Rukia doesn't know what possesses her to say the words, doesn't even know why she does.
Maybe she's just finally cracked under the pressure of relentless societal romance peddling. Maybe she's just tired of people seeing her as frigid.
Either way, the words come out, "Actually, I'm meeting someone here."
The look on Yui Mei Li's face almost makes it worth it. Almost. The narrowed eyed stare of Rukia's ex (and Yui Mei's latest acquisition), however, seals the deal right then and there.
There's no taking it back now.
Rukia may be a liar, but she is not a quitter.
Yui Mei's lip curls unflatteringly as she probes with grit teeth, "Oh?"
Even Rukia can tell her own smile is shit-eating, a perfect contradiction to the part of her brain already panicking in a frenzied chant of whatdidyoudowhatdidyoudowhatdidyoudo???
Fortunately, what comes out her mouth instead is a coolly polite, "Yes, if you excuse me," before she brushes past, and, without missing a beat, walks right into Rukongai territory.
The windows facing the street glow faint and golden, almost hazy in the curls of smoke escaping in random puffs from the shadows that crowd around the square frames. The building itself practically trembles with the force of life within it as music pours out of every orifice, punctuated by laughter and shouted words lost to the encroaching night.
The set of dorm room buildings at the furthest corner of Sereitei Institute looks like every other set of dorms surrounding the campus in an impenetrable wall of close-quarters shared housing. But it's common knowledge that these particular set of buildings, Rukongai, is the epicenter of student depravity and debauchery. It's the hottest spot on campus to get high, wasted, or both on any day ending in "Y" and any time ending in a number less than sixty on a clock.
Running into Yui Mei and the personification of a human skid-mark in tow only reminds Rukia why she's there in the first place.
It had been a solid week where she'd holed herself up in her apartment after the breakup out of humiliation, and enough was enough.
Rukia may have also messaged Rangiku, an acquaintance from around the teaching assistant water cooler, at two in the afternoon looking for something other than day drinking by herself to take her mind off it.
Rangiku had replied enthusiastically an hour later, citing just sobering up from an earlier bender for her late reply, and promising Rukia a round of shots to get the fun started (again).
Rukia is under no illusions that Rangiku remembered offering at all, but she makes an attempt to find the blonde anyway. With the air thick with the smell of alcohol and an unidentifiable cocktail of faded cologne, perfume, and sweat; the bodies filling the space is almost crushing. Rukia isn't sure what to do with herself, but she's grateful for the crowd.
At least this way her ex and Yui Mei won't be able to confirm whether Rukia actually met someone or not, but it certainly won't stop them from being pissed about it. She mentally pats herself on the back for a lie well told.
She startles at the shout, and though the crowd jostles her, miraculously, she doesn't spill a drop from her stereotypically red solo cup.
The young woman giggles before throwing an arm around her in greeting. Her drink sloshes but again, doesn't spill. "I didn't know you were coming to this, Rukia-chan!"
"I didn't realize you even knew what this place was," Rukia says, giving her a delayed squeeze in return, wincing as she does so at the shout Yuzu treats her with, "Ne, Rukia-chan, we all gotta cut loose sometimes! Don't worry though, I finished my essay already, so you won't have to mark poop!"
The people around them don't seem bothered by Yuzu's declaration, and even they yell out nonsensical agreements.
Laughing awkwardly, Rukia genuinely thanks her for her thoughtfulness, though she doubts Yuzu will remember having told her, and if she does, Rukia has reservations that the younger woman will even mention it. Yuzu still stutters whenever she talks to Rukia, or their professor, Ukitake, during office hours.
Still, Tipsy Yuzu has no problem babbling, and shouting aside, Rukia's grateful for the company. She almost forgets everything but Yuzu's presence until she interrupts herself to exclaim, "Oh! Oh! Ichigo's waiting for you!"
It takes Rukia a second, maybe two to actually process what Yuzu says, and even then, the only thing her mind comprehends is Kurosaki Ichigo.
The Kurosaki Ichigo that looks like some gang member with his Shakespeare inspired tattoos and his weathered leather jacket and his boots. The Kurosaki Ichigo who's ranked in the Top 3 of Sereitei Institute's hottest. The Kurosaki Ichigo Rukia may or may not have pined over in freshman year four years ago when he'd personally carried her out of her burning apartment like some bodice-ripping hero in a trite romance novel.
And then, the realization sets in as Yuzu begins to tow her away that Yuzu's going to take Rukia to him.
Rukia can't even properly flip out on the younger woman – can't even barrage her with variations on the question of How did you know about that? Because of course, Yui Mei picks that moment to appear once more like she scents blood in the water:
"Oh," she fake giggles, "when you said you were meeting someone, I didn't think you meant you were babysitting them, Rukia-chan."
Rukia's still too wide-eyed to care that her lie has swiftly turned on her, but Yuzu is annoyed enough for both of them at the dig, "I'm twenty!"
Yui Mei chooses to ignore her, focusing her condescending smile on Rukia instead, fake sympathy practically dripping from her words, "Oh, does that mean you're the designated sober person too, Rukia-chan? That blows, your first party ever and you don't even have a drink."
From the corner of her eye, in a bid to look for some kind of escape from this situation, she locks eyes with Ichigo instead, and it's so much worse than anything Rukia could have conjured up.
That is the complete opposite of an escape!
She almost turns away entirely, but it's too late.
The startled surprise on Yui Mei's face probably matches the one on Rukia's, if she wasn't completely frozen by the constant ohshitohshitohshit commentary going on unhelpfully in her brain.
His shoulder against hers is a strangely reassuring presence, though the cold rings wrapped around his fingers brush against the back of her hand and for a fleeting second, Rukia thinks he'll thread their fingers together. He doesn't. Instead, he passes her a solo cup.
In the dim light of the Rukongai, branded across his thumb is the promise, "something wicked this way comes".
"It's Sprite," he says against her ear, hot breath sending a flush up her neck and across her cheeks.
She manages a smile, hopes she doesn't look as horrified as she feels and murmurs her thanks back, taking a gulp for fortitude.
"Oh, Kurosaki-kun," Yui Mei eyes slides between them suspiciously before fluttering her lashes at Ichigo. "I didn't even know you knew Rukia-chan, let alone were dating her."
Rukia almost upends her entire drink down her throat, lack of alcohol be damned, as she wonders only vaguely if it's possible to drown yourself on dry land.
From the corner of her eye, Ichigo meets her gaze almost consideringly before he turns his attention back to Yui Mei and deadpans, "Who are you?"
Rukia chokes on her drink.