“Where's Akane-san?" I looked around the store.
"Shh!" Nobara scanned the area as if Akane might suddenly appear. "We're shopping for a birthday present for Akane."
I gasped in realisation, "Her birthday is next week!"
"Got any ideas about what we should get her?" Yuki asked while looking around the store.
"Over here. She was staring at this dress last time," Nobara walked up to a sky-blue dress with a one-sided strap and filly at the bottom.
"It looks so pretty," Yuki nodded in agreement.
"I was thinking of holding a surprise birthday party for her, as well," Nobara suggested. "We could book a restaurant, gather some friends for dinner?"
"If my memory serves me right, Akane likes Korean food, right?" Yuki said. "I know the perfect restaurant."
"Sounds like a plan," I smiled encouragingly while subtly checking my phone. I looked up when they fell silent.
"Rukia-san, are we boring you?" Nobara asked softly.
"No, not at all," I pocketed my phone quickly. "I was just checking something."
"If you're busy then we won't make you stay, you know," Yuki said.
"It's fine, really," I reassured them before plastering a big smile on my face. "What cake shall we get her?"
"There's a bakery near here that I visit a lot. Akane likes tiramisu," Nobara said and we left the shop after paying for the dress.
"We should invite Matsumoto and Kurosaki-san as well as the other people who are in our classes. The more the merrier, right?" Yuki suggested before entering the bakery.
"Uh… yeah," Nobara nodded hesitantly.
"What's wrong?" I asked her.
Nobara pulled me closer and whispered in my ear, "Don't tell anyone, but, Akane doesn't really like Matsumoto-san."
"Why?" Personally, I didn't want to be near Matsumoto in general but I couldn't think of a reason why Akane would dislike her.
"When we were in junior high, Akane liked this sempai from the senior high school division but then Matsumoto-san went out with him and she got really depressed."
I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "And?"
She blinked at my lack of reaction and shrugged, "Well, yeah, it was a silly crush when she was younger and she's dropped the subject but…" She leaned in closer and spoke as if she was telling a grave secret. "Matsumo-san's doing it again."
"I see," I nodded slowly.
Nobara sighed when she saw through my lie, "It's that Kurosaki guy."
"Wait, what," I widened my eyes. I did not hear that right…
"Akane really likes him but then there have been all these rumours that he and Matsumoto-san are actually secretly going out."
Akane… likes Ichigo… How should I react? I've heard the rumours about Ichigo and Matsumoto around the campus as well but… I mentally groaned.
Nobara looked at me in worry, obviously reinterpreting my expression, "It's ok, Rukia-san. You don't need to feel obliged to help Akane or anything. She'll get over her crush soon... I hope... Oh, and don't tell her I told you about this, please."
"Of course. I hope the same thing that happened to Akane-san before won't happen again," I replied dutifully.
What else was I supposed to say?
Yuki looked at us curiously when we finally entered the bakery but we just smiled sheepishly before ordering the cake.
"Not good enough!" I put my hands on my hips and looked at the group of people around me. They all took a step back when my gaze swept over them and I clicked my tongue. The person who I just threw over my shoulder climbed back on his feet slowly. "You all let your guards down too easily," I instructed. "If you keep this attitude up, the next to be kidnapped will be you."
I grabbed the fake knife on the ground and threw it to the girl closest to me. "Try to stab me," I told her before turning to the rest of the class. "Watch how I deflect the knife. I want you all to be able to do this before I return next week."
"Yes Kime-sama," they replied.
The girl looked at the prop in her hands and then back at me rather hesitantly.
"Don't hesitate," I told her. "If you're ever in a real fight, that moment's hesitation really will cost you your life."
"Yes, Kime-sama," she nodded her head, tightened her grip on the fake knife and ran at me while brandishing the weapon. When she swung the knife, I caught her wrist with my right hand and twisted her arm behind her back. With a surprised gasp, she dropped her knife and I kicked her legs out from underneath her. She fell to the floor and I straddled her waist while holding her knife against her neck.
There was a moment of silence as the people around us stared at us in awe.
I stood up, helped the girl up and looked at my students, "This method will probably only work on amateurs but knowing this is better than knowing nothing. All of you pair up and practice the self-defence techniques I demonstrated today." They spread out around the room and I went to a bench against the side. I checked my phone while drinking some water and was glad there were no new messages.
Ever since arriving at Bunkyou, I had been holding weekly lessons for the members of Kings in the area. The instructors do their best to teach them everything but I preferred to test out their skills first-hand, especially since the four kidnappings. Thankfully, there have not been anymore abductions but we had to be prepared if they tried to do it again. It still nagged me that the fourth kidnapped member, Tomi, still hasn't shown up after almost a month. I had a bad feeling but there was nothing I could do.
I fought back the oncoming wave of frustration and impatience and focused on my class. I moved about the room fixing up postures and giving advice. Ichigo also took part in my self-defence classes but I forced myself to not look in his direction unless it was necessary.
When the session ended, Ichigo and I took our usual path back to our apartment. It was a Friday night so the streets were busier than usual. But it was thanks to the crowded walkway that Ichigo and I were able to walk, side by side, and hold hands like a normal couple.
"From next week I'll get your usual instructor to teach you some more advanced self-defence techniques."
"Why?" He frowned. "What's wrong with your classes?"
"I'll be moving away from self-defence and focusing on ways to attack," I replied without looking at him.
"So?" He shrugged and swung quick punches against an imaginary opponent. "I can improve my boxing skills."
"Your idea of offence is different to mine," I explained rather unwillingly. I hated having to speak about this topic with Ichigo. "I don't want you to learn the things I teach to them."
He was silent as me mulled over my words.
"Wouldn't it be weird if a doctor knows how to decapitate someone?" I said it with a raised eyebrow.
"Fine," he said after a moment before looking at me weirdly. "How can you be so blatant when talking about taking another's life?"
"How else am I supposed to say it, then?" I bit my lip. "I obviously can't be happy about it and I can't bring myself to be sad or regretful because it's what I've been taught to do… Ichigo?" My voice trailed off when I saw him frowning.
"Sometimes I really wonder what your childhood was like."
"I had a typical childhood," I shrugged. "Except I had some unusual lessons a few times a week."
"Unusual is an understatement," he scoffed.
"Don't forget Akane-san's birthday party is in a few days," I reminded him so that we could change the topic.
"Yeah, I know," he sighed and scratched his neck. "I don't know what present to give her."
"I'm sure she'll worship anything you give her," I mumbled.
"Nothing," I shook my head but he kept staring at me weirdly.
A black-haired male around our age walked unsteadily toward us with his shoulders hunched. I felt Ichigo's hand on my shoulder and pulled me closer to him. As the man walked passed he bumped into me, making Ichigo click his tongue in annoyance, "Watch where you're going!"
The male glanced at Ichigo with a displeased look, as if he was looking at a fly attempting to land on his food, and Ichigo took a step forward.
"Ichigo," I tapped his arm. "He probably just had a bad day. Don't get so worked up about it." I sent the man a warning look. He held my gaze for a few seconds before turning and sauntering away.
"Did you see the look in his eyes?" Ichigo retorted and glared at the male's retreating back. "He was asking for a fight."
"You can't start a fight here, Ichigo," I rolled my eyes. "What would happen if the police got involved? You might even get expelled from the university."
"Fine," Ichigo reluctantly continued walking. "But he really pisses me off."
There was a thud and a few surprised gasps and whispers came from behind us.
"What the-" Ichigo tried to turn around to watch the commotion but I pulled on his sleeve sharply.
"Keep looking in front of you," I said while looking straight ahead. "Whatever you do, don't turn back."
I snuck a glance behind me and couldn't spot the male anywhere. Two of the guards following us had also disappeared. Something moved in the small alley between the two shops we just passed. The crowed stared at the alley but no one ventured inside and, after a while, the crowd seemingly got bored and dispersed.
I turned away and picked up my pace while sighing deeply.
"Who was he?"
"I don't know and I don't care," I said halfheartedly.
I glanced down at the piece of paper that was stuffed into my hand when the man bumped into me. An address was written on it in messy handwriting.
Come alone.I stifled a sigh. Why does this always happen?