Disclaimer: You'd think it'd be clear by now…
Listening to: Bloc Party – "She's Hearing Voices".
The first Friday
The offices of Shihoun Constructions were typically a pleasant place to be. The glass and chrome surfaces were juxtaposed with warm timber floors and the sort of views granted to those fortunate enough to be numerous stories in the air. The atmosphere was also a contrast to the rather minimalist décor; while everyone appeared to be quite busy, there was an air of relaxed camaraderie that made the entire scene look rather inviting and enjoyable – and it usually was.
Usually, of course, being the operative word.
"Don't you dare talk to me like I'm an idiot, and you're some sort of intellectual second coming. The ability to reach stuff on the top shelf doesn't make you more highly evolved, jackass! It just means that the blood takes longer to get to that lone brain cell rattling around your skull!"
"Look midget, height-related jealousy aside, I know what I'm doing when it comes to interior aesthetics. I even have qualifications – you know, those things you get when you're not lucky enough to have been born with the entire fucking silver dinner service in that big mouth of yours."
"How do you make it out the door every morning? Surely your swollen head would have to get stuck somewhere along the line. You are not the only person in the world who ever got a degree; in fact, you're not even the only person in this room - "
"Honourary degrees for the rich and famous don't count, Kuchiki."
"I worked for my degree, you unspeakable - "
"I guess there's a first time for everything, then."
"I'm starting to think that Kami-sama gave you that ridiculous hair colour to warn all sane people not to interact with you, because the experience is quite possibly the most excruciating thing I've undergone in a long while."
The corner office on the twenty-second floor, however, was a dedicated warzone every Friday from lunch onward.
Rukia Kuchiki flicked the strands of her sleek ebony bob into place and glared at her current adversary with violet eyes. That glare, her sharp tongue, and her crisp white shirt, jet black pencil skirt and heels were quite possibly the only things helping her maintain something like order in this meeting. The first two were helping her get more than a few words in and the latter… Well, at least the outfit helped her feel like she belonged in this setting.
Taking a deep breath, she tried again, false sweetness dripping from her tone. "Well, perhaps my suggestions will not work in the space. This seems to be fair, seeing that some of the detail in the plans has changed from last week – a thing that might have been helpful to know. I think we managed to agree, however, that these pieces suited the overall tone of what we were trying to achieve. Is there anywhere else they might go?"
Her sparring partner snorted. "I'll take it home and look it over, but I won't be holding my breath."
Pity, Rukia couldn't help but think.
He stood up. "Look, I've had my fill of Kuchiki 'wit' for the day. I'll let you know if you've actually managed to come up with something. For the love of Kami, don't commit us to anything before we've signed off on it here."
With that, he strode out of the room, leaving Rukia no opportunity to inform him that such a practice was unprofessional, and of the two of them, she was fairly sure that she had the more professional track record thank you very much.
It also left her no chance to throw something solid at his head, which was probably a good thing as it would have negated that professional track record she was so eager to establish.
Since her brother had announced that he was finally building a luxury hotel in their home town and, more to the point, since he'd agreed to let her become involved, Rukia had been on quite the emotional rollercoaster. She'd gone from being elated that Byakuya was letting her take part in the family business at long last, even though she wasn't technically a Kuchiki, to even more ecstatic when she'd been able to reconnect with her childhood friend Renji. It had only gotten better when she had introduced said childhood friend to her own adopted brother…
And then it had all come crashing down. Oh, sure, Renji and Byakuya were doing great, and she was ever so grateful that all of the bedrooms at home were soundproofed, but the problems had come with her role in Shihoun Constructions, the firm that was building the current project. Yoruichi Shihoun, the company president and a friend of Byakuya's, was lots of fun and, despite the general aura of eccentricity that surrounded Kisuke Urahara, the head architect, he was rather entertaining to spend time with. The real issue was her contact among the architects and designers.
To the professional world, he was Ichigo Kurosaki, award-winning architect.
To Rukia, he was Ichigo Kurosaki, award-winning asshat.
Byakuya had entrusted her with finding suitable artworks for the entirety of the hotel; a mammoth task, even considering the rather boutique nature of the business he was planning to open. Given her background in the field – five years of working as an appraiser and part time gallery curator – she knew that while it was going to be an effort to source over two hundred pieces, it was a job that she was more than capable of doing. All she had to do was check in each week with one of the architects to ensure that what she was selecting fit with the current designs for each room.
Unfortunately, that architect was the very same complete and utter bastard who had mocked her height the second she had walked through the doors.
Rukia wasn't an insecure woman, but the one thing that bothered her about her appearance was her diminutive stature. It meant people typically just treated her like a child, despite the fact that she was an adult and probably better educated than they were. The one other thing she really hated was when people assumed she had always had money. Rukia had grown up not on the wrong side of the tracks, per say, but she had been fairly close. The only reason she was even in this position was because her sister, Hisana, had earned a scholarship to study medicine at a prestigious university and, in doing so, had met Byakuya Kuchiki.
Hisana's death, at a very young age, had thrown Rukia among the Kuchikis without a protector for some time. Byakuya had only begun to emerge from his grief a few years ago, by which time Rukia had already developed a sharp tongue, a quick temper and the ability to usually keep them both in check unless needed.
Unfortunately, Ichigo Kurosaki brought both of the more unfortunate traits to the fore.
Rukia sighed to herself, as she began to pack the rest of the photos she had brought in back into her folder. She had to concede, sadly, that the problems whenever they interacted weren't solely Ichigo's fault. As aggravating as he could be, she did consistently rise to the bait, and more than once she had been the instigator of their more unfriendly exchanges. That was one reason, she supposed, why she had not complained about his conduct; hers wasn't much better. The other, and far more important reason, was that she wanted to do well here. The team she was working with, His Obnoxiousness aside, were all really amazing, and the last thing she wanted to do was let Byakuya down on the first job he ever gave her.
Besides, a part of her brain she didn't like to listen to contributed, it's not as though the view bothers you – quite the reverse, in fact!
With a scowl, she shoved the last few folders into her briefcase. So she may have happened to notice that her verbal sparring partner had a toned, athletic frame, a wicked sense of humour and a rather rakish grin, all things she generally approved of, even if the last two were rarely aimed at her. And Rukia may have also spotted, just in the normal course of things, that while she mocked his height and bright orange hair, there was a part of her that approved of these things too.
Of course, all of these traits were negated by the fact he was an asshat.
Or, so she told herself.
Do not even go there, Kuchiki. That way madness lies. Well, madness, and probable murder charges. He'd annoy me into strangling him within a week.
In any case, I'm stuck with him at work. As Renji would say, I have to 'suck it up'.
The situation, that is. Not Ichigo.
Ugh. Note to self – no more trains of thought that involve Ichigo Kurosaki and sucking.
Rolling her eyes at her overactive imagination, she retrieved her phone from her pocket. I clearly need to get out more and meet less obnoxious men. I wonder if I can tear Renji away from Nii-sama for the night to help me…
I hate Fridays.
Throwing himself into his chair and running a hand distractedly through his hair, Ichigo decided to chalk this one up as another defeat.
Just once, I'd like to not sound like a complete bastard when I talk to Rukia Kuchiki. Once, Kami-sama. That's all I'm asking.
Dammit. It's like the midget knows just how to get under my skin and dig deeper. Why the hell can't I keep my damn mouth shut?
Rukia Kuchiki was a problem, at least as far as he was concerned. She had a knack for saying things that seemed to hit all the wrong nerves, and he couldn't help but respond in kind. It wasn't even the things she said; it was her attitude, her tone, all of which screamed 'I'm moneyed up and I'm better than you' and, to a guy who had worked two jobs while studying just to make enough to live on, nothing was more likely to rile him up.
With a grimace, Ichigo swivelled around to face his desk, staring at the pictures she'd brought in. Out of her sight and earshot, he would make the concession that some of these would actually be perfect for other rooms. She had an eye for what would and wouldn't work in a space, he'd give her that. If only she wasn't so Kami-damned annoying…
Though, to be fair, I seem to piss her off just as much.
"Earth to Berry-Head! You actually looking at those pics, or tryin' to mind meld with them?"
The arrival of his co-worker definitely meant that any trains of thought involving deeper contemplation came screeching to a halt.
"Fuck off, Grimmjow. I'm busy."
Choosing to ignore this reply, Grimmjow Jeagerjacques simply gave his trademark maniacal grin, pulled up a chair to rest next to Ichigo and, in short, showed absolutely no signs of fucking off in the near future.
"I call bullshit", Grimmjow replied, still grinning smugly. "I know for a fact your meeting with Kuchiki ran short."
Turning to face him, Ichigo raised an eyebrow. "What? So you're stalking me now?"
Grimmjow snorted. "Don't flatter yourself. Fucken everyone knows your meeting ended early. The screaming stopped a good half hour before it usually does."
Ichigo couldn't help but look shamefaced. "I know. Fuck. I go in there every time telling myself that I'll be professional, but either I say something that manages to set her off, or she gets all superior and we just end up at each other's throats."
"Oh, I bet you do", his friend and tormentor chuckled with a sly grin.
With a judiciously applied elbow to the ribs, Ichigo shot back, "For fuck's sake – not like that!"
Grimmjow shrugged. "Why not? She's kinda cute. Bit like Bee, only Bee's less cute and more seriously fucken hot. I think it's the whole short and angry thing."
Instinctively, Ichigo opened his mouth to counter that, frankly, Kuchiki was better looking, before he froze for two reasons.
Firstly, he was about to compare the girlfriend of the guy beside him to another woman, and back the other woman. He'd done a lot of stupid things today, but he wasn't about to fall into that trap.
Secondly, when had Rukia fucking Kuchiki registered as attractive?
I guess she is. You know, when she's not screaming at me. Which is never.
Still, the way those violet eyes would flare…
Ok, so I've noticed. No big deal. She's short, though. Too short, right? I mean, it makes her look kinda delicate, except she's got decent curves, too. Not ridiculous ones, but just right.
All right, I like her body… And maybe a couple of parts of her face. I mean, the eyes, definitely. And she bites her lip a lot, so I guess I noticed that. In the right circumstances, I guess those lips could be… inviting.
Not that I feel like being invited.
She's still a bitch who hates me, so now things just got really awkward.
Thank you so very fucking much Grimm.
Ichigo broke out of his reverie, only to find that Grimmjow had taken advantage of this and stolen a soft drink out of the bar fridge under his desk.
"Are you seriously taking my stuff?" Ichigo growled, already rankled by the presence of hitherto undetected pro-Kuchiki thoughts.
Grimmjow paused mid-sip. "Well, I guess I could borrow it."
"Borrow? How in the actual fuck would you even return – Oh for – NO!" Ichigo shuddered. "You are so – just have it."
"Sweet." Taking a long swig, he frowned. "You know, Berry-Head - "
"Don't call me that."
" – I can't help but feel that you're goin' too far. I mean, yeah, she gets on your nerves. I get that. But you've been kinda harsh too. If she really was just a spoilt princess, wouldn't she have run to daddy by now and dobbed you in?"
"He's her brother-in-law", Ichigo replied distractedly. He'd wondered the same thing before too, though he usually dismissed it. Maybe she just planned to really screw him over further down the line?
"Same shit", Grimmjow threw back, apparently unconcerned by family trees. "I'm just saying, it may be worth using a bit of restraint. It ain't just something you use in the bedroom, you know."
Ichigo closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. "Ok, first of all, I'm happy for you and Soi Fon, but what you do in private is your own business and I'm fucking begging you – don't tell me any of it. Secondly, who the fuck are you to go talking about restraint? You don't have any!"
"I don't have much", Grimmjow corrected. "And yeah, it's a fair cop. Doesn't matter though. I'm still right."
As much as Ichigo hated to admit it, the man had a point. "I'm trying. Really. She makes it seriously fucking hard though."
"Oh, I bet she does", Grimmjow said with a smirk, only to be cuffed over the head rather sharply by a disgruntled fellow architect. "Oof, I'd be upset about being smacked upside the head if you didn't hit like a girl, Ichi. Anyway, chill. It's Friday, and that means mask night at Alchemy. We're all coming out. I'll even buy you a replacement drink."
It was a tempting offer, one that would help him ignore certain… less than helpful trains of thought. He shrugged. "Sure, I'm in."
It was strange, Rukia thought, how a mask could give you such a sense of confidence. A little scrap of material shouldn't make so much of a difference but, as she shot a quick glance at the two men on either side of her, if she hadn't known who they were already, she might not have recognised them.
Well, she had to concede that Renji's tattoos put paid to that idea, but she'd already spotted several body doubles for Nii-sama. Nudging Renji, she murmured, "I think you'd better be our meeting point tonight. You're easily the most distinctive person here." Judging from the snort she heard on her left, someone else agreed with her.
Renji raised an eyebrow, and fixed Byakuya with a wry smile. "No mocking. I know for a fact that you like the way I look quite a bit, distinctive or not."
It still made Rukia grin to see the faint blush on Nii-sama's cheeks. "No mockery was intended, I assure you."
Renji's smile turned wolfish. "Good. I'd hate to have to punish you."
Of course, they did have a tendency to take it too far. "Uh, right here. Remember?" She got no response, as they seemed a little occupied with one another so, with a roll of her eyes, Rukia descended onto the dance floor, surreptitiously smoothing down her black-patterned red dress, the square neckline cut low enough to show off more than she would ordinarily have felt comfortable with. The matching mask – black with an identical red pattern – had definitely helped in that respect; her dress was also a good deal shorter than usual and fit her like a glove. She felt more confident knowing that she could go unrecognised here.
I won't get any crap for being a Kuchiki from this mob at least.
Ok, drink first, then scan the room and see if I know anyone. Maybe those two will have torn their eyes off one another long enough for me to rejoin them by then.
She managed to squeeze her way through everybody to reach the bar, only to be told by the bartender that they'd just run out of cranberry juice and, while they were getting some more, her Cosmopolitan would have to wait. She sighed, accepting defeat.
"Here", came a voice from behind her. All of a sudden, her favourite cocktail was being offered to her by a strong, long fingered hand. With a smile, she turned to face her benefactor –
Only to be struck dumb by the sight of an all too familiar head of orange hair above a severely cut black mask.
Ichigo frowned. She didn't seem to be willing to take the offer. Then again, a random guy offering a drink was a little dodgy. And then there was the type of drink…
"Look, my jerk friend told me if I came out with him and his girlfriend and braved being a third wheel, he'd buy me a drink", he began, hoping the seriously hot girl in front of him wasn't about to mace him or think he was crazy. "I probably should have guessed there'd be a catch, and thirty seconds ago he presented me with what has to be the pinkest Cosmopolitan ever made in Karakura. I already had to ditch the half a dozen little umbrellas he felt the need to throw in there. I am really not going to drink this, so it might as well go to a worthy cause."
Rukia was still trying to blink away her confusion. This was Ichigo Kurosaki being civil – to her, of all people. More than being civil, he was actually…
Carefully, Rukia replied, "And what worthy cause would this be?"
He grinned. "Hydrating attractive women, of course. I mean, since both of your wing men have abandoned you for each other", he added, motioning to where Renji and Byakuya were now sitting, talking amongst themselves.
She didn't understand the impulse that drove her to keep the conversation going, but she suspected that it may have had something to do with the fact that she was enjoying herself and the fact that, despite all efforts to discover the contrary, Ichigo Kurosaki was fun to talk to, and possibly even more fun to flirt with.
So long as he didn't know he was talking to her.
Rukia gave a long-suffering sigh as she looked over to the two men. "You know, it's such a cliché. Girls always say it's a bad idea to introduce attractive siblings to equally attractive best friends." She smiled wickedly, and added, "Though in my case it worked out fine. I get to tease both of them mercilessly."
"Glad to hear it", he responded, his grin equally mischievous. "Any other attractive men lingering about that I should meet?"
"Why?" Rukia asked, all innocence. "Need me to hook you up?"
Ichigo couldn't stop the snort of laughter that escaped. "Hey, you said they were attractive. I'm just making sure the coast is clear."
"Now, why ever would you be doing that?"
A slow smile broke across his features. "Why indeed? Care for a dance?"
Rukia raised an eyebrow at that. "Do you usually ask strange women you've just met to dance with you?"
"Only the fun ones", he replied smoothly, his smile still firmly in place. "Should I be getting a name from you first?"
Now, that was a worrying thought as far as Rukia was concerned.
I really should tell him. But…
I'm enjoying myself. He's actually not so bad at talking to other people.
And I… I might just want that dance.
Oh hell, what could it hurt?
"I don't know about real names", she began slowly. "Half the fun of this night is the anonymity. It'd be a shame to lose that…"
"Mystery girl, huh?" Intrigued, Ichigo pondered this. "Does this mean we get code names like spies?"
That got a laugh out of her. "I guess it does."
"Well, in that case 'I'm Batman'". Judging from the giggles his attempt at pulling off the voice inspired, Ichigo doubted it had been successful.
"No way", Rukia choked out between bursts of laughter. "You cannot do the Batman voice."
"It wasn't that bad", Ichigo replied with a rueful smile. "Besides, the ladies love Batman. I was hoping to trade in on that."
"Mmmm… The tall, dark and brooding thing is hot", Rukia mused. "But if you can't do the voice then you're just Bruce Wayne, and I don't think I can take a guy named Bruce seriously."
Ichigo's smile widened as he cocked his head to the side. "Ok, fair enough. So, does that rule out Frodo as well? How about… 'I'm Luke Skywalker and I'm here to rescue you?'"
She considered this. "Better. I think I can work with that. Fine. Hi Luke, I'm Hermione Granger." Rukia extended her hand, which was instantly taken up in a calloused palm much larger than hers.
Those are some capable hands he's got there, the annoying part of her brain pointed out. I bet they could do some interesting things…
Dammit – focus!
Ichigo's lips twitched into a smirk. "So, hot, smart and a little bossy? I like the sound of that. Lovely to meet you, Hermione. So, this dance we're supposed to be having - "
"I don't recall actually saying yes", Rukia found herself responding playfully, "but I guess I'll make an exception."
"Even if I'm not exactly tall, dark and brooding?"
Rukia shook her head, a small smirk on her face. "I'll just have to cope. Besides", she added, as she raked him over with her gaze, "I rather like what I see anyway."
He still hadn't let go of her hand and, rather than responding, he simply smiled and began to lead her onto a more sparsely populated part of the dance floor, his thumb brushing against the pulse point on her wrist. Rukia had to marvel at the way such a small gesture had heat skittering down her spine.
So, apparently Kurosaki, when he's not being an asshole, is really, really hot.
That is not going to help my mood next Friday.
Ichigo, on the other hand, was in a fantastic mood.
After all, it's not every night out you get to dance with a hot girl who looks like someone you're attracted to but just so happens to be better, since they're not a bitch.
I mean, 'Hermione' hasn't looked like she's wanted to kill me once. In fact, her intentions look very interesting…
Move over Kuchiki. Here's hoping this gets you out of my head.
Taking his mystery girl in his arms, Ichigo let her move with the music, slowly and deliberately shifting so that they fit together. She was close enough now for him to observe so many details, like the extraordinary length of her eyelashes, the way she smelt faintly of vanilla, or the way her breath seemed to catch when their movement draw her in closer so that she was pulled against him.
As for that last one, Ichigo was fairly certain he probably wasn't breathing normally either. While he'd never exactly been a ladies man, he certainly was familiar with women and he could confidently say he'd never been bowled over by one like this before. He could feel the heat sparking through wherever they touched, and he knew he wasn't the only one; her wide eyes were darkening by the second as they continued to dance. Clearly she was just as attracted as he was.
This… it's really intense. I have to get to know this girl.
Hell, if she gets me feeling like this when we're only dancing, I definitely have to pursue this. Throw in the fact that she's fun to talk to and clearly a fan of Batman, and there's no way I'm just letting this go.
Rukia knew she was royally screwed.
So, apparently dancing with Ichigo Kurosaki has ruined me for all other men.
The problem, she decided, was that he moved far too well. He knew how to lead without being obvious about it, without blocking her, and the way his hands carefully traced shapes on her back, making her feel prickles of anticipation, ensured that she's be all too willing to follow.
Those warm brown eyes she'd surreptitiously admired looked at her as though their owner wanted to eat her alive slowly, savouring every second.
Which wouldn't have been a problem, except she was fairly sure she was looking back at him the same way.
I'm far too attracted to him! Worse, when we're not antagonising each other, I'm far too eager to be in his company. He makes me laugh…
This is going too deep. I need to get out.
As the song came to an end, Rukia disentangled herself – at some point she couldn't name, their dancing had lead to them being entwined. Her eyes wide, she desperately racked her brain for something to say…
Ichigo wasn't surprised that 'Hermione' had pulled away. As far as he was concerned, there was some serious chemistry at play here and he wouldn't mind a chance to step back and take a breath either.
"So", he began, "that was…"
There was no point denying it. She exhaled. "Yeah." Dammit Kuchiki, get a grip and say something a little more erudite. Even Ichigo Kurosaki's putting you to shame. "Look, I'm not exactly the sort of girl who just goes home with - "
"No, I didn't expect - ", Ichigo hurriedly broke in, before gathering his wits. "I'd like to get to know you, though. What about coffee?"
For some reason, she looked a little sad. "I don't think that's a good idea…"
"Why not?" Shit. I sound like a kicked fucken puppy.
'Hermione' looked even more miserable. "I just get this feeling that it won't be the same."
Ichigo wasn't buying it. "You don't have to explain yourself to me – we just met. But you can't seriously tell me you felt nothing dancing with me. You did, and I sure as hell did. If something else is at play here, fine. If not, how about you come along to mask night next Friday? You go home and think things through, and if you don't show I'll leave it alone. If you do, though… wear the same mask and I'll find you."
Rukia let out a shaky breath.
Well, this is fine. I don't have to commit to anything just yet – I'll take the week to think it over. Not that I can really do anything but refuse. Still, this way I don't have to be nasty now.
"I can work with that", she replied hesitantly. "You won't try to find me?"
"On my honour as a Jedi", he threw back, his smile reassuring. "So… See you around, Hermione."
"Bye Luke." Her heart beating so fast that she was sure it was audible, Rukia turned on her heel and walked away, determined to find Renji and attempt to make sense of tonight.
Back on the dance floor, Ichigo watched her go.
Well, that was…
I think I might just be starting to like Fridays.
So, RL and I are tussling, but I'll try to add some more to this little tale soon.
R and R, y'all!