Disclaimer: If I owned Bleach then I could sit back and enjoy my millions, writing my stories whenever the whim took me. Since I don't own Bleach, we are all forced to make do with what little time I have.

Sigh.

Listening to: The Black Keys - "Lonely Boy".

The Second Friday

By the time Saturday morning had rolled around, Rukia had decided not to meet Ichigo again. A twelve hour, relatively sleepless gap after their last encounter had, she felt, given her a chance to assess the situation with some clarity. While she found her co-worker attractive when he took the time to be something other than an asshole, if he could only be civil to her if he was unaware of her identity, he wasn't worth the effort.

Besides, she thought to herself with a sniff, he wasn't that attractive.

xXx

By Monday, Rukia had decided that it might also be better if she didn't see Ichigo at work this Friday. She could easily email and call in sick - she'd never done so before, so they'd have no reason to question her. If push came to shove, she could even get Retsu to vouch for her; her brother's friend would probably guess way too much about why Rukia wanted a medical certificate when she wasn't sick, but she'd provide one all the same. Retsu was understanding, if a little too perceptive for Rukia's peace of mind.

It wasn't that she didn't think she could face Ichigo, but Rukia had been having some interesting dreams over the weekend about herself and her tormentor that involved the sullying of the large and, now that she thought about it, conveniently sturdy desk they met at each Friday.

Ok, Rukia re-evaluated, fighting back a blush, maybe he is that attractive. Stupid tall jerk with capable looking hands and an even stupider smirk. Not that I care.

Still, the last thing I want is to make an ass of myself in front of him by blushing or getting tongue-tied or whatever.

Rukia scowled to herself, attempting to quash a far too fond remembrance of the aforementioned smirk that Ichigo - no, Luke was far too good at.

I should have insisted he go with Frodo as a name.

Or, better yet, Douche Baggins.

xXx

By Wednesday, Nii-sama had started to look at her oddly, and Rukia knew she'd better attend work on Friday or else several questions she really didn't want to answer would be aimed her way. Even Renji had asked her if she was getting enough sleep and, given that he was so wrapped up in her brother that Rukia could have come down to dinner wearing nothing but strategically placed pineapples and he'd probably miss it, that was concerning.

Not that I would, Rukia considered as she flipped her bangs out of her eyes. I mean, pineapples are prickly...

Ugh, stupid sleep deprivation. I'm not even sure which I'm more annoyed about at this point - that thinking about Ichigo Kurosaki is keeping me up at night or that Ichigo Kurosaki himself isn't keeping me up at night.

I can't even muster up the energy to be disgusted with myself for thinking that. I really do need sleep.

Well, hell. I'll go into work Friday, I'll play nice and then I'll stay the hell away from him.

xXx

When Friday rolled around, however, all hell broke loose.

xXx

The door of the meeting room slammed open, as Rukia virtually hurled herself out, visibly fuming. Her violet eyes blazed as she stormed down the corridor with strides one wouldn't expect of someone her height, her white knuckled grip on the folder of photos a tell-tale sign of her rage.

I'm going to make that bastard wish he'd never been born, the lousy, useless - buttface! I don't care if I sound three years old - I wonder if it's too late for Yoruichi to teach me kickboxing? Then I could give the asshat a lesson he richly des -

"Kuchiki, wait!"

Ichigo swore, as he chased after his target, determined to get to the elevator before she did. The midget, however, moved fast, particularly when motivated by rage - a rage that he had to admit, he deserved.

Still, Ichigo was pretty damn sure he deserved the chance to explain himself as well.

"C'mon Kuchiki, gimme a chance to - "

Without even breaking her stride, the woman in front of him used to free arm to make a crude gesture that clearly indicated that no such chance was forthcoming. As much as Ichigo had to admire who could accurately aim such a gesture behind them, he was well and truly over this.

"Dammit, woman! Just stop for a second!"

Even Rukia had her limits. With a growl, she whirled to face him, her eyes narrowed fiercely.

"Did you seriously just call me 'woman'", she spat, as though even repeating his words disgusted her.

Ichigo had to fight not to wince. Yeah, she has a point there. Shit - this is not going well.

"My time is fucking valuable, whatever you might think Kurosaki", Rukia continued, in a voice so acid it threatened to strip flesh from bone. "It's the only reason I sit through these damn meetings, despite the fact that I could increase your brain power by a factor of one hundred and it would still be generous to call you a halfwit. I thought you'd insulted me in every way possible, but today I guess I was proven wrong."

Ichigo fought not to groan. He'd had a plan. He technically had today off - most of the Urahara team did after Grimmjow's birthday last night - but he had elected to come in, rather than force her to reschedule. Ichigo was willing - no, determined to be incredibly polite and professional.

He'd even brought stress balls to hide under the table.

He'd had a plan, dammit.

"Kuchiki, look - "

"You were asleep, you bastard! One hour of your fucking time is all I require, and you can't even do that!" Rukia was glad there were no weapons near to hand - her brother had a very good legal team, but they really were specialists in contract law, rather than in defending infuriated young women who had committed murders after extreme provocation.

Still, she'd be willing to bet that if she filmed her interactions with Ichigo for use as evidence, any jury of her peers would let her walk.

Ok, so she had a pretty good reason to be pissed, Ichigo figured, but if he could just -

"Look, I'm sorry, Kuchiki - I really am." He got in quickly, before she had a chance to add to her tirade. "It was my friend's birthday last night and... well, you know how it is."

It had been a late night, and he'd downed a lot of really mediocre coffee to stay awake for this. Apparently, however, it had not been enough.

Neither was his explanation, as far as Rukia was concerned.

"Actually", she replied in withering tones, "I don't know how it is. I'm a professional."

That did it. She wasn't even interested in his side of the story, she just wanted to fight.

At that point, Ichigo was more than pissed enough to give her what she wanted.

"You know what? I made a mistake, and I've apologised", he snarled. "But I don't think you care about that - you just want to rip into me. So fine, go ahead. Somehow I doubt it's being professional that's stopped you from being forced to make a choice between friends and work commitments. Given that you're a serious fucking rich bitch shrew, I bet your brother couldn't even pay people to stand in as friends."

As soon as the words had left his mouth, Ichigo knew he'd gone too far. He had about a second to see hurt flash across her face and to curse his temper, before Rukia spun around, smacked the lift button with her palm and slipped through the opening doors. Without thinking, Ichigo grabbed her wrist and pulled her back out, refusing to let his inner bastard have the last word in the conversation -

Only to realise that he'd managed to pull Rukia Kuchiki flush against him.

Oh...

Shit.

He'd had a plan. He'd even had a new plan - to apologise profusely for what he'd just said - but all eloquence had deserted him. All he could think of was how surprisingly well she fit with him despite the height difference, how soft and lush her curves felt, despite her apparent slimness, and her eyes...

In that split second, Ichigo felt like he was drowning in violets. He could read her eyes like a book - now he understood why she tended to avoid his gaze. She was angry with him - oh, that he knew - but there was shock there, shock and something he couldn't quite identify, something that almost looked like attraction -

And that was when she slapped him.

"Shit!" Ichigo let go of Rukia's arm, bringing one hand up to touch his left cheek - which was definitely bright red. The other hand went to grab the folder that she had immediately shoved at his midsection.

"Email me about the ones to keep", Rukia hissed, "and then stay the fuck away from me." With that, she turned on her heel and fled, the doors of the lift shutting just in time for Ichigo to smack his head against them.

I am such a fucking idiot. As if Rukia Kuchiki feels any attraction to me. It's pretty clear she loathes me - and I don't blame her one bit.

Me and my big fucking mouth.

Kami. Fucken. Dammit.

xXx

In the car, speeding home, Rukia still couldn't quite stop shaking, with rage and with -

Stupid fucking asshat, with his muscles and his eyes like melted chocolate and his callused hands and -

That does it. I'm going tonight. I'm going to get that prick to spill all his deepest darkest secrets to Hermione...

And then I'll make him pay.

xXx

To say that Ichigo Kurosaki was in the process of mentally kicking himself would be putting it lightly.

To say the Ichigo Kurosaki was in the process of mentally committing seppuku, on the other hand, would be about right.

Sitting at the bar and staring into his beer, he had to admit that, no matter how much of a bitch Kuchiki had been in the past, she would have every right to treat him that way from now on.

Dammit. Why in the fuck does my brain-mouth filter have to disengage when she's around? I'm not usually that much of an asshole, I swear!

He'd even asked around, to be sure. Admittedly, a sample size of two younger sisters and a deranged father didn't make for the most accurate of surveys, but once he got past Yuzu's 'Of course not, Ichi-nii' and his father's 'How could any son of Masaki, an angel descended to Earth, be an asshole', he was able to talk to the most realistic member of his family.

Of course, it didn't help that Karin had just gazed at him steadily with amused dark eyes, then muttered, "You'll have to bring this chick around for dinner sometime when Goatface is out. This I gotta see."

Little sisters were annoying as all hell.

Still, if Karin, who wouldn't bullshit to save herself, didn't think he was a complete and utter bastard, that meant that this was a Rukia Kuchiki exclusive phenomenon.

Oh, joy.

Still, I guess it is comforting to know I'm usually not a prick. It would be a hell of a lot more comforting, though, if I could guarantee I never was. I need a plan...

Shit, I need to stop thinking about this. Hermione will be here any second and she strikes me as pretty sharp - she's bound to notice that I'm annoyed and I hardly want to introduce another woman into the conversation.

Especially one who...

Aggravates me. Purely aggravation here.

Yeah, right.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

Well, shit.

Taking a deep breath, Ichigo turned around and conjured up a smile, something that became a hell of a lot easier when he saw the woman behind him. Dressed in a black sheath that draped over one shoulder and clung to places that would haunt Ichigo's dreams for some time, Hermione's impish smile of welcome was enough to drive away his train of thought, even if it did come from behind a mask.

Rukia inhaled sharply. It had taken her far too long to calm down enough to present herself - after all, Hermione had no reason to be seriously pissed off with the man in front of her - but she'd done it.

Apparently she'd done do far too well. It was too easy to forget how incensed she was when he smiled at her like that, and when he offered her the Cosmopolitan that had been waiting on the bar, her smile wasn't even faked.

Damn him.

Damn him for making me feel like this.

"So, Hermione", he drawled, "are you this happy to see me, or just this happy to see a decent drink?"

Rukia snorted. "Seriously?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. It's hard to tell one from t'other with a face like - "

Her eyes widened as she recognised the quote. "Oh, Kami, no! Please tell me I am not sitting in a bar with a Firefly fanboy!"

"I'll have you know", Ichigo replied, only a little disgruntled, "that particular line comes from the film and not the series. Anyway", he continued, his eyes narrowing, "how did you pick it up so quickly?"

"I - I dabble." She owned the box set.

"Course you do", Ichigo responded dryly. "That's why you look so embarrassed."

She sat down on the bar stool next to him, ignoring his glance. "Shut up."

"So, what's the problem with Firefly?" He was curious; she obviously didn't hate the show, which was a relief.

Rukia rolled her eyes. "Nothing's wrong with Firefly - everything is wrong with people who cannot stop quoting it. It's the new Monty Python..." She broke of as she glimpsed the dangerous look in his eyes. Before he could even open his mouth, she began.

"I don't want to hear about things that are only models, or weapons in bodies of water, or laden and unladen swallows, or coconuts, or the violence inherent in the system, or pushing the pram a lot, or any amount of peril just because you've seen that film too many times!" Satisfied she'd gotten her point across, Rukia waited for his response.

Ichigo's lips twitched. "I don't know. It sounds as though you've seen it a couple of times more than I have."

It was too much for Rukia's sense of the ridiculous. Laughter bubbled up before she could capture it, and she found herself fighting to breathe.

Dammit, why do I get the feeling I'm revealing more about myself than I'm learning about him? At least he doesn't know who he's talking to. I'd probably just get more nasty insults thrown at me.

That thought was more than enough to sober her.

Hermione didn't seem too comfortable with this side of herself, Ichigo decided. She'd just gone awfully quiet...

And that's when he knew what he had to do.

"Hermione Granger", Ichigo began, with the air of someone announcing the meaning of life, which belied the mischief dancing in his eyes, "as a fellow member of this elite community, I am going to teach you to the most important thing you'll ever learn."

"I will teach you how to embrace your inner nerd."

It was at that point that Rukia's laughter drowned out the conversation once again.

xXx

Three hours and several more drinks later, the conversation was still just as animated as before.

"Ok, just please tell me you don't get dressed up and actually act out your Dungeons and Dragons games?" Rukia was trying her hardest not to keep giggling, but the thought of Ichigo dressed as a character from Lord of the Rings wasn't helping.

Ichigo snorted. "Please. There are lines even I don't cross. And it's called larping - say it with me on three - "

"Fuck off", replied Rukia without rancour. "I don't think I can even say that without feeling a little wrong."

With a sigh, Ichigo tried to look as tragic as possible. "Denial. Oh, it pains me still to see it. And we were making such progress..." She dissolved into giggles again. Ichigo had to mentally pat himself on the back. He was getting good at doing this. "Anyway, I don't partake in tabletop role-playing."

Rukia regained her composure long enough to raise an eyebrow. "Never?"

He grinned. "Well, I've got a friend who's really into Star Wars - "

"Funny, does he go around calling himself Luke Skywalker when he introduces himself to women?" Rukia shot back.

"Ha ha, bloody ha. No, it's not me. Anyway, he invited a bunch of us around to play the Star Wars version of Dungeons and Dragons. He gave us a really basic mission where we had to sneak in and rescue a guy, then hightail it out of there." Ichigo's grin widened. Uryuu still hadn't quite forgiven them for this.

"By the end of the mission, we'd staged a murder-suicide, burnt down a bar, tortured a guy to death and threatened a bounty hunter. Grimmjow had decided that his character was going to walk around with the corpse as a life-sized glove puppet, and I think that was the point that Uryuu threw us out on the grounds that we were drunken sociopaths. All in all, good times." Ichigo chuckled to himself.

Rukia snorted. "Sounds like a model UN I went to at university. The guy who was being North Korea declared war on everyone and the security council had gotten drunk together the night before and none of them turned up but me." She grinned. "I passed everything I wanted to that day. Role playing really does bring out the worst in people."

With a grin, Ichigo nodded his agreement. "Model UN, huh? What did you study at uni, anyway?"

They were veering into dangerous territory, as far as Rukia was concerned. Best keep this light. I don't want him to think that there's too much to this.

"Art and history", she replied, flicking her bangs out of her face. "I curate a small gallery part time - and no, I'm not telling you which one", she added with a smile, seeing a glint in Ichigo's gaze as he went to open his mouth. "What about you?"

He smiled sheepishly. "I'm getting predictable. Well, I'm an architect, though lately I've been..." He trailed off, looking troubled.

Rukia inhaled sharply. This is it. That bastard is going to trash me verbally and I'll throw it all back at his face.

Every last thing.

Except, he didn't.

Running a hand through messy ginger hair, Ichigo groaned. "I'm working with a consultant and, while she's got a mouth on her, I just keep managing to say the wrong thing and pissing her off. Worse - she's got a knack for riling me up and I don't think she even means to. She comes from old money, and I just know she thinks I'm trash. It shouldn't bother me, but it does." Taking a swig of his beer, Ichigo frowned. "I went off at her today and said stuff I regretted. I suspect a reprimand is coming when she doesn't show up next week, but I figure I deserve it."

Rukia blinked.

I may have to pinch myself... Ichigo Kurosaki, supreme asshat, actually feels bad about how he's acted...

I am way too pleased about that.

She would never know what possessed her. "Are you sure she's always had the cash? I mean, I've been accused of acting like a snob because my family has money, but we didn't use to." A few white lies wouldn't hurt, right? "It might be worth finding out."

Ichigo nodded. Trust a woman who called herself Hermione Granger to have sensible advice. "I should look into it. Of course, that would have been a hell of a lot more helpful before this situation occurred."

You're telling me, Rukia thought to herself. Never in my wildest dreams would I have assumed that Ichigo actually knew that the way our interactions went was all his fault...

Ok, mostly his fault...

Oh, crap. It's pretty much fifty-fifty, isn't it? In that case, I really should give him a chance to redeem himself. I mean, before I commit to meeting him again. If he takes the time to do what I recommend, I probably shouldn't write him off as an utter waste of space and if he doesn't...

Well, I can take vengeance another way.

Because vengeance is what I want.

Right?

"If face to face interaction just ends in disaster", Rukia started, her tones measured and cautious, "you should probably email her an apology. A good one, I'm guessing. I mean, it sounds as though she's a little bit to blame too, but if you can word things just a touch more tactfully than how you related it to me, you could at least get through to her."

Ichigo raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"

Rukia shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "Why not? Just make sure you're clear that you're doing this under your own steam and that no one's twisting your arm to get you to write this. I'd be pretty shitty if I thought someone only said sorry because their job was on the line and not because they meant it - and from the sounds of things, she might assume that."

He grinned. "You're right, of course. Hot, funny and smart - I can't imagine what I did to deserve this."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm slumming it."

"Fair enough", he shot back, his grin unabated. "So, will I see you again next week?"

She should say no. Obviously. After all, he wasn't quite as vile as she'd been lead to believe, to perhaps a nasty and underhanded revenge plot was too extreme. On the other hand, while he liked this version of her just fine, he clearly didn't think too much of the other one, so pursuing this was pointless...

Not that she wanted to pursue this. She was just... weighing up her options, so to speak.

What the hell do I want, anyway?

Fuck it, it can't hurt to go along for one more week. Maybe then I'll have a better idea of what I plan to do with...

With whatever this is.

So, as Rukia was not a woman who backed down from things that alarmed her, she said yes.

And then bolted as soon as she could. She needed to think things through, and she could hardly do so when she was too busy feeling exposed under a steady dark gaze that threatened to do all manner of things best left to desktops -

Well, she needed to think and, apparently, she couldn't do that near Ichigo.

Oh dear.

xXx

Ichigo smiled as Hermione left. He had her flustered, and he was pretty damn sure that she wasn't a woman easily flustered.

Nice to know I'm not alone in this.

Now, to convince her to give me a real name...

xXx

Going home, unfortunately, offered Rukia no further insights.

What do I want? I mean, really? I don't feel as inclined to slap him as I did...

Unbidden, she recalled the feel of those muscles against her body, the way they'd tensed up in response to unexpected contact, and how deliciously firm they'd felt under her palms and -

No!

No way, not going there.

Until I get an email, no matter how attractive he is, Ichigo Kurosaki is still a louse of a man.

After all, she thought glumly, he's not the messiah; he's a very naughty boy.

xXx

Well, I have no excuses, other than reality. Hopefully, however, I should have more of this out within the week.

Let me know what y'all think - R and R!