A/N: Thank you to those who reviewed (and reviewed again!) in the second chapter. Your reviews made me feel fuzzy :)

Angelcakes4611, soinlovewithbleach, xXStarGirl13Xx, Cutie Emo Panda, Saverina, SeXyNaUgHTyBitChYmE, BITCH OF LOVE, cprEe, Titania, garu23 (sorry I made you wait so long!), Hef'Rani, Animaddie, henjien, .stars, xwhitemoonx, stars, TingBlingKing, BleachFan

BEFORE I FORGET GUYS - Listen to 'Waking Dream' by Natalie Walker or 'Shattered' by Trading Yesterday. They are just UNF~

Both so haunting but beautiful...

Thank you to my lovely Beta-Reader, Chappy12 for editing this chapter.


"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go."
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


3

At the morning assembly at school the next day, Rukia was told the new evacuation procedures. The principal had remained calm as he spoke, even though ripples of apprehension grew amongst the students. There was restlessness in the air. Murmuring filled the courtyard. Teachers remained stoic and expressionless, fencing the teenagers. The principal, Otu-senpai, had called, "This is a time not to panic. But we cannot stress enough that in case of such emergencies we must know how to effectively evacuate the building with as little trouble as possible."

The assembly only heightened the consternation within everyone. Rukia was amongst the very few that remained quiet and calm. After all, Ichigo on two occasions had mentioned that war might not be that far away from the city. She had dealt with that truth in her own way. But to see that little seed of knowledge been shown to a crowd, she couldn't help but to inwardly feel nervous.

No one was ready for war; it was evident within the tension in the air. People held their breath, stole glances at others. Some dropped their heads to their shoes, their eyes glazed over in thought. When the assembly was finished, conversation began. It was all the same. Some nervous chuckles came from those who didn't believe it. I mean, the war was nowhere near the city, right? I mean, they would have said something on the news, right? They would have told us, wouldn't they? They wouldn't leave us in the dark, right?

They were sent back to their designated homerooms and spent a good hour going through the new evacuation procedures with their homeroom teachers. There was also news that classes were going to be cut shorter – at least an hour earlier, until further notice. That was, Rukia guessed, when the threat of war was over. An evacuation siren, similar to the one that sounded last night screeched through the speakers throughout their new alarm tests in first period. Rukia's stomach churned at the horrid sound, realizing that it may be a noise she would have to get used to very soon.

Classes that day were slow, Rukia's bandaged hands were sore, but her bruises were yellowing and her scrapes were healing. She had trouble with her chopsticks at lunch but had managed to eat. The gossip about the fight was quickly replaced by rumors of the war. But it wasn't forgotten. Rukia still received cautious glances in the hallways, sneers from certain groups of girls or boys. She shrugged it off. Like she was going to waste her time on something stupid and trivial like that.

By afternoon classes, teachers had announced that some Shinigami officials were scouting for those interested into joining their ranks the following week. Almost everyone had volunteered to attend the special assembly – so much that Rukia thought there was going to be no one left in her class. Rukia remained seated, her hands clasped together. Without a doubt, she wanted to become a Shinigami. But not through a system like this – where they only picked potential soldiers because they were there.

Rukia and Momo walked to the corner together that afternoon. Rukia watched back as Momo jogged across the street, shouting playfully back at her. Rukia began to walk, but before she could even get to the bus stop she saw Ichigo's orange-hair and the said soldier leaning against the shelter again.

Rukia hurried over. "Hey," she said. She couldn't be bothered feigning disinterest. She smiled. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to walk you home. How was your day? Did you get into any other fights?"

Rukia chuckled dryly. "No I didn't. School was long. We had an assembly today about our new school evacuation methods. Did you know that?"

Ichigo's eyes fell to hers. "I knew of it … somewhat. It's good that you are practicing it at least. One of the other Captains had just recently signed the papers for that actually."

Rukia took a deep breath in. "So it's true? A lot of students were scared."

"It has always … been a case. And they shouldn't be. It's necessary pre-caution. Did anything else happen today?"

"Not really, like you said, we just practiced it and then classes went back to normal. Did you know that some Shinigami officials are visiting the campus next week?"

Ichigo's eyes hardened – just a little. Amber specks tightened. "Yes, Captain Yamamoto had ordered for the others to find…suitable candidates."

"Who's he?"

"He's liiiikkkke…" Ichigo searched for a suitable word. The corner of his mouth curled up, his eyes caught hers. "…my boss … in a way."

"And I'm guessing that you're not coming next week?" She was a little disappointed.

Ichigo shook his head. "As much as I would love to go back to school, I can't. If it would be anyone, it would be the lieutenants. Captains don't really have time for that, we're already up to our necks in the war as it is."

Rukia's heart swelled – as cheesy as she had to admit. The feeling made her dizzy. They began their walk towards the park – she didn't think twice about getting onto the bus – which had just passed them. Spending time with Ichigo walking was much better than spending it on a quick bus trip. She bit her lip. "Had a busy day?"

Ichigo sighed. "Long. There are a lot of things that I have to look through. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how much paper work is involved with my job. The preparations and the rations – I have to sign pretty much everything."

They fell away from the street and into the familiar twisting pebble stone path. "Preparations for the city?" she guessed. Ichigo nodded. "Is there many of them?"

"There is enough to keep someone like me busy. But the constant signing is cramping my hand." He flexed his hand a couple of times. "Seriously, it ranges from whether you're allowed to scratch you ass in public to transferring warheads across the state. People ask for such stupid things, it's impossible to keep on track. Today I had to sign a paper of how much noodles the kitchen needs for next week! Half the time I wonder if I'm signing just bullshit..."

"Well apparently they're important, otherwise you wouldn't be approving them," Rukia replied. "And you shouldn't complain too much about it either, idiot. It's your job."

"I'm sure no one would really care if the kitchen got eighteen cartons of noodles instead of twenty."

"Apparently it is."

"A waste of time," Ichigo added.

"For you because you're an idiot."

Ichigo shrugged. "I'm letting that one slide, midget."

"Thanks, strawberry."

"Oi!"

"What?" she replied innocently. "Isn't that what your feminine name suggests?"

"Contrary to popular belief, my name means 'one' and 'guardian'," he said coolly. "And it's not 'feminine'." He added sternly.

Rukia chuckled. She had hit a soft spot. She looked over to him, her eyes falling on the wrapped hilt of his weapon. "Why are you carrying around your Zanpakutō? Are you on duty?"

"I'm off duty until eleven tonight," he said. "I've been ordered to keep him with me at all times."

"But they're not here yet, are they?" Rukia asked, trying to be jovial.

"Not yet," was his short reply.

Rukia noticed that Ichigo didn't call his Zanpakuto 'it' but rather 'him'. "Is he heavy?"

"Zangetsu is light as a feather for me," Ichigo replied and smiled. "Do you want to hold him?"

"Yes," she said breathlessly. They stopped walking and Ichigo reached out for Zangetsu behind his back. The wrappings immediately spiraled off, re-wrapping itself like a snake around Ichigo's sash. He swung the sword gently over his shoulder for Rukia to look at. The midnight blade looked more sharp and menacing than ever as it glinted cautiously at Rukia. Ichigo moved his palm to the top of the hilt and offered Rukia to hold the end.

"He might be a little heavy," Ichigo told her. "Zangetsu doesn't sit well with strangers. He keeps to himself."

Rukia hesitated. "Can you…ask him if it's okay if I can hold him?"

Ichigo's eyes sparkled after a moment of silence, "he said it's alright. Just… try not to drop him."

"Okay," she nodded. She gripped the hilt with both her hands for extra measure. Ichigo's grip was keeping Zangetsu horizontal. When Rukia felt comfortable, he let go.

The tip of Zangetsu's blade immediately hit the dirt harshly. Rukia squeaked, barely able to keep the heavy blade horizontal. "Holy crap, he's heavy!"

Ichigo snatched Zangetsu from her grasp the second it had fallen to the ground. There was an undeniable glint of amusement within his eyes. "Hey! Pipe it down, the old man can hear you!"

Zangetsu's midnight surface glared at her before it was quickly and effortlessly wrapped back into it's bindings on Ichigo's back. Rukia pouted, "aw, I'm sorry Zangetsu. I didn't mean to offend you."

Ichigo chuckled. "He knows. He'll get over it."

They continued walking and Rukia shook her head in bewilderment. "I don't know how you do it. Carrying Zangetsu and other things."

"It's not just carrying him, Rukia. It's swinging him, running and falling over and jumping back up with him. I have a strong bond with Zangetsu. The stronger the bond is with a Zanpakuto, the lighter the sword is. To me, he feels like nothing but the clothes on my back. To someone like you, he might feel like carrying another person."

Rukia smiled. "It's good that you have such a strong bond with your Zanpakutō."

Ichigo chuckled. "It wasn't easy at first. I had to prove myself a hell of a lot in the beginning just for him to cooperate."

They crossed the park. Ichigo kept his pace slow but his steps long. For Ichigo to just take one step, Rukia had to take two. He was considerate enough to let Rukia keep up easily. "How are your hands? Did you clean the bandages?"

"Yes. Orihime changed them for me last night. They're getting better."

Ichigo nodded his head in reply. "It's good that she looks after you like that."

Rukia gave a light shrug. "She's always had a thing for nursing. Sometimes I get to be the patient."

Ichigo chuckled. "My sister's used to play that 'Doctors and Nurses' all the time. Yuzu would always wrap Karin up in towels and cover her arms with Band-Aids. To be honest, I don't think Karin really appreciated that most of the time. They got into a lot of fights."

"How old are your sisters?"

"They're both twenty-two. Twins," Ichigo raised his arm and stretched. "But Yuzu always likes to remind Karin that she's the oldest by eight minutes. That usually starts a lot of fights too."

"Are they always competitive?" Rukia asked. If she ever had a twin, she was sure she would never have a sane mind.

Ichigo chuckled. "Very. But most of the time they just don't bother fighting about it. They grew up sharing everything together, so they've learnt how to compromise well."

Rukia smiled. "Guess it's a sisterly thing."

"Guess so." He looked over at her, musing for a moment. A summer breeze ruffled his bangs, as his eyes became soft honey. "I think they would really like you."

"I'd like to meet them one day. All of them."

"I think they would like that. We'll just have to avoid my dad when he gets out the photo albums."

"I'm sure you were adorable," Rukia teased, her eyes glinting. "I wouldn't miss the chance to see a baby Ichigo having his first bath time or having his first fall-"

His eyes narrowed, his voice mischievous. "On second thought, you and my dad would probably get along too well."

"Is that a bad thing?" She chuckled.

Ichigo nodded. "Very bad." He grinned.

"Afraid that he might say something embarrassing, eh?" Rukia leaned over, hands on hips and a cat-like smile on her lips.

His grin widened. "I wouldn't trust you two if my life depended on it."

"Idiot! That's rude!"

Ichigo leant over and pinched Rukia's nose lightly between his thumb and forefinger. She swatted his hand away and made a face. Ichigo laughed. "Anything for you."

Her cheeks brightened. "You're an idiot."

"But you find it 'adorable'."

"Pfft." She rolled her eyes. "I said that you might have been adorable when you were a baby." She gestured her hand over his form. "You my friend are not adorable. What happened?"

The smirk returned as he leant his head beside hers. His warm breath pressed lightly against her cheek, his hair prickling her jaw. "I turned sexy."

Rukia almost doubled over. Her face heated tremendously. Butterflies were now attacking her stomach. Ichigo had just pulled away and laughed, his eyes bright and playful. D-damn him! She wanted to wipe that stupid smirk off his face! She was blushing furiously – and her face would be tomato red by now. How did she know? It felt like she had just taken it out of an oven. "I-idiot!" she growled, unable to form a logical sentence. Her body was humming. "Who in they're right mind would think you're sexy!"

It was a rhetorical question, but Ichigo took the chance to see Rukia squirm again. "Apparently that's what I've been told by the general population…" He mused. He tapped a finger to his chin in pretend-thought. His bright eyes catch hers and his smirk becomes a little hidden as he fakes innocence. "What do you think, Rukia? Do you think I'm sexy?"

Oh, god yes. She would've said that in a heart beat. She found Ichigo Kurosaki remarkably sexy – to the point where it wasn't logically possible. What seemed to fit his… caliber was almost 'god-like'. He was so sexy to a point that even just his voice made her melt. But she was sure that her truthful contribution to his question would equate to his ego to almost suffocate her...

"No," she spat. "Don't flatter yourself, idiot. Besides, you're hardly my type." She sniffed rather matter-of-factly. She crossed her arms and looked somewhere else. Anywhere else. So she didn't have to see that devil of a grin widening at her.

They continued to walk to Rukia's neighborhood. She talked about school and what subjects she did. She told him about the students in her classes and what her teachers were like. She mentioned her mid-term exams that were coming up in a few weeks time and how she was studying for them. Ichigo seemed to listen well with what she had to say. Rukia found out that Ichigo never went to a public school.

"What do you mean, you never went to one?" she asked.

"I was home-schooled like my siblings. We never went to school because our name would attract too much attention. Back then we weren't allowed any distractions. Home-schooling was the norm." He shrugged. "My uncle was a very wise man. He taught us a lot of things he knew. I didn't see the necessity to be in a class full of kids. My brother was equal enough to that."

"Was it distracting to be with your brother?"

Ichigo chuckled dryly. "Most of the time we were sent to opposite corners of the room. My uncle couldn't stand us being together – we were always up to something. My brother liked to play a lot of tricks on him when we studied."

"What's your brother's name?"

They stopped at the footpath before they crossed the road. "Shirosaki. My mother named him that because she loved winter."

They arrived at the spot they had departed at yesterday. Rukia wanted to sit down with him and talk about his family some more. Was asking all these questions about his family a good thing? Wouldn't knowing about his family bring her closer to him when she wanted to feel as far away from him as possible?

"So… I'll guess I'll see you tomorrow…" Rukia started reluctantly – very reluctantly as she stared down at her school shoes.

"Do you want to sit for a minute?" Ichigo asked suddenly. Just near her house was a tiny public orchard the council had built a few years back. It was very small, but there was a stone bench there. "We could sit over there for a bit. Want to?"

"Sure." Rukia tried not to barrel over to the spot in excitement.

After they sat down, Rukia noticed Ichigo's heavy expression. It was as if he wanted to say something to her, but didn't know how. It wasn't about Orihime, was it? She thought they were over it. She wasn't. But Ichigo was older. He should be.

"What's up?" Rukia asked slowly.

He just shook his head slightly and leant down so his elbows went to the tops of his knees and his head was propped on top of his fisted hands. She wanted to comfort him, but she knew that it might be awkward. So she just sat beside him and crossed her leg over the other.

She frowned and tipped her head to the side. "Ichigo…" She was slightly worried now. He suddenly looked extremely tired.

"I want to tell you so many things, Rukia."

She thought about it for a while and nodded. "Well then… tell me."

"I don't know where to start though. I mean, we've barely met." Their eyes caught and Ichigo turned to focus on the small water fountain in front of them. Rukia's gaze flickered to a passing car. "Where to start?" he murmured to himself.

"Why don't you start with your family?" she offered.

He nodded. "My mom was born in here in Karakura – a few tram drives from here actually. My dad lived over in the neighboring city at the time. Her name was Masaki. She lived a good life. She was an only child and her parents loved her very much. Mom was seventeen when she first met my dad. She was running errands for her mother and father. Most people said that it was a chance meeting but I know it was more than that. It was fate, I suppose."

"Love at first sight?" she guessed. Ichigo smiled.

"I guess you could say that. At first they couldn't stand each other. Dad would always try and woo her but mom wouldn't take any of it. She just thought he was a big playboy back then. But Dad never gave up. He went to her house every night and every morning to make sure he was the last and first thing she saw when she was went to sleep and woke up. I guess the old man's craziness paid off eventually and mom finally decided to give him a chance."

Rukia grinned, her eyes twinkling. "You're dad seems pretty persistent."

Ichigo shrugged. "He was a crazy idiot that loved her too much. They always spent as much time as they could together. He was a big softie. He'd buy her flowers and everything! And mom soon fell in love with him. When he felt like he was ready, he asked her parents if he could marry her. They agreed. Everyone was excited. However, the elder's on my dads side did not like the marriage at all."

His voice became smaller. A scowl was slowly returning. "They told my dad that he couldn't marry her because she wasn't from a specific bloodline. Back then, arranged marriages were the norm and soon my dad was forced to marry another woman in order to keep the elder's happy. But the news devastated mom and it wasn't until the marriage was announced did she realize she was pregnant.

"She had become depressed. She was expecting a happy life with the man of her dreams and the father of her children. Mom tried to contact my dad a few months before she gave birth to tell him of the news but the elder's ignored her and casted her out to the streets again. She was nothing more than trash to them." His body became tense and his eyes narrowed. Rukia felt the subtle shift of his reiatsu becoming darker. "They were too busy waiting for the other woman my dad was wedded to, to get pregnant. But she couldn't and eventually the elder's were losing hope. It wasn't until mom gave birth to my brother and myself did the elder's finally take notice of her.

"By that time, dad found out and he immediately dropped the engagement with the other woman. He rushed over to my mom's house but he was too late – she had already given birth. He became very protective of her after that and stormed through his home the next day and cast out almost everyone. There was disorder in the household. Some stayed and chose his side, while other's abandoned and never came back. Mom soon came to live with him and they lived together. Her life started to finally piece back together. She was starting to become happier. But it was soon taken from her when my dad was sent to the front line at the Winter War.

"He didn't return home for months and the only contact they had were through the letters that they wrote to each other every day. Shirosaki and I had started out home schooling but we were both worried about her. My brother never really showed any… positive emotions when he was a kid. He usually kept to himself. He always wandered off in the gardens – finding dead things that he could take back to his room and dissect. He enjoyed science, but he loved fighting. Most fights he shared with me, but sometimes he would fight with one of the stable boys or a kid that looked at him funny. He loved mum – just as much as I did. Maybe even more, I don't know. But when we both went to see our baby sisters for the first time, something changed in him that day. He became quieter to a point where mom was beginning to worry about him. He withdrew from mealtimes, went to his room more and gotten into more fights.

"I think he was jealous of our sisters. He wanted mom to himself. On several occasions we found ourselves fighting each other. The fights always escalated out of control. One day we were fighting and he said something to mom that made me so angry. It wasn't until she passed away the next day did he finally stop fighting for her all together."


18 Years Ago

It had been raining all week.

Inside one of the marble corridors there was a flurry of shouts. Ichigo and Shirosaki had each other by the scruffs of their cotton-shirt collars, hitting and shoving each other as the burst into the hallway. The eight-year-old twins fought as hard as they could, sending wild punches at each other. Shirosaki tackled his brother to his back on the floor, earning a small grunt from Ichigo. His fists rammed into his stomach as he screamed nasty words at his brother. Ichigo kneed him in the stomach and both boys rolled over the marble ground as they savagely attacked each other shouting profanities.

There was shouting all around them – somewhere their mother was running up to them, telling them to stop. Their sister's – barely toddlers at that age were crawling to the doorframe. Yuzu had started crying, her dummy falling out of her mouth. Karin began to wail as well. A maid tried to usher the children back into the room, closing the door behind her. The brother's fights always terrified the younger ones.

The brother's were instantly yanked away from each other and restrained in the arms of two adults. The boys snarled at each other, squirming in the iron-like arms. Their uncle had taken Shirosaki while Masaki pulled back Ichigo. They stared heatedly at each other, hatred burning in their eyes. There was a small cut on Shirosaki's lip from where Ichigo had punched him. A thin trail of blood found it's way to Ichigo's jaw from where Shirosaki had pushed him into the corner of the wall.

"Take it back!" shouted Ichigo, tears from the pain welling in his eyes. He struggled in his mother's grip. "Take back what you said about her!"

Shirosaki was also struggling in his uncle's grip. "Truth hurts, doesn't it, brother? It doesn't matter what you say! It's still the truth!"

"Bastard!" Ichigo screamed. He clawed at the air for his brother's face but Masaki tugged him back. Masaki scolded at the two boys. Shirosaki gave him a menacing grin.

"Hurts to hear that our mother is a whore, brother?"

"I'm going to KILL YOU!" Ichigo roared.

"Our mother is nothing but a dirty-"

A hand came out and struck hard across Shirosaki's face with enough force to knock the child down. The corridor was quiet for a second before Ichigo's grunts and protests started up again – this time to see if he brother was alright. And if so – so he could kick his head in.

Shirosaki was motionless on the floor until he shakily got back up on his feet. His eyes were calm and cold as he stared up emotionless to his uncle. The man towered over the little boy, lowering his raised hand. "Do you want me to hit you again, boy? You dare use that language about your mother?"

A small smirk slowly grew before it was instantly slapped off again. Shirosaki's head snapped to the side. He stumbled back a bit, but he didn't fall. His white bangs covered his eyes. Both his cheeks were stinging red and swelling.

"Don't touch him!" Ichigo bellowed hysterically. "Leave him alone-!"

His uncle turned towards him. It wasn't until he felt his face snap to the side did he realize he had been struck across the cheek. Masaki gasped a little, and cradled her son closer to her chest, her eyes sad. His uncle glared down at Ichigo. "Leave. Now."

He felt his mother gently pulling him away from the corridor into her room. She was whispering sweet nothings in his ear. But Ichigo squirmed in his grasp. The last thing he saw was his uncles back towering over his brother before the beatings began.


"Mom was hit by a car the next morning on her way to church." His voice was barely a whisper by now. His eyes were down casted. The memories were almost too painful to remember. "I was looking after my sister's back home when it happened. She was taking Shirosaki to the church so they could talk to the bishop – to see if they could sort out what was wrong. Atone for his sins. A car lost control in the rain and struck her. We had a funeral for her. It was a small gathering. For weeks after her death I always found my brother just standing outside in the middle of the rain. When she died, the last bit of humanity left my brother. He was never the same again."

Speechless, Rukia sat next to Ichigo with both hands caressing his arm up and down. "I'm so sorry," she whispered, wanting desperately to touch his face but she didn't. "Ichigo, do you hear me? I'm so sorry."

"I hear you. It's alright, Rukia," he said, getting up. "My mother and brother are gone, but I'm still here. That counts for something, right?"

She couldn't get up from the bench. His story was overwhelming. "Wait, wait. What happened to your father? Or your uncle? What about the ones that stayed back?"

Ichigo glanced at his watch. "What happens to time when I'm with you?" he muttered. "Look, I have to go. I'll talk about it another day."

Another day? She stood up and they slowly walked back onto the footpath. "Have you told Orihime any of this?" Rukia asked.

"No, Rukia," Ichigo replied, not looking at her.

She walked quietly beside him to the corner. "Thank you for telling me," she said quietly. "I'm glad you did."

"Yes, me too," Ichigo said.

"Whenever you feel like talking. I always here to listen, okay?"

"Someday. I promise." Ichigo smiled.

He bent and kissed her gently on the cheek. His lips were warm and his bangs prickled her face. "Be careful walking home," Ichigo said after her. Rukia's face burned, but she mechanically started walking to her house. Ichigo chuckled and Rukia watched him walk away, a feeling of despair washing over her.

What if he turned around and saw her? She must look like an idiot standing there staring at him. As if he could read her mind, Ichigo turned around. Caught, Rukia tried to move but she was too slow. He saluted her. He must think I'm a complete moron staring after him. She took a chance and grinned before she raised her hand and saluted him back.


Rukia was chatting to Momo in the courtyard the next day as they headed off to their biology class. She was halfway through explaining something that had to do with the Winter War.

"Hey, Rukia!"

She turned around when her name was called. Standing on the other side of the school fence was her friend, Renji. His long arms had snaked through the iron bars of the fence and he pressed his face against the poles. He had a lit cigarette in one hand. He gave her a lazy smile when their eyes locked.

"I'll catch up with you later," Rukia waved back to Momo.

"But what about Biology class?" Momo huffed. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously at the man. Renji's eyes flickered to hers and he greeted Momo as well. The brunette rolled her eyes. "You shouldn't be smoking, idiot!" She poked her tongue out. Then turned to Rukia. "I'll see you in a minute?"

"Sure."

Rukia glanced around to check if there were any teachers out on duty. She made her way to the fence as Renji propped the cigarette in his mouth through the bars and huffed.

"What are you doing here, Renji?" she hissed. If she got in trouble with talking to him – she was going to kill him! She gave him a once over. He was wearing a dark leather jacket over a loose grey singlet. His long bright red hair was pulled back into a sloppy ponytail. Wrapped around his hairline was a black cotton head wrap. He stood up and withdrew one of his arms away from the bar. A silver ring 'clinked' against the pole as he fished out his phone from his dirty skinny-leg jeans.

He looked over to her and smirked. "Skip class. Let's hang out."

Her nose crinkled a little at the smoke. It was faint as he blew it away from them both. "I'm still in school. Can't it wait until afterwards?"

"No." His eyes were playful. "You have to skip class now."

Rukia glanced back warily to the school building. It was just biology… and she did like hanging around Renji…

He noticed her beginning to faze. "C'mon, Rukia. Just this once. We haven't gotten together for ages. We used to be inseparable in summer break."

She bit her lip.

"Please, Rukia? I missed having you around to talk to." He gave her his best puppy eyes. She frowned. "C'mon…" He reached out and lightly shook her arm. His thumb grazed over her warm skin. "Just a little bit. I have my bike and everything. I could drop you home too."

She shook his grip off and sighed, defeated. "Fine." He grinned. She gave him a steady look. "But you're not taking me home. You drop me off right here when classes finish, okay?"

He chuckled and leant back to stand to his full height. There was a light frown on his face. "Alright, alright. Hurry up and grab your stuff before I change my mind."

Rukia hurried back across the courtyard, up the stairs and slipped into the quiet corridors. There were no students around – classes had already started. She silently went up the stairs to the second level and crossed another corridor – peeking around corners for teachers as she went. Her shoes quietly tapped against the floors as she spotted her locker – next to the large window at the end of the hall. Renji better wait for her.She glanced out of the window and just spotted him leaning against the pillar by the school gates. She huffed and turned to her locker.

She fidgeted with the lock to their rightful combinations until a small 'click' sounded. She glanced around and opened the locker door to find something fall between her feet.

Rukia frowned. Strange. She set her books aside on the floor as she bent down to pick it up. It was a piece of paper – folded twice as it sat on the top of her left shoe. She picked it up, curious and unfolded the unaddressed letter.

There was one word written on it. It had been written down by a ball-point pen.

あくま.

(Akuma.)

Rukia blinked back at the words. Her breath caught in her throat. What the hell? She scrutinized the paper in her hands and slowly ran her fingers over the words. They had been etched into paper – as if who ever wrote it was rather angry. Her fingers began to tremble.

This can't mean…

No. Her mind instantly rebuked. It's impossible. She turned around and carefully gazed at her surroundings. She wondered if the culprit was still lurking. She slowly stood up, holding the paper to her side in one hand as her eyes swooped around the lockers. There was no one in the hall but herself.

Rukia quickly shoved her books in her locker and pulled out her messenger back. She slid the strap over her head and on her shoulder and closed her locker before heading back down stairs. She folded the paper in her hands and slipped it into the bottom of her bag. She didn't want to deal with that right now. She double checked that there were no teachers around and hurried off to find Renji.

"Ready?" Renji asked her as she approached him on the footpath. His cigarette was long abandoned, stubbed on the cement. Rukia nodded and sent a message to Momo.

Won't be coming to class. See you tomorrow.

She got an instant reply. D: What? Fine then. Have fun!

"I'm ready," Rukia breathed and smiled up at her friend. "So…where are we going?"

Renji went over to his bike – a black Harley Davidson – parked until the shade of one of the trees that loomed over the footpath. There were two helmets perched on the bike – and one he tossed over to Rukia. She caught it with her two hands. It was a little heavy – but it was small. It was hers. Renji gave her a grin.

"That's for me to know and you to find out."

He slid onto the leather seat and coaxed Rukia to do the same. She slipped on the helmet and perched herself behind him. The warmth of the leather pressed against her inner thighs. She wriggled into a comfortable position behind him, tucking her skirt down between her legs.

He twisted the ignition and the Harley roared into life. Rukia almost face-palmed. Now the whole school would know she was skipping class! Oh well. Sorry Altyzo-sensei. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist and Renji pulled into the street.

They drove for almost half an hour. Rukia pressed the side of her head to Renji's back as she watched the scenery fly past her. She had gotten a couple of stares from people but just ignored them. She closed her eyes as the warm wind blew past them and the sunlight warmed her face and body. The comforting rumble of the Harley's engine made her relax.

They stopped and Rukia opened her eyes to feel Renji slipping his helmet off. She blinked and looked at the surroundings. They were at the carnival at the Karakura warf. Her heart thumped excitedly as her eyes fell on the large structure of the Ferris wheel. She slipped off the bike and pulled off her helmet, shaking her hair. She left it on the Harley as Renji smirked at her. She was cute when she did that.

"Come on," he offered and began to walk. "Let's get something to eat."

They walked side by side down the warf. There were quite a few people visiting the show grounds – there were even a few students who had skipped class and were playing at the stalls. Rukia and Renji made their way to the area where the food stalls were.

"Why are we here?" Rukia asked excitedly. Her eyes lit up at the passing sounds and the joyful screams on the rides in the distance.

Renji chuckled. "I work here, remember? Besides, I have the day off and they had a new ride built the other week." They walked up to the counter. The smells of cooked food wafted over them. He pulled out his wallet. "I thought you would like to try it out with me."

Rukia chuckled. She was flattered, but she knew he was flirting with her. "You just don't want to go by yourself, idiot."

He gave her a teasing smile. "Don't tease. You know you're excited for it." He turned to the guy behind the counter and ordered them Rukia's secret carnie indulgence – a corn dog. "Two and a coke, thanks."

He swapped a few coins and retrieved the food from the counter. They went over to one of the benches and sat down. Rukia tucked her skirt under her thighs and picked the corn dog Renji had offered her. "Thanks, Renji."

He shrugged. "I'm just glad you're here. Thanks, Rukia."

They settled down eating. Rukia had a little trouble with the hot food but eventually began to eat it with ease. She found Renji staring at her.

"Whad?" she replied with a mouthful of corndog.

A smirk rose. "Oh, nothing," he replied simply and turned away to eat his own.

It took Rukia a few seconds to understand what he was talking about. Her cheeks reddened and she felt suddenly stupid. "IDIOT!" she snapped, whacking Renji hard on his arm. "You are so perverted!"

"You're the one that was eating it so sexually," Renji laughed back. Rukia was suddenly put off eating the corn dog. Her eyes narrowed.

"That's disgusting, Renji."

He gave another laugh. "Sorry. I'll stop. Hurry up and eat it. I won't make fun. Promise."

She gave him a wary look before she lifted the corndog back to her mouth. She stared at him as she nibbled on the side of it. He ignored her gaze and finished his. With the stick left in his mouth he turned to her. Eyes glinting. "Too big to fit in your mouth?"

She threw her corndog in his face. "Alright! That does it!" She stood up and marched off down the pier, her nose in the air as she stormed along. Renji caught up to her quickly, wrapping a lanky arm over her.

Before Rukia could protest, he had slipped his large hand to hers and tugged her forward. She stumbled a little and blew the stubborn bang out of her face. "Where are we going?" she asked.

Renji smiled again. "You'll see." It was the second time that day he said that to her. She wriggled her hand from his. Renji didn't take notice, or acted like he didn't. Instead he asked her to follow him. Rukia rolled her eyes. "I am following you, idiot."

"Good."

They arrived at what Renji was talking about earlier. It was the new ride. It looked like a beast of a thing – an over-sized slingshot machine. Rukia craned her head up to look at the tall structure. It was enormous! It was almost as high as the Ferris wheel! It seemed like a popular ride – there was quite the line-up. It snaked from closed fence all the way past them to the food stalls. There had to be at least fifty people here.

"I'm not going on that thing."

Renji heard her hesitation and turned to look at her in amusement. "What? Are you scared?"

She stiffened. "That." She pointed at it just as the ball shaped cage shot into the air. Piercing screams echoed from the ride as they were ricocheted high into the sky…pausing before the thick straps that held the cage bungeed and brought them bouncing rather high in mid air. "Is not a ride."

Renji suppressed a sigh. "C'mon party pooper. Since when do you back out of things? Let's just go on it. I promise you can hold my hand." He laughed.

She eyed the thing suspiciously. It looked… fun… but it also had that dangerous glint to it. She crossed her arms in an 'X' motion in front of her body. "No way. Don't even think about it."

They stood off in the middle of the pier. Some on lookers watched, but quickly became consumed with whatever they were doing before. A challenging gleam flashed through his dark eyes as he stalked over and offered his hand. "Take a leap of faith, Rukia. After all, that's what the ride is called."

And he did tell you this earlier, Rukia, the little voice inside her head added. You could at least try it once.

She looked at him squarely in the face and rolled her shoulders back in determination. She ignored his hand (which he dropped casually by his side) and said, "Fine. But I'm not looking when we're up there."

Victory shone through his features, Renji nodded. "Follow me."

They headed up to the very front of the line, ignoring the protests from the patrons waiting for their turn. Renji only turned around and snapped something back. Sitting on a stool, collecting coupons for the ride was Renji's friend, Hisagi. Donned in a dark V-neck tee and dark skinny leg pants he looked particularly dashing. There were females swooning over him in the line behind Rukia. She inwardly smirked.

Hisagi looked up, his bored expression lightening when he spotted them approaching. "Renji! Back so soon for another shift?"

"Heard about the new ride. I'm just here to try it with Rukia."

His dark eyes fell on Rukia who stood timidly by Renji's side. He gave her a wide grin. "Hey, Rukia. It's been a while."

She smiled back to the man. "Hey, Hisagi."

"So…" Hisagi looked back and forth between the two. "Is this another date or something?"

Rukia coughed awkwardly, a tiny blush sketched on her cheeks. Renji shook his head. "Nah. We're just hanging out."

"So it's a date?"

"No!" Rukia replied. "We haven't seen each other for a while, Hisagi. It's not a date."

"Rukia stated that to me earlier," Renji added. Did she just hear a little disappointment?

Hisagi smiled knowingly. She didn't like that smile. It was like he didn't believe what they were saying. But before she could tell him anything, Hisagi stood up and went to take the current couple out of the cage as the ride gently lowered. The two girls walked out a little wobbly, their hair wild and ruffled from the wind. "How did you like it, girls?" Hisagi flashed them a flirtatious grin. The girls giggled and swooned. This time Rukia rolled her eyes.

He opened the gate and the two girls skipped off, sending pretty glances over their shoulders. Hisagi left the gate open. "Sorry guys!" He called out to the rest of the onlookers. "These two are my special customers – they're on a date!"

Rukia began stuttering, "We're n-not on a da-date-!"

Renji grabbed her forearm and they both walked past Hisagi and up the ramp to the cage. Hisagi closed the gate behind them and followed them both to help strap them in. Renji knew what he was doing – he buckled himself in his chair. Two thick straps went over his shoulders and another around his waist.

"I'll take that for you," Hisagi said. He leant over Rukia and plucked off her school bag from her shoulders. He proceeded to buckle her in – retightening the straps so they fit snuggly against her body. He ruffled her hair – earning an adorable grimace in return and laughed. He looked a little silly carrying her school bag on him. He reached out for the black padded bar above their heads and locked it into place in front of them. Rukia gripped the bar as if her life depended on it. Renji chuckled and Hisagi closed the door of the cage.

The chairs swung a little and Rukia's heart hammered in her chest. It rotated in the cage as well? Oh god, she instantly wanted to back out. Renji reached over and grabbed her hand. "Chill, Rukia. You'll be fine."

Fine? FINE? She was going to die on this.

She closed her eyes as she heard the countdown being called over some absurd rave music. She tried to calm herself. How was Renji acting so calm on this? She refused to move her hands away from the bar. What happens if something goes wrong? What if the cage snapped off the straps and sent them to their death? What if the cage door opened and she gets sucked out of her seat? Don't think of that.

"…Three…! Two…! One…!"

Rukia braced herself and held her breath in. Oh god. She made a little squeaking noise. But the cage didn't move – she didn't fall to her death. She peaked out of one eye and then another in confusion.

"Renji, wh-"

And they shot off. Rukia screamed at the top of her lungs as they ricocheted up into the air, spinning. The wind roared past her ears as the force of the cage pinned her back into her seat. Sky mixed with the distancing ground. The sun flashed dizzily past. The horizon tipped on its side. At one point She saw the sky below them and the ground above. Her eyes watered as the wind burned her sight. She squeezed them shut and forced them open again. Her hair and skirt were flying everywhere. The school shirt rode up. As they rocketed to the sky – the pounding music was nothing more than a distant song. Renji was laughing. The bungee straps tightened and they paused in mid air…

The cage fell back down and the shift of gravity made an explosion of butterflies attack her stomach. She cried out – both in fear and laughter as they span around. Renji had let go of her hand a while back. They were bounced back up into the sky again and this time Rukia slowly let go of the bar.

It was…actually fun.

The ride lasted for several more moments, as they were sent high into the air and back down again. She gripped her buckles – and managed to lift her arms up with Renji at one point. Then all too soon the cage slowed down and they were lowered gently back to the platform.

Hisagi opened the cage door as he grinned widely at the both of them. "Well? How was it? I bet all of Karakura could hear you screaming," he chuckled at Rukia.

They walked out onto the platform. Rukia wobbled around like a newborn calf. When her legs stopped acting like jelly-o, she punched Hisagi on the arm. "Son of a bitch!" she said. Hisagi just laughed and ruffled her bird-nest like hair. She pouted, wiping away the tears that still stung her eyes from the ride.

"Aw. No need to be so sad, Rukia. You had Renji there with you to hold your hand."

"I wasn't crying! The wind burned my eyes!" she replied stubbornly. Hisagi handed her school bag back, his eyes twinkling. Both men laughed at this. Then she felt it.

Renji's hand on her ass.

He leant down, his warm palm against her left cheek, a thumb grazed across the stitching of her panty line. His voice was husky as he murmured into her ear. His hot breath tickled her cheek. "You should fix your skirt, Rukia." And he proceeded to pinch her ass.

Rukia yelped and shoved him away, flattening her skirt as she went. She bumped into Hisagi's hard chest. Both men stood behind and in front of her, giving her mischievous looks. Rukia's face was burning as she shoved both of them back at arms length. Oh god what did she get herself into? "Idiots!" she snapped. They both laughed – they loved teasing her. She growled and stormed off, her face bright red. They always played tricks on her together. Damn them. Damn them to hell!

"See you later, Rukia!" Hisagi called merrily after her. "Maybe you can come back next summer and work here some more!"

She returned her answer by flipping him the bird. Renji jogged up to her. And she immediately turned on her heel – away from him. He waved back to Hisagi calling out that he starts his shift back tomorrow. He followed her for a while.

"Did you like the ride?" he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

"No."

A smile tugged. "Aw, c'mon, Rukia. I know you liked it."

"The death-like experience or the part where you grabbed my ass in public?"

He pretended to think about it. "Both? I'm joking! I'm sorry – I couldn't pass the moment up. It was up and your panties were showing-"

"Oh my god. Shut up right now."

"I could have said nothing and let you walk around with your ass hanging out."

"You could have said something," she retaliated coolly. "And not grope me in front of everyone and Hisagi."

"Moot point."

"No. No 'moot point'."

"Would you let me make it up to you?" He pouted. Yes, Renji Abarai actually pouted. A little. "I'll do anything you want."

"…anything?"

He nodded. "You name it. I'll do it."

"Hmm…" Her eyes flashed deviously.


A few moments later…

Renji glared at her. "This is stupid."

Rukia grinned. "Oh? So what ever came to 'making it up to me' with 'I'll do anything you want'?"

Renji crossed his arms over his chest. He was extremely pissed off, but he bit his tongue. Rukia couldn't help but to chuckle.

He was currently sitting in one of the game stalls looking very…topless. Perched up on a stool he sulked back at her. His jacket and shirt along with her school bag were on the ground next to Rukia. Underneath him was a large pool of blue jelly. He looked quite cut – black tribal tattoos snaked their way over his pecks and abs – causing one too many stares from female passer-byers. A crowd was beginning to form. Rukia's eyes gleamed in revenge. The more the merrier!

Rukia stood behind the marker with one hand on her hip and holding up a very creamy looking pie in the other. She smirked victoriously.

"Have anything to say before you're embarrassed for the rest of your life, Abarai Renji?"

"I hope you miss," he spat venomously, though his eyes twinkled wickedly.

Rukia's eyes moved to the big fat target beside his head. She twirled the pie playfully in her hand. Renji pushed his chin up. There was no way she could hit the target from there. He smirked at her.

Rukia's eyes narrowed at the silent challenge. She squared her shoulders and raised the pie behind her. Concentrate Rukia. You. Must. Humiliate. Him! More girls arrived. It was her prefect chance to get revenge. Serves you right, you perverted bastard! She aimed and in one quick motion, she threw the pie-

And smacked him right in the face.

Laughter roared from the crowd as dripping cream fell from his head. Renji growled and flicked the sweet substance from his eyes to see Rukia launching another attack –

The target was hit hard and the seat beneath Renji buckled and dropped. He cried out and before he knew it, he was flung into a pool full of blue jelly. He surface seconds later with cream and jelly chunks sliding down his body. He grimaced at the sticky sensation all over his skin and glared at Rukia – only to get another face full of cream pie.

Right. That does it.

He submerged from the tank, cream and jelly sliding off his chest and seeping into his jeans. Rukia's eyes narrowed as the girls around her almost fainted and swooned at the 'beast' in front of them. She grabbed another pie. "Take one more step, Renji and I won't hesitate to throw this at you-"

He stalked towards her and Rukia had no choice but to run. She threw the pie anyway and it splattered against his ribcage. He ignored it and flashed out his large hand to grab her.

Rukia immediately struggled, laughter bubbling her mouth as her eyes darkened at him. "Don't you dare-"

He picked her up before she knew what was even happening - coating her school clothes in the sweet stickiness. She kicked and slapped him, slipping against his taught skin. "Renji! Put me down! PUT ME DOWN NOW!"

"I don't hear a 'please'," he teased and went over to the tank and tossed her in.

Instead of screaming, Rukia sucked in a breath. A second later she was submerged in the heavy liquid. She squirmed in the wetness and pushed herself up. The surface bobbed just below her breasts, as she was soaked head to toe in jelly. Her arms above water, she glared heatedly at him. He was leaning over the side on his elbows, licking his fingers clean and giving her a very satisfied look.

"B-BASTARD!" she shouted, slipping and struggling in the jelly. Renji gave her a heated gaze. He was dead. "I AM GOING TO KILL YOU ABARAI RENJI!"

Jelly was dripping from her head, making her hair stick to the sides of her face. She pushed her bang away and stormed forward, jelly sloshing around her as she did. She pushed herself out of the tub and awkwardly made her way out – with no help from the idiot at all. Then she grabbed another pie and squished it right in his face.

Before Renji could even wipe the pie from his face again, Rukia had picked up their belongings and was bolting down the pier, shouting profanities behind her.


They were hosed down afterwards and were given some spare clothes from Renji's boss – some old carnival uniforms – to change into. The sun was setting when Rukia walked out of the office. Her hair was wet but she was clean and dry with no traces of food left on her. Renji was leaning against his bike, wearing his leather jacket and smoking a cigarette calmly. He smirked at Rukia and she glared heatedly back.

"Let's take you home," he said, flicking the cigarette onto the floor and stubbing it out with his boot. Rukia couldn't agree more. He shrugged on his helmet and tossed Rukia her own. She jumped on behind him, tying a knot on the plastic bag that held their wet clothes in. She pressed the bag between her legs against his back and wrapped her arms around his waist. The Harley rumbled low and throaty beneath them and Renji pulled out into traffic. The ride was long and peaceful. Rukia's mind wandered to Ichigo. Then it wandered to jelly. She smiled into Renji's back. They drove back to her school and Renji pulled up along the pathway. She slipped off her seat and took her helmet off. She handed it back to him.

"You sure you don't want me to drive you home?" he asked again over the top of the engine.

"No. It's fine. I'm meeting someone here," she replied. She waved goodbye and began to walk. Renji watched her leave for a moment before he turned back down the street. Whatever.

The last bell had rung ages ago. Students had already left to go home. Only a few trickled down the street - hardly any if that. Rukia quickly picked up her pace, checking the time on her phone. Where did the day go? She hoped that he was there.

She broke into a jog as she made her way down to her bus stop. The black skirt and black top was heavy against her. She eventually had to bend down and take her shoes off her feet - her socks were soaked and it was uncomfortable wearing her shoes without them. Did he leave already? She hoped not.

When she turned the corner she saw him. He was standing at the bus shelter, eyes closed and arms crossed. He looked like he was sleeping. Rukia took in the chance to stare in wonder at his features. She loved that mop of wild copper hair, that god like face and body... She felt the warm hum of his reiatsu in the air as she walked closer. She slowly reached her own reiatsu out and gently touched his.

Ichigo's eyes snapped open and he looked up. They were warm and bright and she was reminded how quickly she missed them. Her heart rattled in her chest as he took a step forward to meet her. He had waited for her an hour longer today.

"Hey..." He matched her smile with his own. It was rather fitting on his face. Rukia couldn't help but to feel the little butterflies spreading in her stomach. "Ready to walk home together?"


A/N: By the way - Akuma means 'devil'. I hope that's the right Japanese translation/words ^^''

First time I ever thought Renji would be absolutely sexy - covered in cream and jelly ~ UNF!

Ichigo: Mmm...maybe we can try that together one day, Rukia...

Rukia: *blushes* Ichigo! Not in front of everyone!

Ichigo: *corners her* We'll do it in private...no clothes allowed.

Me: *nosebleed explosion*

Rukia: Please review guys! I-Ichigo! NOT THERE-!