Chapter One:

The Rendezvous

The sky was a breathtaking mosaic of lavender, pink, red, and orange all swirled together.

I turned to smile at him.

"Today was…." I searched for the right word. "Interesting."

He smirked and crossed his arms. "Interesting, huh?" He shook his head. "It was a freakin' disaster…."

I stared at him while he reminisced the day we had. He was handsome, I had to admit. The easy smile he wore, a rare sight even when he was in a good mood, lit up his whole being until he glowed.

He was an amazing man. Strong, yet gentle. Brash, but kind. He was a man so full of opposites.

My eyes wandered up to rest on his lips. I imagined him leaning forward slightly, just slightly. Slowly enough to make me go mad and want to close the distance myself. My face flushed at the thought.

His eyes, flecked with gold in the sunlight, gleamed like—

Wait…his eyes?

I blinked and realized he was staring at me, too. I was horrified I had been discovered, and the growing smirk on his face only increased this feeling.

I averted my gaze, feeling my face grow warmer.



I flinched despite myself. "What?"

"You were staring. Is something wrong?"

"You dense idiot! I was staring because I like you!" I wanted to scream.

"No," I said instead, keeping my tone even.

I stood up hastily. "I should be going now. Nii-sama is—"

A calloused hand grabbed my own, stopping me in my tracks.

I looked over my shoulder and found his face just a little too close to mine. I felt my own face become hotter as I tore my hand away.

"What, Ichigo?" I asked and glared at the floor rather than up at him.

I couldn't look him in the eye. This was bad. This was much too obvious a sign. He might be an idiot, but even he would figure out that I—

All of a sudden, he tipped my chin up with a hand. The gleam in those brown eyes of his created a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. I squirmed away, my face growing warmer.

"Ichigo!" I hissed, sounding more startled than mad.

"Shut up," he whispered as he cupped my face in his hands. I looked at him with wide eyes, which proved to be a grave mistake.

His eyes…. They were full of radiance, hope, longing….

But there was also apprehension. He wanted permission first.

I smiled at this. Ichigo could be a gentleman when he wanted to be.

I shut my eyes and rose up on my tiptoes, holding his gi for balance. He sucked in a stunned breath, as if he hadn't expected me to go along with it.

My lips parted, waiting expectantly for him meet me halfway.

I could feel him lean closer to me and—

My alarm clock blared, startling me enough for my eyes to snap open. I shuffled around a little and slammed the Snooze button with a weary groan.

Draping a hand over my eyes, I mulled over what little I could remember of that dream.

For some reason, that dream gave me a strange sense of nostalgia. The image of the orange-haired boy was already fading, but one thing kept pulsing in the back of my mind.

The boy's name: Ichigo.

My brother sat at the head of the table, taking his time with drinking his morning tea. I sat next to him and greeted, "Good morning, Nii-sama."

He said nothing, didn't even acknowledge my presence.

In other words, a typical morning.

The servants laid out our breakfast before us, then left us with a courteous bow. We both said a quick "Itadakimasu" before eating.

After a few minutes, my adoptive brother said, "Thank you for the meal."

I stood up almost as soon as he did. Nii-sama ignored me once again as he headed for the door.

I bowed low and said, "Have a good day, Nii-sama."

The door slammed shut in response and I tried not to wince.

I sighed as I straightened up again. Nii-sama was a busy man, I knew, but I could not help but feel lonely when he left me like this every morning.

He adopted me, but for what purpose? Why bother adopting a child you were not even going to acknowledge?

Three insistent raps on my door snapped me to attention.

"Coming!" I shouted and quickly slung my bag strap over my shoulder.

As soon as I opened the door, Renji grinned. "Morning, Rukia."

I gave him a small smile of my own. "Good morning."

He put his hands behind his head and groaned, "Man, I can't believe it's school again. Feels like we just got out yesterday, and here we are, starting up again."

I scrunched up my eyebrows, realizing something. "You know, it did feel like yesterday was the last day of school. I don't remember going through spring break at all."

He shrugged. "Time flies when you're having fun. Guess you had a little too much fun, huh?" he joked, nudging me a little.

I put a hand to my head and frowned. "I suppose…."

An image flickered in the back of my mind, just out of reach. I tried to grasp at it, but it kept slipping away like water.

Renji said something garbled, and the image faded.

I looked at him, wide-eyed. "Huh?"

He looked me over for a second, frowning. "Are you okay? You looked pale for a second there."

"Did I?" I asked. "I was trying to remember something."

Renji raised an eyebrow. "Remember what?"

Before I could reply, a voice behind us called out, "Kuchiki-chan! Abarai-kun!"

"Inoue!" I shouted as soon as I recognized who it was. Someone with dark hair trailed after her, but it didn't look like Arisawa-san.

When she caught up with us, I realized this person wasn't just following her. The two of them were holding hands.

I blinked several times in surprise. "Ishida?" I gasped.

He shoved his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose without a word, one eye hiding behind a sun-reflected lens.

I pointed at their intertwined hands and asked, "When did this happen?"

Inoue tilted her head. "Huh? We've been dating since March! I called you the day after school ended, remember?"

Renji ruffled my hair in a hand and explained, "Rukia says she doesn't remember spring break. So, no, she probably doesn't remember."

I elbowed him in the gut so he would stop messing up my hair. "Yes, thank you for that, Renji," I said icily.

Inoue studied my face with a concerned frown. "Are you okay, Rukia? Could you have hit your head and gotten amnesia?"

I waved at her dismissively. "No. I'm fine, Inoue, really."

She straightened up and pouted. "Well, if you didn't hit your head…." She gasped and pointed at me like she had figured something out. "Oh! It must be aliens!"

Slamming a fist on her palm, she babbled, "Yes, of course! I watched a show about them with Uryu last night! Apparently, after the aliens abduct you and poke you with sticks, they erase your memories so you can't remember it happened! So you must've been abducted by aliens, Rukia! That's why your memory is so fuzzy!"

Everyone stared at her with strained smiles on their faces.

Surprisingly, Ishida was the first to speak up. "Orihime, I'm quite certain Kuchiki was not abducted by aliens," he muttered, pushing his glasses up his face again.

She pouted at him. "Wha—? Why not, Uryu? Don't you think it's a perfectly valid reason?"

The puppy-dog eyes she gave him made him flush pink. "U-Um, sure, but don't… aliens only erase the memories of the abduction?"

Her eyes widened. "Oh, you're right! So it can't have been aliens then."

"Kuchiki must simply be tired. It is the first day back at school, after all," he finished, sounding a bit relieved.

"That makes sense. Thanks for clearing that up, Uryu!" she said and clapped her hands together gratefully.

He let a rare smile slip as he held her hand again.

I almost wanted to commend Ishida for not only accepting Inoue's wild imagination, but for finding a way to ground her as well, but I stayed silent.

Instead, Renji and I strayed a few steps behind. When they were out of earshot, I said, "They're good for each other."

He smirked. "Yeah, I guess. Although you'd think someone of Inoue's caliber would go for someone more…well, more."

I slapped his arm. "She loves him, and he seems to love her, too, despite her oddities. I think that's important in a relationship."

"…Being accepted like that…sounds nice." His voice sounded distant.

I looked up and noted the dreamy expression on his face as he stared back.

I tilted my head. "You okay, Renji? You're staring."

He smirked and shook his head. "It's nothing. Just spacing out."

When we arrived on campus, Renji ran off to find his guy friends, saying a quick goodbye before he left. Inoue left to find her other friends and dragged her boyfriend with her.

I was left alone but didn't mind it. It gave me a little reprieve to think more.

Since I was early, I was able to check where my new homeroom would be without much trouble. Another quick scan of the class list made me smile. All my friends would be in my homeroom this year, it seemed.

I found my new homeroom not long after. Taking a deep breath, I slid the door open, ready to face a whole new school year.

Not a second later, I collided into someone's chest and tumbled gracelessly onto my behind.

Rather than apologizing, the person muttered, "Whoa, what the hell…?"

I glared up at a guy with orange hair that stuck out every which way. Maybe his hairstyle symbolized his disregard of respect, the delinquent….

Wait…orange hair? The boy from my dream this morning had orange hair….

Still, that didn't excuse his incivility.

I shook my head. "Hey, watch where you're going!"

His eyes went wide. "Rukia?" he whispered.

I scowled. "What? Am I supposed to know you?"

First, he runs into me, and now he's addressing me by first name? Does he just not have any manners?!

He started to frown. "Never mind," he muttered, almost to himself. He held out a hand to help me up, but I slapped it away.

I got off the floor, muttering under my breath as I dusted myself off. His phone beeped incessantly and he threw it a withering glare.

"See you later," he said and ran off to God-knows-where.

"See you later"? What the hell? I thought as I glared after him. My eyes widened when I realized that that disrespectful idiot forgot to apologize to me.

I scowled.

Well, this is a great first day, isn't it? I shook my head. "See you later"? Hmph, I really hope I don't.

Next chapter…

"There is something a little…peculiar about him," Inoue admitted, looking worried.

Ishida's eyes narrowed. "You're absolutely right, Orihime," he whispered and pulled a thin bracelet from his shirt pocket. I noticed it had a silver cross with a ring surrounding the middle of it, and he carefully slipped it onto his wrist.