A/N: Big thanks to the reviewers who helped me with the context of the quote from the last , a special thank you to Ultimate Black Ace and D for noticing my mistakes (which I have now changed)! In the last chapter I meant to write:

1) "The (much more mature since last year) Division TEN captain notices…" (I.e. I was referring to the much taller, short-haired Toshiro)"

2)and Matsumuto was supposed to say "stay with me in TENTH"

Disclaimer: Nothing but the plot twists are mine : )

MUST READ:

Note: Remember how after Ichigo defeats Aizen, there's that scene where Rukia (alongside Orihime, Chad, and Uryo) find him and he smiles at them? Well, I'm changing a few things. A) Only Rukia finds him AND B) he's unconscious on the ground

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Legend for this chap:

Memory

'thought in a memory'

emphasisin a memory OR a memory within a memory

Present Time

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Hear Me Sing Chapter 7: Fragmented Memories.

Dedicated to Ultimate Black Ace, thanks for noticing my mistakes in the last chapter!

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Memories can be wonderful things.

They remind you of the most wonderful times…

With the most wonderful people.

But then, slowly, they tie you to those times…

And to those people.

Thus we conclude:

Memories can be horrible things.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

(20 months ago, a couple of weeks after Ichigo fought Grand Fisher)

Ichigo was pissed.

This was something Rukia could attest to with full and utter confidence.

But, why? What could possibly be the reason behind her comrade's boiling ire?

Well, that was something that Rukia had yet to figure out. Currently, the orange-haired idiot was furiously pulling her out of the idle little café they had gone to for lunch. And Rukia could not fathom why.

As she struggled to keep up with his long strides, she allowed the events of earlier that morning to replay in her head.

"Why are we even doing this?" A grumpy Ichigo questioned, as he yawned shamelessly into his arm.

Rukia was quick to stomp on his foot to reprimand him for his poor etiquette.

Despite his (in her opinion, quite girlish) squeal of pain, he still followed her into Bell's café.

"Because" she began as she seated herself on one of the tables next to the window, "Orihime told me this place makes delicious pancakes and I wanted to try some for myself."

Ichigo scoffed. "Well then go ahead, try some for yourself. I don't see why you had to drag me and my wallet into this."

She gave him an overly saccharine smile (that she had no doubt learned from that Chappy garbage) and their hourly banter began.

Sometime in the middle of waiting for his chocolate chip pancakes and her (much to his chagrin and her amusement) strawberry pancakes, he decided to take a trip to the restroom.

A moment after he left her, the door to the café opened again. This time, a man, maybe two or three years Ichigo's senior entered. Rukia didn't pay the new entrant much attention (none at all, in fact).

He, on the other hand, was quick to situate himself right across the dark-haired vixen sitting all by her lonesome.

Long story short, by the time Ichigo came out of the restroom he was privy to the last bits of their (rather one sided) conversation:

"Call me Kitoshi. Or better yet", he winked, "Just call me."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what happened about 2.5 seconds before Ichigo (… GRACEFULLY, as always) pulled Rukia out of her seat and dragged her out of the tiny café.

Guess she'd have to wait until next Saturday before she could try those coveted pancakes.

However, she was not willing to wait that long for Ichigo's reasoning behind his boorish actions. After all, all the man had done was talk to her. What was so wrong about that? She voices her confusion to her irate companion.

"Ichigo! Why are you so angry?!"

Ichigo doesn't bother to respond to her, mostly because; he's not quite sure himself.


She was hurt.

He was weak.

She's hurt because he's weak.

They had gone in to fight another routine hollow. Ichigo had been distracted trying to decipher his earlier feelings of anger towards the man from the café. Even the cold night air of Karakura wasn't enough to stir him into attentiveness.

The hollow had come extremely close to killing him, due to his carelessness.

It didn't.

But only because Rukia had stepped in and tried to stop it with her kido.

And in the process, she had been hurt: slashed viciously across her torso.

Of course, once the creature's filthy extremity cut into her skin—had spilled her blood—Ichigo had taken less than a second to kill the beast with earth shattering fury.

Now, she's on his back, and the crisp air is whipping across her face as he runs towards the Shoten.

"Ichigo put me DOWN!" She tries to yell, but her voice breaks at the end from the effort it takes to do so.

Ichigo doesn't even let her finish before he begins responding. "Shut up and relax. Don't…don't irritate your wound any more."

Despite the fact that he refuses to meet her eyes, she recognizes the look marring his features. She had become all too familiar with that serious, guilt-ridden expression he adopts anytime she gets injured.

She wisely decides that now isn't the time to fight with him. So, contrary to her initial protests, she tightens her arms around his neck. She lets him whisk her away to Urahara's, and lets the wind generated from his speed cool her rising fever.

He feels the blood from her open wound seeping onto his back. It's ice cold by the time it permeates the makeshift wrap he made for her, soaks through both of their robes and reaches the skin protecting his back.

He decides, then and there (as he feels the glacial jolt of her blood staining his spine), that he will never, ever let her get hurt on his behalf.

'Never again.'

Exhaustion overwhelms the injured girl about half way to the shop. She starts to close her heavy-lidded eyes, and Ichigo feels her lower her head delicately onto his shoulder.

Due to their… proximity… he can feel her heart beating against his back. He analyzes he rhythm, and concludes that he will make it to the shop in time.

He continues on his path but is surprised to find that, despite the chilly air outside, his face is… warm?

'The night air is cold', he reasons. That is the only possible explanation for the heat quickly rising up his face.

Yup, that is the only plausible reason.

He adamantly refuses to admit that the red dusting his cheeks is due to her shallow breathes fanning across his bare skin, as her lips hover dangerously close to his neck.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

He came.

Despite her threats and warning and prayers…he came to save her.

He put his life at risk for her.

'For…me?'

The idea that he values her life so much is still baffling and perplexing on so many levels to her. Rukia is the first to admit that she didn't think anyone would care about her execution. Yes, some of her old friends might grieve for a day (maybe even two), but they would continue to go about their daily existence without her.

'Some…some were even willing to watch the execution themselves…'

She swallows that treacherous lump in her throat as she looks at the boy—the man—with incorrigible orange hair.

Does he know how much it means to her that he came?

Does he understand just how deeply it affects her?

Though she would never admit it to his face, he had already done more for her than anyone she had ever met.

He had welcomed her into his family. He had been willing to share his (slightly deranged, but loving) father and two younger sisters with her, the girl who had been ostracized by her supposed family.

Her mouth turns upwards as she remembers the Kurosaki's—her family.

She remembers cheering at Karin's soccer games, cooking (or at least trying to) on Sundays with Yuzu, and laughing at Isshin's antics. Those memories…she cherishes them. These people…she loves them.

She would be willing to do anything to protect them.

Rukia inwardly curses her train of thought for leading her to this stop… for teasing her by reminding her of the family she was forced to leave behind. It had killed her to leave Ichigo…but it had also killed her to leave Yuzu and Karin. They had become close after her stay in the living world. One memory flashes brightly in front of the rest: the afternoon when Yuzu had bashfully asked if it was alright to address her as Ruki-nee.

The warmth of the memory pains her…because at the same time she remembers the adoration in the younger girls light brown eyes, she is forced to look at the unconscious form of their older brother.

They had already lost their mother…

'How could they ever forgive me for putting their brother through this?'

Her train of thought takes a detour as the object of her contemplations stirs.

His eyes open slowly, trying to adjust to the white lighting of Squad 4. His amber orbs sharpen as his eyes search and identify his surroundings. She watches his confusion turn to understanding as he glances at the pristine walls of the infirmary. She watches his eyes darken as they look out the window and take in the battered Sokyoku Hill in the distance. Then she sees his eyes flash with relief as they finally lock in on her.

He gives her a small smile from his spot on the infirmary bed. She gives him a small smile in return.

He isn't going to apologize.

She isn't going to say thank you.

He isn't going to ask about the lone trail of glistening liquid shining against her smooth cheek…

Just like he isn't going to question why her hand is clasped tightly onto his…

And she isn't going to question why he interlocks his fingers into hers, before closing his eyes once more.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

'Fuck, Renji!'

Ichigo knew

He knew he should have never left her alone.

Ichigo can count the number of times he's been truly frightened on his hands.

This is definitely one of them.

He is fucking terrified.

Inoue is trying to heal her, in some yellow-hued dome of magic. But it's taking too long.

'It's taking too. Fucking. Long.'

And despite his previous, momentary anger directed at the pineapple haired lieutenant, Ichigo knows whom he truly blames for Rukia's condition… he knows the one is truly responsible…

Himself.

He blames himself.

Because once again, he wasn't their to save her.

He looks at her rigid, lifeless form and refuses to let anyone see the apprehension, the shame, the absolute fear in his eyes.

'I'm going to lose her. I'm going to lose her. I'm going to lose her.'

His fists cling violently to the dirty black cloth of his attire.

'I can't lose her…'

The muscles in his eyes tighten and for a brief moment he is forced to look away.

'I am so sorry I failed to protect you…I am so, so sorry…'

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

His eyes feel heavy.

So, so heavy.

He can't feel any other part of his body.

Nothing…

Nothing at all…

But… wait.

He hears something.

It's faint and soft.

It's calming and wholesome and… and it's becoming clearer…

"… pid ba…"

Confusion brings forth consciousness, and the voice materializes.

"… Baka. Stupid, stupid baka…Always finding more ways to try and get yourself killed… you stupid, stupid baka!"

He almost laughs.

Almost, because the fact that he can hear tears in her voice removes all humor from the situation.

No, that just won't do. Rukia shouldn't be crying. No.

He has to fix this.

As he starts to ponder on ways to stop her tears, he starts to feel again. And the first thing he recognizes is her delicate fingers stroking the hair perched above his eyes.

Then he feels her strong, yet soft thighs beneath his head.

His head is in her lap. Her warmth is seeping into him. Her tantalizing fingers are in motion, now softly caressing the sides of his face.

It feels so good.

He will tell her he's awake. He will. He just… wants to indulge in her touch… for one moment longer…

'Please…just one moment longer….'

Her swallowing back a sob is a stark reminder that by withholding his consciousness from her, he is hurting her.

So he opens his eyes….

"You're…so annoying." 'You're beautiful'

She lets out an exasperated laugh upon hearing his gruff voice and her tears stop. "You, you're… " But, her relieved bliss quickly morphs into relieved anger (as it often does with them).

"You are such an incompetent strawberry!" 'You are the most selfless person I have ever met. Thank you for saving my world.'

He scoffs.

"Incompetent? I just killed Aizen!" 'No problem… Anything for you.'

"By nearly dying yourself!" 'I was so worried for you.'

"Shut up. You're irritating me." 'I'm alive. Please, don't stop holding me.'

"Baka!" 'Never... I love you.'

"Midget…" 'I love you more'

His voice is getting quieter. He's becoming tired. His vision is growing blurry.

His eyes briefly leave her wide violet orbs and Ichigo realizes that it's raining… it's raining quite fiercely, actually.

Nevertheless, he lets his eyes close again…

because he knows, somewhere deep inside himself where only truth beats, that he can trust Rukia to protect him from the merciless rain.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

'I love you more'

If only Ichigo noticed that his last thought had left his mouth.

Rukia certainly did.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

"I told you not to bug me Karin"

Truth be told, she hadn't even realized that she had been searching for him until she found herself standing before his office desk.

"Then why are you hanging around somewhere you know I can find you?"

She is about to internally applaud her 'comeback' when she sees him give her his haughty, 'thou are so stupid sometimes' look.

At her questioning expression, Toshiro's brow rises further and he gives a meaningful look to the mountains of paperwork decorating his desk.

'Oh… Right.'

Despite years of knowing him, she still finds herself forgetting he is a captain. That he has to bear a captain's responsibilities on his shoulders.

To be honest (once again), there is a part of her that still likes to think they are the same two kids that met on the soccer field all those years ago.

"Well… Isn't that why you have a lieutenant? Doesn't Matsumoto just do that kind of stuff for you?"

He gives her that look again.

'Oh… Right.'

She forgot that the idea of Matsumoto completing her portion of the paperwork is just as plausible as the older woman giving up sake.

She smiles in fondness at the memory of the effusive lieutenant.

But then her eyes return to reality and stare once more at the towering stacks of forms Toshiro has done and has yet to do.

She frowns and decides her friend needs a break.

"Come play with me."

It's a demand, and a ludicrous one at that. Toshiro's head jerks up upon hearing her…order? He then scoffs (elegantly of course) at her childish antics.

She rolls her deep coal eyes at the snow-haired taichou. "Oh come on! You need a break."

She'll never admit that she's worried about him. Nope, never.

It's just as plausible as him admitting he worries for her too.

He doesn't respond this time.

Irritated, the dark-haired teen makes a show of sitting on top of his desk, putting her hands beneath her chin, tilting her head, and facing him straight on.

Toshiro should point out to her that (if she wants to sit down) there is a perfectly fine couch only three meters away.

But he doesn't.

Instead he sighs and leans back in his chair.

They are facing each other: one with a practiced look of indifference and the other with a glare screaming that no matter what, she is going to win this.

He already know she's going to, but it's…well, entertaining….to irk her.

"Oh come on! Where did your sense of fun go?"

"Wherever your maturity went."

Her glare gets, if possible, sharper.

He groans faintly. "It's raining outside."

"Well no shit, I'm not stupid."

"Debatable."

"Asshole."

"Also debatable."

They're just gazing at each other now.

It's a strange game they often find themselves playing.

Who smiles first?

Toshiro gives in this time, and he can't help but question

'Why don't I mind losing to her?'

Karin smiles brightly in triumph, and his office dims a little.

'That's why.' He can hear the knowing smile in his Zanpakto's words. Toshiro conveniently chooses to pretend he didn't hear the ice dragon.

He doesn't really have a choice. Further examination of Hyorinmaru's words would entail having to revisit his questionable feelings about the girl in front of him. That is, the girl that really needed to learn to give him some more personal space. Really? Did she not notice the befuddling effect she had on his mind?

'Well, the Soutaichou almost did.'

He stiffens as he recalls his earlier conversation with the older man. He's not entirely sure how (or even if) the Soutaichou bought his explanation for coming across Karin and Luppi.

'But if he didn't believe me, what possible reason could he have for going along with my lie?'

Sensing her white-haired friend running away into the recesses of his mind, Karin gives the ice captain a playful shove. Of course, upon impact, Toshiro's sturdy frame doesn't move an inch.

She frowns as she realizes she's actually at risk of losing him to his thoughts. Thinking on her feet, she abruptly gets up and yanks the pen out of the hand of the spaced out taichou.

He seems to come back to her, momentarily. She seizes the opportunity and leans over to grab his wrist.

Her grip firm, she pulls him out of his seat and drags him out of his office.

He is letting her, of course. But she's not going to comment on his newly found compliance to her wishes.

Just like he isn't going to comment on the fact that her hand is slowly slipping into his.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

"It's all gone… " She whispers quietly, her uncharacteristically soft voice pleasurable to Toshiro's entire being.

He does not say a word because he knows that she will elaborate when she finds the words to do so. As expected, she does.

"… My reiatsu… I've lost it … again."

They're lying with their backs on the wet grass of one of the tenth division's most concealed training grounds, after having played a few rounds of soccer.

They finished up a while ago, and (until now) were gazing up at the cloudy sky in a comfortable silence. Both were content just listening and feeling the rain as it lightened to a soft downpour.

He makes the mistake of turning and looking into her dark, stormy eyes.

He can't promise her that it will be all right. He doesn't know if it will be.

So he settles for telling her that he'll stand by her side, the entire way.

Her lips quirk upwards in a small smile, and Toshiro's eyes involuntary turn down to look at her rosy lips…

'They look so soft…'

He stands up brusquely in an attempt to clear his head of his tainted thoughts. Once standing, his gaze shifts to the girl lying supine below him. He clears his throat and proclaims that they should start heading back. He thinks the rain is going to pick up again soon.

He holds his hand out to her.

She, in typical Karin fashion, rolls her eyes and states that she's "perfectly capable" of getting up by herself.

Midway through standing up, she slips on the soaked grass.

Toshiro tries catching her, but ends up being pulled on top of her.

And so they find themselves in a very compromising position.

But neither is thinking of that right now.

No, all Toshiro is thinking about is the fact that her curves fit perfectly into him, and that he can clearly feel the suppleness of her body through their wet, flimsy, easy to dispose of clothing.

All Karin can think about is the fact that Toshiro's eyes have darkened drastically, that he hasn't gotten off her yet, and that she can't bring herself to move a muscle.

She is reminded of her earlier musing:

They are not kids anymore.

And the thought absolutely terrifies her.

Their eyes are locked. His are filled with a raw hunger, underlined by complete adoration. Hers are filled with confusion, underlined by utter apprehension. The tension surrounding them is so thick and concentrated she is afraid of so much as breathing.

She decides that now is most definitely the time to start sorting out her feelings for this man.

Well… She hates that he loves to get on her nerves. His arrogance irritates her. His hot and cold attitude confuses the shit out of her. She's offended that he always thinks she needs to be protected… At the same time, she feels warm every time she remembers that he cares enough to try and protect her. His presence makes her feel safe, like it's okay to be herself. With him, she doesn't have to hide behind the mask that she has spent years perfecting.

While Karin's mind fast approaches a conclusion that her heart reached long ago, Toshiro's mind is swamped with conflict that his heart is exacerbating.

He knows he has a choice to make, and he knows that he has to make it right now. Should he can bring his mouth just a little bit closer to hers and bridge that torturously small space, like his heart and body are screaming at him to do.

Can he bring himself to do it?

If he can… if he does give in… then it will be the most selfish thing he has ever done in his life.

If he gives in, he will be putting her in more danger than she has ever been in before.

He will end up putting her life at risk.

Why?

Because she makes him happy?

Because he adores arguing with her?

Because she makes him feel like it's okay to let others in?

Because when she smiles, nothing else matters?

Because she's strong and beautiful and the very definition of perfect?

Because he was stupid enough to fall in love with her?

No.

He can't be selfish.

Not with her.

And so, he forcibly rips himself away from her addictive touch. He stands quickly and promises himself repeatedly that he will never accommodate those feelings raging in his heart. He swears to ignore the burning sensation that envelops his being every time she's near him. He tells himself he will never again pay attention to how his heart feels like its about to pop out of his chest with pure excitement when she is near him.

'I love her too much to be selfish with her.'

So he turns his back to her and walks away. He leaves her all by herself in the wet grass, subject to force of the (now) pounding rain.

He swears he will never let himself have her.

'Never.'

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

It takes almost twenty minutes for Karin to get out of the disordered daze he left her in. When Karin finally returns to the Tenth Division, she is storming in the direction of the Captain's office, half ready to beat their taichou into the ground.

However, she's stopped in her hunt by Rangiku.

The older woman gives Karin an "I–don't–know–what–the–hell–happened–but–you–are–so–telling–me–about–it!" look before happily announcing to Karin that she'll be the younger Kurosaki's roommate during her stay.

Karin, like many, cannot do anything as she is led in the direction opposite her intended destination by an eccentric, still gushing about sleepovers, Rangiku Matsumoto.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

"So….gunna tell me what happened between you and Karin?"

Toshiro refused to so much as flinch at the mention of her name.

His meddlesome lieutenant took that as an invitation to continue pestering him.

A memory of their conversation last night rings in his mind.

"Taichou…ummm…. Why are you wet?"

She had been suspicious ever since she entered the office (for the first time that day…) claiming she needed the next day off, and he hadn't so much as looked up from whatever forms he was filling.

She had a very strong notion it had to do with Karin.

"Kurosaki will be staying with you. See to it that she knows where the room is."

His command was ice cold. His tone clearly added 'Now!' to the end of his sentence.

Taking heed, Matsumoto left the office in search of her newest roommate.

"Taaaiiiichhhoouuu! You're going to have to talk to me sooommmeettiimmmeee!" She sang, happily prancing around the office.

Toshiro sighed in exasperation and realized that if he didn't give her something, she would never sit down and stop annoying him. Dealing with her was akin to sating a hungry child. Just give her some sustenance and hope she shuts her whining afterwards.

"… Nothing happened."

She tsked. "If it really was nothing, you wouldn't have holed yourself up in your office all day."

A tick formed in his forehead. "I have not 'holed myself up'…. I have been doing the paperwork that needs to get done this week, something that is taking slightly longer than expected because my supposed vice captain refusing to do her share! If you just acted like you were supposed to, we wouldn't even be in this mess!"

His pen broke sometime in the middle of the rant and his lieutenant gave him a worried looked. They both knew who that last sentence was directed towards…

Toshiro sighed as stood up to throw out his pen and retrieve another. "We just had an… argument last night... we… disagreed on something, that's all."

Matsumoto raised a manicured brow and gave a lewd grin, "From what I saw, seems like you two were on the exact same page…"

The tick in his forehead grew tenfold as turned sharply and glared accusingly at his lieutenant, "You were spying on us!"

'Actually, I weaseled the happenings out of frustrated and disconcerted Karin…but you don't need to know that'

Even know, just talking about her fleetingly, she could see her captain become more wound up—a stark contrast to his usual impassiveness. She cast him a worried look and her voice took on a motherly tone.

"Captain… if she makes you happy, there's nothing holding you back from being with her—"

"Nothing holding me back?! Rangiku she would be executed before I could even blink! And knowing Central 46, I would be the person in charge of carrying it out!"

"You are so thickheaded sometimes Toshiro! You finally have something worth fighting for, but you are too afraid to do it!"

He's silent, she continues.

"Who says they even care that much! I mean, despite her protests, I am certain that Rukia and Ichigo had something, and neither Central 46 nor the Soutaichou looked into it! And now, with this whole arrancar thing on their plates: They. Would. Not. Give. A. Damn!"

She thinks she finally hit the right nerve, because he starts speaking (arguing) again.

"This upcoming battle is another reason why nothing can happen between us! I'm staying away from her to protect her! It's the only way we can come out of this—"

'That infuriating, pigheaded man!'

"And what happens if one of you doesn't come out of it? Huh! What then? I'll tell you what! You will spend every single day of the rest of your existence wishing you'd had the guts to do something because you will never get the chance again!"

It's quiet.

Well, except for their elevated, post-altercation breathing.

They both know that this conversation has detoured; they both who she's actually referring to now.

Her voice is meek. "… I'm going on a break… be back later."

Toshiro knows he isn't going to see her tonight.

He knows this because any time Gin gets brought into the conversation, she spends the rest of the night trying to forget him… bottle after bottle.

He knows he should go after her, talk to her about it; but at the same time, he knows talking about it only brings her more pain.

He's angry that he can't help Matsumoto.

Just like he's angry with himself for falling for Karin.

He runs a frustrated hand through his white locks and knows that he is in way to deep.

Last night… he could have easily stopped himself from falling when she had slipped.

But he didn't.

His body had intentionally followed hers down to the ground.

He still cannot believe that he lost control of his physical actions so completely. She makes him lose control—forget himself and who he is supposed to be and how he is supposed to act. She's dangerous.

'She… She… She is just… Urgggghhhh!'

He needs to stay away from her. Every second she is by his side she poisons his mind. He can't think rationally anymore, because every decision he makes is influenced by how it will affect her.

Something he had said once to Madarame flings itself to the forefront of his mind.

"I warned you to not get involved in human affairs"

He internally berates himself for not following his own advice.

He berates himself further because he realizes that no matter how selfless he wants to be…

…in the end, his heart will scream and kick until he compels her to his side once more.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

With blank violet eyes, she watches as her old comrades go through the garganta she created and return home.

She feels the sand shift behind her and knows that the specter has left her alone.

"What's wrong? Aren't gonna cry about your friends?"

Well, almost.

She ignores Grimmjow's taunting but still turns to face gleaming azure eyes.

Sensing that he isn't going to get a rise out of her today, he gives an annoyed humph and asks, "In case you forgot, you were the one who called for me. What do ya want?"

"I called for you five days ago." Her indifferent façade breaks as her ire shows through her glare.

He snarls back.

"I've been busy."

"You being busy would have cost me my cover had that fool Luppi not already gone and blown it."

The sixth espada has the nerve to laugh.

"Oh don't worry about that…mishap." He smiles "Luppi's been taken care of."

Her brow rises at his vague statement.

His smile grows to an unnatural width, now it is almost feline in nature. "Let's just say, the guy served as wonderful target practice for my student."

Rukia's eyes harden.

"That's what I wanted to speak with you about… I want to see her—"

"You can't." His answer is quick and cuts her off before she can even finish asking.

She grows frustrated.

"I just want to make sure she's alive. After all, she is learning from you"

The distaste shines in her tone, and Grimmjow is quick to counter. If that's how she wants to be, fine, he'll play along.

He scoffs, "Please. I wouldn't kill her." His smile twists into a lascivious smirk as he takes a step closer to the black-haired shinigami. His voice lowers, "She is much too much fun."

She growls and her hand grips the hilt of her sheathed zankpakto. "You bastard… If you so much as touch her I will—"

His tone is flippant. "Trust me, I'm not doing anything she doesn't want."

In less than a second, Rukia's white blade is sweeping through the crisp air and making its way towards Grimmjow's neck. He sees it coming though, and is quick to block it with his own blade.

Grimmjow isn't smirking anymore.

He is frowning in a vile, deranged way that makes Rukia very uneasy.

His voice is low, and he speaks through a clenched jaw with anger raging through his eyes, scorching her.

"Careful Rukia-chan… Ulquiorra won't be around to protect ya forever."

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=[3-7-2-2-5-9]-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

The next chapter will be up after I get 15 reviews : )

I don't have a preview yet, because I haven't selected which scenes I want to use (I'm still in the midst of reshuffling them). Ill put up a preview as soon as I can though!

I didn't edit this chapter as thoroughly as I would have liked, but I honestly don't have the time to! SO if you guys saw any mistakes please please PLEASE tell me so I can fix them : )

Also, if certain parts are choppy, grammatically incorrect, have messed up formatting, or are just plan weird to read or confusing PLEASE TELL ME ! I really want to improve my writing and the best way is if you guys give me some constructive criticism!

Also, I use repetition a lot with the different storylines ( I don't know if you guys noticed it or not). Does it work? Is it effective? Does it just sound like I'm rehashing old stuff or does the whole idea of their situations mirroring each other (in certain aspects) come across? And for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, an example is when during the Ichi ruki storyline I wrote:

"Just like he isn't going to question why her hand is clasped tightly onto his…And she isn't going to question why he interlocks his fingers into hers, before closing his eyes once more. "

Whereas during the scene with toshiro and Karin I wrote:

"But she's not going to comment on his newly found compliance to her wishes.

Just like he isn't going to comment on the fact that her hand is slowly slipping into his."

Sorry for the Barrage of Questions but two more:

So I'm trying to get more new visitors to the story, and a friend of mine suggested I shorten the summary (which I did). Does it sound okay now? Like is it enticing enough that you would click on it? Also, she said that since my prologue was a little confusing at the beginning (i.e. before you read the next few chapters). That's usually my style with prologues but I can see why it might deter new readers! Do you guys think I should just delete the prologue completely?

Also (sorry!) What do you guys think is the best posting time for posting new chapters? In eastern standard time? Like when do you guy usually go on fanfiction?

Thanks for Reading/Reviewing!

Happy Holidays Everyone!