Summary: Ichigo's last tactic was a failure because not talking to Rukia was proving to be an impossibility, so he just had to yell at her more to compensate these awkward feelings he was having.

The Idiot's Guide to Not Fall For Your Best Friend:

A Twelve Step Guide

Step 1: Don't listen to anyone when they're telling you that you are falling for your best friend

Renji Abarai was a dead man.

Well, in the obvious, literal sense, yes, Renji Abarai was indeed a dead man. But what Ichigo Kurosaki meant as he stared daggers at the red-haired pineapple in front of him was that Renji Abarai was soon to become extinct. More dead than he was at the moment as he stood there, having the audacity to laugh and drink sake as if he didn't just sign his fate in Ichigo Kurosaki's black books.

Watching him carefully, Ichigo thought that it was high time for a reunion between his baboon-ish so-called-friend and the mighty Zangetsu. He threw back his sake, ignoring the burn, and watched as Renji let loose another bark of unabashed laughter. High time.

Briefly, the red head made eye contact with him, and he smirked. Smirked. The damn man had the gall to smirk at him as if he didn't just make the most heinous claims to the entire bar! Ichigo wished they didn't meet in a bar in the World of the Living, if only so he could beat the baboon up with his sword, because Renji Abarai was a dead man.

"Everyone sees it Ichigo," Renji carried on in a rather loud volume brought on by excess sake consumption and having an audience. "You and Rukia are just too oblivious to see it."

What "it" was, Ichigo didn't even want to contemplate. Because whatever "it" was, was not what Ichigo and Rukia were. It (not the "it") was one of those understood, universal truths: Ichigo and Rukia were friends. Best friends, if he was going to be all bourgeoisie about it.

Their relationship was so atypical, beings like the shinigamis couldn't understand that their arguments were not their form of "flirting" as Rangiku pointed out, or that their living arrangements (everyone and their mother now knew how Rukia preferred sleeping in Ichigo's closet) were not the "next level" like Yumichika said.

The shinigamis knew nothing.

So, so what if they didn't mind drinking from each other's cups or using each other's utensils? What were a few misplaced germs between chums? Who cared that Ichigo never forgot Rukia's birthday or the fact that Rukia knew just when Ichigo was about to bankai someone's ass? What did it matter that Ichigo was nice(-ish) to Byakuya for Rukia's sake or that Rukia tried to read Shakespeare on Ichigo's recommendation? It didn't matter that she knew just the right amount of distance to give him when he was upset or that he knew which tree to find her perched in when her mind was full. None of this seemed awkward or out of the norm for them. They didn't even think about it too much, so why did it have to matter to the rest of Soul Society?

Hell knew. They just liked to analyze them and imagine relationships out of thin air, because they obviously saw more than the two people in question. (Not that they have minds of their own.)

Renji put it best when he laughingly informed the large drinking group consisting of the likes of Rangiku, Kira, Hisagi, members of the Eleventh Squad including Ikkaku and Yumichika that, "You guys act like a married couple," cue polite chuckles and smirks, "without the benefits." The rest of the room roared with laughter as Ichigo just scowled and turned a beat red.

Oh Renji Abarai, you are a dead man.

"Oh lighten up Ichigo," Rangiku, giggly from all the sake, crooned as she slung her arm over his shoulder in buddy-buddy-like fashion. Her breasts squeezed against his side. "We all know that you two are just," here she added air quotes. "friends."

The people around him sniggered, and Ichigo did his best to remain stoic like he hadn't been just about to say those exact words.

"And that's all they'll ever be," Ikkaku added, sadly not being hit by the imagined laser beams from Ichigo's eyes. "Kurosaki's too afraid to even make the moves on a girl anyway!"

The entire bar began laughing at his expense again while Ichigo made a mental note to kick everyone's ass later.

"Face it," Renji appeared out of nowhere beside Ichigo's other side. "You're so whipped," he informed him and the bar at large, "you don't even know what kind of fun you're missing with all this friend crap."

A hearty howl erupted around the vicinity and all eyes turned toward Ichigo, gaging a reaction. Ichigo shot him one of his hardest scowls, but Renji laughed, opening his mouth wide and letting out a hearty guffaw before patronizingly ruffling his hair and turning to the bar, which of course was too good of an opening to miss.

Looking back at it later on, tackling Renji was probably not the best way to convince the entire bar that what the drunken baboon was saying wasn't true.

Sub-step 1a: Don't even entertain the idea your stupid so-called friends put into your head in the first place

Ichigo woke up the next morning head extra groggy, mouth extra dry, and bed extra full.

"What the hell?" he demanded the situation. His mouth felt like cotton. The fight with Renji and the extra consumption of sake obviously did its work.

Like watching one of those scenes in a horror movie, Ichigo slowly lowered his arms toward the lump beside him, his breathing getting more and more conscious. Gripping the comforter, he began to pull it down, excruciatingly slowly until the unrecognizable lump revealed itself to be another sleeping face.

"What the hell?" he repeated in a much louder, much more anxious voice. His first reaction was to pull the comforter over his naked chest, realizing that after a buzzed night at the bar that he had stumbled into bed sans clothes, other than—oh good!—his boxers. After making sure they were securely on, he shook her shoulder frantically, calling out, "What the hell Rukia--Rukia!"

The mini shinigami stubbornly pulled away at first, snuggling closer toward her body. Ichigo shook her more roughly until her violet eyes snapped open at the rude awakening. "AHHH!"

Ichigo covered her mouth with one of his palms, which she eyed angrily. He looked at his bedroom door, waiting for the telltale noises of either Isshin or Yuzu listening on the other side, before glaring back. "Why the fuck are you yelling?"

She pulled his hand away roughly with a rude "bleh" sound, and Rukia Kuchiki, shinigami and proud member of one of the noble houses of the Sereitei retorted with, "Why the hell are you yelling?" before sticking out her tongue.

Ichigo looked stumped for a second and pulled his arm away before she had the chance to slap him. "You're in my bed!" he pointed out, both vocally and physically.

"I've never had any complaints," Rukia replied smugly and Ichigo turned red, tugging the covers toward his lap.

As he did so, he eyed her up and down, warily. The grooves of the sheets were still imprinted on her arms and cheek as they tugged the covers back. Her hair was slightly mussed from sleep, and she still had the same clothes on the night before she left to visit Byakuya, probably too tired to change after she came back late last night. And it had to be pretty late, because, despite his slight buzz, he was aware of the four o'clock time blinking from his alarm clock.

When he finally met her eyes, she smacked the back of his head, before pulling the comforter up and back away from him. "Perv!"

"Midget! Who climbs into other people's beds in the middle of the night?"

"Who falls asleep naked?" she eyed him levelly until he looked down first.

It took him much longer to retort because he had to fight the urge to strangle her while fighting the heat rising in his neck. "I have my boxers on idiot! And you never answered my question!"

To Ichigo's satisfaction, Rukia took a second to look around the room as realization dawned on her. Slowly, a light blush began to bloom across her cheeks, before she elbowed him half heartedly. "Idiot," she reprimanded, pointing toward the closet, which he could now see was slid open. Her sheets and usual pillows were cleaned out, nothing was left there but the usual closet occupants, like his clothes for once. Because, despite her cot in Karin and Yuzu's room, her makeshift bed remained in his closet just to annoy him, or so he gathered. She hardly used it unless she came over late at night and didn't want to wake the twins.

"Oh," was all he managed to say, directing his focus back onto her.

"Yeah 'oh,'" she repeated. "But," she added. "It's not like you were complaining when I jumped in bed with you." That sideways smirk came up again, the one that came up when she knew she had the upper hand.

"Get out of my bed," he ordered stoically, before turning around to fall onto his side. Ignoring the pokes, prods, and shoves from the midget in his bed.

"Aww come on Ichigo. It was just a joke. I forgot how innocent you are sometimes…." She mused amusedly, lying back onto her shoulder, snuggling back under his--mark that--his comforter.

Ichigo sat up suddenly, the thought coming back to him and hitting him like a cero or a punch from Ururu; looking down on her he asked suspiciously, his hands gripping the edge of the down, "Rukia, we don't act like a married couple without the benefits do we?"

His anxious tone took her by surprised for a moment and she slowly answered in all seriousness. "Well we don't have sex if that's what you mean."

He rolled his eyes, exasperated. "Rukia…"

Rukia shrugged as well as a girl could shrug lying down. "I don't know Ichigo. I've never been married."

"Well me neither!" He agreed a little too aggressively, a light calm entering his mind.

Rukia nodded, sensing that he wasn't really talking to her. "Then that solves it."

"What the hell do you mean?" he tossed his arms in the air. "We're acting in a way that's giving people the impression that—that we—you know—"

"Ichigo?" she interrupted, barely making connections between his disjointed speech. "Where is this all coming from? You've never cared before."

"I don't." He defended. Then at her doubtful expression, "It's just Renji said that—"

She gave him a dubious look that stopped him. "Listen to what you're about to say," she told him as if she were talking to a tattle telling three year old.

"Yeah you're right," he agreed, plopping his face back into his pillow, his body facing hers now.

There was a pause before Rukia turned to him innocently; lying on her side she tapped his shoulder. "Ichigo?"

"Hmmm?" Face muffled into the cushion.

"What are the benefits of marriage?"

Ichigo twisted his head to face her as he considered this. "Joint bank accounts?"

Rukia nodded, "Oh, well, right. But I was thinking along the lines of, you know, happiness, family, love…"

"Those are probably there too." He agreed before groaning, dragging his palm over his face. "Renji's so stupid." This comment was more for his benefit than hers.

"You should feel flattered anyways, Ichigo." She reasoned. "Who wouldn't want to be pseudo-married to me?" She gripped his fingers teasingly.

"Anyone with a sane mind?" Ichigo said, his mouth muffled by a pillow. He felt her fingers tighten around his own, possibly in anger--oh ow! Yep, definetly in anger.

"That better have been something nice Kurosaki." Rukia warned. His fingers now bound in a bone-breaking way.

"Of course," Ichigo appeased, turning over so she could hear him more clearly. She laughed, freeing his fingers so Ichigo could flex them appreciatively.

"So that's really why you had to rudely wake me up so early? Because of something Renji said?" she poked his palm as he began to close his hand shut.

"No," he corrected, snapping his hand shut as she made another poke in the middle of palm. "I rudely woke you up because you're in my bed."

He caught her finger for a second but she snatched it back. "That's not what you said last night!" she said quickly, then added her own chorus of a shocked,"Oooooh!"

"Shut-up." He clamped his fingers closed again, missing her poking finger by a millisecond.

"Your dad," Clamp. Poke. Clamp. Poke. "Would have a field day if he walked in." Clamp.

"Your brother," Poke. Clamp. Poke. "Would probably too, and I think kick Ichigo's ass would be more his style than tug-o-war." Clamp. Poke.

"Haha Ichigo you're so funny," she said dryly. Clamp. Poke. "You should be on stage." Clamp.

"Haha Rukia," he replied, matching her tone. Poke. Clamp. "You're so short I was going to say the same about you!--OW!" he looked at his injured palm. "I think you just drilled a hole in my hand!"

She rolled her eyes. "Please."

He scowled and pulled the offending digit.

After a few seconds of waiting for the punchline, she finally tried to pull her hand back "Let go idiot."

"Fingers," he tugged, "are a privilege Rukia."

Without further ado, she stuck her tongue out at him again, and he smiled triumphantly. She scowled and tried to kick him under the sheets while he just held her finger, smiling.

"Give it back," she ordered reasonably, "and I'll promise not to kick your ass."

He considered it for a minute before pulling her finger, along with her hand, wrist, and arm, farther away from her. "Big words," he thought aloud, "for someone without an index finger."

She slapped him with her other hand.

"You promised!"

"I believe I said 'kick,'" she replied, smiling sweetly at him. "Besides, you never gave me my finger back."

He grimaced as he rubbed his forehead. "Oh yeah," he wondered bitingly. "Who wouldn't want to marry you?"

She smiled back and tugged her hand back in response.

And despite his best efforts, he smiled back.

Before he knew what was happening, they were just staring at each other in companionable silence, and Ichigo had to do something quick, because It was slowly turning into one of those horribly unguarded moments where things can easily go from comfortable to awkward if anyone took the time to actually consider it.

Sadly, he did.

He wasn't sure if it was the circumstance or the fact that Renji's stupid baboon voice was echoing in his head, but in that instant, he suddenly became very aware that Rukia was in bed, next to him, under the covers, holding hands. They were under the covers. In his bed. Holding hands, and talking about possible marriage.

The entire situation wasn't anything really unusual between them. Despite living in his closet for so many years, he and Rukia have shared a bed before, more times than he could count; and they have held hands before: running together during the war, preventing one another from falling off a cliff, or the basic crossing the street types of hand holding (but only in emergencies). There was also that time when he accidentally bound them together for an entire day when she was teaching him kido.

But in this one instant, everything about this one moment sent a chill up Ichigo's spine that made him feel as if this moment was different. As if everything before was different.

Renji's words replayed through his head again, and Ichigo blushed. He could actually feel himself blush, that was how self conscious he was. Luckily, Rukia didn't notice any of this and instead reached to pull his hand while Ichigo only wanted to pull away. He didn't have too much time to think about how uncomfortable he was, because in an instant she let go, turned and tossed the covers aside, ruining and saving the moment all at once. "Right." She breathed, standing up. "I'm going to take a shower," she announced.

Ichigo turned away from her, hoping to hide his hot face, while returning to his belly side down position. "Well I'm going to lie down here and do absolutely nothing, but I'm not sharing it," he joked, hoping that his tone sounded normal.

Rukia laughed, ruffling his hair as she bounded out the door to the bathroom. At the sound of the door being shut, Ichigo drew out a long exhale.

Whatever that instant was, he noted, Rukia didn't see anything differently.

Sub-step 1b: Inform so-called friends of grievous error. Setting their story straight should take it out of your own mind.

"What do you mean you told Rukia?" Renji asked appalled. The pen he was holding in his hand clattered to his desk, smearing ink over all his paperwork.

Ichigo looked at him triumphantly as he stood in front of the gaping lieutenant. "I told Rukia what you said, and she doesn't get it either," he was awarded with another inch of Renji's jaw dropping. "So you can take your idiotic comments elsewhere," he ended with a flourish, resisting the urge to hold up his victory hand gestured peace sign above his head.

Renji's mouth still hung open, before everything Ichigo just said processed. "Of course she'd say that," he snapped, claiming his senses. "She's just as oblivious as you are!"

Ichigo's triumphant moment faded out as he stared at his friend in disbelief. In his most deadpanned tone he looked him straight in the eye. "What. The. Hell. Are. You. Talking. About."

Renji sagged. "Why does it have to be me who has to tell you this?" he asked the ceiling, palms face down on the top of his desk. Sighing, he looked at the strawberry. "Do you honestly not understand what I was talking about?"

Ichigo's face tilted in puppy-like confusion.

"Oh for Meno's sake! You guys are so—" he stopped short with a sad shake of his head. "It's just sad."

Ichigo grimaced. "You're still not making sense."

Renji looked him dead in the eye as he spoke. "If you don't get it by now, I'm not sure you ever will."

"You didn't even answer my question."

Renji rummaged through his desk drawer for a new pen and fresh paper. "Just think about what I said before kid," he came back up, both in his hands, and he used his sleeve to collect the spillage. "It's pretty obvious."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Ichigo demanded, trying to catch his eye, and not point out the condescension in his use of the word 'kid.'

Renji tossed the errant papers into the bin before giving the substitute shinigami a toothy smile. "I'd tell you, but we've got a pool going, that I'm hoping to win."

"And that is?"

The red haired pursed his lips in thought. His black tribal tattoos raising along his hairline. "Just try to figure it out by next week." He bent down in a study. "Now get out. I've got work to do."

Step 2: Be proactive. Don't realize that you are indeed falling for your best friend.

The entire Shinigami race was crazy, Ichigo decided as he walked back home one evening, the sun setting before him as the day came to a close. They must have no lives—ha! No pun intended—if they were taking bets on something like this.

Something that was eluding Ichigo for about a week. He groaned audibly and was surprised to see the look of concern cross Rukia's face as she walked beside him. "Ichigo?" He felt extremely grateful for her at that and he hoped he could get his mind off of Stupid Renji.

Masking his features quickly, he gave her a reassuring smile. "It's nothing." The buildings and power lines casting shadows to their right as they walked on back to the clinic after visiting Urahara's shop.

She looked doubtful, the orange sun tinting her skin to match. "Renji said you two talked?" Ichigo scowled towards the sunset ahead but nodded.

He was a little ticked off at this. Of course, he knew that they were best friends from childhood, so naturally Renji would be open with her. But there were some things that merited discretion. Like man to man kind of discretion. This being one of them, and Ichigo just couldn't place why exactly that annoyed him so damn much. "And what did the Pineapple say?" He did his best not to grit his teeth as he said this, shoving his hands into his pockets.

He could feel her still staring at him as she replied airily, "Apparently he says that he couldn't be any cleverer and that he's already lost some bet."

He doubted the cleverer part but the fact that he lost the so-called bet was hilarious. "Anything else?" He tried to be nonchalant while turning to make eye contact.

"Oh and you're an idiot," she added without missing a beat.

He smiled. "And you said?"

Her lips curved into a smirk as her eyes shined with the usual amusement. She laughed, gave him a patronizing pat on the cheek as she skipped in front of him. Looking over her shoulder as she continued to walk, "I said that I couldn't agree more." She looked at him expectantly, readying herself for his rebuttal.

But Ichigo couldn't stop looking at her. He barely heard her reply as he watched her. The ends of her hairs tickling the nape of her neck, her hips playfully swaying while she walked. How her hands swung around her cheerfully almost in time with her skirt. The small smile on her lips as her dark eyes looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to say something. But most of all, how a slight heat rose on his face, how it tingled right where her hand rested only for a second.

That was it. Wasn't it?

It was obvious.



Step 3: Who said denial was only a river in Egypt?

And that's how Ichigo Kurosaki found himself in this dilemma. A real rock and hard place.

Not that he's ever been in a dilemma's before. He was a living soul reaper who spent most of his educational career fighting off hollows, the occasional Bount, and a rogue Shinigami with a power complex while keeping up with his grades. His teachers and now professors probably believed that he had a bladder the size of a pea considering all of the bathroom breaks he had to "take" in order to fight all matters of evil.

Not to mention having a father whose idea of a wake up call was a foot in the face or a sex-obsessed bean-pill that used your body to look up women's skirts (it was rather awkward meeting said women later on when said bean-pill was safely tucked away behind fluffy, fibrous cotton and Ichigo was in his own body; his arm would never recover from all the purse abuse). That along with the usual readings for his classes, job, familial duties, and occasional trips to the World of the Unliving, made Ichigo Kurosaki never one to consider his life dilemma free.

No. Dilemmas and Ichigo knew each other rather well. But this? This situation was ranking a close number one.

Because he wasn't sure, but he was having that awful nagging feeling that he was beginning to fall for his best friend. And this, he decided, would not do.

First, there was her brother. Just the mention of Ichigo Kurosaki made him sneer while the physical appearance of him made him grip Senbonzakura threateningly. The man had it out for him from the very beginning, never mind what Rukia said otherwise.

Second, there was the girl herself. Who knew how Rukia would react when she found out, and Ichigo was all in good for keeping his dignity and his…er…manhood in tact. More importantly, they were best friends! And Ichigo didn't know, but he was pretty sure that the best way to ruin a friendship was for one friend to confess a loving devotion to the other, and that was not going to happen. He valued their friendship too much, and he had too much pride to embarrass himself intentionally.

Third, well there wasn't exactly a third, but for a brief instant Ichigo's mind wandered to what his father would say. He'd probably be over the moon seeing as he's called it for years. Come to think of it, he probably started the shinigami pool on this whole damn thing.

He blamed Renji for all of this. Stupid Renji and his stupid comments. Stupid Renji and his not knowing what he was talking about. Stupid Renji for putting him in this position.

But, Ichigo could handle this. He knew how to handle falling in love with his best friend. Not that he was or anything.

Right. Of course. Exactly. Because they were just friends. End. Period. Stop.

His thoughts were interrupted as he heard a door open and the hollow sound of footfalls making their way down the hall. Ichigo looked up from his breakfast as Rukia sleepily entered the kitchen. She waved vaguely, making a beeline for the fridge.

"Hey," he greeted from the table, gripping a mug of coffee in one hand and the newspaper in the other, giving the impression that he'd just been doing that all morning instead of having an internal debate over their relationship. "Breakfast?"

She smiled, post yawn as she opened the fridge to grab the orange juice. "I prefer Rukia," she replied, walking toward the table, "but we can work on the nicknames later."

He smirked, "Shut-up smart ass," as she pulled up a chair, grabbing a piece of toast off a plate between them. With her sitting across from him, he looked at her, doing his best not to think about how cute she looked with her hair rumpled from sleep or how the t-shirt she borrowed from him, albeit larger on her small frame, looked right on her.

She got up and went to the cabinet to reach for a glass from the shelf, the action hiking up the t-shirt, revealing more than Ichigo should be seeing in a purely platonic friend. She was wearing his shirt like someone else would with a dress, and not being the natural use for such a piece clothing, it ended rather short on her upper thigh.

Ichigo looked away (almost) immediately. He hid his thoughts behind his coffee mug and dipped his head lower towards the paper, concentrating on the letters but not the words or contents themselves.

Stupid Renji had opened a can of worms.

Step 4: Don't act jealous. People tend to assume when jealousy is at hand.

"What do you mean the hollow's been taken care of?" Ichigo asked as they sat in his bedroom, a first aid kit open on his bed. His Substitute Reaper badge had gone crazy during class, prompting him another "bathroom break," only to find Rukia and Uryuu walking away from the scene very scathed.

"I told you Ichigo," Rukia replied primly as she rolled the gauze over the small gash in her arm. "Uryuu and I were together at the time when I got the page. He came to help me." the roll dropped to the ground and Ichigo picked it up, cutting it off neatly with a pair of scissors.

"Why the hell would Uryuu need to help you anyway?" He reached over to the kit for the bandage tape.

"Do we really need to go over the story again Ichigo?" she asked, annoyance clearly in her tone. She held out her arm, the one he knew she wanted to hit him with, as he wound the tape over.

"And why do you two keep talking as if I'm not even here?" Uryuu asked from the edge of the bed, finishing up bandaging his own hand.

"Don't talk," Ichigo warned. "It's your fault Rukia's hurt."

"It's not anyone's fault Ichigo," she said. "And if Uryuu weren't there, then I seriously would have been injured."

"You mean more so than you are now?" he leveled. She got up and strode to his mirror, peeling a band aid for a cut on her cheek.

"Quit being an idiot," she told him smartly, looking at him through the mirror as she stuck it on. "We're both fine. It's not that big of a deal."

"Yeah Kurosaki," Uryuu agreed. "Rukia and I had it under control."

Ichigo shot him a glare telling him to shut up.

"I could've helped."

"Yes, but you were in class," Rukia pointed out. "You were busy."

"And Uryuu just happened to be?"


"How convenient."

"It's not my fault that you weren't there! You have that damn university to blame if anything!" she yelled, arching her neck to look him straight in the eye.

"Why were you with Uryuu in the first place!" he demanded, looking down at her, trying to use his height to intimidate.

"Why are you acting so jealous?"

"I'm not!"

The pair stared each other down, neither looking as if they'd back down, when a soft cough came from the other side of the room. They turned to face it, their expressions still looking deadly.

"We should probably go to Orihime's to get these fixed Rukia," Uryuu said meekly under their intense glares. And as his statement processed through Ichigo's mind, the pucker between his eyebrows deepened menacingly.

Rukia's expression softened as he spoke, an action which did not go unnoticed. "Yes," she pulled down her sleeve, lightly over the bandages. "We should." And Uryuu stepped aside for her to exit the room.

"I'll come with you," Ichigo offered, half heartedly. He already knew what she was going to say.

She turned back. "No," she stated primly. "You're still in class, and Uryuu's fine taking me. Right Uryuu?"

Uryuu looked from her to Ichigo, confusion clearly written on his face. "Right…"

She followed his gaze over her shoulder. "Don't mind him, Uryuu," she told him. "Ichigo's just being jealous."

"I'm not jealous!" he shouted back, but Rukia was turned around completely, walking swiftly out the door.

But before Uryuu closed the door to his room, he saw the look on Uryuu's face as he said it, like he wanted to directly contradict Ichigo's statement.

Step 5: Avoidance. Refrain from direct contact.

Ichigo Kurosaki took on a Menos when he was a novice with his shinigami powers, he fought an Espada with more than three-quarters of his mask gone, and he took on Byakuya Kuchiki's bankai form. There was nothing that Ichigo Kurosaki couldn't do, but this, he had to admit, was proving difficult.

It had to be easy. He just had to avoid her entirely—a noble effort on his part when he was used to and always enjoyed spending an afternoon with her. Now he had school—yeah! Lots of studying and books and extra assignments that required all of his attention. Not to mention hours at the clinic he had to do.

But it upset him, as things would upset a best friend obviously, that she didn't seem perturbed by his now crowded schedule. Hell, she didn't even act like she missed him! Not that he cared that much. Only in the way a best friend would care of course.

The most he'd see her would be when she stayed at his apartment during her missions to the Real World. On nights when he was trying to be busy and study, she'd leave him to his own devices and go out or stay in the kitchen with Yuzu, and Ichigo wouldn't see her until she left the next morning.

On one of these nights, he was sitting in an arm chair in the living room, books propped open all around him as he attempted to reread a chapter. It was his second attempt of this particular passage that evening while he juggled peering over the top of the book and actual reading.

She sat across the coffee table right in his sight line, her legs stretched out in front of her, a sketch book in her lap. He could see the beginnings of more Chappy drawings and some unfinished ones. However, she was more invested in her soul pager, which, after many peaks from above the book's binding, he could tell she was texting furiously with. Another small rumble signaled another message and Rukia read it, face perplexed.

"A hollow?" Ichigo asked as carelessly as possible, though his curiosity was piqued. Not to mention he was half-hoping a hollow was going to materialize and needed their joint effort.

Rukia looked up, confused, as if she were half-hearing him "Hmmm?" she hummed, reading the tiny screen with a small smile before turning toward him. "Oh no," she assured him. "It's just Renji," she broke into a small chortle as her eyes read the glowing screen, "being stupid again."

Again? He was stupid at a constant level, he wanted to point out. But Ichigo noted the smile on her lips as she used both hands to text him back, and instead of reading, he gripped the book and watched her until she looked up to announce that she would be meeting with the red-haired bastard and that she'd be back later.

"Really?" Ichigo asked, feigning nonchalance. His fingers tightening their grip on the binding.

She looked at him as if it were obvious. "Well we're not really doing anything Ichigo, and Renji's stationed at Urahara's for tonight."

"I know," Ichigo said, quickly thinking on his feet. "But I need your help."

"Me? Help?" She repeated, dubious. Her arms automatically went akimbo. "What do you need my help with? You've been studying all night." Then, like she just noticed, "All week in fact."

Ichigo did his best not to be glad that she noted how he wasn't speaking to her all week. "Well you need to help quiz me," he thought quickly. "I have a test soon."

Rukia sighed, her mind quickly figuring out her options while Ichigo sat, waiting. So it wasn't the best of plans. More often than naught, Rukia would laugh in his face and leave anyways, or probably call him an idiot before finding Kon to quiz him. Needless to say, he was pretty surprised when he saw her plop back down onto the couch. "Fine," she sighed exasperated. She put out her hand for the offered text book and placed it to her side, next to her discarded sketch pad, before picking up her soul pager. "I'll just text Renji," she said, and Ichigo watched in smug satisfaction as she ducked behind the tiny device.

When she finished, she snapped it shut, plastered a smile to her face, and creaked open the book to a random page. "So what exactly is this test about?"

Ichigo looked up, confused. The test was in two weeks, hell if he knew what it was about. "Chapter three," he guessed and Rukia nodded, fingering the pages, counting. Her phone buzzed again, and Rukia tossed it aside, not bothering to open it as she read off the pages silently.

By this point, Ichigo knew he should probably be feeling guilty. But he couldn't shake off the victorious look on his face, because sure it was a lie and sure he should feel bad, but he didn't.

With that tiny lie, Ichigo ensured himself an evening with his best friend, who didn't protest when the studying was forgotten in favor of take out and a movie; and everyone can forgive a lie when said lie resulted in sitting next to your best friend on a couch, watching The Godfather for the umpteenth time, and arguing over the last of the pizza.

Plus, when Rukia's phone rumbled again, she switched it off in favor of watching Al Pacino raise a gun for the first time.

Yes, Ichigo decided, that tiny lie was worth it. Especially, he thought, eyeing Rukia's phone, dead on the coffee table, if Stupid Renji wasn't having fun.

Step 6: A is for awkward, so replace it with another A: Anger

His last tactic was a committed failure because not talking to Rukia was proving to be an impossibility, so he just had to yell at her more to compensate these awkward feelings he was having.

He was doing a pretty good job too. He found that picking fights with her was easier than ignoring her entirely, and this had the added bonus of actually talking to her. There was the morning argument about the excess amount of toast she made along with snide comments about the proper condiments for said toast (without crusts, smeared melted butter and jam); then there was the Monday fight about the uselessness of Chappy the Rabbit (he still had bruises from that); and if he lost any material he could always make the deadly comment (the one not even Stupid Renji dared to utter): "Why are you so short?"

Granted, he liked the fact that she overestimated the amount of toast she could eat (usually pushing the dish toward him, giving him the extra), that she had an unhealthy obsession with Chappy the Rabbit (making it easier to find her a birthday present each year), and that she was shorter than him (all the better for...well it was just better). He was just yelling at her for his own good...and because it was kinda fun arguing with her.

He had just finished a tirade over the importance of twisty ties on the chip bags (she would only roll the openings down then tape them shut), feeling rather proud and completely not in love with his best friend, then she'd go and ruin it all by laughing her ass off at his expense.

"You're such a neurotic idiot Ichigo!" she chortled, bending over while holding her gut, bag of chips still clutched in her tiny fists.

Ichigo tried his best to suppress the fact that he liked the way she smiled and why he never noticed how her eyes changed when she laughed. Instead he scowled and grimaced. "Come over and say that to my face," he threatened.

Rukia took a joking step up to him and arched her neck to meet him eye-to-eye. "You're such a neurotic idiot Ichigo," she repeated, challengingly.

Ichigo leaned down, their noses nearly touching, and surprised her, although she did her best to hide it on her face. "Midget."

Rukia's face went from widen astonishment to quick anger, and in two steps, she had a handful of tortilla chips in her hand thrown right into his face. Her expression breaking into a smile as she saw his surprise turned anger turned amusement in succession.

Ichigo closed his eyes at the impact and grabbed the bag away from her, picking out handfuls and throwing them in her direction with more force. Rukia squealed as she ran to the extendable faucet and turned it on full blast right in his direction.

So picking fights and making arguments wasn't the best idea. Especially when one had to clean up at the end of the night.

On the bright side, the chip bags were always shut properly.

Step 7: When avoidance and anger are no longer options, just act normal.

His last safe-guard was beyond brilliant. He hardly knew what to make of himself because this plan was so obvious! He decided to act normally. The extra anger and avoidance was doing him no good so Ichigo decided that acting as if nothing new had changed was best.

Only, Rukia had to test this too.

They were returning from a mission, and she expected him to carry her on his back, clutching her knees and having his fingers brush against her thighs—

"Ichigo, why are your ears red?" she asked from behind him, one hand resting on his shoulder while the other held her soul pager.

Ichigo's entire face was red, not just his ears, but he was glad that she could only see those. He chose to ignore her.

She tapped his shoulder impatiently. "Ichigo? I asked you why your ears are red! Are you okay?" She asked in much louder voice, as if he were hard of hearing.

Ichigo's face burned hotter. "Why are you so short?" he retaliated. This was his usual method of avoidance with her. "There are things I don't even know Rukia."

She slapped him on the shoulder. Hard. "You're acting like an idiot Ichigo."

"And you're acting like a—"

"That better end nicely Kurosaki," she warned as they got back into their bodies. He watched as she gave him that encouraging smirk. "Just tell me why you've been acting weird lately, and why your face is red," she added in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Looking at her, Ichigo could tell that this was that window of opportunity he's been looking for—or more like used as an excuse. There was no reason why he shouldn't tell her now. They were best friends after all, and she would understand. Or hit him. He wasn't too sure on the end result actually...

His hesitation was misunderstood, and Rukia went on. "You were first avoiding me—"

"I haven't been avoi—" he was quick to point out.

"Ichigo," she gave him a doubtful look. "I'm a girl. I know when someone's avoiding me, and you have been avoiding me, then yelling at me, and now just acting really weird."

She looked genuinely hurt as she said that and Ichigo felt guilt in him grow. How was he going to say "because I think I've screwed up our friendship by having more than friendship in mind, and hopefully you feel the same way; and if not, can we please pretend that none of this ever happened"? How did someone say that and not come off as a cliché or phony? He looked up to see her waiting there, patiently. Her soul form now in her gigai.

He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry," he began, searching for the right words for this moment. "I don't think…I mean I know…" He paused again to take another look at her, concern written all over her face. "I'm not feeling well." He sighed, sagging in defeat.

He chickened out. He couldn't do it.

Watching her carefully, he watched as her arms went akimbo, the concern from before turned into anger. "Ichigo!" She yelled. "You need to know your limits! If you felt sick why didn't you say so?"

Ichigo shrugged, feeling guiltier as he heard the pangs of worry in her voice. Although, at the same time, her concern pleased him. When did Ichigo Kurosaki ever feel guilty?

"That's why you're all flushed!" Rukia concluded. "You have a fever!" He turned red as she reached up and place the back of her hand against his neck, then slid her fingers towards his forehead. She was watching him carefully, so he forced a cough. "I'll call your dad," she suggested, already reaching for her soul pager.

"No!" He grabbed her wrist.

"Why not?" she asked, confused, probably by his panicked tone. "He's a doctor. He'd know what to do."

Oh, he'd know exactly why Ichigo was acting like an asylum tenant around her. No. It was best to leave the old man out of this.

"No," he said, more calmly this time. "You know he'll just make it worse."

Rukia considered this before agreeing and taking him home, wondering aloud at how fast his symptoms came on while he just agreed and couched more.

Settling him into his bed, she handed him quickly made tea before sitting at the foot of his mattress, watching him drink. "You know," she observed. "You don't look flushed anymore."

Ichigo's color began to slowly come back as Rukia reached across him to place her hand back on his head before placing her hand to his neck. He was warm to the touch. Sitting back onto her knees, she looked at him curiously.

He dropped his eyes and stared into cup. "So are you leaving soon?"

She nodded, hiding a yawn with the back of her hand. "Yeah," she replied, sagging a little.

"You're tired out already. Just leave tomorrow."

"No," she corrected. "No. I'm fine. Besides, you need to rest already. You've got class Monday. I'll just go to Yuzu and Karin's room," she got up, but Ichigo grabbed her wrist in time.

"They're already asleep idiot," he tugged her back and was met with no resistance. "If you go in there you'll wake them up."

Rukia rolled her sleepy eyes but scooted in next to him under the covers, an act that was so normal and so natural to both of them. "What shall it be this time? Bed time story or am I just here to keep the monsters under the bed?"

Ichigo chuckled sarcastically as he helped tuck her in. "Don't be rude. I'm sick." She rolled her eyes again. "Besides, can't a guy just want company?"

She considered this before rolling her eyes one more time. "Fine," she huffed, settling into his pillows. "But I don't want whatever you have," she said, turning away from him. "In this case, sharing is not caring."

"Whatever midget," he said, still sitting up to finish the rest of cup.

Whatever he had, she didn't want to catch. There was no danger in that, he knew, but when he turned to look down on her, he wasn't sure but there was a slight blush on her own already sleeping features.

Step 8: Try not to voice it aloud with others. It can't be true if only you know it.

"You like her don't you?" Renji asked, sitting next to Ichigo at the bar. It had been weeks since that fateful bar night, when he started this whole damn mess in the first place.

Ichigo's eyes widened in surprise but he refused to look at Renji. Instead he sipped his sake.

The man laughed heartily, understanding the silence more than any words Ichigo could've used. "Don't be such a stiff about it. I can tell."

Ichigo chose still not to speak.

"You forget that I grew up with her. I can tell when someone has a crush on her," he said understandingly. "And there were many times when that became awkward."

Ichigo turned to him, sake poised at his lips. "Are you trying to make me feel uncomfortable?"

Renji looked as if he thought about that for a minute before meeting his eyes, triumph flickering in their depths. "No. Making you uncomfortable would be yelling," his pitch grew as he continued. "that YOU HAVE A CRU—"

Ichigo bopped him on the head. "You know?" he asked moodily. "I hate you."

"Most people who had a crush on Rukia do," Renji replied suavely, picking up his own drink and downing it.

Ichigo tsked and swallowed a gulp of the alcohol. "This is all your fault by the way." He added.

Renji turned to him. "My fault?

"Yeah you!" Ichigo sneered. "You're the one who put it in my head in the first place!"

Renji smirked to himself and sipped his sake primly. "Well it didn't take you too long to make the connections Ichigo."

Ichigo looked at him and glared.

Stupid Renji had a point.

That was annoying.

Step 9: Don't get drunk around them. This will lead to problems in the future.

A couple hours later, Ichigo's nerves were calmed by a subtle buzz thanks to his sake intake, and he watched along with the rest of the bar as Ikkaku and Renji took shots speedily, attempting to down them faster than the other, usual bar goers (the live ones anyway), amazed at the amount they've consumed. Ichigo always found it amusing to watch the humans' faces as the other shinigamis were able to consume more than their weight in alcohol. It had something to do with their gigai form, or so Urahara explained to him before.

At one point during the night, Rukia joined them, and was drinking from her sake glass as she talked to Hanatarou across the room. She looked up and caught his eye, smiling. Ichigo gave a half-hearted wave and she waved back before returning back to her conversation.

He nodded to the bar keep, who slid a bottle and a glass in his direction, Ichigo didn't even realize that someone took up the stool next to him.

"Race ya," the familiar voice said at his elbow. A challenge.

Ichigo turned to her and scoffed. "I doubt people your size could even get past a shot glass." She stuck her tongue out and motioned to the bar tender for another glass.

Rukia flicked his ear before grabbing the sake bottle and refilling their glasses. "Loser pays?" She suggested as Ichigo watched her top off his own glass.

Ichigo picked it up. Who was he to say no to a challenge? "And does dishes for a week?"

Rukia toasted him, a triumphant smile already on her lips. "Oh you're on."

Step 10: Whatever you do, don't tell them.

They stepped out of the bar, dazed and slightly drunk. Ichigo more so since he started with Renji before the gauntlet was laid down.

"Were you even counting?" Rukia asked, giggly. She misstepped and Ichigo caught her elbow.

"Were you?" Ichigo countered back, righting her.

Rukia frowned. "No," she admitted, hugging her arms closer to her chest. "But neither were you!"

"Fine, fine," he agreed quickly, taking a few steps out of the way of the door. Several of their comrades were still inside, their excited chatter muffled but still present. "So does this mean that we won't have dishes for a week?"

"Well I didn't lose," she pointed out, taking a few steps back away from him, "so why should I clean them?"

Ichigo couldn't think of anything to say to that.

"Come on," she said soberly. She picked up his hand and tugged him close. "We should probably get home."

Ichigo knew that his mind was numb. That amount of sake consumed at that amount of speed usually had that effect on a person, so he grabbed her hand, hoping that at least Rukia knew the way.

They turned to face the same direction, their footfalls light on the pavement as they passed shop windows closed for the night, street lights turning on in their wake because of late motion sensors. A light wind picking up now and then, cooling Ichigo's alcohol flushed cheeks.

Rukia pressed her side against his as the wind picked up more, the night air giving a slight chill to both of them. Her body slightly swaying while he tried to guide them in the proper course. Only, walking straight was becoming a problem.

Her fingers flirted with his, fingers crossing then uncrossing like they were trying to find themselves comfortable with each other. "Rukia…" he said in all seriousness, noticing for the first time that they were--yes they were walking in the opposite direction of his house--and her face dropped as she looked into his face.

"Sorry," she murmured dropping his hand and walking briskly before him.

Confused, mind hardly processing, he looked after her before calling out her name. Her short legs made great time, as she was now at least a few yards in front of him, and he had to jog a little to catch up to her, wind and worry sobering him just a tiny bit. But only a bit. "What's your problem?"

"What problem?" she snapped, her hands were shoved deep in her pockets and he tried to tug her elbow, which made her turn to face him.

Her eyes were red, alcohol consumption obviously the cause, but the expression was still there. She was mad. More than mad, maybe. Hell, she looked furious. Ichigo glared back, his automated response when Rukia was annoyed with him. "You're acting all—"

"I like you."

It took him a second to process what those eyes, angry and annoyed were telling him. He panned his focus out, drifting to look at her entire face. "What?" the sound of the word came out harsher than he intended.

She took in a deep breath and looked at him straight in the face. Her eyes never wavering. "I like you," she said plainly. She shuffled her feet and looked at her hands which were now out of the confines of her pocket. "More than that, really," she added quietly.

Ichigo watched her watching her fingers, before he realized that he was supposed to say something. "Why didn't you say anything before?" he asked. He realized a second too late that this was probably not the most tactful way to reply to what she had just said. He blamed it on the booze. But before he could rectify his mistake, Rukia was answering, a worry line creasing her creamy forehead.

"Because we're best friends Ichigo. Who wants to ruin that?" She was looking at him now, he could feel her study his expression carefully, and he wondered at how quickly she won sobriety as he fought the numbness and pounding in his head.

"Well, I didn't know…" he said slowly, trying to buy time to find the right words.

"There were plenty of signs Ichigo."

"Like what?" he demanded, taken aback by her statement. The hell there were signs!

She sagged a little at his tone, but she quickly recovered, stepping up. Her expression now truly annoyed. "I've cleaned your closet! You're always telling me that you hate how there's no more room for your clothes and crap, and I've finally taken my dinky bed out of there!--"

Ichigo was about to protest but she continued.

"Why the hell would I willingly clean? And I've tried to stop interrupting your class for hollow attacks because you keep complaining about how your professors think you have a small bladder!" Ichigo had to admit to himself that that was true. "I even tried to be quiet when you studied! Then I helped you study! I never help you study! And I stayed with you while you were sick, despite the fact that I could've caught something—"

"I wasn't sick." Ichigo muttered, but Rukia didn't hear him.

"And I've been doing all those things we've argued about, like not bringing my Chappy things to your room or eating my breakfast in front of you or using those ties around the chip bags because you've suddenly turned into some anal person…" she rolled her eyes at the memory.

"That wasn't—" he tried.

"I'm even having this conversation with you! Do you realize how uncharacteristic it is of me to actually be talking like this!"

Ichigo stopped entirely and just watched her. Her tirade over, she shoved her hands back into her pockets and shrugged. "It's actually surprising how you couldn't see it," she said a little quietly.

And when she put it that way, he couldn't either.

Stupid Renji said it before. It was obvious.

Step 11: Avoid kissing them. That'll make everything rather messy


"So what?"

"So," she began again, giving him a pointed look. "Aren't you going to say something?"

It was his turn to blush. He wished he could say something right, and he wished that he had the mental capacity to be having this conversation right now, but all he could come up with was the first thought that bumped into his head. Sadly, that thought didn't consist of 'I like you too Rukia' or was anyway along the lines of that. What came out was a blunt, "Well, couldn't you have done something a little more obvious?" Ichigo wished he could eat his words back up as Rukia stood there to glare at him.

She took a step toward him, their bodies now separated by a mere inch or so. "Obvious?" she repeated, and Ichigo knew, he just knew that she was going to castrate him.

Her eyes hardened as she assessed him and Ichigo felt his face heat up. Suddenly, Rukia grabbed his neck, pulling him down a little until her nose was touching his. He didn't have time to react or to breathe before Rukia's lips pressed urgently onto his. He barely had time to react himself, to reach for her face, to lace his fingers into hers, to decide that this, what was going on presently, was not something he should've been running away from this whole time, before she pulled away. "Is that obvious enough for you idiot?" she asked, her hand still resting against the nape of his neck, her arms hugging him close. Their breathes mingling.

Reluctantly, she dropped her arms and took a few steps away. She bit her bottom lip uncertainly. "And please don't go around thinking that I kiss everyone," she advised, primly. "Because I don't," she added for good measure before shunpoing away, leaving Ichigo standing there dumbstruck, his fingers touching his lips in confusion while the wind picked up.

This was all too much to take when already drunk.

Step 12: Don't fall into bed with them.


Ichigo hadn't seen Rukia for the past week. Since their kiss outside the bar, she'd gone AWOL. He was already annoyed with the midget for avoiding him. More specifically, for kissing him, leaving him, avoiding him, not letting him get a word in edgewise, and now waking him up with a rather loud, demanding voice.

"Ichigo!" A small hand shoved his shoulder roughly, and he grunted before turning over to the other side of his bed. He pulled the comforter over his head for good measure. Really? She avoided him for days and decided to just come traipsing in now? When he was asleep? Really?

"Ichigo? Did you hear me?" the owner of the arm demanded.

He could picture Rukia standing there: hands on hip, scowl on face, voice really, really loud. He replied by shuffling further away from her and her loud voice.

She harrumphed and marched her way out of the room, much to Ichigo's relief. He even let out a little exhale at his good fortune.

He snuggled deeper into his pillow and hugged the blankets tighter around his body, then he felt it. A small breeze gave way behind him as he felt the covers temporarily lift off the opposite side of the bed, and he felt the bed shift as someone scooted in with him.

"Ichigo?" Rukia's voice whispered, a little more quietly this time and a deal more closer.

Ichigo groaned but turned to face her, their heads still ducked under the blankets. "What the hell are you doing in my bed?" he asked angrily.

She smirked. "I should ask you the same question."

"Well," Ichigo pondered aloud. "It's probably because it's my bed! Now get out midget!"

"Oh Ichigo," Rukia whined in her overly-sweet tone. "It's so warm and comfortable here. Why can't I just stay before you cast me out into the cruel, cold world of your bedroom?"

Ichigo scowled at the back-handed remark about his living quarters and shrugged. He turned over to face the other direction.

"Ichigo?" he heard her ask quietly.

"What Rukia?" he asked tersely.

"Can we at least take the comforter off our heads? It's a little too warm in here." she said, her voice small and muffled by the down.

"No. We can't," he replied, annoyed. "It's my bed, and I want the blankets over my head."

He heard her exhale sharply and concede with a simple: "Oh. All right."

He turned over guiltily and looked at her intently. His vision, now accommodated to the dim light that filtered through his thread count, could clearly see her blue-violet eyes staring back at him with…trepidation. Rukia Kuchiki was actually nervous talking to him.

"We can just forget what happened," she said immediately.

"Rukia," he began, choosing to look at a loose string he was playing with rather than her face. "That's just it, we can't."

He heard her sigh softly. "Then, can we pretend it never happened?" she pseudo-joked.

He pulled the entire string out and continued to pick out another.

She watched him and pulled his hands away. "Stop it," she ordered gently. "You'll ruin your sheets."

He made a grab for it again. "They're my sheets. I can ruin them if I want."

She sighed and let go of his hands, and Ichigo went back to picking them mercilessly, but without the same fervor. For some reason he was feeling guilty.

Shrugging, she scratched the sheet between them, if only to keep her hands busy. "Look, I came here to talk to you." She exhaled, "and to tell you that you don't need to be embarrassed."

He stopped. "Why would I be embarrassed?"

"I'm more than happy to play off the other night as a drunk misgiving or a bout of hormones," she explained, talking over him like she tended to in this matter.

Ichigo thanked his stubbornness from before that they still held the blankets over their heads because his face was burning again.

She smiled and pulled his hand toward her. "I'm sorry if I've made you feel awkward and I'm perfectly fine going on as we are," she finished without missing a beat, not letting him get a word in again.

"Rukia," he began again, but Rukia was already pulling the covers from over the heads, and they took deep breaths of the fresh cool air. Ichigo looked at Rukia, whose hair was adorably ruffled from being under the sheets with him. She smiled and reached over to pat down his head.

"It's more spiky than usual," she explained, drawing her hand back quickly, her face flushed with the misstep. She cleared her throat and recovered quickly. "Um...let's go get breakfast." Her feet were already out of the confines of the comforter and tossed over the side of the mattress.

"Rukia," he sat up and gripped her elbow, tightly. "Wait."

She turned to look at him over her shoulder, her brow creased in worry. "Ichigo I already said that it's oka--"

"Will you just shut up?" he asked and Rukia stopped, creasing her mouth into a thin line. With his other hand he ruffled his hair, taking the time to gather his thoughts before turning to face her.

The morning sun was streaming through his windows, throwing his room in natural light and illuminating the dust particles floating in the air between them. For a moment he just looked at her, gaging her face for where to begin. He tugged her arm closer, making her crawl back into the bed, her face now more curious than worried.

Slowly, he brought his own hand to her face, pulling her toward him so his lips could meet hers in one swift movement. As he pulled away, he couldn't bite back that smirk forming on his face as he watched confusion turn into realization on her face. "Idiot," he said, eye rolling coming natural to that comment. "You couldn't see it either, could you?"

"I—I," Rukia began in fish-like repetitiveness. At his smirk, she glared. "What?"

Ichigo smiled, as he rubbed his thumb in circles along her arm. "Rukia it would help if you just took a second or something?" he teased.

Rukia looked up at him, blue eyes wide. "Why didn't you say anything before?" she demanded.

He shrugged. "I was embarrassed I guess."

"You were embarrassed?" she repeated, disdain and anger slowly growing in her voice.

"Chyeah," he replied, annoyance growing at her harsh reception.

"Well," she scoffed, "I didn't know."

"What do you mean you didn't know?" Ichigo asked angrily, dropping his arm.

"Hey you didn't know that I liked you either!" she pointed out, poking him the chest, hard.

Ichigo opened his mouth a few times before a strangled sound came out. This wasn't exactly the reception he was hoping to create.

"This is all your fault." she said.

"My fault?"

"Yeah!" she continued. "I wouldn't have been so embarrassed the other night if you just came out and said--"

"I was drunk!" he interrupted. "Which," he added. "I wouldn't have been if someone didn't challenge me in a drinking game!"

"What? You could've said no! I mean not that you--" she stopped as Ichigo's entire hand covered her mouth. She eyed it menacingly.

"Shut up," he ordered. "Why the hell do you think that I was avoiding you, arguing with you, acting weird all around you, if it wasn't because I liked you?" He held his hand firmly over her mouth as his words made impact, the anger on her face giving way to embarrassment before he dropped his arm.

"Well," Rukia stuttered, licking her lips. "How was I supposed to know what all those things meant?"

"Maybe because I don't usually do it all the time? Clearly, I was acting weird because I cared!"

"You care for everyone Ichigo!" she shouted back. "I just thought you were feeling guilty or something!"

"What?" He couldn't believe what he was hearing. All of those embarrassing things and she didn't even notice? "Why the hell do you think I keep blushing all the time then?"

"I don't know Ichigo! You're so innocent, you blush all the freakin' time! I was beginning to think you had a condition."

"I do not!"

"Yeah you do!"

"I do not!"

"Yeah you do! Look! You're blushing right now!"

"That's because I love you midget!"

That shut her up for a moment as she looked at him. A cheshire cat smile, spreading across her face before he could stop her. "You love me?" she repeated, questioningly.

Ichigo didn't respond but blushed at the extreme slip of the words.

"You luuurvvvve me," she exaggerated, adjusting her legs on the bed so she could sit on her knees. The mattress shifted under the new distribution of weight.

"Shut up midget," he gritted out, sinking back under the comforter.

"But you luuuurrvvee this midget," she chanted above him. He could feel her face hovering above his.

"Rukia, stop it or I'll break up with you before we even got together," he warned.

"Break up with the person you love?" she teased as she eased down the sheet and pecked him on the lips. "I don't think so."

"See?" he asked, the mattress shifting as she lied down. "This is why I shouldn't have told you in the first place."

"But you didn't," she pointed out, reaching for his shoulder to pull him closer. "I told you first."

Despite Ichigo's best attempts, he couldn't deny that Stupid Renji was right about them acting like a married couple for so long. But, he thought as her fingers played on his cheek while her lips met his in a deeper kiss, at least now they had the benefits.

*DISCLAIMER: Some solutions may vary

A/N: That's what you get when you write a story on your e-mail account while your computer's broken. I'm not entirely sure how this ended up, but I'm pretty happy with it. Please feel free to love it, hate it, critique it to your heart's content. And as always, thanks for reading!