I rubbed my eyes tiredly and stifled a yawn as I climbed out of my bed. Ichigo was still asleep so I tried my best to stay quiet. Having Ichigo sleeping beside me usually lulled me to sleep but no matter how hard I tried, I didn't get a wink of sleep after that nightmare. Slipping out of my room, I took a quick shower to hopefully ward off the sleepiness but when I returned to my bedroom, Ichigo wasn't there anymore.
"Ichigo?" I called while immediately thinking of my dream.
"I'm over here." His voice came from his bedroom. I poked my head inside just as he was putting on a clean t-shirt.
"Good morning," I greeted with what I hoped was an energetic smile.
"Morning," he responded half-heartedly while collecting his wallet and phone. I watched with a frown.
"Ichigo, is everything OK?"
My question made him freeze. "Yeah, why?"
"You seem a bit… off today."
"You're thinking too much," he brushed me off.
"No," I insisted. "You keep refusing to look at me."
"What? I'm doing no such thing," he looked up but he still avoided my gaze.
"Ichigo," I took a step toward him just as his phone buzzed. He scanned the text message before grabbing his bag and walking pass me.
"Look, I really gotta go. I'll… see you later."
"You should have some breakfast first," I called after him, secretly hoping he would stay a bit longer. What was with that pause at the end of his sentence?
"I'll grab something from the convenience store," he replied and closed the door. I just stared at the empty doorway in mild alarm.
Did I do something to make him angry at me…?
As I got ready for the day, I was still trying to find an answer.
Was he fed up with being woken up by me in the middle of the night?
Did I say something weird in my sleep?
"Rukia-chan," a familiar voice called.
Swivelling around, I spotted a silver-haired male sitting on a sofa. He waved while wearing his trademark smile and I walked over to him. "Gin?"
"Where you heading off to? University?"
I nodded, "What are you doing here?"
"Ah… Your brother left something here and asked me to get it 'cause I was in the area," he explained. "I thought I'd stay a bit longer to catch up with Ulqui-chan but he isn't here so I was gonna wait for him to come back."
I had no idea where to start commenting.
Gin was in the Bunkyou? Was he keeping tabs on me for my brother?
'Ulqui-chan'? What? How is Gin still alive if he is calling Ulquiorra that? And Ulquiorra wasn't at the apartment? But he never leaves the apartment unless he's with me or sorting out something in my place…
"Do you know where Ulquiorra went?" I asked the receptionist.
"Um... the manager left with Kurosaki-sama an hour ago," she replied.
"With Ichigo?" I asked in confusion.
"Ah…" I heard Gin say and turned to him. He sounded like he understood something but wasn't happy about it… "Ah, it's nothing you need to worry about, Rukia-chan. He probably nagged Ulqui-chan to train him again or something. Well… I should probably go back to Karakura and give your brother his things now. You should hurry or else you'll be late for your class." He ruffled my hair and promptly left the building.
Growing up as a Kuchiki and also as Kime, I've come into contact with many different people and have naturally mastered the ways of interpreting facial expressions and body language. Because of this, I knew that Gin was definitely lying. But why?
I rubbed my face.
First sleep deprivation, then Ichigo's funny behaviour followed by the disappearance of Ulquiorra and the sudden appearance of Gin.
This day was getting weirder and weirder.
The sun was already setting when I finally left the university library. I rubbed my eyes tiredly and stifled a yawn. Despite my exhaustion, I still spent most of the day studying in the library after my classes ended because my exams were coming up soon. But I had spent more time than I would want to admit thinking about the events of my morning. Nothing made sense.
I looked up and tensed when I saw Matsumoto walking toward me. My brain immediately went into a frenzy.
What did she want? There was no one around us, she could try anything. My hand flew to my pocket, ready to pull out my switchblade.
She studied my expression and frowned, "You don't look so well. Are you feeling alright?"
"I'm fine," I replied warily. "I just haven't gotten enough sleep lately."
"Have you been busy helping your brother again?" She asked before scanning the area and then leaning in. With a cheeky smile she whispered, "Or are your quarrels with Ichigo bothering you so much you can't sleep?"
I reeled back in surprise before regaining my composure, "I don't understand what you mean."
"Oh, don't lie," Matsumoto ignored my comment. "I know you two are secretly dating. You've been together since high school."
"You… What…" I widened my eyes and my heart raced. "How did you know?"
"I have my sources," she winked with a smile. "I hope you two work it out."
"Wait," I grabbed onto her wrist when she tried to walk away. "Tell me how you found out!"
I knew it. It all made sense. She somehow found out about Ichigo's and my relationship and then caused all this to happen.
She caused Ichigo to get hurt! I glared angrily at her. "You…"
"Rukia-san, let go, you're hurting me," She struggled to release her wrist from my grasp.
"This pain is nothing compared to the pain you've put him through," I said in a low voice.
"I don't understand what you're saying," she grimaced as she continued to struggle. I tightened my grip. No way was I going to let her go unscathed!
A hand grabbed onto my arm and I looked up to glare at the newcomer.
"What are you doing? Let go of her!" Ichigo demanded.
In my surprise I did as I was told. I watched with wide eyes, my feet rooted to the spot, as Ichigo turned to Matsumoto.
"Are you OK?" Ichigo examined Matsumoto's red wrist before turning to me with a deep frown. "What was that for?"
"I told her I knew about you to dating and she suddenly became angry," Matsumoto butted in.
Ichigo pulled me aside, "Rukia, why are you so worked up for? I was the one who told her about us!"
"Why would you do that?" I hissed. "It was meant to be a secret!"
"You were acting so weird lately," he looked away and said reluctantly. "I can't figure out what you're thinking so I asked her for some advice."
"But…" But of all the people to talk to, why did it have to be her? I bit my lip. "She might be the one who told Nel and the others…"
"I said," I repeated myself impatiently. "She might be the one who told the kidnappers about us. She caused you to become a target!"
"Rukia, you're thinking too much!" He scowled. "We've been over this!"
"No. Listen to me," I tried to reason with him. "It all connects if she is one of them!"
"Stop pinning the blame on her to suit your needs," he refuted angrily before walking back to Matsumoto.
"You don't understand!" I yelled after him, not caring if Matsumoto heard or not. "I'm just trying to do what's best for you… To keep you saf-"
"Will you stop trying to babysit me?" He growled. "It's seriously getting annoying. I can take care of myself, OK? You're not my mother."
"I," my voice caught in my throat. Ichigo's eyes widened when he saw my reaction and took a hesitant step toward me.
"I need to go," I managed to squeeze out. I hurried away despite hearing him call my name.
I kept running so I didn't have to think about what just happened but I couldn't.
Even if Matsumoto caused Ichigo to become a target, he got hurt because of my incompetence. Maybe she really was innocent, but I was pinning the blame on her so I could make this situation easier to understand.
Everything was my fault. The solution to most of these problems could be fixed with a simple sentence, but because of my own selfishness I had tried to find alternatives. If I had just made up my mind sooner, none of this would have happened…
Ulquiorra looked up in surprise when I entered his office like a wandering ghost.
"R-Rukia-sama?" He dropped the document he was reading on the table and walked up to me.
"Hey, Ulquiorra," I looked at him. His frowned slightly when he saw the shadows under my eyes but didn't say anything. I've been wanting to ask him where he was in the morning all day but only a single sentence occupied my mind at that time. "Let's have a race."
"We'll start on the east side of town like usual," I continued despite his confusion. "We'll follow the border of the town and the first person to finish back at the starting line wins."
"You want a motorbike race? Now?" He raised an eyebrow. "Of all the times…"
"I want to clear my head," I insisted. "You look like you need a break from work, too."
"Fine," he sighed in defeat. "I'll grab my gear and meet you outside in ten minutes."
"Looks like it's a quiet night tonight," I observed. There weren't any cars in the streets and we couldn't see any motorbike riders from other gangs.
"Let's hurry with this," Ulquiorra said while climbing onto his motorbike. It was black with a single green stripe running the length of the bike. "I still have a dozen or so documents to read through."
"Workaholic," I rolled my eyes but got on my white motorbike.
"I could say the same thing about you, Kime-sama," he replied. "The light is going to turn green soon."
We put on our helmets and focused all my attention on the traffic light. As soon as it changed, we sped off. For a moment, I just revelled in the feeling of having the wind in my hair before focusing on staying in the lead. We sped down the streets at full speed, not caring about the noise we made because we were on the edge of the town. There were a lot of sharp turns but Ulquiorra and I conquered them easily, not even bothering to lower our speeds. We were neck and neck so I couldn't afford to lower my speed in case he overtook me.
Despite Ulquiorra's complaint, from the corner of my eye I saw that he was enjoying the ride as well. We didn't know why, but riding on the motorbike always got rid out our stress temporarily. It was just us, our bikes and the road. Nothing else mattered and no problems existed.
Will you stop trying to babysit me? Ichigo's voice came out of nowhere.
I gasped, causing my motorbike to wave slightly, before I tightened my grip on the handles. Ulquiorra seized the chance and sped up, overtaking me. I cursed and increased my speed but I couldn't surpass him.
I glared daggers at his back before deciding to wait until the next turn. It was impossible to overtake him on a straight road.
Ichigo's voice had broken my concentration and seemed to unleash a whole wave of other thoughts. It all tumbled down on me – guilt, doubts, anger, frustration, regret…
"Fuck!" I swore aloud and the wind carried it away. I needed to concentrate! If I crashed at this speed I wouldn't be surprised if I had to stay at the hospital for several months…
I could see the next corner coming and I braced myself.
If only I was able to let go of him… It would've solved everything and prevented all this… The thought kept nagging me. I gritted my teeth and tried my best to concentrate on the road.
I spotted the space between Ulquiorra's motorbike and the side of the road widen and I managed to squeeze into it. He looked at me in surprise and I pumped my hand in triumph. But now that I was back in the lead I made the mistake of relaxing and my thoughts immediately went back to Ichigo.
He'll end up like your sister sooner or later…
I groaned. Despite having the same dream for the whole week, it still seemed so real every time. The blood, his pale face, that moment when he stopped breathing…
I'm sorry, Ichigo, if I hadn't dragged you into this…
My mind seemed to be revolving around the same thoughts.
Sometimes, just protecting them isn't enough.
If protection isn't enough then how else was I supposed to do to keep him out of harm's way?
I could feel myself going insane.
Is there really no other way to solve this?
Everything suddenly became blurry and I hastily lifted my hand to wipe away my tears only to realise my helmet was in the way. I clicked my tongue in frustration and tried to blink away my tears. My vision cleared just in time to see a cat dashing across the road. I swerved to the right in alarm to avoid hitting it which caused me to loosen my hold on the handles. I was flung into the air before I even had the chance to regain my grip on the handles, too shocked to even let out a scream.
For a few seconds, I felt weightless and, while feeling oddly calm, I watched my motorbike spin out of control and crash into a nearby pole. I saw Ulquiorra, who had slowed to a stop on the ground below me, stare at me with his eyes widened to the size of the moon.And then I started to fall…