The invitation came in the mail, so punctual that Uryuu imagined it had sharp edges, serrated to rend open his flesh.
It is the pleasure of the Karakura Hospital to invite you to our annual fundraising gala, it began, and ended, Don't embarrass me, Uryuu. Bring a guest.
As if the reminder from his loving father was even necessary; last year when he had gone to the fundraiser alone, Ryuuken had found so many withering things to say about his misplaced priorities that his mother had finally towed him off to scold him for his cruelty. Uryuu was not eager to subject himself to a lecture of that sort again.
But he also wasn't eager to look as if he had given in to his father's demands.
A guest. His first thought was Orihime, who was beautiful and eager to please, oddly charming for reasons Uryuu had never explored too deeply or thought about too much. He had no doubt that she would accept the invitation, if only to go as friends. But she also had that overactive imagination and all the subtlety of a freight train, and when Uryuu tried to imagine Orihime on his arm at the gala, he couldn't help wondering what she would say to the other guests, and how many times he would be mortified throughout the night. He could just imagine her telling innocent bystanders some earnest story about dogs in tutus, or wide-eyed asking Ryuuken if he enjoyed sewing, like his son. (Another of his misplaced priorities.)
Not Orihime, then, to his regret. But there was another female of his acquaintance who might be willing to do him a favor -- especially in exchange for clothing in her size.
Kuchiki Rukia said, "I don't know, I've never been to a formal event in the physical world before." Her eyes lit up, and she said, "Except for one time, in 1973--"
"You should probably just forget about that time," Uryuu told her quickly. He had no idea what a formal event in 1973 would've been like. "This isn't a big deal. It's a lot of people dressed up very nicely, eating and drinking and socializing, and then there's an auction which we don't have to participate in. If you act the way you do for our classmates, everyone will think you're marvelous."
It seemed like the best way to put it -- for their classmates she was always sparkling and sweet and the very epitome of modest, dignified young woman. Put her in an evening gown (as he intended to do) and she would be the belle of the ball, a companion he could be proud of.
And not only was Kuchiki Rukia capable of being beautiful and charming, but she was also a shinigami. That would piss Ryuuken off to no end.
"I need to bring someone," Uryuu told her, maybe a little bit pleading. "Inoue-san won't do. But you would be perfect!"
"You could bring Chad," she pointed out.
That was definitely not the kind of scandal he wanted to create. "I could," he said, reluctantly, "but I'd much rather make a gown for you than a suit."
There, she seemed substantially more interested now. "A gown for me?" she asked. "...What kind of gown?"
He'd thought it out already, partially in expectation of this discussion, partially because he hadn't been able to shake the habitual instinct to mentally put people in clothes of his design. "Stylish and elegant," Uryuu promised. "A dark color, like russet. Off the shoulder, I think, with a single strap around the back of your neck. Some more material gathered around your elbows, spaghetti straps like the one around your neck. I think a sheath to about the hip, with padding built in--"
And Rukia was sold.
The dress was, of course, perfect when the evening of the gala rolled around and she was wearing the finished version; she was small and slender, but the dress accentuated her figure without drowning her or emphasizing the curves she didn't have. He was very proud of his hard work.
"You look lovely," Uryuu told her. It was actually quite surprising. Of course she was a woman, and of course she was lovely, but she normally spoke and acted like such a ruffian that it was hard to keep in mind that she was essentially royalty in the Soul Society, and had the ability to look and act like it.
"I do," Rukia agreed smugly, and then hooked her arm through his. "Do I get to keep the dress?"
What use did he have for it? "Of course."
She beamed at him. "You know," she said grudgingly, "even if this gala thing sucks, you make a pretty good date so far."
There was absolutely no reason to be flattered when she had essentially told him that he'd given her enough nice things to win the status of 'good date' through extravagance, but Uryuu flushed awkwardly without quite processing that. "Well, I-- thank you?"
"Don't worry," Rukia promised. "I'll be a good date too."
And she was. She was glowing and pleasant, chatting up strangers and laughing as if every word that fell from their lips was insightful and clever: ohoho Minazawa-san, surely you exaggerate, no one can be that accomplished! People looked at her, even people she wasn't talking to, and they admired her. While they weren't looking at Uryuu (he didn't want them to) he knew that they saw him and recognized that he was the lucky man who had captured a diamond in skin and satin.
"Isn't he the director's son?" he overheard someone murmur. "That's a smart match." Uryuu smirked.
Eventually, as was inevitable, they met Ryuuken. Sooner or later he would have hunted Uryuu down like the ruthless predator he was; or perhaps he had heard that his son's guest was causing something of a fuss. But the moment Ryuuken stood in front of them, his gaze turned to her, and already-cold eyes narrowed and hardened, an unbreakable laser to cut her stunning diamond.
"A shinigami, Uryuu?" his father said coldly. "Is that really appropriate?"
A few people around them gave him puzzled looks, and Uryuu only stood straighter, fully prepared to start this right here, right now. If Ryuuken was going to throw himself to the wolves, Uryuu certainly wouldn't hesitate to do the same. He wasn't ashamed of the truth, of the shinigami or of his own clan.
But Rukia said with perfectly insincere lightness, "Why, Ishida-kun's father, you do say the oddest things! Are you not a fan of the Sashida-ku Shinigami? I know we've been having an exceptionally good season lately, but there's no reason to get so huffy over a little baseball rivalry."
The bystanders laughed heartily, reassured and doubly amused at the joking suggestion that their host of the evening might be so petty. Ryuuken was not moved by her charming rejoinder, but Uryuu could feel his heart beating fast, at a breakneck pace while he waited for some sort of reaction, any reaction.
"If you're wise, you won't let me see you leave, shinigami," Ryuuken said, softly, under the chatter around them.
"A pleasant evening to you too, Ishida-san," Rukia said with a smile and a maidenly flutter and not a blink to give away any alarm she might have felt.
Uryuu said loftily, "If you'll excuse us -- we haven't had a chance to sit down yet. Kuchiki-san has been in great demand."
He guided her off with a hand on her back; her skin felt so warm beneath his touch, enough so that he realized finally that his fingers were freezing, as if he'd had a close encounter with frostbite or shock. But Uryuu was conscientious -- be brought her to a table and pulled out a chair for her, and then brought over something for each of them to drink before he started to chafe them discreetly under the tablecloth.
"Controlling jerk," Rukia muttered, and downed her drink in a quick shot.
Uryuu couldn't agree more. He forced himself to say, "I know you didn't want to come..." The words were slow because he wasn't sure exactly how to admit it. "But I have to thank you regardless. That went -- even better than I'd hoped it would."
Rukia turned to give him a wary stare, as if judging how much he was lying from his face, and Uryuu froze like a deer in headlights until she had made up her mind. Then she smiled for him -- not the sparkling smile she had used to lie to every person attending the fundraiser, but a real one, personal, for him, and with actual affection. It made Uryuu want to flush again, but he controlled the urge to act like a perfect idiot in front of everyone.
"I told you I'd be a good date," Rukia reminded him, and then leaned close to kiss him on the cheek.
Oh god his face was definitely burning now. Uryuu quickly found a napkin to hide behind, but his other hand was captured by hers, and held in a tight, unrelenting grip.
Maybe it was a match of convenience, but Ishida Uryuu spent the rest of the evening floating on air.