A/N: A large group to thank for reviews: Dragon and Sword Master, Lalaith Quetzalli, animegamemaster6, curio cherry, bubbleboss1022, darklover, MaN6A10v3r, Thunder Claw03, okami11235, hollownature, hothead11, Carrie96235, Dark Inu Fan, Shiso no Kitsune, kalthurin, Grimelark, Assault Godzilla, KitElizaKing, Eradona, Rukia's Reflection, Dashita Tichou, TheCresantMoonWolf, falconrukichi, WhiteMoonAndBlackSun, and "Cavlin." And thank you to everyone who put this or its author on their lists. Okay, this was supposed to be an epilogue. And then it just kept getting longer and longer until at some point I had to cut it off. It's already fifteen pages in Word. I guess everyone will have at least one more after this to read. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Bleach characters, manga, anime, movies, etc. They belong by copyright laws to Tite Kubo et al.
Gifts for a Princess
All Good Things Must Come to an End
Sunlight glistened off snow covered trees and icicles tinkled in the slight breeze that blew the morning after Rukia's birthday. Ichigo and his friends stood in front of the Senkaimon made for them, a matter converter installed to turn the others back to normal upon exiting the gateway. They were being seen off by three captains, each with their own agenda. Byakuya wanted to make sure they actually left while Kensei stood nearby, his very presence threatening Ichigo that if he ever destroyed his division again, there would be more than a sore jaw to worry about. And the third was Shinji who had tagged along with the gang just out of amusement after learning what had happened the night before and at dawn.
"It is time you left, Kurosaki," Byakuya stated, his grey eyes cold and unforgiving. Kido had healed the bruise on his face before anyone saw it but his pride still stung. He was tempted to take back the pass he'd given the boy but that would leave Rukia unable to eat in the best restaurants when with the daiko and that he would not allow. His sister had already told him about the date they'd set up for the following Saturday.
"I agree," Kensei said, cracking his knuckles. "There's no need to return any time soon."
"Now, now, friends, if Ichigo didn't return soon, our lives would be devilishly boring," Shinji cut in, grinning to show his amusement.
"Be that as it may, our barracks would be left in one piece if he stayed in the Living World from now on," the other Vizard retorted.
"Sorry, Kensei, no can do," Ichigo retorted. "I promised Rukia I'd take her to the restaurant of her choosing next weekend." In point of fact he had promised her a date every weekend until graduation, something she'd raise hell over if he didn't keep.
"Great," Kensei uttered, his fellow captain agreeing although he didn't say anything.
"That's lovely, Lieutenant Kuchiki," Shinji said, ignoring the other two.
Rukia smiled at the men before turning to her friends. "Thank you all for coming. If nothing happens that warrants your presence here, I'll be sure to come to your graduation. Ukitake-taicho gave me a week's vacation as a birthday present so I'll be sure to use it for that occasion if I have to. Please give my regards to the others."
"Sure," Tatsuki mumbled, glad to be away from the craziness of another dimension. Orihime smiled beside her and embraced the petite Shinigami.
"We'll look forward to it!" the healer said.
"Indeed, Kuchiki-san." Ishida adjusted his cape before turning back to the portal.
"Aa," Chad agreed quietly.
"We'll hold you to it, midget," Ichigo said and brushed the bangs out of her face before stroking her cheek lightly. It was the only affectionate gestured he'd allow himself in front of the others. "Take care of yourself, Rukia."
"I will, Ichigo."
"Ja ne, Shinigami," he grinned boyishly before the group of friends entered the passageway.
"Ja ne, Shinigami-daiko."
Once the gate was closed, Kensei and Shinji left, leaving only the siblings. "Rukia…" Byakuya began.
"Yes, Nii-sama?" she inquired, lifting her shining orbs to his stern grey eyes.
"He is truly your choice? Do you really think he will make an acceptable husband?"
"Oh, we're a long way from that, Nii-sama. The two years we've been apart have hindered my training process. For now I'm just happy being with him." She smiled at her elder brother, watching as understanding dawned.
"I see. Grandfather and I will support you in this endeavor." Mentally he shivered, almost sorry for the orange haired youth. Rukia could be scary when she chose.
"Thank you, Nii-sama, I appreciate that. I only have one request."
"Please stop doing things that make him angry." Silently he read between the lines: Stop doing things to make me angry. Obviously she had not quite forgiven him for trying to set her up with a noble suitor.
"I will try," he intoned before turning to go.
"Have a good day, Nii-sama!" Rukia waved while she prepared to go to her own division. Thinking back on her brother's words, she smiled, wondering how long it would take her to undo all the bad habits Ichigo had learned over their forced separation.
Maybe she could get his mother to help.
Ichigo straightened his tie, keeping the top button of his uniform shirt undone to avoid feeling choked. Rukia did that often enough without having his clothing adding to the torture. Glancing in the mirror one last time, the orange haired war hero prepared to leave his room and go down to breakfast before heading to high school for the last time. It had been two months since he'd given Rukia her birthday presents, earning her agreement to go out with him. The night in the old training ground had cemented their relationship into something "official." If it hadn't been for the fact that he was uncomfortably aware of how many would-be suitors she had hanging around, the daiko would have been fine with letting things stay as they were and gradually unfold as they willed. However, having been shown the error of leaving her unclaimed (a term that would leave him with bruised shins and a black eye if his petite darling ever heard him utter it), he felt much better letting the entire Soul Society know that Rukia Kuchiki was his.
Not that that had come as any surprise to anyone who knew them. Most had just shrugged and gone on with their busy lives while others had congratulated them. There were a few that had glowered at him and even taken pot shots at him but all in all the Gotei Thirteen was happy that they'd finally admitted their feelings for each other.
If he didn't count the threatening looks from Byakuya that he'd gotten for bringing Rukia back home near midnight and from Kensei the next morning. The reinstated captain had stood over him until he'd woken up with a grin that promised pain and two ready fists waiting to pummel him. Byakuya had had to add bills for personal property damage to all the others. Just another black mark on his personality as far as the noble was concerned.
"Onii-chan, hurry up, you're going to be late!" Yuzu shouted from the kitchen, no doubt busy cooking breakfast.
"Coming, Yuzu!" he shouted back, opening his door and taking the stairs at a slow pace. Lost in thought, Ichigo barely registered the fact that they had guests until he tried to sit down and ended up eye to eye with Byakuya. "Eh… What the…!"
"Good morning, Ichigo Kurosaki." The noble took a sip of his tea before speaking again. "Yamamoto-soutaicho would like to offer his congratulations on this auspicious occasion. He has sent representatives to witness your graduation from this academic institution you call a high school."
"Ah…Thanks?" he said, turning it into a question. Straightening, he looked around the room, other reiatsus finally brushing against his. Rukia stood at the counter helping Yuzu with breakfast, a frilly apron tied neatly around her kimono. A bira-bira kanzashi graced her hair, the waterfall like structure adding to the elegant picture she presented. Renji lounged against the couch, a piece of toast stuffed in his mouth while he watched TV. The only other Shinigami present was a woman he didn't recognize. Probing her reiatsu with his own, he was surprised to find it familiar and very welcome. "Mom?"
"Congratulations, Ichigo. I'm so proud. Your father told me you're heading off to college in a few days. Kyoto University is one of the top schools in the country."
"Yeah, I could have gone to Tokyo but Ishida's got that covered and with my luck I'd end up in most of his classes." Pulling out a chair opposite Byakuya, the daiko sank into it before taking a greedy sip of the coffee someone had set out for him.
"Oh, stop, you and he are friends and always will be." His mother's brown eyes shined with exasperated amusement. Urahara had obviously taken great pains to hide her identity from those not in the know, as demonstrated by the pale blonde locks she now sported.
"Sure, but that doesn't mean we wouldn't get on each other's nerves. So, Gramps sent the leaders of Squad Six and a cadet to watch me graduate. Is this to make sure I actually do graduate and it's not some hoax?"
"Fool, you should feel honored that the soutaicho is taking an interest in your education." Rukia put his rice in front of him, tempted to rap him on the arm with the spoon. "Captain-Commander Yamamoto started the Academy, you know, so he's a great believer in education."
"I'll be sure to mention that when I see him next." Quickly giving thanks, Ichigo ate his meal, not as aggravated as he pretended to be. For all that the Gotei stressed that he was merely a substitute, they had taken a pretty heavy interest in his life in the last year.
"Ichi-nii, Asano and Kojima are here," Karin called from the door, coming back inside with the two seniors trailing her.
"Hello, Ichigo!" Keigo called, drawing out his friend's name in a way that was reminiscent of Isshin. The annoyed looks of nearly everyone in the room silenced him until he spotted Rukia taking off her apron. "Rukia-chan, you've come back! You're so beautiful!"
"Hello, Asano-kun, Kojima-kun," she replied sedately, as she easily sidestepped the brunet's advances. He kept going until he ran into Renji who neatly flipped him over the couch.
"Hello, Kuchiki-san," the dark haired boy said. "It's nice to see you again."
"It's good to be back." Sitting next to her boyfriend, Rukia finished the tea that she had begun with her own meal, smiling at the picture the room's occupants made. "I trust both of you are graduating as well?"
"Yeah, somehow they made it," Ichigo affirmed, eyeing his friends critically.
"Ichigo, who is this lovely maiden?" Keigo asked pointing to Masaki and Mizuiro nodded, obviously wanting the answer.
"That's my mother, you idiot. She's wearing a gigai to hide her identity. We can't have anyone freak out because they see her as she was when she died." Truly irritated, the orange haired teen stood and grabbed his jacket. "And just so you know, the guy staring daggers at you is Rukia's brother so mind your manners and you should remember Renji. Well, I'm going ahead; I'll see you guys at the ceremony." He laid a hand on his sisters' heads and kissed his mother on the cheek before coming to stand in front of Rukia. Touching the hair pin he grinned and leaned down so that he could look her in the eye. "Try not to get into trouble, midget."
"Baka," she retorted. "Go on, we'll see you later."
"Right, let's go you two," he ordered, walking out the door without looking back to see if they followed.
Tatsuki, Orihime, Chad, and even Ishida met them at the school gate, each dressed in their uniforms for the last time. They exchanged greetings and walked as a group to the entrance, their underclassmen whispering about them as they went. Many of the girls still had a crush on "Kurosaki-sempai" although it was rumored he had a girlfriend who lived far away. Even some of the younger males were infatuated by the two females of the group, privately lamenting the loss of their presence.
Once in the gym where the ceremony would take place, each of the "Substitute Group" and their friends with spiritual awareness, took their place, Ishida gracing the stage as the president. Parents, siblings, and friends from other schools filed in, taking seats that had been set aside for them. Ichigo took a moment to locate Rukia's reiatsu in the crowd before turning back to concentrate on what was going on.
As the principal began to speak, he leaned back in his chair and wondered just how his life as a college student would affect his status as a Shinigami daiko. Going to Kyoto University had been the right choice but he hoped that nothing world shattering happened that would interrupt his foray into the echelons of higher education. At least he could open his own Senkaimon. It would make saving the universe (or Rukia) easier.
Zangetsu and Hichigo had offered a dozen different scenarios about what could cause his grades to plummet by the time his name was called. Making a conscious effort to shove their collective presence to the back of his mind, Ichigo stood and went up on stage to accept his diploma with as much grace as he could muster under the circumstances. He offered his version of a smile to the principal, silently thankful that the man had never questioned too closely the absences of his friends and him.
The rest of the ceremony passed him in a blur and by the time it was over, he'd gotten a cramp in his legs from sitting in a chair that was too low to the ground for him. Standing as group, the graduating class let out a yell of triumph and was dismissed. His classmates milled around him, searching for their friends and loved ones and Ichigo remained where he was until a path opened up. As tall as he was, he had no problem spotting his dad and Byakuya, the men being around the same height and standing out in formal clothes. Renji was a beacon with his bright red hair and the two seemingly empty spaces between the lieutenant and the other captain class Shinigami were no doubt taken up by his mother and girlfriend. His sisters were busy chatting to some underclassmen, their middle school uniforms attracting attention. If he had it his way they'd go to Karakura High too, although an all-girls school was looking good to him at the moment considering the number of males loitering around.
"What took you so long, Ichigo?" Rukia demanded, adjusting her kimono sleeve. The bag her grandfather had given her hung off one wrist, likely filled with the various things a sword wielding young woman might need.
"I figured it was easier to wait until the crowd thinned. Have you seen the others?" While Ishida's dad had probably shown up (just for appearances' sake if nothing else) Chad and Inoue didn't have any close family that could have come so he wanted them to celebrate with his.
"Sado-kun is making his way over and I think he's clearing the path for the girls. I wish I could go say hello to Tatsuki-chan's mother," his own lamented.
"That would not be wise," Byakuya intoned gravely.
"I said I wished I could," Masaki emphasized. Sometimes she wondered if the young man thought everyone was an idiot.
"Kuchiki-san, you look so pretty!" Orihime said loudly, oblivious of the stares she got.
"Thank you, Inoue-san," Rukia demurred, her voice automatically slipping into her "school girl" tone. She felt her brother start at the change and looked to the side. An elegant brow was lifted in amusement, grey eyes hinting at laughter.
Ichigo scowled at her briefly before realizing that she was performing for those around them who didn't know her real identity. While her innocent act still grated on his nerves, it was slightly amusing to see those that didn't know her fall under her act. "Inoue, Chad, congratulations. You too, Tatsuki. Where's our fearless Student Body President?"
"Behind you, Kurosaki." Ichigo glanced over his shoulder, smirking briefly at the Quincy.
"Did your dad go back to work?"
"Yes, as his 'duty' is done, he has decided I no longer need his presence today."
"Good, then you can hang out with us." Ichigo turned back to his girlfriend, snagging her hand in his and leading the way out of the gymnasium. Rukia kept pace although she had to quicken her steps.
"Slow down, baka," she snapped, digging her nails into the back of his hand.
"Sorry," he apologized, slowing once he was outside. The early spring day was chilly but he unzipped his jacket anyway and loosened his tie before taking it off and stuffing it into a pocket. "I'm glad that's over."
"Aww, poor Kurosaki-kun. Graduating is so strenuous." Rukia pretended to be sympathetic while her eyes laughed at him.
"Getting my grades back up after the Xcution incident was hard." Ichigo looked around, wondering if he would ever miss his school. "You could have graduated with us."
"No, it wouldn't have been right. Everyone believes I moved away to live with relatives I'd just discovered. It was better to leave it that way." Rukia turned around to search for their friends and found them at the gym entrance talking with friends while her brother was surrounded by young girls. "Maybe we should go rescue Nii-sama, though."
"Nah, let him deal with crushing high school females." A grin flashed across the daiko's face.
"You sound as if you have experience in the matter."
"Unfortunately…" he started before their conversation was interrupted.
"Ano, Kurosaki-sempai… Can I talk to you?" a female voice asked timidly behind him.
Sighing quietly so that the kohei wouldn't see his irritation, the orange haired graduate gave Rukia a significant look and turned to the other female. "Sure. I'll be right back, midget." He trailed his underclassman reluctantly, having gone through the coming ordeal far too many times to be surprised with the confession that was about to come.
"You don't have to be formal, and I think I know what you're going to say."
The girl's eyes widened; her brown orbs were both hopeful and fearful at the same time. "You do?"
"You're about to confess that you like me, right?" Ichigo tried to be as gentle as he knew how, knowing that a girl's emotions were fragile. He'd learned that the hard way a couple dozen women before.
"Yes… I think you're really cool and you're really dedicated to your friends. I know there's a rumor going around that you have a girlfriend somewhere…" The girl inhaled deeply, her black hair blowing in the light breeze.
"It's not a rumor, it's the truth. The girl I was just with, the one in the kimono, that's her. She moved away before you came here," he said, noting the color of her ribbon. "Her name's Rukia Kuchiki and we just became official on her birthday in January. I'm sorry. You seem like a nice girl but I don't have any feelings for anyone but her. I never have."
Tears hovered in her eyes and she swallowed hard. "I see."
"Look, this is a good school and I'm sure you'll find someone worth dating eventually," Ichigo tried, rubbing the back of his neck in discomfort. Sudden shouting from his friends drew his attention briefly. Keigo was goofing around, quickly getting on Byakuya's nerves. "As long as you stay clear of guys like him and playboys like Mizuiro," he advised wryly.
"Sempai…" Her eyes widened worshipfully and she sighed dreamily. "You're so nice…"
"Ichigo, stop seducing high school girls and let's go. Nii-sama looks like he's ready to run Keigo through with Senbonzakura." Rukia walked up to the daiko, slipping an arm through his where it made a loop caused by his hand in his pocket.
"Bossy woman," he muttered but quickly said his goodbyes and prepared himself to rescue Keigo. It would be a shame if the brunet survived Aizen only to be killed by Byakuya.
"I see you didn't deny seducing her."
"Tch, the only female I'd try that on is right here and I already know how much of an epic failure that would be." He took his hand out of his pocket, his tie clutched in the appendage. Stopping her out of sight of the others, he looped the ends around her neck, using them as leverage to give her a kiss.
"Oh, I don't know, you seem to be doing just fine." She smiled, covering his hands with her own. Even in the March air Ichigo's larger appendages were warm. Pulling the tie off, she neatly folded it and placed it in her purse. From her time here she knew that a senior giving his tie away was important and she would honor his gesture. "Now let's go, I think I hear a strangled cry for help."
They found Keigo on the ground, paralyzed by a kido spell courtesy of the Division Six captain. "That brings back memories," Ichigo chuckled, leaning down to talk to his friend. "Do I even want to know what you did to piss him off?"
"Help me, Ichigo, he's insane! I only mentioned how lovely Rukia-chan looked in her kimono."
"Again?" Ichigo asked, wondering not for the first time how idiotic Keigo could be. "Keigo, I doubt it had anything to do with your compliment, and was entirely based on the fact that you called her 'Rukia-chan.' The Kuchikis are a noble clan and proper address is very important to Byakuya. I'm not surprised that adding a diminutive onto the end of her name would tick him off. Just call her Rukia and he should be able to suppress the impulse to run you through." Ichigo stood, looking at the other older brother in the group. "Could you let him go, now? He's likely to break something if we keep him like this."
"Hn," Byakuya uttered but released the spell. People were beginning to stare and it would not be good if they began to question the loudmouth's inability to move. "Very well. You would do better to keep in mind your own words, Kurosaki."
The powerhouse grinned at the other man, a light of challenge in his eyes. "Come on, Byakuya, where's the fun in that? Relax and enjoy the day." Looking at his friends, he lightened the grin to a true smile. "I propose we go out to celebrate. Everyone be at my house in an hour. That should give everyone enough time to change into casual clothes."
"A party?" Keigo perked up, his recent imprisonment all but forgotten. "On you, Ichigo?"
"Of course not! As he's the old geezer…" Ichigo paused, only then noticing his dad had escaped with the girls. "Damn goat chin. Okay, since my old man skipped out, that would leave…" Another grin came over his face, this one diabolical. "Byakuya as the one with the deepest pockets."
"Ichigo! You can't invite everyone out and then have Nii-sama pay for it!" Rukia protested.
"Look, if we were in the Soul Society, I'd use my 'All Access Pass" thingy but we aren't and you can't tell me that your brother didn't have Urahara exchange some of his money when he got here."
Renji shook his head, tempted to remind Ichigo that the pass was for the purpose of eating and buying merchandise at Kuchiki managed businesses so in affect his captain would have been paying for this outing anyway. "She's right, you know," he said instead.
"Indeed, however, I happen to be in a generous mood so I will allow this. I must return to the Soul Society and give a report. I will inform the soutaichou of your intentions to continue your education in Kyoto and prepare any instructions he may have. Renji will stay and oversee this operation." Byakuya reached into his kimono and pulled out the small bag he was keeping the money he'd gotten from Urahara in. Smiling at his sister, he gently laid it in her palm and took his leave of the younger generation. Hearing Ichigo's protest, he gave a tiny smirk of his own and considered the money well spent. Ten to one his sister came back with several bags of Chappy paraphernalia.
It would be worth it for the aggravation it was going to cause her boyfriend.
Ichigo's friends watched the captain leave with various states of emotion. Tatsuki was glad that only the redhead and Kuchiki remained while Mizuiro began calculating the probable net worth of the bag of money and wondering what limitations might be put on what they spent it on. Keigo was relieved to be free of the crushing presence while Chad and Orihime simply shook their heads, still unable to fully understand the stoic Shinigami. Ishida was amused at the way Ichigo's simple plan had backfired and was planning on teasing his orange haired friend. Renji just sighed and wished his captain hadn't felt the need to get one over on Ichigo. Hopefully wherever they were going would serve alcohol and he could pass for the legal drinking age without having to show identification.
"Give me that!"
The war hero's order brought everyone's attention back and they watched as he snatched the bag from Rukia before she could stuff it into her purse. "Hey!" she protested. "Nii-sama put me in charge of that!" As much as she wanted to sock him one, her current mode of dress prevented her from having the necessary freedom to do so effectively.
"I'll give you some of it after we get home. For now, let's get out of here." Their friends blinked, wondering if Rukia had gotten soft or if Ichigo was just in for a delayed beating.
"I'm still going to beat the crap out of you when we get there."
They parted at the gates, throwing farewells to their teachers and other classmates, bowing to members of the school board that had come for the occasion. Keigo and Mizuiro attempted to monopolize Rukia's attention until a glare from Ichigo warned them away. To prevent bloodshed, Renji held them back while the duo disappeared around the corner.
A block from home Ichigo held out his hand, curling his fingers around hers gently when Rukia accepted his offer. "Ichigo, it's nice that you want to spend time with everyone but your mother's only here for the day. Don't you want to spend time with her?"
"A bit but I can go visit her at the Academy and the girls can't so I want them to spend the time that she's here with her. They were so small when she was killed, I'm surprised their memories of her are so clear. And even though Urahara gave her a gigai that conceals her identity from normal folks, it doesn't change who she is as a person. She's still Mom."
Rukia smiled gently, tugging on his hand lightly so that he'd look down at her. "You're a good brother, Ichigo."
"Ichigo, where are you going to live in Kyoto?"
"I was lucky enough to get into the Kumano-ryo dorm. Not a lot of people can live there so the competition was rough. It's a fifteen minute walk to campus so it's not much different from going to Karakura High from home. I'll have a roommate though so that's a bit different."
"You roomed with me," Rukia pointed out, stopping in front of the clinic.
"Yeah, but you're a girl so it's different. This guy is someone I don't know and probably won't until I get there."
"I see. So I guess I can't crawl through your window at night."
"Nah, that probably wouldn't be a good idea. And there's no telling if the kid's going to be spiritually aware or not so you're just going to have to do what every other girlfriend does and call me. Or come for a visit, whichever is easier."
"Hmm," Rukia thought about it, entering the house before asking. "I suppose I could take a day or two and check on you. Are you sure you want me in a building full of strange guys?"
"The dorm's coed," he answered. "You'll just notify me ahead of time. Of course, once I have my class schedule, I'll give it to you so you'll know where I am."
"Coed," she murmured, putting her feet into house slippers. "Ichigo, the people in charge of assigning rooms do know that you're a guy, right?" Rukia smiled in burgeoning amusement. The clerk at the archive office had thought that he'd spelled his name wrong and he was actually a female whose parents had named him "Strawberry." When he'd found out he'd blown a gasket and nearly destroyed the records room of her division.
"I said so on my application," Ichigo paused to put on a pair of his own slippers.
"But you have spoken to them, right?" she asked, already sensing a problem.
"Not over the phone but I got an email the other day saying everything was all right…" Doubt clouded his voice and he pulled out his phone to dial the dorm. After a brief automated system choice he got an actual person and wasn't entirely surprised when it turned out that someone had mistaken his name and gender and he'd been placed with a girl.
Rukia chuckled lightly and went to say hello to the rest of his family while he tried to fix the problem, his temper getting the best of him. Walking into the living area, she found the twins sandwiched in between their parents, the adults reminiscing about the girls' younger years. "We're back," she called.
"There you are, Rukia-chan. Where's my darling son?" Masaki asked just in time to hear her "darling" swear a blue streak as he snapped his phone shut.
"Stupid, incompetent administrators!" he shouted, coming to a dead stop behind Rukia when he noticed his mother's glare. "Eh… I'm home," he said rather timidly, a far cry from the brash god of death he was normally.
"You will watch your language, young man."
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed meekly. Clearing his throat, Ichigo looked at Rukia, her tiny shoulders shaking with the effort it took not to laugh out loud.
Masaki smiled, her reprimand received and understood. "Excellent. Now then, are you two going out with your friends? I thought I heard something of that nature before your father dragged me away."
"Yeah, they're meeting us here and we're going. I'm just going change my clothes. Yuzu, Karin, do either of you have anything Rukia could borrow?"
The twins exchanged glances and jumped up. "Sure, follow us, Rukia-nee," Yuzu directed, pulling the older girl back through the door and up the stairs. Karin followed at a slower pace, a devious look entering her eye when she passed her brother.
He took a moment to worry before turning back to his parents. "Ah, I don't know when we'll be back so if it's not going to be before nine, I'll have Renji bring you back to the Academy, Mom. I don't want you to get in trouble with the dorm matron."
"Don't worry, I can return to the Soul Society on my own."
"I'd rather you didn't," Ichigo said, rubbing his neck in discomfort as he usually did. "That stupid Cleaner could be running. Or Kurotsuchi could activate it if he realizes you're alone just to run some twisted experiment."
"Worry not, my delinquent son! I will escort your dear mother back to school. You go have fun and make me grandbabies!" Too intent on embarrassing his son, Isshin forgot that his beloved wife might not appreciate his words.
"Isshin!" Masaki gasped. "What kinds of things have you been teaching our children while I've been gone?" she questioned.
"And now you know what we've been dealing with for eleven years," Ichigo said before snorting and going to change. It would serve his father right if his mother beat him to a pulp. At least then the two Kurosaki men would be even in regards to the type of women they fell in love with. Ichigo paused on the stairs briefly to reconsider.
Nah, his mother was too gentle for that.
Ichigo was just slipping his new favorite t-shirt over his head when Renji came barreling into the room through the window looking a bit frightened. "What the… Renji! Come in through the door next time!"
"I would but your mother is busy lecturing your dad and she had this scary aura around her. When I knocked, she just gave me this look and I decided it was better to make myself scarce."
The daiko paused in adjusting his belt and narrowed his eyes. "A look?" he repeated softly before a vague memory surfaced and he grinned. "Oh, that look. Yeah, she can do that one real well. Kind of reminds me of Unohana-san."
"Exactly, and I've been on the receiving end of Unohana-taicho's looks too many times to know what happens if they're not obeyed. What did your dad do to earn that kind of thing?"
"He was an idiot, what else? Said he wanted Rukia and me to go out and make him grandbabies today or some such nonsense."
"Captain wouldn't like that," the redhead mused.
"I think Mom liked it even less. Probably something to do with the fact that I just got into college." Ichigo shrugged to show it didn't bother him either way. "Come on, let's rescue Rukia from my sisters. I think the twins are plotting."
"I thought they were angels compared to you," Renji joked, reaching the door first.
"They were, when they were little, and then they grew up," he sighed knocking on their door.
"I see." Renji remembered the twins from his last visit and shuddered to think what they were like now. "Maybe they took lessons from Rukia."
"I heard that," the maligned lieutenant said, opening the door and punching her childhood friend in the gut. "The twins are just as they should be. There was no plotting." She adjusted her hair clip before brushing passed them and going down the stairs.
Ichigo stared after her, liking the deep purple shirt and black jeans the girls had given her. "Sure there wasn't," he muttered, turning to look at his giggling teenage sisters. "Thanks, guys."
"You're welcome, Onii-chan," Yuzu said, smiling. She was the picture of innocence unless her eyes were looked into. Mischief glowed there and he knew better than to question his luck. "Have fun, and call if you're not going to be back for dinner!"
"All right, see you later, Karin."
"Sure," the dark haired sibling answered. She watched him go, knowing that he was what he was supposed to be and with who he was supposed to be with. Sniffling beside her had her smiling gently at her sister. "There's no need to cry, Yuzu. Ichi-nii's just growing up."
"I know but he and Rukia-nee are so far away now."
"Don't think about it like that. They're really just a phone call away. And you know that Ichi-nii would never leave us completely alone. I bet he's going to be checking on us so often we'll get sick of hearing from him. Rukia will probably give orders to the resident Shinigami who hangs around to stop by and see how we're doing. She's an important person now, what with being a lieutenant. If anything happens, they'll both be here in a flash." Literally, the more powerful of the twins thought. Her brother would leave his body lying where it dropped to flash step the five hundred and some kilometers if he had to were something to attack them she couldn't handle. "Now let's go enjoy the time Mom has left before she has to go back to school."
Yuzu immediately forgot about her brother going away to college and rushed down to spend time with the maternal parent she'd missed so much. Karin followed more sedately and the picture they found confused them both. "Why is Dad scrunched up like a pretzel?" the sandy blonde twin asked.
"Hmm?" her mother inquired from the stove where she was making a late lunch. "Oh, that, I was practicing my kido. And I can't quite remember the way to reverse the paralysis spell. Your father assured me he could get out of it on his own so I left him to it. Are you hungry?" The completely innocent tone told both daughters that her statement was far from the truth.
"Starved," Karin answered while trying not to laugh.
At least now she knew where her temper came from.
A/N: The Kumano-ryo dorm of Kyoto University was built in 1963 and is one of four dorms the university offers. It can house 422 students and has Western style rooms, meaning they have hard floors that are measured in meters squared rather than tatami mat lengths. It boasts 43 double occupancy rooms (15 meters squared) while the rest are quadruple. It's a fifteen minute walk from campus. There is one other co-ed dorm, the Yoshida-ryo, that is completely wooden and was built in 1913 and even though the rent is cheap, it is basically falling apart. CNN even did a report on it. Of the other two, one is for women only while the other is strictly for graduate students.