Disclaimer: Bleach and all its characters are property of Kubo Tite, not mine.
Author's Notes: Valentine's Day is a romantic day... but what does romance mean for Ichigo and Rukia, on such a day? IchiRuki fanfiction entry for the Be My Valentine contest on Bleach Asylum's IchiRuki FC. Inspired by Rukia's Valentine spread.
Half Picture, Full Promise
The alarm clock announced loudly it was time for Ichigo to wake up. He yawned and started getting ready for another day of school, though today was a peculiar day, it was Valentine's Day, when boys are supposed to get chocolates from the girls they're close with. He never paid much attention to it, but this year, for some odd reason, the fact it was Valentine's Day was very present in his mind.
"Is Rukia ready yet?" He asked while coming down the stairs to the living room.
Isshin closed the newspaper with a naughty smirk. "Oh, she didn't tell you? She went back home last night, said she needed to take care of some things."
Ichigo was taken aback for not knowing Rukia had to be back in Soul Society today, of all days. "For how long?"
"She didn't say."
"Happy Valentine's, Ichi-nii! This is from me and this is from Karin." Yuzu placed both boxes of homemade chocolates in between her brother's hands, who only stood there staring blankly at them, absent-mindedly scowling.
Isshin's arm around Ichigo's neck in an odd attempt of a comforting hug distracted the young man from his thoughts. "Are you heartbroken, my son? That your girl preferred to go spend Valentine's Day among sexy black robes shinigamis, distributing chocolates among all those highly trained manly bodies-"
"Enough nonsense, old man!" Ichigo released himself from his father's embrace via throwing him to the floor. "I don't care what Rukia went there to do, I just wish I would have been notified. We're supposed to be a team, we should know where the other one is." And he walked to the door.
The Kurosaki patriarch, still landed ungracefully with his rear end pointing to the ceiling, wasn't resting his case. "As if you're one to talk! It's your own doing, my son! When you love a girl, you need to-" Isshin was still upside down, grabbing a pillow to demonstrate the proper language of affection, but Ichigo stuffed the words of his lunacy inside the house as he closed the door.
Once outside, he leaned his back against the door and closed his eyes. He was not distressed Rukia went to spend Valentine's in Soul Society! They probably don't even have Valentine's in Soul Society! He was upset – and rightly so – he wasn't given proper notice. After all, they're still in war against Aizen and, should something happen, he should know how to reach her. Yeah, that's it!
Filled with renewed confidence in his reasoning, he leaned away from the door to resume his path, but, as he opened his eyes, his back unwillingly leaned back to the door, in recoil. All over the street, couples of all ages were happily strolling up and down, watching the shop-windows or just lively chatting. For all that's holy, was he the only one to walk the street alone in Valentine's?!... But why was it bothering him to begin with?! He always walked alone to school on Valentine's, why was this year any different?... He sighed. Maybe becoming a shinigami had strange side effects on his humor. Yeah, that must be it. Trying to deepen his frown to look menacing instead of sad, he grabbed his bag over a shoulder and resumed his way to school. Either way, maybe Rukia is already back from Soul Society and went to school directly.
As he arrived, he found out his frown wasn't working as intended.
"Jeeze, Ichigo, were you dumped?" Mizuiro managed to spot him even before Keigo did.
"What the hell do you mean with dumped?! I don't have a girlfriend, who is there to dump me?!"
"Well, you know… everyone thinks you and Kuchiki-san are-"
The dark haired young womanizer blinked a few times, before leaning close to Ichigo. "In that case… you won't mind if I give it a try, right? I gotta tell you, she doesn't leave my head ever since I learned how old she really is and-" Ichigo just slowly faced his way and apparently his scowling was working as it should this time. Mizuiro blinked again, a sweat drop pouring down his head. "… on second thought, she still looks too young for me."
"Happy Valentine's, Kurosaki-kun!" Inoue stretched her arms to give Ichigo her transparent chocolate box.
He turned to face her "Hey, Inoue…" then looked down at the box arching his eyebrows. "… What are these?..."
"But why are they… blue?"
Inoue straightened her back with pride. "That's because, instead of the original ingredients in the recipe, I used-"
"I tried to make her buy a box, but she insisted on making them herself." Tatsuki interrupted her friend, placing her box on top of Inoue's on Ichigo's desk. "Don't worry, Ichigo, if they're lethal, you won't die alone." And she motioned her chin to both Chad and Ishida who were glaring with dread similar transparent boxes of blue chocolates on their desks.
He looked at them sympathetic. "That's… not reassuring…"
Tatsuki smiled. "I know, given Kuchiki is in Soul Society today, it's understandable you would rather die alone than arrive there with a posse…"
Ichigo narrowed his eyes at his friend. "Wait, how come you know she's in Soul Society?"
"Why, she told me she'd go there yesterday."
He looked at the ceiling with indignation. "Am I the only one she didn't tell she had to return to Soul Society?!"
"No, Ichigo!" Keigo hugged his shoulders with tears falling down his face. "I too didn't know Kuchiki-san would ditch me on Valentine's Day! I didn't eat my breakfast today! I didn't even sleep last night thinking about the delicious chocolates Kuchiki-san would offer me this morning, made with all the love in her humble chest and-"
"Keigo, did I say good morning to you yet?"
"Good morning, Keigo!" Ichigo's elbow sent the brown haired boy flying against the wall.
"Good morning, little devils!" Ochi-sensei had just arrived. Great, at least he would be given some rest now. "Let's see, almost everyone is here… except Kuchiki-san, she had already told me she wouldn't be able to attend class today-" a loud thud interrupted her. Apparently Ichigo had knocked his head against his desk. "Easy, Kurosaki, that's school material! Now, let's begin, shall we."
Ichigo remained with his head against the table. He opened his eyes and looked at the desk beside him, where Rukia should be. Even Ochi-sensei knew she would be away today, why the hell didn't she tell him anything?...
As the day went by, Ichigo realized he couldn't put his mind to rest about Rukia's mysterious (at least to him) disappearance. The only way to feel more at ease was to decide to do something about it, and so he made up his mind. After school, he would return home to leave his body and he would ask Urahara to open a gate to Soul Society, it was time to find out why she didn't tell him she would be gone and what the hell is there that needs her presence. Can't be Valentine's, that place can't have Valentine's. The image of Rukia in an expensive kimono offering chocolates to a bunch of richly dressed nobles in Kuchiki Manor made him roll up his eyes. No, that place has no Valentine's, if not for anything else, for the fact alone he so declares it impossible.
By the end of the day, Ichigo looked so gloomy everyone avoided pulling his leg further. He arrived home, climbed up the stairs to his room, threw the door closed and grabbed the Shinigami Representative Badge to exit his body, when something atop his bed called his attention.
It was a heart shaped white box and on top, under the yellow ribbon, there was a picture. Or half a picture, for it was taken in a way that only the left half of the face was shown. And it was the left half of Rukia's face, looking at the camera with a… very… something expression. Ichigo couldn't find the exact word to describe it, inviting seemed close enough, but he didn't want to name it so. She had yellow flower hair accessories on her tails, a matching necklace, her dress was of an electric blue with faux fur and tartan and she was holding that very same white box. He turned the picture and at the back there was written "Ichigo-choko". What the… He scratched his head, indecisive. So she did know today was Valentine's, she did leave him chocolates… but why did she disappear without a word to him? And why not give him the box in person? And what's the meaning of this picture?... Rukia managed to confuse him so much, he could swear he was feeling her presence in the rooftop. … wait, he really was feeling her presence there. He quickly pressed his badge against his body and flew up the window in his shinigami form.
Atop the house, on her shinigami robes and looking at him as if not having a care in the world, Kuchiki Rukia was sitting over the tiles.
"Why the hell didn't you tell me you were going back to Soul Society last night?!" Ichigo was already barking before sitting down next to her.
"I felt like surprising you." She was unfazed.
"Pissing me off was more like it! It didn't occur to you we're still in war?! That you should let me know you wanted to go spend Valentine's with the noble dorks instead of making me worry on whether something happened. I was on my way to Soul Society to make sure nothing was wrong, before I sensed you here."
Rukia was smirking, observing his tantrum. "Did you like the chocolates?"
"I didn't eat them yet. And no, the chocolates don't excuse you, you should be more considerate. And learn how to take a normal picture next time!"
"No, for it to be half the picture was intended. And I didn't spend Valentine's with noble dorks, we don't have Valentine's in Soul Society."
"Why the hell did you leave without a word to me then?"
Rukia contemplated the sunset, trying to find the words to answer. "… It was the only way to make it romantic."
Ichigo wasn't even sure he wanted her to elaborate on this nonsense, but he needed some closure. "Make what romantic, exactly?"
Ok. That's explained. Rukia doesn't even know what she's talking about, hence mistook Valentine's with Hide and Seek, or something. He looked up with boredom. "You don't even know what Valentine's is…"
Rukia raised her chin. "Yes I do. I did a lot of research. Here in Japan, women are supposed to give giri-choko to their colleagues, tomo-choko to friends and honmei-choko to their loved ones."
He raised the back side of her photo "And Ichigo-choko to fools?..."
"No. Ichigo-choko to Ichigo." She smiled shyly. "The categories are confusing… So I decided to have you as a single category, those are the chocolates for Ichigo, as simple as that."
He didn't know whether it was a good thing or a bad one. Maybe it would depend on which categories other people have fallen into. "Do you always find it that hard to see who fits where in your life?"
"I don't have to find who else fits where, there is no Valentine's tradition in Soul Society and you were the only person in the real world I felt I should pay attention to this custom with."
For some odd reason, Ichigo's mood lifted but he braced his knees and narrowed his eyes to try to keep his scowl in place. "You still shouldn't have left without saying anything."
"That had to do with the other part of my research on Valentine's, which determined it's usually a romantic day."
"Right… there must be something mushy about annoying me…"
She flexed her lips in thought. "No, but I found out my romantic sense must be somewhat off."
He turned to face her. "You're telling me!"
"You're not understanding. You see, I perceive romance as what's portrayed on the manga I've been reading while here in the real world-"
Ichigo dropped the corners of his eyes. "No more horror manga for you!"
"No, idiot, I'm talking about the shoujo ones!"
"Well, the part where the woman runs off isn't the romantic scene, I must tell you."
"I know! That's what's wrong about it."
"Running away should be the romantic part, you mean?"
"No, you fool, you're not understanding a word I say!"
"Says the one not understanding the romance in shoujo…"
"We're not like shoujo!"
Ichigo hesitated for a moment. Of course they weren't. That's the same as saying they weren't romantic. Nothing new there. He shouldn't be bothered, but he was feeling a tad distressed. Becoming a shinigami causes mood swings, that's settled. "That's because our relationship isn't a romantic one." He tried his best to sound casual.
She didn't notice his discomfort and carried on. "Exactly. That's how I see it too. But everyone else sees it differently, that's why I say my romance sensing – and yours too – are wrong."
"I'm not sure I'm following…"
"You see, as I did my research on what people considered romantic, I found out we" she danced an index in between them "provided most of the examples, and it was common ground both in here and Soul Society."
Ichigo raised his eyebrows at his petite company. "You've asked people here and in Soul Society about this?..."
"Yes! The examples people used were mostly with you! The way you showed up out of nowhere and landed on a knee in front of me on the bridge was considered romantic, what you did at the execution grounds, the things you told Nii-sama-"
Ichigo raised his palms up. "Wait, wait, wait, wait! You even asked Byakuya about this?!"
"Yes, he was most helpful to enlighten me about romantic occasions."
"My God…" He looked around, wondering if Byakuya and his deadly six digit number of cherry blossoms happened to follow Rukia into the real world.
Rukia raised an eyebrow. "Though he admitted throwing me down to Renji didn't count as romantic."
The memory of that occasion distracted Ichigo from the lethal pink about Byakuya. "What were you expecting?... All you had to say to me was" Ichigo started waving his arms to give emphasis to his impersonation of Rukia. "'Go home, go away, I wanna die!', while when he shows up, you go all" he raised his voice to sound girly "'Oh Renji, I'm so glad you're alive!'" then returned his normal tone to proceed. "The bastard didn't make up his mind about saving you until I kicked his ass, but you're so glad he's alive!"
Rukia watched him almost incredulous. "Were you… jealous?"
Ichigo stood up and turned his back. "Don't be an idiot. I wasn't jealous, but I was ill-used. It wasn't easy to get there to begin with, to even have to put up with you brushing me off and being happy others are still alive instead."
He was successfully making her feel guilty. "I know it wasn't easy. That's why it was so hard for me to tell you I was staying there in the end, I thought you would drag me out of there, either I would want to or not."
"I should have, you belong with me." They both widened their eyes, but Ichigo was quick to try to rectify, still with his back turned. "… I mean… you belong where you're happy, and you seemed happy down here, so-"
"It does work!" Rukia was still staring forward.
"What works?" He chanced looking at her by the corner of an eye.
"Being away. You see, all the times people gave me as examples of romantic occasions had one thing in common. Either one of us had been in serious trouble, or we had just spent a while without seeing each other. In order to try to make today become romantic, creating serious trouble was out of the question for more reasons than just its recklessness, so being away for a while was the best choice. And it works, you're saying romantic stuff!" She looked at him triumphant.
Ichigo walked back at her, waving an accusing finger. "Hey, I'm not the only one! Kon said that time you healed me after the fight with Grand Fisher, you were acting romantic too, he keeps having jealousy fits about it. Oh, and before we went to Hueco Mundo, the way you said who I was in your heart, that's romantic in my book. I'm not going down alone on this one."
She smiled, to his surprise. "I know. But that's what I've been talking about all along. We are not romantic, but somehow gain some romantic features sometimes. I would call that half romantic, and that's why I took the picture with only half the image. It's my first Valentine's Day after all, so I felt like leaving a souvenir, given the chocolates are meant to be eaten and gone. But we're only romantic in critical situations, so I felt like only taking half a romantic picture. And I spent most the day away so that maybe you could say or do something romantic. I guess it worked well enough, no?" She watched him amused, while he sat down beside her again, facing away.
"You know… it might not always be like this…"
"Like what?" She tried to see his eyes, but his orange spikes were in the way.
"Half romantic, like you say."
Rukia bit her lower lip and smiled, though she couldn't tell what exactly was making her so glad. "Oh?... Is that half a promise?..."
"No, it's a full one." He raised his chin, but still wouldn't gather the nerve to face her.
She tugged her knees to her chest and tried to hide the smile with her words. "Then maybe next time you'll get a full picture…"
"Maybe next time I'll want more than the picture." Ichigo closed his eyes shut, cursing himself for being so bold.
This… romantic business… felt warm. "Guess I'll need to be ready then…"
"You better. Because I keep my promises." He finally looked at her, fueled by her positive response. Or lack of a violent one at least.
She regarded him intently, savoring every reflex the dusk was casting on his determined look. "I know. … That's the man I know you are."
And you're the woman I'll be with. He didn't say it. He didn't need to. Because that's the romance in between Ichigo and Rukia, for the time being. It's like half a picture, one can't yet see the full image. But it holds a promise. And the promise that's felt in their every glance at each other is of so much more. More than meets the eye. More than this story can tell. Because tonight, like the romance in between them, it doesn't show, it only promises.