Hello! So I'm late again, unfortunately. It's funny, motivation was lacking for quite awhile, but once I got down to it, I completed the bulk of it during my 5 day vacation, haha. In fact, I wrote more than half of this chapter on my 5 hr flight back home from Taiwan! Any Taiwanese readers out there?
Thanks for the reviews and likes/alerts that you've given my story. While I'm definitely not the best author or anywhere near the best, I really thank you all for enjoying my story despite its flaws! I'm still learning as I write, so maybe one day I'll go back and refine my earlier chapters. Until then, hope you enjoy this chapter!
Disclaimer: Here's the encrypted version of my disclaimer: 23F''2:5'7C(#(!)5;^) mf:$.7;2*#)q:"h
Chapter 45: And So Begins the Canon's Charge
He was running along the brick path, a feeling of pure, childish joy coursing through him, and a wealth of energy fuelling his steps. He put on a burst of speed, running as fast as his legs could carry him as he imagined speeding along as those huge four-legged brown animals found everywhere.
He found himself in front of a store, and immediately ran up to the table placed directly at the entrance. He grabbed the edges and tip-toed as far as he could, gazing in wonder at the myriad of devices and figurines that came in a multitude of color.
He recognized the many toys on display, of which he had many of them, like the kendama and the taketombo, as well as his personal favorite - the darumaotoshi. There were even tops of varying sizes.
"Ichigo!" a soft voice lightly chided. "Don't wander off!"
He instinctively turned at the sound of the woman's voice, but he stayed put and watched his Oka-san approach. Easily identifiable by her golden colored hair (he wished his was the same color and not orange), his Oka-san knelt down and smiled at him, but strangely, he couldn't see her eyes.
"Come, Ichigo, your father is looking for us," she smiled, and he couldn't help but smile back, concern over not seeing half her face melting away. He enjoyed hearing his mother's voice. It always seemed so soothing, and nothing could go wrong as long as he could hear her voice. Not even if he fell and bruised himself or cowered from the loud noises that sometimes came when it rained.
Obliging, he let go of the table and held out his hand. His mother smiled again and straightened as she took it in hers and slowly guided him back in the direction they came from.
A few minutes later, he was getting bored, but he obediently stayed silent as his mother led him into a familiar medicinal shop. He was familiar with it of course; his family owned it. But he wasn't really interested in the dull colors and weird smells.
"Ah, Masaki! Sorry 'bout this, but... Yagami! Take over for a moment!" There was a rustling sound and a man came striding over to them.
He looked up at the man, recognizing the voice of his father before his face came into view. His father grinned, sweeping a hand through his black, spiky hair that remained resolutely pointing upwards. Again, he couldn't see the upper part of his father's face as well. He had spiky hair just like his father, but it was in all directions instead of just upwards.
When his parents were out, he would sometimes sneak into their room and try to use his mother's comb to make his hair look more like his father's.
"I wasn't expecting it so early in the day, but luckily, it came only an hour ago..."
His father handed something to his mother, but he wasn't really following the conversation that used words he didn't know, but his eyes swiveled back and forth, depending on who was speaking.
As he watched his father, the black and white 'western kimono', as his father called it, changed into a long strange looking white garment, which he somehow instinctively knew was called a coat. Then, as his father looked down at him, his face slowly faded into view. Lines signaling old age started appearing on his face, and he found himself looking at Uncle Isshin...
On his bed, Ichigo's eyes snapped open.
"My uncle's crazy," Ichigo complained to the group of friends he and Rukia were sitting with as they loitered in class for lunch.
"Really? How so?" Michiru asked.
"I mean, don't get me wrong. He's a doctor and everything, and he takes it seriously, but everything else requires him to do something completely random or stupid," Ichigo continued ranting.
"What did he do?" Mizuiro asked again.
Ichigo didn't answer for a moment, so Rukia volunteered, "He sent Ichigo on a treasure hunt for a new computer he'd bought for us to use."
"That's all? Doesn't really sound that ridiculous to me," Mizuiro said.
"Let me clarify," Ichigo countered. "He sent me on a treasure hunt for the different parts of the computer - keyboard, mouse, monitor, CPU, all quite big and easy to find, right? Nope, he took out half the keys on the keyboard, as well as the mouse ball, and hid them around the house! And the worst part? He placed the entire family's dinner on my head - if I didn't find everything within three hours, no one would be able to eat dinner!"
A mixture of amusement and outrage greeted his words, but Rukia only half-listened as Ichigo regaled the entire story, since she'd been there when it happened.
The two had returned on Friday evening after Ichigo began serving the first day of his two week's worth of detentions. The day's task was easy - sweep all the first floor classrooms, including their own, in place of the routine cleanup each class did. Unlike most students, however, he didn't drag his feet and whine constantly.
Besides, Rukia had waited for him, and although she wasn't allowed to help him, there was nothing against staying in school to study.
Their homeroom teacher, Ochi Misato, was the supervisor for the day's detention, and she received confused looks from the both of them when she handed Ichigo two brooms and dustpans.
"Here, Kurosaki," she'd said as she handed the cleaning equipment to a bemused Ichigo. "You can start from my classroom and work your way through the others. If you're done before the two hours are up, you may return to the classroom and study."
"Uh, sensei," Ichigo replied. "You gave me two of each."
"Did I?" she replied absently. "Hmm... It appears I did. Well then, that's easy. Grow an extra pair of hands and you'll be done in half the time!"
Wondering if their teacher had taken leave of her senses, the two of them said nothing.
She turned to Rukia. "Now, Kuchiki, please remember that you're not allowed to be caught helping Kurosaki or I'll have no choice but to extend his detention. And with that, I'll be returning at..." she checked the classroom clock. "5:15. Get to it." And with a wink, she disappeared.
It didn't take long for Rukia to interpret their teacher's words and even less time for her to grab one set from Ichigo and start cleaning. After all, she remembered their teacher being pretty vocal against the principle when he'd sent Ichigo home yesterday, which was saying something, since she had no authority to speak out.
True to her word, their teacher only reappeared after the two hours were up, allowing the two of them to complete the task in half the time, and giving them ample time for themselves.
The only things she did before dismissing them was commend Ichigo for being so efficient and quick (with a smile in place), as well as chide the both of them lightly for their disheveled attire.
"A student's attitude towards their dressing also reflects a teacher's proficiency and their attitude in educating them."
Returning home ten minutes later, they found Yuzu already preparing dinner and Karin washing up after football practice. Moments later, Isshin bounded in from the clinic to inform them of the surprise purchases he'd gotten for them. He then handed two cell-phones to a delighted Yuzu, one for each twin, and informed Ichigo of his and Rukia's shared surprise sitting on his bed (Urahara had already given them both cell-phones).
They then went to Ichigo's room, only for its occupant to stomp back down towards the clinic when he realized that the surprise lacked a few key parts.
What ensued was a treasure hunt involving everyone except Isshin, who watched on with glee. It did, however, turn ugly when Isshin realized he'd forgotten where he'd hidden two keyboard keys, but still attempted to hold dinner hostage.
She was surprised how scary Yuzu looked when she was actually angry.
Shortly after interest over Ichigo and Rukia's misadventures started dying down, Ichigo stopped mid-way through his meal and dug into his pocket for his cell-phone. Rukia noticed and paused, wondering if it was Urahara.
"Hello, Yuzu? What's the matter?"
Ichigo suddenly tensed up. "How many of them?" He hissed quietly, just loud enough for Rukia to hear.
"Did they see you looking at them?" Something was obviously wrong, and Rukia could tell Ichigo was thinking furiously.
"Listen, do you see someone with blonde hair?" Ichigo caught Rukia's gaze as he spoke, and she understood immediately. "Yes?"
Anger immediately swelled up in Rukia, anger that Oshima apparently hadn't learnt his lesson and was attempting an extremely low blow in his bid for revenge over his humiliation in front of the entire school.
She turned to Sado, who was sitting on her other side and was the only other person to notice Ichigo's furious whispering. "Did you see Oshima Reiichi in school today?"
"Only this morning," he said simply, answering the question indirectly. He didn't see Oshima in school recently, meaning that the gang leader could well be anywhere.
Ichigo caught Sado's eye and mouthed a thanks before continuing his whispering. "Listen, Yuzu, you know that fight I got into with some gang leader last Thursday? That blonde guy is probably him, and he might try something."
"No, don't go any closer! Listen, you and Karin end school late today, right? I'll be right over as soon as I can, so stay within the school compounds and don't approach them!
"Don't worry. You're in a place with lots of other students and adults; they're not going to try anything."
"Ok, don't worry. Stay safe." Ichigo hung up, his eyes lit with anger. "That bastard," he hissed to Rukia. "I was going to leave him alone, but he wants to target the girls? I'm not holding back the next time I see him."
Rukia didn't bother offering an opinion. She too was equally angry at Oshima's daring, but at least the both of them had the presence of mind not to go charging off. "How many?"
"Five," he replied.
"It might not be him," Rukia reasoned.
"Do you really think so?" Ichigo asked.
"No, no I don't," she admitted. "It's probably him. Just didn't think he'd really target them. Was expecting them to try coming after me, in fact."
"Probably because you're usually around me, although that might've made you an even better target." He let out an angry sigh. "We've no choice then. He's not going to leave me be unless I change my hair or we sufficiently discourage him. Obviously, I'm not going to change my hair color."
"You're probably right. Just not in public, I guess. We can't have you getting into anymore trouble."
The next few hours were quite unsettling for the two of them, and they were out the door before the final bell had finished ringing. Given how tense they both looked, anyone who didn't know better would've remarked that they were in a hurry to go somewhere private.
Both took comfort in the fact that Oshima and his merry men were unlikely to do anything with tons of potential witnesses nearby, so Yuzu and Karin were most likely safe as long as they stayed within the school compound.
Upon seeing them leave, seven or so older students lurking in the school courtyard gave chase, one of them speaking rapidly into his cell-phone.
About a kilometer away, the five high school students loitering in front of Karakura middle school finally peeled off from the school gate and headed in the direction of the nearby park.
"Well hello, Kurosaki. Didn't expect to meet you here," a familiar voice called out some five minutes later.
The two transfer students came to a stop right beside a playground, where Oshima and his four cronies were waiting. Neither was even a flicker out of breath, a condition that couldn't be said of the seven students that caught up soon after.
"Oshima," Ichigo responded. "How nice to see you. We should catch up over a punch or two," he added more softly.
If he heard it, he didn't show it; Oshima got up from the swing set he was idling on and sauntered over, the forced smile never leaving his face and his stare permanently fixed on Ichigo, who stared right back.
Stopping a couple of feet from them, his eyes fell on Rukia and he gave a start. "Oh look! You brought your little girlfriend with you!" his voice dripping with false sweetness. "I'd love to get a chance to know you."
"Cut the chicken shit, Oshima. What does a vegetable and his bunch of merry crops want with me?"
Oshima's eye twitched and his smile became a scowl. It appeared he remembered the dig at his hair. "Ok then," he snarled. "No more Mr. nice guy then. Where do you think you're going? We still have some unfinished business."
"If I recall, you were flapping off about wanting me to change my natural hair color and threatening my girlfriend before I kicked your ass like the little boy you are."
Oshima's scowl deepened, but his face also became redder. "That took me by surprise! You're not going to even land a finger on me this time. And I'll perhaps have some fun with your girlfriend, once my men are done with her."
Rukia, having planned to remain silent until the inevitable fight started, was itching to respond, but she remained silent, thoroughly enjoying Oshima's pathetic attempts to insult Ichigo. She surveyed the other eleven older teens surrounding them and was unimpressed - none of them looked the least bit threatening. That didn't stop them from looking overconfident though.
Ichigo merely smirked in response. "So you need four people as backup before you're brave enough to take me on? Some gang leader you are."
Oshima was getting angrier and angrier, but he didn't rise to the bait. He started looking more confident. "What's the matter? Too afraid to count now? I think you'll find that there are twelve of us, and only one of you. But don't worry. Not all of us will be fighting. The rest of us will be showing your girlfriend a good time."
Jeers rang out among the seven as some of them cast lecherous looks at Rukia while others mocked her by doing pelvic thrusts in her direction. Rukia frowned, deciding that these seven deserved special treatment for their actions.
Ichigo glanced at her, and Rukia sent him a 'Please hurry up!' look, hoping he got the message.
"Oh no, you misunderstand. We knew that there were an extra seven of your cronies that followed us from school. But I don't need to take care of them. She will." He jerked a thumb at her.
There was silence for a whole five seconds. "Pfft, HA!" Oshima threw his head back in exaggerated laughter. "She? Take care of them?"
The rest of the gang diligently laughed along.
"Ok then, Kurosaki. We'll let your girl 'take care' of my boys. I'm sure they'll love every minute of it."
The jeers became louder, and this time, it was peppered with shouts from the four teens on Oshima's side to 'leave some of her' for them.
No, scratch that, she thought. Whoever tried approaching her was going to receive special treatment.
Unaware of what was going on in her head, Ichigo replied, "Well, when you put it that way," he smirked widely. "So will she."
Something in Ichigo's expression gave pause to Oshima's confidence, but he then snarled and gestured to the seven teens behind. "Get her! And make sure she screams for Kurosaki to save her!" He reached into his pockets and pulled out two sets of brass knuckles and equipped them. "And as for Kurosaki, we're going to make sure there's nothing he can do about it."
From the seven, one of the teens, who looked like his uniform hadn't been washed in a week, advanced on her, wriggling his fingers and grinning lecherously. The others slowly moved closer, tightening the net they thought they had the two in. Three of them pulled out metal rods.
Rukia waited until the teen was about to close his dirty fingers around her arm before ripping her hand back and crashing her fist into his arm.
The boy howled in pain, but it turned into a high-pitched squeak as her foot collided with his groin. Even Ichigo flinched at that. A follow-up palm to the nose created a loud crack, sending blood spraying and sending him tumbling backwards and crashing to the ground, out cold before his head kissed the pavement.
Everyone was hilariously stunned with shock, obviously not expecting their victim to fight back, except for Ichigo. "I thought we agreed to use just enough force to discourage them?"
"Well," Rukia shrugged, honestly not caring. "They were talking about violating me, so I thought they deserved special treatment. This one decided to go first so he got a bonus. Besides, I'm limiting my strength; it's not like I used enough force to permanently damage him. Too bad for them, I'm feeling rather vindictive right now."
Ichigo nodded, conceding her point.
Everyone else was now suddenly afraid to approach them both.
Oshima recovered first. "What the hell? It's just two of them! Stop acting like cowards and get them!"
With that proclamation of the obvious, the remaining ten teens seemed to gather courage and advanced on their targets again, expecting strength in numbers.
The next couple of minutes proved them wrong.
Rukia caught the first fist flying towards her and struck its owner's chin, once again kneeing the teen in the groin. His only comfort was that he was too unconscious to feel the pain. Then, sidestepping, she wrapped both hands around the fist and spun the teen round, releasing him to crash painfully into another, taking them both out.
Two of the remaining four teens rushed her. Utilizing her petite size, Rukia easily ducked the first awkward downward punch, striking out with her leg and sweeping the teen off his feet before effortlessly turning around and dodging the metal rod swinging down on her head.
Her fairly tall opponent, alarmed at having missed, wildly chopping at her again. Easily avoiding the predictable attacks a couple more times, she remained in place and grabbed the teen's wrist and snapped a strike just above his elbow. That elicited a howl as the teen released his grip on the metal rod.
Rukia deftly grabbed it and swung out wide, nailing the teen on his side. He screamed and clutched his side, leaving him open for Rukia to land a blow to his temple, dropping him like a sack of potatoes.
Without pause, Rukia leapt towards her earlier opponent, who had just gotten to his feet, and jabbed him hard in the gut before dispatching him with a similar vicious strike to the temple.
The remaining two gangsters, stunned by Rukia's ruthless crushing of their gang mates, stood stock still, allowing her to easily cut them down in rapid succession.
Over in the other fight, Ichigo's five opponents focused fully on him, likely aware that he was definitely no pushover. Even Oshima kept his focus on him, expecting his seven other men to deal with Rukia.
A loud cry of agony over on Rukia's side proved a good enough distraction as all five of his opponents collectively turned, presenting Ichigo with an opening which he welcomingly took.
He bolted forward and lashed out with his feet, burying his foot into one of the teenagers' chest. The momentum launched him backwards, barely conscious, but in so much pain he was out of the fight.
The rest realized their fatal mistake, but not before Ichigo caused another teen's nose to give way with a fist to his face. Jumping back, he twisted round and swung wide, catching yet another juvenile in the face.
Ichigo attempted to follow up, but was forced to lean back as the last of Oshima's henchmen came to the defense of his fellow gang member. He jabbed at Ichigo, but Ichigo easily ducked under and whipped his leg out, landing a hard blow on the teen's shin. He howled in obvious pain, and an uppercut took away his consciousness and two of his teeth.
The last of the henchmen was still getting to his feet, and was easily dropped by Ichigo, leaving Oshima as the last man standing.
Ichigo turned to a stunned and fearful Oshima. "I did warn you. Come after my girlfriend or my cousins and you'll regret it." He smirked at Oshima, knowing that it would only agitate him. "You know, had you left me alone, this wouldn't have happened, and you wouldn't have gotten humiliated by us. Some gang leader, huh? You and your gang were taken out by a boy and a girl."
"You bastard! This is not over!" Oshima threw his brass knuckled fist at Ichigo.
Ichigo deftly caught it. Oshima's eyes widened in shock, and with a yell, swung with his other fist. That was caught as well.
Ichigo snarled, having long grown tired of Oshima's resistance. He slowly forced the gang leader's arms down, shrugging off his attempts at resisting. "Like I said," Ichigo whispered, allowing his hollow mask to slip onto his face. "Leave me and my loved ones alone, or it's the last thing you'll ever do.
Oshima couldn't see the mask, but he sure as hell could see Ichigo's eyes shifting from their normal brown color to a sickening yellow surrounded by pitch black irises and hear his voice twisting. "W...What are you?" he squeaked out, his face becoming a mask of terror.
"Come after me and find out." And Ichigo freed his hands and smashed his fist into Oshima's face. The gang leader crashed backwards, unconscious and utterly defeated.
"Was the hollow mask really necessary?" Ichigo turned to see Rukia approach. She'd long finished, but chose not to interfere.
"Probably not, but I needed to deter him from entertaining thoughts of coming after us. Otherwise, he won't admit defeat."
"He's pathetic," Rukia agreed as she looked at Oshima's crumpled form, which was giving off a stench as the loss of consciousness, coupled with his fear, caused his bladder to loosen. "But I hope you're right. I don't want to have to deal with the likes of him again."
Three Months Later
The third seat of the twelfth division looked up from where he was currently stationed to spot one of the researchers beckoning to him.
"What is it?" he asked as he approached and stared at the huge monitor. It took him a few moments to register what this monitor displayed - an overview of the entire living world. On it, there were no more than five small circles, each of varying size and color.
Each of those small circles represented an area of spiritual concentration, where reishi concentrations were the highest. The three largest circles were varying shades of green, while the remaining two were yellow, signifying a higher concentration. The twelfth division kept a close watch on these areas, as they usually meant an increase in hollow activity.
"Talk to me, Kagawa, what's so important that you need to call me over?"
Fingers flew in response as the young researcher in question enlarged two portions of the map - one of Japan, and another one in nearby China that was bathed in yellow. The yellow circle was shrinking rapidly while another over central Japan was growing.
"Oh, don't worry about that. It's just one of the spiritual zones shifting locations. It's a random occurrence though, and we're still trying to pinpoint a pattern to when it'll shift. I'll just go inform taichou, so a division can dispatch shinigami as-"
Akon paused with a frown. The yellow zone was still shrinking, but the very small circle over central Japan didn't seem to be increasing in size any further. Instead, the green circle slowly turned yellow - then red... His eyes widened slightly as the color kept changing, finally stopping at a moderate shade of grey once the yellow circle disappeared. "Hmm... that's new..."
"What's new?" Kagawa asked nervously, afraid he'd done something wrong.
"No, it's nothing, but I've never seen a spiritually concentrated area that small," Akon admitted. "Not to mention the color."
"Oh... Is that bad?"
"No..." Akon reached down and tapped a few keys on Kagawa's keyboard. "We'll just need to make sure that there's always a shinigami posted to-" The screen showing Japan enlarged and zoomed in, until the grey zone took up most of the screen.
A lone figure sat at his desk, quietly eating the bento box he'd bought on the way to school, tuning out the large rambunctious group of his classmates sitting near the window.
"Kuchiki-channn!" the annoying voice of Asano Keigo grated against his ears. "Do you have any sisters? Perhaps you could introduce her to us soon!"
His fist involuntarily clenched slightly as one of the two 'transfer students' spoke up. "I did, but she unfortunately passed away awhile back."
There were sounds of gasps and apologies as the rest of the group reacted to her words. One of them clocked Asano on the head, demanding he apologize too.
He did, but Kuchiki merely giggled. "It's ok. She passed away when I was still a baby, and she was about ten years older, so I don't really remember her. Cancer, I believe was the cause." She gave a dramatic pause. "But I do have a brother about five years older than me."
It was the girls' turn to whisper among themselves. One demanded she show them a picture of him, leading to her removing a picture from her purse.
He wasn't expecting the resulting squeals and demands for more explicit details.
Just then, a head poked through the door and, upon spotting him, headed straight for him. It was Kanbara Izumi, the vice-president of the sewing club he'd founded. "Ah, Uryu-sensei, I was worried you were somewhere else. I just received word that the classroom we're supposed to be using has already been booked by the writers' club. Some bullshit about needing inspiration. I took the liberty of switching it to classroom 2-10 and I just came over to inform you of the switch."
Uryu nodded, thanking her for her initiative. He once again tried requesting her not to call him sensei, since she was a year older and was the vice-president, all the while knowing that it was futile.
As expected, she laughed lightly. "I would, but it's fun to see your reaction. Perhaps when I become anywhere as skilled as you are."
He conceded that point to her as she left.
He glanced back towards the noisy group, where Asano was once again fake-crying over something probably trivial, and watched the two 'transfer students' as they laughed along with everyone else.
He had to give them props though. Their cover stories were especially convincing. But he knew they were fake. The only thing that seemed real was their actual relationship with each other, but even that could be faked.
He did wonder, though, how Kurosaki, if that was his real name, had managed to rope doctor Kurosaki into his charade, and he was pretty sure 'Kuchiki's' brother and supposedly dead sister did not exist, or if they did, they were just like the two 'transfer students'.
He fingered the chain around his left wrist that was attacked to a Celtic cross. It was the symbol of his powers. His heritage. His birthright. It would be so easy to just activate it and send an arrow through them both before they even knew what was happening. But no, not yet.
Oh yes, he knew what the two of them were the moment he'd seen them. The ones responsible for the death of his grandfather. His mentor. He too might've been deceived like the sheep of the class, but he'd seen straight through them immediately, inhabiting the husks of empty bodies and strutting around with an ulterior motive in mind, thinking that everyone else was beneath them.
However, he was loathe to admit that, even after five months of watching them, he'd yet to figure out what this motive was. At first, he thought they were after him, but there was nothing to prove they knew who he was, except that they knew he had spiritual power.
His fault, really. Seeing them for the first time had caused a surge of unbridled anger that had caused him to momentarily lose touch of his carefully-controlled power. And they'd sensed it through that momentarily lapse.
Beyond that possibility (perhaps they were simply waiting for him to let his guard down), he'd to admit that he was fresh out of other possibilities. For the past five months, they'd acted like typical teenagers, with nothing to suggest a secret motive.
He was sure about one other thing though. He could sense that they were both hiding their true power, but that didn't deny that the both of them were immensely powerful, although 'Kurosaki' was even more so. That didn't matter though. So was he. It was going to be a matter of time before they finally showed their true colors. And when they did, he would be there to humiliate them. He would be there to show them that his kind was not to be trifled with. He would show them that he was not to be trifled with.
For he was Ishida Uryu. The last Quincy.
"Have you been having any strange dreams lately?"
Rukia glanced up from Ichigo's bed to its owner, who was sitting at his desk. They didn't have much to do; she was reading a book entitled 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone', and Ichigo was playing some game Keigo had given him (they had checked to make sure it wasn't some cheap porno flick). This book about magic was quite interesting to her; if a world of shinigami and hollows existed, perhaps one of magic did too.
Today was one of their rare joint breaks in training, but both didn't feel like going out, and their exams had just ended last week. They were expecting results to be out sometime this week, although Rukia was sure they were both likely to place quite high in the school rankings. Decades as shinigami ensured their discipline was high, and, boastful as it sounds, they were both quite smart.
So here they were, just lazing around in Ichigo's room with nothing much to do, and complete with some suggestive warnings by Isshin about his expectations with the two of them alone in his room and the girls still at school.
Training was going smoothly for Ichigo; the vizard had recently relented and allowed her to watch Ichigo train, but not without a promise that she would not breathe a single word about their location to anyone else.
She had to admit, his hollow powers atop his captain-level power placed him at an all new level, one that surely reduced the number of people capable of taking him on to just a few fingers. Seeing him adorn the hollow mask was a little unsettling for the first time, but was made easier when she realized it was just her Ichigo.
On the other hand, training on her part had been less successful. Having achieved materialization, she was definitely making progress, but was so far still unable to defeat Sode no Shirayuki in combat. As a result, she was still lacking her Bankai.
That created a slight problem. A year and a half after they'd escaped from Soul Society as fugitives, there was no sign to suggest Seireitei knew where they were, and nothing to suggest Aizen was up to something.
However, just three days ago, she felt something shift. It was unexplainable, but something about Karakura town seemed to change, as if the air and ground were being charged with something. It nagged at the back of her mind, just beyond her grasp.
Whatever it was, she sensed that things were falling into place. If Aizen was really up to something, she sensed that he would make his move soon, which made learning Bankai even more imperative.
She was close. She knew it. Perhaps in a month or so, she'll be able to finally achieve Bankai.
"Define strange dreams," she replied. Feeling a little playful, she added, "If they don't include me, I don't want to hear about it."
Ichigo turned to look at her. "Really?" He didn't answer for a few moments, and she was surprised to suddenly see a glint in his eyes. "In that case, I suppose you don't want to hear about how I dreamt that Byakuya finally fully accepted our relationship."
As he spoke, he inched his chair closer towards his bed where she was lying on, and she was surprised to find herself shifting from lying flat on her front to lying on her side and facing Ichigo.
Her throat suddenly feeling dry from the look Ichigo was giving her, she swallowed. "Oh, really? I suppose you were happy to hear that." Of course, she already knew the answer to that. She knew she would be.
"Oh really," Ichigo grinned back, and she suddenly felt the air seemingly thicken and become hotter. His knees bumped against his bed, but he inched closer still, their faces approaching. He pressed a hand on his pillow, supporting his upper body weight but causing her book to slip off and fall onto the floor with a loud 'flop'!
"In fact, I was so happy that I immediately called you to my office and did what I've always wanted to do." She shuddered violently as his hand encircled her waist and his fingers suddenly slipped past the bottom of her shirt, coming into contact with her skin. Involuntarily, she mimicked his action and inched her face up towards his.
"And what's that?" she asked huskily as the hand slowly traced a path up her stomach towards her chest, even though she already knew what it was. After all, it was what she wanted too. She knew that, in reality, Byakuya had yet to give full approval, but right now, under Ichigo's mesmerizing gaze, she found that, if he didn't care, so didn't she.
"You." And he captured her lips in his, causing her to moan and close her eyes in pleasure. She responded hungrily, reaching up to encircle his neck with her arms, trying to seal them tighter together. His hand continued exploring her bare body, splaying out for maximum contact, although she longed for it to travel further up her body.
As if hearing her thoughts, it finally continued its slide upwards, finding contact with the straps of her bra, slowing tracing along the bottom of the cups as he started placing kisses along her shoulder and neckline. Shivers laced throughout her body, and she couldn't help but moan loudly.
She was prepared to beg, prepared to go all the way, repercussions be damned-
And then Ichigo was suddenly back at his desk, staring at the computer like before.
"Huh?" she blinked, her breathing heavy and her eyes lidded from a pleasure that was rapidly fading away. Had she just dreamt that? But she could still feel Ichigo's touch lingering on her. And as for Ichigo himself, he too looked dishevelled...
"You idiot!" she cried, realizing what Ichigo had done, and flung his pillow at his head.
Downstairs, a loud voice suddenly carried into the room, "If that's what I think it is, I must call my brother to tell him he's getting grandchildren!" It was noise ignored by both.
Ichigo blocked the pillow and laughed infuriatingly. "That, my dear Rukia, was revenge for that stunt immediately after our exams."
She growled, but found herself unable to rebut the truth. After all, just last week, she'd been in a playful mood after her first major set of exams in a few decades and had teased him just as badly.
It took awhile, but ever since they'd taken refuge in the living world, they'd both been a little more daring in their relationship, involving more and more bare-skinned contact, but still stopping short of heavy-petting. Still set in the traditional ways, they'd been unwilling to go any further than kissing, and Ichigo had been particularly unwilling to do anything that might raise Byakuya's ire and give him cause to disallow their relationship. As clan head, he did have authority over Rukia after all.
But now, after over a year and a half in the living world, they were both slowly opening up and becoming a little more open in their physical relationship. It was an entirely new experience, and one that excited her to no end. Still, by mutual (and reluctant) consent, they'd chosen not to go too far just yet.
Although, having been together for so long, Rukia told herself that if Ichigo ever decided to go all the way, she wouldn't stop him.
But this limitation was tested by her last week when she teased Ichigo, and he obviously chose now to take revenge.
So, in a sense, this was her fault, but she wasn't going to admit that. "So you don't dream about me at all?" she said threateningly, her tone suggesting that Ichigo choose his next few words carefully.
Recognizing this, Ichigo sobered immediately. "Well, yes, I do, but that can hardly count as strange, right?"
His sheepish grin caused her anger to ebb away, but she maintained her glare. "So what exactly are you talking about?"
Ichigo frowned. "It's hard to explain, actually, but recently, I've been having dreams about being a little boy running through the streets in traditional Japan."
She frowned. "That doesn't sound that strange. It sounds like when you were back in Inuzuri before you met me."
"No, it's different. I was accompanied by two adults whom I'm sure are my parents."
Rukia's eyes widened. "You dreamt about your life as a child? That's... well, I've never heard of something like that happening before. So you remember your parents? I thought you said you can't remember them? And why haven't I experienced similar dreams as well?"
"That's not all, actually. My mother's face is blurred above her mouth, but I can hear her talking and can see her smile, and it's somehow registering them both as belonging to her."
His confused expression was giving Rukia mixed feelings, with confusion also being the most predominant one. "And your father?"
Ichigo suddenly became more serious. "Here's the strangest part. Most of his face usually starts out blurred at first, but it eventually becomes clearer. But the face I see is always uncle Isshin's!"
Rukia was starting to get a headache with Ichigo's description of his bizarre dream. She flopped on her back and lay still for a moment with eyes closed. "Well, that isn't an answer I expected, that's for sure."
"Any ideas?" Ichigo leaned back into his chair.
"Hmm... Oof!" Rukia grunted as she pushed herself into a seating position. "Well, I'm not the best person to ask obviously, but perhaps it's because you've been around Uncle Isshin for so long, and he's also a male adult named Kurosaki, so your first impression of a person you've long forgotten is automatically filled by him."
Her words were met with silence. ""Wow, didn't know you had it in you."
Finding nothing to chuck at him, Rukia settled for aiming a kick at his chair.
Ichigo laughed. "No, but seriously, your suggestion might warrant some consideration, but who knows?"
Maybe Urahara might be able to shed some light on it," she suggested.
Right then, Ichigo's phone rang. They both looked at it. Ichigo picked it up. "What the hell? He's just right downstairs..." He accepted the call. "Uncle? Can't you just come up and-"
A loud blare issued from the cell-phone, forcing Ichigo to hold it away from his ear. It was loud enough for Rukia to hear. "My dear nephew! Have you done it? Have you made me a grand uncle?"
Ichigo snarled and shouted right back. "Why the hell are you shouting? Just come up and ask me! And in any case, Rukia and I weren't doing anything of that sort!"
Rukia mouthed 'liar' at Ichigo and pelted him again with her recently retrieved pillow, even as Isshin responded back with, "that's not what the noises told me!"
An increasingly irritated Ichigo yelled back, "I'm on my game, old man! Disturb me later!" before ending the call. He breathed heavily.
"Nothing, huh?" she smirked.
Despite himself, Ichigo smirked back. "Need I remind you again that you started it first?"
Before Rukia could counter, her phone rang this time.
Ichigo groaned in frustration. "Gah, that'd better not be him again!"
Rukia looked at her phone's display. "It's Urahara. Just as well, I guess. We can ask him about your dreams... Hello?"
"Ah, Kuchiki-san, a prompt response indeed!"
"What's the matter, Urahara-san? I was just about to call you for something too."
"That'll have to wait, unfortunately. My sensors are picking up reiatsu signatures approaching the town."
She didn't question where the sensors came from, seeing as he was an ex-captain. "Hollow?" she asked, hoping it wasn't the alternative, as it would mean they'd been found.
"Right in one!" She let out a breath of relief.
"Isn't there a shinigami posted nearby to take care of it?"
"Nope," Urahara said without further elaboration.
"One of us will go and take care of it then."
"Ah, you didn't hear me properly, Kuchiki-san."
Rukia frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"I said approaching signatures. There happens to be two hollows approaching the town. At different locations."
If you're confused with the title, here is where canon starts finally. Whew! Hope you've had as much fun reading as I have writing. So canon starts here, with obvious changes, of course. How will things go? Find out next chapter. I realized I've not been adhering to my scheduled updates, so from now on I won't give a schedule. I'll still try and write as quickly as I can.
Hope you'll review with your comments/suggestions. See you guys next update, and Happy New Year too!