AN: Set after the soul society arc.
DISCLAIMER: No Duhhhhhhhhhhh . . . .
Ichigo leaned back against the wall and sighed. He never should have agreed to accompany Rukia on her Christmas shopping trips, but it was slowly becoming more obvious to him that he would rather endure extensive bodily harm than allow any danger to come within a foot of her, whether she was wearing a gigai or in spirit form. And the very idea of allowing her to go shopping with Keigo as her sole escort fueled his imagination with enough disturbing scenarios that he had to put his foot down.
A glance at his watch told Ichigo that Rukia was running late. He exhaled in an overly exasperated way, trying to ignore the secret glee that was creeping up his spine at the thought he was going to have to go into the store and drag her out.
"One, two, three, four, five . . ." Rukia was counting her packages, hoping she hadn't forgotten anyone's gift. She really didn't understand the point of Christmas; to her it was just another pointless reason mortals had come up with to party.
But if society said that it was required she buy gifts for people, she would do it.
Plus, shopping was kind of fun.
Yup, they were all there. Only one was missing. . .
"Gods! What do I get a teenage boy?" she muttered under her breath, vainly attempting to ignore the little voice that was chastening her, telling her sheshould know what to get him. She had lived in his closet for the better part of three months.
Ah, but that was the crux of the problem—did she really know him at all? When she had first stumbled upon the bright idea of living with him, her inner child—the Kuchiki Clan had never been able to completely kill it—had automatically thought "SLEEPOVER!" Somehow, in her head she had believed that he would become her best friend, a position which had been vacant ever since she had been adopted and Renji had stopped talking to her . . .
Rukia stopped in the middle of an aisle, ignoring the indignant squawk of the woman pushing a cart behind her. She frowned, repeating her thoughts a second and third time before epiphany hit her.
She had tried to see Ichigo as Renji, a faithful friend and an easygoing rival, their relationship platonic and predictable. But when had that ever been the case? With a shake of her head and a sigh, Rukia politely moved aside and allowed the women to pass her.
When Rukia told him she had to come to this store, he had been a bit surprised.
"Why here, of all places?" he had asked in an aggravated voice, with that familiar it's-so-not-worth-my-time look on his face. He had been following her around Tokyo since 10 o'clock in morning. He was tired and his feet hurt.
He was in the perfect mood to fight with someone.
Rukia had just looked at him, failing to see or choosing not to take the obvious offer for an argument. Something about her eyes was so completely . . . innocent and . . . cheerful. "I overheard Orihime say that it was the only store where they still sell her favorite candy."
"Oh," he had replied, his anger suddenly drained out of him. Rukia was so clueless sometimes. "Well, then. Let's get going."
The place had automatic doors, although one was jammed and you had to jump on the mat a few times to get it opened.
He should have taken that as a precursor to what the inside was going to be like. When he first entered, all he could see was miles and miles of red and green garlands and flickering white and gold bulbs. Fake mistletoe was strung up above every bench, cash register, entrance, and exit. He looked up, and a few dusty leaves brushed his nose.
God, how he wanted to get out of there already. The cheap gaudiness of it was overwhelming.
There was Rukia coming now, looking perfectly ridiculous with her dozens of bags—a slender pinewood sapling, drowning in ornaments.
"Fin—" he started to say, but she had stopped and turned into an aisle, waving at him to wait and barely managing to keep a shopping bag from sailing into the air.
He sighed again as he went to follow her.
Someone had laughed loudly, and Rukia had unconsciously been drawn to the sound.
A group of kids, rather well-dressed for this ninety-nine cents only store, were pointing and laughing at the second-rate toys, fragile, plastic things not even worth the discounted price.
Rukia frowned and then passed over them in distaste, silently asking herself how people who behaved like that could laugh and smile and feel so good about themselves. She wondered if they knew it made them look unfeeling and unsophisticated.
Then her eyes landed on a little girl, standing a few feet away, studying the toys. Next to her was a young man, barely out of his twenties, who was obviously her father. Their clothing was faded and thin; the coats hanging over the man's arm obviously second—hell, even fifth—hand.
The man bent down to whisper in his daughter's ear, no doubt asking her which toy she wanted. She reached one hand out to pull a cheap doll of the shelf—
-and then one of the girls caught sight of the doll and screeched, "Oh my GOD! Look it's so cheap and ugly! We have to get one, as a joke!"
They all immediately burst out laughing, as if it was the wittiest thing ever uttered.
But Rukia wasn't looking at them. She was watching the little girl and her father.
The girl's lower lip began to tremble and her eyes became very large. Her father looked down, obviously ashamed. Then the girl, who couldn't have been older than six, threw her arms around his leg. And then they walked away.
Rukia stood still for a moment, staring after them.
Then she slid a hand into her pocket and began running.
A father and his daughter walked out of the aisle Rukia had entered. Rukia followed them out about thirty seconds later.
"Sir! Sir! Excuse me!" she shouted, running past the bench where Ichigo sat until she had caught up to the man.
"Yes, miss, how can I help you?" he asked, his eyes downcast.
Rukia slipped a hand into her pocket and brought up a fistful of cash. "I think you dropped this back there," she answered, gesturing that he take the money.
The man stepped back and stared at her. "I can-can't take that, it isn't mine."
She smiled. Not the fake, sparkling way she adopted at school, but a gentle, serious smile, one that reached her eyes. "It's Christmas," she said, folding the money neatly and placing it in his shirt pocket.
He looked like he was going to protest again, but Rukia ignored him and slipped into a crouch, so she could talk to his daughter. "Hello, sweetheart," she said softly, holding one hand out to the child, who was hiding behind her father's leg and staring up at Rukia with her big, blue eyes. "What would you like for Christmas?"
The girl pondered that for a moment, her forehead creased in exaggerated concentration. "A real doll," she finally answered.
Rukia smiled as she reached into shopping bag number three and pulled out a gold-wrapped box. She had been planning on leaving it anonymously for Ichigo's sister, in place of the clothes she had been borrowing. "Take this," she commanded, not caring that the man was half-heartedly trying to refuse.
Without waiting for an answer, Rukia rose from her crouch and tried to adjust her packages. "Merry Christmas," she said before walking away.
The little girl's laughter echoed after her.
Rukia bounced up to Ichigo and smiled at him, not noticing the way he was gawking. "What?" she asked, "Did I really take that long?"
Ichigo started to answer, shut his mouth, opened it again, and found he didn't know what to say.
"Do you know what mistletoe is?" he found himself saying, unable to control the words coming out of his mouth.
Rukia raised an eyebrow. "It's a Western thing, isn't it? I heard some people at school talking about it, but they just said that something happens when you stand under it." Was it just her, or was Ichigo looking at her funny? He was kind of leaning in, staring into her eyes in a way that made her feel as if she was about to board, stomach twisting and spine tingling.
Ichigo tipped her chin up with one hand and pointed at a bunch of leaves hanging above their heads with the other. "That's mistletoe."
"Oh," Rukia said. "It doesn't look like much. What's so great about it? What happens when you stand under—"
"This," Ichigo said, leaning in to answer her half-asked question.
Rukia had listened when the other girls talked about kissing boys; she had smiled and nodded and pretended to understand, even though she couldn't see the attraction.
Well, now she could.
She let her bags slide off her wrists so that she could reach up and wrap her arms around his neck. His hands were around her waist, and she was leaning back into them, her chin tilted all the way up so she could kiss him back. For the first time, she felt fragile, delicate, trapped there in the circle of his arms with his mouth on hers, demanding yet yielding at the same time.
This all took less than thirty seconds.
Then it was over. Ichigo was leaning down to pick up her bags, and walked off, calling over his shoulder for her to hurry her ass up.
She there for a moment, staring at the ground and running a finger across her lips, which felt oddly soft and swollen.
"Hurry up, you idiot! Don't we have to go back to that one toy store?"
Rukia looked at him, wondering what to do.
"Well, come on, let's go."
She grinned, glanced up at the ceiling and ran to catch up.
She had figured out what to get him for Christmas.
AN: Well, I know I said I wasn't going to write anymore Bleach one-shots, but . . . GAAWWDDD am I depressed right now. This cheered me up, and I hope it at least makes you smile.
Dedicated to Mars Bars and Rica. RICA! IS THAT PHYSICAL ENOUGH TO SUIT YOU? (probably not, since all they do is kiss, LOL)