AN: I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas and will have a very happy new year too. Other than the usual boring family stuff, not much has happened on my end. But, I have been writing quite a bit, which is always exciting. So, without further ado, I present the second half of this story.

Enjoy!


For the next week, Rukia had the strangest craving for strawberries. It was just the weirdest thing to her. She'd had no personal preference or aversion for it before, and yet now here she was, always in the mood to have some. A truly complex conundrum, her friends commented with interest, bemused by her new obsession.

"What happened? Did you fall in love with strawberries over the weekend?" asked a confused Sentaro.

"Are you having a food fad? People have it sometimes you know, but it usually happens when you're a toddler and not a young adult," said a curious Isane.

"Oi, you pregnant, Rukia? I swear that's all I see you eat," commented an idiotic Renji, who then earned an upper cut to the face for his comment. A part of her prayed that she broke his jaw, teaching him a lesson he should've learned a long time ago.

But her answer to his question was 'no', her reason for the munchies much too simple and stupid, but refusing to say it out loud. Her Kuchiki pride was strong, and even though she protested it on occasion, this certainly wasn't the time to start, unless she wanted to be the butt of every joke for the next five months. Rukia knew exactly what this was: she was falling for a guy she didn't even know.

And over what? A new CD? Awesome concert tickets? The fact that he looked like someone carved out of marble and come to life? It was all so pitifully shallow that she couldn't bring herself to admit she was crushing, especially not to her friends who knew her as the overly sensible, almost critically realistic type.

So, she promised herself that he would stay her dirty little secret, hidden deep down in her subconscious and out of plain sight. Hopefully she was just in a phase. After all, no one really fell in love with a man they barely knew, nor did they do so as quickly as she did. This infatuation would end as soon as it started and perhaps, she'd get to make a real, long lasting friend.

She just had to keep saying it until it stuck.


When Saturday rolled in, Rukia had outfitted herself for a good time.

An old band shirt she had bought ages ago was modified with rips and tears, self-made and meticulously done, baring just the slightest bit of her stomach. She wore the shirt with combat boots and jean shorts, making sure she looked the part of the groupie. And, despite her inward cringing, she had even paid attention to her make-up, looking a little softer and more feminine that she was used to.

Waiting in front of the venue, she was impatiently watching out for Ichigo, mindlessly checking her phone every few seconds. Though he had no idea, Rukia liked to call him by his first name whenever she thought of him (and those were selectively seldom, of course). But, she wasn't sure if he'd mind her using it with him, even though he'd used hers so naturally from the beginning. Shrugging it off, she decided to discuss it with Ichigo later. If they were ever going to be real friends, then stuff like that needed to be written into rules before certain habits were set.

Rukia checked the clock again, noticing how the front of the club was emptying swiftly, most of the patrons already inside and preparing for the show. Her anxiety was starting to climb, and vaguely she couldn't help but speculate if she was being stood up. Her ticket was in her hand, ready to be accepted for entrance, and yet he was nowhere in sight.

Dammit, where the hell is he? she asked herself, becoming angry as a little more time ticked by. She made a decision within seconds. Five minutes, that's as long as she'd give him. If not, then she was going in there and having the time of her life by herself and using her fake ID to buy enough alcohol so she wouldn't recognize his face tomorrow.

"Hey! Rukia!" Oh, so now he comes. She did her best to look as irritated as possible, but the relief was still tangible inside her. When she turned to see him, her breath caught in the most clichéd way that it almost made her head spin. He jogged towards her, dressed in a pair of jeans and, to her surprise, the same shirt she wore, only in a larger men's size. He halted beside her, hands on his knees and crouched.

"Idiot! Where have you been?" She tried not to think about how easy it was to call him out.

"Sorry. My job went into overtime," he panted, drawing himself up and looking down at her. She nodded, accepting, but then looked at her watch and saw the time.

"Less talk-y, more walk-y!" Rukia grabbed his arm and pulled him in, his protests falling on deaf ears. There was no way he was going to make her miss the opening number, nor was she not going to get a good spot. He had delayed her long enough.

Inside, the vintage-styled room was already sweltering, filled to the brim with other excited fans, alternative rock music playing in the background. Her eyes dazzled, taking in the small stage and cramped crowd with a grin. Something caught her attention to her left, where she found Ichigo with two drinks in his hands, a beer and a soda. He handed her the latter without a thought.

"The hell?" she asked, taking it and eyeing the thing offensively. His omniscient eyes told her that he knew she was underage, if just barely, and he wasn't going to have any drunk teenagers on his hands. While irritating, she was impressed by his sense of responsibility, and at the same time wondered why he even invited her if he knew she wasn't exactly legal. Well, she wasn't about to bring it up in conversation, not now at least, and took a large swig before grabbing his hand this time and dragging him into the sea of people.

And eventually the stage filled, four members each on their own instrument. Who stood out was the white-haired main vocalist with his guitar sitting along his front, introducing the band to their adoring audience. Without trying, her heart began to palpate, eyes meeting his by accident. Hitsugaya Toushirou was her hero, and anyone who knew her well enough knew that fact too. The deep, silky smooth tone of his talking voice completely disappeared when he sang, falling into something even more entrancing than the most addictive drugs. She was enamored, and it showed visibly on her face.

The show was like a build-up of energy, starting off on a high note and steadily gaining steam. To prevent any lulls in the overall flow, slow songs were transitioned into carefully so that there was no hesitation. And while the talks were few, they were meaningful, an interactive part that Rukia took great interest in, even though she couldn't always hear or see over those who towered over her. That was when Ichigo would step in, moving closer to her and finding her an area that was more friendly for those who were height challenged. He'd lead her with a hand on her back, pushing gently but protectively, making sure not to jostle her or anyone else too much. He was entirely too gentle for someone with such a fierce face.

When they reached the last song, she knew that their closing for the two-hour set would be her favorite, one from their sophomore album that had launched her addiction in the first place. Her heart felt light with elation, as she bounced on the balls of her feet, screaming lyrics along with the rest of the crowd. Even the keenly composed Ichigo let his hair down a little, mouth the words and moving to the beat much more gracefully than she thought he would. It seemed that tonight was full of surprises.

When it ended, the atmosphere didn't die, instead transforming into the bar and lounge it was meant to be. Some left, but most stayed to mingle and talk about the concert, praises punctuated by loud cheers and half-drunk comments. Not sure what to do now, Rukia moved to ask Ichigo but found that he had disappeared into the crowd. Irritably, she wondered where he went and why he'd abandoned her, completely left to fend for herself. It was very different from his earlier attitude, when he protected her without a second thought, manhandling just about anyone who got too close for comfort. He wasn't within her eyesight's range, as she stood on her tiptoes to see if he'd just been misplaced by the crowd. Maybe now that the live was over, he and her would go their separate ways, as they had done so before. The thought caused emotion to tighten in her chest, feeling angry at nothing in particular. But she had always hated feeling foolish.

Gathering her things, Rukia moved towards the exit, deciding that she might as well end the night while the good memories were still fresh. She'd be better in the morning as she recounted the concert, carefully omitting anyone with bright colored hair and strong hands from the thoughts. At least she could choose to remember it as a flawless experience, leaving none of the ambivalence he'd unwittingly given her. As she pushed herself apart from the lingering fans, Rukia was pulled by the shoulder and spun backwards, eyes coming up to hazel-brown ones.

"Hey, where were you going?" Ichigo asked, looking confused by her departure.

"I thought you were gone, so I was gonna bail." She didn't even try to lie. There was no shame in admitting it; he had abandoned her for a while, so it could be assumed that he'd been heading home himself.

"I wouldn't do that," he frowned, voice definite and almost offended by her accusation. And while she was glad he hadn't intended to just run out on her, Rukia's patience for him was starting to get testy again. She didn't like that she felt as if she was at fault when it was so obviously the other way around.

"While that's good to know, maybe we should call it a night. You work, right? Don't you have any tomorrow?"

"No, I took the day off." He scoffed, eyes narrowing when he realized what she was trying to do. "Look, I want you to meet a few friends of mine. They're here and that's who I was talking to when I lost you in the crowd. Just come and say hi."

"Wait, Ichigo—" But she was already being dragged back into the sea of bodies and towards the stage, his grip firm and unrelenting. A part of her was curious if he did this often, dragging other people around to keep up with his pace. Personally, she didn't quite like the way he handled things, all rushed and brash in execution. She was going to tell him so, but then they arrived at the entrance leading to the backstage dressing rooms and her heart began to pound wildly in her chest.

"Where are we going?" she asked, eyes wide as she passed a make-up artist and stylist, as well as a few roadies moving gear out through the back exit. It wasn't a particularly large area, so the few that were there congested the space, taking up more room than what it could actually accommodate.

"I already told you, I'm introducing you to some friends of mine."

"And who exactly are these 'friends'?" She hoped she didn't sound as desperate as she thought she did.

"If you haven't guessed by now, then you can just wait until we get there." Oh dear God, please don't tell me…

"Oi, Kurosaki, you're back!" a familiar faced drummer said, as he lounged on the couch and sipped the bottled water in his hand. If it was physically possible, Rukia knew her eyes would've popped out of her head before rebounding off the walls, as her companion and the rocker talked casually.

She scanned three of Death to the Party's members, gaze falling on each of them in a mix of complete shock and utter excitement. The percussion man in question was Madarame Ikkaku, known for his bad boy attitude and quick temper, as well as that shaved head of his. Near one of the mirrors was his best friend, the pianist Yumichika Ayasegawa, checking the painted feathers along his eye and looking pleased. His prettiness made her stomach flop, as she found that he really was more beautiful than a girl in person, her awe of him wringing in her chest. The third member was in the corner, checking his phone with the most serious expression on his face. Hisagi Shuhei was the main bass player and back-up guitarist, known for his staunch, up-standing character despite his prominent role in the independent rock scene.

As she took their forms in, Rukia could feel the lightheadedness begin to settle into her foggy mind. She wondered if this was some sort of amazing dream and she was going to wake up at her desk in her apartment, homework spilled to the floor and the remnants of an energy drink at her side. It would certainly explain this wild delusion and then some. So caught up in her whirlwind of inner fangirling and suspected moment of insanity, she didn't even notice who had stepped into the room behind her. Luckily for her, Ichigo did.

"Oi, Toushirou, you're back. Great job tonight."

"It's Hitsugaya to you." And then her heart started to fibrillate in her ribcage, successfully short circuiting without ceremony. If one could call Ichigo devilishly attractive, then Hitsugaya was definitely mind-numbingly beautiful. While considerably smaller than the statuesque older man, his white-haired counterpart made up for it with icy charisma and a voice that could seduce even the most loyal servers of God from their promises. He was born from the stuff that harbored perfection, and she had been totally taken by him since the beginning of her obsession.

"Don't be like that, Toushirou. We've been friends for years." That piqued Rukia's attention, as wide eyes went between her new friend and the main singer. Somehow, the relation was strange but very fitting. They gave off the right kind of aura that spoke volumes, a closeness that had lasted longer than either of them had intended.

"It's not by choice, I assure you."

"Even I know that much. You hang around just to see Karin, and we both know it." Who's Karin? The question sat on Rukia's lips, but the transparently annoyed glare from Hitsugaya made her stop from asking. She could've sworn she heard a bit of bite in Ichigo's voice, but it was so subtle that she couldn't be sure. Obviously she must have been someone important but a rather touchy subject between the two of them.

"Did someone say my name?"

All eyes went to the door, and a girl looking not much younger than Rukia herself was there and dressed in concert attire. Her maternal instincts kicked in and she began to ponder who let people into this club if a mere eighteen year old could just waltz in, never mind that she herself was only a year older.

Just looking at the new girl and her pretty face, Rukia had a feeling that this 'Karin' was related to the Kurosaki at her side, not because of something superficial but because of an internal fire that was hosted inside her. It was something in the way she stood, the way the air turned about her, those ever-displeased eyes that seemed to know much more than they let on, they were all much too similar to his to be coincidence. Taking in her maturing face, it left Rukia feeling strangely young, her own childish in comparison.

"Oh, Karin, you were here too?" Ichigo asked, surprised to see her.

"Yeah, Yumichika gave me some tickets and an ID to get in," she nodded towards the dark-haired man, smiling just a bit in thanks. If Rukia didn't know any better, he seemed to be sharing knowing looks with Ikkaku and Shuhei out of the corner of his eyes, the two of them looking far more interested in the conversation now that Karin had arrived. While Rukia tried not to read too far into it, the feeling of conspiracy was definitely there.

"Aren't you a little young to be here?" This time it was Hitsugaya who spoke, turning towards her with his arms crossed over her chest. As if a mysterious force had come down on them, the atmosphere within the room changed, charging itself with quiet challenge. Looking up at Ichigo, he met her with a press of his finger to his lips, a sign to keep silent, and if she didn't know any better, it was accompanied with the smallest flicker of amusement.

"Aren't you too boring to be the leader of a rock band?" Her sarcasm was definitely familiar, enunciated in the same way as the orange-haired man's; Rukia recognized it because the majority of their dialogues were in that tone. If these two weren't related, then she'd eat her ticket stub.

"No one asked you for your opinion."

"Yeah, well no one asked you to be born and yet you're still here, aren't you?" Mouth falling open, Rukia could hear the raucous laughter of the boy's band mates, howling with amusement and encouragement for the young girl. But if Rukia was allowed to voice her opinion, she'd say that all of this seemed to play out like a well-worn pattern, her eyes darting between the two in question. While the girl known as Karin was smug, there was no anger in her opponent's face, just mild irritation and a faint bit of resignation. No, this was definitely not their first battle.

"It's a little late passed your bedtime, Kurosaki. Have your brother escort you home," he countered, walking over to the couch and taking a seat, flippantly dismissing her. Unfortunately, it only further riled up the obsidian-colored girl, irises flashing at his impertinence. If they were any less civilized, Rukia thought they might actually physically fight.

"Don't tell me what to do! Just because you're some hotshot singer you think I'm just gonna bow to your whims?" Her scoff was childish in voice, but her face was darkened with anger. The older girl recognized it as a personal trait she had herself, the kind that hated being seen as too young and therefore underestimated. It seemed that Karin was fighting for more than just equal footing with the older man, but what it was she didn't think the other girl knew herself.

"If I could get you to stop coming to every concert, that would be more than enough for me."

"Then tell your friends to stop inviting me! I swear, they only do this to piss me off!"

"That's not true," Ayasegawa interrupted, flicking a piece of hair behind his ear gracefully. "We do it to piss off Hitsugaya, not you. Lord knows why a teenage girl gets to him more than any one of us does."

"I know why," Ichigo butted in, his lips in a full-on smirk but with a bit of mystery mixed in. He looked so playful, so interested in their game that his eyes shone like dark diamonds. She'd never seen much emotion in him before tonight, but now she didn't think she'd be able to forget even one of them.

"Oh really? Tell me." It was definitely an order, not a suggestion.

"Don't say anything, Kurosaki. You and I both know you're just guessing about things you don't understand." On the other hand, Hitsugaya's was most certainly a command, eyes promising painful death if his words weren't heeded. So Ichigo decided to keep his mouth shut, not out of fear for the other but his own amusement instead. That, and both he and Toushirou knew he was going to hold this over his head for as long as he could, savoring his victory over the younger man.

"Hey, who are you?" It was Karin's voice who broke her reverie, pulling Rukia's gaze from the silent war between the two men and turning towards the other girl with an interested look. There wasn't any disapproval or animosity, but the wariness in her eyes spoke volumes. What it was for, Rukia didn't have to slightest idea.

"Ah, I'm Kuchiki Rukia. I came here with Ichigo."

"Ichi-nii?" Her eyes turned distrustful then, as if sizing up her pint-sized frame. It made her uncomfortable, but nothing she couldn't handle. She'd been dealt stricter and scarier opponents.

"Oh yeah. I never got around to introducing you. Rukia, my little sister Karin. Karin, Rukia." To say it was rushed would be an understatement. Perhaps introductions just didn't occur in the Kurosaki household because it seemed that Ichigo had never been well-trained in any of the artful manners that most seemed to know. Or maybe she was too conscious of them because of her upbringing. No, she preferred the former.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Rukia said, smiling as naturally as she could, despite the obvious suspicion in Karin's eyes. Her only response was a nod, courteous but quick, precise so as not to give anything away. And again, Rukia felt as if she was missing something crucial about the Kurosaki clan.

"Likewise." But she didn't sound all that happy.

"Excuse Karin. She was born with a monotonous voice and very few emotions," Ichigo pardoned, glaring at his sister willfully. Rukia couldn't help but think that this was a change of pace, having the wild and crazy strawberry apologize for his sister's lack of social etiquette. A complete 180, if she'd ever seen one.

"No, it's alright. I'm not really exciting company is all."

"Don't try and make excuses for her, midget."

A vein just above her eyebrow began to twitch. "What did you just call me?"

"Oh, did I hit a nerve?" A smirk.

"What would you know, fool!" A swift kick to the shin was her answer, a smile filling her face when Ichigo had to grab it, clutching it with both hands and hopping on the other for balance. It incited comments from the rest of their spectators, howling laughter and sly grins shooting his way.

"Kurosaki just got owned by a girl half his size! Greatest. Thing. EVER."

"Roaring and cursing like a hyena is not beautiful."

"She's got spunk, I'll give you that."

"Could you please leave now that you're done making a fool of yourself?" That was definitely Hitsugaya, arms crossed over his chest, a scowl perpetually on his pretty boy features. It was compounded by an amused nod from Karin, who was looking infinitely warmer at the older girl. Probably had to do with some family secret she wasn't privy to.

"Hey! I came out to support you guys and this is the thanks I get?"

"Pfft. You asked for those tickets, and I think we can all safely assume they were for her."

The ebony-colored Kurosaki gestured overtly to the surprised Kuchiki, whose eyes widened in reaction. Turning her head to the tall man, she noticed that a red flush was crawling from his cheeks. She tried not to find it cute.

"I didn't- I- no- What do you guys know anyway?" Ichigo sputtered, volume rising with his frazzled emotions. The look Karin gave would have made even the smartest man alive feel stupid and completely outclassed in any and every way. Rukia was liking her more and more.

"I think living with you for almost all my life and sharing the same blood—as unbelievable as it is—are two very good reasons as to why I 'know' these things."

"Whatever. Let's go, Rukia. I don't think we're wanted here anymore." His tone was gruff and just the slightest bit embarrassed, his frown contradicting his brightened color. Unbidden a pleased grin fell on her face, her heart hammering a little harder at the change of emotions. As he stalked out the door, hands shoved into the pockets of his jacket and back uncharacteristically hunched, Rukia turned to the others and bowed, waving goodbye to a much friendlier looking Karin before she followed him out into the cool autumn night.


Despite her protests, Ichigo demanded he take her back to her apartment, even though he'd said he lived in the opposite direction. Rukia had a feeling he would, him being chivalrous in the strangest and most unconventional ways. It was a relief that she didn't have to walk by herself, but it made her wonder how he was going to get back home, the night late and with darkness creeping over the city.

When she asked, he just turned to her and said, "I'll call someone." He didn't specify anything more, just shrugging as they walked alongside each other in silence. Her place wasn't too far, a good distance that would take more or less twenty minutes. She tried not to think about what would happen once they got there, if they'd exchange numbers and officially become friends or if he'd just walk away and go back to being another customer. She wasn't sure if she could be the one to make such a call.

As they treaded the cement path beside each other, the quiet was companionable, almost unexpectedly so. She'd expected… well, she wasn't exactly sure, but this calm and easy atmosphere certainly wasn't it. For all his comebacks and rebuffs, Rukia had thought he'd be more talkative, someone who wouldn't know how to read her and the air around them, filling it with chatter to ease his nerves. Surprisingly, he seemed to know what was unnecessary, as he kept his pace even so she wouldn't have to keep up with his long strides and looked onward without a word. Discretely, she gave him a soft look out of the corner of her eye before going back to her own thoughts.

Too soon they reached her building, as she motioned to it with a wave of her hand. Stopping beneath the light of a streetlamp, she turned around to face him, shooting him a content stare.

"Tonight was really fun. Thank you," she said, her hands unconsciously messing with each other.

"It was no problem. Thanks for coming. I know it was kinda weird to get an invitation from a stranger, right?" he joked, scratching the back of his head in an awkward but cute way. It made the side of her lip twitch, fighting back a larger smile.

"Would you like to come up?" It was an invitation to extend their night, a way for them to talk over coffee and really get to know each other. This was the hand she was going to play; Rukia could only hope that he would match it with his own. He studied her for a second, eyes becoming glassy and unseeing, deep in thought over his reply. Unfortunately, it wasn't the one she wanted.

"It's late. I think I should go."

"Oh." She tried not to sound disappointed, but she wasn't the kind that took rejection well. But she didn't let it get to her, trying to mask her saddened response with a wry beam and an overly cheerful tone. "Well, that's okay. Maybe next time, if you stop by the store or something. But, yeah, you're right, it's late and I should go in and you have to get back. Good night, Ichigo."

Inwardly cursing her rambling and wanting to bang her head against the wall, Rukia sighed as she turned away, her frown marring her pretty face. But it was Ichigo who snapped her out of it, calling her back when she stepped away from the circle of fluorescent light.

"Wait, Rukia. I want to give you something."

Straightening her back, she moved to return to her spot when he crossed the distance, steps quick and sure. Mouth open in question, Rukia's mind halted at what he did, thought now physically incapable for her. There were shocks rippling down her back and to her toes, her hands grabbing at air until she felt them fall onto warmed cotton, her fingers tightening in them. And her eyes fell close, surprise making way for the sweet gesture of his kiss, his own hands finding her shoulders to keep her close.

There was no finesse or technique, which was surprising consider the wealth of beauty the orange-haired man had. And yet it still managed to take her breath away, the thrumming inside her growing to a roar that was loud in her ears. Impossibly she tried to pull him closer, as she tilted her head to gain more access to him, reveling in his warmth. It was only a moment and yet it felt like an eternity, completely mind-blowing in all the best possible ways. When they parted, it felt as if he'd taken something crucial from her without her consent, palming it in his hands with care.

He didn't say anything after, but the gleam in his eyes somehow said more than words ever could. Placing his hands back in his pockets, Ichigo turned back towards the way they came, Rukia staring after him as he went. She brought a finger to her lips, warm and lightly chapped, but the smile that unfolded remained there even after she stepped into her apartment.


Rukia went to sleep happily, dreams filled with feather soft hair in the brightest shade of tangerine and with a sweet, deep voice calling her name. It was irrational, completely opposite of the person she was, but Ichigo wasn't exactly normal either. No, he was certainly an exception in every sense of the word, as her thoughts went to him even as she woke up, groggy and hair thrown astray by her tossing and turning.

It was the sound of her phone ringing that had awakened her, the shrill theme of an anime buzzing away. Vaguely she recalled hearing it a few times before then, but had figured it would go to voicemail easily enough. Instead it was an unwanted alarm that had forced her from her rather pleasant dream state.

"Hello," she muttered, voice scratchy and not particularly friendly.

"How could you?" The voice was loud in her ear, causing her to shrink back at her friend's ranting. In the deepest, still partly sleeping recesses of her mind she managed to identify the caller as Kiyone, an overzealous underclassman of hers.

"Wait, wait, calm down. What are you talking about?" Rukia interrupted, letting out a yawn as she stretched lazily in her bed. It only seemed to rile the blonde more, as she began again in a rushed, high-pitched tone only used by her.

"Since when have you been dating Ichigo, as in the Ichigo?"

"Ichigo?" she repeated, waking up at the sound of his name. The memory of last night's parting crossed her mind then, causing a flush to break out on her peach skin. "How do you know Ichigo? Are you a friend of his?"

"How do I know Ichigo? How do you know Ichigo? And why the hell are you two making out in public?"

"Wait, how did you—" She was interrupted by some commotion outside her window, the sounds of excited voices and… was that a camera's shutter? The two went hand-in-hand, as she walked over to her closed curtains, peering out between them. Her eyes widened at the crowd outside her building, a mix of spectators and paparazzi alike. They stood at the gates, their eyes rapt with interest as they stared at the complex, a certain madness in their eyes. She shut the blue drapes quickly, deciding she did not want to make any sort of visual contact with those people.

"There are people outside my apartment. Do you know why?" she asked, putting her phone on speaker as she began to get dressed, curious as to the reason for the onlookers. Luckily for her, Kiyone seemed to have all the answers.

"Well, duh. They're waiting for you!"

"Me?" She shrugged on a sweater, her voice muffled as she pulled it on. "Why would they be interested in me? Last time I checked, only movie stars and idols attracted crowds like that."

"Exactly!"

"So, what, I'm an idol now?" Rukia did try and hold back a snort of laughter, but it didn't work. The very thought was implausible.

"No!" Her friend sighed, frustrated and crackly over the connection. "The guy you kissed, Kurosaki Ichigo, he's a super famous actor. How the hell do you not know this? He's every-fucking-where!"

"Ichigo? No way!" she laughed, finished brushing her teeth and moving down the hall towards the kitchen and living room. Grabbing a dish and utensils, she sorted through her fridge for food, her voice completely disbelieving. "I'm pretty sure I'd know that, or he would've told me at least."

"And yet we're still having this conversation." Her sarcasm was unwarranted, Rukia couldn't help but think, frowning as she sat at the table and turned on the TV.

"Look, maybe it's just some mistake…"

"Oh yeah? Turn to channel six. You're gonna need to see it for yourself."

Still unconvinced, Rukia did as she was told, finding some sleazy entertainment show on despite the early hour. Turning up the volume, she was halfway into the segment about some actor and his secret love affair. Not seeing anything even mildly telling, she turned back to her cell with a few choice words when a picture caught her attention on screen.

It was her and Ichigo, kissing outside her gate last night.

"Oh shit…"

"I told you. You're in deep too. Do you even know how popular that guy is?" Kiyone spoke, but she was already on the backburner in Rukia's mind. Without even so much as a goodbye, she hung up the phone and moved to the couch, watching as the rest of the piece played out. She heard the male announcer narrate, his voice reporting as a few pictures flashed on screen.

"… bringing to you the latest entertainment news. Our top story is that Kurosaki Ichigo, one of our country's top young actors, is currently in a relationship. Not much is known about the girl in question, but sources have stated that she is a normal college student by the name of Kuchiki Rukia. She is the adopted daughter of the famed Kuchiki family, who are well-known for being one of the oldest and most well-established families in all of Japan. How they met is still unclear, but what we do know…"

Rukia's attention was pulled away by the ringing of her phone again, but this time it was a number she didn't recognize. A part of her, the common sense that was oftentimes correct, told her not to answer, in fear that it might be some scum reporter looking for a story or some crazed fan girl who thought nothing of tearing out her hair in jealousy. But there was the other one, the one that was ready to throw caution to the wind and just roll with the punches, who directed her to pick it up because there was little that could be worse than what was going on. It told her to take a chance on something unknown, and against her better judgment, she went with that gentle prodding in the back of her head.

"Hello?"

"Rukia, is that you?" An overwhelming sense of relief filled her, the voice on the line very memorable and comforting in a way she hadn't been expecting. Clutching her phone close to her ear, some of the worry filtered into her tone.

"Ichigo… What's going on? And how did you get my number?"

"There's not enough time for that. I just… I'm sorry, Rukia," he murmured, voice hushed but regretful. It made her heart flip in her chest, as she listened intently. "I never wanted this to happen. I just… I wanted you to like me. I didn't think anyone was following us..."

"I'm not talking about that," she interrupted, sitting on the couch and curling into herself, huddled protectively in one of its corners. "Why didn't you tell me who you were? It wouldn't have prevented anything, but if I had been prepared I'd at least feel a little less powerless. There are people outside my house, for God's sake!"

"I know. I should have said something," he agreed, his voice turning into a resigned sigh. She could almost imagine him running a hand through his hair, frustrated at his fate. "I just didn't want my… 'career' to change anything between us. We barely know each other, and it's not like I meet a lot of girls who don't know who I am already. I wanted to be a normal guy meeting a normal girl and getting to know her, just like anyone else."

"Oh…" She didn't know what to say to that.

"Look, I know that it might already be too late, but you can still back out if you want." His voice turned sure, regaining some of that characteristic confidence of his. The sound of it brought a bit of relief in her, easing some of the growing anxiety. "I can get my manager to release a statement, denying the whole thing. It'll be a while, but eventually everything will go back to normal. No one will be stalking you, taking pictures of you or anything like that. You can live your life as usual."

"But I'd never be able to see you again… right?" His silence on the other end was more than enough of an answer, the pounding of her heart louder than his soft breathing into the mouthpiece. It should have torn at her inside, making her question her thoughts about him and forcing her to weigh the options carefully. For anyone else, she was sure that no one would decide right there on the spot, needing to sort through the madness with time and maybe some well sought-after advice. She wasn't supposed to feel this sure about such a reckless decision, and even if she was making it on a whim, she knew this couldn't be a mistake. No one could plan emotions any more than they could reverse the earth's spin, after all.

"No, Ichigo, I don't think I could do that." She smiled a bit into her mobile phone, eyes crinkling at the edges in mirth. "I'm pretty sure you're going to have to take responsibility for this."

"Rukia, are you sure…?" His voice sounded surprised, airy as if he'd been holding his breath unconsciously. It only strengthened her resolve more.

"Fool," she laughed affectionately, her eyes going back to the news show that had moved on to a different story, while listening to the hustle and bustle of interested watchers outside. Just a moment ago, both things had scared her, completely pushing her out of her comfort zone. But with him there on the line, the bass of his voice ringing softly in her ears, it all felt rather mundane. She knew that he was something special, and she'd never be so stupid as to pass up on someone as amazing as this. "Have I ever said anything to you that I didn't mean?"

From the opposite end, she can almost see him smile.


It took a while for the hoopla around the scandal to die. Of course, it was much harder for Rukia to adjust, the circus surrounding her whenever she went to school, work or any other intermediary place was total insanity. The constant threats from fans weren't exactly easy to get through either, and she knew that for any other girl these instances would be deal breakers. Ichigo got lucky. He found the only woman in the world who could put up with the craziness that most would avoid at all costs.

Unfortunately, Rukia's sacrifice wasn't met with results immediately. To help calm the storm around them, they'd decided not to see each other for a while, him doing damage control and her trying to just live her life normally, one day at a time. And while it was a mutual choice, it didn't ease any of the discomfort that assailed her on occasion. She knew exactly who and what she was, so now and again she wondered what Ichigo saw in her that was so special that he'd choose her over any of the beautiful co-stars or models he came in contact with. She knew that when she woke up, all she saw was a half-dead zombie who cursed too much, hair standing in ways she hadn't thought were possible. And, unfortunately, her friends seemed to agree with her.

"He used to date Orihime Inoue? Why the hell is he with you?" Her ever-sensitive best friend Renji looked up from the tabloid in his hands, only to be met with a punch in the face. As if her self-esteem needed another reason to be tested. Inoue was one of the most beautiful idols in Japan; she knew there was no way in hell she could compete with that, but did he really have to say it out loud?

"No one asked you! Idiot…" She munched on her bread roll, sitting beside four of her friends at lunch, outside and under a large shady tree. It had been a little over two weeks since her and Ichigo's relationship had started (not fully by choice, those so-called journalists were rather good motivators though) and yet she hadn't seen him. If it wasn't for his occasional calls and random texts, Rukia would swear she'd never know they were supposed to be dating. Oh, those plus the countless magazine covers with his face on it and snippets of their first kiss captioned next to him. Couldn't forget those.

"I think it says a lot for Ichigo that he'd date a normal girl, especially with his status," Isane said helpfully, smiling at Rukia, supportive as usual. She always had loved the bleach-haired girl. There were few who were as evenly optimistic as they were practical in the world. It was an impossible combination to come by.

"I guess so. But really, Rukia, how'd you two even meet?" Kiyone interrupted, having been refused the story since the start of the publicity whirlwind. To be honest, no one knew the real start behind the budding romance, that first time when she'd thrown his stuff at him and cursed his existence out the door. While certainly entertaining, it didn't suit the image of a hardworking student from a rich family. She wanted to keep her pride (as well as her family's image) intact.

"Who knows?"

"You do!" she yelled, pointing an unapologetic finger in her direction. Well, that was certainly true but she wasn't about to spill the beans.

"When all this shit's blown over, I promise to tell you."

"But that's so not fun!"

"Life isn't fun. Sometimes it's hell, ne, Kuchiki," Sentarou butted in, doing his best to one-up up his female counterpart. Getting pulled into it, the inseparable pair started up again, intent to gain the small girl's favor but for what Rukia wasn't sure. All she did know was that their yelling was causing a slight migraine to throb at her temples, her hand going up to massage the internal pain away. She didn't even notice the other's presence until a pair of arms slipped around her shoulders, a longer, warmer body aligning to her back.

"Tadaima*," he whispered, head tucked into the crook of her shoulder, cradling her in his arms.

"Ichigo!" Rukia's head flicked to the side, meeting a sea of dark brown and a content smile. That telltale flush of hers started from her cheeks until it reached her neck and the very tips of her ears. Inwardly, she was ecstatic, the rhythm in her chest turning from a skip to a run. But, in front of her stunned friends and what looked to be a growing crowd of observers and fans alike, she wouldn't let him know that.

"What are you doing here? Don't you have work?"

"That's not a very nice way to greet your boyfriend," he shrugged, entangling himself to take a seat between her and a starstruck Isane. If she could have blushed harder, she would have.

"Yeah, well… It's not as if you're around anyway!" That sounded terribly needy. She hoped he didn't notice.

"You know I'm sorry about that, right?" he asked, voice holding just the tiniest bit of sadness, eyes flashing snatches of regret. Rukia could literally hear the 'aww'-ing of the gathering crowd, and maybe even a few girlish squeals coming from every other direction. It only took her a second to realize what he was doing.

He's acting! This son of a bitch is putting on a show and he's using me! Mentally she cursed his existence, her eyes telling him that she had his entire game figured out. Instead of being mad as she'd hoped, he looked slightly proud and more than a little impressed. Obviously this wasn't his first time doing it, but probably one of the few instances where he had been caught. Either way, she was irritated.

"Ichigo, you shouldn't be invading campuses, even if it's just to see me—"

"I'm not here just for you," Ichigo interrupted, a mischievous gleam coming into his eyes. Immediately, she remembered how much she hated it. On the other (and rather reluctant) hand, Rukia couldn't help but think he looked ridiculously sexy with it on, and she knew she wasn't the only who thought so. It was a wonder he hadn't been chased out or torn to pieces for his clothing. If they were in a more public place, she was sure he'd be swamped with fans by now.

"Oh really?" She raised a brow. "Then why are you here?"

"I was enrolled last week. I start classes today."

Her sputtering was drowned out by the amazed gasps and helpless screams of the bystanders, completely enthralled with the idea that a movie star would attend school on their campus. For Rukia, all she thought was that he was invading the only part of her life that wasn't filled with senseless camera flashes and jealous girls trying to attack her in dark alleyways (overdramatic yes, but not an inaccurate portrayal of her strife).

When she opened her mouth to give him her opinion, she stopped when he gave her a telling look, determination coursing through his face. With just that gaze, she knew that he was doing this nit just for her but himself as well. This one act would offer a bit of normalcy that his star-studded life wouldn't let him have. He wanted to be, on some level, average, which meant being her boyfriend and student, not just the celebrity that everyone expected him to be. Thinking about it, it was a rather sweet (though unorthodox) gesture, how he'd go to such an extent just to prove that he could meet her on an equal footing and still make her fall in love with him. So she shut her mouth, feeling just a bit of anticipation build in her stomach. Turning her head away before he could read her face, she just grumbled a bit to herself.

"Do what you want. It's not my life…" She didn't see the playful look on his face, all adoration and unmasked satisfaction on his normally emotionless face, but she didn't have to.

The feeling of his hand taking hers was more than enough.

The End


*Tadaima: Japanese for "I'm home" or "I'm back."

AN: And so it was written. I hope that everyone enjoyed this little two-shot. Please let me know what you thought in a review so I know whether or not I should keep it up or just stick to my usual HitsuKarin. Haha. By the way, I may or may not do a HitsuKarin side story, depending on if anyone agrees that I should or if I just feel particularly inspired. Let me know, okay?

Thanks for reading, everybody!