjoy it.

Unlocked Hearts

Chapter 2:

Facing someone down with tense uncertainty surging throughout her being was not a position Sui-Feng was used to finding herself in. She had faced numerous hollows and other disreputable beings without blinking, hell, she had faced the Espada Baraggan, even after she had lost her arm, with less trepidation than what was coursing through her veins at this specific moment.

It took a supreme effort of will to keep the shaking of her body close to unnoticeable, and somehow she just couldn't manage to lift her head and make her eyes meet the object of her nervousness as it stood a mere six feet away from her.

Six feet across the expanse of Lady Yoruichi's dimly lit bedroom in her apartment in Karakura.

Six feet away from the one who had somehow managed to get inside of her heart and made her feel this way.

Six feet away from Ichigo Kurosaki.

Fear and desire, need and nerves, they all flooded her insides with a torrent of butterflies that threatened to send her fleeing back to the Soul Society as fast as shunpo would take her. She asked herself again for the hundredth, the thousandth time, how had she let things get this far? How, why, had she agreed to what Lady Yoruichi had kept proposing to her over the last two months?

Why had she agreed for the first time in her life to let her heart have what it wanted, to the complete disagreement of her head and its cold, hard, unfeeling mindset?

The answer was actually pretty simple really. It was because buried deep down inside of her, under all of those layers of ice and cold, hard stone, there was something that was not Sui-Feng. Something that was not the cold, hard assassin tempered by clan driven obligations and responsibilities and feelings of rage filled betrayal. Something that was not the hardcore Captain of the Second Division, but something much closer to the girl who had existed over a hundred years ago, the girl who became buried in that cold darkness when the lone bright spot in her life had suddenly left her.


That was the part of her that wanted to know warmth and love and the experiences of a life beyond the laws and the rules, the clan trappings and the assassin's blade. It was the part of her that had found so much comfort in Lady Yoruichi's presence, in the friendship that was so important to her when the Shihoin Princess had left and she fell into such a dark, cold, and lonely place.

She had buried that part of herself so deeply that she had been sure it had ceased to exist, just as she had always been instructed that it should. From the very first day she had ever laid eyes on the then soon to be head of the Shihoin family, her future had been decided for her. Anything that resembled the normal ways of a young girl's life were stripped from her by the unyielding obligations set out for her by her clan.

There had been little in the way of warmth or love around her as she trained and grew. They were things that an assassin and a bodyguard did not need, they were a detriment and to require such was a sign of weakness. Only her training and the honing of her skills were important, all else, anything that spoke of a 'normal' life was a useless and unneeded distraction and the worthless trappings of a lesser calling.

Thus her entire world became a strict tutored classroom and the cold, harsh lessons of the training hall. She learned all of the timeless techniques for taking lives and how to do so silently, and she learned how to fight with every single lesson being beaten relentlessly into her tender flesh until they had become second nature to her.

The pressure on her was enormous. The stresses from her training, the expectations of the clan in maintaining their pride and honour as loyal servants to the House of Shihoin. Topping it all was the ironclad consequence of failure. If she failed to gain entrance into the Onmitsukido, she would be disowned and exiled in disgrace from the clan.

She succeeded, but despite all of her training her skills were raw and she had little experience and was untested in their application. More times than she liked to think of it was Lady Yoruichi that ended up protecting her during a battle rather than the other way around. Be it her inexperience or the severe case of nerves she always seemed to catch around the Onmitsukido leader, she felt like a failure, felt that she was woefully inadequate in fulfilling her duty. She was afraid that she was letting her mentor down and that she would be removed from the Shihoin heir's personal guard at any moment for being so useless to her.

But Lady Yoruichi was always there with that teasing smile, and of course the teasing that came with it, waving off her concerns and trying to get her to lighten up and relax. This woman who she looked up to so much, who she idolized, and who was so far above her that she should not have even been able to see her, was the first and only friend she had ever had.

That friendship began to reawaken the buried part of herself and allowed her to feel warm inside for the first time in years. Someone actually cared about her and not just the role she had been groomed for. It was almost overwhelming to have someone truly care about her, little Shaolin Feng, and not the would be assassin and bodyguard Sui-Feng. For the one to quell her loneliness and show her such concern to be Lady Yoruichi herself, it just made her admire the woman all the more and made those feelings so deeply important to her.

And that was why it hurt so very badly when she left.

That night under the moonlight and the cherry blossoms, when Lady Yoruichi had found her distraught and beating herself up for her perceived failures, when she had calmed her down and lay with her head in her lap as they watched the stars through the gently falling pink petals, she said they would be together forever.

Then she disappeared without a word and she was crushed. It literally felt as if her soul had been shredded and left in tatters. In the immature state of her own seldom known emotions, she was overwhelmed and her mind and heart broke. Such a sense of betrayal and so much anger, it became her only true emotion and it would burn her from the inside out for the next hundred years.

Early on, there were times where in private she would break down and cry, demanding to know from her empty room why Lady Yoruichi had left her. Why had she been left behind by the one she thought so much of and who was everything she wanted to become? Why had she been abandoned by the only friend she had ever had? Why had she aided those accused of horrible crimes and left her here all alone to try and make sense of it?

The breakdowns soon became non existent as her anger relentlessly drove her, allowing her to feel little else. She hid behind a veneer of seething anger and righteous justice, following the rules and laws to the letter. Those laws and rules were unwavering and constant, never straying from their intent and meaning and she followed them blindly so she wouldn't have to see or think or feel anything else.

She trained incessantly, abusing her body until it gave out and then pushing on further. She would become stronger than the one who had tossed her aside as if she were nothing. She would become better than her, surpass her in every way possible.

If Yoruichi Shihoin should ever show her face in the Soul Society again, she would be the one to bring her down. She would return to her a measure of the pain she had been left with. She would utterly defeat her, break her, and leave her helpless before she threw her in a cold, dark cell and left her alone to rot.

When that day did come she soon discovered how arrogant, prideful, and immature she had really been. Not once in a hundred years had she ever stopped to think and look at things from Lady Yoruichi's perspective. She had never considered just how long she had known Kisuke and that she knew he would not do what he had been accused of. She never considered that she would undoubtedly go to the aid of her friend. She never once considered that Central 46 could possibly be wrong and that Kisuke Urahara had been telling the truth.

All that she had known or considered was that she had been badly hurt and she lashed out like a wounded animal. Selfishly she had ignored all else and none of it came to her until it all crashed down upon her battered body as she lay on the ground at Lady Yoruichi's feet, crying and pleading, 'Why didn't you take me with you?'.

In the aftermath of that day and as she readily accepted Lady Yoruichi back into her life, much to Suzumebachi's loud displeasure, she soon found something else that began to catch her interest in a way that she couldn't explain and had never expected to happen.

Ichigo Kurosaki.

As Lady Yoruichi told her about him, she could see that there was something in her mentor's tone and her mannerisms that told her she had some form of interest in the boy. The first spark of jealousy and something else she couldn't identify at the time lit up within her as she decided that this ryoka bore keeping an eye on.

And if he ever dared to do anything untoward to Lady Yoruichi…

Keeping an eye of sorts on him hadn't been all that hard to do. Trouble seemed to gladly follow him everywhere and he was involved in nearly every incident that cropped up. And quite often when he came to the Seireitei he was accompanied by Lady Yoruichi, which meant that she had plenty of opportunity to be around him and observe the enigma that everyone seemed to be so drawn too.

The major turning point for her and the realization of her own feelings towards him though, came on the day that Lady Yoruichi practically floated into a Women's Association meeting with a smile on her face and an aura about her that she had never felt before. It was the day that she announced that she had netted the recently re-empowered Strawberry for herself and that it was serious.

Immediately her jealousy surged and her mind was filled with images of the orange haired Vizard forcing himself upon the dark skinned beauty, (an utterly absurd notion that her jealous and indignant imagination completely missed), pawing her like some demented, hormonal beast. Hearing that they had sex, as Matsumoto of course fished for all the juicy details, made her see red and she was ready to go to Karakura at that moment and introduce him to the business end of Suzumebachi.

But then the telling of the story finally cut through her rage. Lady Yoruichi had initiated it all. She had guided the shy and somewhat scared teen through everything, fearing all along that she was pushing too much and risking losing him because of it, something that would have crushed her if she had messed it up and sent him running from her.

That was when Sui-Feng realized something else, something she had been trying to deny for quite some time because she didn't see how it could ever be possible.

She had feelings of her own for the empowered human.

For quite some time she had experienced a strange feeling around him, but she had never known what it was. Not surprising really considering how emotionally stunted and inexperienced she was with her own feelings. When your emotional default setting was anger because it was so much more familiar than anything else, it made it easy to push away the feelings you didn't understand and couldn't figure out.

With the meeting effectively derailed, she went back to her office. If they weren't going to discuss SWA business, she had better things to do, being her excuse. True, she had enough paperwork on her desk to keep her busy for a few hours but she was unable to focus on it. Her hands sporadically clenched and opened against the surface of her desk as her thoughts churned around in her head.

Why did she feel as if she had just lost something? Was it because she might see less of Lady Yoruichi than she did now because of her relationship with Kurosaki, or was it because her own feelings for him were stronger than even she knew? If that were the case then how could she feel like she was losing something if she had never had it to begin with?

When her mind drifted to imagined scenes of the young human and her mentor in the throes of passion, why did she find herself wishing it was her? And when the woman wrapped around him and crying out in ecstasy became her, why couldn't she make those imagined scenes stop?

Why didn't she want it to stop?

"Not thinking about sticking my Strawberry with your stinger, are you my Little Bee?"

She should have counted on Lady Yoruichi showing up, but she had been too preoccupied with her troubled musings. She hadn't even known the woman had arrived, and through the window no less, until she spoke and nearly sent her flying out of her chair in surprise when she did.

They talked for a long while after that with Lady Yoruichi telling her how she had come to gain such feelings for the young human, how she had been lonely herself for a long time yet was afraid to give her heart to someone. She told her how those feelings allowed her to try getting close to him and how it unlocked her heart.

She had never known that her mentor had feelings like that locked up inside her, part of her blind worship of the woman she supposed making it impossible for her to see that she had the same feelings, wants and desires as everyone else. Wants and desires that she was beginning to realize that she herself had.

As their conversation went on she began to feel more and more of a sense of loneliness within herself. Not so much anymore at the thought of not being able to see Lady Yoruichi as much now, the dark skinned woman assured her that she would still be around just as much. She really wanted to make up for the time they had lost after she left and to try and make up for the pain she had caused her. That came as a very welcome surprise to her.

The majority of the lonely feeling she was having was that same sense of having lost something that she had experienced before. She tried to tell herself again how foolish that was since she hadn't had anything to lose. Yes, she had gained feelings for Kurosaki, but she had never acted upon them. Hell, was there even a chance that she ever would have? She knew instantly that the answer to that was no. She would have just buried the feelings and worked herself to the point of exhaustion until she forgot about it and moved on. She probably still would. Being lonely was something she was used to after all.

Or at least that was her thinking until Lady Yoruichi said something that completely blew that idea to pieces, never to be put back together again.

'You should join us some time.' Her face wore that all too familiar look of mischief. 'I know you like him too Little Bee, and I'm not against sharing him with you. He's inexperienced, but he's a fast learner.'

She turned what must have been a very unhealthy shade of red and lost the ability to speak. That didn't effect Suzumebachi however.

'Do it!' the little zanpakuto spirit yelled within her head. 'I'll take back and apologize for everything mean thing I have ever said about her if you just say yes! Do it! Say yes! Doooo iiiitt!'

The vehement reaction of her zanpakuto startled her back to her senses and she found Lady Yoruichi regarding her with an amused look, as if she knew exactly what had just happened.

'I'll let you think about it for a while,' she said as she got up and started out the window. 'I'm still trying to convince him how much fun it would be.'

From that point on, every time she saw either of them, but especially Ichigo, she would get butterflies in her stomach. Yoruichi would tease them both and they would both freak out accordingly. For a while she actually was angry at Kurosaki, mistaking some of his refusals and denials as a personal slight against her, as if she wasn't good enough somehow, or unattractive to him. It hurt a little as well, until she found out that she had been reading him completely wrong.

By accident, she overheard a conversation between him and Lady Yoruichi. It turned out that he was just as freaked out by the woman's attempts to get them into the sack together as she was. Through much teasing by her former mentor he finally admitted that he did like her, that he thought she was pretty and that her tight, athletic build actually turned him on.

Lady Yoruichi's reaction to his admissions was anything but what she would have expected.

'I told you Strawberry,' she said to him with a large grin plastered on her face. 'I told you that you'd like my cute Little Bee. And she likes you too, even if she doesn't show it.'

Upon hearing that, she had felt her face heat up so much she had been sure it was about to burst into flames.

'Why have you been so insistent about this Yoruichi?' he had asked her. 'I can see this isn't something you're pushing for just for the fun of it. Why do you want this to happen so much?'

The very same question had been going through Sui-Feng's head too.

'Because I care about her just as much as I care about you,' the shape shifter answered seriously. 'I want to see her smile and see her be happy and feel some of what I've been fortunate enough to feel with you. I want to share that with her. I want her to feel what it's like to be with someone who cares about her and can get through that hard shell she has around her and let her feel something besides her anger and hurt. She deserves more than that in her life. You must feel that way too, at least a little, or else you wouldn't have finally said yes.'

That caused her to very nearly fall on her backside in shock. She had missed that part of the conversation.

He sighed. 'You're right. It just feels kind of weird though and I feel guilty for what I feel towards her.'

She kissed him. 'Any other guy would jump at the chance to have two women,' she teased.'You don't need to feel guilty Ichigo, it is possible to have feelings for more than one person you know. I know I've badgered you a lot but I would never think of trying to set her up with someone else because I know I can trust you with her heart just like I trust you with mine. I know you would never hurt her.'

She was stunned and speechless, and it was some time later as she was sitting in the dark within her living quarters that her mind was finally able to catch up to it. She had seen how happy Lady Yoruichi was and how much she really seemed to love Ichigo. But to hear that she cared about her just as much, and to hear that Ichigo seemed to have some feelings for her too…it was almost too much.

She honestly didn't know how to react. She knew that she should probably be deliriously happy, but she found herself stuck in a no man's land of emotions, not sure which way to go or what to do. The cold, cynical side of her was fighting hard against the softer side of her that wanted this so much.

Over the next couple of weeks, Shaolin began to slowly win out over Sui-Feng in the internal struggle as she spent more time around them. Training with them, sharing meals, or just sitting and talking, laughing with them even of all things, it just felt too right to her. It felt good.

The day she caught them having sex beside the hot spring in their training cavern clinched it forever. The sight of them together, the sounds coming from them as she watched, mesmerized and only barely aware of her increasing arousal and the growing dampness between her thighs…she wished it was her there screaming in pleasure as he tasted her womanhood. She wished it was her crying out in pleasure as he grasped her hips and took her from behind. She wished it was her who lay sweaty and writhing in orgasmic bliss beneath him on the edge of the pool.

She was sure she had set a new speed record for shunpo as she raced back to her quarters and locked herself in the bath. She very nearly tore her clothes off as she unashamedly let her hands roam her body in an attempt to put out the fire that had been lit within her due to her unintended voyeurism. She had never had a feeling like this hit her so strongly before.

It was quite some time before she succeeded and was able to put the lusty visions of what she had seen out of her mind and begin to process just how intensely she had been affected by it. As she lay soaking in her tub, watching the moon outside the high window of her private bath, she smiled, a real, genuine smile, and she uttered three words.

'You win, Shaolin.'

Ichigo could identify with the nervousness that the woman standing six feet away from him was obviously feeling, he was nervous enough himself, feeling almost like it was his first time all over again. Mainly it was because this woman wasn't Yoruichi. She wasn't the woman he had given his heart to and who had given hers to him in return.

He had finally passed the stage of feeling like it was wrong and accepted it. It wasn't like he was stepping out on Yoruichi after all, hell, the whole thing had been her idea and she had been relentless in its pursuit. That had thrown him just as much as the fact that she had actually been serious about the whole thing. It actually took quite a while for him to finally get an explanation out of his little neko demon as to why it was so important to her.

She still didn't speak freely yet about her past, still didn't tell much about herself, and it took several weeks and a lot of stubborn behaviour on his part to get her to fully explain why she wanted this to happen so badly. She told him about Sui-Feng's harsh upbringing and the expectations that had been placed on her, the pressure to succeed or be disowned by her clan. It made his blood boil to think that her own family would treat her like that, that they would put their position and status ahead of her life.

She told him that back then Sui-Feng reminded her very much of herself when she was at that same stage of her life. Just like Sui-Feng had been so afraid of failing her, she had been afraid of failing those around her, that she would never be good enough or strong enough to take over leadership of the Shihoin Clan and lead the Onmitsukido.

She remembered too well how painful that uncertainty was and how scared she had been. When she saw that in Sui-Feng she couldn't help but take the girl under her wing, befriend her, and try to help her find her way.

It hurt her to leave her behind, but she couldn't abandon Kisuke and Tessai when she knew they were being railroaded. She could no more have ignored their plight than he could have if any of his friends or family were in trouble.

She had thought about taking Sui-Feng with her, but what kind of a life would that have been for her? Living in exile and most likely being constantly hunted by their former brethren was no life for the young girl, she had suffered enough already.

Unfortunately she underestimated just how much her leaving would hurt the girl and that she would never really get over it. When she explained it to him he could see just how deeply it had hurt her when she discovered how her leaving had affected her former protégé.

The reasons she had given him were pretty much what he had thought. Ever since she had first suggested it to him with any level of actual seriousness he had been thinking about it, gathering the little pieces of her past with the current Second Division Captain that she occasionally gave out and piecing them together in his head until a theory started to form.

Even then, he hadn't been quite able to sense just how much Sui-Feng truly meant to her until she finally told him after he gave in and admitted that he did indeed like the girl. The expression on his lover's face became clear and easily read for once on the subject and he began to understand that this was deeply important and a very serious thing for her.

That made it become serious for him then as well and even more so when she told him that she trusted him with her former protégé's heart, knowing that he would never hurt the already wounded girl.

Yoruichi wanted him to unlock Sui-Feng's heart, just like he had unlocked hers and as she had unlocked his. Considering just how profound that had been for the both of them, he knew that he could not turn her down.

So, somehow his crazy cat-girl girlfriend managed to convince the work obsessed Captain to take a couple of weeks off, knowing her she probably talked to Old Man Yamamoto and convinced him to make it an order. For the better part of a week they had spent a lot of time together, mostly the three of them, but there were several instances where it was just him and Sui-Feng.

There was the usual sparring sessions, but also a lot of touring around the city, taking in the sights and any amusements that caught their eye. At first she had tried to keep up her frosty, no nonsense demeanour, but after being caught actually enjoying herself a couple of times she finally gave it up and actually began to relax. Tonight had been a good night in that regard.

It was a pleasant, warm evening and they were dressed accordingly. Yoruichi in a sleeveless purple blouse and denim cut offs, he in cargo shorts and a button up tropical shirt, and Sui-Feng in cut offs and a wide-necked pale yellow shirt over a black tank top. She had recently even cut off the long braids she used to wear and had let her hair grow a little longer. He thought it made her look younger than she already did, though part of that could be due to the absence of the hard, severe look she always wore.

After dinner they went to a small festival at one of the riverside parks. Some local bands were going to play and there would be fireworks afterwards. Chad's band was actually one of the groups there so it was no surprise that they ran into several of his friends.

Chad was polite and of few words as always, and Uryuu was civil if not a little cold considering his feelings about shinigami. Keigo was his usual spastic self but luckily Mizuiro managed to reign him in before physical violence was needed to restore order.

Orihime and Tatsuki…well that had become an awkward and difficult relationship. Typically, he had been too dense to realize that Orihime had been in love with him until Yoruichi explained that to him along with a smack on the head. Needless to say the girl had been hurt when he finally told everyone about him and Yoruichi.

While Orihime continued to be friends with both him and Yoruichi, it was clear that the hurt was still there, lessening, but still present. Tatsuki though, she had been very angry with him and had socked him one since she knew Orihime never would. There had been something else there too in her reaction, but he couldn't put a finger on it.

While he could now in hindsight see Orihime's behaviour around him for what it had been, and he had to ask himself how he could have been so extremely dense as to not have clued in, he didn't recall the same from Tatsuki, but she shared a shadow of the same look in her eyes as was in Orihime's when she looked at him now.

Hime of course was polite in her greeting, while Tatsuki seemed to have caught something from the Quincy and was a little cold. With a wink, Yoruichi latched onto the two girls and pulled them just out of hearing range and started talking to them. Whatever she was saying, it soon had Orihime blushing and smiling, looking happier than he had seen her in a while. Tatsuki looked like she was about to erupt.

'What on earth is she up to now?' he had asked.

'Are you sure you want an answer to that question?' Sui-Feng had asked him. He almost did a double take. It wasn't that long ago at she would have chastised him, and possibly threatened his life, for disrespecting her former mentor.

'Probably not,' he sighed. 'Because no matter what, she's going to do it anyway, despite what either of us might say.'

Suddenly, Tatsuki went from near eruption, to waving her hands around like she was denying something and her face was as red as Orihime's. A moment later Orihime was hugging her best friend, all excited about whatever had just been said. Yoruichi simply turned toward him, grinning like the cat that just ate the canary, before wrapping an arm around each of the two girls and wandering off with them to watch the show.

'Oh doom on me,' he thought, sighing in resignation before shoving the incident into a little box in his mind to be revisited later. There was no advantage in dwelling on it now, whatever she was up to would happen anyway and there was no point in him getting distracted by it and ruining the evening. He knew he'd find out soon enough.

Before he knew it, he had offered his hand to Sui-Feng like he always did to Yoruichi. Hesitantly she took it and he led her to a good spot to view both the concert and the fireworks from. Her hand rarely left his for the rest of the night. At some point in the evening she ended up sitting in front of him, between his long legs with his arms wrapped loosely around her as she leaned back against him. She had been tense for a few moments at first but soon relaxed again.

After the show and the fireworks, they indulged in a snack from one of the vendors before walking back to Yoruichi's apartment, hand in hand again. She had enjoyed herself. While the music and its style was something totally new to her, she had enjoyed the experience more than she ever thought she would. And the fireworks had been well worth the wait.

As they neared the apartment, they both began to tense up a little and by the time they had reached the stairs leading up, all conversation had ceased and they simply stood looking at each other, both trying to decide what to do next. Surprisingly, she made the first move. She went up a couple of stairs to even the height difference, leaned toward him, and kissed him.

Actually, it was more like she stiffly smashed her lips against his with near bruising intensity, but it was the thought that counted. As inexperienced as she was, even she knew that hadn't been a very good attempt and he could see the varying emotions welling up within her.

Before any one of them could take root, he leaned in and kissed her while bringing his hands up to caress her face the way Yoruichi had done to him a few months ago in order to make him relax. He must have done it right because in a few seconds there was less resistance and the stiffness left her.

After a few seconds he pulled back and he had to suppress a chuckle. The feared assassin and leader of the Onmitsukido stood before him blushing, her eyes all but closed and her lips still slightly parted and looking every bit like a teenaged girl who had just received her first kiss. Which wasn't all that far off the mark really. She may have been a Captain, but he doubted if she was much older than Rukia was, and without the severe look on her face or the murderous aura rolling off of her, she certainly looked the part.

It took a few seconds for the lack of contact to register and for her to open her eyes. She looked at him, almost as if she were sizing him up. A moment later she seemed to come to a decision of some sort that was to her satisfaction. She placed her hands on his shoulders and moved in to kiss him again.

'Let me try again,' she said.

She did much better this time.

It didn't take long for things to heat up, and soon they were doing an awkward shuffle up the stairs as they tried to climb them without their lips parting. The strange dance continued through the apartment, stopping here and there as they bumped into the counter, the table, and the walls in a number of places, the situation made all the more contortionistic by their difference in height.

Finally stumbling into the bedroom, and into the dresser which at least gave Ichigo the chance to flick on the dim light that resided on top of it, they drifted into their current position, six feet away from one another.

She looked beautiful in the dim light, but also so vulnerable in this situation that was so alien to her. Her left arm was wrapped across her stomach, as if she could physically still the fluttering within, while her right hand toyed with the frayed ends of her denim cut offs. The reality of the moment had settled heavily upon her.

"Sui-Feng," he called softly, causing her to startle slightly. She looked up to see him wearing a gentle smile. "We don't have to do anything at all if you don't want to. I'm not going to force something on you that you don't want or aren't ready for."

"I do want this," she said, her voice low. "I just…I don't know…I've never done this before." She almost sounded as if she were ashamed along with being a bit frustrated with herself.

"It wasn't that long ago that I felt exactly like you do right now," he confessed, a tinge of mirth in his voice. "Turned out that it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought, but that's just me." He stepped closer and sat on the corner of the bed, he could now look her in the eye without looking down, something he felt at that moment to be a very important distinction. "So if you decide you don't want to go any further, I understand, and it won't change a thing about the way I feel. I really do like you Sui-Feng, and it's been fun hanging out and getting to know you a little and I'd like to get to know you more."

His words hit her deeply and made a fresh wave of warmth spread throughout her. She thought she had been wooden and awkward all week, but there was no deceit in his voice or in his eyes, there was just a gentle warmth there. He had honestly enjoyed the time they had spent together.

Part of her wished that he would take charge, just pull her to him and take the decision out of her hands altogether. But she had gotten to know him just well enough to know that he would never do that because he would feel like he was forcing her. While some women may find fault with his lack of forward behaviour, she saw it as a sign of respect and that meant a lot to her. He was giving her the chance to decide for herself without pressure and giving her an out if she wanted to take it.

How many men that she had observed over the years would do the same once the evening had reached the point that this one had? How many would think that they were owed something right now and would try to take it if it wasn't given?

Unfortunately the nature of her duties had allowed her to see the worst in a lot of people and had added even more of a cynical edge to her already sour and angry demeanour. But Ichigo Kurosaki had, with out even trying, cut right through that armoured layer she surrounded herself with just as easily as if it were a hollow before the might of his Zangetsu. He had cut into the heavy layer of ice and stone that had buried her inner self for so long and he was making her feel things she never thought she would.

As she looked at him right now, with that warm smile on his face and that soft look in his eyes, she felt that long buried part of herself finally make its way to the surface to stand atop the ice and stone that had imprisoned it for so long. Tonight wasn't just about her deciding whether or not to have sex with him, it was about something so much deeper than that.

It was about taking a huge step in discovering who she really was, in forging an entirely new identity for herself. She could become who she wanted to be, not who her clan expected her to be, not someone who was shaped completely and totally by the expectations of others. Her world didn't have to be so cold and lonely, and it didn't have to be coloured in straight up black and white anymore. She was beginning to see that there was something beyond that.

She looked to him, feeling her decision make itself. She had enjoyed her time with him this week, even when it was just the two of them when Lady Yoruichi would drift off to give them that time. Even being awash in the overflow of his reiatsu had become a comfortable thing. She had enjoyed holding his hand and being loosely held by him as they sat listening to the music in the park. She had enjoyed kissing him and feeling his strong hands on her shoulders or softly pressed against her back as they did the awkward dance through the apartment.

Still nervous, but much more sure of things, she stepped toward him and into the gap between his knees as he sat. "This is what I want," she told him. There was a more assured look in her eyes now that was cutely at odds with the flushing of her cheeks.

"Sui-Feng…" he began.

She shook her head. "That's a code name I inherited from my grandmother," she said quietly. "Sui-Feng is the part of me that is the assassin and the Special Forces commander who everyone fears. The part of me that was so angry and fought so hard against what the part of me that isn't Sui-Feng has wanted all along."

He took her hands in his. "This other part of you…what's her name?"

She closed her eyes for a moment before meeting his again. "Her name is Shaolin."

"Shaolin…" he whispered. The sound of him saying her name sent a pleasing ripple down her spine. "That's a beautiful name." He kissed her. "It suits you."

"It does?" she questioned softly. It was almost as if she was puzzled by his words.

"Beautiful name for a beautiful woman." He hoped that didn't sound too cheesy.

She frowned slightly. "I've never been told that before."

He brought his left hand up and laid it softly against her cheek. "You are beautiful Shaolin. Even more so when you smile."

Their lips met again, more urgently now. There was no denying anymore what she wanted and where she wanted this to go. He thought she was beautiful, thought her name, which she never thought she would share with anyone, was beautiful. He had enjoyed spending time with her this last week and she had to admit that she had enjoyed it too.

She was beginning to feel a sense of freedom now that she had never had before. There were no obligations here with him, no duty to anyone else, no expectations that she had to live up to. She was not being forced to do anything, everything was by her decision, her actions were hers to choose, and choose she did.

She chose to be where she was right now, chose to be with who she was with right now, and she chose to do what she was doing right now and everything that promised to come with it.

She, Shaolin, chose to make love to Ichigo and be made love to by him. If there was one thing she was definitely sure of, even more so now after having spent time with him all week, getting to know him and learning to let him get close to her, letting him inside her defences, it was this.

She wanted him.

No, that was too simple, there was more to it than just basic carnal desire and the thought hit her with the clarity of a ringing bell and it made her shiver.

She wanted him to take her, she wanted him to claim her as his and break the chains that imprisoned her heart and rescue her from everything that had darkened her life and left her so cold and hard bitten.

Allowing Shaolin out of her prison and letting her have her way was something she couldn't stop now even if she wanted to, and she most certainly did not. It felt to her now like it was the first thing she had done right in the last one hundred years.

He pushed himself up off of her smaller frame, intending to lay down beside her and catch his breath, but she wouldn't let him go just yet. There was something she had to say, something she had to tell him while she still had the resolve to do so and she wanted to do it while they were still in the immediate glow of their lovemaking.

She looked into his eyes again, making sure his locked onto hers as well. Damn the consequences, but it was a truth stronger than any she had ever felt before and she had to say it.

"I-I love you…Ichigo," she told him softly, almost fearful of what his response would be.

He smiled down at her. She didn't need to worry. "I love you too, Shaolin."

Within herself she could hear the sound of a chain breaking, felt a loosening around her heart. She understood it now, what Lady Yoruichi had said about Ichigo unlocking her heart and she unlocking his. Shaolin was her heart, and now she was unchained, she was free.

She felt tears coming to her eyes, but for once they weren't brought by pain or loneliness. She was happy, genuinely happy and she was so glad that she had given in to this and gave herself a chance.

He leaned down and kissed her before she let him go to lay beside her. She looked so beautiful right now. There wasn't a trace of stress or pain or anger in her face and eyes, just a genuine heartfelt smile.

She closed her eyes as she caught her breath, which much to his amusement ended up with her rapidly dozing off. He contained his chuckle and satisfied himself with watching her sleep. It was kind of amazing to him, the changes he had seen in her since he first met her. He knew that she had to be Sui-Feng in order to do her job, but he hoped that she never let that part of her bury Shaolin again. Judging by what he had seen from her this week, he didn't think that would be a problem.

He felt the bed move and a warm, naked body pressed against his back. He felt the tingle of healing kido repairing the scratches on his back as a pair of moist lips gently kissed his shoulder, a purple haired head appearing over it a moment later.

"That was hot, my sexy little Strawberry," Yoruichi purred in his ear.

"Wha…you were watching?" he choked out.

"Saw the whole thing from first kiss to loud, wet orgasm," she grinned. "I got off about the same time you did."

"Pervert," he smirked.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "And with two women in your bed, you're not?" she teased. She pulled him over onto his back and kissed him. "Thank you, Ichigo," she said in all seriousness. "I know I was asking a lot of you and I know I can never repay you for it. Once she stopped fighting it she really started to enjoy herself this week."

"You're welcome," he said. "And payback isn't needed. She's pretty easy to like once she drops those walls. I had fun spending time with her. With both of you."

"So you meant it when you said you loved her too?" she asked, pretty sure she already knew the answer.

"Of course I did," he answered. "I wouldn't have said something like that to her if I didn't."

"No, you wouldn't," she smiled. "You're way too honest to ever lie like that. I'm just so happy that you did, and I'm even happier that she said it to you."

"This really means a lot to you doesn't it?" he asked. "This was really important to you."

"It was," she answered. "She needed to see another side of life, another side of herself. She needed to know that she could feel something more than just her anger and hurt." She smiled again as she looked at Shaolin. "She needed someone to reach her heart and free it."

He smirked a little. "You know, you were right."

"Hmmm?" she wondered.

"She is pretty cute, and I do like seeing her naked, tight little body laying next to me," he teased.

She grinned. "I told you. And when she gets more comfortable with this the three of us can get together and she and I can make ourselves an Ichigo sandwich. Lucky boy."

His face reddened as that scenario began to play through his mind. She just smirked at him, laid her head down on his chest and closed her eyes. He wrapped his right arm around her and gently took one of Shaolin's hands in his left and closed his eyes.

'Yeah,' he thought pleasantly. 'I really am lucky.'

He was just drifting off when he remembered that he hadn't asked Yoruichi what she had been talking to Orihime and Tatsuki about that had them so animated.

'Crap. Well, she likely wouldn't have given me a straight answer anyway. Might as well let it be a surprise.'

For sure, life with his neko demon was never going to be dull. He suspected that the same could be said for her Little Bee. The three of them, linked together by their unlocked hearts.

Should be fun.

A/N: Well, how was that. If you are so inclined, please leave a review.

The lemon version of this story, which I actually think is better, can be found at:

5Horse dot devianart dot com

I wanted to put an omake at the end of this chapter too, but I couldn't come up with anything that I liked. If I do come up with one I may add it later.

Hopefully it won't take me a year to get another story out either.