AN: Needless to say- there was too much to wrap up in one chapter- so it will be stretched into an overabundant two- and then to be followed by an epilogue.

Water Tribe Wolf: Hello! What a great name you have if I may so! Thanks for the review!

Te nellis: Hi there! Doing well? I like my Byakuya to be a character-in-progress. He's a man who has to be faced with his own faults bit by bit until he can acknowledge them- hopefully in the end he redeems himself! Thanks as always for the thoughtful review!

Lindivor: How are ya?! Gratitude for another review! Ichigo/Chigo definitely earn a name for themselves- er himself- you know- whatever. Hope you like how bad our boy is in this chapter!

Ilovebks: Hey you! What's good? Haha- had to do it- Chigo's gotta provoke his biggest challenger in some way- though it's admittedly petty… Thanks for the review

Guest: Thank you! I think you'll enjoy this chapter as well- crossing my fingers! : )

*SC this chapter as well as some overly-saccharine fluff (fluffiest to date I tell you). This chapter is all Ichiruki baby, but for the tippy-tail end! I sincerely hope ya'll like it!

Hearts A-Stray

Chapter 30: Outing the Dog

The princess stumbled into her room, face flushed with more than the cold as her eyes zeroed in on the beast laying comfortably on her bed.

"You!" She huffed out as she took swift steps toward her bed to stand to face the creature.

The bottom of her kimono was heavy with melted snow, as well her sleeves and portions of the obi were thoroughly wet beneath the furred cloak. Her hands on her hips, feet apart (despite the unforgiving seams), she set Chigo with a furious glare.

Panting, long pink tongue bobbing from his agape jaws, Chigo's expression could only be termed obliviously happy as he looked at her from where he was perched on his belly on her duvet.

Trying to catch her breath and still look intimidating Rukia swallowed hard before scolding, "What's the big idea you fleabag? Not only did you make a nuisance of yourself outdoors, but now- you're making a mess of my bed!"

The dog stilled so suddenly, Rukia jumped, angry face morphing into one of surprise. Jaws closed Chigo cocked his head minutely to one side, golden eyes watching the girl before him carefully.

The look flustered her, though she could not say why and she began to stutter, "W-well- you can't just go knocking people o-over. It-it- it's rude. And then barging into someone's home? I- I…" Having lost her fire, Rukia's shoulders slumped and she sighed. With a grimace she looked away as the dog's tongue unfurled from his mouth again with a wet pop. Once again he looked quite pleased to be soaking her covers with his apricot fur.

She folded her arms below her chest with a somewhat petulant expression as she tried to continue her scolding, "You shouldn't look so happy. You're not supposed to be in here. As it is I'm sure one of the staff is cleaning up the trail you left! And Nii-sama will expect me to put you out." The stern mask she donned to deliver this speech seemed to have no effect as Chigo looked to licking between his paws at the ice and snow that had lodged there.

Rukia scowled, but couldn't help but throw a glance toward her window as a strong wind buffeted the glass. Snow swirl against the pane and for the first time she realized the room was dim as the sky had clouded over and was now a telling grey.

With a reluctant cast of her eyes in Chigo's direction, the princess' posture took a further dive in defeat.

With a sigh, biting at one side of her lip she muttered, "Can't exactly send you out in that though…" She clicked her tongue in slight exasperation and dropped her hands to her sides, "No barking. You can stay until the storm passes."

Chigo glanced up at her pausing in his grooming, a rather serious cast to his canine features. He gave the barest nod.

Rukia rolled her eyes and turned toward the right side of her room- she had gotten very used to the animal's strangely human gestures.

"I'm taking a shower," She announced, shooting a warning gaze at Chigo as she headed toward her bathroom, "Don't you tear anything up, dog, or there'll be hell to pay."

The dog huffed through his nose, his eyelids falling heavily over his eyes in a look of skepticism.

Rukia gave a little growl of annoyance, but disappeared into the bathroom, unconscious of the shiver she had sent down the creature's spine with that feral utterance.

The door shut firmly behind the girl, but not before she gave him one more threatening glare for good measure.

A contented smile on his doggy face, Chigo placed his paw back down on the bed. After a jaw-cracking yawn he laid his head down, inhaling deeply of her scent imbedded in the blankets he was dripping on. His eyes were heavy and his body relaxed, feeling especially at home in this room he had only seen briefly weeks before.

Letting a sigh pass between his teeth, he closed his eyes as he listened to the sound of the spray of the showerhead hitting the glass and tiles of the stall. He was helpless against the image of his little princess standing under the stream of hot water, billowy steam hazing about her as the droplets meandered down her naked skin.

He wasn't sure how long he had napped, fantasizing about his lovely girl and all the things they had yet to do together, when a yelp jolted him from slumber.

With a disgruntled frown immediately sliding into place on his countenance he lifted his head, burying a hand in his hair to scratch at his scalp.

Wait- a hand?

His eyes shot open and he lifted his head further to catch sight of Rukia gawking at him in horror from where she was standing just beyond the threshold of the bathroom.


Her little hand was shaking where it was balled into a fist at the top of her towel. Panic and confusion dazzled in the depths of her eyes as she stared at him.

Damn. This is not how I wanted to let the cat outta the bag. He was reaching for calm, but as he slowly pushed himself up and saw her flinch, dread was creeping into his chest.


"Where is- Why are you- You're naked!" She accused in a frightened tone.

Almost unconsciously, Ichigo touched his bare chest, but couldn't find his voice-looking somewhat jarred now as he met her eyes.

Rukia shook her head, hissing, "You shouldn't be here! And like that-! Idiot!" This seemed a normal reaction to have when one's forbidden lover was throwing caution to the wind and appearing in a place they might be easily caught. But the pale, drawn look on her face and the way her lips trembled assured Ichigo that she was fighting the nonsensical explanation that had likely surfaced by now.

With a deep breath, he began to move carefully, moving his feet to the floor before wrinkling the cover on her bed to pull a portion into his lap.

Admittedly, he had woken up… stiff… still riddled with fantasies of her, but when he saw the look on her face- it was like a shot to his heart and he was… quickly deflating…

He took a steadying breath- trying to recall the oration he had been trying to perfect for weeks to explain his "condition" to her.

But before he could even start she stomped her foot- pointing a finger at him, "Talk damnit! Why are you here? What could you possibly-? And Chigo- where is Chigo?"

Ichigo opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again as his eyes fell to the floor. No prepared speech would cut it at this point. Hunched over slightly, he sighed and spoke quietly, "I'm right here."

Incredulously she shook her head, exploding, "Fool! I'm not asking about you now! I'm asking about Chi-chi…" Her face was falling, terrifying realization stealing her fury. Her hands fell to her sides as she sought the floor with her eyes. Each breath was somewhat shallow now as she desperately searched the floor for answers.

She didn't even realize she was speaking, whispering, "I was here and he was… He was… Chigo- he was…Chi-Chi- Chi-go…Ichi-go."

A strangled cry burst from her lips as her gaze darted back up to meet his, making him startle. She seemed to lose her balance, dipping to one side, but she stumbled a few steps and caught herself.

The fearful shock in her face stabbed at him and anger welled up in him in response.

"Would you calm the hell down before I shift again!?" He snarled at her all of a sudden.

"Again?!" She shot back instantly. Shift?!

"I can't explain-,"

"Can't?!" She screeched and he winced.

He placed his palms over his ears protectively, "Damn Rukia! That hurts!"

She sucked in another breath unconsciously shaking her head back and forth, "This- it- doesn't make sense… Chigo was here- and now you're-you're-,"

He watched her now without offering a word, his face hardened as his eyes confirmed her radical- yet accurate conclusions.

She turned her head away, visibly gnawing on her lip as she breathed heavily through her nose. Again he said nothing.

Crazy, crazy, crazy! She berated herself.

Studying her, Ichigo was indeed anxious about her reaction, yet… In the end- he had some strange sense of faith. Their connection wasn't going to be severed even if she rejected him at this moment.

Rukia had closed her eyes and was using a breathing exercise to keep her from a possibly high-pitched panic attack. She could be rational… Yes, she was nothing if not rational… for the most part…

A good deal of time passed before she swallowed with great effort and spoke as evenly as possible, "So… You- can change… You- change into a… I guess- some might call you a- were… wolf." That's not rational, damnit!

A sneer nearly threatened, but he chose not to flash his teeth as he corrected, "Dog."

"Dog." She echoed without thought.


"Mmm…" She acknowledged and then ventured slowly, "And… this is normal?"

"No, it's not normal!" He snapped suddenly, frustrated by how she was treating him with kid gloves now. He shook his head, flustered, "I mean- it's somewhat normal for me to turn into a- dog… It's been like that since I was a kid… But outside of that- no. It's not normal. At least… I've never encountered anyone else who has this-this condition." Ichigo's tone had changed near the end, heat filtering away as insecurity wormed into his mind.

But Rukia's response to his words was not further anxiety but sympathy as she stared at his bowed head. Gentleness had crept into her voice as she coaxed, "You're family then… They aren't…"

"No." He said, his throat tight, "I'm the only one. And no- I don't know why."

Hugging herself around the middle she nodded slowly.

With a sigh he offered, "I didn't want to- have this between us, Rukia…That's why I haven't told you before. But being honest now- I was attracted by your scent. Why we're here now… It's all because of this- other side of me."

The young woman had turned slightly toward the window with a pensive frown. Her fingers curled and uncurled around the edges of the towel. She looked slightly less dazed, but there was still a very uneasy look on her face as she questioned, "So you- you were just attracted by- my-ugh- scent?" She cast a sidelong glance at him.

He shrugged, "He is." She frowned in response- he was a little too underwhelmed by the fact that she was now fully aware of what he was.

"He?" She lifted a brow.

His brow furrowed and he again rolled his shoulders in a noncommittal reply, "The thing inside me that changes me."

Unconsciously she had moved closer to him, eyeing him intently as though to discover another secret. Her lips were slightly dry and she licked them as she further prodded, "So… you've acted on- his impulses?"

"I guess." He uttered. He was really trying to downplay the whole thing, but to her it seemed as though he were unconcerned about her reaction. Biting her lip, her expression morphed into something bordering fear. Noting this he realized he was only casting doubts upon his own sincerity.

In an instant he had reached for her, drawing her toward the bed to stand between his legs where they were nearly on the same level.

"It's not only him- I mean that…" He paused a scowl forming as he struggled with an appropriate explanation, "He just… He recognized you for what you are before I did. He saw what I do now- the parts that I… I've come to-er- um- love." He coughed out the last word.

The clouded expression that had come to her face grew into utter shock, "What?"

There was a slight growl to his voice as he spat out, "Love, damnit! Love."

"You- you-love me?" She stuttered, completely unselfconscious of the fact that she had squeaked a tad.

Ichigo's lip twitched, finding it impossibly cute that she seemed so surprised. There was a blush in his own cheeks as he narrowed his eyes playfully at her, "Yeah, idiot. I do. So just quit freakin out alright?" He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, a smile forming.

There was silence as she felt her heart beat steady.

With a sigh she moved around him to sit at his side.

"What are we going to do?" Rukia asked quietly.

Ichigo gave a chuckle, slumping slightly, his forearms on his thighs, "Dunno…"

Once more the quiet crept in until the smile playing on the young man's lips fell into a pout.

Suddenly he sat up and crossed his arms over his chest as he muttered, "What do you mean, 'we', anyway? You haven't even said it back."

"Huh?" The girl blinked, looking over at him in bewilderment once more. He made a sound and turned his face away stubbornly. Her eyes widened as she realized why he was pouting.

A blush warmed her cheeks and she folded her arms over her chest in a similar pose, "Well obviously… I mean… How- could I not… not…" She sighed in surrender, swallowing her pride as she dropped her hands to grip the edge of the bed.

"How could I not feel the same?" She murmured. Her voice was soft- gentle and she turned her head to stare at his profile, "How could I not love you, Ichigo?"

It was his turn to look slightly taken aback; the spot on the wall he was glaring a hole through suddenly nonexistent- like the rest of the world. At that moment he was only aware of this simple reality with her.

She turned her head and leaned it against his arm with another sigh.

"I guess we're both pretty fucked, huh?" He joked after a time.

With a roll of her eyes she murmured softly, "Don't say it like that."

This time he sighed and turned his head so that his cheek rested against her forehead, "If you feel as I do, Rukia, then… the rules don't mean a damn thing. I'm willing to risk everything. I- guess- it sounds pretty cocky- but I don't fear anything at this point." Rukia took a deep breath- closing her eyes.

He watched out of the corner of his eye as a smile graced her face. The look was contagious and he mirrored it instantly.

Until… a sly expression overcame the mien of content and Ichigo was leering at her- the towel once hugging her body clasped in his hand.

Rukia gasped sharply as the cool air nipped at her naked flesh and she immediately threw an arm around her chest. She scrambled back onto the bed, but found her ankle in his grasp. Soon she was yanked down until she lay flat on her back and he was poised over her- nude- and stiffening once more.

That grin again. The one that assured her he was indeed something more than just a man, beamed on his face, teeth dazzling in the sunlight streaming in behind him.

"So you understand now, right? I'm little more than an animal." He said lowly, letting his lips move back to expose his elongated eye-teeth. Her eyes widened.

The muscles in her core flinched in heated anticipation- excited instead of frightened as many might be.

I am crazy… She slowly parted her legs for him without even realizing it and watched as he closed his eyes in ecstasy as he scented her arousal.

Her skin tingled instantly, blood rushing, exhilarated by the touch of his hips against her inner thighs as he drew closer. She brought her knees up, readying to throw her legs around him fully- to cling to him as he filled her.

"Ichigo." She exhaled in pure unadulterated need, fear an afterthought.

He bent his arms at the elbows, hovering closer to her face with his own. His eyes were heavy-lidded and molten as he held her gaze, "You still want me, don't you…Rukia?"

Her response was a full bodied shudder. Her eyes had fallen closed and her cheeks were a dusky rose color, her voice a moaning whisper, "Mmm- hmm. Yes. Yes."

His nose appeared just under her jaw and he ran it along her flesh from one side to the other, his mouth posed so that his teeth grazed her neck.

"You smell sooo fucking good." He growled between his teeth, sensual darkness coating his words. In response her spine bowed and she exhaled in an audible rush of excited air. She wriggled, pushing her pelvis up to just barely brush him. A rumbling sound of eager delight met her ears and she found her fingers digging into his shoulders attempting to force him closer.

The color of his irises was lightening as he listened to the sound of her pulse and the way her breath hitched. He could feel the tense longing in her limbs and he licked lazily at his upper teeth causing her to groan.

He clenched his teeth letting his lip curl up slightly as he moved his hips teasingly, letting his length nudge at her lower lips.

Color flared further throughout Rukia's face as she gasped at the feeling of his thick member tickling at her folds. The walls of her womanhood were pulsing anxiously- craving the fullness that only he could give her.

Her nails curled like claws into his shoulder blades, her eyes pleading as she breathed unsteadily through her mouth.

His lips were suddenly brushing hers as he let his weight press into her, letting their skin meld together as he held her gaze.

"Rukia… whatever- I am- I- want you… For keeps… As mine." He breathed, letting his lips caress hers with every word, eyes burning gold.

Her lips parted to reply, but her words were muffled by his mouth and soon became a whimper as his tongue whipped out to lap against hers. She reciprocated- kissing him, feeling the skin of his back part beneath her eager nails.

He gave a pleased hiss and nipped at her lower lip- thrilled by the possessiveness of her hands. Marking him was as good as agreeing to his words.

There was no warning as he fit himself into her entrance with torturous languidness. She breathed hotly into his mouth, closing her eyes and thrusting up to force him deeper. But he drew back, keeping his entirety from her. She made a sound of protest and looked up at him, half pouting half threatening with her lust-filled eyes.

His arms held him apart from her, propping himself up and she whined at the feeling of so much space between them.

Her eyes narrowed further, and she twitched the muscles between her legs, clamping on the head of him in retribution for denying her. He sucked in a breath through his teeth, and followed this with a deep chuckle that sinisterly curled in the air.

He leaned down, enough to put his lips at her ear to purr, "I could devour you, you know. You shouldn't tease me like that."

She glared at him as he drew back to see her expression and bit out, "And you shouldn't play with me."

One side of his mouth quirked up and he moved one hand to her breast. He lightly toyed with her nipple, using one razor sharp nail.

It was her turn to suck in air sharply and she tossed her head, tortured by that simple gesture as well as by the feeling of him just barely penetrating her.

Again she opened her mouth to speak, but could only cry out as he pushed another inch of his erection into her. She was so slick, he could have glided right in to the hilt, but he seemed intent on tormenting her.

Rukia breathed out heavily, swallowing thickly as she attempted to slow her heartbeat. Then, with a calculating look in her eye she smiled a little. Slowly she trailed her hands down his back and slipped them around his hips until she was dragging her fingertips over his pelvic bones toward his thickness.

He closed his eyes, jaw clenching tight as her hand wrapped around the portion of him not embedded in her.

"Devour me, huh? Don't you make threats you can't deliver on, I-chigo." She spoke quietly, challenge highlighting her tone.

She lost her edge however when a full-throated laugh tore from his lips, head tipped back. She blinked in bewilderment, but cried out when his face was suddenly inches before her own again. The hand she had been using to circle his girth was now pinned above her head.

"Oh, I can deliver, Ru-kia." His breath fanned her face in a whisper of promise, a moment before he slid home.

Her eyes closed in rapture, delighted by the pleasure and slightest pain of him stretching her to capacity.

He groaned as he began a slow rocking rhythm, in and out of her warm depths. Flush with her once more he began to pepper her face with kisses, loving each gasp and murmur of ecstasy falling from her lips as she rolled her hips to clash with his.

His tongue lapped at her increasing pulse before he sealed his mouth around it, sucking fervently. The burning urge to embed his teeth in her neck sped his thrusts and the princess moaned. He was resisting- the primal need in him to taste of her blood was unnerving. Instead he again quickened his pace, pulling her hips up to angle her conveniently for him, and slapping against her so that he was hitting her womb.

Rukia writhed beneath him. A part of her wanted to tell him to stop and another part of her wanted to demand that he pound into her harder. She whined, head tossing side to side- somewhat anxious about the light edge of pain inflicted by allowing him to take her so fiercely. But having him so close, tangling her legs around his waist and feeling his skin slide against hers made it all worth it. And the building release was dulling her to everything but the languorous delight.

After a fathomless amount of time at this pace he nearly howled when she spasmed around him, causing his own orgasm to rack his body, shooting electric sensation throughout him. She was shivering beneath him, her legs dropping limply to the bed as she panted. She felt the muscles of his stomach jumping against her own and she smiled, placing a slightly unsteady hand against his toned chest.

She could feel his own smile curving against her neck as he continued to kiss and lick, nibbling lightly at the sweat-dewed skin.

He made a contented sound that was all canine and she gave a breathy giggle. But he shifted and her smile turned into a frown as she grunted, "You're heavy, Kurosaki-Sensei."

He paused in his nipping and then sighed as he carefully moved from atop her. Sullenly he rumbled, "Careful how you address me."

She was quiet a moment before her mouth twisted into a devious smirk, "Oh… does it make you want me if I call you that?"

Ichigo shifted from his back onto his side, eyes narrowed at the side of her face as he scowled, "Yeah. It kinda does."

"Oh." She turned her head, hoping he hadn't caught the blush that darkened her already pink cheeks. I'll have to remember that.

When his finger began to feather up her side toward her breast, she quickly sat up and reached for a sheet that had somehow gotten twisted among the other blankets strewn about the king-sized bed. She needed a breather before she let his passions provoke her into another round as so often happened.

He said nothing in protest so the silence settled comfortably between them. Stretching he placed a hand behind his head, looking thoroughly satisfied as he stared up at her ceiling blindly.

Rukia watched him out of the corner of her eye, her arms around her drawn up knees now obscured by the pale Egyptian cotton of her sheets.

In the quiet her mind wandered. Several minutes passed before she began to muse aloud.

"It all makes sense now…" The princess murmured to herself, biting at her bottom lip as she stroked beneath it with a knuckle.

"What? What does?" He slowly propped himself up on his elbows to peer over at her.

She didn't look over at him as she answered absently, "All those times other animals shied away from me… Your scent was already on me."

"What?" He asked again and then shook his head, sitting up fully, "That doesn't make any sense, Rukia. I never saw you until that day in the woods! Animals have always kept their distance from you- haven't they?"

Rukia frowned, "Yes- but this explains why."

Ichigo lifted a brow giving her a skeptical expression, "No. No it doesn't." Stubborn ass!

"Shut up, fool!" A pillow was suddenly colliding with his head and he dropped to the side. No one could make harmless objects hurt like Rukia. She scowled as he muttered and yanked the pillow from her grasp to toss on the floor away from her reach should she choose to show her displeasure violently again.

"Just listen…," She insisted. "I know it's going to sound… strange- but it really might make some sense… Perhaps the kamis always meant for us to… end up- um- together. Devine intervention- isn't that the term? If that's so- then- they marked me in some way for you- so that you could find me…" There was a lovely blush spreading on her cheeks and he couldn't help but smirk indulgently as he noted it.

"Are you following?" She suddenly snapped, looking over her shoulder with a glare to see him propped on one elbow, sprawled on his side, with his cheek cradled in his palm lazily.

"Ah." He replied gruffly, but his brow was scrunched in contemplation. Silence blanketed the room and Rukia's shoulders slumped slightly, second-guessing her theory as she had never been the superstitious type.

Then again there was an orange-headed buffoon in her bed that shared his soul with a creature that roamed on all fours- everything seemed to defy logic at this point.

The bed shifted and Ichigo was sitting up again, his knee touching her thigh as he caressed a hand over her bare hip. "This is the way it's meant to be then." He said softly letting his breath fan her ear before nibbling at it lightly. He made his way down slowly, his tongue darting out to flick the outside of her ear between teasing bites. After a languid kiss to her earlobe he pulled her close with both arms humming appreciatively.

He smiled and breathed with amusement, "It seems to me your theory would mean, you're the answer to my existence." He had said this jokingly but then he stilled as at the same time she stiffened.

She turned her head toward him and they locked eyes. His hand settled along her jaw and he uttered his words again, this time in an almost whisper and with an outpouring of conviction, "You're the answer to my existence, Rukia."

The girl felt the tears coming but did not attempt to stop them as they sprung to her eyes, and coated her lower lashes then fell leaving trails down her face.

Their lips collided, anxious and yearning.

As her back pressed into the softness of the bed and he settled between her thighs all the while kissing her with languid passion she gripped his hair desperately.

Soft as fur.

After a few more whole-hearted kisses she tugged at his locks, forcing him to draw back just enough to look her in the eyes again.

"You're everything I want now." She confessed hurriedly through flushed lips.

He gave her a gentle smile and then leaned forward to take her lips again. The sheet covering her was nowhere in sight and she wondered briefly when he had taken it from her grip. His hands found their way to her breasts and kneaded gently as she moaned into his mouth.

He rolled his hips and his length sliced along her folds causing her to gasp at the friction. In immediate response her heated center began to tingle with anticipation.

"Again." She prompted in a sigh full of longing as his tongue traced down her neck. He growled into her collar as he took a deep sniff.

Knowing now exactly what he was she couldn't help but giggle. He growled more deeply at this and her giggle turned into full throated laughter that tickled delightfully down his spine.

"Such a dog." She chided giving him a snarky grin when he lifted his head to scowl down at her.

His lips twitched and he flashed canines that had elongated upon deeper inhalation of her scent.

When he spoke, his words rumbled with a trace of his beast, "Yes. And you smell like lunch." In response her nipples hardened and her back arched as though the sound of his sinful voice had physically bowed her spine. Her eyelids fluttered, her whole body shivering.

His hand stole between them and he let his fingers stroke her, coating instantly with a combination of their fluids. His hardness was painful now as he imagined filling her up again.

He growled and prepared to thrust- when a startling sound touched his ears.

It would seem that the little mess he'd made of the parlor pillows had finally been discovered. But his instincts had been dampened by her nearness and post-coital satisfaction. There was no time to spare on decency or even fake some innocent scene.

Both doors to Rukia's rooms were pushed open and the two lovers could only gawk at the intruders now in the doorway.

Nothing happened at first. In fact several moments passed in which everyone just stared.

Rangiku and Inara hung back, both guilty of knowing more than they had let on ahead of time and being unable to forestall this confrontation.

The secretary's face was morphing from one emotion to another, delight, turning to lust, and then anxious uncertainty.

The Crown Princess was wavering between chagrin and utter discomfort- her eyes carefully settled on the ceiling as she chewed her lip.

Shuhei's face was frozen between horror and grudging approval, hoping the prince at his right wouldn't glance over and catch his slightly envious expression.

Hitsugaya stood on the other side of the prince, one hand over his eyes, thumb and forefinger rubbing at his temples, every now and then casting a wary glance at his employer to gauge his reaction.

There was nothing so telling about the prince's posture or even a flinch in his face, no clenching to his jaw. If anything his expression was dispassionate… Yet his eyes were the darkest slate, darker than they had ever been in his life as he fit all the pieces together like the clever man he was.

A collectively held breath reigned for an impossibly long minute. And then…

Byakuya took command:

"Arrest him."

AN: If Rukia's acceptance of Ichigo seemed a little easy- it kinda was- but I chalk it up to her already knowing she loves him… But next chapter some doubts will surface as the two are forced into separation. And finally Isshin, with the help of Ol' Getaboshi, will fill in the gaps concerning his son's condition.

Decisions, confrontations, farewells- good old fashioned drama in the conclusion of Hearts A-Stray.