I kept things from him so he wouldn't do crazy stuff but he went and did them anyway.
I glanced at my Carrot walking beside me and then at our intertwined fingers.
I sighed deeply, causing him to stare at me in confusion.
"You win. I give up," I shook my head slowly.
"What do you mean by that?" He asked, even more confused than before.
"Learning to fight, being an actual yakuza, coming with us on missions… stuff like that… I won't stop you from doing those things anymore. It's better if you have a bit of experience if you sneak off and do these types of things again."
"I told you already. In future, I'll tell you what I'll be doing. This time was only to prove that I'll be fine even if you don't help me."
"You are not fine," I retorted. "You have a hole in your stomach!"
"And a swollen cheek." Oh, yeah. I did that.
"Does it still hurt?" I reached up with my free hand and touched his face gently.
He caught my hand in his and kissed my palm, "I'm fine so stop worrying about me."
"If you say so," I hastily pulled my hand back and looked away to hide my reddening face. The place where his lips touched my hand felt oddly warm.
We heard a series of footsteps coming toward us and I quickly stepped away from Ichigo self-consciously.
"Rukia-chan," Akane and Nobara ran up to me. "We heard that Matsumoto-sempai was hospitalised so we came here as soon as our classes ended."
"Yeah. I came here to visit her, too. I was here for the whole day," I lied with a small smile while stepping further away from Ichigo.
"Ah! Ichigo-kun is here, too," Akane called to Ichigo when she finally realised him standing there and Ichigo nodded. "What happened to your face?" She took a step toward him with a worried expression.
"It's… complicated," Ichigo answered vaguely with a forced smile.
"Rukia-chan," Nobara tugged on my arm and talked in a low voice. "Do you know why there are so many people here? I saw a few people in suits at the foyer and there are even more of them here. I think I saw tattoos on a few of them…"
"Are you guys just going to stay here and chat or are you going to see Matsumoto-sempai," Ichigo asked and Nobara straightened up with a cheeky smile. Oh? It's back to 'Matsumoto-sempai' now?
"Yeah, sorry. Let's go there right now! Come on, Akane," she said and dragged Akane toward Matsumoto's hospital room.
"Thanks," I said as we slowly made our way back as well.
He just shrugged, "Anytime."
"Welcome back, Rukia-sama," Ulquiorra bowed at me when he saw me arrive.
I made a point of not looking at him as I walked passed him, "I'm still angry at you for teaching Ichigo and plotting all this."
"I will accept any punishment," He answered with another bow.
"Then… A pay rise," I said and he raised his eyebrow. "But you'll be Ichigo's personal instructor from now on."
"I understand. Thank you, Kime-sama," he bowed again and I went inside Matsumoto's room.
I noticed Nobara's staring at me as soon as I entered.
"What's your relationship with these people?" She asked and Akane, who was fussing over Matsumoto before, looked up at me expectantly.
"Um…" I had no idea they were going to be this persistent about it…
Everyone else was looking my way as well and I started to panic.
I really think you should trust people more…
I remembered Ichigo's words from before.
"Can you wait until after our exams? I'll explain everything then," I told them.
There was a short silence before Nobara burst into laughter, "That's so typical of you! Putting your education before everything else…"
"Um.. so…?" I said hesitantly.
"Of course we'll wait, won't we, Nobara?" Akane said. "We trust you, Rukia-san because you're our precious friend."
Precious friend… I mulled over the words. Do I really deserve that title?
There was a knock on the door and a nurse entered, announcing that visiting times were over.
"We'll come back tomorrow, Matsumoto-sempai," Akane promised before she left. "I'm sorry we couldn't come earlier."
"It's OK," Matsumoto said with her usual, cheerful smile. "It's the thought that counts."
"Matsumoto-san," I spoke up when Nobara and Akane left but with a bit of hesitancy. "I'm sorry about before… um…"
"Don't worry about it," she said with a smile. "It was really surprising when I found out you didn't know about me but everything turned out well so it's ok."
"It's alright," she reassured me. "But if you're really bothered about it, you can make it up to me by making your brother treat me to sake."
"S-sake?" I echoed and she just laughed but it was interrupted by a yawn.
"Time for you to rest," Gin declared when he saw that and Ichigo started pulling me out of the room.
"W-wait, Ichigo, are you sure you can go home? I'm fine but you've got a wound on your stomach…"
"Both of you can go home already," Ulquiorra answered for him. "The doctor back at the apartment will tend to Ichigo-san's injuries."
"Well then, see you tomorrow, Matsumoto-sempai," Ichigo called over his shoulder.
"Bring me some sake!" She replied and we heard Gin scolding her.
"What just happened?" I couldn't help but ask as we followed Ulquiorra out of the hospital. "I never knew Gin was so close with her."
"They're engaged," Ulquiorra replied nonchalantly.
"Excuse me?" I widened my eyes. Did I hear that right?
"Apparently they've been together for a while now but since Matsumoto infiltrates other gangs, their relationship is kept secret," Ichigo explained helpfully but I just stared at him blankly.
"Because Gin hardly talks about Matsumoto. I think Hisana-sama introduced you to him to try and get a reaction out of him but it didn't work," Ulquiorra ended the explanation but my mind was still trying to process the status of their relationship. "Please wait here, I'll go get the car," he said and left us at the entrance of the hotel.
"So you've decided to trust them?" Ichigo asked curiously. It took me a while to realise he was talking about Nobara and Akane.
"Yeah… I realised you were probably right," I shrugged. "Having trust is very important… If I don't trust other people, how can I expect them to trust me?"
"Looks like your maturing," he ruffled my head.
I grinned, "I can't say the same thing about you, though."
"What do you mean by that?" He demanded but I just laughed.
The next fortnight passed uneventfully because we just spent most of the time studying and taking our exams. Although I missed a few lessons, I managed to learn everything before the tests. Despite having injuries, Ichigo still completed his tests flawlessly and I once again realised just how smart my Carrot really was. Thankfully, nothing else happened during that time and before we knew it, it was already time for our school holidays.
"Are you really sure you want them to come, too?" Ichigo asked me for the umpteenth time as we waited for the train to arrive.
I rolled my eyes, "Yes, I'm sure. Although Nii-sama trusts me to make the correct decisions, I still want to ask his opinion."
"If you say so," he shrugged. "Trust them."
"I know," I sighed.
"Sorry we're late," Nobra waved to us. "Akane went to the wrong platform."
"Nooooo! Nobara, don't tell her that," Akane wailed in embarassment.
"Eh, Ichigo-kun, you're here too?" Nobara pointed out.
"Yeah, my dad asked me to go back as well," he scratched his head.
Please don't let them find out… Please don't let them find out… I chanted in my head.
It wasn't that I was scared they would spread the news but… I glanced at Akane and sighed inwardly. How would she react? No, why am I worried for her? Shouldn't I worry that I have a love rival instead?
"Ah, the train's here," Akane alerted.
We boarded the train and somehow, I ended up sitting with Nobara while Akane sat next to Ichigo. All well, I thought as I watched Akane talk to Ichigo happily. I guess it's a compensation of sorts for dragging them into this…
When we arrived at Karakura, a car was already waiting for us.
"Welcome back, Rukia-sama," the driver bowed.
"Well then, I'll see you guys later," Ichigo waved as he walked away.
To not appear suspicious, Ichigo went home by himself while the three of us got into the car. As he drove, the driver said,"Byakuya-sama is currently at a meeting but he has made arrangements to have dinner with you and your friends."
"I understand," I nodded. "I presume we will be staying at the mansion?"
"Byakuya-sama prefers if you stay at your apartment," he replied to my surprise.
"OK, then we'll go back to my apartment first," I nodded. "Chappy is beginning to get annoyed for being kept in her cage for so long."
"Wow… so this is what having a driver feels like," Akane commented in awe. "It feels like you're a princess."
"So rich people live like this, huh," Nobara murmured while playing with the car's different features. "Woah, so you can really have a glass put in to separate the driver from the passengers? I thought those only happened in dramas and movies."
"You two…" I rubbed my temples.
"Ah, sorry, Rukia-san," Akane apologised. "We're just kind of nervous… We're meeting the CEO of Kuchiki Enterprise, after all."
"No it's fine, I understand," I reassured them. I remembered Ichigo's reaction when he saw my brother last time and my headache worsened.
When we entered the apartment building, two rows of people were waiting in the lobby. When they saw us they bowed at the same time, "Welcome back, Rukia-sama. Welcome, Akane-sama, Nobara-sama."
"Ehhh," Akane gasped. "No, you don't need to add 'sama'…"
"Just ignore them," I told her and barely stopped myself from saying the words 'Ichigo got used to it after a while.'
This was more dangerous than I expected.
"Rukia-sama," Renji, as always, broke the formation and walked up to me with a big smile. "I heard the rumours but I didn't believe them until now. To think you really did make friends in Bunk- Ow!" He flinched when I stood on his foot before glaring at him. "Ah sorry… Um, the cleaners have already cleaned your room. There'll be someone here to pick you guys up in about an hour."
"Let's go, you two," I gestured to them to follow me. Three people came up to carry our luggage up for us and I had to hide my smile at Akane and Nobara's reaction.
"It feels like we're at a hotel instead of an apartment," Nobara sighed while we were in the lift. "Rich people really are different."
"Stop saying that," I rolled my eyes. But their comments didn't stop, especially when they saw my penthouse apartment. To this day, I still can't believe that they squealed about it for a full fifteen minutes.
After they finally calmed down, they each picked a room and began to unpack. I did as well, but I wasn't unpacking clothes. Making sure they were both in their rooms, I closed my door and entered my walk-in closet. I opened my suitcase and began to put the weapons I brought to Bunkyou back to their respective places. Once done, I went back to my room and sat on my bed.
"How should I do this," I sighed and patted Chappy's head absentmindedly. I still haven't decided how to tell them… My phone vibrated and the screen displayed a text message from Ichigo.
Message: have you unpacked yet? My dad's been holding a tantrum because he can't meet a certain third daughter *sigh*
Ah… Isshin… He never changes. I quickly typed a reply.
Message: I'm done but I'm not sure about the others. We're going to have dinner with my brother soon
Message: have you thought about how to tell them yet?
Message: no… any ideas?
Message: I thought you were the smarter one
"Rukia-san," Akane knocked on my door. "There's someone at the door. I think the driver is here."
"OK, I'll be out soon."
Message: I'm going to meet my brother now. Let's meet up later at Urahara's and I'll tell you how things went.
Message: see you. Good luck, Usagi-Kaichou.
Nobara dropped her fork but then caught it in mid-air, "Pardon? Can you repeat what you just said? I think my ears are playing tricks on me…"
My brother was unfazed by her reaction, "The Kuchiki family members lead a double life. On the surface we run a company but we also control a yakuza organisation called Kings."
"You… You're…" Akane tried her best to find words to say but in the end she just decided to stay silent.
"So you're really who they call K?" Nobara finished the question for her. My brother nodded and Nobara turned to me, "You're the legendary Kime?"
"Yes," I replied while smiling with embarrassment. "Please keep this a secret."
"Of course we will, Rukia-san," Akane finally found her voice. "We are your friends, after all."
"So then… the incident before… was Matsumoto-sempai involved as well?"
"Yeah… They kidnapped Ichigo and she got hurt in the process while… helping us," I replied while nodding my head slowly.
"Did you catch the kidnappers, then?" Akane asked.
"They escaped," I said regretfully.
"Can you tell us who they are? Maybe we can help search for them. Ah… um… it's ok if you can't tell us."
I hesitated at Nobara's question. Well… if you trust someone, you need to trust them completely, I guess. "It's… Yuki-sempai. Well, her real name is Shirayuki, though."
"Yuki-sempai?" They both exclaimed in unison.
"Are you sure? She doesn't look like a yakuza though," Nobara looked at me sceptically.
"Yuki-sempai is a really kind and caring person." Akane looked absolutely shocked. "To think she is…"
"She's also the one behind the kidnapping and killing of several of our members."
Seeing their reactions, I began to wonder if I shouldn't have told them. Maybe if they stayed ignorant, they would be happier…
"Rukia-san, do you mind me asking a question?" Akane asked timidly. "When you said you were going to inherit everything… did that include Kings?"
I nodded, "And all those times when I left during class or during our outings, I was going off to sort out disputes between the gangs in the area…"
"Well this has been one interesting meal," Nobara murmured. "What are you going to do now, Rukia-san? About our sempai, I mean."
"We're still deciding. But I guess we need to find her first," I sighed.
"Um… What will happen to us?" Akane asked my brother. "Will we be forced to join Kings now that we know your secret?"
"You can join if you want to," he replied. "But we recommend against it. It is not a kind world."
"I… I want to help Rukia-san," Nobara announced and caused me to stare at her.
Now where have I heard that line before…?
"Me too," Akane nodded her head determinedly. "For trusting us so much to tell us this giant secret… I want to do something in return for her."
"It's the thought that counts," I told them while glancing at my brother in dismay.
"Rather than joining Kings, would you two like to work at Kuchiki Enterprise after you graduate? You are studying business as well, right?"
"Working at Kuchiki Enterprise?" Akane's eyes widened. "I would love to! My parents won't believe this!"
"Nii-sama," I looked at him as if he was a traitor. So this was the real reason why he made time to meet them…?
Seeing my face, my brother said with a faint smirk, "To be able to become friends with the infamous ice queen, Kuchiki Rukia, is a great feat. It proves that they are people to be noteworthy of like that Kuro-"
"Nii-sama," I cut him off frantically. Thankfully, the other two didn't seem to hear what my brother just said.
"I have another meeting to attend so I'm afraid I need to go," my brother stood up after checking his watch. "Please enjoy your stay."
"The media makes your brother seem like such a cold and distant person," Nobara said once my brother left. "But he is actually pretty nice."
"Yeah… And you all don't seem like the typical yakuza either. Not scary at all," Akane agreed.
"He's just doing this so you won't be scared away," I sighed but they looked at me sceptically. Recruiting them two… what is brother thinking?
I had only been back for a few hours but I was already exhausted…
"Let's take a walk around the area after we finish dinner," I suggested and they nodded eagerly. "There's a place I want to show you."Tired or not, it is a host's duty to make sure their visitors are happy.