Sorry for the late update! Here's a short recap for those who may have forgotten about the content of the last three chapters, thanks to my lateness:
Recap: Renji comes in one night and confesses to Ichigo that he loves Rukia and asks for his help and Ichigo promises to help once Renji is ready with a plan. Rukia has been assigned a mission to the world of living to collect information on Ichigo's unique powers, by conducting a few tests given to her. She stays at Orihime's for a night where Orihime confesses about her love for Kurosaki-kun to her, which leaves Rukia in a state of concern for the other girl. The next day, Ichigo performs the assigned tests under Rukia's supervision. At evening they go out to an amusement park but they're alone time is taken away from them when Inoue and Tatsuki make their entrance.
End of the Day
Rukia waved back at Orihime and Tatsuki cheerfully and grabbed Ichigo's arm as she pointed towards the two girls, "They're here too!"
Ichigo nodded and smiled in their direction, "Yeah. Let's go meet them."
Seeing them from this distance, the two girls seemed like his own sisters, a few years in future. Inoue's cheery personality, girly clothing style and long orange hair, just a few shades darker than his own, showed him an older Yuzu in her while in Tatsuki, with her tomboyish personality, clothing style and black hair, he could see Karin's older version.
He chuckled inwardly at himself as these thoughts suited an old man better.
The guy behind Ichigo was getting irritated since the two of them weren't moving even though the roller coaster was waiting. He jerked Ichigo's shoulder roughly. "If you and your girlfriend ain't getting inside then get the fuck outta this line!" he growled.
Both Rukia and Ichigo turned around to see who the rude fuck was. It was a tall, skinny guy, dressed in worn-out jeans and a torn T-shirt which he must have thought made him look tough but actually did the opposite. He was wearing big sunglasses, which made him look even more of a freak since the sun was pretty much gone, and he had dyed dirty blond hair.
Ichigo raised an eyebrow and grabbed his collar, "Now, listen buddy. If you wanted us to move, couldn't you have just said it a bit more err… politely?" he said in a dangerously low voice, his frown deepening. He pulled him closer and growled, "And we were going to move out anyway."
At the sight of Ichigo picking a fight with a stranger, Tatsuki asked with her hands, What's happening? To which Rukia simply shrugged. Tatsuki shook her head and glanced at Orihime. They both started to come towards them but suddenly, Orihime stumbled forward. Rukia was quick to run to help her.
The man started to tremble under Ichigo's cold gaze and nodded his head frantically, "I- I am s-s – sorry, sir!"
Ichigo nodded his head slowly, "You should be."
He turned around and muttered, "Let's go Ru- Rukia?" He whipped his head to his right and found her chatting with Inoue and Tatsuki. Quite strangely, her arm was around Inoue's shoulders as if supporting her.
He shrugged and threw the trembling coward away from him and started to walk towards them with his hands shoved into his pockets.
"Hey," he greeted them causally. "What happened to her?" he asked pointing towards Orihime with his thumb.
"She took three roller-coaster rides in a row," Tatsuki shrugged.
Ichigo nodded in understanding. Inoue always had something to surprise you with.
Inoue coughed a bit and said weakly, "Hi, Kurosaki-kun!"
Ichigo smiled and nodded, "Hi, Inoue."
"So, you guys on a date?" Tatsuki winked at Ichigo and Rukia. The two blushed and Ichigo looked to his side while Rukia's eyes widened, "He's just showing me this amusement park," she protested.
"Yeah," Ichigo mumbled in agreement.
"That's a good excuse to take her out, ne?" Tatsuki teased as she nudged his arm with her elbow, making Ichigo blush even more.
"It's not a freakin' date!" he protested and Tatsuki only laughed in response.
Rukia was now used to all this – she was constantly questioned about her relationship with Ichigo in Soul Society and here. Suddenly, she remembered Orihime's confession and looked in her direction. She was smiling widely and one would have thought she was enjoying the banter if they didn't look close enough. But Rukia did.
There was pain in her eyes that she was concealing just the way she always did but Rukia sensed it and was soon to take action.
"Ichigo! Won't you even ask her how she's feeling?" she scolded and kicked him in the shin. "Baka."
Ichigo winced at the pain in his shin and rubbed the sore spot where the vicious shinigami had hit him.
"Uh, sorry Inoue. How are you feeling?" he asked her with a guilty smile.
Orihime's face immediately beamed up on the caring tone of his voice and she giggled.
"Of course, I'm fine! Thanks for worrying, Kurosaki-kun!"
Just because Ichigo knew Inoue's nature well, he understood she wasn't being sarcastic but even then, he did feel slightly guilty for not asking her before. He laughed nervously and scratched the back of his head in response.
"Now that we have met," Rukia said. "Let's have fun together!"
She raised her arm to emphasise her point causing Inoue to do the same. Tatsuki only chuckled while Ichigo watched the two giggling girls with an amused smile.
As they all started to walk together towards the ice cream parlour, surprising himself, Ichigo felt diappointed. All he had wanted to do that day was sleep and now that the opportunity had arrived, as he could easily leave Rukia to enjoy herself with Inoue and Tatsuki, he didn't feel like going. In fact, he wanted the other two girls to leave them alone to enjoy their time together.
The thought scared him.
When he sat in the parlour with the chattering girls, he saw the one person he definitelty didn't want to see – Renji Abarai.
Renji, with his hair tied back in the new style he'd adopted after the Winter War, walked with casually with his hands in his jeans' pockets. Ichigo pretended not to see him but Rukia called out for him, "Renji! Over here!"
Renji waved back at her and was in front of them in less than a minute.
"Yo," he greeted and Ichigo gritted his teeth.
"What are you doing here?" Rukia asked. She was surprised to see him here as Nii-sama rarely gave time off to his subordinates.
"Some work," Renji answered her shortly.
Ichigo wondered how the hell he gained access to the senkaimon so easily. He must be giving some fake excuses but could that even work in Soul Society? Wasn't Soul Society a more organized and sophisticated place where such things didn't work? And just how the hell was he always able to find him? He was brought out of his musings by Renji's voice.
"Ichigo, come with me," Renji said sternly.
"Where?" he demanded. Who the hell did Renji think he was to go around ordering him?
"We need to…talk," he said softly and Ichigo's eyes widened in realisation.
"Okay," he said and got up.
"You guys place your orders. We'll be back in a few moments," he told them and went out with Renji.
As soon as they were out, a huge smile decorated Renji's face.
"I thought of a plan," he grinned and Ichigo groaned.
"What's up with them?" asked Tatsuki as she sipped her cold drink and Rukia shrugged.
"Even I want to know but I guess they'll tell when they get back."
Tatsuki nodded and told Orihime to wipe a drop of ice cream that had managed to come out of her mouth and was now stuck on the side of lips.
Rukia wondered what could the two of them be talking about. It didn't make sense how she was left out in spite of being a shinigami too. Why was Renji here? What could they be talking about in private? Why couldn't they talk about it in front of them? She didn't know why but it didn't feel right. Some odd feeling, that she couldn't name, was creeping its way up her spine.
Isshin-san had said Ichigo had been acting weird. She had already noticed Renji had been acting weird earlier – he had started to keep her at arm's length, he only conversed with her on formal matters and they had almost stopped having their usual friendly talk. Whenever she tried to talk to him, he stopped the conversation abruptly and told her he had some work. If she suggested she'd help him, he'd politely turn down the offer by saying her brother wouldn't approve of it.
Ichigo wasn't acting much different from before though, and she was happy about it but Isshin's warning, she didn't know why, was now ringing in her head. It all seemed like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle she was gradually finding pieces to.
She was brought out of her reverie when the two subjects of her thoughts entered again. She smiled at both of them and Renji, to her surprise smiled back just as happily while Ichigo looked like he had just recovered from a heart attack.
"What's happening?" she asked as pleasantly as she could, considering the present state of her mind.
Renji simply laughed and shrugged, "Private talk. Can't we have one?"
Rukia nodded, "Sure you can but what could be so private that you can't even share with me?"
Renji laughed nervously while Ichigo scowled. To Rukia, that scowl wasn't like his usual scowl – it was much more dangerous.
"Uhh Kurosaki-kun?" said Orihime nervously.
"Yeah," answered Ichigo disinterestedly.
"I ordered strawberry ice cream for you. Since your name is Ichigo, I thought it must be your favourite flavour," she poked her tongue out playfully and pushed the bowl in front of him with shaking fingers.
Ichigo wanted to smile and thank her for her kindness but instead, his face contorted in the most dangerous scowl he'd ever shown anyone.
"Thanks for the thought, Inoue but I absolutely hate strawberries."
Inoue looked crestfallen. This wasn't the Kurosaki-kun she knew. What on earth had Renji told him to spoil his mood so much?
"Ahh, I'm so sorry! I should have asked before ordering. It's my fault. I'll eat it. No problems at all," she said nervously and kept telling herself that it wasn't her that had made him so mad but Abarai-kun. She started to pull the bowl back but before she could, Rukia's hand stopped her.
Inoue looked at her inquisitively and Rukia only shook her head. She pushed the bowl back in front of Ichigo and said in a stern voice.
"Orihime-chan was being so nice by ordering this for you and that's how you thank her?"
Ichigo gulped once and then frowned. He'd had enough of this – First Renji tells him a 'plan' that is utterly disgusting and then Rukia has to act all self-righteous in front of him.
"Well, I'm sorry that I hate strawberries," he spat. "But if I don't want to eat it, you can't force me."
Rukia rose from her seat and growled, "But you could at least thank her."
"I thanked her already," he said in a low, dangerous voice. "You're the one who didn't hear it."
Orihime tried to intervene between the two and calm them but Rukia signaled her to stop with her hand.
"You know what? Just forget it," Rukia said with finality and got up. She took quick long strides towards the door and left – Just how dense and emotionless could Ichigo be?
Her eyes were cold and furious and she emanated an air of intimidation, which kept everyone at least ten feet from her as she walked out of the amusement park but on the inside, she was worried. Isshin-san's words resonated in her mind.
There's something wrong with Ichigo that he doesn't want to tell. I need to know about it.
She didn't stop even once as she strode towards Ichigo's house as fast as she could in her restricting gigai. She had to know what was wrong with him.
"Rukia-chan!" cried Orihime from behind Rukia, who briskly ignored her and kept walking. She was about to follow her but Tatsuki pulled her back by her hand and slowly shook her head. Orihime bit her lip and turned to Ichigo.
"I'm so sorry Kurosaki-kun. It's all my fault… I shouldn't have ordered without asking," she looked guiltily at her feet.
"It's not your fault, Inoue. She thinks she knows everything," he told her as comfortingly as he could, considering his rising temper.
Orhime looked like she was about to cry but Tatsuki put a firm hand on her shoulder, "It's alright, Orihime. Don't worry so much," she said and looked at Ichigo with cold eyes. She didn't know what was wrong with him but whatever it was, she wouldn't let him hurt Orihime like this again.
"Come on, let's go home."
It was an order to which Orihime had to comply. She got up and bid goodbye to both Ichigo and Renji and walked away with Tatsuki who didn't say a word to either of them.
Once they were out of the parlour, Renji turned his calm stare towards Ichigo.
"You put up a nice show. Now we get some time alone."
Ichigo banged his hand down on the table with as much strength as he could.
"It wasn't a fucking show! Your plan…it disgusts me. I'm sorry but I'm not doing it for you."
Renji frowned at him and growled, "What do you mean it disgusts you? I kept your comfort level in mind before proposing it."
"If that's how you keep my comfort level in mind, then please don't," he growled back.
Renji looked at him with a fierce expression before it melted into a pathetic pleading look.
"You don't see the point!" he complained. "You and I are the people closest to Rukia. If she doesn't feel anything for you, that means she feels for me! Just tell her once that you love her and you can tell her, once she declines, that you were just kidding. Isn't it easy?"
"What if she…she feels something for me? What will I do then? Tell her it was a joke?" he asked in a fierce tone coloured with sarcasm.
"You think she feels something for you? You said you were just friends, didn't you?" Renji raised an eyebrow at him but his eyes never lost the pleading look.
Ichigo inadvertently blushed and shook his head furiously, "No! It's just a possibility. You consider it a possibility, right? So if she says yes, I'll tell her the truth," he said sternly.
"That means you're doing it?"
Ichigo only groaned in response.
Rukia stormed into the house with the same fierce expression plastered on her face. She wanted to see Isshin. Right now. She started to walk towards his clinic's door but some low sounds from the living room caught her attention. She went inside the living room and found Isshin, carelessly sprawled on the sofa, watching a wrestling match on TV – a wrestling match between two dogs.
Rukia shook her head and told herself this shouldn't surprise her.
"Uhh Hello, Isshin-san," she greeted quietly.
Isshin slowly turned around to the source of the voice. As soon as he saw Rukia, he ran towards her with a sudden burst of energy.
"Oh Rukia-chan! You must be thinking what daddy's doing watching television during his work hours but believe me, all my work is over!" he cried as he knelt in front of her. He took one of her hands in his own and wept, "Daddy's not a bad person, Rukia-chan. He just doesn't have any more patients to take care of."
Rukia, who was totally freaked out by his sudden display of energy (and use of third person), scratched her cheek and chuckled nervously.
"No, Isshin-san. I think it's very nice that you're free. I wanted to talk to you," she squeaked.
This made Isshin shed even more tears and he hugged Rukia tightly.
"I knew Rukia-chan would open to daddy one day! It makes me so happy that the day has finally arrived!"
Rukia struggled against his chest but couldn't move – his hold was just so strong.
Finally when he pulled out of their hug, Rukia took in a breath of relief.
"So what is it you want to talk about?" he asked in a voice that could be considered, quite surprisingly…normal. His expression was calm and he was looking at her with cool and patient eyes. It surprised her how much a person could change in a moment.
Rukia, however surprised she was, didn't beat around the bush and came to her point.
"I remember you warning me about Ichigo's strange behaviour."
"Yes, what of it? Did he tell you something?"
"Ahh no, he didn't but he was acting in a very strange way today. I just wanted to know what's wrong with him."
Isshin tapped his chin a few times and asked her to tell him what happened exactly that made her think like this and so, she dove into her tale of amusement park and friends.
"So, he went outside with Renji Abarai to have a private talk and his mood had soured when he came back," Isshin said.
"Yeah, but they didn't tell me what they were talking about," she frowned thinking about how she was left out.
Isshin frowned for a moment and appeared to be deep in thought but just when Rukia was expecting an answer, he started to cry melodramatically.
"How I wish I could tell you everything but it seems they've realised," he said with tears streaming down his face.
"I don't understand," said Rukia nervously. If she was surprised before, she was downright scared now. Just how could a person change so much in a moment?
"I can't tell you everything but let's just say Rukia-chan, Ichigo has fallen in love with someone he can't be with and now he's finally realised that rules don't allow them to be together!"
Rukia's eyes widened at the word 'love'. Ichigo was in…love?
"Wh-who is he in love with?" she asked in a quiet voice.
Isshin wanted to tell her that Ichigo and Renji wanted to be together but couldn't be because of so many reasons but stopped because if Ichigo wasn't opening up to her about this, he sure as hell wouldn't betray him.
"I can't tell you exactly but he's in love with a shinigami. I'm sorry but that's the only hint I can give you."
Rukia nodded and ran towards the room she was sharing with the twins as fast as she could. Her cheeks were burning and her heart was beating rapidly against her chest.
He was in love with someone he couldn't be with. He…was in love with a shinigami. He couldn't tell her about it because, maybe because…
He is in love with me?
The thought made her heart beat even more rapidly – her arms and legs trembled and she bit her lip to stop it from quivering.
He loved her.
She sat on the room's floor, supporting her back against the wall and inhaled deeply. Oh god, she was scared and nervous. She couldn't believe this – so Ichigo did love her. Her burning red cheeks burned even more as she thought about it and a small smile made its way to her lips. She felt kind of happy to hear that but there was one thought lingering in the back of her mind which was dissolving the happy feeling into guilt.
Hello! I'm very sorry for the late update but I've been busy because of personal reasons that I can't disclose and my college.
But there's a good news, I've made a complete map for the story about how I want it to proceed etc. and the ending has also been decided so this story will not be discontinued. Next update would be out sooner than this!