This is my first Bleach fanfiction, and my first fanfiction in any category for a year. The reason I decided to pick up my proverbial pen again after a year's hiatus from fanfictioning is that – one, exams are officially over, and two, I am shipping Ichigo and Rukia so hard after clearing the entirety of Bleach manga in six days that I had to write something.

So this fic is going to be set predominantly 45 years before canon, in that period of time with Byakuya and Hisana and Kaien and Isshin all mixed up in a melting pot of angst bunnies and coincidences. This will be fun :)

IMPORTANT NOTE: I don't write adult scenes or anything resembling that. Note the rating. K+. There will be no sexual themes in this fic - so if you're looking for that, it won't be here. However, if you do like a good romance and severe fluffiness, keep reading.

ALSO IMPORTANT - Please note that in terms of violence, this fic will be rated T in later chapters.

So, here goes! Hope you like it!


That particular year, the first plum blossom sits quietly in its silvery-pink beauty on the highest branch of a tree in the inner garden of the Kuchiki household. Its delicate petals quiver in the passing of a gentle wind as the flower sits, the first crowning jewel of that winter's vibrant display. A few days later, the courtyard would be shimmering with a thousand blossoms more.

But for now, the single flower rests still and alone, looking down on the wooden floors, and the man who sits, still and alone, on the patio edge.

He sits as a noble should, his back straight and head level, his shihakusho immaculate, and a haori adorned with a "六" flowing past his broad shoulders to spread like a robe around him. Multiple kenseikan pull his dark hair back from the strong lines of his face, set in an unreadable expression. Only a gleam and a softening of his charcoal grey eyes is any indication of his true thoughts.

In the halls of the house, servants skirt around the garden carefully, footsteps reverently silent to avoid disturbing Kuchiki Byakuya.

It has been two years since her death.

He would have likely to have remained in this position for the next few hours if not for the distant opening of the double front doors of the mansion, and the approach of a familiar reiatsu signature.

Byakuya rises gracefully, hands smoothing down his haori as he tears his eyes from the sight of the first plum blossom. His feet make no noise on the wood-paneled ground as he begins to stride towards the end of the corridor to meet his visitor.

A swish of silver-white hair announces the arrival of the taichou of the Thirteenth Division, Ukitake Juushiro, who turns the corner to face Byakuya with a smile of greeting.

"Kuchiki-taichou." The wording is formal, hiding an underlying friendliness.

Byakuya inclines his head. "Thank you for meeting me, Ukitake-taichou. Forgive me if I've taken up your time."

Ukitake laughs lightly as Byakuya leads the way to two seats overlooking the garden. "Not at all, not at all." He waves his hand in dismissal as he sits himself down easily.

Byakuya also sits, albeit more formally, and inquires stiffly by way of initiating conversation, "How has your health been lately? I trust that you are well enough to be making trips outside your division?"

"I've been surprisingly well these past few weeks." Ukitake lifts his cup of tea with an unhealthily thin hand and takes a small sip. "But I assume you wanted to hear about Rukia's progress?"

"Has she been performing her duties to a satisfactory degree?"

Ukitake smiles knowingly. "That and more. She has shown an exemplary zeal for her responsibilities this past year since her induction into my division. Granted, she found it difficult initially to bond with her fellow teammates, but now all issues are resolved. You have heard of her close friendship with our fukutaichou Shiba Kaien?"

Byakuya's eyebrow twitches. "Yes," he says shortly.

Ukitake shows a hint of pleased pride. "Her special training sessions with Kaien have yielded spectacular results due to her hard work; she has gained both the name of her zanpakuto and it's shikai form."

"Although I am well aware she has yet to learn its shikai manifestation powers," Byakuya cuts in.

A tiny frown appears on Ukitake's face, although his eyes remain kind and open. "I would be proud of her progress. Shikai powers will come in time –"

CRACK.

The sound splits the peace of the afternoon air as one of the plum trees in the inner courtyard falls to the ground with a resounding crash.

Both captains snap their heads towards the noise and are on their feet before the first falling branches touch the floor. "What –"

Ukitake is interrupted by the sudden explosion of condensed reiatsu that blasts across them like a torrent of wind, whipping his white hair back from his startled face as a whirling chasm springs into existence where the splintered trunk of the tree used to stand.

The reiatsu flare continues past them and flashes through half of Seireitei.

The two captains stand, tense and ready for what approaches through the reiatsu anomaly.

(BerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREA KBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREA K)

Another place, another time.

A peculiar type of silence echoes in the liquid darkness of an expansive laboratory in the twelfth division headquarters. Four figures surround a counter that is a mess of blinking lights and flashing signs. A tall, slouching man sporting a striped white and green hat emits a sort of quiet that is part carefree and part dangerous, mouth twitching as if he is about to break into laughter and eyes deadly serious. Next to him, a man – if you could call him one – waves his hands excitedly in front of his horned black and white visage in barely withheld scientific glee.

Beside the two scientists, a petite girl garbed in a black shihakusho with a wooden crest marking her as a fukutaichou on her shoulder shifts uneasily, an expression of barely concealed wonder dawning on her sharp face. She lifts a hand encased in a slender white glove from wrist to elbow and points at the machine, managing to reduce the unease in her voice to a minimum.

"With all due respect, Mayuri-taichou, Urahara-san, do…do you realise the ramifications that such an invention would have on both the human world and Soul Society should it actually…work?" Rukia says, leveling a controlled look at the two men.

Mayuri giggles perversely, clapping his hands together and scarcely restraining himself from dancing on the spot. "It does work, my darling, it is as close to perfection as I can imagine." His feet make an unsettling patter on the dirty white tiles of the floor as he shifts in his excitement.

Only one of the four people grouped there seems completely unaware of the cosmic significance of said machine, confusion bunching his eyebrows even closer together than their usual scowl.

"Look, all I heard was scientific yadadada…machine. You made a…what, exactly, Urahara-san?" Ichigo ventures, a hand reaching up to scratch the back of his orange-topped head, his taichou-haori flapping accidentally into Rukia's face.

The fact that this illicits an annoyed huff from Rukia and her stepping away from the creepy taichou of the twelfth division is, of course, entirely coincidental. It follows naturally that Ichigo's immediate shift to place himself between his fukutaichou and Mayuri is also coincidental and nothing to do with the fact that some deep part of Ichigo's soul had flinched the moment the words "my darling" slipped out of that man's mouth.

Somewhere in the back of his consciousness, Zangetsu snickers.

Ichigo pointedly ignores this. He also ignores Rukia's glare.

Urahara straightens from his slouch, adjusting his hat so it shadows part of one eye. He breaks out in a grin. "Ah, my apologies. I should have known that 'Reiryoku-powered Spacetime-independent Soul Transporter v.2.5' would have had some trouble gaining your understanding, Kurosaki-taichou. My fault for overestimating your education, gomen, gomen."

If reiatsu could be sharpened by glares alone, a certain sandal-footed man would be quite dead there and then.

Unfazed by this, Urahara continues conversationally, "This console here is, quite simply, capable of taking souls backwards in time." Beside him, Mayuri nods emphatically.

Rukia sighs resignedly and waits three seconds for this information to process through Ichigo's brain before surreptitiously plugging her ears.

Not a moment too soon.

"YOU WHAT!? YOU MADE A – A TIME MACHINE!"

Rukia takes her fingers out of her ears and unceremoniously whacks her small but surprisingly strong hand against the back of Ichigo's neck (the highest part of him she can reach standing on her tiptoes), admonishing in a whiplike tone, "That was too loud, bakamono!"

Ichigo cringes at the flare of pain, looking sheepish for a brief moment.

Urahara sniggers, knowing as well as anybody in the Gotei 14 that no one has the ability to shut the taichou of the new fourteenth division up as fast as its fukutaichou.

A few seconds later, the shock has drained away from Ichigo's face, leaving an uncharacteristically dark expression. A hint of anger creeps into his expression as he places his next words carefully. "Rukia's right, then. If it does work, the machine would cause frankly catastrophic consequences if it gets into the wrong hands. If you knew of the danger, you'd better have a blasted good reason for doing this. Mayuri. Urahara."

The reiatsu in the cavernous laboratory suddenly sharpens, making the shadows leap and flicker in the suddenly unstable light. Mayuri actually shifts backwards a fraction of an inch, but Urahara merely grins again and makes a placating gesture.

"Yare yare, no need to get violent, Kurosaki-taichou." Urahara tilts his head casually. "Would you calm down if I told you that it is an remnant, if you will, of the Winter War?"

The overwhelming pressure of the reiatsu lifts slightly at this, and almost completely when a small hand grips Ichigo's wrist. Ichigo looks down to see Rukia's intense violet eyes focused on Urahara, restraining fingers gentle on his forearm.

"How?" Ichigo asks shortly, brow furrowed.

Mayuri's explaining voice cuts in, slick with smugness. "The prototype was developed jointly by Urahara-san and I as a contingency plan in the event that all was lost. If Aizen was to demolish a certain proportion of our forces and Seireitei was judged to be beyond any possibility of salvation, a small number of elite shinigami, most likely the remaining taichou and fukutaichou, would use the device to pass backwards in time. They would then attempt to disrupt Aizen's plot before it happened, hence rendering the entire war tabula rasa, if you would excuse my Latin."

A nod from Ichigo indicates his understanding, and his mouth is halfway open to reply when Rukia gets there first. "Fine. So I assume version 1.0 was completed during the months of the war. Why then, if you knew the dangers of continuing this research, is there a version 2.5 in front of us?" There is something dangerous in her eyes now, and her gloved hand rests lightly on the hilt of Sode no Shirayuki.

Mayuri laughs, an unsettling sound ringing with false earnestness. "Would you accept the answer of insatiable scientific curiosity, Kuchiki-san?" He somehow lengthens out the syllables of her name, giving a simple title a sinister lilt.

A mere whisper of cloth.

Mayuri stares cross-eyed down the gleaming length of Zangetsu, following the blade down to Ichigo's deadly gaze. His brown eyes are not even angry, but rather empty of all emotion. Rukia is completely hidden behind the sleeve of his shihakusho.

A moment of silence.

"Don't you dare give me that crap." The statement stands still in the air.

Urahara chooses to step in before the situation gets messy. "It was deemed necessary that the research continued so the Gotei 13 – 14, now – could face all future threats with a master backup plan." At Ichigo's scathing look, the scientist ploughs on relentlessly before he has a chance to speak. "It was sanctioned by Yamamoto-soutaichou himself."

Ichigo holds Urahara's gaze for a moment longer, seeking the truth behind his words. Then with a metallic ring, he withdraws Zangetsu from Mayuri's throat and hefts the sword across his shoulder, simultaneously moving aside to allow Rukia back into the conversation. She gives him a sidelong look, obviously displeased at his overprotectiveness. He responds with a barely noticeable shrug, knowing that she would grill him over it later.

Fluidly stepping forward to take her place next to Ichigo, Rukia raises her chin and says, "What do you want with us?"

"Finally, to the point!" Urahara exclaims, striding towards the machine and flicking a long finger at the whirring dials and buttons. "The reason we requested you, Kurosaki-taichou, was because so far our tests have pointed towards one result – the machine needs a ridiculous amount of reirokyu to even induced it to twitch. You have the greatest reiatsu reserves compared to any shinigami of the Gotei in recorded history."

"You want me to activate the thing?" Ichigo exclaims.

"No, of course not~! But I am asking whether you might be willing to feed a gentle but continuous stream of your reiatsu into the machine, just so that we can get some preliminary readings."

"Give me a moment to consider." The statement is not a request, but something bordering on an order. Urahara nods graciously.

Turning to Rukia, Ichigo tilts his head, and they both retreat to the very edge between light and shadow in the laboratory.

"Well?" He says softly, locking eyes with her.

She shakes her head imperceptibly, elbow twitching momentarily as if about to reach out to touch his sleeve. "It's a bad idea, Ichigo. We don't know what exactly will happen. It's not worth the risk."

Ichigo takes a second to notice the way the corners of her eyes narrow whenever she's worried about him, but then leans closer to whisper a reply. "But Urahara's done a lot for us, and to be honest it looks like he only wants me to give a long, continuous reiatsu flow, not a sudden burst."

Rukia's lips press down into a thin line as she glowers at him. "For once, Ichigo," she hisses back, "stop being such a stubborn baka and listen to me. The machine could do anything – it could suck you in for all we know. And don't you dare pull rank on me or I swear I'll kill you myself."

Instead of submitting to her superior reasoning, Ichigo puts on that infuriatingly self-assured grin, the one that sometimes makes her want to hit him and smile at him at the same time, and says, "It's okay, I think. We owe him, anyway." At her death glare, he relents and adds, "I'll tell him that this is the only time I'm helping, and then we wash our hands of this business, okay, fukutaichou?" The last word is teasing.

Rukia is distinctly unamused, but gives a short, sharp nod of assent. "Don't make me say 'I told you so'," she whispers.

And she follows him back into the pool of bleached-white light on the laboratory floor.

With the usual lack of pomp and tact, Ichigo shifts Zangetsu to a more comfortable position on his shoulder and announces loudly to the room at large, "Right, I'm in, but only this once. Show me where I point Zangetsu." Rukia rolls her eyes behind his back.

Mayuri scurries to the console and points at an empty circular space surrounded by a mass of elaborately twisted wires and parts.

Ichigo spares Rukia one final glance, and then levels Zangetsu at the deep pitch darkness of the circle, closing his eyes in preparation. Urahara and Mayuri step back. Rukia comes closer, as if her physical distance from him can somehow protect him from any danger.

Ichigo breathes. For a moment, hung in the balance between breath and no breath, when time seems to slide and slip between the edges of his consciousness and the tall towers of his inner world, he feels Zangetsu incline his head in acknowledgement. The next breath brings a tremor in his core, the stirring of a deep power flowing from his center and guided by the rough but sure hands of his blade. The reiatsu inside him is akin to a blue fire, curled edges licking the arches of his consciousness, liquid flames curving to his will.

Another breath brings a sudden rush of glorious clarity as the flow tumbles down his arms in flickers through his fingers, running unbroken into the hilt of Zangetsu and down the silver plane of the blade. The reiatsu reaches the very tip of burnished silver, and Ichigo snaps his eyes open, holding the writhing blue still.

Zangetsu gleams an understated cerulean.

At a nod from Urahara, who is focused on the quivering needles of the many dials on the console, Ichigo releases his breath slowly, calmly. The coiling reiatsu springs forward in a continuous stream into the darkness of the black circle, hitting a flat surface in empty space in the center of the machinery and disappearing into nothing.

Needles start shivering on dials.

Mayuri begins to smile, his teeth flashing white in the dark, and Urahara leans closer to the instruments. "Keep it up, taichou," Urahara says.

Ichigo focuses on keeping a steady flow of reiatsu, and behind him, Rukia watches, perched on the balls of her feet, ready for anything, everything.

Five minutes later, the first bead of sweat appears on Ichigo's brow, the only indication of the effort it costs him. His face remains calm and impassive. Urahara's voice abruptly slashes the silence, a hint of alarm colouring his tone. "Mayuri-san. Look at this." Mayuri accordingly turns, and he frowns at what he sees.

"What's wrong?" Rukia's voice is commanding.

"Nothing as of yet," Urahara quickly assures her, "it's just that the machine seems to lick up Kurosaki-taichou's reiatsu in ever increasing amounts, as if feeding it more makes it hungrier…"

Alarm flashes across Rukia's face. "Stop it, then."

Urahara is about to call a cease when a sudden grunt of pain snaps all three heads towards Ichigo's direction.

Zangetsu is shaking.

Ichigo's eyes are widening in a mixture of confusion and the beginnings of fear as he readjusts his grip on the hilt. His feet begin to slide forward.

Rukia snaps, "Stop now, Ichigo!" Her hand is on her zanpakuto.

"I'm trying," the reply comes through gritted teeth.

"Okay, okay, don't panic", Urahara sings, although his hands move faster over the controls, "Shutting it down."

The instant Mayuri and Urahara take their eyes off Ichigo to focus on the console, Ichigo emits a strange sound between a yelp and a choke, and is pulled bodily into the swallowing darkness of the circle.

The two scientists have no time to react. Rukia has no time to think. As the only one with her eyes fixed on Ichigo, and the only one close enough to act, she throws herself at him, fingers outstretched in a blind panic to latch onto his ankle. She must not let him go alone.

Don't let go don't let go don't let go…

The black rushes forward and engulfs her in the space of an eyeblink.

Urahara and Mayuri stare at the spot where the juushi-taichou and his fukutaichou were a second ago.

Urahara whirls and punches the wall viciously.

(BerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREA KBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREAKBerryBREA K)

The grass in the inner garden of the Kuchiki manor is pressed flat by the roaring weight of the reiatsu portal.

Servants running to the scene of chaos are forced to their knees, some passing out from the unbelievable pressure. The two captains crouch slightly, hands dropping to the hilts of Senbonzakura and Sogyo no Kotowari.

"Back, all of you." Byakuya's order to his household is made in as even a voice as ever. He might as well be commenting on the weather.

Drawing Senbonzakura with a smooth ring of metal, he takes a slow, measured step toward the spinning darkness of the portal. Behind him, Ukitake whispers rapidly into his cupped hands and flings a hell butterfly into the air.

Then, with a crash almost louder than when the tree fell, a tall figure tumbles through the portal and splats face-first into the dirt ground.

"Chire, Senbonzak–"

"Wait!" Ukitake's command is sharp and insistent. His eyes are wide. Byakuya blinks once in surprise, but a second glance answers his question.

The young man sprawled ungracefully before them is wearing the shihakusho of a shinigami, his zanpakuto – the Kuchiki head spares a moment to wonder at its gigantic size – stuck upright in the ground beside him. But what is really unbelievable is the unmistakable white of a captain's haori – inscribed with a "十四".

Fourteenth Division?

The next shock comes as the man peels his face off the ground with a tentative "ow", spitting out a mouthful of red, and his face becomes visible.

This is time it is Ukitake who splutters, "Kaien-san!?"

He is unheeded by the young man, who attempts to push himself up onto his knees while groaning an entire chain of incomprehensible words.

Byakuya tightens his grip on his katana and says in a voice encased in ice, "Identify yourself. Who are you?"

But fate is not done laughing at them, for before the strange orange-haired man shows any sign of having heard, a second, far slighter figure appears through the endless darkness of the circular portal. But while the man came through straight on, she spins uncontrollably. As she exits the portal, her head ricochets off the edge of the singularity, snapping her neck back at an awkward angle.

She falls into a crumpled heap on the frozen grass.

Now both taichou are rendered completely speechless, for the girl in front of them, though with shorter hair than in their memory, is no other than Kuchiki Rukia.

Faced with the appearance of someone who is, and yet is not his adopted sister, Byakuya is stunned briefly.

The girl shifts on the ground, one gloved hand reaching out to the young man while the other goes to her temple. "Ichigo," she chokes. Her hand comes away from her forehead with crimson staining the pure white of her glove.

The man – Ichigo – scrambles towards her in alarm. "Rukia! Are you okay?" His eyes widen at the deep, streaming cut at her hairline. "Rukia!"

Her hand drops as she collapses, Ichigo barely reaching her in time to prevent her head hitting the ground. Ichigo snarls, zanpaktuo forgotten as he desperately presses his palm against the wound in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding, cradling her close to his chest.

Scalp wounds bleed a lot.

In the following seconds of blind panic that threatens to overwhelm Ichigo's usually formidable defenses – RukiaRukiaRukiaRukia – he notices the two figures standing close by.

"What are you STANDING there for!" He bellows at Byakuya. The noble flinches back at the sudden eye contact, Ichigo's brown eyes burning with fear and anger. "She needs Unohana here right now! You know I can't do healing kido at this level!"

Byakuya has barely any time to process that this conversation sounds like it is coming from a person of his personal acquaintance, not to mention from an non-existent Fourteenth Division before Ichigo's eyes stop flicking from between Ukitake and him and narrow instead.

When the young man next speaks, his voice is soft. "You – you don't wear kenseikan anymore, Byakuya…" He takes in the bare branches of the trees above him. "It's winter here…"

Understanding dawns on Ichigo's face, even as the two captains remain mystified and Ichigo hugs Rukia tighter to him.

"Oh no. We're back."

Byakuya reasserts himself and repeats coldly, "Who are you and what is your aim in intruding into my house?"

The portal behind the ryoka falters, and begins to shrink.

A chain of emotions flit across the young man's face, almost too fast to be seen. But Byakuya has seen it before, in those who have fought wars, or have had years upon years of battlefield experience. It is the thought process of a person in a commanding position in a dangerous situation and with subordinates in peril.

When Ichigo next speaks, it is in a tone of perfect self-control. "Ukitake-taichou. Heal her. Please. I beg of you. You don't know who I am, but you know that she is Kuchiki Rukia. Heal her." The steady pulse of red wells constantly between his cupped fingers at Rukia's forehead, dripping into a steadily growing pool of blood at her neck. She is turning paler now.

Byakuya feels Ukitake brush past him. A moment later, he drops the hand holding Senbonzakura at the ready, although he keeps the sword unsheathed. Trust Ukitake to be the sort of person to aid an injured ryoka without question. Byakuya tries to ignore the fact that this ryoka looks like the splitting image of his sister, and quells the irrational fear that rises in his heart as he sees her bleeding in front of him.

Ukitake gives the man who looks like his fukutaichou a quick, reassuring smile, and reaches out with gentle hands to cradle Rukia's head. Something about the honest concern in Ukitake's eyes and the blazing emotion in Ichigo's settle a pact between the two. The moment the glow of healing kido forms in Ukitake's hands, Ichigo spins on one heel towards the disappearing portal, one hand reaching out for Zangetsu.

Swinging the blade upwards in a lightning fast motion, Ichigo manages to snag the last disappearing dregs of the portal. There is no time for a slow consideration of what to do next. He uncaps the lid on his reiatsu reserves and pitches the entirety of what is left inside him into their only link to home.

If the blast of reiatsu upon their entrance was a gust of wind, this time the wave of pure, bottomless power is more like an unstoppable whirlwind. The servants that had not passed out yet slump senseless; the very trees creak and groan under the weight of the air; Byakuya and Ukitake gasp for breath before they manage to raise their levels to safety; Rukia cries out unconsciously. Then with a pop of air pressure, the reiatsu sharpens down the blade of Zangetsu as it leaps into the portal.

Suddenly all can breathe again.

Senbonzakura is up again in Byakuya's hands as he redefines this stranger's threat level. What reiatsu…

The chasm shudders, and halts its disappearance.

Ichigo bends forward and yells, "MAYURI! YOU BETTER BE THERE! MAYURI! CAN YOU HEAR ME!"

No answer, except for the distanced beeping of some machine.

Ichigo changes tack. "URAHARA! LIKE CRAP YOU ARE GOING TO LEAVE RUKIA AND ME HERE!"

At the mention of the name, Byakuya shunpo-s blindingly fast and rests the tip of Senbonzakura at Ichigo's neck. "What affiliation do you have with that traitor?" he asks.

Ichigo ignores him, flicking away the tip of the sword with a fingernail.

This time, a slightly guilty singsong voice answers. "Ah, Kurosaki-taichou. Good to hear you made it through. Is Kuchiki-fukutaichou alright?"

"No." Ichigo's voice is laced with poison.

A vague air of embarrassment. "How far back are you? Is that Kuchiki-taichou I hear?"

"Yes. A couple decades, by the look of it."

"Right, don't panic, Mayuri-san and I are working to stabilize the thing and get you back, please hold."

"DON'T YOU 'PLEASE HOLD' ME OLD MAN! I'm single-handedly supplying all the reiatsu powering this thing!" Seemingly to prove his point, Zangetsu trembles and the portal judders.

"Oh, so that's why the machine seems to be running even though we aren't feeding it anything…Mayuri-san, can you divert some auxiliary power from your other labs?"

Mayuri's slick, oily voice answers, "Yes. Allow me…yes…here…and there…auxiliary power supplied." Ichigo lowers Zangetsu, slumping slightly in tiredness.

Urahara takes over again. "It'll take us a few days to fix this, I'm afraid. Standby until then, the portal will appear wherever you are. Bye~!"

The portal decreases in size until it completely fades with a pop.

No matter how many hoarse shouts Ichigo flings at the place where it was, no more replies come through. A sudden weakness in Ichigo's feet brings him stumbling to his knees as he tightens his hold on Zangetsu like an improvised crutch. He hisses yet again as he realises the magnitude of reiatsu that he just sacrificed.

Ichigo's eyebrows come together as he struggles to regulate his breathing and heart rate. His mind races as he analyses their situation. Stuck an indeterminable number of years in the past, Rukia injured and out of it, himself as close to reiatsu drained as he can remember, labeled as ryoka, marked with the sigil of a division that currently does not exist.

All in all: not good.

Scrubbing a hand roughly across his sweat-covered brow, he begins to stand, only to be met by the needle-sharp point of Senbonzakura digging into the back of his neck.

Ichigo is not in the best of moods for anything resembling patience. "Will you cut that out, Byakuya!" he growls, sending a sideways glare at the noble. Behind him, Byakuya raises an eyebrow at the use of his first name, especially without an honorific, but answers by increasing the pressure of the sword.

"You are under arrest, ryoka, for breaking the law –"

Byakuya's grey eyes widen as he abruptly tips forward, Senbonzakura unexpectedly touching nothing but thin air. He manages to catch himself, but not before the blade scores a thin line in the dirt.

A glance upwards reveals Ichigo a few feet away, asking Ukitake softly about Rukia's condition, a hand resting on her dark hair.

I could barely see that movement. That shunpo was fast enough to rival Yoruichi's at her best – godlike speed. Not to mention he shunpo-ed on his knees? Byakuya notices that the ryoka's huge zanpaktuo remains stuck upright in the ground, left behind in his concern for his fukutaichou.

Massive reiatsu, near-perfect houhou, and an unbelievable inability to see us as a threat. Who is he?

Ukitake lifts his hand from Rukia's forehead. "I have stopped the bleeding for now, but she needs a blood transfer as soon as possible." The girl who looks like his sister is still pale. Byakuya places himself between Ichigo and his blade, Senbonzakura held loosely in his palm, ready but not directly pointing at the ryoka. This ryoka intrigues him. He would wait and see.

Ichigo moves to gather the girl in his arms again, breathing a sigh of relief and thanking Ukitake profusely. Only now does Byakuya catch sight of the badge previously hidden underneath her arm. So. A taichou and a fukutaichou.

The appearance of a distinct number of powerful reiatsu signatures on the roof tiles framing the courtyard cause all three captains to look up.

Kyouraku, holding his straw hat at a jaunty angle, flowery haori billowing in the wind. Kenpachi, hair sticking up in dangerous spikes, a wide grin splitting his face. Sui Fong, lithe and crouched, the two metal rings behind her swinging back and forth. Komamura, helmeted, his armor glinting in the late afternoon sunlight. Unohana, her demure face drawn into a frown, fingers intertwined in her long braid.

The setting sun throws them all into silhouetted half-shadow, gleaming off their drawn zanpakutos.

Kyouraku is the first to speak. "You called, Ukitake?" Ukitake's hell butterfly sits on his shoulder. The words are spoken in a chiding lilt, but a calculating look resides in his half-lidded eyes as he sweeps his gaze over the courtyard.

Below, Ichigo takes one look at the situation, and the five zanpaktuos drawn – six, if Senbonzakura was to be counted – and rises smoothly to his feet, cradling Rukia in his arms.

He lifts his head and states formally in what Rukia calls his "leader-berry" voice, "Captains. My name is Kurosaki Ichigo. I am the taichou of the Fourteenth Divison of the Gotei 14." He bows slightly, only inclining his head really, the bow of a man facing equals.

Ichigo looks them all in the eye. "Forgive me for trespassing on your time and territory. If I may ask a question – this may sound strange – what year is it?"


And there you have it. Was it entertaining? No, was it readable? O_o Oh, and is it weird that I use taichou and captain interchangeably? As regards to the potentially massive plothole of Aizen, Gin and Tousen, I will address that in later chapters. I'm not even sure about how Zaraki fits into the timeline – to be honest the timeline is a bit messed up in Bleach canon, but I want him to be present, so there he is, grinning like a maniac down at Byakuya.

And I'll add in Shiba Isshin and Shiba Kaien soon, so expect angst bunnies.

Oh, and this is NOT a Rukia-is-a-damsel-in-distress story! She's going to have a nice, long talk (i.e. A kicking match) with Ichigo over how he's way too protective and doesn't appreciate her position as his fukutaichou.

Review please? It really helps me get the motivation to write good stuff.