Hey everyone... wow, this took me long enough. Anyway, I'm tired, but uploading this before I procrastinate any further. On with the story! My author's note is at the end of the chapter.



Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or make money from this fan made fiction.

Out of the Bag chapter 5

Tatsuki once again found herself at the Urahara shop. She would often come to train but this time she was waiting for Orihime, who was speaking privately with the shady shopkeeper. Thinking back, it had been months since Orihime had joined her, Mizuiro, or Keigo for training; even Chad had been more absent from the group's training sessions—though not as much so. This was a real irritation because she was often without a capable partner: Yoruichi wasn't around much; the training hollows had become too easy to defeat; and as much as training against Mizuiro and Keigo was a good idea, it wasn't viable anymore. Keigo feared her too much to consider it and Mizuiro wasn't enough of a challenge to make it worth pulling him away from training with Keigo (as they usually trained by duelling against each other). Or was that really the case?

It's true that she had become more than a match for both, but Mizuiro only really stopped dragging Keigo into it after Urahara brought him aside for an "important discussion" that one time. Furthermore, the shady shopkeeper had been medically testing her more and supporting her combat less; the man refused to increase the difficulty of the training dummies and gave the most vague answer as to why. She wasn't sure what to make of it.

She didn't trust the shopkeeper, and the fact that Orihime had been growing more and more concerned after each of her own visits was a good part of that—this was Orihime's fourth checkup for "nothing" and both parties refused to say a word about it. Tatsuki's thoughts were interrupted when Orihime finally came out with a grimaced look upon her face. "What's wrong Orihime?"

The auburn-haired young woman jumped a bit, surprised. "What? Oh, nothing, everything's fine."

Things sure didn't look fine. "Hime, tell me what's wrong."

"I'm fine... really."

Her face said otherwise. "Then why don't I believe you?" Tatsuki wasn't letting Orihime hide it any longer, having decided long ago she wasn't going to let Orihime go through anything bad alone; something really wasn't right this time.

Closing her eyes and faking a smile, Orihime replied. "It's nothing, really. I just won't be able to go to the Soul Society this time."

Tatsuki's eyes shot open. "What do you mean you won't be going? All you've done this last month is talk about Ichigo, why the heck wouldn't you go?" This was more than frustrating. 'Two steps backward for every foot forward,' she thought, 'why can't she just end my misery and tell the idiot how she feels?' Tatsuki wasn't always this exasperated; sure, it bugged her for years, but at some point in the last month... something changed.

Orihime waved and said, "D-Don't worry about it, see you next week!" quickly turning as she ran back home.

Something was definitely up. 'Fine,' she thought, 'if she wants to be this way, I'll tell Ichigo how she feels and fix them up for good! Wait...' She had just recognized the latter half of her best friend's statement."Next week? Hime, what do you mean by-"

The sound of wooden clogs interrupted Tatsuki and she turned around to see the shady shopkeeper motion with his arms, directing her into the medical room. The place was futuristic with white plastic walls, clean lines and rounded corners. The equipment was all stainless steel with hookups for specialized gear, and monitor plugs for wires were built into the wall via consoles with many blinking lights of various colours. Tatsuki stepped into the room and glared at the shopkeeper, she wouldn't be reserved about how she felt.

"Alright, spill the beans. What's going on?!" she demanded, crossing her arms lest her fists dare an attempt at violent contact with the all-too-jovial man's face.

Kisuke looked at Tatsuki, ignoring the glare he was being given, a smile on his own face. "Hello Miss Arisawa, I'm glad you could make it. Don't worry about Miss Inoue, she'll be right as rain given time and discipline."

"Discipline? What the heck is going on?"

"She has just over-extended her spiritual reserves; like I said, there isn't anything to worry about. Besides, we're here to talk about you, Miss Arisawa."

From what she knew about exhausting one's powers, she was feeling better about Orihime's situation: the condition made you feel bad and went away with rest, so it wasn't too serious. However, looking at the man's now serious demeanour and the change of subject, Tatsuki's feelings shifted to surprise and aggression. "What about me?" her voice was rather hostile.

'As I expected,' Kisuke thought;and now it was time to get things moving."Miss Arisawa, you've been growing in power at a phenomenal rate; truth be told, it's rising too quickly."

Tatsuki wasn't sure what that meant, but could suddenly see why subtle efforts had been made to slow her down. But the question had to be asked: "How does that work?"

"It's slightly different for everyone, but your human body is too stressed by your spiritual power right now. If you keep this up, you'll die physically." Shock became the dominant look upon the young woman's face. "However, I have a solution to assure your safety."

"You do?" she asked. Inwardly, she was relieved. 'At least the mad hatter has some good news.'

"Absolutely!" he exclaimed, waiving his fan in front of his face; he was genuinely excited. "Using data gathered from the previous tests I will make you new equipment. Though I am pretty busy, so it may take a month."

"A month? What am I supposed to do for a month? Besides, I'm speaking at a convention for hunters soon; the sponsor even wanted a demonstration."

The man's attitude suddenly mellowed out. "Relax, take a break, be creative... or are you that obsessed with fame? Judging from your response, I'd say you're head's gotten a little big~"

"Hardy-har-har! Do you have any idea how annoying those camera guys get? My parents have a running tally of how many camera's they've destroyed and they just keep bringing more. I think my parents have turned it into a flirting game: they're trying to one-up each other and end up making-out after bragging about it!" She really was exasperated from it all. "And to make matters worse, I even told one of those gossip reporters I was dating Ichigo just to put out rumours that were far worse!"

"Oh, you mean the one-"

"Don't you dare!" she cut in, "At least it got them off my back." She figured if they couldn't find the guy they would waste their time looking for someone who wasn't on this plane of existence; it had done the trick for now. "But then his dad comes over to congratulate 'us'; and now I think he's formed a coalition with my parents!" Kisuke then chuckled.

"What's so funny?" she growled.

"Oh, nothing, nothing~."

Tatsuki simply leered at the man. "Fine," she seethed, walking out of the room.

"Hold on Miss Arisawa, I need you to take something to Ichigo."

"You're sending me to Soul Society?" The idea wasn't inherently bad, it was quite good actually. 'Nice, I can get this sorted out faster than I thought.'

Orihime had gushed on and on about Ichigo when she had finally told Tatsuki the stories of the invasions of both Soul Society and Hueco Mundo. Orihime also wouldn't stop having surprisingly graphic daydreams about him afterwards—daydreams she responded to out-loud. And listening to everything had returned a "pull" pull that Tatsuki wasn't comfortable with, one in the depths of her heart. 'I hope nothing goes wrong... I have a funny feeling about this.'

"Bingo! You'll be there for about a week." Without any further fanfare, Kisuke handed Tatsuki a wooden box, led her to the basement, and walked her into the portal while talking about her purpose; though she wasn't completely paying attention, she did get the gist.

Tatsuki was nervous. It wasn't that she lacked confidence, but that being led through unfamiliar territory by a couple of stone-faced soul reapers was awkward when there was no one to talk to; these two were as no-nonsense as members of the Prime Minister's security detail.

At the behest of the shady shopkeeper, she was delivering a small wooden box to Ichigo; apparently she would be there the whole week because of what was in the box. Though she didn't mind for a few reasons. Spending time with her childhood friend was more interesting than living a normal life for the next week, it also meant more money being deposited into her bank account, but most importantly, she had a scheme to implement.

Eventually the long walk ended and Tatsuki was passed on to another, friendlier escort at one of the smaller gates into Ichigo's division. 'Ichigo's division...' The idea came with a lot of implications and much to think about; thankfully her walk was finally over.

Ichigo's eyes widened when he noticed his visitor knock and enter his office. "Oh, hey Tatsuki, how's it going?" He got up from his desk to greet her, and stretch his legs while he was at it.

"Hey Ichigo," she replied with a small wave, "I'm alright, you?"

"The paperwork sucks, I'm glad you're here: I need a distraction." He pointed to the pile of paperwork at his desk.

Tatsuki chuckled when she saw the larger of the two piles. "I also come with a gift," she announced sarcastically, arms held out.

"Oh, so Hat 'n Clogs sent you to deliver the tests. Wasn't sure when I was getting those."

Once again she chuckled, apparently Ichigo wasn't a big fan of his either, and the nickname suited the shopkeeper. "Yeah. He also said I'd be needed as well, so I'll be here for the week."

Ichigo stared blankly at her for a second before smiling a bit. "Awesome, I miss having someone to hang out with. Everyone is really busy recently and it feels weird to be in charge: the only person who isn't afraid to casually talk to me seems to be Momo, and she's going to be extra busy with training. Is there anything you want to do?"

"Well, I was going to ask about Hohō, but I'm not allowed to train until I get my new gear."

"Not allowed to train? New gear? What happened?"

"Yeah," she huffed proudly, sticking out her chest and pointing toward herself with a thumb, her elbow out to the side. "my spiritual energy has been growing too fast, so the shady shopkeeper needs to make me better stuff; until then I'm just your average, 'mild-mannered' woman." Tatsuki slowed down toward the end of the sentence and sighed, the traces of her previous smile now vanishing.

"You seem disappointed." Ichigo grabbed some pillows and motioned for her to sit down.

Taking the offer, Tatsuki sat with her legs outstretched and her hands behind her for support; the box in her lap. "Not disappointed, more like bored."

Ichigo raised an eyebrow at the response. "Bored, you like fighting hollows?"

She had to think on the question for a moment. Did she actually enjoy it? "Maybe... I don't know. I mean, I love martial arts, and this is like... the ultimate way to apply what I've learned. You know what I mean? It's such a rush... well, until the paparazzi starts bugging you."

Ichigo smiled in understanding. "Fame sure makes things complicated. I've caught a few members of the Shinigami Women's Association trying to take my picture at... inappropriate times. Momo sometimes complains that she's being pressured by them to say stuff about me."

"I know, right?" she grinned, speaking with someone else who didn't care for the limelight was cathartic. "Oh, crap! Ichigo, I need to let you know!"

The urgency in Tatsuki's voice caused Ichigo to narrow his eyes and purse his lips. "Go on..."

"I told the press we're dating."

Despite sitting, Ichigo stumbled, raising his arms in front of him to head height with his palms open. "You what?!" It was a good thing there wasn't a table in front of him.

"Yeah, there were some bad rumours being spread by one of the gossip reporters I pissed off; it got so bad that people started throwing themselves at me. Even some girls! And I thought stopping Chizuru was bad enough."

"What kind of rumour could be that bad?"

"You don't want to know. Anyway, I found one of the other reporters and forced him to write some bogus article about us. They know enough about you to know you're real." Ichigo was sorting everything out in his mind—it was very obvious to her—when he suddenly chuckled, followed by a full blown laughing fit. Tatsuki wasn't impressed: Sure, the idea wasn't the brightest, but it worked... and it wasn't that stupid. Or was he laughing at the idea of dating her? That thought angered her. She wasn't the "girly-est" of people, but even she wanted to get married one day. And she was good enough for anyone, even him.

"You... haha, you, hahahaha... ahem, excuse me. Heh. You threatened a gossip reporter? That's definitely something you'd do." There was this big, goofy grin upon Ichigo's face—something Tatsuki hadn't seen in years—and it brought up the most nostalgic, heartwarming feeling she could remember experiencing. It moved her like a stolen moment, but this one was intended for her... or rather, because of her. It was a feeling she was wary of; yet she wanted to feel it again. If only she wasn't going to ruin his day. "Unfortunately your dad knows about it."

Ichigo instantly paled, mouth wide and fear very distinguishable in his eyes. "H-he didn't mention anything strange... did he?"

Tatsuki felt her face heat up and pulled at the collar of her shirt to air out her slightly-too-warm collar area as she remembered exactly what Ichigo's father demanded of her... well, both of them, really. It was graphic, it was embarrassing; and had all the tact of a drunk moose. It bordered on being a rant, and she quickly punched the man in the face; making a hasty retreat once she realized her parents—they had come out to see what the fuss was about—had joined this lunatic on the crazy train. She cleared her throat.

"Well, he... uh... yeah." The floor suddenly seemed far more interesting as she realized she was having the most roundabout conversation about sex with a childhood friend... with said childhood friend. At least it wasn't Ichigo's fault, she would have decked him otherwise.

Ichigo was, for lack of a better word, flustered. The conversation and its content was unprecedented to him, since he had never talked with a girl about sex before. And though the word "sex" had not been used, he knew his father well enough to know it was exactly where the current conversation was at. It figured his dad would be at fault; not to mention the fact he had not even thought about being in that kind of relationship with anyone, never mind his closest childhood friend.

They were both victims, he figured, and hoped things didn't become more awkward; he was worried she'd try to punch him. "Let's see what's in that box and get started with the tests Hat 'n Clogs wanted to run."

"Oh, right," Tatsuki replied, opening the box and reading the piece of paper that lay at the top. "It says you'll need to take off your shirts and let me place a bunch of these on you... wow, he even printed a you-shaped diagram for this..." she snickered a bit, "or maybe that's just your hair on a generic body shape."

Ichigo just placed his face in his hand. "You know what? I don't even want to see it."

Tatsuki giggled (in only a way Tatsuki would) and took out a package, opening it up and finding all of the patches she would use for one testing period; all of them felt a little different on touch. "Alright, get your kosode and shitagi off and I'll put these on." She did her best not to think of the previous conversation; she didn't want to make being friends with Ichigo awkward in the future.

She could see Ichigo also trying his best not to act bothered and watched as he pulled open his upper clothing and removed his arms from the sleeves, letting the garments hang down and revealing his upper body—which was nearly chiselled and without a scratch. Once again ignoring stray thoughts (while silently cursing the "Shady Shopkeeper"), Tatsuki came to a realization. "Orihime sure is a miracle worker."

"Hmm?" Ichigo wasn't quite connecting the dots and turned his head to glimpse Tatsuki—who had stood up and walked behind him—as she placed the first two patches on his lower back, on either side of the spine.

"You don't have a single scar, even after everything you've been through." she said, placing more patches on his lower, middle, and upper spine.

"Oh, yeah, Orihime really is amazing, isn't she?" He straightened his back and looked forward when Tatsuki pushed the shoulder that was bent in her direction, feeling the next patches placed almost under each arm where the shoulder blades stopped covering. "I've been through a lot and she's brought me back like nothing's happened."

Tatsuki frowned at this, remembering some of the fights she had personally witnessed: they were brutal. "Oh, speaking of her powers, she's used them too much." She placed the next two patches on either side of his neck, just behind the shoulder tendons.

"Is she alright?" Ichigo asked abruptly, his own experience with over extending his powers coming to mind—it was unpleasant on both accounts.

Tatsuki stepped in front of him in order to get the front patches applied, her own face a little heated. "Yeah, she's fine. Hat 'n Clogs was able to do something and she's recovering. I don't think she'll be able to visit you for a while... Stay still for these Ichigo, apparently the ones on the front are 'more volatile' according to the instructions"

Following the instructions, Ichigo felt the next patch go near his belt line in the centre. "Oh, that's good... guess that'll be one less visitor though."

The sigh of relief and those last few words let Tatsuki know how things were: Orihime still had a long way to go to catch the young man's attention; there wasn't even a hint of disappointment. She placed the next two patches simultaneously, slightly above and to either side of the first patch in the front.

But still, now was a good opportunity: Ichigo couldn't run away right now, and hopefully this would kick-start something for her best friend. She had been unusually fed up with Orihime's indecisiveness in the past month. "Ichigo, what do you think of Orihime?" she asked, placing three patches under his left pectoral in rapid succession.

"Well, she's a great healer. She's nice, too. And it goes without saying I trust her with my life." Ichigo felt one patch applied underneath his right pectoral and heard Tatsuki quietly count to five before placing the next two simultaneously.

"Is that all?" she asked, hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.

Ichigo narrowed his eyes, careful not to move too much, seeing as Tatsuki still had a couple of patches in her hand. "What do you mean, 'Is that all?'"

This time she slapped a patch onto Ichigo's right pectoral with force. "Ichigo, do I have to spell it out for you? She's in love with you!"

Ichigo failed to recognize the slap on account of the revelation that was just dropped on him. "She is?" his mouth was slightly open and his eyelids were wide apart.

"Yeah, she's had a crush on you forever, and after you rescued her she's been even more love-struck. Lately, she constantly brings you up; it's... difficult to hear all the time." She wasn't going to mention the daydreams however, she still had some dignity.

"Oh, I just thought she was really thankful to get out of Hueco Mundo. I mean, being a prisoner in that gloomy place had to suck, and she's normally very polite, so, you know..."

"Really? You did almost die to rescue her, why wouldn't any girl fall for that?"

"Because Rukia didn't? She's dating Renji right now, and I nearly died saving her. I'd do the same for anyone I care about—well, not that I try to get myself killed—I don't get how that instantly makes someone fall in love; even you put yourself in harm's way for Orihime."

Tatsuki let out a frustrated breath, palming her face. He really was this dense... or he really didn't care about Orihime in that way. "Then how do you feel about Orihime?" There had to be something she could use.

Resting his chin on his open palm, Ichigo thought hard about it. "Um... protective of her I guess, like Karin or Yuzu: I won't stand for someone taking advantage of her—she's too soft for that."

'Dammit, why'd that have tobackfire?!' Tatsuki had practically done the opposite of what she meant to do. And she really didn't want to let things go on like this: it had been years, and signs of progress on Orihime's part were non-existent. "Then when are you going to get a girlfriend? What is your type?"

"Why are you so-"

"Answer the damn question Ichigo!" Tatsuki wanted the truth, she wasn't going to let Ichigo think his way out of this one. 'Maybe he's gay, then I wouldn't feel so bad telling Orihime. I mean, what straight man ignores boobs that massive?'

"But I-"

"I said answer it!" she yelled, swinging the last patch around in the air. Ichigo wasn't getting out of this so easily.

Ichigo was frustrated, he couldn't think, and he certainly didn't want to screw up the test by moving when he shouldn't have—he really wanted to be home as soon as he could be—and he really didn't like being put on the spot like this. "I don't know!" he retorted, "Why don't you have a boyfriend yet?"

'What the hell? What do I have to do with him dating?' she thought; balling her free hand into a fist, she brought it close to Ichigo's face. "What kind of 'answer' is that?"

His scowl was back in full force, intimidating as ever. "I've seen you go into danger to protect your friends—I've helped you out a few times, remember—and you just said you like the rush of fighting. Well, so do I. You know what? A while ago Yoruichi said you were a lot like me, and I think I know what she meant now. Chad may be my best friend, but I think you know how I feel better than anyone."

Taken aback, Tatsuki realized that, indeed, she shared several hobbies, as well as sense of justice, with Ichigo. There was a reason they stuck together for so long, and it wasn't just because they lived close together. But still, he wasn't completely right.

"That's bullshit and you know it!" she yelled, "Know how you feel? Really? How do I know how you feel?! You never let me in! I watched that fight with the blue haired guy who kicked your ass, how on earth do you willingly go through that? Why on earth didn't you tell me what was going on before that? Tell me, then I might know how you feel!"

Ichigo's eyes widened in surprise, still unable to move. "Wait, you were there? You watched my fight with Grimmjow?"

Tatsuki's voice lowered, and she let her arms fall to the side. "I don't know his name, but yeah. Half his face was hollow, right?"

"You could have been killed, why didn't you run?!" Ichigo yelled.

Still her voice remained soft. "And so could you, why didn't you run away?"

"Because I had to protect Rukia."

The answer was so straightforward it hurt. 'Of course he's like that, he's always been like that! Why can't you just be a selfish prick for once? Why are you so... so you?!'

She was having trouble thinking now, her emotions had been put through the ringer for reasons she couldn't quite comprehend. "Well I didn't want you to die either! Besides, it's Rukia's fault you got into this mess. How is that fair? Orihime even got kidnapped because she went to visit Rukia."

"I was the one who attracted the hollow that attacked my family to begin with," Ichigo replied, "besides, Orihime was kidnapped for her powers, not because of Rukia."

"Well if Rukia had done her job better... I don't know, things would be normal?" she questioned, not really sure what to say. "We'd hang out at the arcade and do normal stuff like we always did, and maybe I'd finally get you and Orihime together so I wouldn't have to hear her talk about you so much. Do you have any idea how hard it is to help her out now?"

"Sorry Tatsuki, I didn't realize it was hard on you, I'll make it up to you somehow."

"You idiot! This isn't your fault, it's just that sometimes she gushes about you so much that I have trouble ignoring my own feelings!" She immediately closed her mouth, embarrassed at the Freudian slip.

Ichigo's jaw just dropped, unable to say anything as Tatsuki quickly applied the last patch over his heart and turned away, storming out of his office.

Dr. Benjamin Leary, now CEO of Soul Sand International, sat in his office talking to a cloaked representative of the very secretive group he was un-ironically, secretly partnered with.

"So, how are sales of the '50u1 Rifle'?" The cloaked man asked, his hands linked behind his back.

Dr. Leary simply kept a straight face as he responded. "They're doing alright, but everyone wants the spirit gear."

The man simply smiled in understanding. "Don't worry about it, it's in our best interest to see you do well, and that's what we have planned; the orders will pick up soon. Speaking of spirit gear, have any of your men been able to obtain it or break through the encryption on the website?" This had been a particularly challenging problem that people from both organizations had been working on in various capacities; not to mention the various contract work that had been given out.

"Unfortunately not: the quantum computer is working on it, but that will take another hundred years with the current technology. We're missing something, even with those organic-looking improvements you helped us with."

"I see," the cloaked man said, now crossing his arms in front of him, "that's what I was afraid of. I appreciate your efforts, we'll see if we can't create the missing tools you need for it. By the way, I hear you're getting married?" His tone was much lighter now.

"Yes," Dr. Leary smiled, "Jessica and I went on a date, that became two dates, and so on; now we're getting married."

"That's good to hear, we've had a few marriages within our organization and it's really brought the mood up. I wish you two the best."

"Thanks, give the happy couples on your end our best wishes as well." Dr. Leary replied.

"I'll do that; as always, it's been a pleasure." And with those words, the man was gone.

The world was steadily coming to terms with wholes, hollows, hell—many had speculated the creepy gates that pulled in some of the hollows was hell—reincarnation, and the afterlife; though not much was known of the latter. It had been a shock to everyone, but also a comfort—that no one was right about the great hereafter, and things were finally starting to settle down worldwide. Extreme violence went down worldwide upon the knowledge of hell's existence coming to light—many hardened criminals had turned their lives around out of fear—though things weren't much friendlier. People were actually more selfish despite the significant decline in severe crimes.

Oliver was lost in her thoughts. 'If only we could do something about the suicide rate, that's gone way up.' She was on her way home from a school assembly mourning the loss of several students who had committed the unfortunate deed; it was the second such event in as many months. 'I hate this, it's too depressing. Especially with all the hollows that have popped up because of it: I'm losing all my free time. Maybe I can stop by a' Her thoughts were cut short as a young man in a military uniform as he walked her way, though her initial reaction puzzled her. 'He'slooks good in that...'

The man was uncomfortable. Sure, getting this girl on his side was important, but the look she was giving him made him feel like prey being toyed with; she was a famous hunter. A quick clearing of his throat would hopefully hide his nervousness. "Miss Simons, I am Major Ross Keeley, with the Canadian Armed Forces, Supernatural Division; I wish to speak with you regarding an urgent matter."

'This is strange,' she thought, not expecting someone from the military to show up looking for her; she could also feel spiritual pressure from him. "Are you rea~lly from the military?" she asked, her voice very droll. "You seem kind of young to hold the position of Major." Majors in her favourite military television show were all older, and it seemed pretty high up on the pecking order for someone who wasn't much older than her. She also wanted to see how far she could push him, test his personality. 'Let's see what he's made of.'

'What have I gotten myself into?' Ross girl's tone was dry, but her attitude certainly was not. "My age is of no concern, will you come or not?"

'So Ross wants to be a prude, does he?' she coolly thought, certain this would go well: her mother often pressured men like this, and it was fun to see them squirm. "And if I say 'no?'" she asked with innocence.

Ross didn't like the sly smile on this girl's face, it made him less than sure of her intentions. Was she teasing him, or an actual danger? "Then I am authorized to detain you for questioning." He felt some assurance when her face soured.

"That's not fair... I haven't done anything wrong." she said, crossing her arms below her breasts.

Keeping as stoic as he could, Ross was determined to win the mind games this blonde teen was playing. "Multiple counts of trespassing, vandalism, and disturbing the peace."

Her eyes widened and her arms fell to the sides."What? When? You have no proof, I'm innocent! This is harassment!"

"More than hollows get hurt when you fight them, and you ignore private property in order to get to them."

"I... but..." She growled a bit, literally. "Fine, I'll go with you, but you have to tell my mother." she pointed, making harsh contact with the man's chest in the process.

An hour later and Oliver was in a large brick warehouse. It was sectioned off into a garage, office, storage, and canteen area. Interestingly, the largest space was an open, nondescript floor space, though currently, she was inside an office, speaking with both Ross and his superior.

"So, the leader of some African country is killed by a hunter and now you want to force all hunters to register with the military?" She sat at a long canteen table across from Major Keeley and his superior General Altringham.

"Yes," Ross replied, "though you aren't being forced to join the military. We just want to do a psychological evaluation every year of all hunters in the country. You are a living weapon, by technical definition. And since this is your first time with us, we also need to go over laws that you must obey—since any show of aggression or act of violence would be considered threatening with a deadly weapon or assault with a deadly weapon: respectively."

"This... this is absurd." her mouth hung slightly open and she glared at the two men.

The general—who had short, white hair—spoke up. "It's this or become locked away in the most glorified of weapons lockers." He also had a pretty cliche, gruff voice. "You also have nothing to worry about if you continue to conduct yourself as admirably as you have already done so far."

Another hour was spent on just the things she wasn't allowed to do. Oliver was feeling alarmingly restricted now. "Is there anything else I can't do?" she sarcastically quipped.

"Yes," the old general shot back, "you're too young to hold a concealed weapons permit, so you need to wear one of these." The man pulled a bright orange armband with the letters "L.W." on it.

"You have got to be kidding me..." Oliver was not happy.

"We aren't," Ross said, "it's the new policy."

"But... it'll clash with everything I own. What does 'L.W' even stand for?"

"Living weapon."

"But—" she was cut off.

"That's the point, it needs to be noticeable and indicative of what the general danger could be." The general stated.

"You... you're..." she pointed in frustration. "I blame you," she said, pointing and glaring at Ross. The man was attractive, but his no-nonsense attitude seemed to frustrate the teen. 'I will have my revenge,' she thought.

"Well," started the general, "now that that's out of the way, we'd like to offer you a job."

"A job?"

"Yeah, training the hunters that decide to sign up for the military. We want the best of the best, and you're it in this country—well, according to the Humble Shop website. Once a week, you come here and hold a 5 hour training session, helping out the other hunters get better at not dying. We'll pay you one thousand dollars per session."

Her eyes glossed over a bit, but she shook her head. "I can't, and you won't get any hunters, either."

"So it's true?" Ross asked, concern in his voice.

"Yeah, hunters aren't allowed to join any military. You've heard what they do anyone who joins and tries to keep their gear; those stories are real."

Another two hours, this time being told what she was allowed to do, and she was on her way back home, being driven by Major Ross.

"Do I have stay with you? I mean, I can get home myself." She crossed her arms to physically state her dissatisfaction.

Ross, however, had both hands on the wheel and remained as indifferent as he could. "Yes, it would break military protocol to leave a teenager to her own devices after we picked her up."

"Can you take me out at least?" she asked suggestively, shrugging her shoulders to emphasize her breasts.

"Miss Simons," he said, still looking at the road, "are you flirting with me?"

She raised an eyebrow. "What if I am?"

"Why?" Ross knew exactly how to handle her mind games—once he knew she was playing said mind games.

"Because I can, this is payback." Ross obviously was not looking at her, so she relaxed her shoulders, glaring at him a bit.

"You're a fairly vindictive type, aren't you? Low key, too. It's no wonder you don't have a boyfriend."

"Wha—how would you know?"

"Then you're a cheater?"

"No!" she shouted indignantly, "Just take me back!" Oliver simply seethed for the rest of the ride.

Later that night, with several friends and a grudge, Oliver found herself walking down the street past a bar; though they stopped to see a man being ejected from the establishment by another man: a man Oliver recognized.

'Ross!' she thought in frustration. Only to come up with a clever idea as Ross made his way back into the bar. Speaking to her friends, she was emboldened by said idea. "Hold on guys, I have a score to settle. I'll be right back." Her friends simply watched her enter the bar and leave a minute later holding a full glass of beer.

Quickly, Oliver turned around, waiting; barely 5 seconds later a man came out, clearly unhappy with Oliver.

"Miss Simons, I don't know what your problem with me is, but this is immature—hey!"

Slowly and deliberately, she began pouring the beer on the ground, a wry smile upon her face. "Then why don't you arrest me?"

"You can't be serious—Of all the times to ruin your reputation..." he spoke, coming to what he thought was a realization. 'She really wants me to arrest her, unbelievable!' he thought, watching her drop the glass onto pavement, causing it to shatter across the ground. Quickly, he walked up to her, prepared to arrest her, when her arms flew around his neck.

'That's right,' she thought as she kissed him, 'now you just broke the law.' But she quickly panicked as she was drawn into the kiss further than she had planned; it felt good, if unfamiliar. Panting, she glared at Ross, arms still around his neck, unsure what had just happened.

He moved his arms off his shoulders, patted her on the head patronizingly, and began to walk away with a final, parting shot. "Not bad, kid, but wait a few years, eh?"

'That son of a bitch!' she thought, too stunned to move or notice how her friends were all cat calling and laughing. 'He won?! How?! When?! Why?! I don't get it!' Oliver didn't even pay heed to her classmates pushing her along as they teased her on the way back—too numb to even register that she was now laying in her bed; and barely able to register her mother's voice.

"Oliver, sweetie, what's wrong?" her mother asked, walking into the doorway and leaning on the frame.

"He beat me..." she trailed off, a bit sprawled on the bed.

Her mother's eyes shot wide and she quickly approached Oliver, checking her skin for bruising. "Who beat you? Are you hurt?"

"Not hurt..."

Her mother stopped abruptly, slowly turning her head toward Oliver. "Then what happened?"

"I don't get it..."

Lightly slapping Oliver's arm, her mother tried to get her out of it. "Honey, you're in a daze. Are you alright."

"What's 'alright...?'"

A minute later, she was taken from her daze by a cold, wet feeling. "Gah, mother! What was that for?" she turned and asked, seeing the empty glass in her mother's hand.

"Finally you make some sense. What happened?"

"It's... nothing." she said, turning away.

"It's obviously not 'nothing'. Tell me, what happened?"

Slowly, and with careful thought, she pieced together a "safe" version of her night. "There was a game, and I set a trap in it, and this guy, he fell right into it—hook, line, and sinker—but somehow I lost! I don't understand it, how did I fail?"

"What's his name?"

"Ross." Almost immediately Oliver felt a hard glare from her mother.

"You were playing mind games with that man from the military?" Her voice made it more than clear how unhappy she was.

"What of it? I knew what I was doing."

Giving her daughter a look of disbelief, she spoke up. "Where did you learn to play mind games like that?"

"I watched you do it, with those clients who come here sometimes."

Things were clear, in that painfully obvious kind of way. "Honey, I play those mind games to get them away from me if they try to get personal... I'm not looking to move on just yet." Looking at Oliver, she came to a funny realization. "Come to think if it, your father was the only one who ever saw through it," she smiled. "And he was good at it, too. I couldn't lead him on... I think that's why I bothered to get to know him." Quickly realizing the implication of those words, she pointed at Oliver threateningly. "Oh! But you're too young to date Ross, so don't even think of it!"

"Why on earth would I want to date him?"

Her mother merely gave a wry smile. "Oh, I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually. But! No more going after him!"


Author's Note:

So... I'm late; I apologize. It's been over a year, so I'm more than worried this chapter is out of form compared to the others. Please let me know how I did or if something seems off.

I also hope everything was clear enough. And if the story seems oddly paced, well, that's because it is. Imagine a history timeline where different events are seen through the eyes of a character in that event: that's the concept. Each scene acts like a normal novel, but scenes will skip ahead or slow down based on what I see as important elements in the overall history, or (alternatively) if I find an interesting way to explain how things work. For example:

Oliver's first appearance was an important part of the recruitment process. I needed an example with one of the Hunters-to-be, since things do happen around them later on.

Every scene is designed to answer one or more questions that are needed for the progress of the world to make sense, or explain why things move in a certain direction. I'm trying to have the overall story show and not tell (if that makes any sense, the concept is a bit abstract).

Anyway, just in case anyone is curious about the hiatus: I started having some issues with a lot of chest pain and stopped writing during that time. It took 6 months, but I was eventually cleared with a clean bill of health; I'm still dizzy, though.

Anyway, it's just been hard to get back into it. So, from here starts my next self-made deadline of 4 months. As always, I plan to get the next chapter out sooner (much sooner), but things happen.

Anyways, have a good "until next time" and God bless,