4. Free time

Ichigo put Rukia's luggage on the shelf above the seat in the train and made a step back.

"Will that be ok?"

"Sure, thanks for walking me here. I wouldn't handle this suitcase alone." She pointed above.

"I still can't believe that your brother didn't come with you. Sometimes I feel like putting some oil into his brain." He scratched his fist. "Who does he think he is, that he doesn't even have time to wave off his sister?"

"Don't say that. He's working really hard." Rukia felt a bit sorry that Byakuya didn't find the time to see her, but she understood that he was an important person, whose time was worth thousands of dollars.

"He's always working. Does he even have time to breath?" Ichigo said sarcastically hiding his hands in the pockets of his violet blouse.

"Shut up. You'd better get off of that train unless you want to go with me to Momo." She patted his black blouse on the chest, directing at the exit.

"Right, right." Ichigo stood at the platform while she leaned on the automatic door. "Do you have your ticket?"

"Yeah, it's in my bag." They still had a few minutes to talk, but there was something uncomfortable between them, like there wasn't anything worth talking. It was the first time she experienced something like that with Ichigo.

And why the hell it felt like she was seeing him for the last time in her life?

"Good." He stood in front of her, and felt really awkward. There was something in that trip that he didn't like, something made him nervous. And Byakuya again… he just couldn't stand this guy and the way he treated Rukia. Even though they were technically related, sometimes he felt that Rukia would feel a lot more comfortable with foster family than this selfish imbecile, who cared more about business forecasts than results of the exams of his own sister. "Just remember to check your phone regularly if you're accepted or not."

Rukia smiled, because he was the one who never picked up his.

"Right. Same to you, jackass. Text me if you know something."

"Fine, shorty."

The moment he finished the sentence, the door to the train closed and they still stood in the same positions, just looking at themselves through the glass.

They heard a loud whistle, smiled gently to each other and the train moved.

Ichigo made a step forward, without thinking, and only then realized how stupid the gesture was. He could never go together with the train, so he stopped and watched as the carriage that Rukia was in disappeared behind the bent on the railway station.

After all that stress with exams, she really deserved a break.

So do I. He thought and headed back home, thinking about a new game for his x-box he bought recently.

He was still grounded after the fight with Kaien. His mother let him out only on special occasions, mostly when she needed help with shopping or to walk Zangetsu.

Plus, he attended one-hour therapy sessions with Mr. Urahara every Tuesday, starting with the beginning of the holiday.

Kisuke Urahara was the most idiotic of psychologist he has ever met.

And he had a great experience if it comes to psychologists.

His parents however, were positive about the favorable changes in his behavior after each session.

Bull shit.

The only change he observed in his own behavior was general irritation.

The sly bastard had only a really good talk, which made Masaki and Isshin pay the money he wanted.

Then, another month of boredom. Now when Rukia left, he would have nobody to talk to, since she was the only one that visited him after exams.

Not that he ever had any real friends beside her anyways.

Now, that's the great holiday he's been wishing for so long.

Thanks, Kaien. Thanks a lot.

Rukia closed her almost full sketchbook and put the pencil back into her bag.

She was supposed to get off on the next stop.

She was a bit nervous, because she hasn't seen Momo for two years and it might be a bit awkward to pull the conversation, but in some way she missed her cousin.

When they were younger, they visited each other every summer and winter holiday. As the time went by, that tradition slowly disappeared, because each year more duties appeared, in Momo's case there was her boyfriend, Toshiro Hitsugaya, who occupied most of her time.

The train slowed down and Rukia reached for her suitcase, which was packed on the shelf, where Ichigo left her.

It was a bit difficult for someone of her size to get it down, but she managed to do it herself.

Now, let's have a little relax after all of this, she thought and got off the train.

Her head was spinning in every possible direction, and finally she heard someone yelling: "Rukia! Here!" She turned around to the place where the voice was perceived, and saw running Momo, as cheerful as ever, still with the same small bun on top of her head, smiling widely. There was a boy of her size walking behind her with completely white hair and intriguing turquoise eyes.

That must be Toshiro. She heard so much about these eyes through the phone, that even though she has never seen them personally, she was sure she would recognize them everywhere.

"Rukia! You haven't changed at all! It's so nice to see you!" Before Rukia realized her intentions, Momo had already glomped her and squeezed like a favorite plushie.

"Nice to see you too, Momo…" She managed to stutter.

"Oh. Rukia, this is Toshiro, my boyfriend, and Toshiro, this is Rukia, best cousin ever." Momo smiled as she made the presentation.

Rukia reached her hand and Toshiro shook it firmly.

"I brought him, because I figured out you'll have a heavy suitcase and it's quite a long way to our house. So tell me, how did your finals go? Do you think you'll get into the Art Academy?"

"Thank you very much." Rukia said to the short boy, who had already took the bag from her and walked forward, giving them space to talk.

"No problem." He said coldly and Rukia thought that he might not be the most sociable type, but also noticed the softer look when he glanced at Momo.

"Finals…" Rukia turned back to Momo, adjusting her small brown bag. "All the writing stuff went good, at least I think so, but the entrance exam of drawing… I don't know. It depends on how harsh will they judge."

"Don't worry!" Momo exclaimed and patted Rukia's back. "It'll be all right, I know how good you are, they would have to be nuts not to accept you. By the way, I hope you'll draw something for me during the stay if we'll get some free time, because I prepared loads of activities for us!" Momo took her arm happily.

"What kind of activities…?" Rukia felt a cold shiver, because knowing Momo she would love her to meet all her friends- and the amount of them was tremendous, since Momo, opposite to her, was always the one who loved to know new people- and visit all clubs and parties within a mile.

"Tonight, we're free, I figured you'd be tired after the journey and you'd like to unpack everything, but tomorrow, we're going to the zoo! It was opened only a few days ago, right beside my house! I've read in the web that this is the best zoo in this part of the country, so I thought I'll wait and go with you, what do you think?"

Thank God.

"Why not?" Rukia felt that Momo's excitement was slowly passing on her. If she had that kind of attractions she didn't mind.

"Yay! I can't wait! After the zoo, I was asked to go to Kira, you remember him? He called me yesterday and said that he cannot put up the tent I borrowed him. Can you believe it? He's going with his buddies on the trip into the mountains and needed it desperately. I hope you don't mind if we visit him, it's not that far from the zoo."

Now this has become more like Momo. Always had tons of things to do with her friends.

"And next week, we're going on the fest! There will be a really big one in my school, isn't that cool?"

"Yeah, sure." Rukia responded weakly. She never liked this kind of events, but those were her holiday, damn it, and maybe it's better that she won't even get time to think about those twisted situations with her brother and Ichigo.

"You don't seem very pleased. Don't you want to go?" Momo frowned worriedly.

Maybe she needed some change.

Screw it.

"What are you talking about, of course I want to go." Rukia grinned to Momo and she immediately did the same.

"You'll see it's gonna be so much fun! This will be the holiday of your life!" Momo lifted her arm with a serious expression, as if she was a chief in a battle.

They both laughed at the action and walked slowly behind Toshiro, talking about old friends they both knew and how much they changed since the last time they have seen each other.

Rukia felt at ease. Talking to Momo, laughing from her jokes, that really made her believe that all the gloomy thoughts were left in the Karakura.

From now on, it was only her and Momo. And all kind of attractions she had prepared for her.

%%%

Ichigo was sitting on the red, uncomfortable, leather sofa in the square office. He tried to pretend that nothing's pissing him off, nor the sofa, nor the lightning bulb that was shining almost directly onto his face, nor the silence or amused look of the blonde psycho, who was wearing his stupid kimono and even more stupid hat with green and white stripes. He occupied an old, cozy armchair, which, as the only one, didn't match the cold and futuristic room styling.

"So, Ichigo… will you finally tell me what was that fight in the kitchen about or will we sit like that for the next three months? Both you and me have better things to do, so I would love you to start talking. But.. this is your choice." The therapist pulled out a green and white fan from the drawer and started to study it precisely.

"No big deal, I have already told you. A simple fight between siblings, that's all." Ichigo sighed and rolled his eyes. How exactly is he supposed to help him? If he tells Urahara now, and then he would repeat everything to Masaki or Isshin, he can be sure that from that day on, his house turns into the hell. They would attack him, claiming he made up everything, trying once again to lie away Kaien's reputation. What was that for?

Urahara, just as expected, didn't let go.

"Well, it was not a simple fight between siblings, because when your mother found you, your twin's face was almost massacred. Don't tell me you threw yourself at him because he didn't want to pass you a spoon." He spoke still smiling. "If you keep insisting on that, I think I will have to force your parents to extend the therapy… maybe for the whole next year?"

"You can't do that. I've got school." Ichigo gritted his teeth so hard that he felt his gums hurt.

"I'm afraid I can't let you attend any school, especially a medical one, if you're so aggressive." Urahara put the fan down on the huge black desk and leaned the back of the soft armchair a little more, what made Ichigo feel even more uncomfortable on his seat than before.

What was the worst, Ichigo knew that he could do that.

He felt trapped.

"I would also feel obliged to tell your parents not to let you stay around any other people… I mean all your friends. Including adorable miss Kuchiki, which, I believe is your best friend… or a girlfriend?"

Ichigo's fists clenched and itched, when he heard sing-songy tone of Kisuke while speaking of Rukia; he just died to knock that fucked up therapist out and a go home.

Instead, he took a deep breath and replied peacefully "She's not my girlfriend. We're friends from the early childhood."

"Ahh, sorry for the mistake." He smiled like a cat, who caught its prey and Ichigo just knew he did that mistake on purpose. "How about you tell me how you two met?"

Well. He could tell about that. It was nothing big.

"I don't remember clearly, but I guess that other kids were making fun of my hair color and she came to defend me." Ichigo's frown deepened, because he couldn't remember the details, but there was one thing constantly appearing in his mind: huge, sapphire eyes in amazingly thick and ridiculously chunky glasses. He almost burst into laughing, because he realized those were probably the same ones she was wearing now.

Seriously, her brother owns half of the banks in the Karakura and he cannot buy her new glasses?

That's just unbelievable.

"… Ichigo?"

Crap, he was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't hear the question.

"Can you repeat?"

"I was asking how it felt to be saved by a girl? Were you ashamed?" Urahara spread the fan and covered his whole face except eyes, which were drilling into his brain and making him irritated.

"No I wasn't. I was relieved that there is somebody who doesn't say I'm strange. And stop moving this fan, it makes me sick." Ichigo added when he saw how Urahara's blonde hair were disheveled by the small wind from the green and white thing.

"Umm, I'm sorry then. But what else could you do with the fan?" The psychologist giggled and Ichigo gritted his teeth harder. What a freak.

"Now tell me, did you ever feel indebted to her because of that?"

"No. From that day on, we hung out together and helped each other."

"So you're really good friends."

"Yeah."

"How often do you see each other?"

"Every day, we go to the same school." You idiot. Ichigo added in his mind.

"And you also hung out after the lessons?"

"Yeah, I've told you before. What kind of interrogation is that?"

"I'm just asking, why are you so mad at me?" Urahara threw his legs on the desk and Ichigo could see the sandals on his feet. He must be out of his mind to walk in something like this on the streets. Plus that kimono of his… He really suspected that Kisuke needs more help than he does.

"Has she ever protected you again?"

Ichigo laughed sarcastically.

Stupid question once again.

Urahara knew more than anybody else how many scrimmages he had during his stay at school. Ichigo assumed he had read every note he got from teachers, so he must have known that Rukia was involved in 80% of them.

"Sure, we were taking part in fights together. Well, at least as long as she could match the opponent. She would always watch my back and I watched hers."

"Have you ever fought somebody only because of her?" Ichigo narrowed his eyes. Somehow he felt like he was cornered in the street by a group of rebels. He didn't know how to respond.

"Happened once… or twice…" He mumbled and observed Urahara who was now smiling as if he had told him that Christmas is earlier this year.

"I guess we're done for today. You can go home, Mr. Kurosaki. Make sure to greet Mrs. Kuchiki from me when you see her."

"She's not here." He retorted harshly, before he thought what he was doing. Great.

"Oh, really? Where is she then?"

"Never mind. I have to go." Ichigo hurried to the door of the office before the therapist could change his mind and start another round of questions.

When he shut the door, he heard "See you next week" in his usual, singing manner.

God, I don't believe in you, but help me in case I kill him one day.

"Ruuuuukia… It's time to get up… Ruukia…" Rukia felt Momo shaking her arm delicately. She also heard her cousin urging her to get up, but she didn't want to get up so badly…

"I knooooow… just five more minutes… please… only five minutes…"

"You say that every morning for the past week and I always end up dragging you out of the bed." Momo laughed and Rukia noticed, that the pressure on the mattress disappeared. She used the occasion and dug herself deeper under the covers.

Ah.

So nice and warm.

Judging from the noises, Momo has already tidied her bed and now she was looking through her enormous pile of clothes, that almost poured down from her wardrobe.

Rukia could swear that it was impossible for one person to own that many clothes.

And shoes… dear Lord, that was even worst. High heels- with or without toes, sandals- flat, high heeled; trainers, ballerinas, boots; all in at least three different colors.

If Rukia didn't see it with her own eyes, she would not believe it all belonged to one person.

But it actually did.

Her cousin was exactly the opposite of her.

Every day she styled her hair, put on the makeup, choose carefully the clothing and shoes. Observing all those ministrations Rukia felt really proud of herself that she was ready to go out in less than ten minutes; in Momo's case it took about an hour to be ready for a short trip to the nearby shop or to borrow a glass of sugar from the neighbor living across the street.

That way, she could always sleep a little longer than her.

"All right, now it's really time to get up. I'm serious this time!" Suddenly a delicate cold wind blew onto Rukia's bare legs, when Momo took her covers with force.

Now Rukia deeply regretted sleeping in shorts.

"Ok, I'm up." Rukia sat lazily on the bed and stretched her bones, trying to adjust her poor eyesight to the surroundings. It didn't give her much, but at least now she could assess how far from her Momo was standing.

Now, the only thing she needed…

"Your glasses." Momo put something into her hand.

"Thanks."

"No prob. Tell me once again, why won't you buy contacts? Or at least some decent glasses? Those look like you found them on the excavations."

"Those are Hisana's." Rukia looked at Momo, now seeing her features clearly.

"So?"

"What do you mean? Those are my sister's glasses and I wear them because I like to remember about her."

To Rukia's surprise Momo started to laugh.

"Ok, I get it. But don't you have anything else what belonged to your sister? Like a necklace or earrings? You would look a lot better if only you had different frames…"

"I've never thought about that. I wear them since I was a child and I got used to them."

"You wear them since childhood? My God. Let's have some breakfast, I need a cup of coffee."

Rukia couldn't understand Momo's shock. Was it so strange?

Who cares.

She liked her glasses and she could see well in them, so what's the point in changing them?

They both went downstairs and Momo turned on the coffee express, while Rukia started to make toasts.

It has become their daily routine to wake up, dress and then eat a toast, sipping a coffee.

Rukia had to admit, that living with Momo was so much easier than with her brother.

She never had to ask about anything, she never felt uncomfortable and there was no reason to watch her manners or words. Everything was so natural and loose, that the memory of cold dining room with two snow white plates, on the snow white tablecloth next to which a perfectly polished, silver knife, fork and spoons were placed was slowly becoming disturbing and Rukia tried to avoid thoughts about coming back.

There wasn't any news about the college, Ichigo has written to her only once, saying that he will kill Urahara if he goes to another session, her brother has not even called to make sure she got to Momo's safely.

What meant everything was normal.

Living with Momo was like living in a different dimension, living a different life.

Here they were visiting her friends almost every day, or Momo's friends came to visit her; it was a nice way to spend the time. Maybe not exactly what she wished for but it was kind of interesting to watch a group of people who were so kind and close to each other. Rukia preferred to stay aside, but they accepted it. She exchanged a few words with each, but she was far from feeling comfortable in their company. On the other hand, she didn't feel embarrassed. She would laugh with them, take part in the games and once, she has even went with Momo to a small barbecue party.

It was really pleasurable, and she wondered, why couldn't she spend time like this in Karakura.

There was only Ichigo to talk to, nobody ever invited them to a barbecue, nobody ever thought about asking them to come for a birthday party.

Like she thought before, it was a different dimension, and she better not get used to it.

"You realize that this is the day of the fest in my school, don't you?" Momo asked all of sudden and something in her tone made Rukia put down the toast she was holding in her right hand. She adjusted the red, baggy blouse and wiped the sweat off her hands to the jeans.

"The one you mentioned the day I arrived?" Rukia gulped. She felt before, that this was going to be a big and very important party with loads of people. Actually, she hoped that Momo has resigned from going there since she hasn't spoken about that even once from that day.

"Exactly." Momo pushed her chair closer to Rukia. "And I want you to come with me." She looked into Rukia's eyes. "I don't take "no" for an answer." She added after she had noticed Rukia's embarrassment.

"Look, Momo…"

"I told you I don't take "no"." Momo stood up and took another two warm toasts on her plate. "I want you to go. You can't be here alone, while I'm having fun. You already know some of my friends, don't you like them?" Rukia felt a little bit panicked, when Momo caught her hand and looked pleadingly into her eyes.

"Of course I do. It's just…"

"Then please, come with me!"

"Momo." Rukia said seriously, looking directly at her cousin. "I really like your friends, I really do, I just don't like that kind of events. I… I just don't fit in." Rukia paused, because she didn't know how to explain to somebody as popular and cheerful as Momo, that she was the weirdo in her school and people were generally not fond of her company.

"What do you mean you don't fit in? You absolutely fit in! You'll be with me and the rest, it's gonna be cool music, drinks, fun… It's your holiday Rukia and I won't let you be bored when you're with me! I know that maybe in your hometown things looks different, but here… what do you have to lose? You'll see, you will not regret. So?"

There was shining hope in Momo's eyes and Rukia felt her barriers were slowly breaking.

"Ok, but if I feel awkward I'll come back home."

"You definitely won't! I'm so glad!" Momo exclaimed happily and hugged her tightly."It's gonna be great!" Rukia watched in amazement, as Momo bit a piece of toast and rushed to the telephone. She pressed a few buttons and started a conversation with Rangiku, which kinda scared her.

"Ran? Guess what? Rukia agreed! We'll be at your place in an hour… Yes, yes, I took care of it, everything's ready. No, I got it. You just focus on the things we spoke about earlier." Momo sent astonished Rukia one long glance with mysterious smirk. "Sure, cool. Ok, See you soon sweetie, bye!"

"What the hell was that, Momo?" Rukia felt angry, that she was talking about her with Rangiku, when she was not around. And all those "I took care of everything"… She definitely didn't like it.

"You'll see. Now, grab your phone and we're leaving. Just give me five more minutes." Momo said while chewing the remnants of the toast and drinking all what was left in her cup. She has opened her bag, put a few things into and asked with irritation, after seeing Rukia's pose with arms tangled on the chest and brows furrowed to the limits. "What?"

"I'm not going anywhere, until you tell me what it is about."

"Oh, come on…" She made a tired gesture with her hands. "Seriously?"

"Yeah." Rukia still sat on her chair, not moving an inch. Momo breathed out heavily.

"We prepared a surprise for you, but if I tell you what it is, it won't be surprise."

"I want to know."

"Don't be a kid Rukia, it's not like I'm going to kill you. You'll like it, I promise." Momo came closer and started to pull Rukia's hands up. "Now, let's go, we don't have time."

Rukia hesitated for a moment. That conversation with Rangiku was a bit strange… as was everything connected to Rangiku. The girl was just too straightforward for Rukia's taste.

She was walking with her enourmous boobs literally flowing from her skimpy blouses, hit on every guy who was worth attention, drunk as much as she could pour into her stomach and never really cared about it. What was the strangest thing, everybody seemed to like her and don't mind all those things at all. Girls forgave her flirting with their boyfriends, boys who were heartbroken because of her could eventually become best buddies with her… And the strangest thing was that Rukia liked her in some way as well, even though she hardly would admit it to herself.

That girl was just a shining star everywhere she showed up and people simply accepted her with all her disadvantages.

Rukia looked once again at pleading Momo and stood up slowly.

"Fine. I hope you're not gonna torture me either." Rukia smiled weakly and put her phone into the pocket.

"Suspicious as always." Momo giggled. "Just leave everything to me, tonight it's gonna be so much fun…" With that Momo put on her ballerinas, adjusted huge, fashionable bag and Rukia tied the shoelaces in her converses.

"Have I told you before that I am really glad that you came?" Momo closed the door and smiled to Rukia with usual, kind expression on her face.

"Umm… no… but…" Rukia felt a little embarrassed.

"So, I am really happy that you came here! I missed you soooooo much!" Momo caught her arm spontaneously and led to Rangiku's place .

Rukia looked at Momo, who was smiling from ear to ear, and babbling about her friends' recent heart issues, things she would like to buy, but couldn't afford, small, every-day quarrels with Toshiro…

It felt so easy and so strange. She had never talked to Ichigo like that.

No surprise, he's a guy and he probably wouldn't like to buy that cute, pink dress that costs a fortune in the city centre, Rukia thought sarcastically, but couldn't resist a feeling that even though she loved to spend time with Ichigo- climbing the trees, the long midnight walks with Zangetsu or being on the lockout while he was changing the grades in the log of a couple of guys who have pissed him off recently… - that was all cool, but all in all she was a girl and even though she has been fighting with her sensitive nature for the past 17 years, that was still a part of her.

"… and then he told her that he cannot be with her anymore, because he's moving house! Can you imagine that? When I imagine Toshiro is leaving, I feel like crying at once… I know there are phones, e-mails and other stuff, but that can't replace every day contact, don't you think?"

"Uhmm." Rukia answered shortly, because she lost the track of the conversation.

"You were not listening."

"Yeah…" Rukia chuckled nervously. "But… I'm really happy I'm here as well."

When Momo smiled in response, Rukia thought that it was probably the first time, after her sister's death, that someone has told her she was actually wanted.

~Hey everybody, long time no see. Things are really busy in my life. But I hope you'll still enjoy this chapter, even though it's full of mistakes. My English has become a little rusty, since I almost stopped using it. Still, hope everything's good with you and you'll find some time to tell me what you think of this chapter.

M.