Chapter 4: Aren't I A Nice Author For Finishing This?

Well, there turned out to be a problem with the whole, "Marching resolutely back to Rukia" plan- Rukia was no longer there. Ichigo whirled in a quick circle, eyes scanning the trashed living room. Byakuya making a hole in the wall with his head… no… Gin choking on his fruit punch… nope… Yachiru hanging from the ceiling and laughing at the world in general… nadda… "Dammit… where did she go?!" He mumbled, and even risked degrading himself by jumping up and down a bit to try and see over the mass of people. This was rather worrying… bad things tended to happen to her when he was distracted. Take that fight with Grimmjow for example. The second fight with Grimmjow. (What the hell did he have against her anyway?) Or the whole Soul Society ordeal in and of itself. But she could take care of herself- right? Why was he this anxious then?

He spotted someone quite tall a few feet off to the right. Ichigo grabbed the lamp out of the TV and beat a few people out of the way, shoving through in the guys general direction. "Yo! Hey! You there! Tall guy! He looked to be dressed in a suit, which was strange in and of itself, but hey. He probably just got sucked in on his way home from work. Ichigo poked in the back a few times, but he appeared not to have noticed. "Yo! Tall guy! Do you see a short chick with bunny ears anywhere? Hello?!"

Now he was getting ticked off. "TALL DUDE! CAN YOU HEAR ME?!" Apparently not. Ichigo gave a small mental shrug and broke his lamp/weapon over his head, figuring that this guy was either so drunk he was doing the world a favor by just knocking him out now, or this was some mannequin that had gotten put in here by accident. To Ichigo's surprise, suit-guy seemed to have noticed this, and shook a little. However, it was not for such mundane reasons as trying to remain standing. No, he was shaking with laughter.

"…The hell?" Ichigo shoved some other girl out of the way and circled around to Suit-Guy's front. Eyes widening, he stared up at the now identified tall guy.

"… Kenpachi?" He uttered, horrified. Kenpachi returned his stare, equally aghast. Makes sense- who else would enjoy head injuries to such an extent?

And then the thought managed to slowly finish chugging it's way through Ichigo's shocked mind. Kenpachi. Is wearing. A clean suit. And no booze in sight either. Or sharp pointy objects. He looks almost… respectable.

"SShhh!" He muttered, clapping a hand over Ichigo's mouth and pointing towards the front door, where Ikkaku was attempting to extricate himself from the grasp of Keigo's sister. (and failing dismally) "I can't let him see me- he'll tell all the other guys… and… and… I mean, they would make some remark every time I went to go chop some guys head off… and… my reputation would be ruined! I couldn't go outside again! That would mean no fighting! Cuz' no bloke would actually come to fight me! I WOULD DIE, I WOULD ACTUALLY DIE, AND COME BACK TO LIFE AND DIE AGAIN!"

Ichigo absently wondered if he was channeling Kon or something, but decided that it wasn't worth the effort. "I take it that you lost a bet?"

"Yeah… me and fox-guy went into a pool together against Ukitake and Shunsui on whether Matsumoto would actually manage to dye Hitsugaya's hair on Mischief Night…" Kenpachi trailed off with a small shudder. Apparently it had not been pretty, even by his bloody standards.

Ichigo managed to get up the courage to ask the question that was really bothering him. "…What color?"

Yumichika spontaneously popped up in that vaguely disturbing way of his. "Hot pink, of course. Such a ghastly color, but isn't that the point? But Ukitake insisted that after last year, that was what would last the longest." He sparkled. Ichigo stared. Kenpachi looked at them both in horror.

"I'm sorry, I have a waffle burning. I have to go!" And with that distressing comment, the rather large and impeccably dressed man literally ran off, party-goers bouncing off of his bulk and flying across the room as he made a hasty retreat to avoid further embarrassment.

Yumichika eyed Ichigo in a rather sly way. "Say, I got photos. I'll go in with you- 50/50- if you hold them for me when he gets his sword back. If you have good insurance, think of the money we could make with blackmail!"

It hadn't quite processed yet. "…Blackmail?" Ichigo repeated.

"Oh, of course!" Yumichika replied. "How do you think I afford all these fancy cosmetics? None of that cheap trash- that's only for tramps and prostitutes, which are just such unseemly professions. It costs ever so much… Matsumoto and I run a whole racket. In fact…" Yumichika leaned in conspiratorially. Ichigo backed away, heart visibly palpitating when he made the unfortunate discovery he was pinned against a wall. Ignoring this, Yumi continued. "I've got some… photographs of Rukia's costume that you probably would not like to be passed around eleventh division. Care to give me a little incentive not to just accidentally leave them on Ikkaku's desk?"

Ichigo briefly contemplated slugging the butterfly-thing, but decided that if he got pissed off enough Yumi could kick even Aizen's ass to the Rukongai and back. So he simply added him to the list of people-to-maim-slash-maul-in-the-immediate-future and handed over all the cash he had on him.

Which wasn't much. Yumichika eyed it critically and sighed, obviously disappointed. "You can make payments, that's quite alright. I'll just send Yachiru to hold you to them…" Still mumbling pessimistically to himself, he disappeared in the wake of Kenpachi's trail of destruction, obviously intent on making some more money for tonight's share of alcohol.

Ichigo stared shell-shocked after him, sliding into a sitting position against the wall. His wallet ached, bleeding, screaming its displeasure.

Across the room, Soi Fon and her idiot of a vice-captain appeared to by attempting to dye a very passed-out Ukitake's hair in the punch bowl since Matsumoto didn't come through for them. Shunsui was still making out with Nanao. At the door, that creepy twelfth division captain was passing out miniature chocolate bars to trick-or-treaters (and seemed to be actually fitting in for the first time in his life). Deciding that this was probably a prime example of the type of person your mom always told you not to accept candy from, and of course they didn't know that he dressed that way all the time, Ichigo tried to persuade himself to get up and put a stop to it. Before some small child chocked to death on a razor or some new sort of poison while Mayuri took notes and asked questions about just how it feels to have a sharp object lodged in your trachea. But his legs simply did not appear to be working at this time.

Unohana was lecturing a coat rack about proper eating habits, and the importance of getting your 10,000 steps every day. Ichigo doubted she drank. But hey, the lighting was awfully bad, and it wasn't like you could actually hear anything.

Suddenly, he spotted Rukia hanging from the ceiling fan. By her ankles, apparently trying to figure out just what was the best way to pick people's pockets from such an angle. It must have been bugging her- having her mad stealing skillz become so rusty after being spontaneously promoted from to a royal family after living on the street.

His legs miraculously healed, Ichigo ran over and yanked her down before she did any more harm to herself or others. However, neglecting to think this through before hand, he pulled her down on top of him.

"YOU BASTARD!" She shouted. Then, spotting just whom she was sprawled upon she scowled, but it didn't look unpleasant on her face. "Oh, just this bastard."

"Ow… bitch. That hurt…" Ichigo complained, before shoving her off and picking some of the fallen drywall flecks out of his fake blood. Rukia straightened her bunny ears and glared at him a bit more. "Where the hell were you? I was looking all over, thought you pulled somethin' stupid." Ichigo studiously avoided her eyes.

"Why should I tell you? But if you absolutely must know, I was just talking to Uryuu and Orihime. They were talking together, and I walked over to say hi, but apparently they were on their way out already. So they had to leave. Together. Umm…" Rukia stared intently at the straps on her high heels.

"Well, umm… I'm sure he was just escorting her to her house. It's kind of late, you know," Ichigo mumbled.

"Oh, yes, of course, that exactly what it was. I'm sure Uryuu was just being polite…" The pause that followed after this was the 3rd most awkward in all of history. The 2nd being when Rosie O'Donnell was told she was actually Donald Trump's illegitimate love child, and the 1st? We won't even be going there.

Then a shout rung out. They both let go of breaths they were not even aware they had been holding.

"HHEEEYY! ICHIGO! LONG TIME NO SEE!" Rukia seemed to have seen whoever it was that had called out to him, and pulled him through a thicket of people and to the other side of what turned out to be the kitchen. And, sitting on top of the stove was none other than Kisuke, who didn't appear to even had made the effort to dress up, other than trading his usual green and white hat for what appeared to be an upside down jack-o-lantern missing it's top. He suspected it was only because Ikkaku wouldn't have let him in otherwise. Ichigo tried to ignore the small bits of pumpkin goo dripping down his nose.

"Uh… hello? Umm… but didn't I just buy some stuff from you yesterday?" He stammered. Since when did I start stammering?

Kisuke waved his free hand at him in a dismissive gesture, and took a sip of something from a plastic pumpkin he retrieved out of his cloak. Drinking out of a plastic pumpkin. Somehow that doesn't seem like a great idea… "Tessai's taking Ururu and Jinta out trick-or-treating. Look man, you gotta rreeellaxxx." To demonstrate his point, he waved his hands in what was apparently a "relaxed" manner, and hiccupped slightly.

Rukia caught his eye and nodded in the direction of the black cat currently splayed on Kisuke's lap. Ichigo watched as "Mr." Yoruichi got her belly rubbed, in what would be a very compromising position if she was human at the moment.

And he thought his love life was complicated.

"You gotta have some fun Ichigo! I mean c'mon, Rukia's right there… Don't you make a cute little bunny? Bunny, sunny, hunny, munny…" His speech slowed down into low mumblings about rabbit-related items as he returned to petting Yoruichi. The pair blushed furiously and visibly edged away from each other. Ichigo played with the idea of punching him.

But then, even drunk, Kisuke could still probably kick his ass. So he decided not to. But it was a very hard decision.

Rukia tugged on his sleeve. "I'm thirsty. You wouldn't happen to have something in a sealed bottle hidden in this coat of yours, would you?" She rummaged about in the pockets of the jacket she was still wearing for a moment, but came up empty handed, save for being kind of sticky from all the strawberry syrup, which she proceeded to lick off her fingers. He forced himself to look away.

"Look, I think Keigo's bathroom is over that way. If the tap water's still working, I imagine it must be safe. I seriously doubt anyone here has the presence of mind to intentionally contaminate the water supply." Ichigo grabbed her hand roughly and lead her away from Kisuke, oblivious, and Yoruichi, purring so loudly he could hear it even over the music, and tried to forget what had just happened.

Rukia followed in his wake as he attempted to make his way through all the people, practically a bulldozer, but it was still slow going. After about ten minutes he picked someone out from the crowd by the collar of their shirt, swinging them over the head of some other guy and depositing them next to Rukia as they continued to make their way towards the ever elusive bathroom.

Hanatarou (dressed as a knight) and Rukia surveyed each other, and then both glanced briefly at Ichigo's broad back as he continued to shove people out of the way.

"So, are you, umm, having a nice time?"

"I guess you could say that." Rukia glanced at Ichigo's hand enveloping her own as he dragged her along. "You know, you're the first guy all night who looked at my face when I said hello."

He grimaced, and got to the point. "Umm… d-do you k-know that g-g-girl over t-th-there?" Hanatarou stammered, pointing at some girl standing a ways off without looking at her.

Rukia squinted. "The one with the bob cut and the single flower pin in her bangs?" He nodded, bright red. "Ichigo! Isn't she in our class?"

He glanced back, and over the direction she was pointing. "Yeah! That's… umm… she's pretty quiet. Isn't her last name Ogawa?" Rukia agreed, and before poor Hana-chan knew what was happening, he had been picked up by his chain mail and chucked in the general direction of Ogawa-wozhername. Rukia scrambled up Ichigo's back, giving him no more thought than as if he had simply been some conveniently tall counter or chair, another part of the scenery, to see over the crowd's heads. Shades of Yachiru and Kenpachi, actually.

"Oh! He landed on her! You actually have really good aim Ichigo, surprisingly!" She winced for their sake. "Aww, how cute, he's helping her up! And they're both blushing and talking!" Ichigo tried really hard not to move. It was really, really, really hard not to move.

"Rukia, maybe you should get down now- that outfit's kinda…" Don't look back, don't look back, don't look back, don't look back…

"Oh, are you actually concerned about little old me? I can take care of myself, thank you." She replied condescendingly, bending over to talk into his ear. You really couldn't hear anything over the music.

"I did not say I was worried!"

"You did just now. Seriously, I wouldn't have lasted this long if I couldn't take care of a few pervs now and then…" She actually knew what Tatsuki dressed her up as?! Suddenly she let out a small yelp and a growl, and turned so quickly as to almost fall off his shoulders. Grabbing her leg and steadying himself by latching on to the collar of some large guy off to his right, he whirled around to see some guy pulling on her tail.

She had already punched him, hard enough that he was staggering away the other direction, but he launched himself after him, slugging him in the back of the head. The guy fell, and he continued punching him as people milled about, stepping on them both, oblivious to their presence. Ichigo felt the blood beneath his knuckles and some distant part of him heard the guy crying out apology after apology, but he was somewhere else entirely. The frustration he had been feeling at life in general lately was channeled into rage as he fell once more into the easy and familiar rhythm of wailing on a scumbag who deserved no forgiveness.

Suddenly he felt something pull him away from the jerk and rounded on him as well, sinking his fist into a broad chest. "Ichigo…" His eyes darted to Rukia's horrified face, the paleness in a stark contrast to the darkness of the room around him and up to the face of the man who was currently restraining him.

Chad's face was sad, and yet impassive. He set Ichigo back down next to Rukia, and proceeded to help the jerk back to his feet.

Ichigo just stood next to her. Simply stood, staring blankly ahead as Chad helped Keigo to his feet, all the rage gone, leaving an all-consuming emptiness behind it. Keigo's nose was obviously broken and his lip split, blood streaming down his face. And while he looked kind of shocky from the pain, his eyes were hurt more than anything else. Confused. But not angry. Not in the least bit. Just… lost.

Chad put an arm around his shoulders, virtually holding him up, and gave him the wig off his werewolf costume to at least keep him from bleeding all over himself, and they vanished in the direction of the kitchen to get some ice and water. Chad glanced at him over his shoulder, face blank, and yet holding so much he wasn't sure he wanted to understand himself.

Ichigo forced his way over to a window and climbed out, leaping to the ground, too tired to bother with a door. He walked to the curb and took a seat, staring quietly out into the empty streets. The music throbbed on behind him regardless, a few playful screams and a breaking of glass punctuating the stillness. Keigo's face regarded him cheerily from the side of the store across the street.

Rukia took a seat beside him. They sat in silence. They didn't really need words. They never really did.

It seemed like Ichigo's whole world sometimes consisted purely of silence. The silence after his screams died out while his mother lay atop him. The silence Rukia that pervaded his room after Rukia left. The silence that filled in the gaps of family, his friends. He himself was buried under so many layers that all he gave off was silence, communication a gesture and a glance for the few that even cared to understand him anymore.

Rukia let her head come to rest upon his shoulder. He could feel it's warmth through the thin cotton of his shirt.

The party died down soon after and they watched as people stagger off in all directions, to hail taxi cabs or simply disappear into the darkness singing off-key or laughing at nothing in particular. Rukia watched as some older guy tried to get into his car, but couldn't quite figure out how to unlock it. Just as well, because his friend was chewing him out for trying in the first place, even if his diatribe was marred by speech so slurred as to be indecipherable.

Eventually Keigo found his way out as well, taking a seat next to Ichigo, holding an ice pack to his face, but more calm than either of the pair had even seen the guy.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to be that much of a perv. I don't blame you much- I would have slugged me too. And it was awfully dark." What of his face they could see was solemn, but somehow unsurprisingly so.

Ichigo grunted, and took the ice pack from him silently, his gore stained back retreating towards the house. Rukia internally wished she could have just healed Asano.

"So… do you need to go the hospital?" It was a stupid question. Rukia regretted letting it slip.

"Probably. I know my nose is broken, but Chad popped it back in place while I was still pretty out of it. I know they won't do anything, but it's the whole principle- you know? And there's this one really cute nurse that works there…" He gave her a strained grin, but winced and realized it probably wasn't his brightest idea. "I really wasn't trying to be that much of a pervert. I guess… I just wasn't thinking…" His words trailed off into silence as he let his gaze slip blankly to his replica across the street.

"It's alright." They both smiled a bit at her words. It wasn't really a grin, more just a reaction to the relief they both felt.

They turned as Ichigo's shuffling footsteps announced his return. Resolutely returning to his former spot between the two of them, he shoved a fresh ice pack at Asano and a towel.

Things would be okay. Different for sure. But okay.

Keigo soon wandered back to his trashed house, mumbling remorsefully about carpet cleaning bills and finding strangers underwear in strange and bizarre places. Ichigo and Rukia gravitated home as well before too long.

Walking down the empty, empty streets, Rukia felt for his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, but his impassive face seemed to lighten somehow.

Once home he shoved a pair of pajamas at her (god forbid his father should ever find that costume- he would burn it first thing tomorrow) and collapsed upon the sofa. Rukia changed silently and joined him, and they both slipped into sleep reassured by the others presence.

Ichigo liked to act like a loner. It didn't really mean he necessarily wanted to be one. He would never say it though. But Ichigo was all about what remained unsaid anyway. Rukia got that.

Ichigo just hoped that his old man would knock himself out on his bedroom wall when no one was there to stop his usual wake-up tackle. But even if he didn't, he didn't care much. They had best get used to idea anyway. It was a moot point however, as Isshin proceeded to do exactly that the next morning.

Ichigo's last thought before falling asleep was what Rukia would think about Easter. But the last thing he felt was… content.

It was nice. Even if he did have a headache. But he didn't really care about that much either.

A/N: Working on a new multi-chapter (5 to be precise) IchiRuk drama fic by the name of Stockholm Syndrome. Will post when finished. Come check it out. Needed a break, and since most of this was already done decided to finish it up. Hope you like. XD

Hmm. This one chapter is almost as long as the three preceding it combined. XD