Chapter One: Caught Off Guard
Recommended Song: "Hero/Heroine" by Boys Like Girls
"W-what is this Mama?" the small girl whimpered, holding out her arms to her mother. She was taken in and snuggled against the security and comfort her mother provided.
"It's a gift," she whispered, stroking her daughter's hair.
"B-but I don't want it…" the girl with golden curls sobbed, tears streaming down her plump, rosy cheeks.
"Shh, shh," her mother said softly. "Just imagine it being a fairy tale. It's just a fairy tale…just a…"
Marise looked into the mirror, her shining blue eyes hazy, as though she were in a trance, transported to a different time. Her soft hand reached out to touch the mirror, but then pulled back again. She could barely see herself, barely see things that were real.
It was all just a fairy tale to her. A dream.
She took her red ribbon that sat on top of the dresser and tied it under her white-collar shirt, preparing to go to school. Her arms went through her gray jacket and she lifted her golden curls over it. She ran a brush through it, and thought about how it was these curls that everyone admired, that she herself cherished.
It wasn't common to find someone in Japan with naturally golden hair, and Mari was very proud of it, and treated it like a treasure. Of course, she wasn't fully Japanese, and had her French mother, Lucille, to thank for her hair.
"Mari, dépêchez-vous et descendre ou vous allez être en retard! " called her mother from downstairs.
Marise sighed and closed her eyes, wishing that she could just go back to bed. She went over to her bed and sat down, then put on her knee-length white socks and brown lace-up boots that came just under her knee. It was the same routine every day, it almost felt like the first day of her senior year, but the year was more than halfway over. She couldn't believe how time flew; her family had already been living in Karakura Town for almost three years.
She flew down the long-winding, spiral stairs, with the magnificent chandelier hanging in the middle and went into the kitchen. She paused and stared when she saw a spirit, a man in his forties looming over her mother's shoulder, watching her fry some eggs in a skillet. Marise took some salt and threw it over her mother's shoulder, and the spirit immediately disappeared.
"Mari!" Lucy scolded. "Did you have to go and waste that salt? Now I have to vacuum the kitchen floor! How many times do I have to tell you not to do that?"
"But Mama!" Mari protested. "It's to ward off spirits! It really does work!"
Her mother rolled her eyes, and took the bread out of the toaster. "You believe every superstition, don't you?"
"Hmph! Only because they're all true!" She grabbed the toast from her mother and took a bite, and bid goodbye with her mouth full.
"Don't forget to take Taro after school…! Oh, she's already gone! Honestly, that girl could at least stay and hear what her mother has to tell her…" She sighed, and placed the plate of scrambled eggs on the table in front of her husband. "I swear, nobody ever listens to me!"
Soichiro looked up from his paper. "Hmm? You say something, honey?"
Lucille took the paper from him, rolled it up, and whacked him on the head.
Hirako Shinji walked along the sidewalk, with his hands deep in his pockets and his head in the clouds. He was dubbed the errand boy and today was sent out to buy some milk, but his thoughts had sidetracked him, and he found himself nearing Karakura High. His dull brown eyes turned vibrant in seeing Inoue Orihime walking toward him.
"Oi, Orihime-chan!" he greeted.
Orihime slowed down, and stopped in front of him. She cocked her pretty head to the side, and asked, "Hirako-kun…? Is that you?" Shinji nodded. "Wow! How long has it been, more than a year?"
"Yeah, seems like it." He then grinned. "And here I thought ya couldn't get any cuter. Ya look even better without yer hair clips."
Orihime smiled at him. "Thanks! I see you've gone through a change as well."
Shinji smiled wryly, his hand absentmindedly going to hair, which had now grown a little past his shoulders. His attire, however, always remained the same, gray wool slacks and a light blue collared shirt with a silk tie. "Yeah, decided another change was needed."
She smiled again, this time, with a little sadness. "We change when we want to forget."
"Ain't that the truth. So, how have you and the others been holdin' up? How's Ichigo?"
Orihime pushed her burnt orange hair back, and looked away. "Um…okay, I guess. He seems troubled."
"Ain't he always?"
"Well, anyways, how are you doing? And Hachi? Is he doing okay? I should really come and visit sometime, I can always bring you guys bread!"
Shinji shrugged. "We're doin' alright. Bored as hell though."
Orihime faked a shocked face. "No…not you! Who is your first love this time?"
"Now, Orihime-chan, ya know ya will always be my first love."
At that she laughed, soft and sweet. "Well, if you're really so bored, why don't you come back to school?"
Shinji's face turned sour. "I ain't that bored. I sure as hell don't wanna live through that again. Ya just got out?" he asked, eying her uniform.
"Mhm, yes, I'm just about to head over to my after school job. It was really nice seeing you again! And Shinji," she said, placing her hand on his shoulder, leaning forward, "I truly hope that one day, you find your true love."
Shinji just gave a small smile and squeezed her hand. "I always thought ya were too damn good for Ichigo. It's a shame that ya love him."
Orihime shrugged. "I guess I just can't control my heart. I'll see you later!"
Shinji turned around, and cupping his hand around his mouth, yelled, "Well if ya ever get control of yer heart, ya know where to find me!" A laugh receded in the distance, and Shinji chuckled, though it was bitter.
Though the last bell had rung, signaling the end of the day, Marise was on the roof of the school, the soft wind whispering and running over her clothes and face. She placed her hand around the diamond-chained fence, and looked down at the green area where students had just eaten lunch a few hours earlier. Mari remembered when she had come up here to see Orihime and her many friends gathered around the oak tree, eating their lunches. Mari always ate alone, even though Orihime would often urge her to come and sit with her and the others, she would always refuse. She'd hate herself if she accepted, as Mari could never accept another person's sympathy. No…she would only accept her own.
Mari squinted, her head tilted to the side. She could almost clearly imagine another girl sitting there, though this one had raven black hair, skin as white as snow, and eyes the color of the amethyst jewel. It was Kuchiki Rukia. Marise hadn't seen the petite girl in more than a year; it was as if she had suddenly disappeared. And what was even stranger was that no one seemed to remember that she had even existed, which baffled Mari. There was obviously something peculiar about it, but what could Mari do? She might as well just leave it alone, as it had nothing to do with her anyway, and she didn't want to be dragged into any unwanted situation.
Marise's eyes widened with fear, and she shivered, looking around. Who said that? She looked in front of her, and her hand flew to her mouth as she gasped. In front of her was her childhood friend, Shiraishi Naoki, though he wasn't a child anymore.
"N-naoki?" she whispered, trying to reach out, though the fence blocked her from doing so. She pulled back, and shaking her head, said, "No…you're not here. You're not real. You're just…just apart of my imagination…" She took steps back, and gasped again in seeing another friend, Honovi, right next to her.
"Hello there, Bitter Doll ," the girl with long, silky raven hair said, with a seductive smile, her cat green eyes sparkling.
Marise pressed her hands to her eyes, and turned away. When she took them away, she saw that her friends were no longer there. With a hand holding her other arm, she again looked across at the trees before her, and allowed the wind to caress her.
It was stupid of me to believe that my friends were actually here. What a fairy tale…
Shinji now saw the school in view, and looked at it, memories of his days there flooding his mind. Hmm…wind sure is pickin' up. He stopped in his tracks, and looked up, squinting. He saw a girl standing on the roof of the school, and with the wind blowing she could have almost appeared to be a ghost.
His eyes widened with curiosity when the wind lifted up her skirt, revealing her plain white underwear. Mari's eyes met his and her face turned bright red, and her jaw dropped, as she tried to hold her skirt down.
T-that pervert looked up my skirt! She shrieked when she felt herself being pushed, and looked behind to see Honovi with a twisted, wicked grin on her face.
Shinji was now running and held up his arms to catch the girl with golden locks, but she instead landed right on his face. She shrieked again, this time with much embarrassment, when she realized that she had landed with her womanhood pressed up against the stranger's face. Mari quickly got off of him, so quickly that Shinji didn't even have enough time to process the position she was in.
Shinji got up and Mari just inched herself further away from him, crying, "P-pervert!"
"Wha…? Yer the one who landed yer ass on my face!"
"I didn't mean to! And you looked up my skirt!"
"Only 'cause the wind blew it up! Who wouldn't?"
"A decent, moral, civilized person wouldn't, that's who! You're a Yankī  pervert!"
Shinji stood up, brushing his sleek gray wool pants. He went over and tried to help Marise up, but she just slapped his hands away. "Now wait just a sec, why tha hell do ya think I'm a Yankī?"
Mari stood up, and brushed off her skirt, and poked a finger at his chest. "I'll tell you why! First off, only someone with a foul background would talk the way you do! Secondly, what kind of man grows out their hair to be that long?"
Ya should've seen my hair a hundred and ten years back, kid.
"And I'm sure it's not naturally blond either, you must have dyed it! That's what gangsters do! And finally," She put her fingers in his mouth and pulled out his tongue, "what kind of decent person would pierce their tongue? That's so vulgar!"
"Whawt kind uf decent pewson wuld pull out a guy's tung?" Shinji asked, with his tongue still pulled out. Marise let go and pulled a tissue out from her pocket, wiping her fingers on it.
"Well, I wonder if the rest of ya tastes as good as yer fingers," he said smoothly, taking her hand and licking her index finger. That earned him a slap in the face. "Ow! What tha hell did ya do that for?" He grabbed her hand before she was about to slap him again, and Marise pulled out something from her bag with her other hand and sprayed it into Shinji's eyes. He immediately let go, and pressed his palm to his eyes, crying in agony.
Mari looked to see that she had sprayed him with black spray paint. "Oops! That was supposed to be mace."
"WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?"
Marise frantically looked around to see that people were staring, and she quickly took Shinji's head and pressed his face to her breast, trying to quiet him. "Shh! You're embarrassing me, stop yelling already!"
Shinji flailed his arms, and Mari realized that he couldn't breathe, letting him go. He gasped for air, and said, "Jesus, I've only known ya for two minutes and I think I'm already past second base!"
"I knew it! You are a pervert!"
"No, I'm a man." Though they're kinda the same thing.
"You're a creep!"
"I'm just yer normal, handsome guy…"
"I hope you get arrested!"
"Yer bein' real bitchy ta me, do ya know that?"
"Again with your vulgar language! So crude!"
Shinji just rolled his eyes. He then caught a glance at the girl, and felt his heart stop for a moment. She was…beautiful. Marise looked away from him, blushing and fiddling with the ends of her skirt. Shinji felt like he was looking at the embodiment of a beach in a person…her skin was white like the sand, her hair was as golden as the sun, he felt like he was looking into the deep blue ocean when he looked into her eyes…this girl completely caught him off guard.
"Stop staring at me! You have absolutely no manners, do you?"
Shinji grinned. "Ain't it only natural for me to stare at a pretty girl?"
Marise crossed her arms and turned her head away. "Hmph! Don't think you can sway me with your horrible pick-up lines!"
Shinji wiped his eyes, and saw that there was a trail of black paint on his hands. "Now look what ya did, I must look like a goddamn freak."
"You look like one even without it!"
"I'm gonna kill you."
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know." He walked up to her, and she fearfully took a few steps back, her hands clutching her bag. Shinji reached out and touched one of her golden curls, and said softly, "What's yer name, eh, Goldilocks?"
"Goldilocks! How dare you already nickname me! We're not close!"
"We could be," he smirked, with a wiggle of his eyebrows. "C'mon, love, tell me yer name."
"I'm Hirako Shinji."
"I don't care!"
"Boy, yer a stubborn ass, aren't 'cha?"
"And you're a Yankī pervert!"
"C'mon now, sweetie, I just wanna know."
"Stop calling me those mushy little pet names! I'm not your girlfriend!"
"Ya could be."
"I wouldn't want to be!"
"Then lemme guess. Is yer name…Hitomi? Natsumi? Asami?"
"No, no, and no!" She puffed out her cheeks in anger, and tried to look intimidating, but her look only made Shinji laugh. "My name," she said haughtily, crossing her arms, "is Hirano Aya. "
"Yer shittin' me."
"Nope, it's the truth."
"Ya fuckin' liar."
"What?" she asked innocently. "What's wrong with that name?"
Shinji leaned closer until his nose barely brushed hers. "Why don't ya tell me yer real name?" he snarled.
Marise turned around to see her five-year old brother, Taro, run up the sidewalk toward them. He was panting as he ran, his short legs already getting tired, and his shaggy light brown hair falling over his chocolate eyes. Behind him was her other brother, younger by only three years, Ryunosuke, who wore a long trench coat enough though the weather was warm, and his black hair was sleek as always, and his navy blue eyes dull.
"What is it Taro?" Mari asked, leaning down, placing her hands on her legs. She then quickly stood erect and pulled her skirt down when she realized that Shinji was behind her, and was most likely trying to take another peek at her underwear.
He panted, "Onee-chan, I thought we were going to go to the candy store…you promised you'd take me after school today!"
Mari waved her hand at him dismissively, and pointed to Shinji. "Taro, can't you see that I'm dealing with this pervert? It's up to me to deliver justice, and ensure that every woman is safe from the clutches of evil, lecherous men! I, Asahina Marise, will fight for all these women and defend our honor! I…!"
"Yeah, yeah, we get it, Sailor Moon," Shinji muttered, scratching behind his ear. "So, yer name's Marise, eh? That's a weird name. I'll just call ya Mari-chan. Or Goldilocks."
"How dare you interrupt me!" Mari screeched. "And leave off the '-chan!' Or even better, don't call me by my first name at all! You can call me Asahina-san, if you wish."
"What tha hell!"
Mari opened her mouth to scold his language when she froze in fear, in hearing a shrill, terrifying roar from behind her. Taro and Ryu froze, also feeling it, and Shinji's face turned from annoyed to serious. Mari was tempted to turn around, but she knew that if she did Shinji would notice, and she definitely didn't want him to be suspicious of her, as that would only incite more curiosity and questions, more than she was willing to take.
She grabbed Taro and Ryu's hands, and quickly pulled them along. "Run!" she hissed to them, and she began to pick up the pace. Taro struggled to keep up, but couldn't do so, and so Mari just took him in his arms, letting go of Ryu's hand, as they all began to run.
"Tch. Guess they're in a hurry to buy some candy." Though Shinji knew better, and could see the changed expression on Mari's face when she heard the Hollow's roar. Her face gave everything away…
Shinji looked in the direction of where the Hollow was, and contemplated as to whether or not he should go over there. Shrugging, he decided to defeat the Hollow, as he hadn't donned his mask or even used his Zanpakutō in weeks.
It's been eighteen months…a year and a half…however many minutes and seconds had gone by since the defeat of Aizen Sōsuke, the man who had ruined his and his comrades' lives. He would never forgive that man, and even having him rot in a prison for twenty thousand years couldn't make the pain or memories disappear.
But then Shinji thought of the girl with golden locks, the "Goldilocks," and he realized that in those moments he felt no bitterness, no pain, only…happiness? Bliss? Hirako Shinji always kept a sinister smile on his face and a hole in his heart, but when he was with Asahina Marise…for those brief moments, that hole was filled.
He didn't know what it meant, but what he did know was that he couldn't just leave the feeling alone, the tugging at his heart, the curiosity that sat in his mind…
He wanted to know more of Asahina Marise.
"Onee-san," Ryu panted, his face even paler than it normally was, "Can we stop running now…?"
Marise stopped and said, "Yeah…I think we're far enough from it now." She put Taro down, and he led them toward the candy store.
On their way there they passed the Kurosaki twins, Yuzu and Karin.
"Hi, Asahina-kun!" Yuzu exclaimed, waving at Ryu. Karin just gave a curt nod.
Mari sneaked a glance at Ryu and had she not been his sister, she wouldn't have noticed the faintest, slightest, tiniest taint of pink on his pale cheeks. She grinned inwardly, and proceeded to tease him about it after they had passed the twins.
"Ho, ho, ho," Mari began, "Does my little brother like the sweet Yuzu? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge?" She winked and nudged him in the chest with her elbow.
Ryu looked uncomfortable. "N-no, you're mistaken. I…Yuzu…she's just nice to me, that's all."
"I can't have my little brother be shy of women! This," she said, pounding her fist in her hand, "is unacceptable! Ryunosuke, as your older sister I will teach you the tricks and secrets of amour!"
Ryu wasn't convinced. "I doubt, onee-san, that you're a mastermind of love."
Marise's jaw dropped in shock. "Wha…why would you say that?"
"If you really did know the secrets to love you would have a steady boyfriend and not a thousand ex-boyfriends."
Mari, imitating an Italian accent, replied, "Why you criticize, brother? It wasn't me, it was them! Now," she said, throwing her arm around his shoulder, "you just leave this love dilemma to your beautiful, wonderful, talented, and perfect sister!" She laughed, as though what she had said wasn't only true, but the funniest thing in the world.
Ryu rolled his eyes, used to his sister's vanity. "I wish I had one like that."
Marise pulled on his ear. "What did you say, you little brat?"
"Ow, nothing onee-san! Gomen!"
"Hmph, that's what I thought you didn't say." She felt her baby brother tug on her hand, and saw him pointing, a huge smile on his adorable face.
"Onee-chan, onee-chan! There it is! There's the candy store!"
It was a modest structure made completely out of wood, unlike any candy store Mari had ever seen, and she was a bit skeptical. It was a little secluded, and behind it was a large forest, dim and intimidating. Mari bit the soft flesh of her bottom lip. "Taro…" she began, but the little boy had already run ahead to the door.
He stopped when a man stepped out, wearing a green shirt, pants, and wooden sandals. His face was mostly hidden by the green and white striped bucket hap over his floppy pale yellow hair, and he held a fan that covered most of his face, except for his intelligent gray eyes.
Marise stopped and was about to take a step back, her countenance uncertain. The man slowly pulled his fan down, revealing his face, where he broke out into a large smile.
"Hello there, customers!" he said cheerfully. "My name is Urahara Kisuke. What can I do for you?"
To Be Continued
 Translation: Mari, hurry up and come down or you'll be late!
 A Yankī is a Japanese miscreant. It's not italicized for emphasis, but rather to differentiate between this being the Japanese word and not to be confused with the American "Yankee."
 Hirano Aya is a very famous model, singer, and actress.