Rukia was sure there was nothing more satisfying than the look of frozen shock on Yui Mei's face, though it was definitely rivaled by the constipated look on Kaien's. Unfortunately, Rukia couldn't even bask in it because she was too busy freaking the fuck out over Ichigo's arm around her shoulders as he gently directed her away.
Almost mechanically she looked down at her solo cup, the thought crossing her mind that he might've put something in it. There's no way this is actually happening. Is she hallucinating? Was she just offered drugs? Is the day of declaring the anti-drug slogans from high school finally come to pass? She'd always wanted to tell someone that she was cool without having to take them, even if it was a blatant lie.
"Who're they?" he interrupts her thoughts gruffly, his strides long and purposeful as the crowd around them practically part a path for him out of self-preservation.
She huffs out a breath as the crowd step almost automatically back into place, bumping her and Yuzu as they close back in. "Would you slow down? This isn't a sprint."
His gaze flickers back to hers then slides to his sister on Rukia's other side. "Oi, Yuzu, how much did you have to drink?"
Arm still looped through Rukia's from earlier, the younger woman hiccups a giggle. "Enough, I think! Can I sleep in you room? My roommate ditched me for her girlfriend."
It's his turn to huff, though that seems to be a positive thing as Yuzu chirps, "Thanks Ichi-nii!"
They move to a quieter part of the communal floor, heading for the designated sober table with a terrifying number of sealed water bottles, an almost monstrous stack of unopened cans of fizzy drinks and bowls of salty chips; chairs nearby are occupied by people already nursing early signs of hangovers while a line coming from around the corner leads to the bathroom.
Yuzu detaches herself from Rukia's arm and hangs like a limpet on Karin, nursing a coke and an unimpressed expression. "Your roommate said she lost you," she accuses her twin.
"Ne, ne, Jinta-kun wanted to do a keg stand and I got bored," she pouts up at her before pawing at her sister's arm. "Gimme your drink, I'm thirsty."
Rukia doesn't find out if Karin obliges her because Ichigo's pulling her away, leather-clad arm still a warm weight across her shoulders as he leads her out into the nearby terrace.
The wide-open space and the crisp cool air shocks any protest she thinks to give him.
It's mostly empty out here save a few; the sky and dim skyline sprawled out before them like a painting; the people that loiter, like admirers in a gallery.
There's a smoking circle in the corner near the fire-escape, random bursts of conversation flitting in the air between slow exhales; a trio of girls laugh near the wall, hands gesticulating to punctate their stories while another group, mixed in gender, sit side by side near the railing, and though they're barely even talking, their shoulders brush together carelessly.
Rukia feels a familiar cool rush of loneliness go down her spine and looks away abruptly.
The night has settled comfortably in the sky, the few clouds overhead drift lazily passed a waxing moon. Stars blink down at them sleepily as twilight nestles between unlit buildings and darkened corners, brightening up the softly glowing streetlights and shedding small puddles of gold along the roads. It's practically picturesque, and despite her earlier discomfort, she feels an odd sense of peace settle in its place.
Blinking, she realizes with a flush that she'd forgotten how she'd even ended up out here, and Ichigo's lip curls at the corner, a quiet sort of smirk. Like he knows and finds it funny.
Rukia ducks her head to take another sip, muttering an agreement into the rim.
His smirk doesn't leave, but he doesn't say anything else, only slips his arm off gently, almost reluctantly as it brushes against her arm as he takes a step to lean against the railing.
Between the silver band of his forefinger and the dark grey one on his ring finger, the black skull and the upside-down crown for a jaw moves like it's alive as he flexes his hands, cackling at her.
After a moment, he glances at her from the corner of his eye as if to check she's still there before nudging his chin slightly, a silent invitation to join him.
Caught by the bright amber of his gaze, Rukia follows its movement and steps forward. Balancing her drink on the concrete beside it, she winces against the coolness of the metal railing beneath her arms and folds them closer to herself instead.
Again, they say nothing, but there's an itch beneath her skin like she wants to move like she wants to run, and she tamps down on it with a sharp inhale. I'm not scared. I'm not.
"So," Rukia begins, flashing an attempt at a smile that she hopes isn't as awkward as she feels, "thanks for…you know, back there."
He bobs his head a little in acknowledgment before he probes, "And what exactly was that 'back there'?"
She winces, lips twitching in a way that Hisana teases is her Shit-Do-I-Have-To? face, and says, "A rescue?"
Ichigo cocks a brow at her, and she feels so judged that she huffs. "That was a high school nemesis, though saying nemesis would be a stretch, she just doesn't like me."
His exhale of breath almost sounds like a laugh, and his humor seems to extend to his words as he asks, "And the guy with a shitty haircut and a stick up his ass?"
At that, she rolls her eyes. "An ex. Again, that would be charitably applied considering we were only together a month. Barely." A beat passes before Rukia tacks on, "She's the girl he cheated on me with," as an afterthought even though it's anything but. She might have only thought Kaien was cute and liked how nice he seemed, but damn, that was still a blow to her ego.
And for a second the question confuses Rukia until she sees his expression looking just as baffled.
He looks almost annoyed now as he shakes his head, muttering under his breath what she thinks is, "Idiot", and she doesn't know whether to be offended or amused so she settles for neither.
"Why did you help me?" she eventually asks instead.
In the near dreamlike haze of the moonlight, she thinks he blushes, but she dismisses it as he rubs the back of his neck, tanned digits digging into the tufts of orange hair at the nape. "Looked like you needed it," he gruffly replies, and despite his sudden agitation, she believes him, though raises her brow anyway.
The following silence unsurprisingly does the trick as he exhales an annoyed breath. "I was avoiding someone and helping out seemed like a good distraction."
She hums, "Mmm, my hero."
He's definitely blushing now. "Shuddup."
She snorts, shooting him another look. "Who was it?"
It takes him a beat or two to answer, "Inoue Orihime." He shrugs. "We went to high school together and according to everyone, she had a giant thing for me and that's why she decided to go to school here instead of taking her scholarship overseas."
Rukia raises a brow. "And?"
"And nothing," he says, "we don't exactly run in the same circles, she doesn't know anything about me, and she's never come around to ask. Doesn't stop her from 'covertly' following me around when we're in the same places though."
"Now you see why I decided to get involved with you."
Momentarily, Rukia's disappointed even though she knows she has no right to be. That's usually what happens when people interact with her – there's always an agenda. "Right."
"Why'd what's-her-face think we were dating, by the way?"
Her cheeks redden so fast she almost losses feeling in her feet. "Uh…well, she may have been under the impression that I was meeting someone here…"
"And were you?" Ichigo asks, almost cautiously.
"Not if you count being invited for shots by Rangiku," she says, wincing. With everything that's happened, she'd forgotten that she was initially looking for the blonde at all. Rukia shakes her head. She probably forgot anyway. "When Yui Mei saw me with Yuzu she figured out I was lying, and then you came up and I guess she was hoping to rub it in my face, even more, when you'd deny it."
He huffs again, brows furrowing as he glares at nothing. "Sounds like a shitty thing to do."
"No kidding." She shakes her head. "Thanks for playing along though."
"Yeah, well I used you, it's only fair you use me too."
"Yeah," she echoes, "right…"
The vibration of a phone nearby startles her out of any unreasonable melancholy, and she watches Ichigo dig it out of the pocket of his jeans, the sleeve of his jacket lifting just barely for the suggestion of a rose to curl around the tip of an inked knife.
Rukia doesn't catch the name flashing on the screen of his phone, but from the speaker, she hears Rangiku, "Ichigo! Did you find her?"
That startles a surprised breath that he, thankfully, doesn't notice as he replies, "Yeah, she's with me."
"Well," Rangiku says, impatience evident, "don't keep her to yourself, I'm the one that invited her! You don't get to steal her away!"
He grumbles, and Rangiku's response is more muffled as he shifts the phone to his other ear, revealing how the tips are edged pink. Their conversation though is short, and soon after he slips his device back into his pocket. "Up to heading back inside?"
"I guess?" she says, feeling oddly warm at the thought that Rangiku hadn't forgotten at all and had been waiting for her. "But uh, okay, this is awkward, but I doubt Yui Mei left…"
Ichigo considers her. "Well, I know Inoue hasn't."
"So," Rukia trails.
"So, you'll use me," he proposes, "and I'll use you?"
"That…" sounds like a terrible idea "sounds fair."
And he nods slowly before he offers his hand. At first, Rukia thinks it's to shake on their deal until he's turning, hands still clasped, and walking back inside.
She tells herself it's only for tonight, only for this party. That she shouldn't get used to it, shouldn't get comfortable, shouldn't expect anything at all.
Of course, that's not what actually happens.