Among the Constellations, was Hisana's latest gallery opening, and while Rukia worried that it wasn't Ichigo's version of a good time, bringing it up with him at all had been a lot harder than she'd thought it would be.
Partially because, as she suspected – Ichigo had never been avoiding her in the weeks after their break-up. He still wasn't sure whether he wanted to take up the offer by the Fire Department to officially join but had managed to buy some time to think about it until after graduation. That said, he was still juggling more hours at the library as a result of the upcoming exam season, and Rukia herself had her hands full dealing with classes she was taking, not just as a student but as Professor Ukitake's more recognizable of replacements among his group of TAs. That wasn't even taking into account Rukia's regular therapy sessions and the stolen moments Ichigo used to keep stuffing them with cupcakes.
Their time together had been limited then, to eating meals at the apartment in a bid to avoid being dragged out into a party at Rukongai, and studying, intermittently cuddling and passing out on the couch with Netflix still on. (Which Shiro mocked them about relentlessly. It was a miracle Ichigo hadn't stabbed her brother after Karin and Shiro got caught drawing on his face with a marker come morning.)
The main reason, however, was actually because Rukia was an idiot who overthought things entirely too much and Ichigo was too much of a gentleman to get in her way.
"It isn't a big deal," she'd said, doing a terrible job of bringing it up casually. "I've just been looking forward to it. But I know you've got a pretty packed schedule, and walking through a gallery and meeting my family in an official capacity isn't exactly what anyone would want to do on one of your free nights off, but -"
He raised his brows when she abruptly cut herself off at the smug look of amusement on his face.
"Hisana already asked you to come, didn't she?"
"She did, but you were so cute trying to ask me out," he teased with a kiss on her nose.
"I hate you," Rukia declared, trying to smother him with a pillow, only for him to easily overpower her and cage her in his arms, her squeal of indignation muffled by his chest.
"Go to sleep, you're violent when you're tired."
"You're a jerk," she'd grumbled, begrudgingly nuzzling into the warmth of him, already dozing under the spell of his faded cologne and the soothing hand he was sliding up and down her back. Only vaguely did she fret over how he always seemed like the well-adjusted, level-headed one between the two of them while she seemed to always be a constant mess. It was a relief in some ways, but hardly a fair one.
Rukia wasn't the only one with insecurities, after all.
"You know," she trails just as they step into the reception area of the gallery, "you don't have to do things just because I like them."
"That seems like a perfect reason to do them," he retorts with a lazy smirk.
Rukia rolls her eyes, holding her to him by their hooked arms, her hand sliding easily into his as she looks up at him. "I mean it, though, the last two times we went out it was for things I wanted to do."
"Technically they were things your sister heavily suggested I do," Ichigo corrects, their fingers easily threading together before he lifts their hands to kiss her knuckles. "Besides, they make you happy, why would I say no to that?"
Suppressing the urge to deny how happy it does actually make her for some unfathomable reason probably related to her recently unearthed self-worth issues, Rukia chuckles bashfully at his affection before tugging him along. "I'm just saying, we can do stuff you want too."
"I'm a simple guy with simple pleasures. Even if your couch kills my back, hanging out with you and watching series is about as wide as my interests go," he admits.
"My interests are limited to looking at stuff because I think they're pretty," she points out.
"Explains why you stare at me so much."
She snorts but doesn't deny it, a fact that turns him bashful just as quickly.
"And for someone with so few interests," Ichigo adds in a tone that suggests otherwise, "you've got a diverse Netflix line-up. I should've asked sooner, but what's the link between your serial killer fascination and 90s American sitcoms?"
"I'm getting ideas from the first and using the laugh track in the second as mood music."
"You're terrifying," he informs, all fondness, and it's her turn to smile.
"Despite our very limited overlapping interests," Rukia says, "I hope you'll like this." The crowd around them hushes in near reverence as they step through the darkened doorway and are promptly enveloped in black.
Their clasped hands tighten around the other reflexively.
Someone ahead of them steps forward and where they step seems to glow a faint gold, each step that follows thereafter, of them, and everyone that trails behind them, lights up too and quiet gasps fill the cold room until a phrase upon a wall declares in curving starlight: My soul is in the sky.
Almost as one, the lights flicker on around the room as effortless as a blink, setting alight the suspended displays in bits and pieces of wavering wavelengths of color.
He squeezes her hand as he turns them slowly around, wanting to take it all in by following the movement of technicolor. Ichigo spins her slowly as a result – almost like they're dancing right in the middle of the infinity of the cosmos itself, and she can't stop the burst of a giggle as he swoops to press his lips against her temple.
"You like it?" she asks against his skin.
Constellations contained to earthbound glass and spun from near-invisible wires hang throughout the room – every lazy blink of illumination, gentle as the twinkle of a lightning bug – sets another celestial body fit to burst under the proclamation: The fault is not in our stars.
From walls she's seen many a time, propped up with floor to ceiling modernist paintings, is instead replaced by dioramas of various collapsed stars moving almost hypnotically in mid-air, its entrails swaying like the near translucent arms of a jellyfish. The accompanying lines from Hamlet read, doubt thou the stars are fire; doubt thou the sun doth move.
As they walk and wander from one room to the next, the rooms grow steadily brighter, and the displays themselves rise to meet them. Suspended from the ceiling of what looks to be stone and iron and different fabrics the colour of a pastel painting; variations of fallen stars and comets burn the white skies around them in their wake. Like Icarus and his wax wings, trails of midnight silk – made to look like smoke – darker closer to the art piece until it bleeds lighter and lighter, expands around the remaining space, stretched out like the last vestiges of twilight towards the last door, a breaking dawn.
The final room is empty of art, almost blindingly bright in its hollowness until, towards the exit, the display bids them farewell with the reminder:
It is not in the stars
to hold our destiny
The whispered discussions of the other gallery-goers adds to the hush, and Rukia asks in kind, "What did you think?"
Ichigo exhales. "For a guy who wrote a lot of dick jokes, he's pretty profound." And to that Rukia snorts, and it's like a dam has broken through as the voices around them lift to fill the reception area once more.
Though Rukia spots Hisana, her sister-in-law is busy with a bunch of well-dressed members of the gallery board, and when one of them glances their way, looks Rukia up and down and then outright laughs before whispering to her partner, Rukia rolls her eyes and steers Ichigo away.
She's too annoyed by the blatant snobbery to notice how Ichigo's stiffened against her but is grateful when he suggests not five minutes later that they head out.
He's quiet on the walk back which works out just fine because Rukia's feeling particularly talkative as she usually is after a gallery viewing, and she's thankful that they didn't take Ichigo's bike to get here when she's using one of her Yoruichi-approved "drown the two minute bad thing in the bucket load of good things" coping mechanism.
By the time they reach Rukongai, she's tired out, and though it's still early enough that most of tonight's party is still sober, Ichigo's seems particularly focused in getting back to his room that no one tries to drag them into joining.
Rukia's in the middle of shedding her jacket when she spots something on Ichigo's bed, and then promptly forgets about anything else as she bounds over gleefully. "You kept Chappy!"
"You won him for me," he says in defense and shakes his head with a poorly veiled smile as she squishes it against her chest.
"Thanks for coming with me," she says against Chappy's plush as he takes his time to remove his outer layers – taking care to hang his jacket up and toe off his boots, before leaving her on her own in his bed as he heads into the adjacent bathroom.
Though she's comfortably propped up against his pillows, Ichigo's Chappy in her arms and his laptop on the nightstand, she hesitates about reaching for it and turning it on and asks first if she can, to which he simply grunts a non-answer. Rukia's frown only deepens when Ichigo comes out of the bathroom, his face drawn; expression carefully blank.
"What, what?" he parrots back.
"Real mature," she informs with a roll of her eyes before patting the empty space beside her in invitation, which he accepts albeit not without some reluctance. "What's wrong?"
"Ichigo," she began growing more concerned as he avoided her eyes. Almost frantically she recalls the night in its entirety, hoping that if he won't tell her then perhaps she'll figure it out for herself, but nothing sticks out to her, and she sighs. Pulling at his unwilling arms, she opens them just enough to stick Chappy in them and then tugging them closed in a hug. Ichigo looks down at his arms in a mixture of surprised bafflement at the plushie who's ears tickle his nose, but he's looking in her direction which is good enough for her as she settles into his line of sight and fixes him with a look.
The silence stretches, and at the miniscule twitches in his expression, she grins and prods, "Come on Ichigo, tell me…"
"No doubt." Rukia knows the insecurity tugging at his eyes as easily as she knows it in hers. "But tell me anyway."
"I know it isn't even true."
"Then you'll have no problem telling me."
"Rukia," he sighs, and there's a flush at his neck even as he rolls his eyes.
She mocks in return, "Ichigo!"
With another sigh and a scowl at his mouth, he informs her, "You aren't embarrassed to be seen with me." Rukia pops the "p" in her cheerful, "Nope" which gets the scowl to soften but not to disappear. "You like the way I dress."
"I do," she concurs.
"And you don't care that a bunch of strangers see us together."
Considering the first part of their relationship, fake or otherwise, involved being seen as often as possible, suggesting that it bothered her at all was frankly ridiculous, but insecurity had no need for logic so Rukia gamely agrees, "Not a whit."
By now, the scowl is mostly gone, but he still sounds uncertain, "And you don't care what they think?"
At that, she's slower to answer, "Only about me, but I'm working on it." To that admission, he seems satisfied, but her curiosity lingers, "What's this about, Ichigo?"
"I don't know if you've noticed, but you're out of my league."
The response is so out of left field that she laughs out, "What?" When he only looks at her, as if his stare is enough of an argument to the contrary, Rukia points out, "Are we forgetting that you're an emotionally mature guy who's responsible, openly caring and loving, who also happens to be extremely good looking, funny and smart?"
"But you're -"
"Recently checked into therapy, incredibly work orientated and so introverted that this is the first time in my life I've had more than one friend at once. Yeah, I'm aware." And while Rukia has learned that self-deprecation helps her least of all, she's personally quite proud of the level of honesty she's able to own, even if Ichigo is frowning again.
"If I can't talk shit about myself you can't either."
"But I'm not -"
"Nope," he interjects, forgetting about Chappy entirely to wrap her in a hug, nuzzling into the curve of her neck until she's squirming and laughing, the comforting weight of him pressed against her front.
"You're the worst," Rukia accuses.
His breath is warm against her skin as he grumbles back, "I told you it was stupid."
Carding her fingers through his hair and smoothing out the tension in his back with her free hand, she murmurs back, "If it makes you sad it matters to me, I don't care how stupid you think it is." He doesn't reply, only tightens his arms around her as she leaves an absent kiss against his forehead before nudging him slightly, so their noses brush and their eyes meet. "Promise me you won't pretend you're okay when you aren't."
"Ironic since we only got together pretending in the first place," Ichigo reminds with a hint of a smirk.
"Promise me," Rukia insists against his mouth, far more serious than this conversation has been so far, and it doesn't hit her when the words come out what she's asking for – what's she's promising in return – until it does.
No more running. No more hiding. All in.
Ichigo seems to taste the weight of it in the tremble of her lips, and he withdraws just enough that their foreheads touch. His eyes are a warm honey gold, his smile achingly soft before he promises in kind, "No more pretending."