CHAPTER 2 IS HERE! I'm excited! AND continuing the story! *Gasp* Actually, I knew I was going to keep going since the first review came in! Sorry for keeping everyone who reviewed in the dark until now but it takes me a couple of days to write and edit these chapters. Its been a crazy busy week for me so I published an unfinished version of this chapter earlier today and I am deeply ashamed of that mistake. It was poorly edited and extremely awkward. This is take two and far superior in my opinion.

Anyways, fair warning about this chapter, it starts off quite dark... if you don't want to read about Ichiko's horrible, horrible dream skip down until you see GOOD MORNING ICHIKO!

Enough about me, lets talk about the story! So, this is going to be an extremely thorough retelling of Bleach. I have the manga open next to me when I write this and I'm pretty much going panel by panel. There will, of course, be extra scenes now and then and a few deleted scenes but events will be familiar to say the least. Anyone who is reading this for Fem!IchiXM!Ruki smut you can leave now. There will be romance, yes but Fem!Ichi and M!Ruki are still Ichigo and Rukia at heart. They are not going to leap into bed like a pair of chappies in heat. Their relationship will be slow to develop but it will be there and there will be plenty of moments, I promise you. Don't despair on me, okay :D

Shout-outs!

Parawhoreanimegirl 11: First reviewer! Yay! Much love to you, m'dear XD I'm glad you think its epic and I'm certainly going to keep going!

Selyra: Love for long review XD Oh there's chase scenes a'coming ;) Sadly, I haven't come across any other good IchiRuki GBs :C There's one right here though, if you think my writing is good! About the Fem!IchiXBya challenge, I'm not sure if I'll have time to do that theme the justice it deserves. I always thought of Fem!Ichi as the reincarnation of ******* (name omitted due to plot significance :D). I might do a one-shot or two of them but I don't know if I can get a multi-chapter saga in between everything else that's going on, sorry.

My spirits are always with me! Haters are gonna hate, if not I'm doing something terribly wrong!

The romantic insanity: I'm so glad you like it! Writing is always hard work but I think anyone can be good at it with practice. The key to a good GB, in my opinion, is to make sure that the character are not just the original wearing different skins but rather their own people (who just happen to be very similar to the originals). Love for implying that I'm good *hugs*

Curttsies: *Blushes furiously* Y-you think I'm g-good? *Runs off into the bushes and to celebrate, returns several minutes later bleeding but happy* And we're back folks...

Sailingseas: I love you too! I love all my reviewers and being loved back makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside XD But don't let me talk anymore! Let's continue the story!

Disclaimer: *Yoda voice* This one owns Bleach not.

Mists coiled up from the soggy peat that squelched underneath Ichigo's sandals. Sepia colorlessness choked the barren landscape. The thing other than shades of grey for as far as Ichigo could see were two smudges on the horizon that were slowly dragging themselves closer. The moist, insidious stench of mold permeated the air, making Ichiko want to gag. A nebulous feeling of dread settled over Ichiko like a vast hand inexorably enveloping her.

Wait a sec… sandals? I never wear sandals…Ichiko looked down at herself. What the hell is this? Since when did Ichiko Kurosaki wear kimonos? Jeans and a t-shirt were more her style. Apparently someone else had dressed her because a black shihakusho was draped over her body. Something is seriously not right here… That Rukio guy was wearing something like this when I… wait, where is he? Speaking of which, where am I?

The orange-haired girl wasn't finding any answers to those questions by inspecting herself. Deciding that her surrounding might yield a little more information about just what the hell was going on and who she should beat up about it, Ichiko took another look around. One second she had been… chopping a monster in half. With a preternaturally sharp wakizashi that had appeared in her hand from nowhere… after she'd just gotten stabbed through the chest but boy who'd walked through her bedroom wall. Eh, sanity wasn't working out so well anyways, Ichiko consoled herself.

"I-Ichiko…" a moan broke her out of her thoughts. The voice was chillingly familiar though distorted with pain. The dread which was threatening to crush Ichiko tightened its grip. She spun to find that the smudges on the horizon had suddenly gotten a whole lot closer, right next to her in fact. The blurring effects of distance dispelled, they resolved themselves into shapes she knew all too well. "W-what's going on, Ichiko?" Her father groaned.

"It hurts, Onee-chan…" Added Yuzu as the pair shambled towards her. Weeping crimson gashes scoured them from head to toe. The soggy peat underneath their feet was slowly growing redder and redder. After a lifetime of seeing ghosts still sporting their mortal injuries into the afterlife, Ichiko thought she would never again be unsettled by the sight of blood. But when it was her family were the ones so rent, no amount of experience could possibly have numbed her. Her brown eyes widened even though all she wanted to do was shut them and never see anything again. Bile rose up in her throat, threatening to spew out onto the soggy ground. It took all of Ichiko's considerable willpower but she held it down.

"I thought you were going to protect us, Ichiko," her blood-soaked father screamed at his daughter. His was voice a shrill, demented parody of his usual playful tone. Hate and accusation boiled in his eyes, making Ichiko want to slip out of her skin and hide somewhere dark and lonely. "Didn't you become a shinigami to protect us?" he shrieked, splattering flecks of blood against Ichiko's face.

In contrast to Ichiko's irate father, Yuzu just sobbed. The tears carved trails in the crimson that coated his cheeks as convulsions wracked his small body. Other than the uncontrollable shaking, he barely moved at all, just stared at hands soaked through with his own blood. "Why?" he whispered, "why didn't you save us, Onee-chan?"

A sound made Ichiko turn around, anything to distract her from the nightmarish scene. A tree had grown behind her were none was before. It was a stunted dead thing that bore neither fruit nor leaves, existing for no other purpose but to simply exist. Its twisted barren branches ineffectually clawed at the sky, as if trying to tear chunks out of the grey expanse that hung heavily overhead.

Rukio leaned against the scaly gray trunk of the tree. As Ichiko stared at the tall, black-clad boy his large violet eyes eased open and he smiled widely. As his lips drew back, Ichiko recoiled in horror. Row after row of shark's teeth filled his mouth and spilled out of the confines of his jaws. Slowly he spoke, seeming to relish every word even though the over-sized teeth cut into his face with every word, "So sorry, Ichiko. You didn't quite make it in time."

"Wha-what did you s-say?" Ichiko stammered out but her words were lost as someone shouted "GOOD MORNING ICHIGO!"

Even gripped in the deepest and most terrifying of nightmares, Ichiko's body had learned to keep its guard up. Instantly, she was awake and ready for battle. Instincts honed by countless early morning attacks flared to life. Even before conscious thought returned, she was assessing the situation. Ichiko was in her own room, in her own bed with the strawberry-print sheets tangled around her legs. All her furniture was in place: down to the cabinets in the corner and the Pride MMA poster listing slightly to the left on her wall. One thing didn't quite fit thought. It took her perhaps a nanosecond to figure out what it was. Her father was flying through the air towards her with one foot outstretched in his unique Wake-Up Kick pose.

Oh hell no, Ichiko thought as she grabbed his leading leg with both hands, I am in NO mood for this! She roared incoherently and yanked his foot as hard as she could, changing his direction of motion drastically. One would think Isshin would have learned not to jump at his daughter a long time ago but the look of surprise that crossed his face just before said face impacted the metal headboard of Ichiko's bed suggested otherwise. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Especially ones who might have concussions.

Ichiko's father bounced off the unforgiving metal railing and hit the floor with a loud thump. In a split second, Ichiko was out of bed. As her father groaned and tried to sit up, she grabbed his face and slammed the back of his head back into the floor. "Not in the mood today, daddy-dearest," she growled at him at him venomously.

Though his voice was somewhat muffled by Ichiko's death grip on his face, the pride in his voice was unmistakable, "My daughter is becoming such a strong, beautiful woman," he sniffed, holding back tears. "Daddy has nothing left to teach you!"

"That's what you say every time you attack me in my sleep, you bastard!" Ichiko yelled at her insufferable father, "Now get the hell out of my-" The fog of adrenaline cleared from Ichiko's mind without warning. Like someone had driven a pick-axe through the water-main, memories flooded back into her spiky orange head. Flashes of something huge and green, blood splashed against the walls of her home, her family dying, Rukio dying, the sword they'd driven between her breasts, cutting the thing in half with her own sword… then nothing.

But she distinctly remembered seeing her father missing a large chunk out of his back! "What the hell, dad," she cried, trying to sound angry instead of worried, "what's the idea, attacking me when you're so badly injured?"

"Injured? What are you talking about?" he asked, suddenly ceasing his ineffectual attempts to get out of his daughter's grip, "When did I get hurt?" Ichiko took another look. It should have been impossible but the Goat-Chin was conspicuously whole. As far as the state of her father's body was concerned, the events of last night might have never happened at all. What? Am I going crazy? Was it really just a dream after all?

The massive hole in the side of the Kurosaki clinic which greeted her as soon as she walked downstairs disagreed with Ichiko's assessment of her sanity. Very clearly, it pointed to the events of last night being horribly, horribly real. Someone, probably her idiot father, had nailed a bunch of boards across the gaping opening. As if that made anything any better! Anyone walking past the street would get a clear view of absolutely everything that went on in the main room of the Kurosaki household. Ichiko feared for the mental health of the pedestrians. Too much exposure to her family would drive the untrained mind mad.

In the background, her family was talking to Ichiko but she wasn't paying attention to them, one of many defense mechanisms Ichiko had developed. The implications of the hole were distracting her. So… last night really did happen… shit…

"… truck crashed into the house… miracle… nobody was injured…" Isshin was happily blabbering, completely recovered from the pounding he'd received from his eldest child less than ten minutes before. Bullshit, Ichiko thought as she clambered around the boards and out of the Clinic, there wasn't any truck! There aren't any skid marks on the sidewalk or any scraped off paint in the rubble. Why the hell do they believe something stupid like that?

"…nobody woke up!" Considering my family, that's actually believable.

"…criminal got away!" No, I cut the invisible monster in half right there in the street! Ichiko kept her thoughts to herself. They were sounding crazy even to her. She sighed and rubbed her hand over her face. Ichiko was suddenly struck how tired she was. With a groan, she sat down on the sidewalk and stared just at the massive chunk that had been torn out of the side of her home.

Isshin, Yuzu and Karin walked past their seated sibling and climbed back inside through the gaping opening. As he was just about to pass out of sight, her blond brother turned around and smiled brightly, "Come on, Onee-chan! If you don't eat soon, you're gonna be late!" Ichiko smiled weakly back but motioned for him to go on without her. The orange haired girl wasn't done thinking, something that considerably harder to do with her extraordinarily noisy family present.

Everyone's wounds have been healed and they think the damage to the house was an accident… Is this how the shinigami cover their tracks? How many of the accidents in the paper are really shinigami cover-ups? But a more important question wriggled its way into Ichiko's mind. A question that came with the image of solemn, violet eyed face framed by silken black bangs. Where did Rukio go? Is he back in the Soul Society already?

For some reason, Ichiko hoped he hadn't.

It was almost noon at Karakura High School and Kengyuu Inoue was bored. Bored and tired. The tall boy lounged under an open window and let the cool breeze wash over him. Gentle gusts ruffled his short burnt-orange hair. He groaned contentedly at the feeling. Long hours of waiting tables last night had left him completely exhausted and he could do with a little soothing. He'd barely had time to make himself lunch for the next day before he collapsed on the futon in the small apartment he shared with his best friend and fell asleep. Maybe I'll ask Chad to give me a back massage…

The little shut eye he'd gotten wasn't nearly enough and he was still boned tired now. Of course, it hadn't helped that Chad had woken up Kengyuu up an hour early so that the two of them could use the school gym before classes started. Even though he'd worked with about half as much weight as his towering roommate, Kengyuu was still extremely sore. But being tired and achy wasn't the real issue, his boredom was. From nowhere, a huge yawn spit his face and he slumped back against the window sill, not quite mustering enough energy to close his mouth all the way.

Kengyuu frowned slightly as he began to drift off to sleep. His last thought before unconsciousness claimed him was Where's Ichiko?

Chad didn't let his friend stay asleep for long. He crouched down next to the other boy and pushed his mouth all the way closed.

Kengyuu's round chocolate eyes snapped open in surprise and panic. Something unintelligible sputtered from his mouth as scrambled away from Chad like a puppy put down after being held for too long. With spectacular gracelessness, Kengyuu tumbled out of his chair and crashed into the ground.

No one else but Kengyuu could have noticed but Chad grinned slightly at his friend's reaction. Kengyuu probably hadn't noticed it either because he was too busy hyperventilating. "You were sleeping," Chad informed Kengyuu in his resonant bass. When Kengyuu's breathing slowly to normal levels, Chad straightened and offered his the other boy a large dark hand to help him up.

"Yeah…" Kengyuu said with a distracted smile and let Chad do most of the work to get him on his feet. It didn't seem to bother Chad who hoisted his roommate up like he weighed nothing at all despite that fact that, at six feet tall with a sprinter's cut physique, Kengyuu weighed a lot more than nothing

Chad studied his friend's face closely, noting his wandering eyes and general distractedness. For someone who had known him for as long as Chad had, the cause of Kengyuu's behavior was painfully obvious. "She's not here yet," he told the auburn-haired boy. Chad didn't miss the flash of disappointment that tugged down the corner of Kengyuu's mouth. But the towering boy didn't ever miss much of anything at all. Silent and perceptive, Chad secret thought those were his best qualities.

Kengyuu sighed as if he had really been expecting Ichiko to turn up the second he closed his eyes. Reluctantly, a faint blush crept into his cheeks. Kengyuu winced slightly and eyed his half-Mexican friend from under a fringe of orange bangs, "That obvious, huh?" Chad only nodded.

"It's just not the same without Ichiko here…" Kengyuu whined. Chad nodded.

"She's like a bright shiny beacon of sparkly goodness, you know…"Chad paused for a second, considering whether or not anything about Ichiko could be considered sparkly. He eventually decided that it was improbable but nodded anyways because there wasn't really any point in arguing with Kengyuu. Especially not when Ichiko Kurosaki was involved.

"I get so worried about her!" Kengyuu whined even louder and looked around the class room again to see if his orange-haired crush had appeared in the couple seconds since he'd last looked. She hadn't.

An actual look of confusion appeared on Chad's face. Normally Chad would have kept on silently nodding until his friend had worn himself out but this was too much. Even though he tried to fight it, Chad had to ask, "Worry about Ichiko? Why?"

Kengyuu looked up at his friend a mirrored look of surprise spread over his face as if the reason he worried about Ichiko should be obvious. "What if she got kidnapped or something?" he blurted out. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he began to pace back and forth in front of the open window. Chad sat down in a nearby chair to watch his friend patiently. Whenever Kengyuu started pacing it was usually a sign that a major zone-out was approaching. 'What if she was just walking down the street and someone saw her hair and was like 'that's the best hair ever. I'm going to take it,' and they snuck up behind her and hit her in the head with a baseball bat but then she started bleeding and it got it her hair and they were like 'gross, I don't want bloody hair!' so they sold her to an underground fight club instead and she had to fight this huge guy who was like five hundred pounds and then he sat on Ichiko and Ichiko couldn't breathe and…"

Mercifully, Mizuki interrupted him, "Ichiko probably won't be in school today," she said matter-of-factly. A hint of a concerned expression broke through Ichiko's short friend's usual poker face, "at the very least, she's going to be a little late."

"You were with her when she got kidnapped?" Kengyuu gasped. The shroud of exhaustion that had blanketed him was immediately thrown off, he grabbed Mizuki by the shoulders and yanked their faces together until they were barely an inch apart. "Did you see which way the van went? Did you write down a license plate number?" The auburn haired boy demanded with extremely unnecessary volume.

Mizuki quirked an eyebrow at Kengyuu, "Kidnappers?" She cast a glance at Chad who still sat watching impassively. The on his face expression was as inscrutable as ever behind low-hanging bangs. "You really should make sure your boyfriend is taking his medication, Yasotura-kun."

Immediately, Kengyuu jerked back from Mizuki, his eyes expanding to improbable proportions, he started to sputter something incomprehensible, too embarrassed to form real words. Chad just shook his head slightly. "Kengyuu doesn't have meds. Or a boyfriend," the towering boy stated simply.

Mizuki grinned with sugary sweetness, "Really, the two of you had us all fooled," she said, "Anyways, when I went by there this morning there was this huge hole in the side of the clinic. You could see all the way into their living room. It was pretty trashed up in there too. I think her dad said something about a truck crashing into their house during the night. But back to the boyfriend thing… you two are sure-"

"A TRUCK?" Kengyuu shouted, invading Mizuki's personal space with his face again. She only flinched back slightly. After knowing Kengyuu for a while, one grew to expect such actions from the tall, auburn-haired boy. "Which way did the truck go? Did you get license plate number?" he asked, hell-bent on retribution and obviously not realizing that Mizuki probably had been asleep in her own house when the event actually occurred.

Chad sighed quietly at his roommate's antics. Before Mizuki made fun of his friend again in a way Kengyuu wouldn't understand, Chad asked the question that was actually important, "Is Ichiko ok?"

The short girl opened her mouth to reply but a familiar bored voice from behind the cluster of students beat her to the punch, "I'm fine, big guy." Mizuki and Kengyuu whirled around while Chad just turned slowly. "And don't go asking me for details or anything," Ichiko continued, "none of my stupid family even woke up."

From the moment he had first heard Ichiko's voice, Kengyuu's blush had been steadily intensifying. Ichiko was looking… rumpled this morning. Her normally spiky hair was even more untamed than normal, the ribbon at the neck of her uniform was off-center and… and… and the top-most buttons of her uniform had been left undone. Kengyuu knew he was staring but he couldn't help it. In his opinion, "rumpled" was definitely the one of the best possible looks on Ichiko.

Quickly, you fool, say something before it gets awkward! Kengyuu chastised himself sharply. Without really thinking, he blurted out, 'Kurosaki-chan! G-good morning! Y-you're looking great for someone who was just kidnapped!" Oh god, what did I just say…Kengyuu resisted the urge to creep into a corner and never speak again.

Ichiko gave him a confused look then, coming to the usually correct conclusion, glared at Mizuki, "Just what the hell did you tell Inoue about what happened, Mizuki? You can't take advantage of impressionable people like that." Mizuki threw her hands up in protest, shaking her head to reinforce her lack of responsibility for Kengyuu's confusion. Ichiko snorted, not believing her devious friend was completely innocent, "You seriously think I'm gonna believe that Inoue made up the kidnapping thing by himself?" She glanced back at the boy who hadn't stopped beaming widely at her and was sweating a little bit. "Yeah, actually I believe it," Ichiko amended and slumped into her seat.

As soon as the orange-haired girl's butt hit the ceramic, a too-familiar voice said sweetly from the seat next to her, "Are you Kurosaki-kun?"

Ichiko felt like she'd been dunked in ice-water. Oh hell no. It took grinding physical effort for Ichiko to turn and look at the boy who was sitting at the next desk over. He was tall, a little bit taller than Chad even. He was slender and dark-haired with features that could cut glass. Angular violet eyes regarded her from under regal brows. He was saying something that sounded suspiciously like "A pleasure to meet you" but Ichiko knew she was mishearing something because she already knew this particular boy pretty damn well.

The boy sitting next to her, a smile plastered across his stupid but undeniably handsome face, was Rukio Kuchiki. Oh hell no, Ichiko swore again but the words couldn't quite find their way out of her mouth because her brain was still trying to process his presence and not quite ready to say anything out loud yet.

Ichiko just sat and opened and closed her mouth a couple times while Mizuki happily inserted herself into the conversation. "This is Kuchiki-san! He just transferred in today." The girl leaned close to her orange-haired friend and whispered, "Cute isn't he?" Rukio pretended not to have heard and smiled with obviously rehearsed charm. How the hell does nobody else see through this, Ichiko was on the verge of shouting. Mizuki steadfastly ignored the fish-out-of-water expression that had seized a hold of Ichiko's face and she continued to relate whatever blatant lies Rukio had convinced the short girl of, "It's a weird time but his family was in a situation where they had to move suddenly."

Rage helped Ichiko manage to get her mouth somewhat back under control, "But you're a-" she started to hiss at Rukio.

The tall boy hiked the voltage up on his smile and extended his hand towards her, saying, "Kurosaki-chan, I haven't received my text books yet, would you mind terribly if I looked at yours?"

Whatever response indignant Ichiko might have made died on her tongue when she saw what was written on Rukio's palm. Large bold characters clearly spelled out 'Say something and I kill you.' Oh god, Ichiko realized, he's a lunatic…

"Where are we going?" Rukio huffed impatiently.

Ichiko didn't respond. She was too busy trying to figure out just what the hell the shinigami was still doing in her world. A little part of her was secretly happy that Rukio was still around but most of her was seething mad at his continued systematic destruction of her life.

The two of them rounded the corner of the school building and headed towards the athletic fields. From the windows lining the several-story edifice behind them, many pairs eyes watched their progress with varying degrees of interest. Ichiko couldn't care less but the unnecessary attention seemed to be setting Rukio on edge slightly. He glanced about then increased his pace jogged until he was next to the orange-haired girl. With legs as long as his, it took him three strides.

When they were neck-and-neck he leaned down and asked with a perfectly straight face, "Leading me to such an empty place, what dost thou intend of me?"

Ichiko made a face but didn't respond. Instead, she took the opportunity to grab his loose tie and forcefully drag him behind the bleachers.

"Milady," he started, "what dost thou-"

Nope, can't deal with this anymore…"Talk like a normal person, damn it!" she shouted and planted a foot on his chest. With a solid push, Rukio suddenly found himself sprawled out under the bleachers, crisscross shadows dappling his face. Ichiko clambered through the opening in the metal latticework after him and the tall boy took the moment of peace to prop himself up on his elbows.

The insulted look Rukio shot at the girl who was standing over him with her fists indignantly planted on her hips was completely ineffective. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, Rukio groused, "I thought it was pretty good for learning in one day. Maybe you're the one who doesn't talk like a normal person."

"One, I am normal. Two, shut up and explain what you're doing here!"

"Which one?"

"Which one what?"

Rukio rolled his eyes, "Obviously I can't shut up and explain at the same time, twerp." Instead of an answering verbally, Ichiko responded by delivering a solid kick to his side. After Rukio had finished groaning in pain, he wheezed, "What's there to explain?"

This, of course, prompted Ichiko to kick him again. "You know damn well what!" she shouted. "You're job's over, right? So what are you doing in my class and not, I don't know, back in the Soul Society?"

Rukio blinked his large, angular eyes at the orange-haired girl whose kicks had left her practically straddling him. As if it was the most obvious thing in the world, he said, "Only Shinigami can return to the Soul Society." He dragged one long-fingered hand over his face and sighed, "I can't go back. At least not yet."

Ichiko had been ready to kick his defenseless side again but the answer to her question was not at all what she was expecting. The look of pain in his eyes suddenly made her extremely guilty that she'd just been hitting him. Still, she had a reputation to keep up so none of the tenderness made its way to her deep brown eyes. Instead she slowly asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Rukio gave her a sad smile, "It means I lost my powers. I'm not a shinigami anymore."

"Not a shinigami anymore," Ichiko repeated, a little stunned. "But they can't have just disappeared? Where did your 'shinigami powers go?'"

Before she could react, Rukio stretched upwards and tapped the center Ichiko's chest with a single long finger, "Inside you."

Ichiko felt heat creeping up her cheeks. Suddenly, she became acutely aware of exactly how compromising their position was. If anyone were to walk by at that moment, they would definitely get the impression that something naughty was just about to happen. No, Ichiko reminded herself, I'm not going to get embarrassed! I'm angry!

With a snarl she slapped Rukio's hand away and moved to sit down on one of the support bars. The cold, thin sheet of metal dug into her thighs but the mild discomfort was far better than straddling Rukio. Mental pictures that disagreed decided now was the perfect time to show themselves to Ichiko. Ichiko forced herself not to blush. "You blind? Do I look like a shinigami to you?" she growled at Rukio.

Rukio sighed; she's making this far harder than it has to be." My powers are not inside your physical body, Kurosaki. They are within your soul. Last night, I intended to transfer no more than half of my shinigami powers into" but something inside of you hungered for power and tore all my power from me," but I accidentally transferred almost all of them instead. Instead of temporarily turning you into a shinigami, the nature of your soul has been transformed. It may be hard to accept at first but the truth is this: I'm living in an artificial body with barely any abilities left, effectively human… and you are now the shinigami."

Ichiko couldn't quite breathe. She felt light-headed, sick. Me? A shinigami? "So? That doesn't answer the question. what are you still doing here? What do you want with me?" It was more of an accusation than a question. Deep down, Ichiko knew what the answer to the question was going to be, she just wished she didn't.

Rukio shifted until he was sitting against a bar adjacent to the one Ichiko perched on instead of lying on the ground. Locking his violet eyes with her light brown ones he stated, "Until my powers return, you will take over my shinigami duties."

"But I-"

"But since you have no idea how to use shinigami powers," Rukio continued headless of Ichiko's protests, "I will, of course, be assisting you."

"Isn't there-"

"You really have no right to refuse, since you were-"

Finally Ichiko managed to get a word in, "I wasn't going to refuse, idiot!" she shouted at Rukio.

He blinked at her surprised. I take back what I thought about her making this difficult… She's accepting it just like that? There has to be some catch…"You're agreeing to this? Without fighting?" From his experience with the girl, if Ichiko wasn't the type not to argue.

Ichiko sighed and heaved herself off the support. "I don't know how much you Shinigami keep tabs on us humans so I maybe you know this already but I've been protecting spirits all my life. In my own way. When someone is disturbing their rest, I help bring them peace again. When they are obsessed with something still in the living world, I try to get them over it. Now I have to fight monsters for spirits, it's not too much of a change. I'll probably get used to it," With a slightly sad smile on her face, Ichiko leaned down and offered Rukio her hand, "Someone needs to look after the dead, right? Besides, it's not like this is a permanent thing, right?"

Rukio's smile widened into a mischievous grinned and drew something out of his pocket. He grasped Ichiko's hand firmly in his own but instead of using her to pull himself up, he yanked her down towards. At the same time, his other hand came up rapidly. Ichiko's caught a brief glimpse of a glove with some sort of red-and-black pattern but Rukio's palm impacted Ichiko's chin before she could get a good look at what was emblazoned on it.

Then the orange-haired girl learned what paper felt like when someone ripped it. The sensation wasn't exactly painful but "tearing" was the only word that could have described it. She watched in horror as she was pushed out of her body. Bonelessly, the form she'd been occupying until a second ago slumped against Rukio's chest.

"Y-you just pushed out my soul, didn't you?" she shouted at Rukio, disbelief overriding anger in Ichiko's voice. The orange-haired girl found herself now wearing a jet-black shihakusho and traditional sandals. Wait... this is the outfit from my dream… Something was slightly different though, there was a slight weight pulling down on the obi at her waist. Ichiko already knew what she'd find but she looked anyways. Sure enough, a slim wakizashi resting in its scabbard hung from her belt. The red cloth wrapping the handle seemed to call out to her hand, begging to be held. No, begging to be used.

The change should have been disconcerting but it simply felt right instead. The sword even felt comforting. It was nothing like the euphoria Ichiko remembered vaguely from the night before but the feeling of wholeness was undeniable.

Rukio didn't answer Ichiko's question. The answer was obvious. Instead, he gently set Ichiko's body down on the ground and said, "It's lucky that you're so willing to help, because I got an order about an hour ago and we need to take care of it now. You can't fight hollows in your human body. Follow me."

"I know this park…" Ichiko mused. The pair stood just outside of a playground that looked like it had seen better days. Even if it hadn't been the middle of the day and all the children hadn't been in school, there probably wouldn't have been anyone playing on the rusting toys. The umbrellas that covered the picnic tables scattered about all had rather large holes in them. Two out of three swings in the swing set had broken links and their grimy seats slumped against the ground. Weeds choked sandbox until there was barely any sand visible at all.

"Does a spirit ever appear near this park?" Rukio asked.

Ichiko nodded, "Yeah, a five year old kid. He usually appears here around noon. I've been trying to get him to move on for months but he just wants to keep playing. It's so sad. The city shut down the park after he died here and stopped maintaining it. But the kid doesn't seem to notice that nothing works right anymore. Whenever I talk to him, he tells me he's waiting for his mom to pick him up."

"So… he's your friend?"

Ichiko was about to deny it; refusing any relationship to spirits had become a habit for her. But, under the circumstances, she supposed that something closer to the truth might be acceptable. "Yeah," she admitted, "I suppose you could say that."

"That's good," Rukio said and handed Ichiko his cell phone. "Take a look at this." The text message screen was open but instead of words, incomprehensible runes covered the flickering display. Ichiko's eyebrow quirked upwards.

"Um… what's this gibberish?" Ichiko turned the phone this way and that, trying to see if it made more sense from different directions.

"It means that within 15 minutes of 12 o'clock, somewhere in a 20-meter vicinity of the former Yumizawa Children's Park, a hollow will appear. And, most likely, it will appear to attack your friend."

Ichiko's wakizashi was already scraping from its scabbard at her hip when a bloodcurdling scream rent the air. She spun, the elegant blade poised for either attack or defense, and instantly spotted the hollow. It was a thick-bodied, insectile thing. Six pointed legs grew off of a main body which was covered in raised black ridges. The most disturbing thing about it was how humanoid it was. The chest was almost perfectly human and the mask it wore over whatever sort of face it had was reminiscent of a deeply frowning man's.

And the five-year old spirit was running from it. Tears streamed down his tiny face as he screamed, "Mooooooommmmmmmmyyyyyy!" The thing was gaining on him. Fast. Ichiko knew she could move faster.

"Shinigami must treat all spirits equally," Rukio was saying, his long arms crossed over his chest, "if you save this boy now, you are agreeing to save all spirits afterwards. Think-" Ichigo hadn't been listening at all. The moment the hollow had come into view, her course of action was decided. In Ichiko's mind there was only ever one option: protect. She had seen enough people hurt. Nothing was going to stand between her and saving the boy.

"Shut the hell up! You're distracting me!" She shouted as she vaulted the railing that separated her from the charging hollow and its defenseless prey. Perhaps defenseless wasn't quite the right word anymore. Ichiko and her razor-sharp blade were the best defense any spirit could ask for.

"You are agreeing to give up your ever life for duty! If you do this now, there is no turning back, Kurosaki!" Rukio shouted after Ichiko but she was already halfway to the hollow and not slowing down. Across the park, the child stumbled. It was a close thing. The boy almost regained his balance, but whatever passed for gravity in the spirit realm had too strong a grip on him. He fell. Immediately the hollow was above him, raising one sharpened limb to impale the child.

"I…" Ichiko coiled and sprung. Gravity seemed to barely affect the orange-haired girl, she soared upward like an arrow loosed from a greatbow. At the apex of her flight, she passed in front of the sun and it struck her fiery orange hair. For a moment, the light caught in her brilliant tresses. They shone as if lit from with. In that instant, Ichiko Kurosaki was an angel of retribution wreathed in holy fires. It took Rukio's breath away. This is what she truly is. Then Ichiko was descending. The hollow noticed Ichiko at the last second. Even behind its mask, Rukio could see the fear etched on its features. "…know!" Ichiko blade flashed in the sunlight, slicing cleaning through one of the hollow's shoulders and sending the limb that had been upraised high into the air.

Ichiko landed on top of the little boy's spirit in a protective embrace. With fluid grace, she rolled away with her charge tucked against her chest and sprung up again. Her blade was at the ready. The hollow howled, whether it was at the loss of its limb or its prey Ichiko couldn't tell. Nor, frankly, did she care. It was a monster trying to hurt and innocent. She was going to kill it.

Apparently, the hollow's plan for Ichiko was much similar. It charged the orange-haired girl. Idiot, Ichiko thought as she reversed the grip on her wakizashi. The hollow's stab was faster than a human would have been able to see let alone dodge. Ichiko side-stepped it easily and rammed her blade' through the insectile monster's masked forehead.

The hollow stopped dead in its tracks. The little spirit stared up in shocked silence. All was still for a moment. Steadily, dust began to dribble out around Ichiko's tsuba which was pressed all the way against the monster's forehead. As if the spell was broken, the boy began to sob lightly. Ichiko pulled her blade from the monster forehead and replaced it in the sheath at her waist. The hollow collapsed lifeless.

The tall girl dropped to one knee before the boy and gathered him up in her arms. "Shh… it's okay. I gotcha, I gotcha. You're safe now, kid. Nothing's gonna hurt you anymore." Gently, she ruffled the child's hair. All the attention only seemed to make him cry harder. The tears were no longer of fear though, but of relief.

Behind them, the hollow was dissipating like ash thrown into the wind. Rukio approached Ichiko and the spirit from behind and opened his mouth. Before the ex-Shinigami could speak, Ichiko stopped him, "Don't Kuchiki," she began, "I owe you a debt for helping me save my family, Kuchiki, and I'm not trash who doesn't pay her debts. But that's not why I'm doing this. There's more pain in this world than anyone knows how to deal with it and spirits have it worse than most. Someone's gotta look out for them." Ichiko paused, "But that's not why I'm doing this either. This isn't some pity crusade that I'm gonna drop as soon as it gets boring. I'm doing this because I want to. Don't give me any of this crap about duty and responsibility. I'm already in this for the long-haul. So now, you owe it me to make me as strong as possible."

The spirit Ichiko was holding had stopped crying. "What are talking about, Onee-chan?"

Rukio grinned, "Just konso the spirit, twerp."

So what do you all think? Kengyuu was kind of a challenge to portray and I think I missed the mark a little bit. I wanted to preserve what makes Orihime endearing (or annoying depending on your perspective) but it doesn't translate as well to the masculine as I hoped. Anyways, I'd love some feedback on that front in particular. By the way I picked out his name because Kengyuu is the name of Orihime's husband in the Tanabata Festival myth. It seemed appropriate. Anyways, I'm going to clear something up just in case there was some confusion: Chad and Tatsuki retained their original genders but switched their best friends. There is a reason for this, I assure you :D

Also, I'm going to be mucking with the powers of the characters. From a story standpoint, the powers of Bleach characters are based on who they are. In this story the characters are similar to their originals but not the same. If you haven't noticed, my Ichiko actually acts almost opposite of Canon Ichigo in a lot of situations. Because they are not the same people, they have different powers. From a writer's standpoint: this was done because I love Kido incantations and would get bored if I had to describe fights exactly how they happened in the manga. Don't worry though, this is not a Powerful!Ichi story any more than Canon!Bleach is already one.

Anyways, I can't wait to show you next chapter, I'll think you'll get a real kick out of what song Kengyuu is singing to himself :D

Please rate my lovely little dumplings,

Turney