Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.

The Substitute

"Okay," he said to himself, hitching his bag higher on his shoulder and straightening his tie. "New year, new school, new students, new curriculum," he said with forced enthusiasm, ending with a cheerless, "But it's still just the same old thing." He remembered the picture he had tucked inside his bag, letting its memory soften the scowl lines of his face. Taken months ago at another school, it had captured a demure smile and the light in her eyes, but he had seen a glimpse of more in the brief amount of time they'd spent together.

With a wistful sigh, he pushed open the door to the classroom and walked confidently inside. The noise of chatting students died off as they noticed a stranger in their midst. "Good morning class, your normal English Literature instructor, Mister Luisenbarn, is sick this week, so I'll be filling in." He set his bag down and leaned on the podium at the front of the class. "My name is Mister Kurosaki, and I'll be your substitute."

Ichigo collapsed heavily into one of the mismatched breakroom chairs, setting his gradebook and class lesson notes on the table beside him. Rubbing his eyes, he heard someone settle into the opposite chair as a trickle of other teachers began filtering in for lunch.

"So, how are you settling in?"

Ichigo looked to the side, finding another teacher addressing with an almost predatory gleam in his eye. "Fine, so far," Ichigo hedged, mildly unsettled at such a direct question.

"Grimmjow Jeagerjaques," he introduced, holding out his hand to shake.

Taking it, he gave it a firm shake as he said, "Ichigo Kurosaki."

"Hmm," Grimmjow said, studying Ichigo. "Firm without crushing, confident grip even at an awkward angle, single shake and release." Ichigo quirked an eyebrow at him but said nothing. "You can tell a lot about someone from the way they shake hands," Grimmjow explained.

"Really Grimmjow," spoke another man, coming to a stop beside him, "This level of armchair psychology is beneath you." There was a cool professionalism to him, Ichigo noticed, standing beside Grimmjow with his hands in his pockets, a detached, almost bored look on his face.

Grimmjow made a noncommittal noise as he shrugged in response. "I'm just makin' the new guy feel welcome."

"Most would not welcome being psychoanalyzed outside of a therapy session, based entirely on something as subjective as a handshake," the other said, one of his dark brows rising even as his voice remained uninflected.

"Yeah yeah," Grimmjow said, waving away the man's critique as if were nothing more than a fly. Ichigo had the impression these two must verbally spar often. "Let me introduce you to Barragan's sub before I get around to telling you how wrong you are. Ichigo Kurosaki, meet my colleague, and I use the term loosely, Ulquiorra Schiffer." They nodded professionally to each other as Grimmjow continued, "He teaches philosophy and claims to be a nihilist, though I believe it's just an excuse to act dour and emotionally stunted."

"And Mister Jeagerjaques claims to instruct the students in psychology, though it is obvious his interest in the field stem from issues of abandonment and inadequacy," Ulquiorra countered smoothly, utterly nonplussed and sitting at the last chair at Ichigo's side table.

Philosophy and psychology, no wonder they snarked at each other. Apparently they've had this argument before, Ichigo surmised. "So, you two are... friends?"

Grimmjow gave a sidelong glance at Ulquiorra, who mutely poured himself a cup of coffee from a thermos, before shrugging again. "I suppose," he said finally.

"Though it is rare for us to socialize outside of work," Ulquiorra added.

Grimmjow chuckled at him. "Unless we're talking about a certain someone, it's rare for you to socialize, period. "

Ichigo caught the warning look that Ulquiorra shot to Grimmjow, but a commotion from the breakroom door drew his attention. In walked three more teachers, two of which were embroiled in a heated conversation.

"Ah," said Grimmjow, pointing to the trio, "That's Mister Grantz, teaches biology, arguing again with Miss Harribel, who teaches chemistry. The one serenely ignoring the both of them is Mister Starrk, who teaches-"

"Apathy," Ulquiorra interjected.

"Music," Grimmjow corrected. "Why don't you head down to the cafeteria, Ulquiorra? It would cheer you up."

"That is really none of your concern, Grimmjow," Ulquiorra said, his tone as even and measured as ever.

"What's down in the cafeteria?" Ichigo felt compelled to ask, having the conversational bait laid so directly at his feet.

The sound of a fist pounding on the door jolted their conversation, and everyone else's, to a halt. "STARRK!" called a young woman's voice from the other side of the door.

Another teacher, Harribel Ichigo recalled, opened to door to find an upper classman standing there. They looked blankly at each other for a moment before the teacher asked her, "Yes, Lilynette?"

"Hi Tia, is Starrk in here?"

"Starrk," she called over her shoulder, tendrils of blond hair framing her face as she looked in his direction. "Your T-A requires your presence," she added with a hint of amusement.

Ichigo watched Mister Starrk, a man who's scruffy good looks suited his carefully cultured air of indifference, brush past Miss Harribel a bit closer than he strictly needed to as he motioned to his teacher's assistant, who immediately began haranguing him until the door closed again, blocking out the noise. "That's interesting."

"What's interesting?" Grimmjow prompted around a mouthful of sandwich.

"Starrk's T-A called her Tia, but calls him Starrk."

"Eh," he shrugged, "Everyone calls him Starrk."

"Still," Ichigo continued. "How many students call their instructors by their first names? Teachers don't even do it," he glanced at Grimmjow and Ulquiorra, "Unless they're friends."

Ulquiorra was giving him a critical, calculating look. "Go on."

"And since she's Starrk's T-A, maybe she picked it up from him," Ichigo guessed, "That's all."

"Ichigo Kurosaki," Grimmjow said, turning to pointedly pin Ulquiorra with a feral smile. "Are you suggesting a workplace relationship between Miss Harribel and Mister Starrk, beyond the boundaries of what is strictly professional?"

"She and I are different, Grimmjow, she's not an instructor," Ulquiorra said, apparently answering an unspoken implication as his voice colored with emphasis for the first time. "Mister Kurosaki's powers of observation aside, Miss Harribel and Mister Starrk are nothing if not discreet."

"Wait, so I'm right?" Ichigo broke in, trying to diffuse the real tension that had crept between them. Whatever Grimmjow was needling Ulquiorra with, it looked like it was the only thing that could really irritate him. "And who's not an instructor?"

"Oh yeah, you're right," Grimmjow huffed, "You're a sharp one, half our staff doesn't even know, and the ones who do don't really care. Anyway, the two of them aren't the only ones enjoying a little workplace action, however frowned upon it might be, isn't that right Ulquiorra?"

Ulquiorra said nothing, only sat and silently sipped his coffee.

"Hey, if he can figure out Starrk and Tia like he did, he's going to figure out you two. It's just a matter of time," Grimmjow pointed out to Ulquiorra. He turned to Ichigo, "Besides, you're a sub, it's not like you'd care all that much, nothing stopping you from sampling the local flavor, right?"

Ichigo and Ulquiorra both choked on their drinks.

"I didn't think it possible, but you have sunk to a new level of crassness," Ulquiorra intoned.

"I'm just saying if anyone's not gonna care slash done it already, it's gonna be this guy," Grimmjow said, indicating Ichigo.

"Done what already?" Ichigo asked, shifting his gaze from one to the other.

Grimmjow paused a long beat before saying, "I take back what I said about you being sharp."

"He means date another teacher at the school," Ulquiorra explained, a long-suffering look on his face.

"Oh," Ichigo said, his gut clenching uncomfortably. "And I take it you are, then?" he asked, glancing around. "Who?"

"Her," Grimmjow said, indicating the door with a jerk of his head. "Man it feels good not to be the only one with this fucking secret anymore, it was driving me mad," he muttered.

A rolling cart was being wheeled into the breakroom, the top of it bearing a thickly frosted cake designed with the school crest done in white and chocolate and pushed by a young woman wearing a chef's apron over her clothes. She gave the assembled teachers a dazzlingly bright smile, her grey eyes twinkling with enthused happiness as she wheeled the cake into the room. Her sunset auburn hair bounced about her shoulders nearly as much as other parts of her as she vigorously brushed flour from her hands onto her apron.

"Cake!" she announced, somewhat unnecessarily. If she noticed, she didn't show it. "Left over from first lunch, I guess the students weren't too interested."

"Orihime Inoue," Grimmjow whispered, "Nice girl, but don't eat anything she gives you."

"Well, enjoy!" Orihime said to the roomful of teachers, blushing slightly as she shot a glance to Ulquiorra before slipping back out the door. For his part, Ulquiorra remained as stoic and expressionless as a statue, but his eyes followed her out the door. True to Grimmjow's warning, no one approached the cake to take a slice and Ichigo felt perfectly fine avoiding it as well.

"You never answered if you had or not," Grimmjow said, returning to their topic. "Dated another teacher," he continued at Ichigo's blank look.

"Oh," Ichigo said, leaning his head back and looking upwards. He searched the tiles above him before saying, "Yeah, almost."

"Almost? How do you almost date someone?"

"She was the calculus teacher at Shino Academy Highschool," Ichigo said quietly, a wry smile on his face as he thought back to it. "And she was unlike anyone I've ever met."

The air throughout the school was buzzing with end of school energy, affecting students and staff alike. No matter where he looked, the promise of their impending release was all around. Final exams would soon be over, grades would soon be submitted, vacations would soon begin.

At least, for most people.

Teacher salaries were tough to live on, substitute teacher salaries even tougher. Ichigo had agreed to teach a summer course and had kicked himself over the decision every day since, doubly hard now that he was watching the students and staff act like the day was over despite it being only lunch time.

Heading to the teacher's lounge upstairs to get away from the expectant atmosphere, he found it thankfully tranquil and deserted. Heaving a relieved sigh, he fished some coins from his pocket and dropped them into the soda machine, pausing as he stooped to retrieve the can when he heard a rustle of papers. Sitting in the back of the lounge, absorbed in grading to the exclusion of all else, was another teacher.

Midnight haired and slight of frame, she was drawn in and tense as her blue-violet eyes studied the sheets before her with an intense scrutiny at odds with the jovial, boisterous mood expressed by the other staff and students. He had seen her before, at her going-away party a few days ago. This was her last day, so why was she here, meticulously reviewing her student's papers? Surely she had loads of time to do that before the grade submission deadline?


She flipped the page and scribbled something in the margins, not hearing or not caring to answer him.


Her eyes snapped up to his as her pencil snapped down to the table. "What?" she demanded, steel in her voice.

"I have an extra sixty cents, do you want one?" he sniped back in the same tone, holding the can aloft.

She studied him for a long moment before blowing out her breath and closing her eyes, the stray bang across her forehead lifting in the gust before falling back into place. "Yes, thank you," she said finally, in a small but warm, apologizing tone.

He brought her the one she indicated and set it next to her, silently asking if he could sit at her table. She gave him an appraising look, glanced significantly around at the myriad of empty tables and chairs, but still kicked the chair out for him to sit anyway.

"I saw you," Ichigo said, "At your party, the day before yesterday." She nodded wordlessly between sips of her drink. "You looked bored." She cracked a smile at that, tucking her pencil behind her ear and tilting her head in agreement.

"Not really my kind of party," she said. "I saw you there too though, but you kind of stand out." She pointed up to his bright orange hair. "You're subbing for Professor Ukitake, right?"

"Right," he agreed, somewhat distracted. While she wore a single small, white snowflake-style earring in each ear, what caught his attention was that the pencil had lifted her hair away revealing they were pierced several more times in different places. Intriguing. "Really I'm just handling his final for him while he's out."

She didn't respond right away, only absently stared into the distance and ran her fingers across the lip of the aluminum can. Soft, pliant skin makes a certain noise when dragged over the edge of a soda can, a light kind of rubbing echo. Instead, her fingers made a hard scrape against the metal. Only a fingertip that had been toughened and callused could do that. More intriguing.

"Professor Ukitake is a good man," she said eventually, clearing her throat and blinking away the mist in her eyes.

"So, you never mentioned where you were going after this," Ichigo said, taking the conversation in another direction. "Which school are you headed to?"

She gave a small, true laugh as she leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. "I'm actually leaving the profession."

"Moving on to something different?" Ichigo asked.

"Yeah, you could say that," she chuckled, but continued more somberly, "I love teaching, I love doing what I do, and I might come back to it eventually but I think I need to take some time for myself, see where I end up."

"Good for you," Ichigo said, a note of admiration in his voice as he saluted her with his half finished soda.

She glanced at him strangely, as if gauging his intent. "That's it then? You're not going to try to talk me out of it, or snidely imply I'm burned out?"

"Why would I do that?" he asked honestly, "I think it's important to experience the new, try out different things. How else would you find things you really like?"

"Thank you," she said, somewhat shocked, "For understanding. Not everyone does, so not everyone approves."

It was his turn to shrug this time. "I wouldn't worry about what anyone else thinks. It's what you want to do right?"

She straightened up in her chair, nodding firmly. "It is."

"Well then I'm sure you'll be great," he said before taking another sip, as if it was a given fact.

"What about you?" she asked after a moment, fighting away a smile and the color in her cheeks. "You're not going to be subbing for lit classes forever, right?"

Ichigo paused, his drink halfway to his lips, and stared off into space for a long moment. He hitched a half smile on his face and looked away. "Eh, I'm sure I'll think of something," he evaded. Glancing back at her, he found her captivating blue-violet eyes boring into him.

"The truth," she demanded.

"I suppose I'd like to be a writer, one day," he admitted quietly, their eyes locked. He could begin to feel a change in the room, something intangible but real none-the-less. A shift in posture, a tilt of a head, a curve of a lip, a nervous energy in their fingers, all building on each other.

"I suppose I'll read your book then, one day," she replied, just as quietly, a ghost of a smile slipping onto her fair face.

The snap of a phone's camera shutter broke the hushed reverie that had settled in the room, followed by a squeal and a high velocity rush of strawberry tresses, suddenly blocking from view.

"Oh my God, I'm going to miss you!" came a woman's earnest voice as the owner released her from a crushing hug and looked her square in the eye. "You'll come back and visit, right?" she pleaded, the waves of hair tumbling around like a shampoo commercial as she gave her a shake for good measure.

"Of course, Rangiku," she said, expertly extricating herself and gathering up her things with a single, efficient sweep of her hand. "It was... nice, talking with you," she said to Ichigo as she slipped around him, heading for the door.

"Oh!" Rangiku exclaimed, looking his direction. Surprise melted away to obvious, and sultry, appraisal as she looked him up and down. "You're the new guy, huh?" she purred.

Feeling sized up like a piece of meat, Ichigo slid out the far side of his chair as he mumbled a greeting, trying to follow her out the door as it was already closing behind her. Making a hasty exit and seeing her headed down stairs, he tried to catch up to her as the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. In moments, the corridor was swarmed with students returning inside, away from the stifling heat and humidity of early summer.

Managing to make his way down the stairs and out onto the quad, he saw her across the way just as a summer storm began sprinkling a patter of raindrops onto the hot concrete. Rushing into the lightly falling rain, he called out to her. "Wait..."

She turned towards him, a quirk to her eyebrows as she watched him come close, the rain beginning to soak them both. If she was concerned with getting wet, she didn't show it, and neither did he.

"Listen," he began, feeling the surge of self-consciousness right before attempting something daring, but resolutely soldiering on. "Do you want to get a coffee sometime?" he asked, the rainwater turning his orange spikes to copper. He had the feeling that he wasn't her usual type, but perhaps she'd be willing to try something new, something different.

She gave him an amused half-smile and reached up to brush the water drops from the hair over his eyes. "What's your name, substitute?"

"Ichigo. Ichigo Kurosaki."

"I'm Rukia Kuchiki," she smiled. "Next time we see each other, I'd really like that."

"Great," he replied, relieved. "Next time."

"We better get going," Rukia suggested, the two of them grinning at each other somewhat bashfully as they stood out in the rain. "The students aren't going to teach themselves."

"That's too bad really," he commented, trying to let her know he wouldn't be opposed to spending more time with her, even out in the rain.

He watched her turn back, her eyes lingering over her shoulder towards him as she made her way to her classroom. "It is," she agreed right before stepping out of earshot, only then turning away from him.

"How do like you coffee?" he called to her.

"Cream, and cinnamon. No sugar," she called back before slipping inside.

Standing alone in the warm summer rain, Ichigo realized he was going to be late to teach his afternoon class and hurried back the way he came. There was one more thing he had to do before though, he had to find Rangiku and get a copy of that photo.

"And I never saw her again," Ichigo said, tucking the picture of the two of them, caught in a moment together, their respective gruff and cold exteriors replaced by a measure of vulnerability, hinting at mutual attraction. "Finals ran long that day," he added after clearing his throat, "The school was a ghost town by the time I got out, and summer school started the next Monday, so I never had a chance to find her."

"Wow," Grimmjow said gruffly, "That's so fuckin' sweet it makes my teeth hurt."

"Perhaps you should be a writer, Kurosaki," Ulquiorra suggested, "It has all the elements of a classic tragedy."

"Nah," Ichigo chuckled, "Everyone would have to die at the end then."

"Ugh, screw that," Grimmjow said, apparently deciding something as he slapped his knees, "We're going out tonight instead, no work, no students, no bullshit and yes you're coming Ulquiorra, bring Orihime, I don't care. C'mon man, time to try something new, who knows, you might like it."

Ichigo knew he looked skeptical but didn't want alienate his new co-workers. "Alright, where?" he acquiesced.

"New place, just opened. Called Las Noches."

Ichigo sat at someone else's desk, in someone else's classroom, reading someone else's lesson plan and reviewing someone else's assignments. Whoever this Luisenbarn guy was, he was only letting his students skim the surface of Hamlet instead of really mining it for the deeper nuance and meaning. It was almost a crime, he thought to himself. Pushing the whole mess away from him, he leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling, wondering just how much leeway he had in interpreting the lesson plan.

Checking the clock, he let a sigh escape his lips, considering the invitation he had received earlier that day. It was getting late and he was still at the school, since there was no real point in heading back to his tiny apartment. He considered just sending a text to Grimmjow to cancel, tugging his tie a bit looser and swiveling around in the chair. Early evening had dropped the temperature outside, loosening the steel gray clouds that had built in the late August afternoon and a light rain had been falling for a while. As he watched, the rain began to lessen until only a few rivulets of water still trickled down the large window panes, the clouds beyond scudding away to reveal a wide night sky of crystalline stars.

Ichigo grabbed his jacket and headed for his car, sending a text to Grimmjow telling him he'd be there in ten minutes.

Arriving at the club, he made his way inside just as it had begun filling up. Grimmjow had spotted him walking in and had waved him over to their table, a cozy little booth tucked near the bar with a clear view of the stage and dance floor.

"You didn't change?" Grimmjow complained.

"I came right from the school," Ichigo explained, realizing he looked a bit out of place next to Grimmjow in jeans and a tee-shirt.

He sat down, unknowingly forcing Orihime practically onto Ulquiorra's lap, causing her to blush furiously while the black haired man simply took it in stride. "Who's playing tonight?" Ichigo asked, mostly to fill the lull in conversation.

"Some local band, I guess they're pretty good. We're lucky we got a table, the place is gonna get packed," Grimmjow explained, elevating his voice over the growing din.

"I'm going to get a drink, anyone want anything?" Ichigo said, easing out of the booth. He took their drink orders to the bartender, an austere looking young man in square rimmed spectacles who held himself with a severe rigidity beyond his years. Collecting two beers, a scotch, neat, and something Orihime had dubbed a 'Mexican Painkiller' composed of tequila and cranberry juice, he made his way back through the growing crowd.

His eyes down as he passed out drinks, he heard an announcer say the name of the band as they came onstage to tune and the noise level in club jumped considerably as the crowd's excitement level rose. Taking a drink of his beer, he was about to slide back into his seat when he heard-

"Thanks for having us tonight."

The beer in his stomach had turned to ice water and he felt rooted to the spot. Swiveling around, he couldn't be sure what he'd heard was real or not. Ignoring their questions, Ichigo stepped away from the group at the table, using his height to an advantage as he craned around get a view of the stage.

A red, fingerless glove adjusted the microphone down to her level, and suddenly, there she was. Midnight haired, slight of frame, different but still the same. Drawing closer to the stage, he wound his way through the noisy crowd and watched her, looking just as confident and comfortable beneath the stage lights as she had in the classroom.

She had traded her simple and modest hairstyle, skirt and blouse for something more severe and form fitting. He could see the expression on her face, excited and happy, infused by the energy of the crowd as she reverently settled the strap of a pristine, immaculately white electric guitar across her shoulder. The piercings had returned to her ears and as she turned back to the crowd he felt his eyebrows shoot upwards. Through the snug fabric of the shirt she wore it was clear her ears weren't the only things she'd pierced.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he looked out of place in his shirt and tie, standing among provocatively dressed young women and comfortably dressed young men, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He watched her adjust the levels on her guitar and nod to her bandmates. With flick of her strumming hand she slid a thundering power chord down the neck of her guitar, walking the line between harmony and noise, as the band launched into its opening song. The crowd went wild, cheering with abandon as Ichigo realizing he had heard the same song once or twice on the radio. Between the drums and bass, the beat was driving and powerful, and once the lead guitar came in to compliment her rhythm, it was hard not to be affected by the music.

He made his way slowly back to the table, finding that Orihime had wheedled Ulquiorra out to the dance floor and Grimmjow chatting up an impressively built young woman, her hair a subdued but rich shade of teal. He launched out of the booth once Ichigo returned, taking her eagerly to the dance floor as well while thanking Ichigo for holding the table. There Ichigo sat through the entire set, devouring the music and watching her sing. The music was nothing if not danceable, but the lyrics she had assembled were complex and nuanced, laden with emotion that verged on confessional.

It was cathartic, he realized as the set came to an end, singing about lost opportunities and frustrations, having to fit into molds she couldn't and trying to please people who didn't care. It would have been hard for anyone to see, but Ichigo still caught the slight mistiness in her heavily shadowed but still luminous blue-violet eyes. Seizing upon an idea, Ichigo left the table and headed immediately for the serious looking bartender, making his request and watching him push his glasses up his nose as he considered it.

Ichigo returned to the table, carefully carrying his own new drink, thankfully finding it still vacant. Sitting down, he saw the bartender make his way around the edge of the room and up onto the stage, handing out a few bottles of water to appreciative band members with the notable exception of the lead singer. To her he produced a single steaming cup of coffee, set upon a napkin and saucer.

The crowd's chatter had picked up at her bewildered look, taking the cup and lifting it to her lips. Her eyes were immediately riveted to the revealed napkin sitting on the saucer. Snapping her head up and hooding her eyes, she peered out into the crowd, waving away her bandmates' inquiries as she hopped off the stage, carrying the cup of coffee with her.

"You remembered," she said, coming to a stop at his table and gently setting the napkin down in front of him. The crowd had parted around her and was now staring with rapt attention at the two of them, seemingly from different worlds but looking at each with obvious recognition.

"How could I forget?" he asked, glancing from her down to the napkin, 'cream and cinnamon, no sugar' written across it.

"So can I sit down? I did say next time we met, we could have coffee."

Ichigo blew across the lip of his own coffee cup, meeting her eyes again. "I'd really like that," he answered with a smile. She slipped into the seat beside him, that ghost of a smile he remembered curving her lips once again.

"I told you, you'd be great," he said, somewhat breathlessly, his thumb tracing across her forehead and futilely trying to tame her errant bang. She sinuously twisted in his arms, kicking the tangled sheets off of them to enjoy the cool, crisp air against her skin as she worked to get her own breathing and heartbeat under control. Leaning back, she arched a wry eyebrow at him, daring him to clarify. "When you said you were leaving teaching, I told you that you'd be great," he laughed. "Though you're great at other things too," he added with a grin.

"I'm glad I tried something different," she said, folding her hands on his bare chest and setting her chin on them, "You know, something new. I think I found something I like."


"Yeah, a lot." Languidly relaxing against his chest, feeling his heart beating beneath her hands, their bodies pressed comfortably together, she let the silence draw out before finally asking, "What about you? Have you written your book yet?"

"No," he said, his tone tinged with self-deprecating humor and just a touch of bitter regret. He was half-concerned she would do what everyone else had done and demand an explanation as to why, or else try to commiserate with him on the rigors of a schedule that kept him too busy to pursue his writing. He thought his concerns were founded when he felt her push herself away from him, uncoiling her legs from his and taking the warmth of her body with her.

His eyes drooped closed expecting the guilt that accompanied those reactions, but when he opened them to regard her, he found she had pushed herself up and was resting back on her knees. Her body bared before him, wearing just her piercings and a sly smile, it was the understanding shining in the blue-violet pools of her eyes that captivated his attention.

She leaned forward, capturing his lips with her own. "Well maybe-" she began, exchanging her position for something more brazenly suggestive. "-You just need-" She took his hands and placed them firmly back on her body. Leaning back down to kiss him again, she stopped, letting her breath feather across the lines of his neck as she whispered, "-Some inspiration."

Sometime later, his small apartment lit by the faint glow of his old laptop, Ichigo felt a stirring at his side as she lifted her head in sleep-muddled bleariness. He looked down at her apologetically and angled the laptop screen further away from her. Not one to be denied, she pushed herself up to see what he was doing. Taking a look at the screen and nodding approvingly, she then laid back down and absently threw an arm over his waist, captured one of his thighs between her own and nodded off back to sleep.

Ichigo tried again to move the lock of hair that had drifted across her brow, failed, and smiled ruefully before returning to his laptop.

'Chapter 1' was written at the top of the page. Long into the night, his tiny apartment was filled with the soft clicking of keys.

The End.

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