Rukia didn't really like assignments in the world of the living. They were stifling, and it was a pain in the ass to get actual lodge instead of sleeping in parks or not sleeping at all. She would have to keep a low profile, and humans were not good company –they couldn't even see her. So most of the time, she always strived to finish as soon as she could.
However, there was this one time that she found something peculiar. A change of pace was always welcome, so when she saw a scowling, orange-haired teen talking and actually interacting with a plus, well she was obviously impressed. It was entertaining for about five minutes, before a hollow roar rang through the skies, and she flashed away in her fastest shunpo. Seeing that the weird boy had made no gesture to show he had heard it too, she could easily theorize that while his reserves were high, they weren't high enough to see her or the hollow.
So she left with that impression and almost lost her life to a hollow they had named PointedJaw. It was a high level hollow on the verge of evolution, and so it was considerably higher than her own skill level. She was certain she would have lost her life had a blue arrow not flown an inch away from her cheek, in the direction of the hollow's skull.
Rukia knew that a reishi arrow meant a Quincy, but that arrow had looked fragile and weak, so she fell back and waited for her new chance to attack. She never got the chance though, because as the arrow pierced the hollow's skull, it burst outward and completely obliterated the soul. She quickly turned around to see her savior, and didn't know what to think when she saw the orange-haired teen from before.
Even over her shock, her manners still remained, so she quickly and efficiently bowed her head in gratitude before standing straight again.
"I appreciate the save, Quincy."
The orange-haired brat –really, he could only be a brat when put up against her 150 years – nodded as well before turning on his heel and leaving the way he came,
"Make sure to be more careful, Shinigami."
And so she had not seen him again.
Two days later her assignment ended, and she didn't think back to the orange-haired Quincy that had saved her life. He had not pried into her presence in town, and so she respected his privacy and left that incident out of her report.
However, half a year later she found herself thinking back to that faithful night when she saw that same teen walking down the streets in a deep blue kimono decorated with tiny fireworks splashed over the hems in red. He was casually strolling the first district, looking for all intents and purposes as if he belonged here with an arm lazily slung inside his kimono and the other holding a bag with fresh fruit.
She was shocked further, when two men wearing typical Shiba servant clothing ran up to the orange head, distinctively out of breath and relief splashed all over their face.
"Ichigo-sama!" one of the bulky men cried out "please don't leave the compound without an escort! What would we do if something were to happen to you?"
The orange head gives a smile in resignation and lets the other man carry his bag only after much debate and frantic pleas from the retainers. The teen continues his walk shortly after, but he has two shadows every step of the way like she has seen her ni-sama on a couple occasions.
Later on, in one of those formal noble parties she hates with a passion, Rukia finds out that the orange-haired teen is the current heir of the Great and Noble Shiba Clan. He's Kaien's little cousin, and the man has stated without a fraction of doubt, that Ichigo had been born for the position. Rukia has no doubt that her lieutenant is only half joking, which only makes it a frightening thought, because there is a difference between those groomed for a position, those born into the position and those born for the position.
The fact that Kaien dots on the orange head even though Ichigo gives him an annoyed scowl about 80% of the time makes no difference to the lieutenant. He still parades around singing praises about his baby cousin even though the orange head is most defiantly not a baby. Rukia actually remembers Kaien talking about his little cousin for as long as she could remember, but the raven head had never mentioned a name, or brought out a picture.
So there's a doppelganger parading the streets of the living room as an honest to god Quincy, or the pride and joy of the Shiba Clan is more than what meets the eye. The way he meets her stare one day, and a knowing smile curls the edges of his mouth makes her think it's the second option, and not the first.
Yet again she remains quiet out of respect for the others privacy, and the orange head doesn't approach her unless it's on formal business which is rarely the case and only because she usually stays glued to her Ni-sama's side.
Then her world is turned upside down when on a mission to the world of the living she ends up giving her powers to a human girl and borrows a Gigai from the shabby blonde guy that owns a candy store… really, what can she say?
Karin and her clash more times than not, but they still forge a sort of camaraderie where she knows the teen will have her back for as long as she takes to get her own powers back. Her sudden Shinigami abilities was a god-send in the girl's eyes, and the fact that she was able to protect her little sister and parents is all the payment and debt she says she can never pay.
Then Renji and NI-sama come and capture her with the sole intention of bringing her back to sereitei for her own sentence –she's floored, really. Karin tries to stop them, but she pretty much gets skewered in the process. Rukia's only hope is that the shabby candy shop owner might find the Kurosaki before she bleeds out.
Time passes by, she overhears some Shinigami gossiping about some Ryoka and instinctively knows its Karin with her suicidal plan to rescue her. She curses the girl to the depths of Hueco Mundo and back as she pushes down the small spark of hope that starts growing in her chest.
She gets a couple visits during her stay at the 6th division cells, but once she's transferred to the tall white tower, she knows no one will be allowed to even get near her until execution day. Three days before that date her door opens, and in walks a young teen with vibrant orange hair on silent feet. He stands there and just stares at her for half a minute, before taking a seat on the floor with one graceful movement that makes her think the hard ground is made out of the softest of pillows –it's not, she can attest to that, but that single minded ability to make anything look like a throne is pretty much a basic ability of everyone from a Noble clan except her.
She's never talked to him, so she has no idea why he is here when no one is supposed to enter, and why he even came in the first place.
"You're a strange one." Is the first thing he says, and she instantly finds her eyebrow twitching.
"Did you come all the way here just to tell me that?" she throws away the decorum, he may be nobility but she's gonna die anyways so what's the point.
He doesn't bristle nor show a difference in emotion. He merely stares at her, and she almost finds herself overwhelmed by the intensity of the stare.
"I wanted to thank you."
Rukia really doesn't know what to say, this orange-haired teen has been a mystery since day one, so she's not disappointed when he continues to baffle her even further. Maybe it's a thing he does, or maybe it was genetic –Kaien-dono baffles her once in a while too.
"For?" she asks instead.
The smirk he gives her is just as annoying as she remembers, but he doesn't answer her question which irritates her even further. If she weren't versed on Kuchiki patience, she knows she would have snapped by now.
"I have a favor to ask." She just looks on, expression flat to convey her own confusion "Don't give up, no matter what."
Rukia can't help pointing out "How can I give up on something I'm already resigned to?"
Ichigo's smile only widens before he stands up in one fluid motion "My stupid cousin would be highly disappointed if I just let you get executed, so stay strong."
With those words as a parting gift he leaves, and Rukia is left to wonder why Kaien-dono, who's a Clan head and a lieutenant of the Gotei 13, has placed his faith on his younger cousin to do something he is apparently unable to do.
So she pushes her doubts to the side, and tries to forget the first real chat she had with the mysterious orange head.
Soon enough her execution comes along, and her heart constricts when she finds Kuchiki Byakuya among the crowd, looking for all intents and purposes as if he were not here to see his sister's death.
Then Kurosaki Karin is intervening, and next thing she knows, Renji is carrying her to safety. Of course that doesn't last long when Aizen Sosuke, the dead captain of the 5th squad kidnaps her and starts to monologue about his plans to take over the worlds and become spirit king in front of the captains and lieutenants. If Rukia weren't so confused herself, she would have felt some pity for Karin and the rest of the gang who look lost to the entire thing.
And then everything gets weirder.
Shiba Ichigo casually appears out of thin air, his usual yukata replaced by a black shihakusho and white haori. She's pretty sure he's not a captain, she couldn't have been that oblivious to his presence, but then he's standing in front of her and she sees the big black kanji for zero on his back and finds her eyes widening.
The orange head walks center stage with all the confidence in the world, as if a melodramatic pshyco wasn't threatening their entire existence. Aizen actually looks like Christmas came early, since Ichigo is pretty much a book full of all his answers before the orange head suddenly reappears inside the brunet's personal space and touches his left breast.
"See this, Aizen Sosuke?" he asks the shocked ex-captain "I have your beating heart in the palm of my hand and you did nothing." His smirk turns bone chilling "You just let me have it."
And so the man tries to make a strategic retreat but is dumbfounded when the menos grande that appear over the sky pretty much freeze instead of attack.
When Ichigo turns to the hollows and pretty much gives them a winning smile, they take their cue and go back the way they came which is pretty much the cherry on the metaphorical cake.
Aizen is apprehended, and when questioned how he knew of the master plan, the air around him looks even more mysterious and he whispers to those present.
"The hollows told me of course." The way he puts an index finger over his lips pretty much stops every and any question they may have, so they leave it at that, and just thank the spirit king that nothing worse happened.
Later, much much later, she questions him –she just can't let it slide anymore!- and receives more questions than answers.
"Who are you?" she asks.
"I'm a Shinigami captain, born from a Shinigami captain turned human, who married a Quincy infected with Hollow energy." He's defiantly laughing on the inside.
"What did you thank me for?" she tries something hopefully simpler.
"I may have died in the past, but being who I am, I know who my family was."
The way he says it makes her think that he's not talking about the Shiba clan; which is weird. He's nobility, born in Soul Society, and living in Soul Society. But he talks about death, and other families, at this rate, believing him might just avoid an even bigger headache.
So maybe Shiba Ichigo will forever remain a mystery no matter how much she asks, and no matter how much he actually answers. But one thing she knows for certain, Kurosaki Ichigo does have a nice ring to it.