Strangers in a Chamber

Summary: The test for the young samurai is fast approaching. The sword instructor works to keep him in line, while improving his skills. Nightly visits have turned into passionate rendezvous for these once strangers. Ichigo and Rukia may not necessarily be considered strangers any longer, but a certain Lord would wish that they remain as such. - AU. IchiRuki – Lemon

Disclaimer: Kubo-sensei owns Bleach and all characters, crushing the dreams of fanfic writers everywhere.


Ichigo took a step forward that thrust his sword at Rukia. She expertly parried and swiped at him from the side. He ducked and spun around to her back and slashed. She rolled and hopped up before rushing that thrusting at his face. Ichigo's sword clashed with hers and they locked in place, holding each other at bay.

Rukia huffed and broke their deadlock, swiping at his legs. Ichigo jumped and kicked, hitting her shoulder and sending her rolling back. She fell to her knees and prepared to jump up when she a sword inches from her face. The raven haired warrior looked up to see Ichigo breathing heavily and prepared to strike.

Rukia sighed and said, "Good. Nice work."

Ichigo nodded and withdrew his blade, replacing it in the sheath. Rukia stood up and did the same, wiping the sweat from her brow afterward. She smiled at him and said, "You certainly improved, and in such a short time."

"Yeah," he replied, nervously scratching his head, "Only two more days. I guess we'll see if I'm ready to join your brother's forces."

"Hard to believe that it's already been almost two months since you got here, especially considering how much you've learned in that short time." Rukia said, giving him a light jab. "Not to mention how much your skills have improved." She grinned at him and he nodded with a slight smirk.

"Well then, should we get ready for dinner? I'm starving." Ichigo said as he turned back to the castle. He notice Rukia's silence and turned back.

Her head downcast she sighed deeply and said, "Ichigo, I know this is sudden…but would you consider having a meal with my brother tonight?"

"Excuse me?" he said in surprise.

"Of course I don't mean alone. I would be there as well." Rukia corrected herself, realizing how difficult this request was to ask.

Ichigo raised an eyebrow and replied, "Why now of all times?"

Rukia lifted her head. "Since my brother will be your Lord after you prove yourself, I thought it would be best to get acquainted with him formally. After all, you will be putting your life on the line for the sake of him and the Kuchiki House."

As Ichigo considered, Rukia clenched her fists. She needed him to agree. She needed to show Byakuya that Ichigo was more than the rude young man he met months ago. Not only for Ichigo to be accepted into their clan, but for herself as well. If her brother could see that Ichigo was worthy, he might not be so harsh if their relationship came to light.

Rukia needed her brother to approve of Ichigo and a pleasant dinner would be the perfect chance to—

"No way in hell."

Ichigo's words froze her on the spot. Her violet eyes widened as he turned away. Her arms fell limp at her side, her entire plan falling apart. She had gone the extra mile to teach Ichigo table etiquette when they ate together and told him about appropriate dinner conversation, all to show her brother that Ichigo was worthy of being allowed into the clan. But now it was all for nothing.

"I see. I guess I can't force—".

"At least, that's what I'd like to say," Ichigo continued with a grin, "But I guess I'll have to get this over with sometime so it might as well be—".

He suddenly gasped for air as Rukia punched him in the gut. "Idiot! You scared me half to death!" Ichigo hunched over and coughed as Rukia huffed and walked past him. "I'll come by to get you later this evening. And be sure to dress appropriately!" she shouted as she stomped back into the castle.

Regaining his breath, Ichigo raised an eyebrow and said to himself, "What the hell was that about?!"

Ichigo prepared for dinner, wearing a fine kimono that Rukia had given him for such an occasion. He never thought he'd have an excuse to wear it but Rukia seemed to excel in surprising him. He glanced over at his futon and chuckled a bit.

Every few nights a week, Rukia would visit him for 'private lessons'. At first it was kind of shocking but now he welcomed the event. During the day, neither of them showed any hint of being involved. After all, Rukia noticed more eyes on the both of them lately. Obviously, Byakuya was more than skeptical of Ichigo's purpose in his castle. And if he discovered that the orange haired samurai was sleeping with his adopted sister, heads would literally roll.

If the Kuchiki Lord discovered their desecration of the law, neither of them would be spared. But despite the danger neither of them wanted they 'meetings' to cease.

To Ichigo, being trained by Rukia was already a privilege, sleeping with her was practically a dream come true! Although, it never really seemed right to him, oddly enough. He knew he was being selfish but he wanted more.

Every time Rukia would visit, they would satisfy each other thoroughly before lying together for an hour before she would depart. He should have been satisfied with that, but something seemed to be missing. Even with all the times Rukia had given herself to him, she never once made any inkling that she thought of him as anymore than someone to share her bed. A valued friend and comrade, yes. A bed warmer for the cold nights, surely.

But someone to give her whole self to? Certainly not.

It really seemed to put things into perspective for Ichigo.

He was the son of their enemy. A peasant samurai with dreams of greatness. Even if he and Rukia shared a bond forged from barely escaping death, it didn't mean that she felt anything more than passionate friendship for him. And yet, to Ichigo, she wasn't merely a friend or someone to share his bed with. Rukia was the one who saved him, gave him purpose, and continued to help him long after their first meeting. She was irreplaceable and dear to him, but Rukia seemed not to reciprocate his feelings.

Any other man would have been more than pleased with their arrangement but Ichigo just wasn't. Was it wrong of him to wish for more? To desire more than friendship and heated passion from her? Honestly, he wasn't sure.

A knock at his door jarred him back to reality.

"Come in."

The door slid open and Ichigo's eyes widened. Rukia stepped into the chamber, dressed in an eloquent lavender kimono. Her should length raven hair was pulled up and tied behind her head, an exquisite comb holding it in place. Her entire appearance complimented her figure and the color of her kimono made her eyes shine even brighter than usual.

Ichigo had seen Rukia in many lights, but seeing her dressed as a noble was shocking. She had always been a warrior, never taking appearance into consideration. It shouldn't have surprised him that she would clean up her appearance, considering they were going to be dining with her brother. Nevertheless, Ichigo couldn't help but stare at her as she closed the door and approached him.

"You clean up nicely," she said with a grin, "As long as you don't open your mouth, you're pleasant enough to be around." Ichigo rolled his eyes.

"Very funny," Ichigo retorted, "For a second I forgot who I was dealing with. Take away your sword and put on a fancy kimono and the great Rukia Kuchiki practically becomes a docile housewife."

He groaned as she drove her foot into his shin. "I'm sorry, what was that about being docile?" she said with a fake smile. Despite the pain, it was nice to see that even when she dressed the part, Rukia was nothing short of herself.

"Let's just get this over with." He grumbled, pretending to be annoyed. Suddenly, Rukia stepped in front of him, her eyes hard. Ichigo stopped and met her gaze. "Something wrong?" he asked.

"We have a little more time before dinner. There are a few things I want to discuss with you," she said as she took a seat, Ichigo following suit.

"Let me have it," Ichigo insisted.

Rukia nodded and said, "This will be your best chance to win my brother's trust and confidence." She glanced around and lowered her voice. "Lately, I have notice more eyes watching us than usual."

"You think your brother's been spying on us?" he asked cautiously.

"Probably," Rukia replied, "I doubt he's doing it out of spite toward you. Most likely, he believes you're not who you say you are and thinks you have a hidden agenda." Ichigo would have made a joke about their hidden "agenda" together but the serious look on Rukia's face kept him silent.

"Either way, just to be safe…we shouldn't meet at night for a while. One wrong move could cost us both dearly." She warned, to which he nodded. Although mildly disappointed, Ichigo knew it was better to be on side of caution.

"That's fine but what about this meal thing. How will having dinner with him make earning his trust easier? Wouldn't that make me look even more suspicious, since I'll be trying to get on his good side?" he asked.

Rukia lowered her gaze and said, "I don't think so, considering that I'm the one who proposed the idea in the first place. I've been subtly hinting that you've been improving whenever I see my brother and he seems genuinely interested." She looked back up at Ichigo.

"He accepted our invitation to dinner readily so it could be that he wants to test you. Besides, he wouldn't have agreed to eat with you if he thought you were that much a threat." She nodded firmly, "That being said, I need to ask a favor of you."

"And that would be?"

She sighed. "Can you refrain from insulting my brother or my clan or myself tonight?"

Ichigo narrowed his eyes. "You're treating me as if I'm a child."

Rukia glared at him and replied, "Considering I had to practically beg my brother to spare you after your outburst when you met him, I don't think I'm overreacting in the least. You tend to be stubborn all too often."

Ichigo's eyes widened as she finished. "Wait, what was that?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You're the most stubborn person I know. It's very obvious and you need to—".

"No, not that! The part about you having to beg him to forgive me!" he shouted, making her sigh.

"Of course I had to. Do you realize that my brother wanted to have you thrown out the very next morning? It's not very surprising. You insulted the Lord of the Castle, his clan, and inadvertently his sister." Rukia gave him a sideways glance. "You didn't actually think you got off without so much as a beating for embarrassing the two of us like that just by luck, did you?"

Ichigo's mouth wet dry. "You shouldn't have done that. I was the one at fault, sort of. Neither of us did anything wrong."

"You said the same thing to Yamamoto during our sentencing, and did it change anything?" She glared at him and he turned away, teeth grit. Rukia sighed and said, "Where or not it's fair doesn't matter to the nobility. They value being respected and honored more than doing what's right."

Ichigo gaze shot back to her. "And you're telling me to put on an act to please your brother, just because he a noble? It's practically demeaning—".

"Ichigo!" Rukia grabbed him by the collar, "Don't let it be an act then! My brother is not unreasonable and will accept you if you can keep from thinking that all of the nobility are here to oppress you!"

She released him and stood up. "I'm not asking you to completely understand my brother. All I'm asking is that you give him the respect he's due. If you do that, he'll surely accept you into the clan."

Ichigo scoffed and said, "Why bother? He doesn't hold me in any such respect—".

"Then prove you're worthy of it!" Rukia shouted at him, "Prove to my brother that even though you are a peasant samurai, you have the heart of a warrior! Show him that you deserve his respect and prove you're more than capable of benefiting his forces! Make him see that he'd be a fool not to accept you into the clan!"

She took a deep breath and stared directly into his eyes. "I've seen what you're capable of. And I know that you are loyal and strong and brave. You won't let my brother or anyone else stop you, because you are a proud samurai." She thrust her thumb at her chest. "That's the kind of man I know that you are - in my heart!"

Ichigo's face suddenly flushed but it faded as he slightly smirked and walked past her. He chuckled and Rukia raised an eyebrow at him. "You know what? You talk too much, Rukia."

Her brows furrowed but before she could protest, Ichigo turned his head and smiled at her.


Rukia was frozen for a moment, lost in the beauty of his smile. She quickly recovered and half-grinned at him. "Just don't make me tell you again." She said as she pushed past him and opened the door. "Let's get going. Being late is unacceptable of the Kuchiki Clan."

Ichigo nodded, "Right."

The servants swiftly presented the meal and made a hasty retreat, just in case chaos ensued. The table was large enough to accommodate all of them but they were all within arm's length of each other.

Byakuya sat across from Ichigo with Rukia sitting between them. Apart from Rukia's greeting upon their arrival, no one spoke a word. They began eating their meal in silence, and it was almost deafening. The occasional taping of eating utensils was the only sound that filled the room. Ichigo made sure to eat politely, stealing glances at both of the Kuchiki siblings.

Byakuya was the picture of grace, making practically no noise as he slowly ate. Rukia was almost as dignified, her face stoic and posture perfect. Just as Ichigo was beginning to wonder the point of having dinner with his future Lord, Rukia finished her meal and turned to her brother.

"Thank you for the meal," she said with a bow. "How have you been, Brother?"

Byakuya set his utensil down and said, "Preoccupied." His quick answer made Ichigo twitch but he said nothing, returning to his meal.

Rukia stole a quick glance at Ichigo, glaring at him for a split second. Unfortunately, Ichigo realized that no matter how much food was left, it was time to be finished. He set his bowl down and said with a bow, "Thank you for your hospitality."

The Kuchiki Lord nodded. Ichigo resisted the urge to ask why he couldn't be allowed to finish his meal, mainly because Rukia was giving him a glare.

"Tell me, how is the boy's training progressing?" Byakuya asked his sister. Being treated as if he wasn't in the room pissed Ichigo off but Rukia smiled at her brother and answered before he could.

"Very well, I must say." Rukia shot Ichigo a reassuring smile before continuing, "His natural talent with a sword has allowed him to learn even advanced sword techniques in a few weeks. It's getting to the point where I cannot hold back during our training, or else I might find myself injured."

The Kuchiki Lord accepted this information with a nod. "I see," his cold, steely eyes then focused on Ichigo himself. "My sister believes that you are more than capable of being accepted into our clan. And while I find this hard to believe myself, I am willing to trust her judgment."

Ichigo's jaw clenched and he held back his outburst. Rukia breathed a silent sigh of relief, perhaps this meeting would go without incident after all.

"However, I must ask you one thing – What makes you believe you are worthy of serving the prestigious house of the Kuchiki clan?" the Kuchiki Lord asked.

Rukia's eyes widened. Asking Ichigo to explain why he was worthy was something she hadn't anticipated. As a matter of fact, Ichigo felt he had been more than worthy ever since he arrived. That kind arrogance easily sent the orange haired samurai into fits of anger and Byakuya had lit the powder keg.

"Brother, I think that—" Rukia tried to intervene but Byakuya held up his hand to silence her.

"I want to hear it from him, personally." Byakuya decreed. Rukia lowered her head and clenched her fists. So much for best laid plans. Any moment now, Ichigo would list how arrogant the question was and ruin any chance of ever being allowed into—

"I'm worthy because I'm still here."

Rukia's head shot up and stared at Ichigo. He wore a confident smile and shared it with her for a moment before taking the full force of Byakuya's glare.

"And what exactly do you mean by that?" the Kuchiki Lord questioned.

"Exactly what I said," Ichigo replied, "I know that I'm not trusted here. I know how the servants glare at me and constantly watch me. I know that since I can't prove that I'm here of my own volition, I under suspicion of being a spy. But most of all, I know that because Rukia supports my being here, she's been forced to apologize and endure the brunt of your anger. If I'd have been a lesser man, I would have fled the castle weeks ago."

Rukia wanted to smack Ichigo for bringing that up but oddly enough, Byakuya didn't seem upset by his words. Even more surprising was when the Kuchiki Lord said in a calm and un-accusatory voice:

"And? Is that all?"

Even though Ichigo knew he was bordering on ruining all his chances to enter the clan, he felt that being dishonest would be even more unbearable.

"No, there is something else. I'm not here because I want to prove anything to you, or your clan." He turned his gaze to Rukia. "I came here because Rukia asked me too. When I was forced out of my home, she offered to shelter me. Without her, I would be nothing more than a pathetic ronin who wandered the land aimlessly."

Ichigo's eyes hardened and he met Byakuya's glare. "She put her faith in me and I swore never to betray it. I don't care if other's think I'm not worthy enough to serve the Kuchiki Clan. Rukia believes in me and that's all I need to know that I'm worthy of fighting for the clan she holds so dear."

A long silence fell between all of them.

Finally, Byakuya said, "Hmm, it is clear that you hold my sister in high regard. You have respect for her and by extension, you have respect for the Kuchiki Clan. And while I am still unsure of your intension, it is clear that you will not back down from our arrangement."

"Never." Ichigo said firmly.

"I see," Byakuya said as he coldly stared at Ichigo. "While I must admit that my sister holds you in high regard, that does not mean you have the right to believe yourself worthy of serving the Kuchiki Clan. In fact, it appears that you could not care less about the fate my clan. And yet, as you said, you are still here."

"And that's all that can do to prove that I have no ill intensions toward your clan," Ichigo protested, "I won't lie. I'm not here to try to win your trust or to please you. I don't need your approval or your respect to know that I belong here."

Rukia's knuckles turned white as she gripped her kimono. How badly she wanted to punch him in the face for being so disrespectful! She glanced to her brother, his calm visage unchanged. In a way it was terrifying, since she couldn't tell if her brother was incredibly angered or simply unfeeling. Either way, she knew that this confrontation between the two men was far from over.

The Kuchiki Lord stood from his seat and said, "I admit that I have little trust for you, considering your circumstances." He turned his back. "If not for Rukia's insistence, I would have cast you out long ago."

"Brother, I apologize if—", Rukia began but Byakuya held up his hand to silence her.

"However, you have demonstrated great courage and honesty." He turned back to them. "Although I am unsure of your intensions for becoming a part of my clan, I can see that you have worked hard to earn a place here. That being said, I am still quite skeptical of your abilities. Despite your passion, I feel that I must test you personally if I am to gauge whether or not you will be of any use to the Kuchiki Clan.

Rukia's eyes suddenly widened but Ichigo only smirked and replied, "Is this a formal challenge?"

"Indeed, it is. The day after tomorrow, you and I will engage in a practice match. I will judge for myself whether you are capable of serving in my forces." Byakuya answered swiftly before turned away. "I certainly hope you will be prepared. Good evening."

The Kuchiki Lord walked to the door and promptly left.

Rukia's gaze shot to Ichigo and she gritted her teeth. This was not what she had envisioned happening! Granted, she didn't know exactly what to expect but having her brother challenge Ichigo to a duel for the right to remain here was beyond catastrophic. She stood up, marched over to Ichigo and grabbed his robes, shaking furiously.

"Idiot! Do you realize what you've done?!" she shouted. Ichigo gave her a blank look so she shook him again. "I never expected my brother would want to test you personally! You don't stand a chance against him!"

"Hey! I resent that!" Ichigo protested, pulling free. "Besides, it's just a practice match. No need to get so upset."

Rukia groaned, "Practice match or not, you will be fighting with real swords. And Byakuya doesn't show any mercy! Even if you survive the battle, you he may leave you permanently disfigured!"

"I'll just have to be careful then," Ichigo insisted, much to her chagrin.

"Ichigo, let me put this into perspective for you." Rukia sat down and tried to keep a calm head. "It took you two months to stand on near-equal footing with me, and I'm still able to best you." He frowned but didn't disagree.

"Furthermore," she continued, "My abilities don't even come close to my brother's. I once sparred with him and lasted less than ten seconds. He is the most powerful swordsman in the entire clan, and he is undefeated in combat."

Ichigo scoffed and said, "I can handle it. I won't lose to someone like him—".

"Would you just shut up and listen!" Rukia yelled, her frustration overruling her. "You are nowhere close to his level of skill and it would take years of training just to last more than a few minutes against him. Let alone an entire match! Why did you have to open your big mouth?!"

"What was I supposed to do?! Just let him keep insulting me like that? Besides, he is my future Lord, I figured it was best not to lie to him!"

"That's not the point! You should have declined his request! You have no idea how outmatched you are—".

"I know I'm outmatched! But what choice did I have, Rukia?!" Ichigo shouted, standing up. "When the person deciding if I get to stay or not challenges me, I don't have any choice but to accept. More than that, I refuse to back down. Weren't you the one who said that I wouldn't let anyone stand in my way? Well, I'm gonna prove it to you."

"Ichigo…" Rukia sighed in exasperation, "This isn't like training with me. My brother will be relentless, merciless even. And I can't do anything to help you when the time comes to face him."

She stood as well, "Not only that, we only have a single day to prepare for this fight. If I had known this would happen, I would have trained you to be more defensive. Perhaps taught you more of the Kuchiki swordsman style. But there's just not enough time."

"We've got tomorrow," Ichigo reminded her, "We'll just have to work extra hard tomorrow. A full day of training." He voice riddled with confidence and Rukia couldn't help but smile a bit. "Trust me, I'm not gonna lose to him."

"You won't after I'm done with you!" Rukia replied with a nod. "I guess there's no sense in fretting over what's done. Let's retire for the night. I'll fetch you before dawn so be prepared. Tomorrow will be your final test to prove you can handle fighting for the Kuchiki Clan."

"Can't wait," Ichigo said groan. But then he smiled, matching Rukia's.

Just outside the door, Byakuya stood in silence. "Hmm," was all he uttered before departing for his room.

"My brother will be ruthless. You can't show even a hint of hesitation or it will be your end."

"Yeah, yeah. I got it."

They only had one day to prepare Ichigo's defense, it would be a long one indeed. The sun had just risen and Rukia had just finished outlining her brother's possible strategies. However, her advice fell on deaf ears. Ichigo was more than confident that he was prepared for this fight. His overconfidence would give her brother the advantage, not that he didn't already have it.

"Well then, let's see you block this!" Rukia shouted, narrowing her eyes as she drew her blade.

Ichigo huffed and prepared to counter her but was unprepared when she dashed directly toward him. She swung high and he went to parry but suddenly, she was gone. A sharp pain tapped him on the back and Ichigo spun his head to see Rukia standing behind him, her sword pressing into him, angled at his spine

"If you were facing my brother, you would already be dead."

Ichigo eyes widened as Rukia retracted her blade. He hadn't even seen her move, and only felt the pain when it was too late. It was more than just her small stature being overlooked. For an instant, Ichigo had completely lost track of her movements.

"This is my brother's favorite and most lethal technique. I was barely able to pull it off just now and I had to distract you from the front," Rukia explained. "Normally, Byakuya would simply seem to disappear before your eyes and reappear after he'd severed your spine. I don't even come close to his speed."

Ichigo broke out into a cold sweat. He never would have survived without Rukia's demonstration.

"Do you get it now? My brother is not to be trifled with." She sighed and took a few steps.

Rukia gripped her sword angrily. If only she hadn't insisted on that meal, this all would have been avoided. The blame lay with her alone and now, all she could do was use the little time they had left to prepare Ichigo for the fight. Even though she doubted her brother would kill him during the fight, it would give Byakuya the perfect excuse to exile the orange haired samurai, forever.

That terrifying though forced her to focus, she wouldn't let it happen!

"Honestly, why did you have to accept his challenge?" she insisted, "You could have refused and you would have only had to demonstrate your skills—".

"We both know that's not true," Ichigo said. Rukia's eyes widened as he continued. "Even if I hadn't said anything, he still probably would have challenged me. We both know that. Your brother's had it out for me ever since I arrived. So stop blaming yourself for not preventing it."

"W-What?! I don't blame myself—".

"Yes, you do!" Ichigo thrust his finger at her face, "It's written all over your face. You think that because you arranged that stupid meal, this is all your fault. Well get over it! I knew this day was coming ever since I met your brother. It's just sooner than I thought." He laughed ironically as Rukia scowled.

"You shouldn't be so pleased about this! We only have a single day! We need more time if you're going to even stand a chance of beating my brother!"

"I don't need to beat him. I just need to outlast him. Besides, aren't you the one who said you'd get me ready for the fight?" He smirked at her, "There's nothing you could have done that would have avoided this, so stop being so downhearted and teach me how to beat your brother already! What happened to the brave warrior that taught me never to give in to fear and strive to take my opponent down with me?"

Rukia's face reddened and she grumbled, "She's right here! And I'll be a damned fool if I let you lose the only opportunity you have of being accepted into the clan! Take your stance!" She positioned herself and gripped her blade, "Just you wait, by the end of the day, you'll be able to last an entire day against Byakuya!"

Ichigo prepared himself and nodded firmly, "Give me all you've got! I can take it!"

"I can't take this anymore!" Ichigo grumbled as he lay on the ground, exhausted. "I can't parry fast enough. I can't counter fast enough. I can't breathe fast enough! How the hell am I supposed to win if you keep insisting I'm too slow!"

Rukia breathed heavily, her strength fading. "I've seen Byakuya fight with my own eyes. He would snap you in half in an instant the way you are now." She looked over and saw the sun had begun to set. She took up her posture again and motioned for him to stand.

"This is your last chance. If you can't stop me here, then you have no hope of defeating my brother."

Ichigo clenched his fist, gripped his sword and stood. He took his defensive stance and prepared for her assault.

"I'm going to come at you with everything I have, Ichigo. If you're not prepared to kill me, then I will kill you!" Rukia said before charging him at blinding speed.

Steel clashed as Ichigo barely blocked her attack. He'd been caught off guard not by her attack but her declaration. Prepared to kill her?! What was the point of being welcomed into the clan if he did that?! Rukia narrowed her eyes at his distraction and pushed him back. His sword was pushed up ward and she stabbed at his chest.

He instantly twisted his torso and her blade scrapped along his abdomen. The sudden feeling of pain snapped his instincts into play. He grabbed her blade and pulled her forward, making her lose balance. Rukia fell toward him as he sidestepped and slashed down at her back. She twisted and slapped away his attack with her sword as she fell. Her back hit the ground but she wasn't fazed, swinging her legs and tripping Ichigo.

Ichigo caught himself with one hand and rolled before jumping back up to defend himself. In that time, Rukia had rushed him again and swung upward at his face. He blocked but she kept pressing the attack, forcing him back. He was pushed to the edge of the small koi pond nearby, pressing his foot against a rock to hold his position.

Suddenly, Rukia jumped back and sheathed her blade. She narrowed her eyes and Ichigo's widened. The warrior woman almost disappeared as she sped up to him. Ichigo slashed sideways at her but found she had vanished. A shadow overtook him and his gaze shot up to see Rukia's hand on her blade, preparing to slash eye level with his face.

Rukia was going to use a quick draw technique!

Ichigo knew he had no time to defend, so he didn't. The instant her blade began to leave the sheath, Ichigo's hand shot out and pushed hard on the bottom of the hilt, forcing the blade back in. Completely unprepared for this, the momentum of Rukia's movement propelled her forward, her body colliding with Ichigo's head.

They both fell back and splashed into the koi pond, frightening the fish. It was incredibly shallow and since Ichigo fell first, he recovered almost instantaneously. Rukia took another second to fall into the water but it was enough time. She landed on her back and began to pull herself up when two knees landed on her arms, holding her down. A flash appeared before her eyes, a sword inches from her face.

Her eyes only registered the orange haired samurai that knelt down on top of her, his blade poised to strike. Rukia saw the determination and strength in his eyes and sighed, letting her head fall back into the water. The water came up over her ears, so her joyous laugh was muffled to her, but clear to Ichigo.

Rukia smiled brightly as she laughed, pulling her head out of the water. "Now that, was impressive! No one has ever been able to stop that attack! Well done!"

Ichigo sighed, pulled back his sword, and got off her. She reached her hand up and he pulled her to her feet. Grabbing their weapons, the pair exited the water and collapsed on the soft grass. The sun completely set behind the horizon as they breathed heavily.

"Now, you stand a chance." Rukia said

Ichigo chuckled, "It'll have to do. We'll see if I'm good enough tomorrow."

They stood up and faced each other, sheathing their blades. They bowed deeply and rose to find themselves smiling. As they headed back toward the castle, Ichigo turned back to her and said, "Thank you, Rukia."

Rukia looked up to him and smiled. Without thinking, she wrapped her arms around him. Although shocked for a moment, Ichigo returned the embrace. They separated quickly and silently walked back into the castle.

High above them, Byakuya stared down at them from his balcony, his eyes cold as steel.

Deciding it would be best to bed down early, Ichigo separated from Rukia and went back to his room. After hanging up his wet clothes, he quickly ate the meal that had been prepared for him. He blew out the candle and lay on his futon, thinking of tomorrow morning. He would face his greatest challenge since Rukia brought him here, but he felt ready.

Winning wasn't something he figured was possible, at least not with his currently level of skill. However, if he could at least force Byakuya to have to fight him seriously, it would be victory nonetheless. He sighed and closed his eyes, trying to sleep. He was exhausted from today's training and his entire body was tense.

For some reason, his pillow felt softer at the moment, and a soothing sensation circled on his temples. He smiled and felt himself drifting off, until he heard something familiar.

"You're so handsome while you're sleeping. Why can't you be like this the rest of the time?"

Ichigo's eyes snapped open the moment he heard Rukia's voice. It was only now he realized that his head wasn't on his pillow but her soft legs. And the soothing sensation on his temples was caused her fingers gently massaging him. Not only that, she was completely nude, baring it all for him to see.

Dumbstruck, Ichigo lay there as she smiled down at him, moving her arms down to massage his chest.

"W-What are you doing here?!" he said in a hushed whisper.

"I just thought you might like a massage, to help you relax for tomorrow's test."

"But isn't it dangerous? You said that we shouldn't—".

She scowled and interrupted, "You don't want me here?"

"I-I didn't mean—".

Ichigo was silence when Rukia bent down and gently kissed him. He eased into the kiss and returned it. Rukia pulled herself up and smiled. "I had to show my gratitude to you. I figured this was the best way."

Ichigo raised an eyebrow, "Gratitude?"

Rukia slightly smirked, pulling back suddenly and letting his head hit the floor. He grunted but then groaned as she climbed on top of him. When he saw her face, it was surprisingly serious. All he could do was stare at her as she slowly placed her hands on his chest, bent over and looked him directly in the eyes.

"Ichigo, I owe you more than you know. That night in the cell, I had resigned myself to die as a disgrace to the Kuchiki Clan. Knowing we both were going to die, I thought that we could enjoy a heated night of passion to forget our fears." She leaned in closer. "But the experience was nothing like I expected. You could have been rough or demanding, but instead you were kind and gentle."

Rukia finally smiled giving him a quick kiss. "And when it was over, you granted my request and held onto me, all through the night. The entire night, all I could think about was how unfortunate it was that I hadn't met you sooner. That someone as honorable, generous, and talented," she said with a wink, "had walked into my life, but only at its end."

She closed her eyes and continued, "But that didn't matter. When the sun rose that day, I felt no fear. I had felt loved for the first time in my life." She opened her eyes and met his. "You gave me courage and strength. It never mattered that you were a peasant samurai, because you had more determination than anyone I had ever met in my entire life. And for giving me that courage, I knew that I would do anything to help you."

Rukia's hands balled into fists. "That's why I have to ask…who am I to you? Who do you see sitting here before you?"

Ichigo's hands grabbed her face and pulled her down into a heated kiss. Rukia's eyes widened but she relaxed into it. Releasing her, Ichigo smacked her on the head lightly and replied, "All I see is Rukia - the beautiful woman who I dedicated the rest of my life to."

Rukia smiled wide and tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. Wiping them away she said, "Will you marry me, Ichigo?"

"Isn't the man typically supposed to ask that?" Ichigo replied, slightly confused.

She smacked him upside the head and retorted, "Since when has are relationship been typical? Sneaking around in secret tunnels for midnight rendezvous?" She folded her arms and huffed. "Or are you saying you don't want to marry me?"

Ichigo smirked and took advantage of her posture. He grabbed her arms and flipped her over, so that he was on top of her. She groaned but was silenced when Ichigo pressed his lips to hers. Pulling back he said, "Yes, I'll marry you. But it won't be easy."

Rukia scowled, "What are you implying?" she said menacingly.

"Only that your brother will kill us if he finds out what we've been doing. That and I still have to beat him tomorrow to get into the clan in the first place." He grumbled but immediately grinned. "I may need to work off some stress if I'm gonna rest well tonight."

Rukia instantly grinned back and twisted out from under him, placing herself back on top. "I think I can help with that."

She snaked her arms behind his head and kissed him, grabbing at his hair. Ichigo wrapped his arms around her and slid his tongue into her mouth. As their tongues battled, Rukia pulled the tie on his robe and began pulling it off his shoulders. They broke apart only long enough for Ichigo so discard his robe.

Ichigo's hand roamed over Rukia's pert breasts, rubbing them sensually. Rukia's hand flew to her mouth to silence the gasp that overtook her. Ichigo grinned as he brought his lips to her left mound, licking teasingly. She bucked her hips and suppressed another moan as he alternated between her breasts.

Rukia continued to grind against him, slowly inching her way back. Soon, she felt his stiff member rubbing her backside and she smirked. She pushed Ichigo down, freeing her breasts. She teasingly rubbed her sex down the length of his manhood, the heat nearly overwhelming him. Rukia chuckled as she lifted her hips and positioned him.

Without warning, Ichigo thrust upward and into her. Taken by surprise, Rukia gasped loudly before covering her mouth with both hands.

"Let me help with that," Ichigo whispered as he pulled her face down to his. He thrust his hips and when she gasped, he thrust his tongue inside her orifice. Rukia moaned as his tongue explored her mouth. She began bucking her hips to match the rhythm of his thrusts. They moaned in each other's mouths until Rukia felt his member pulse and she firmly pressed her lips against his as his hot seed burst inside her.

Rukia groaned along with him and only pulled back once they both fell silent. Ichigo gently slid out of her and smiled. "That…was…the best…ever!" she huffed between breaths.

"And we're not done yet," Ichigo told her. Rukia gasped as Ichigo flipped her over and gently laid her on his futon. "Since we've decided to get married, it's only fitting we fully commemorate the occasion."

Ichigo massaged her breast again, making her breathing rapidly increase again. He leaned down and kissed her as he slid inside her again. He wrapped his arms around her head, supporting her as his tongue entangled itself with hers. Rukia's arms gripped his shoulders and he slowly thrust his member back inside her. He moved slower but hit her most sensitive spot perfectly with each thrust.

A feeling of ecstasy washed over them both. It was exactly like their first night in the cell, but even more so. Rukia moaned and groaned in his mouth, feeling him smile at how pleased she was. Her walls tightened as she felt him pulsating again, binding them together as one.

Suddenly, Ichigo pulled his lips back and tightly hugged her body to his own saying, "I don't care if we get caught. I want to hear your voice just this once!"

Rukia returned the embrace with as much fierceness and in a husky voice replied, "I-I-I-Ichigo! I'm—!"

He burst inside her and they both moaned, collapsing into each other's arms. Ichigo pulled out of her but pressed his body against hers. They both breathed heavily and smiled like fools. Rukia rubbed her head against his chest and snuggled close. Ichigo held her tightly, as she did with him.

"I…take it…back," Rukia said with a grin, "That …was the best…ever."

Ichigo smirked and kissed her again. "And we're not even married yet."

The quietly laughed and lay there, reveling in each other's warmth. Time seemed to flow on forever and both of them began to feel drowsy. After what seemed like hours, Rukia pushed away from him and said, "I should go."

Ichigo instantly frowned and gripped her tighter. "Please, just for tonight…stay with me." His eyes pleaded with her and Rukia remember her own selfish request on the night of their meeting. Even though it was against her better judgment, she relaxed back into his chest.

"I'll go just before dawn then."

Ichigo nodded happily and covered them with the futon blanket. Their legs intertwined and they drifted off to sleep.

Ichigo's eyes fluttered open and an intoxicating scent filled him. He looked down to see Rukia peacefully sleeping in his arms. He smiled and kissed her forehead, making her stir a bit before settling back into his chest. Ichigo laid his head back down and sighed happily, closing his eyes.

Then he heard a bit of shuffling and opened his eyes to find the point of a sword inches from his eyes. Shock overtook him and Ichigo slowly followed the blade all the way up to the hand that held it, and from there up to the face of none other than Byakuya Kuchiki.

The Kuchiki Lord's eyes bitter and cold, he said, "I hope you realized the offense you have committed."

At the sound of his voice, Rukia's eyes snapped open and she twisted onto her knees, staring up at her brother. Seeing her naked visage, Byakuya narrowed his eyes and glared at Ichigo. As Byakuya raised his sword, Ichigo pushed Rukia away and rolled just in time to avoid the attack. The Kuchiki Lord's sword embedded into the futon with sickening force. He turned his gaze to Ichigo, who was frantically throwing on his battle robes. It was lucky that they were all together after drying from yesterday's training.

"It seems that I was right not to give you my trust," Byakuya said, retracting his sword and slowly approaching his foe. "I was wary of this outcome so I decided to visit Rukia early this morning. However, her room was empty and the secret passage was unlatched. I should have expected this."

Rukia gasp, so Byakuya was aware of the secret tunnel!

The Kuchiki Lord took his stance and angled his blade at the orange haired samurai. "As penitence for allowing such a travesty to occur, I will dispatch you personally."

Ichigo grabbed his sword and barely had time to block Byakuya's attack. The force itself propelled Ichigo backward, crashing through his door. Know he had not time to rest, Ichigo rolled to the side, avoiding another strike from his foe, and ran for the courtyard. Byakuya instantly gave chase.

Meanwhile, Rukia quickly dressed herself and desperately ran for her room.

When Ichigo rushed into the courtyard, he found himself surrounded by nearly twenty armed men. All of them had their weapons drawn and pointed at him. He prepared to fight them off when Byakuya called from behind.

"Stand down. I will deal with this matter myself."

Ichigo turned to see Byakuya standing only a few feet away, poised to strike. The Kuchiki warriors did as commanded and lowered their weapons. Ichigo faced Byakuya directly, ready to defend himself.

Suddenly, Byakuya disappeared and Ichigo's eyes widened. Without thinking he twisted his arm and blocked the attack aimed at his spine. For the first time since Ichigo had met him, Byakuya's eyes widened in surprise. Using that, the orange haired samurai pushed the Kuchiki Lord back and went on the offensive. He thrust at his chest and sides but each attack was met with a skillful parry.

Using all of his strength, Ichigo slashed downward and locked blades with Byakuya. Held in a stalemate, the Kuchiki Lord said, "I will only ask once. Why did you betrayed my benevolence and seduced my sister? Surely, you knew of the consequences…for both of you."

Ichigo pushed and their deadlock broke. As he continued to attack, Ichigo shouted, "I didn't betray anyone! We knew what we were doing and decided to take that risk together!"


Byakuya parried Ichigo attacks and countered, slashing him in the shoulder. Ichigo winced but kept his guard up. The Kuchiki Lord moved to attack but Ichigo met him before he could strike. Locking blades again, Ichigo sneered, "Call it whatever you want. It won't change anything now!"

"Indeed, your fate is sealed. You have damned yourself and my sister." Byakuya said as he broke the deadlock and slashed at Ichigo's face. Using the hilt of his sword, Ichigo averted the attack but it grazed his temple. Blood oozed own his face. Byakuya crashed his own hilt into Ichigo chest, making him fall onto his back. Before he could get up, he found Byakuya's sword inches from his face.

"You know that you cannot beat me. You are a lowly peasant, and I am the ruler of a might clan. Our class decided the outcome of this fight long before it began. You have no choice but to surrender and face your—".

Suddenly, Ichigo grabbed Byakuya's sword and held it firmly in place. The Kuchiki Lord tried to pull his blade back but the peasant samurai refused to budge.

"I won't surrender to you. Not now, not ever." Ichigo glared up at Byakuya. "It doesn't matter if you're stronger than me. I have to defeat you, so I will. I'm not just fighting for myself. Rukia's life hinges on the outcome of this battle. I won't let you kill her!"

Byakuya's eyes widened for only a moment before he grabbed his sword with both hands and ripped it out of Ichigo grip. Ichigo grunted as his hand was sliced. He looked up to see Byakuya raising his sword high into the air. The blade came down, a flash appeared in front of Ichigo and the sound of steel clashing reached his ears.

"Brother! Stop!"

Ichigo's gaze shot up to see Rukia blocking her brother's attack. She pushed her brother back and took up a defensive position in front of Ichigo. Byakuya's cold eyes fixated on her.

"Move, Rukia. Do not shame the Kuchiki Clan anymore than you already have."

"I will not," Rukia said, defiantly. "I don't care how much shame it brings to me or this clan. I will not let you kill Ichigo. Moreover, I was not seduced. I gave myself to him of my own will. And I am prepared for the consequences." She held her hand out to Ichigo. Although shocked, he allowed her to help him to his feet. She smiled firmly and nodded to him before turning back to her brother.

"If the law demands that we be executed, I would rather die as a warrior, fighting for my life!" Rukia shouted, preparing for battle.

Ichigo stood next to her and took his own stance. "I agree," he said, smiling at her for a brief moment. "Of all the ways to die, fighting by Rukia's side is the greatest death I could have hoped for!"

Their eyes hardened and Byakuya stared at them, his eyes unreadable. After a moment, he sheathed his blade and said, "If that is your choice, then I will respect it. However, I will not be a part of this foolishness. The laws of the clan must be upheld." He raised his hand and the surrounding warriors drew their weapons. "Take them into custody."

Ichigo and Rukia watched as the Kuchiki Lord's warrior enclosed in on them. Ichigo parried and countered five of them before one managed to land a kick to his abdomen. Rukia swatted away the first three warriors and managed to injure a few more before one of them struck her from behind. As they both fell to the ground, the warrior pried their weapons from their hands and pinned them down. Their hands were tied and the warrior's pulled them to their feet.

Byakuya glared at them and said, "I will pass judgment on them later. For now, take the boy to the holding cells." He took a few steps before stopping to say, "However, bring Rukia to my chamber."

Ichigo's gaze shot to Rukia. She turned to him and nodded. "Wait for me," she whispered as the guards forced her to her feet and marched her away.

The guards dragged Ichigo in the opposite direction but he continued to look toward Rukia until she disappeared into the castle.

Ichigo sat in the corner of his cell, his hands still tied and not knowing what to expect. Luckily, a small window high above him showed that the sun was high in the sky. It had been several hours since the guards had tossed him in there without a word. All the while, Ichigo cursed his own selfishness.

If only he hadn't insisted that Rukia stay with him last night, this never would have happened! Even if neither of them could have predicted that Byakuya was check on his sister as he did, it didn't alleviate the guilt that plagued him. Would Byakuya really execute his own sister, just to keep from breaking the clan's laws?

Just as his frustration was peaking, footsteps stirred him. The guards returned and unlocked his cell. "Lord Byakuya will not pass judgment," they said as they hauled him out of the cell.

Ichigo stood tall as they marched him back to the very room he first met the Kuchiki Lord. When he entered the room, he saw Byakuya sitting in front of him. Ichigo was forced to sit several feet from the Lord, the guards poised to strike at any moment. The orange haired samurai's eyes met the Kuchiki Lord's and they glare at each other for a moment.

Abruptly, Byakuya raised his hand and said, "Cut his bonds." The guards hesitantly did as instructed. The moment Ichigo was freed, the Kuchiki Lord ordered, "Leave us."

The guards shared a confused look but did as instructed. Ichigo was also confused by his actions. It was then that he noticed that Byakuya had his sword sitting next to him. Did he plan to execute him personally, with his own sword? The Kuchiki Lord had said that he intended to settle this matter himself. But did that mean—?!

"Where is Rukia?! Is she alright?!" Ichigo asked frantically.

Byakuya raised an eyebrow and replied, "My sister is unharmed. She was taken back to her room. What concern is it of yours?"

Ichigo breathed a sigh of relief before glaring angrily at him. "It should be obvious!"

"Perhaps, but I assume you understand that you both committed a crime against my clan." The Kuchiki Lord eyes seemed slightly warmer than usual. "Surely you can understand my clan's position. It does not matter what you feel for my sister, or if she reciprocates those feelings. The laws must be upheld, regardless of who is at fault."

"You would sentence your own sister to death! Just to uphold the laws!" Ichigo said through grit teeth as he lowered his head.

"I do not recall saying that the punishment for her crime was death." The Kuchiki Lord retorted.

Ichigo's eyes shot up to him and he said, "B-But…you tried to kill me this morning."

Byakuya huffed, "As I said, the punishment for her crime was not death. However, your crimes against the clan merit an execution."

"Crimes? As in, more than one?"

"Indeed. Not only did you deceive my sister and seduce her, it is still under speculation that you were sent here by Yamamoto as a spy."

Ichigo clenched his fists and did not reply. After all, he had no prove that was here of his own volition. And even if he insisted that he hadn't seduced Rukia, the Kuchiki Lord was in no mood to hear it.

"So, what do plan to do with me?" he finally asked.

"I will pass judgment on you, based on your actions thus far. But before that, I wish to know the truth," Byakuya narrowed his eyes at him. "What occurred between you and Rukia during your captivity in Yamamoto's land?"

This caught Ichigo's attention and his eyes narrowed. "Why do you ask? It's not as if you would know if I was telling the truth or not. Haven't you already passed judgment on me?"

"I am willing to listen to a captive's story before passing his sentence. I do not judge a man based solely on my perception of him. As for whether you will be honest, that will be for me to decide. Either way, I suggest that you tell me the truth." Byakuya replied, waiting for an answer.

As much as he wanted to ridicule the bastard for being so arrogant, Ichigo knew that this might be his last chance to explain himself. He met Byakuya's gaze and said, "If I swear to tell you the truth, will you absolve Rukia of her crime?"

The Kuchiki Lord's eyes hardened and he closed his eyes to think. A moment later they snapped open and he said, "I will lighten her sentence. That is all I can promise."

Ichigo nodded in agreement. At least he had done what he could to prevent Rukia from being held accountable. Then again, he still had the story of their meeting to tell. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, mentally preparing himself.

"Rukia saved my sisters from one of Yamamoto's guards," Ichigo explained, "When I saw what she did, I tried to help her fight them off but we were captured. We were brought before the old man himself and I was told that I could redeem myself by cutting out Rukia's tongue."

Byakuya's eyes suddenly grew colder but Ichigo forced himself to continue.

"I refused and freed her, intending to fight my way out with her help." He smiled at the memory but quickly scowled, "However, we were captured again and condemned to death. Afterward, they placed us in the same cell, a strange act of mercy really."

Ichigo hesitated but did not back down. "During what we thought was our last night…Rukia offered herself to me—".

"My sister suggested this? Are you sure?" Byakuya's icy voice interrupted.

Ichigo nodded. "I was very surprised actually. She said she wanted one last night to feel alive," he paused and glared directly at Byakuya. "What kind of man would I be to refuse her?"

The Kuchiki Lord scoffed, "So you accepted her offer out of some sense of obligation?"

"No," Ichigo insisted, "I admit that I wanted to the same, she just beat me to it. Honestly, I'd never met a woman who was as strong, beautiful and amazing as Rukia. And with only one night to understand who she was, I won't deny that I thought I was more than lucky to share a bed with her that night."

Even if his words were bold, he had promised not to lie, regardless of the consequences. The problem was the he could practically feel Byakuya's icy rage trying to strangle him where he sat. Feeling this, Ichigo decided it was best to wrap up the story and get on with his sentencing.

"So, yeah. We did it…and then we got spared the next day." He quickly finished, "And you know the rest of the story from there."

The Kuchiki Lord nodded and closed his eyes. For several minutes, Ichigo sat and watched as Byakuya kept to his own thoughts. At last, the Lord clapped his hands and the door to the chamber opened. To Ichigo's surprise, in stepped Rukia, escorted by the guards. She was led to the spot beside him and sat at his side. Rukia instantly smiled at him. Even if it was a bit melancholy, Ichigo appreciated it and returned the smile. Rukia's hands were released and the guards quickly departed.

Leaning over, Rukia whispered, "Did I keep you waiting?"

"A bit," Ichigo replied, "But I've come to expect it of you."

Slowly, their hands clasped together and they turned to see Byakuya glaring down at them. The Kuchiki Lord looked from Rukia to Ichigo, then back to Rukia. Finally, his eyes set on their enclosed hands and he sighed.

"I must admit," he began, "I did not expect your stories to collaborate so much." He turned his gaze completely to Rukia. "It seems that you spoke the truth after all. The boy told me the same story."

Ichigo's eyes widened and he stared at Rukia. "You mean that—?"

"It is as you suspect," Byakuya cut him off, "I asked Rukia for a full account of what took place during your captivity."

"Then why did you ask me? Wasn't her word good enough?" Ichigo sneered.

Rukia quickly jabbed him with elbowed, "You're disrespect isn't helping. Just keep quiet, Ichigo." The orange haired samurai wanted to protest, but strangely, he'd missed her abrasive attitude.

"Fine," he replied quickly.

Byakuya raised an eyebrow at the exchange and said, "As I was saying, Rukia provided a full account of what transpired. I simply wanted to see if you could verify it. And you did, and now it seems that you both were involved long before you arrived here."

He grabbed Ichigo's sword and stood up. "This changes the situation considerably."

For the first time, both Rukia and Ichigo looked up to him with blank expressions.

"Brother, what exactly are you implying?" Rukia asked as Byakuya approached.

"This is a delicate matter to consider. Since you have only partially broken our laws," the Kuchiki Lord replied.

Ichigo raised an eyebrow, turned to Rukia and said, "Partially?" In response, Rukia shrugged and they looked back to Byakuya.

He stood over them now and explained, "The law is clear that if a member of the Kuchiki Clan is to engage in…intimate acts with a commoner before marriage, both parties must be held accountable. However, at the time this occurred, neither of you were aware of who the other was. Am I correct?"

Rukia lowered her head and replied, "That isn't exactly the case. I revealed that I was from the Kuchiki Clan when we were held captive together."

"And I told her that I wasn't actually a samurai, at least at the time." Ichigo admitted.

"That is not what I am asking," Byakuya said, drawing their attention. He turned to Rukia, "Did you inform the boy that you were to be named the next head of the clan?" Rukia gasped and shook her head. Byakuya turned to Ichigo and said, "And did you inform my sister that you were the son of your land's most trusted general?"

Ichigo's eyes widened, "No, I didn't. But what does that have to do with all this?"

Byakuya extended Ichigo's sword out to him. Hesitantly, the orange haired samurai took it and set it beside him, utterly confused. The Kuchiki Lord turned and walked back to his seat, sitting down to face them.

"As I said, you have only partially broken our laws. The law forbids relations between nobles and peasants. However, Ichigo Kurosaki, you are not a peasant." Byakuya announced, shocking them both. "Appearances to the contrary, your father's noble bloodline, however thin, runs in your veins. Though you were not aware of it, it does not mean that you would not be considered a nobleman. Considering that your father has returned to active service to his Lord, you are eligible to join our clan."

"Brother, does that mean that you—?" Rukia nearly shouted, but was silence when Byakuya held up his hand.

He glared directly at Ichigo and said, "When we battled, I saw the determination and dedication needed of someone who desires to join our clan. I have no doubt that, given time, you would be a valuable asset to my forces."

Rukia smirked at Ichigo but he was a bit too shocked by all this to react, which was fine because Byakuya was not finished.

"However," the Kuchiki Lord continued, "the matter still stands that you both gave yourselves to each other before marriage. Not only that, I am still unconvinced of your intentions for my clan…and my sister."

"What?!" Ichigo shouted, "After all that, you still think I'm a spy—!" Rukia jabbed him again and glared, silencing him.

"Do you have proof of your innocence?" Byakuya asked, to which Ichigo scoffed and turned away. "I rest my case. It is my duty to pass judgment on you both for your transgressions. And I have come to a decision."

Rukia bowed and forced Ichigo down with her. "We will abide by your judgment, Brother." She said. She looked over and smiled at Ichigo, tightening her grip on his hand. Ichigo nodded and gripped tighter as well, his scowl fading.

Byakuya stood up and proclaimed, "For your crimes against the Kuchiki Clan, Rukia Kuchiki, I have decided to reassign you to Hisa Castle. There you will take up its defense in case of an invasion from Yamamoto's troops."

Rukia couldn't stop herself from lifting her head and staring at her brother. Hisa Castle was named after her late sister, Hisana. It was there that Byakuya and Hisana spent most of their youth, and also where Hisana breathed her last breath. Rukia quickly bowed again and said, "I understand. It shall be done, Brother."

Byakuya turned his gaze to Ichigo and announced, "And you, Ichigo Kurosaki. For your crimes against the Kuchiki Clan, you will serve as Rukia's personal bodyguard, attending to her ever need."

Shock overtook Ichigo and he wasn't sure if it was some kind of trick or not. He was tempted to believe that Byakuya was lying but that didn't seem like something he would lie about. No words formed in his confusion. However, Rukia's elbow helped him to find words and he finally said, "It will be done…Your Lordship."

Byakuya nodded and said, "You will leave immediately. I will prepare a coach." The Lord stood and walked pasted them, pausing only for a moment to look down at his sister's joyous smile. He exited the room and walked to his study nearby.

Sealing himself inside, Byakuya opened the memorial of his wife and gazed at image. Hisana's caricature smiled back at him and for the first time in years, he smiled back.

Meanwhile, back in the chamber.

The moment Byakuya left, the pair lifted themselves up and glanced to each other, slightly confused.

"W-What just happened?" Ichigo asked, still trying to settle his thoughts.

"I think my brother just gave us a castle," Rukia replied. A bright smile stretched across her face and she chuckled. "We were spared once again," she winked at Ichigo, "Fate's a stranger thing than I imagined."

"I'm not complaining," Ichigo said with a laughed as pulled her into a hug.

Rukia pushed back and grinned. "I guess this mean's well be spending even more time together."

"How are we ever gonna manage this?" Ichigo replied, mimicking her smirk. Rukia snaked her arms around his head and held him tight.

"We'll think of something," she whispered as her lips met his.

The servants loaded up the coach with all their belongings. Mostly Rukia's since Ichigo had almost nothing. Ichigo stood by the coach, waiting for Rukia to arrive so they could be off. He was incredibly stiff because Byakuya was standing next to him, unmoving. Neither of them had spoken a word since the Kuchiki Lord's ruling yesterday and it was becoming awkward.

Byakuya completely sealed the secret passage and forbid either of them to see each other until their departure. Ichigo surmised that it was the Lord's way of punishing them before their actual "punishment" or perhaps "blessing" was carried out.

"Ichigo Kurosaki," Byakuya broke the silence, making Ichigo jump a bit. "I feel that I need to state that I do not trust you."

Ichigo scowled and replied, "Yeah, I figured that. So why are you letting us off so easily then?" The words came out before he could stop himself. He shouldn't be questioning such a great thing but he was still skeptical that the coach wouldn't burst into flames the moment they departed.

Surprisingly, all Byakuya did was take a deep breath and say, "What you and my sister do in private is none of my concern, as long as it remains private." He shot a quick glare to Ichigo before continuing, "Also, because my sister has placed a great deal of trust in you. The reasons for that elude me but I will respect her decision. Does that satisfy you?"

"Not really," Ichigo confessed, sensing more to his decision.

The Kuchiki Lord looked straight ahead and replied, "Just as you offered your life for hers, she made the same request of me earlier that day."

Ichigo's eyes widened and he said, "Don't tell me that she—?"

"It is as you suspect. Rukia offered her own life in exchange for allowing you to live. I have never seen her act so recklessly and yet so honestly." Byakuya retorted, turning back to him. "I will only say this once; if you ever betray my sister, I will hunt you down and slowly disembowel you." For an instant, Ichigo sword he saw the Kuchiki Lord grin as he finished with, "That is, if she doesn't deal with you herself."

"That certainly sounds like her. But I think I'll be fine." Ichigo joked.

Byakuya's instantly hardened and he turned to face Ichigo completely. "I certainly hope you are taking this punishment more seriously than you appear to be. After all, if anything happens to Rukia while I am away, you will be held completely responsible."

Ichigo slightly panicked and laughed nervously before sighing and turning to see Rukia approaching them. When he smiled the moment he saw her, Byakuya's cold gaze dissipated. Rukia was dressed in her warrior robes with her sword at her side. Her violet eyes shined as she marched up to the two men and bowed.

As she lifted her head, she smiled at them and said, "I am prepared. Goodbye, Brother." Byakuya nodded in response but said nothing.

She turned to Ichigo and said, "Shall we be off?"

"Just waiting on you," he chide, "Seriously, how long does it take to grab your sword?"

Rukia smirked as she passed him and stomped on his foot. "Be respectful in front of Byakuya," she whispered as she stepped off his foot and into the coach. Limping, Ichigo climbed into the coach as well.

Byakuya closed the door and Rukia glanced out the window at him, smiling sadly. "Thank you, Byakuya." She whispered, unsure if he could hear it. The coachman whipped the horses and they began their journey to Hisa Castle.

As the dust settled, Byakuya bowed slightly and whispered, "You can rest easy now, Hisana."

"Did you ever imagine something like this happening?" Rukia suddenly ask when the coach was far away from the castle.

"Huh? What do you mean?" Ichigo replied, settling in next to her. She looked out the small window, back toward her brother's castle and sighed.

"I mean about everything that happened to us. It's funny to think about. We stared out as just two strangers in a cell," she said with a chuckle, "And how we're practically the rulers of a castle."

"Nope, never figured that would happen. I always thought I'd die alone, actually." Ichigo chided.

Rukia smacked his head and retorted, "Why is it so hard for you to enjoy the moment?" But then she smirked up at him and relaxed into his arms.

Now it was Ichigo that chuckled as he smiled down at her.

"All I really know is: We're not strangers anymore."

The End

(Seriously this time)

How was that? Personally, the ending was difficult but fulfilling. Did you see it coming or was it kind of unexpected? Either way, I had a blast with this idea and I'm glad it's finished. I know that a few of you want it to go on but I was going for a simple story with elements of romance, action, comedy and drama. I think it turned out great and it's reached its natural end.

I'm still going on with "Adventures of Chappy Rukia" and I should have another chapter out in the next couple of weeks. I'm on a tight schedule and only get a very minimal time to write and edit before posting. Plus, creating comedy is an experience in and of itself so it takes time.

Thank you to everyone who favorite/followed any of my stories or me. Each time I get a review or a fave or follow, it really makes my day and shows that someone likes what I'm putting down :D

Leave a review if you've got time and keep on smiling my beautiful readers! :)