A/N: So this story is dedicated to PheonixSong4232, possibly my most favorite person in the world, because she forces me to write. She helped so much in the process of brainstorming and finally getting down to typing. She's my best friend. And that's all there is to it. Well... that and we really like Rukia/Renji xD
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach nor any of its characters. Although sometimes I wish I did...
Rukia Kuchiki smoothed down the silky skirt she was wearing as she walked into the already busy room. The sudden temperature change from cold to hot shocked her skin and sent shivers down her spine as she adjusted to the body heat.
Every year, Rangiku Matsumoto held the largest (and quite possibly the most socially dangerous) Christmas party in Soul Society. She always invited her closest friends, but half Soul Society ended up showing up, and Rangiku had no objection to this, especially when she was drunk.
Rukia never figured out why she ever went to these parties, because it almost always ended up in her getting hit on by obnoxious guys who were so drunk they didn't know half the crap they said. Although it couldn't be the only reason, she supposed it had something to do with the fact that Matsumoto would probably kill her the day after if she didn't show up. Rangiku always took extra care with the preparations, just to make sure that nothing was even remotely out of place. And every year the party was a success. Everyone always got as hammered as they pleased, and the music was always as loud and energetic as it could be. To anyone else, this would be the perfect combination for a night on the town: booze and music. To Rukia, it was hectic and overwhelming.
As soon as she stepped into the crowded room, she covered her ears to save them from permanent damage as the music raged and immediately began her routine search for someone that she knew. With any luck she would find someone who wasn't so entirely drunk that she could actually hold a decent conversation with them. As she pushed her way further into the throng, her vision was engulfed by the hulking frame of a certain red-haired childhood friend of hers.
She looked up to see Renji Abarai, holding out a flute of champagne to her, with a goofy, sideways grin on his face. At the sight of him, she felt more comfortable, like she could dominate the room with him at her side. She smiled up at him as he said, "I thought you said you weren't coming this year?"
Rukia replied as she did every year when they had this exchange. "I changed my mind at the last minute. I was hoping this time would be different." She gently took the champagne from him with and took a sip.
"After fifteen years of going to this party, did you really think things would change? I mean, it's Rangiku we're talking about."
Rukia's eyes darted about the room until she spotted the strawberry-blonde fukutaichou of the 10th division, already wasted, as usual, and it wasn't even 11 o'clock yet. She sighed, turned again to face Renji, and said, "One can hope."
Renji chuckled a bit and said, "Come on, let's go find the others."
They forced their way in between people, Renji going first to clear the path, until they got to the opposite side of the room, where, lined against the wall, stood the usual suspects. Kira Izuru, Momo Hinamori, Toshiro Hitsugaya, Hisagi Shuuhei, Madarame Ikkaku, Kyouraku Shunsui, Rangiku and the four ryoka, Ichigo Kurosaki, Orihime Inoue, Uryu Ishida and Chad Yasutora. Out of the twelve of them, only Rangiku, Hisagi and Kyoraku seemed to be a little giddier than usual. As soon as she spotted Rukia and Renji, Rangiku let out a high pitched squeal and staggered over to them.
"Ruuuukkiiiiiiaaaaaaa!" The next thing she knew, Rukia was practically being suffocated by Rangiku's breasts as she hugged her.
"Whoa, whoa, ease up a bit, Rangiku! You'll kill her." Renji pried the two girls apart, but that only turned Matsumoto's attention to him, who she promptly threw her arms around.
"I... am SO glad you two are heeerreeee!! Do you like the party?" Neither of them got the chance to answer as Rangiku released Renji and continued seamlessly. "Taicho has firmly refused to drink anything or have fun of any kind, so we've got to intervene. I'm planning to slip him some sake so he'll finally ask Momo to dance and put us all out of our misery! You in?"
"I never said that! And you will NOT be slipping me ANYTHING!" Toshiro's face was beet red, out of anger or embarrassment, Rukia couldn't say. Everyone knew that there were feelings between Toshiro and Momo, except, apparently, Toshiro and Momo. Rukia grinned at the thought of something finally happening between the two of them, but it was a bad idea to let Rangiku act upon her drunken feelings, and thus silently let Toshiro scold Rangiku for her comment. She glanced up at Renji to see him laughing at the fight brewing between the taicho and his lieutenant, and found herself smiling with him. Renji glanced down at her and Rukia started, quickly looking down at her feet and blushing in embarrassment. Why did she suddenly feel so self-conscious?
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Kira making his way toward her as the music once again consumed all conversation. He smiled at her as he approached, and Rukia smiled in return, glad to see the fukutaichou of the 3rd division. "Good evening, Rukia."
"Good evening to you, Kira. How've you been?"
He paused for a minute, glancing back at Hitsugaya and Hinamori, then returned his attention to her. "Fine, I guess. Say, would you like to dance later?"
Rukia was a little taken aback by his sudden offer, as Kira almost never took personal chances. It was now her turn to glance away. Her eyes met Renji's sturdy frame, and once again, she was overtaken with a peculiar feeling of self-consciousness. She abruptly felt an overwhelming desire for him to ask her to dance instead of Kira. She couldn't help but feel a little jealous of Rangiku, who was suddenly taking up all of his attention and making him laugh his deep throated, hearty, melodic, attractive laugh... Wait! What the hell am I thinking? If I felt that way about Renji, then surely it would have shown up long before now... Oh gosh, Kira must think I'm so rude! Think of something, quick! Uh...
"Lemme get back to you on that... Sorry. I have to... Excuse me." Her words tumbled out of her mouth before she could even process what she'd said to him. She turned on her heel quickly and darted into the impenetrable crowd of soul reapers.
* * *
Renji spotted Rukia hurrying quickly away from Kira. From the look on his face, it would appear that Rukia had had an outburst of some sort, which was completely uncharacteristic of her. His eyes lingered on her disappearing frame for a minute before he twisted back around to Rangiku, who was mindlessly chattering away, and interrupted. "Hey, we'll finish this conversation later, okay? I'll be right back." He spun on his heel and sprinted after Rukia.
He figured that if she were anywhere, she'd go somewhere cold to calm down. He grabbed his jacket from the coat racks and exited the room in a hurry.
It didn't take him long to find her sitting on the edge of the porch. She didn't sense him right away, which meant she was deep in thought. She would have sensed his reiatsu immediately if she weren't distracted. Hesitating to catch her attention for a moment, he really looked at her for the first time that night. He hadn't noticed, but she was wearing the most remarkable red silk skirt that had a slivery sheen to it. Her skin glistened in the moonlight with life and energy. Her purple eyes were strangely filled with emotion, and shone like he'd never seen before. He wondered if she was thinking of someone...? Then he remembered that she'd been talking to Kira before she fled the room. His eyes turned into slits. No way... He was overtaken with a sudden ache of jealousy as he realized that she had never once looked at him the way she looked now.
He started to retreat back into the room, but the floor creaked beneath his weight, snapping Rukia out of her trance. She caught his eye before he could turn away and pretend to ignore her. Dammit... He stared at his shoes and forced himself not to look up until his face returned to it normal color.
"Renji?" The sound of her voice lured his eyes up to her face whether or not the burning in his skin had receded. She was standing now, with a concerned look on her face. Great, now she's worried about me. He mustered up what little dignity he had at this point and instantly lightened his expression and smiled.
"You took off pretty quickly back there. I thought you might be upset."
Rukia narrowed her eyes in suspicion for a moment before dismissing any thoughts she'd had and replied. "No. I just... Kira asked me to dance I was caught a little off guard. That's all."
Renji paused as his insides roared at the idea of Kira and Rukia dancing. Even the thought was absurd. Why is this happening? I never felt anything toward her before. Why should things be different between us now?
But then a sudden thought hit him. For years, Kira had been pining away after Hinamori, but she neither returned his affections nor even noticed that he held any toward her. Why would he randomly reassign his feelings to Rukia? Renji internally scolded himself for his panic a few minutes before. He laughed as he suddenly felt a bit lighter.
"What? What's so funny?" Rukia seemed slightly peeved by his sudden change in demeanor.
"It's nothing... It's just... Why would Kira want to dance with you?" By the time he'd said those words, it was too late. He realized exactly how different it sounded when he said it out loud, and Rukia would most certainly take it the wrong way. He chanced a look at her face and immediately regretted it. The worst combination of shock and hurt seized her delicate features, and Renji knew what was going to come.
"Why shouldn't Kira want to dance with me?"
"No... R-rukia, that's... that came out wrong..."
"Really? Did it? Somehow I think that's exactly what you wanted to say. After all, why would anyone want to dance with me? It's not like YOU ever asked me to dance, so if the idea never entered your mind, then why on earth would it ever enter anyone else's?" Rukia determinedly stalked past Renji and back into the party, leaving Renji alone with the guilt and sudden self-loathing in the pit of his stomach.
* * *
Kira stood between Momo and Ichigo, not a part of either conversation that they were having on either side of him. Ichigo was talking fight strategies with a very drunk Ikkaku and Kyouraku, and an only slightly drunk Hisagi. Kira felt a little ostracized from that group, as fighting wasn't his greatest strength. On the other side, Momo was trapped in conversation with Orihime and Rangiku, who was still drinking despite the immense amount of alcohol she'd already consumed that night. Girl talk was definitely not his forte. It was then that he noticed the freakishly tall ryoka, he believed his name was Chad, standing silent with Hitsugaya-taicho and Ishida across the group. Figuring that tonight couldn't get any worse than it already was, he plucked up his courage and headed in their direction, thinking that maybe he could get a word or two out of the kind giant and the other two before the night was over.
He was halfway across the short distance when out of no where, Rukia seized his hand and pulled. Hard. He let out an audible shout as he was dragged, literally against his will, to the dance floor.
His shout caused the entire group, even those fully engaged in their debates, to take notice of what Kira was now sure was a personal violation against him.
Kira was slightly, no, very uncomfortable as they "danced", remembering the strange way she behaved when he'd asked her to dance in the first place, but didn't want to embarrass Rukia any more than she was already. For she sadly did not realize that Rangiku, Hisagi, and the others were all staring at them in horror and dismay. The manner in which Rukia had approached him was just a teensy bit disconcerting, and causing a lot of ruckus across the group. Something must have happened, surely, for Rukia to be acting so... well...
Which made no sense whatsoever.
So Kira tried what he could to make the situation less awkward. He tried small talk. He tried dumb jokes (well, his version of dumb jokes). Anything to lighten the mood. But Rukia was so intent on dancing that all of his attempts were thwarted. He glanced from time to time at the group against the wall, even appealed to them for help a couple times, but they seemed deep in conversation as they looked their way.
Feeling abandoned by the only people who could get him out of this, he reluctantly tried starting up a conversation with Rukia again.
"So... uh, you decided to take me up on my offer, I guess. Ha ha... ha... hmm." Rukia was as both as focused and distracted as she could be, so of course she did not answer. Kira, once he got past the insanity of what Rukia was doing, noticed that she kept glancing away toward the entrance, and followed her hard gaze. He immediately spotted Renji leaning against the wall on that side of the room, looking sullen and even a little depressed, and wondered why in the world Rukia would be looking at Renji like that. Unless... He stared at Rukia's expression for a moment, then switched to Renji's...
And then it clicked.
Of course she would act this way. It all made perfect sense. If Renji had said something rude, as he was often known to do, then Rukia would want to make him jealous. And who better to make him jealous with than someone who'd conveniently offered to dance with her earlier in the night? Most of the group had had a sneaking suspicion for a while that Renji and Rukia had feelings for each other, and they were always getting into little tiffs, but they'd never been bad enough for Rukia to take such... drastic... action in retaliation.
Kira decided to try to get down to the bottom of the situation. "So Renji looks pretty gloomy over there... what's his deal?" It was natural that he ask about Renji: they'd gone through school together with Momo, and the three of them were pretty close, so it wouldn't be surprising for Kira to be concerned for his friend. Instead of Rukia letting up a little bit and maybe talking about what was on her mind like he thought would happen, her face contorted with rage at the mention of their red-headed friend, literally shoved him aside and went off to find another dance partner. The sheer force of her blow knocked Kira clear over, and he was almost trampled by enthusiastic dancers several times before he could get back on his feet and escape certain death.
Kira had no idea what had happened, but it was clearly terrible if Rukia was this ruthless.
* * *
How DARE Kira mention that brutish imbecile when I'm trying desperately to take my mind off of him. Rukia was furious with the turn of events that her night had taken. She'd arrived perfectly ready to be bored to death and wish for something to happen, just like every year. Be careful what you wish for, huh? Instead of nothing happening, EVERYTHING was happening. She'd dreaded this party every year because she was afraid that this exact thing was going to happen. Someone would piss her off and there would be no way the evening could take a turn for the better. And the cherry on top was the fact that she was now a complete emotional wreck because of him.
He ruins everything.
When she actually stopped to think about what Renji had said to her to make her this upset, she realized that it wasn't actually that bad of an insult. She could have joked it off if she had cared to. But the fact that he would try any kind of comment tonight of all nights was just too much for her already on-the-fritz nerves to handle. All she asked for was for something to go right at a Christmas party.
What can I do to really get back at him? To really make him angry?
And then she saw the orange hair. She smirked evilly.
* * *
Renji felt completely isolated in his self-loathing. He hung away from the crowd and refused to dance with the girls who were brave enough to ask him. He felt sick to his stomach and considered drinking away his pain, as per usual, but eventually decided against it in the event that he do something else to upset Rukia further.
Sure, when I said it out loud it sounded bad, but I didn't mean it like that. And even if I did, why would she get that upset about it?
He barely registered the fact that she was practically molesting Kira in her attempts to make him jealous. He stared off to the side for a good twenty minutes. That's when he saw the orange hair. Why would Ichigo...?
And then he saw who his partner was.
And that's when he lost it.
This kick to his pride forced him to emerge from his apathetic pity party. His heart thundered in anger at the absurd sight of Rukia dancing with Ichigo. He launched himself off the wall and stalked across the room to the dancing couple. He locked eyes with Ichigo momentarily. The expression in the strawberry's eyes pleaded, "Save me! What is this all about?" For a moment, Renji almost felt bad for the guy, but remembered his task, grabbed Rukia's shoulder, stopping her in her tracks, and whirled her around to face him.
"Ok, when you dance with Ichigo is when you've gone too far. Outside. Now." Keeping a firm grasp on her arm, he carted her off through the throng to the exit, grabbed her coat and his own from the front, and essentially threw her outside into the snow.
Once he shut the door and stepped down the stairs, Rukia rounded on him.
"Where do you get off dragging me out like that?"
"Where do you get off dancing with guys like... like... that? You were practically having sex with them on the floor! I saved you from further embarrassment! You should be thanking me!" Renji's face now matched the color of his hair.
"Oh, I should be thanking you? For what? For insulting me? For never paying attention to how disrespectful you sound when you address other people?"
"Oh, this is about me now, is it?"
"Yes!" Rukia screamed in his face. She bent down, balled up some snow and chucked it at Renji. He just barely managed to dodge it before it collided with his face.
"You know, every day you insult me, every day you call attention to my shortcomings as a person." She lobbed another snow ball at him. "As a Soul Reaper." Another one. "As a woman! And on the one night when I try to feel like something worth people's time, worth my own time, you're trying to ruin it! I refuse to sit by anymore and live with this abuse!" A constant stream of snow balls were projecting themselves toward the poor soul attempting to dodge them. Even using shunpo, he wasn't able to avoid them all.
"Rukia! Slow," he dodged, "...slow down! I can explain what I said!"
"Oh, I'd love to hear what you have to say! How will you try to get out of it this time, huh? You know, hearing about how dumb I am or how slow I am isn't nearly as insulting as when you imply that I'm not worthy of a man's time. 'Why would Kira want to dance with you?' Isn't that what you said? I just... God, sometimes you just make me so..." Renji took advantage of the momentary pause in her rant to interject.
"Rukia, I didn't mean that like you aren't worthy of Kira's time. I said it like that because we all know that Kira... well it's kind of obvious that he's in love with Hinamori. I went through school with them, and I've seen the way he acts around her for years. It's a wonder she hasn't noticed it herself. But... I just meant that it was strange of him to ask you to dance when we all know he'd give anything to dance with her. But I wasn't like, looking down at the fact that he asked you. Not at all. Any man would be lucky to dance with you. I just wish that I'd had the courage to ask you myself before he did.... And then you went and danced with the freaking strawberry! I just got so... I mean, who goes and... he's my..." He paused. "You and I...." He couldn't finish.
A moment passed when neither of them said anything. Rukia had dropped the snow ball she was preparing to throw and simply stared. Renji's eyes were fixed on his feet to hide the fact that his face was as red as a beet.
Quietly, Rukia walked toward Renji, her shoes forging deep holes in the ground. When she was literally inches from him, she peered up into his face with a small smile. Slowly, his eyes rose to meet her deep purple ones. She had that look again, the same one he spotted when she was sitting alone on the porch. Before he wrecked both their evenings with a stupid remark.
"You were jealous, weren't you?"
Renji recoiled, and spluttered, "Why would you...? What? That's... that's completely... absolutely not! I just... He's an idiot," he finished lamely, avoiding her face at all costs.
Rukia gave a small laugh in midst of his embarrassment. "Would you like to dance, Renji?"
He turned back to face her, his heart not daring to hope that he'd heard her correctly. But when he saw her smiling up at him, he allowed himself a moment of belief and did something he'd been longing to do since the night began.
He took her delicate face in his hands and kissed her.
For a moment, neither fully understood what was happening, but once the initial shock of Renji's action subsided, they relaxed into it. They pulled away softly, looked at each other for a second, then both turned away, blushing uncontrollably. Their shared awkward giggle soon turned into insuppressible laughter, and as they fell to the ground, beside themselves, Renji gathered some snow in his hand and shoved it in Rukia's face.
"Ugh! You're so gonna pay for that!" Rukia sprang up and began arming herself with snow balls as Renji did the same.
"Payback for earlier," he replied with a slightly evil grin.
A full out snow ball fight then commenced between the two of them. It was an intense battle to say the least. Neither one proved victorious over the other, because they soon collapsed on the snow, side by side, exhausted from their efforts. Rukia turned to him.
"You know, you're not such a bad kisser."
"Oh, uh, thanks," Renji blushed. He moved to thrust more snow in her face and make it less awkward for himself, but before he had the chance, she leaned into him and their lips met. They lay there under the stars until dawn, not caring if their squads wondered what had become of them.