Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any of its characters.

"Come on, Hitsugaya. Live a little!"

"Yes, Shiro-chan. This will be a good experience for you. We're introducing you to exotic foods and culture, and it's healthy to get out once in a while."

Hitsugaya scowled, not buying any of the words his two companions were attempting to pacify him with. He did not want to be here.

He looked out across the restaurant, taking in the colorful tapestries hanging on the walls that were also painted bright colors, and the excited couples and groups of friends seated in the many tables crowding the room already filled with many trinkets, chatting loudly over the deafening exotic music blaring out from the speakers situated around the room.

He wrinkled his nose in distaste at the scene before him. It was everything he hated; noise, crowds, foreign smells and sights and sounds. How could Shunsui and Ukitake have ever thought bringing him here – a Moroccan restaurant, for Pete's sake – would be good for him?

"I'm leaving," he grumbled, already turning away from the scene and making a beeline for the front door behind him.

A pair of large hands grabbed his shoulders roughly, and Shunsui steered him back. It wasn't too hard, seeing as how the man was almost twice his size.

"Oh, no, you're not," he chided. "We've already made a reservation for three. And trying new things is good for you. Especially you, Hitsugaya. You've been nothing but dull lately."

Ukitake was nodding vigorously in the background, in complete agreement with the words of his best friend.

"All you do lately is work," his soon to be ex-friend added.

"It's not my fault the crime rate in this city's gone up ridiculously in the last month!" he argued hotly. Some people even turned around to look at them in curiosity. He resisted the urge to flip them off. "What was I supposed to do? Let all the criminals go free so I could get all chummy with a stripper at some club with you two?"

"Don't be absurd, Hitsugaya," Shunsui replied, rolling his eyes. "That's not until tomorrow night."

And with that dumbfounding statement, he dragged the speechless white haired man to an empty table set for three, smack dab in the middle of the social gatherers. The noise level and aroma of unfamiliar foods was even stronger there, and Hitsugaya's face soured even more.

A waitress immediately rushed over to them. She was dressed to match the room. Her garments consisted of a bright red long dress-like cloth draped over her figure. A small red sash tied around her waist held the sparkled and bejeweled matching coat in place over the dress underneath, its sleeves long and loose over her arms. Wrapped around her forehead was a matching sparkling red scarf, its ends collected and hanging against one shoulder.

Overall, Hitsugaya thought it was a bit excessive.

"May I help you gentlemen?" she asked in a bubbly voice. She looked like she was enjoying herself, and Hitsugaya couldn't understand why, since her clothes looked very uncomfortable.

Shunsui sent her a flirtatious smile.

"My, my," he said softly. "You look very dashing, young lady."

The waitress flushed darkly, almost matching her clothes in color.

"Oh, th-thank you," she replied, flustered, and began playing with the end of her sleeves, looking bashful. "My manager says everyone is required to wear this."

"He certainly has good taste," Shunsui continued, enjoying the reaction he was receiving. It had been a while since he had been able to charm such a young woman, and he enjoyed knowing he was still able to. "It suits you so well. That shade of red makes your skin look so white."

The girl bit her lip, and nodded shyly before rushing away, forgetting to take their order. Shunsui looked rather proud of himself as he grinned at the other two at the table. Ukitake simply shook his head, but Hitsugaya scowled.

"Wait until I tell Nanao about this," he mumbled, and the pleased smile was dropped clean off.

"Y-you wouldn't really, would you? You know there's no one else for me but my dear Nanao-chan."

Before Hitsugaya could enjoy the satisfaction of making him suffer, a second waitress made her way over to them. She was dressed in similar garments as the first, except it was sleeveless and a deep blue color instead. The third contrast was that her face was set in a deep scowl of annoyance.

"Since Akane is unable to take your order right now," she said dryly, a glare in her eyes, "I guess I'll have to do it. Name's Aoi. What do you all want?"

The three placed the order they had not been able to do previously. Aoi simply nodded, a bored expression on her face, before stalking off.

"Why do I put up with you two?" Hitsugaya sighed after she was out of earshot, and Shunsui, who had been looking a little guilty at what he had done to young Akane, smirked.

"Because we were the only two college students willing to put up with the arrogant genius in our class who thought he was better than everyone else," he answered, snickering.

"You were rather unsociable," Ukitake remembered, a fond smile playing on his lips at the memory.

"I didn't act like I was better. I was better," Hitsugaya grumbled under his breath. Ukitake heard, and chuckled.

"Well, you were always at the top of the class," he admitted. "And you have such a well-paying job."

"Speaking of which, you'd think you'd be a little more interesting with that job of yours," Shunsui snorted. "I didn't know it was possible for someone to be a private detective with a success rate of one hundred percent and a special consultant for high profile cases for the Japanese Police, and still be such a stick-in-the-mud all the time."

"At least I take my work seriously," he shot back. "You leave Nanao to do everything. Frankly, I'm sure if you two hadn't been dating for so long, she would have quit being your secretary a long time ago."

"I'm sure of it, too," Shunsui replied, shrugging. "Makes me appreciate her even more."

Their conversation was cut off with the return of their waitress. She set their food in front of them, as well as a pitcher of water and three glasses.

"Will there be anything else?" she asked, tartly.

"No, thank you miss," Ukitake answered kindly, and her eyes softened slightly at his polite tone.

She bowed respectfully – more in his direction than the other two – and left them to their meal.

.. ..

"You sure about this?"

"Of course I am! Haven't you noticed the way he keeps coming out of his office and taking a look around the room? He's definitely expecting something to happen tonight."

"...I don't know. Wouldn't it have been on the news if they'd gotten a tip?"

"I heard they're trying to keep it quiet in order to finally catch him...or her."

"Excuse me," Ukitake interrupted the two gentlemen conversing at the table next to theirs. The two had been whispering, but the three had still heard their interesting topic, and their curiosity had been piqued. "May I ask what you gentlemen are talking about?"

One looked slightly uncomfortable at his inquiry and bit his lip as he looked over at his friend. The friend, however, looked delighted that they had asked, and seemed smug about the fact that he could flaunt his knowledge to someone who might perhaps be more believing than his companion.

"I heard the owner of this place is getting robbed tonight," he said in a hushed voice, leaning towards them so they could hear. Hitsugaya raised his eyebrows.

"And how would you know?" he asked.

"My cousin works for the police," the man replied, frowning a little at his distrust. "He said they got an anonymous tip from somebody who says he's gonna be targeted by..." - he paused as if to create a dramatic atmosphere, which was not possible with the music and noise in the background - "...the Farukon no Kage."

If he had expected the three to clutch their hearts and keel over in their chairs in shock, it did not happen. Instead, they stared at him blankly.

"Farukon no Kage?" Hitsugaya asked finally, eyebrows raised and lips quirked up in amusement. His investigative brain kicked into gear, however, as he pondered the name. 'Farukon...direct pronunciation of 'falcon' in English. Kage means 'shadow'...Falcon's Shadow?'

The man glared at him.

"Yes," he replied firmly. "I heard the owner's got some real valuables. Picked them up on a trip to Morocco a few years back. They used to hang around the room – part of the decor, you know – but he's removed them all. I'm sure he's being targeted. It's weird, but someone from the police station always gets a hot tip about when the robbery's gonna happen. Kage's real cocky from what I hear, and always finds some way to get rid of witnesses. Sometimes, they can even be in the same room as the police at the same time, yet they've never failed at stealing what they wanted."

"Oh? I haven't heard of any serial muders happening in this area? You did say this person finds ways to eliminate witnesses."

"See, the funny thing's that this robber has never hurt a soul. Anyone that's been found has only been knocked unconcious temporarily, and has had no injuries. In fact, it seems like Kage goes out of his or her way to avoid running into anyone or harming them."

"And who is this...Farukon no Kage?" Shunsui asked, looking very excited at the prospect of a robbery happening during their visit. Hitsugaya simply rolled his eyes.

The man grinned mysteriously.

"No one knows," he replied in a low tone. "No one's ever seen them. Of course, a lot of robbers are like that, but what's unique about the Kage is that there has never been a single trace or piece of evidence of their existence, except for the fact that valuables disappear right from under the owners' noses. We don't know if they're male or female, fat or thin, young or old, what they look like, not even their hair color. One time, a cop swore he smelled their cologne or perfume, but no one believes it."

"Hang on," Hitsugaya spoke up, his detective instincts kicking in. "How can this person be in the same room as the cops and still not be seen?"

"I heard they found some way to short circuit all the lights in the building." Surprisingly, it was the other man who spoke up. "By the time the backup generators kicked in ten seconds later, the painting the police had been guarding was long gone, and there was no trace of the robber in the perimeter at all. They were so fast it was like they tranported away, or simply vanished. All that was left was a small white feather."

"A feather?"

"Yes, that's Kage's signature. After each crime has been accomplished, they leave a white feather in place of the item they stole. Experts claim it's the feather of a gyrfalcon, and because this person is so mysterious and swift, they're called the Farukon no Kage."

Once again, Hitsugaya's keen mind flew into action. 'A gyrfalcon? Rather grand for a simple robbery. Hmmm. Gyrfalcon...spiritual meaning is 'maintain a knightly code in your activities.' The knightly code is obviously chivalry, which is associated with humility, respect, compassion, courtesy, honor, and integrity.' He mulled over the list. 'A message, perhaps? But, what kind of message is that to a victim you rob?'

"Told you they were cocky," the man's friend continued. "The strange part is that there's never any evidence on the feathers. Kage is really smart; no fingerprints or hair samples. Though the police study each one carefully, they've never found anything."

"And you think there's going to be a robbery tonight?" Ukitake, ever the kind soul, looked concerned.

"Oh, definitely. If you watch the doors to the manager's office, you'll notice he comes out every five minutes or so, looking real nervous. I wouldn't be surprised if the Farukon no Kage was in this room with us at this very moment."

And with that mysterious comment, the two turned back to one another to return to their conversation. The three looked at each other.

"So, what do you make of this?" Shunsui asked his younger genius friend. "Reckon they're onto something?"

"It's possible," he answered, eyebrows creased in contemplation," though I highly doubt it. This is one of the more undeveloped parts of the city, swimming with crime and poverty – the richer estates are in the northern area. Besides, I don't know enough about the situation, this person, or their patterns to predict when it will happen, or even whether if it will happen."

Shunsui seemed rather disappointed. Hitsugaya rolled his eyes at him a second time.

'I wonder who that man's cousin is,' he thought as he returned to his meal. 'He souldn't be divulging police information like this to him. Idiot.'

.. ..

The rest of dinner passed by in a blur for the detective. He vaguely remembered the foreign music on the speakers, that his lamb tasted slightly dry, Shunsui's rude jokes throughout the night, and Ukitake's weak smiles in response to his best friend's humor.

As expected, there was no robbery by any kind of criminal mastermind. However, the two men at the next table still had hopeful expressions on their faces. They had finished eating long ago, and had to pay their waitress extra to be allowed to occupy their table.

Not quickly enough, Shunsui was signaling Aoi for their check. She glared at him, but smiled when Ukitake complimented her on the food.

"I enjoyed it very much," he assured her.

"Thank you, sir." She was practically beaming.

As the three made to get up, she suddenly stopped them.

"We have entertainment starting now, if you would like to stay and watch," she informed them.

"Entertainment?" Shunsui asked, eyebrows raised in curiosity.

Aoi did not bother looking his way – Hitugaya smirked at this – or turning away from Ukitake as she answered.

"Uh-huh. I think the manager said they were a group of dancers."

"Sounds interesting," Shunsui mused. "I think we should stay."

"No," Hitsugaya snapped. "Let's go."

But the two were already re-seating themselves, and he scowled as he had no choice but to follow.

After a moment, the music that had been playing stopped – the new silence seemed almost deafening after all the noise. But then, a very different song began to play.

Slowly, the curtains on the stage at the front of the room opened, and a group of eight women stepped out.

They were all dressed the exact same way, but in different colors, just like the waitresses in the restaurant. However, their clothes were different, and, in Hitsugaya's opinion, they were very gaudy and demeaning.

Each woman was dressed in an excessively sequined tube top, their midriffs and shoulders and arms bare for the room to see. Their legs were covered in parachute pants made of silk material, hanging low on their hips, with belts matching their tops sewn to the garment. Their feet were bare, but masks matching the color of their choice, tied from the nose down so the audience could only see their eyes, covered their faces.

The eyes, too, however, were very overly done. Each pair was caked with dark eye make-up, perhaps to create a sense of mystery, though he thought they looked ridiculous. All eight women had their hair tied up in a tame bun at the nape of their neck, with bangs framing their faces over their mask. Styled into their hair was a net covering, again a matching color, and each wore gold bagels on their wrists and ankles.

The worst part was that each of their costumes was heavily adorned with tiny bells sewn onto their clothing. When they moved – and they moved a lot, as that was their job – a high-pitched noise sounded as they all rang at the same time, irritating his ears.

Everyone else admired and applauded them as they shook their hips, twirled around the room, and pulled audience members to dance with them, but he was aggravated by the display, and wished Shunsui and Ukitake weren't so delighted by the dance so they could leave. He was sulking.

And then, someone caught his eye.

It was a petite dancer, hardly taller than him, clothed in a pale purple color that complemented her creamy skin very well. Her wavy black hair was tied up like the rest, but the purple netting in it stood out from the color, and it suited her. Her eyes were a deep shade of gray, and although the make-up made the other girls seem cheap, the darkness surrounding her eyes truly made her look alluring and mysterious, as had been intended.

As she twirled by their table, he got a good look at her, and blushed as he took notice of her anatomy. She was very curvy; her waist was petite, her hips dainty, her stomach flat, and her legs long. Overcoming his sudden embarrassment, he forced himself to take a closer look. What struck him as odd was that her body was undoubtedly very fit. Her arms held small muscles – definitely not an unattractive size, in his opinion – as if she spent much time working out on her upper body strength.

And now that he had noticed, the rest of her physique was the same way. Her abs were prominent, her calves seemed sturdy, and she had a certain grace in her lithe movements. She was certainly very poised; he watched her maneuver her way through the jungle of tables gracefully, her steps never faltering, her movements never hesitating as she danced for her audience.

But perhaps he was over thinking it; it was natural for a dancer to develop strong muscles from the rigorous exercise that came with the job. Yet he couldn't shake the feeling that this was no average dancer. His uncertainty was quelled, however, only a moment later.

No one else had noticed, but he did, perhaps because he had been trained to catch details. His eyes widened.

The dancer he had been watching shot out her hand and brushed her fingers against the neck of an unsuspecting waitress in the corner of the room, pressing her pressure point very discreetly - his heart jolted as he recognized her as the bubbly, but shy, Akane. Because of the noise and laughter and eye-catching activities in the room, no one noticed when the maid crumpled to the floor, or when the dancer used her bare foot to kick one of the draperies on the wall over her body, covering her from view.

His mind was screaming at him to call attention to the screen, to take control of the commotion, to arrest the dancer who had just assaulted a young girl in public.

But he didn't. He couldn't.

Something compelled him to stay in his seat, to simply watch the mystifying dancer as she moved across the room, to allow her to go free. And that's exactly what he did.

He watched as she spun around, as she shook her hips, as she swiftly knocked over one of the plates resting atop one of the tables onto the woman seated there without anyone realizing it was her doing. The woman shrieked and ordered her boyfriend to gather their things to head out.

"Do you have any idea how expensive this dress was?! We need to get this dry-cleaned right away! If it stains..."

He could hear the cries of the woman as she rushed out the front door, but his eyes still had not left the form dancing around the room, a mischievous gleam in her own eyes.

Soon, more unconscious figures had been slyly hidden under draperies, more "accidents" had caused people to storm out of the restaurant earlier than planned, and half the room had emptied out before the end of the first dance. Yet no one noticed that this cunning dancer was the cause of all this – except him.

He didn't understand what she was doing.

'Reducing witnesses,' was the first thought that popped into his mind. But he shook his head, forcing the idea out. It was absurd; what was she going to do that required her to have no witnesses, anyway?

The manager was baffled. He had been standing in a corner of the room, watching the dance with satisfaction at first because it had been so popular with visitors, but suddenly, he had lost all of his customers. How?

"They really are something, huh, Hitsugaya?" Shunsui asked him, watching the dancers with fascination.

"I'd say he thinks so," Ukitake replied, a small smirk on his face. "He's been staring at one of them this entire time."

It took Shunsui all but two seconds to process this with a slack jaw, and then he grinned widely.

"Hitsugaya, you dog! I didn't know you had it in you!"

"That's not it!"

But any other argument he had was drowned out by the sound of the fire alarm. He whirled his head towards his mystery woman and saw her elbow swiftly swing far away from the alarm at the other end of the room. Panic set in immediately. The remaining guests and dancers were suddenly hysterical as they leaped out of their chairs and began pushing one another in a frenzy to get to the exit.

"Shiro-chan, let's go!"

Ukitake's words barely registered in his mind, as his eyes never strayed from the person they had been observing. As his two companions rushed for the front door with the throng of other people, he chose to continue watching her. She was poised at a corner of the room, hidden underneath the shadows, quietly eying the frantic crowd in search of her target. And when she found it, her eyes lit up in excitement.

He followed her line of sight and saw the manager of the restaurant – a small and chubby man, balding at an early age – rush farther into his building, and back into his office.

Now that was odd; the fire alarms were ringing, so why would he choose to head towards danger?

The mystery was solved when he came barreling back into the room a second later. But there was something different about him. Around his neck now was a thin gold chain, and attached to it was a small charm, an exotic design engraved into it.

He watched as the man followed his guests and employees to the front door, as the sneaky dancer eyed the locket with anticipation, as she crouched and then bolted after him with unnatural speed and grace, her gaze never leaving the locket.

He didn't know what compelled him to do it.

One minute he was watching the masked dancer rush towards the manager running for the door, his hand wrapped tightly around the locket hanging from his neck, and the next, he had stuck his foot out from under the table, just as the man ran past him. The portly man tripped over it, and when he landed on the floor headfirst, he was unconscious.

If anybody ever found out, he would be an accomplice to a heinous crime. But no one would find out. The entire area had emptied, save for him, the dancer, and the unconscious body lying beside him. He heard the sirens of fire trucks approaching outside, the ringing fire alarms a sign that they were all in danger.

But they weren't, because the Farukon no Kage had gotten what she had wanted.

In one swoop, she grabbed the locket hanging out from the man's jacket and pulled it off with an easy tug. Then, she reached into her tube top – he flushed and looked away quickly – and pulled out a small, white feather. Smoothing it out, she let it drop to the floor, where it drifted, ever so slowly, onto the unconscious manager still lying there, marking the completion of her crime.

Jut before she left, to his complete surprise, she lunged sideways onto his table, crouching down so they were face-to-face.

As she leaned forward without hesitation, she stuck a finger under her mask and tugged it down. He had only one moment to take in her beauty – the shining obsidian bangs framing her creamy white face, the alluring dark orbs framed by long lashes and glittering with mischief, the small round nose that made her face seem delicate, and the plump pink mouth, curled into a smirk to match the slyness in her eyes – before she grabbed the back of his head, pushed his face forward forcefully, and pressed her lips hotly to his.

He didn't move, didn't react. His hands clutched the edge of the table as he let this unknown woman, possibly a wanted criminal, kiss him with fervor. When she pulled back, her purple mask drifted to his lap, and her fully visible face was set in amusement, probably at his dumbstruck expression.

She leaned towards his ear slowly, and he heard a soft giggle escape her.

"Thanks for the help, short stuff."

And then the Farukon no Kage leaped away, jumping skillfully and soundlessly through an open window, her golden prize clutched tightly in her hand as she disappeared into the night.

Okay, I totally couldn't resist putting this up any longer! If any of you have read my profile, you knew I was working on this (hooray for cliché plotlines!). Suddenly hit with inspiraton all this week, I have 5 (super long) chapters completed and 2 in-progress (half done). I hadn't planned on putting this up at all, but I really want to know how many people would actually want to read the rest of this. This is just a little teaser, and I'm not putting up the rest until I am completely finished (it helps, since I've been changing little details around a lot, but this chapter will not change), so I can focus on my other stories.

And I totally picked a super lame name for her thief alias on purpose, just because I thought it was funny :P I also love punny names, which is why the waitress in red is named Akane (茜) meaning "brilliant red," and the waitress in blue is named Aoi (碧) meaning "blue" (like me!) :D

Again, if you've read my profile, you know the next few chapters will be flashbacks to explain Toushiro and Karin's lives up to this point. And then the story picks up right from where I left off here. So, once I finish, Toushiro's story is up next!