To all the old readers of IMB, thank you for your kind words. To any new readers, I hope you enjoy the story.
Il Mio Bello - my beautiful one
A Change of Pace
Kurosaki Ichigo wasn't particularly fond of women groping him in public.
The striking orange-haired man scowled from his impressive height as he pointedly removed the brunette's manicured hand. He'd planned on ignoring it up until a second ago when she brazenly decided to slide her hand down his torso.
"You're sooooo handsome, did you know that?" the woman's high-pitched giggle irritated him with its false sweetness.
Of all the fucking times to get cornered, Ichigo thought, royally pissed at the intrusion to his morning run.
His grip on the lady's hand was firm but not harmful as he dropped it back to her side. The showy brunette frowned at his obvious rejection, ruby lips parting to no doubt tell him off. Ichigo glanced at the simple sports watch around his wrist, feigning surprise. "Ah, look at the time. Sorry miss, gotta run." He said in an impersonal tone.
"Oh, I see, not good enough for you then—" Before the fuming woman could finish her tirade or dig her claws into him again, he'd already turned on his heels and was jogging down the pathway of the park, back to his loft. He shuddered at the close call, scowl firmly in place as he yanked his gray hoodie up over his messy orange hair.
The sun had just barely been rising in the sky when he'd stopped five minutes ago to tie his shoelace, not noticing the woman running in the opposite direction towards him. By the time he'd glanced up when her fancy running shoes came into his vision she was already leaning over him, smiling saucily, the front of her running jacket suspiciously open with a good amount of cleavage on display.
Who does that kind of shit?
Ichigo's younger, high school self would have probably choked over his words and looked away from the flirtatious woman, predictably embarrassed. Now those kinds of tricks just annoyed him. Even though Ichigo engaged in a lot of flirting and touchy-feely shit at his daytime job, he didn't care for it much in his private time. His body and rough demeanor often attracted women left and right, but he rarely made serious advances on them in general – too much drama to deal with.
"Fuck," Ichigo cursed as the sun rose a little higher in the sky. He needed to finish a painting this morning and he was already lagging behind schedule. Ichigo picked up the pace of his sprint, long legs propelling him forward, bangs sticking to his sweaty forehead.
Wiping away the sweat that was trailing down his cheek, he zoomed up a set of brick stairs the led out of the park and back to the street. Taking a minute to stretch, he dug into the pocket of his black sweatpants and pulled out his smartphone. Glancing at the screen briefly, he snorted. One call from Ishida. Twice as many from his old man.
Those two were seriously on his ass all the damn time. Rubbing the back of his head in annoyance, Ichigo tapped a quick message to his overbearing father. Ishida's response could wait until later.
I'll call u later, old man. Busy today.
Putting his phone away and digging out his keys, Ichigo looked down the mostly empty street before deciding to just jay-walk it across to his building.
As he inhaled the crisp morning air, a strange hum pulsed underneath his skin.
It felt oddly like change.
"Kuchiki Rukia! Hurry it up in there, will you?!"
The sound of her best friend's annoyed voice made Rukia's lips part in a small grin. She bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud, twin violet irises gleaming with dry amusement. By now Rukia was quite used to her roomie's rather expressive morning antics, so she didn't actually mind the noise.
"Tsk, tsk. Patience is a virtue," the dark-haired beauty remarked haughtily, giving a short nod at her prim reflection in the full length mirror beside her closet. She carefully eased her hands down the delicate fabric of her expensive A-line dress for the hundredth time that morning. Her lips puckered lightly to smooth her gloss evenly.
She had to be perfect. A Kuchiki was always perfect.
Her gaze swept over her figure once more with a critical eye.
"Don't 'tsk' me, you brat. I've been waiting out here for ages! The hell are you doing in there?"
With a light spin in her strappy high heels, Rukia snapped out of her routine self-examination and sprang into action. "Jeez, woman, I'll be out in a sec!" she yelled, grabbing her phone and handbag off the lush quilt of her queen-sized bed.
Rukia breathed deeply while dashing to the bedroom door. Today is going to be a good day, she chanted inwardly, willing herself to think positive thoughts.
Her pride and joy, Rukon Art gallery was celebrating its first year of blazing success, and she finally had the opportunity to publicly show that she was more than a product of her family's name. She'd fought tooth and nail for her freedom from the constrictive binds of noble lineage and archaic ways of thinking. Rukia wanted to prove that she was more than a decoration for the Kuchiki noble mansion, or a reproductive tool to produce an heir.
Nii-sama would see her success today and change his mind about certain things. He would. He had to.
Hand on the door knob, Rukia shook her head to clear those darker thoughts away and slipped her confident mask into place. Opening the door with an amused smile, she made a face at the woman on the other side.
Out in the hallway, Senna was tapping her foot impatiently, a smirk on her flawless face. Her friend's golden eyes sparkled as she gave Rukia the once over.
"Well, well. Don't you look sexy today?" She commented.
Rukia twirled and struck an exaggerated Marilyn Monroe pose by her door. She primped her hair up a bit. "Why thank you, very much, darling."
Senna giggled and Rukia straightened up, laughing as well. "And you look dashing as usual." she said.
Senna blushed fakely, pushing up her breasts a little with her hands, while shimmying against the wall. "I thought you were going to say my outfit was ridiculous, like you always do."
Rukia laughed at that one. Senna was an intern with a top fashion designer, but she also made a lot of her own clothing. She aspired to be a fashion designer in her own right, and Rukia had no doubt that she would be—even if her sense of style was a bit over the top.
Today, she was wearing a strapless black mini-dress, with a large pink bow in the middle, and an oversized London-inspired fall trench jacket. On anyone else without the confidence and personality to match the bold selection, it may have looked forced and out of place, but Senna managed to pull it off amazingly well. Rukia still got to tease her about it though.
"Well, I think you deserve a break today, and anyway, you know how I love pink." She said, making a silly face at the large bow around her friend's waist.
"You hate pink." Senna corrected with a grin.
"Ok, so I do. But you have enough stress without my input."
Senna slumped a bit gave and exaggerated sigh. "Tell that to my damn boss. The woman—no—the devil's long lost, female child, despises me."
"Harribel still that bad?" Rukia asked. She closed the room to her door, and grabbed her best friend's arm as they headed down stairs in the comfy 3-bedroom apartment they shared.
"Bad? Try evil. She won't let me move up, and she hates my designs. The only thing I'm good for is fetching her espresso—and her stupid laundry. Do you know how many clothes that woman has?"
Rukia tugged at the ever-present red bow holding Senna's hair up. "Don't worry, it'll get better, okay. When you're rich and famous, you can rub it in all you want."
Her friend grinned evilly. "Oh I will." Senna replied, waved her hands around. "But hey, enough about me, this is an exciting day for you," they landed downstairs in the spacious living room. Senna lowered her voice. "But not everybody's feeling the love. Kira's in one of his moods again."
Rukia frowned, and looked across the living room to the closed bedroom door by the patio. "What's wrong, now?" She asked, referring to their third roommate and male friend.
"What do you think?"
They gave each other a knowing look. "Momo." Both blurted out together.
With a sigh, Rukia headed downstairs behind Senna and they skittered over to his room, knocking on the door immediately.
"Kira?" Rukia called in a neutral tone.
"Get the hell up!" Senna shouted impatiently, obviously the crass one of the trio.
"Go. A-way." a hoarse baritone replied.
"For God's sake, you're a grown man," Senna drawled, tapping manicured fingers on the door panel. "Get over it. Momo doesn't love you, so what?"
Before Rukia cold scold her for the harsh comment, the door promptly swung open. A tall, lanky blond with vivid green eyes glared from one woman to the next. "It does matter!" the blond snapped sullenly.
Rukia walked over and brushed some smeared eyeliner from under his eye. "Oh hon, you can't think about it, alright. Staying inside all day won't help either. Get out some. Come with us to breakfast. You'll feel better."
Kira groaned, and Senna took that cue to barge into his room. She threw open his closet and took out random clothes, flicking them on the bed. "You. Dress. Now." She ordered, giving him that don't-argue-with-me look. Kira sighed and threw up his hands.
"Fine, but I'm not happy about it."
"Oh my," Rukia began. She held her fingers to her each temple in a mock mediation pose. "Do I sense a song coming on, filled with lots of angst?"
Kira frowned, but then his lips curled up into a half grin. "You probably do. Think I should write another one for my next gig?" He asked.
Rukia laughed and plopped down on his bed. Senna fixed her ponytail in his mirror. "So how was the gig last night?" she asked.
Kira was a local singer in Karakura who's small band was on the rise. His voice was amazing—eerie, and melancholy. His songs did generally follow his moods, but regardless, Rukia was fiercely proud of her friend.
"Fine," he said easily. "Some record company people came in and invited me to open a show next week. It's a party for some big actress who's an idol or something."
Rukia's jaw dropped. "Seriously! Congrats, that's a huge deal!"
"And you're still depressed about Momo?!" Senna screeched, tossing a hairbrush at him. "Kira, this is huge. You'll have groupies lined up all the way to Kyoto. Where's this party gonna be?"
Kira picked up the brush he'd dodged and rolled his eyes. "A club downtown, Senkamon. It's whatever." He said nonchalantly, blushing a little.
"Sweet!" Senna gushed. "I've heard there's some serious man real estate in there," she added with a pointed leer towards the blond.
Kira choked a little at that. "A-And?"
"We must celebrate!" she declared, clearly fired up. Her eyes suddenly glinted at Rukia.
"What?" Rukia asked, feeling uneasy.
"No coffeehouse this morning."
"Eh?! Why?" Rukia pouted. Kira smirked at her on his way to the bathroom, glad to be out of the line of fire. "Where else can we go?" Rukia replied, as if Yachiru's Bagels and Coffeehouse was the only place in the world decent enough to breakfast.
"How about…across the street and down the block?"
Rukia immediately narrowed her eyes, lips set in a hard line. "No. Way."
"Come on, we should. And you've heard the stories about all the eye candy there. It'll be absolutely worth it."
"Senna, I am NOT going in there!"
The offended restaurant in question was Urahara's bistro; a very popular place to eat in Karakura's downtown district—at least for many women it was. In fact, Rukia was pretty she'd never actually heard about the bistro's food. Over the past year, Rukia did however hear some interesting conversations which were centered on the "eye-candy" who worked there. Apparently, they were all smoking hot playboys.
Rukia didn't dare degrade herself by stepping a single foot in the place. Plus, the whole playboy persona didn't interest her.
"No." she repeated firmly.
"C'mon, maybe we'll even find you a nice wholesome young man," she joked with a snicker. Rukia just glared at her. "You never know, babe." Senna went on.
Rukia fell back on the bed and groaned. This perfect day did not need to be marred by the scent of testosterone.
"Hey Kira, you in?" Senna called.
"Why not?" He said, coming back into the bedroom dressed and ready to go. "I'm starving anyway."
"Then it's settled. Let's go!" Senna said, pulling Kira and Rukia out of the room behind her at top speed.
She is way too enthusiastic about this, Rukia thought. But she could hardly do anything about it now.
Who knew, maybe it wouldn't be so bad—no, no, it probably would be. Hopefully though, she wouldn't run into too much trouble.
Unfortunately for Rukia, trouble with a capital T was waiting for her.
An open window in the large loft allowed the bright morning light to pour through and illuminate his vision. He stood before the large canvas strewn with a myriad of colors, debating his next choice of blue.
Ichigo scowled lightly as he held the paintbrush in his hand, contemplating which shade to choose from next. Amber eyes examined the hue of his last stroke intently. Cobalt blue would be best then, he decided.
Resuming his work quickly, Ichigo switched paintbrush and dabbed the tip lightly in the palette at his feet. Vaguely, he noticed his fingers had a slight tremble to them as he laid the brush to the canvas, but that was okay.
It meant he was alive.
Ichigo rarely felt nervousness, in day to day life. His personality bordered more on a brash, devil-may-care attitude, but painting forced him to look beyond that part of himself. It pulled him to yield to this urge to fill an empty canvas without knowing beforehand what the outcome would be.
The lean muscles in his torso tightened as held himself in a rigid position, calloused hands working with sharp precision. As Ichigo brought the painting more and more to life, sweat beaded lightly on the bare skin of his back.
When he finally set down his brush it was just half past ten am. Ichigo dropped the expensive brush back into an empty jar with others of different styles and lengths. He took a step back to examine his work carefully. After a few moments a look of satisfaction crossed his face.
With a relieved sigh, Ichigo wiped the least dirty hand across his forehead and grabbed an old towel hanging off the edge of his work table. If it wasn't for that damn Ishida, he wouldn't have had to rush. Bare-chested, he stretched languidly and considered how fast he could take a quick shower before "work."
The house phone rang just as he sprinted out of the shower, wet towel strung low on his hips. Ichigo smirked at the name flashing on the caller ID.
Well speak of the devil.
Grabbing clothes from his messy drawers and closet, Ichigo wondered evilly how prominent the vein in Ishida's forehead must have been at that moment. Grabbing his cell and car keys, Ichigo counted down in his head.
His answer machine beeped on like clockwork. "This is Kurosaki Ichigo. I'm not in, so leave a message. I'll get back to you later."
"Kurosaki," an irritated voice snapped, "I know you're at home, so I'll assume this is another ploy to irritate me further." The voice resumed in a more even tone. "No matter, I hope you finished the painting as requested, I'll be by later to pick it up. I've also spoken to Ukitake-san already, and he stated that this arrangement would be most welcome, even though you continuously refuse to reveal your identity…"
"Tch," Ichigo snorted, making his way over to sign his newest piece. In the bottom right corner was a specifically clear space. He signed it with his trademark signature, using the capital letters of XV, the roman numerals for 15. He glanced back at the phone as Ishida continued.
"…The owner of Rukon Art Gallery, Ms. Kuchiki, was already informed, so things should run smoothly. As usual, you receive 60 percent of the profits from the bid." Ichigo chuckled; it was really 50 percent since ten of it went to Uryuu. "And let's see…that will be all then. I will see you later. Oh, and do try not to break anymore hearts at that unruly shack you work at. Goodbye."
Ichigo grinned a little. As usual, Ishida had a particular way of sounding as stuck up as possible.
Exiting his loft in a hurry, Ichigo prepared himself to switch mental gears. Working at Urahara's was a whole different ballgame. A few years ago he would never have thought that he'd be the type to willingly endure blatant exploitation by an insane boss. Now though, he used it simply as a way to stretch his more… mature talents.
He never tried to break anyone's heart of course. The majority of their female patrons knew it was all just for show and entertainment. Besides, he couldn't imagine actually being serious with anyone who came into the shop.
Yeah, the chances of that were slim to none.