All stories are PG; all should carry the warning that parts of them are very romantic, gooey, and mooshy. I am not going to be held responsible if anyone goes into insulin coma. Read at your own risk.
This next one is the first time I've written Rukia from her own POV.
I've got another fic! IchiRuki this time. PG.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters of Ichigo and Rukia; Kubo Tite invented them.
Description: PG13. Takes place after the manga. An IchiRuki love tale for Tanabata.
This fic was written for the celebration of Tanabata 2007, the Japanese festival about two lovers separated by the distance between Heaven and Earth.
They’d never been on a proper date.
Not really. Unless you counted the dress-up engagement party Ishida threw for himself (and Inoue). That had been a nerve-wracking experience--not only was Ishida reminding guests to put their Quincy glasses on Quincy coasters, the ideas of love and marriage were in the air. The ideas of love and marriage floated around like cajoling ghosts over Rukia’s head. Romance bubbled in the champagne. Commitment was the icing on the petit fortes. The way everyone was looking at them was scary--all these condescending, big-toothed smiles that said, “Awwww. Ichigo and Rukia are next.”
Even Chad had given Rukia a fond, happy look and had raised his glass in a silent toast. Rukia’d never been so glad that Chad wasn’t the type to say much. With this crowd, any homage to Rukia and Ichigo’s love would’ve been sentimental and gooey. Rukia wanted never to have to endure one (she was already plotting to enlist her brother to give a brief and staid speech… if she and Ichigo married, that is).
Rukia had lasted a half-hour of this stand-around nonsense before telling Inoue that she and Ichigo had been called away to Shinigami business.
Inoue had winked. “Riiiiiight.” And Rukia was annoyed because the assumption was that if two people left a party together, they were having sex.
Still, just hanging out with one another and occasionally making out like tumbling puppies wasn’t enough. To be a couple you have to go out in public. You want society to know that you are a couple. And beyond an intimate circle, no one knew that Ichigo and Rukia were a Shinigami item.
Rukia joked around about the idea of date with Ichigo. He had this abhorrence for formalwear and made faces. She said dating was for kids and “being together” was for more mature young people. Then one morning before morning exercises with the new recruits, Rukia stood at the door so the sun behind her would silhouette her figure in black. She didn’t want Ichigo to see her face.
“We need to go out on a date, Ichigo. That’s what normal couples do.”
Ichigo was looking for paperwork in his filing cabinet. “We’re not normal people.”
“Look at Inoue and Ishida--”
“You’re talking way abnormal there. Whenever we see them, I think of sugar buns rolled in sugar and sprinkled with sugar and….” Ichigo’s voice was mocking. “They eat sugar pies on sugar plates. They’re so sugary that--” He raised his head and looked, presumably, at Rukia’s silhouette. His face was in half-darkness from Rukia’s view.
“Yes, Ichigo, I’m serious. I want you to ask me out on a date. You pick the place.”
“Why don’t you pick the place?”
“Women don’t do that in the modern world. I’m reading in the magazines that there’s a new era of chivalry coming. Trendy couples do nostalgic things like….” Rukia pauses to think of one nostalgic thing. She can’t. Her voice hardens. “Anyway, picking the place is the hardest part, so you do it.”
“You have to tell me what you want. I’ll mess it up if you don’t.”
“You won’t.” Rukia’s voice was happy now. She hadn’t been expecting his acquiescence to be so easy. “Just think about it a couple days and surprise me.”
Days went by. Then a whole week. Rukia knew he was going to do it, because Ichigo was a man of his word. Then another week went by. Every morning at work, the tension grew.
If she wasn’t nervous, then he was. If he swaggered into the officers’ quarters after training and looked too tired to be nervous, Rukia shot some sassy comments his way but her stomach did flip-flops. Ichigo looks gooood when he’s sweaty. Would he choose a trip to a sports event? No, Tatsuki might show up and monopolize him. Camping? Ugh. Ice cream in a pretty park. No way--the words “pretty park” would never manifest themselves in Ichigo’s brain.
Rukia began to regret her suggestion. Forget dates. Let’s be satisfied with sweaty Ichigo. Let’s keep toppling into closets and enthusiastic make-out sessions. Ichigo didn’t like to advertise their relationship, and that was that. All Rukia needed from him was a tender smile every once in a while. He gave her that smile often enough. Across ranks of soldiers engrossed in the slow, demanding movements of Jujitsu, he would send her that look. The one that made Rukia feel comfortable at the same time that she felt a little thrill.
Rukia had finally settled into believing that he was never going to ask her because he was a great big chicken. Either that or he was going to go the totally inappropriate route. She imagined him blurting, “Let’s go have dinner! There’s this restaurant in a hotel that’s really good. I got a room.” Rukia wouldn’t put that past Ichigo. A sex room in a sex hotel.
When Ichigo asked Rukia out on a date, he did it so slyly that at first she didn’t know it was happening. That’s not to say that he didn’t seem embarrassed by the whole procedure.
“There’s this band I want to see,” he said one morning.
“The music you like is terrible.”
“You think so? Anyway this band is very trendy.”
So, he was playing to her shallow self, was he?
Then it occurred to Rukia that Ichigo might be doing it. “Is it one of those tacky little bands that plays in smelly little bars?”
“Chad plays in those smelly little bars,” Ichigo scowled for the benefit of his friend. “Anyway, this is a band that’s popular but not too popular. Um … they were on the cover of one your magazines.”
“Crash? Cry Lettuce?”
“Lettuce. They won’t be in a smoky bar. They’re playing once, in the afternoon. In an open auditorium. Two-thirty, I think. Sunshine and wholesome stuff.”
This is it, thought Rukia. This is the date.
“This Saturday, uptown. I hope this isn’t short notice, Rukia.”
Rukia was peeved that he actually hadn’t phrased the question, Will you go with me? But then the day of the week made her pause. And then the day of the week made her grin in delight.
Ichigo lowered his eyes and half-smiled. He looked embarrassed. He looked triumphant.
Rukia was impressed. He’d taken his time and had chosen a comfortable, non-pretentious place and a very romantic holiday. Tanabata was the lovers’ holiday. One brought a sweetheart to Tanabata festivals, and the whole world saw who she was. Chocolates and heart shaped balloons celebrated your love.
Then something occurred to Rukia.
“You didn’t get a hotel room, did you?”
Ichigo was sincerely taken aback. “Why would I do that?”
Rukia fought a blush and didn’t succeed because her cheeks got hot. “I thought maybe… you’d want to go to a festival held far away.”
“Do you want to do that?” Ichigo acted like the idea wasn’t half-bad.
“Do you?” Rukia knew all teenage boys were sex maniacs but would Ichigo go halfway across Japan just to get laid?
“The faraway ones by the sea are really laid back, I hear.” Ichigo was getting an eager look on his face that Rukia recognized. “There’s music everywhere. Quaint temple customs….”
Rukia frowned. Okay, this was enough. “We’re not getting a hotel room, Ichigo.”
He was disappointed.
“Where’s this Cry Lettuce playing?”
“It’s in Sakakibara. I don’t remember the name of the place exactly.”
Now it was Rukia’s turn to be disappointed. Couples went to Hiratsuka because that festival was a big, splashy one. She didn’t even know festivals were held in Sakakibara. A few coffeeshops and comic stores with Tanabata trees? Half-price specials in the garment stores?
“It’s not too crowed.” Ichigo sounded proud of himself. “I hear mostly college kids go to this one. There’s supposed to be spirit channelers who set up along the banks of the canals. Maybe we’ll find a customer who needs a soul burial.”
“Canals?” Rukia’s voice rose a half-octave and her eyes lit up. “Like Venice?”
“The movie. Last week. The little boat that rides into the sunset. Very--” Rukia hesitated at the word. “Romantic.”
“I guess they’ve got the little boats. I didn’t check.”
He didn’t check. So like Ichigo to overlook details. But surely a Tanabata festival would have a lovers boat ride. “A little boat for two people,” Rukia said, trying to jar Ichigo’s memory in case he saw pictures in the promotion booklet and just forgot. “The man pushes a big stick into the water.” Why did Ichigo not know about these things? “The woman….” What did the woman do? Just sit there?” Rukia remembered something. “There’s wine-drinking involved. ”
“There’s probably no big stick involved. The boat probably has an engine.”
“Oh! Modern romance.” Rukia was confused. She got her Living World eras mixed up often.
That was two times now with the romance word, and Ichigo showed the strain of hearing it spoken. He scratched the back of his head. “It’ll be a good time,” he promised.
And so it was … and wasn’t.
Ichigo seemed at home in the Land of the Dead or the Land of the Living. He’d grown up a normal human and was now a Shinigami vice-captain. The distance between Soul Society and Earth was breached easily for him.
Rukia, for all her bravado, still wasn’t certain of her place in Soul Society. The transitions--they’d all flown by. A dream that was the 78th district in the Rukongai. Where children played and children died. Academy had been a brief but almost unbearable time of self-consciousness. Was she or wasn’t she favored? Could she ever master her basic sword movements? Did Renji hate her now?
Things got better, though. Life in the thirteenth division was good. She lightened up and her guardedness was disappearing--slowly, imperceptibly, the way a stone gets dented by a waterfall. Then Kaien’s death broke that stone apart. None of her trivial self-concerns mattered anymore. Rukia had been split into two clean pieces. One half was the hardened Rukia she wanted to show to the world. The other part was the hurting and regretting Rukia.
Then Kurosaki Ichigo changed her world again. She thought everything was fixed.
She hadn’t realized the effects of Kaien’s death until she was confronted with his living likeness. The sunlight of his spirit. The determination of his warrior-self. The grief of losing him again. The rock pieces splintered into gravel, and for a while there was no more Rukia, only a will driven by Kaien-dono’s words. Don’t die alone. She had raked herself over blood and pain while thinking of her friends. Her friends mattered so much. Every time you think, every time you act, the heart is born right there.
These were peaceful times. Each day was Kaien’s legacy. Rukia enjoyed her friends and made the effort to connect with them. But … sadness lingered. She didn’t hurt anymore, but her past was everywhere. A ghost memory of Kaien at every corner of Seireitei. The way he held a beer reflected in the way she held hers.
She was happy in her work and purpose. Being a Shinigami had been a child’s goal, and was now a source of pride. She served in Ichigo’s division, and no one, not even Kaien, had ever brightened her life as much. Sometimes, though, Rukia felt the old self-consciousness. She had spent so much time among the Living that she felt apart from Shinigami who merely did their duty and didn’t care about humans and their world
Some of the Shinigami treated her like royalty; some saw the delicate, starved girl who had once been held prisoner there; a few knew her as the Shinigami who had defied the rules to go to Hueco Mundo. Rukia’s self-consciousness wasn’t a visible thing, but the eyes of other people were. She knew she wasn’t making it up that people stared at her.
Sometimes she wanted out, and the Living World was a vacation from her past and those bug-eyed Shinigami. Sometimes she thought she might want to live as an ordinary person, not far from the Kurosaki people who were family to her. She loved her brother, but sometimes she wanted to escape his vigilance.
Her relationship with Ichigo involved trust and co-operation. It was debate. It was playtime. It was punching him in the head. It was arguing over a minor point and coming to a spectacular compromise. Rukia knew that she needed to be near Ichigo in order to feel a balance in her entire universe. He helped her balance the pieces of her former self that had once lain, unrestorable, on a surface of blood. Needing Ichigo didn’t bother her; he needed her too. It was all balanced.
Loving Ichigo was altogether a different matter.
The band was loud and Rukia thought the lead singer sounded a cat whose tail was being stepped on over and over. Screech, screech, wail. Modern music could be very wonderful, with its variety of instruments and diversity of styles but why, why did the music Ichigo liked have to be so ugly?
She would smile and nod her head when he looked at her, and then she would hide her nauseated face behind the program. The noise was literally making her sick. It hurt her ears and did bizarre things to her sinus passages.
She was going to have to get up and leave, but she didn’t want Ichigo to think he'd messed up the date by suggesting the band.
The train ride had been lovely. Ichigo read a small paperback edition of some old novel, and Rukia read a manga. Eventually they started poking fun at the other’s taste, but that lead to a fairly interesting conversation about how differently novels and manga approached reality. Ichigo said knights had really existed once but that girls with eyes as big as frog eyes were very, very unreal. Rukia had countered with the fact that King Arthur’s knights were fake, fake, fake, while her manga explored the mysteries of love and sex and relationships and perversions and very real things like that.
At the station there was a big Tanabata tree, and Ichigo had looked boyishly cute about insisting that they write their wishes and hang them on the bamboo limbs. Rukia thought that this part of Tanabata was stupid, so she wrote on her piece of pink paper:
I hope Ichigo doesn’t fuck this day up.
Whatever Ichigo was writing was long and involved, and she wanted to ask him what he’d wished for, but then she thought she didn’t want to know. Ichigo’s wish probably had something to do with a hotel room.
The date had been perfect up to the concert (Unless you count the hour before it, when Rukia asked what she should wear, and Ichigo had responded evilly, “Just a gigai and a smile” and had gotten kicked in the face for that).
“I’m going to the bathroom,” Rukia shouted over the screeching of Cry Lettuce. “Maybe I’ll stop to buy a few trinkets.”
Ichigo looked like he hadn’t understood a word but nodded like he had.
Rukia debated as to whether to kiss him good-bye as she’d seen so many couples do today. People bound for the train station or headed towards the bathroom--it made no difference. Couples kissed. The world knew they kissed.
But Ichigo and Rukia had never kissed in public before. During their first public kiss, some long-haired boys jumping up and down and screeching might divert Ichigo’s attention. So Rukia didn’t kiss him good-bye. It was a stupid gesture anyway.
At the train station upon arrival, Ichigo had commented that most of the festival-goers were crazy college people and that one should not take them as representative of the youth of the Living World. Rukia thought the kissers and cuddlers looked very normal except for a distinct group in bright wigs and shiny clothes. Rukia had said “oh look, prostitutes” but Ichigo had told her that they were a unique kind of crazies who dressed up as manga and anime characters.
As Rukia made her way from the noisy stage, she saw a few of them buying food from the meat-on-a-stick vendor. One girl was carrying what, on closer inspection, was a fake katana. Rukia rolled her eyes heavenward over the stupidity of thinking one could discourage an attacker with a fake sword, and when she rolled her eyes down again, the costumed people were staring at her.
Rukia stared back fiercely but then lost her nerve and ducked away. She didn’t want to get into a brawl on her first date.
Why were people always staring at her? In Soul Society, she could understand. She was famous there. But here in the Living World--what was it that gave her away as a foreigner?
Her sandals were on the right feet. She wore a summery dress with spaghetti straps that Ichigo had thoroughly approved of. The dress was light green, nothing conspicuous. Her hair looked modern--it was pulled away from her face and braided the way she’d seen in a magazine, and she wore small unobtrusive clip-on earrings that looked like pink buttons. Ishida had made the dress for her birthday and had also included the earrings in the gift box. He said he hated buttons but not when they were faux buttons.
She looked pretty, she thought. At the very least she looked human.
She could hear Cry Lettuce everywhere she went. Those who didn’t want to be bothered by the band were listening to their own music from their tiny telephones. Everyone had a telephone. Some telephones had cameras, some had enough buttons to enrage a person like Ishida, who hated buttons. The technology of the Living World was intimidating. Hell, the technology of Soul Society was intimidating. Rukia had never been twelfth division material, and applied science had been her worst subject in Academy.
Buy, buy, what to buy. She hadn’t gotten a single rose or balloon yet because she and Ichigo had rushed to get good seats before the band started. He hadn’t had the opportunity to buy her a rose yet. Rukia was looking forward to the band leaving the stage, not only because their screeching was hideous but also because she wanted to walk around the festival with Ichigo. What sort of romantic trinkets would he buy for her? Did some trinkets mean a more serious relationship that other trinkets? Was there a trinket that meant, “let’s get a hotel room?”
Rukia expected that Ichigo should be paying for most of the date since it was his idea and he always had more money than she did. Where was Rukia supposed to get modern money? She didn’t have Living World connections like Ichigo.
She found a manga stand and picked up a woman’s magazine. Of course she had connections here. Isshin would fall over himself to give some modern coins.
But could she live here as a human?
In the Living World magazines, the women wore so many different clothes. There were articles about how to please your man in bed (Rukia never skipped those) and even a monthly horoscope so you didn’t have to bother to make tea or hang an eel upside for three days to do your own divinations.
Deciding that she could do her reading on her own time, she continued past the other sidestreet vendors. She hated to admit it, even to herself, but she felt lonely. Without Ichigo, the Living World could be a little boring.
One stand was performing a hand-puppet skit about the mythical lovers who could only meet once a year.
“You cheated on me?” screamed Orihime.
“It’s rained for the past five years,” said Kenju. “What was I supposed to do? Become a monk?”
This is supposed to be the lover’s festival, right? Why weren’t there erotic toys for sale? Where were the half-clothed dancers? Where were the condom machines? The porno stands and the food in shape of genitalia? She’d expected Tanabata festivities to be raunchier. She’d expected Ichigo to stand out in a sea of raunchiness with his orange hair and high character.
He was here.
He could move so fast now that she couldn’t sense his approaching reiatsu. It was unnerving.
Ichigo put a hand on her shoulder. “If you didn’t like the band, you should’ve said so. I would’ve gone with you to shop for--” He looked around. Rukia had wandered into a colorless area of unsuccessful vendors. “Are you hungry? You have to stand in line for the good food so maybe you should buy a magazine for the wait.”
“We could talk,” Rukia said.
“Sure.” He paid a vendor for a couple of redikomi manga, just in case, and the gesture touched Rukia. He knew exactly what sorts of trashy stories she liked. He may even have paid attention to the titles of her reading material because he’d bought her two books she’d hadn’t read yet.
“It’s a little weird,” Ichigo said later as they were sitting on uncomfortable chairs and eating very wonderful, very hot sweet potatoes. “Without our squad around, I feel like my arms and legs are miss--” He caught himself, but Rukia only smiled.
“I know what you mean,” she said. “In the division you feel like a part of something. Out here among all these people--” She looked around at the happy people eating fragrant lunches. “It feels like … I don’t know. Where’s Keigo to annoy you? Where’s Isshin bouncing around and talking about television shows? Or even Kon.”
“You miss Kon?”
“No, I miss belonging to a place. Believe it or not, at your dad’s house, I can feel pretty comfortable.”
Feathers of steam were still rising from the sweet potatoes.
Far away, a woman laughed as if she’d been told the funniest joke in existence.
“Why is everybody so happy here?” asked Rukia.
“Because one is festive at a festival?” It was Ichigo’s turn to smile. “People aren’t what they seem, Rukia. At the concert there was this couple--Woo, they must’ve been breaking up or divorcing or something because they looked cold. Sat there without noticing the band. I mean, everyone was looking at them because they stuck out.”
“Stuck out,” Rukia repeated and stabbed her fork into her potato. “Why can’t people mind their own business?”
“Well, it was hard to ignore this couple after a while. One of them must’ve said something and the other one got mad, and pretty soon they were both yelling. You could almost hear them over the band, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Then the lady stood up and kicked the man in the shins. He grabbed her by the arm and took the fight to the top of the rows of seats. He was yelling and she kept kicking and hitting him. Everyone was staring. Some people were climbing the steps and saying things like “I know Aikido!” I wasn’t going to trust in that so I was ready to knock him over if he raised his arm to hit her, but that didn’t happen.”
“What happened?” Rukia didn’t think Ichigo meant to teach a lesson with his story. Ichigo didn’t do things like that--at least not consciously. But he tended to notice moments with meaning, and this was Tanabata. She leaned back and anticipated warm feelings and a message of human truth.
“The festival police came.” Ichigo chewed his potato and looked thoughtful. “They only arrested the woman though because she was the one being violent. By the time the police got there, the man was being a mouse.”
“Only the woman?” Rukia was horrified. Who knows what that awful man had done to provoke that woman to repeatedly kick him?
Then she had a scary thought.
“If you say something stupid, Ichigo, and I snap-kick you in the neck, are the police going to come for me too?”
“We could just shunpou away,” Ichigo said. “You know that.”
“Yes,” Rukia said, “but that would ruin our date.”
“The date would’ve been already ruined by whatever dumb thing I said that made you kick me. You usually kick me for a good reason.”
Rukia took a sip from the soda bottle that she was gracefully balancing on her tray. Her ankles were crossed. She felt smug. “Kurosaki Ichigo, you are a wise man.”
There was the question of what to do next. Ichigo wanted to hear the next band. Rukia wanted to get her fortune told by every mystic around to see if there were any real ones.
“Oh whatever. Let’s go hear the band,” Rukia offered.
“No, no, your ears have been tortured enough today; let’s go do what you want.”
It was a stalemate of generosity.
“I read a story like this once,” Rukia said. “In one of the books in your room. A girl sold her hair to get the guy a sheath for his weapon, and he sold the weapon to buy combs for her long hair. In the end, everyone was pissed.”
“That’s not what happened,” Ichigo said. “Wait a minute--you read the books in my room?”
“I had to do something when I ran out of manga. Your closet was not exactly the most exciting place for me.”
Ichigo’s eyes lit up like he was going to make a dirty remark, and Rukia kicked his foot, lightly, with hers.
“Watch out,” Ichigo teased. “The festival police might see you.”
It was decided that each would go to his or her own preferred event. After all, what was a partnership if one party was not allowed to be free? If either party tried too hard to please the other…. if convention and social custom smothered true love….
Rukia thought these things but didn’t say them out loud. Ichigo seemed happy about the easiness of the decision. He really liked these stupid bands named after vegetables.
“Where do we meet up?” he asked.
“There’s a boat,” said Rukia. “I overheard people talking about it. Some guide has to drive you, so you’re not exactly alone.
“A boat?” Ichigo seemed to have forgotten all about the romantic canal ride.
“Boat. Boat. We were hoping there was going to be a boat, remember?”
Ichigo obviously faked it. “Oh yeah.”
Every single mystic by the canal was a fake. Their prices were high and the lines were long. Rukia had listened for the smallest hum from the Land Beyond or the softest communication from the Dead.
Zaraki Kenpachi could appear and knock over their tents, and these fakers still wouldn’t hear a thing.
She left the line and sat near the boatman to wait for Ichigo.
Who was the faker, though, really? Here she was, a spirit among the Living, scrunched in a tight gigai and pretending to be human.
“Lose your boyfriend, sweetie?” The boatman had a sympathetic voice.
“No,” said Rukia without enthusiasm. “I’m supposed to meet him here.”
“Oh, then it’s a Tanabata tryst! You should look a little happier.”
“I’m happy,” Rukia said.
Then why that feeling of being out of step, of missing something, of … not connecting with Ichigo when she always connected with Ichigo…? Whether it was Soul Society or Earth, she stuck with him. They were that indispensable to one another.
Then it hit her.
He had just assumed he would go with her. When he chose to live in Soul Society, to accept a position in the Gotei 13, he had just assumed that living there was what she wanted too.
It’s not like Ichigo didn’t have good reason to assume she’d prefer Soul Society to the Living World. She was a Shinigami. She was devoted to her work. Whenever she came to the Living World, each day was a comedy of errors and she always seemed relieved to go back to Soul Society.
But maybe she had wanted to stay here. Who’s to say that a new existence wouldn’t be good for her--a life away from the bad memories, from the hovering concern her brother sometimes annoyed her with, from living as a spirit and only coming here for Ichigo’s birthday and other special occasions….
A special occasion like a first date.
See, this new stuff could be happening all the time if she lived near Ichigo here. He was comfortable in his world. She wasn’t always but….
Those had been some good times in Ichigo’s closet. Imagine if she got an apartment with him, not a hotel room, not something temporary. Imagine if they lived as ordinary humans.
The boats left every half hour. The tours were popular--there was a line for the boat-ride, and only two boats. She and Ichigo could be waiting here all evening.
The other couples didn’t seem to mind. They were drinking beer and laughing. Occasionally an impulsive young man would grab his girlfriend and kiss her smack on the mouth or a girl would squeal and hug her boyfriend’s waist. This was Tanabata. This was the lovers’ holiday.
Rukia crossed her arms. Lovers’ holiday, not crazy drunk kissers’ holiday. The only couple in line that seemed sane was two nerdy guys who held hands, didn’t speak, and seemed to be looking at the stars in perfect contentment.
“Listen, girlie, if you don’t get back in the line you may have an even longer wait. The demand for boats at twighlight time is pretty high.”
“Is ride worth it?” asked Rukia. She was feeling cynical now.
“Oh, I’ve never heard a single complaint,” said the boatman.
Rukia looked over her shoulder at the sunlit canal water and wondered what it was about a ditch of water that spoke to the idea of romance.
Eventually, the boatman spoke again. “Look, when your boyfriend shows up, how’s about we pretend that you had special advance reservations… or that you slipped me some yen, ha ha. C’mon. I’ll let you go ahead of everybody.”
“Because in all the years that I’ve been working these festivals, you’re the most glum-faced girlfriend I’ve seen. I want to cheer you up.”
Just the gesture cheered her up. She smiled. Strangers could sometimes be such nice people.
When Ichigo showed up, he didn’t ask a thing about how Rukia got in front of the line. He had a box under his arm.
“You bought me chocolates!”
“I bought us chocolates. You’re going to have to share.”
The boat ride didn’t start off as anything special. The breeze was nice. There was something relaxing about the sound of the waves against the boat and the low purr of the motor.
“This is bigger boat than I thought it would be,” Ichigo called to the man steering the wheel. “You could fit about four more couples here. That way the lines wouldn’t be so long.”
“That’s not the point of the ride,” the boatman called back.
“Stupid,” muttered Rukia. “ Couples want to be alone, away from the festival noise. A nice boat ride--it’s a good time to talk quietly, make out, whatever you want to do. More people would make it awkward.” She thought about the flagrant kissing she’d seen all day. “Well, maybe some people wouldn’t feel awkward kissing in front of other couples but I--”
How could she know? She hadn’t tried it yet. She’d never kissed Ichigo in public.
“Ichigo,” she said. “We’ve never kissed in public.”
“That’s because, well, polite couples don’t do that. You could embarrass people who see you.”
“You’re so old-fashioned.”
“Says the two-hundred-year-old.”
“I’m not two-hundred!”
Ichigo put his arms around Rukia’s shoulder. “Sssh, you don’t want to start an argument on our date, do you?”
“Since when are you the one who--”
Ichigo kissed her. He was a shy person but quite the aggressive kisser when he wanted to be. He was an infinitely likable person always, but Rukia liked him most this way. All his attention on her.
She forgot herself. Kissing was lovely. Ichigo could never hold back the appreciative noises in his throat. He breathed so heavily it seemed to Rukia that one could hear him from the banks of the canal. She could feel his hand fingering the straps of her dress. She could feel the familiar glide of his hand as he stroked her back in search of a zipper….
Wait a minute.
“Ichigo, we can’t do some things. There’s a man right in front of us.”
“I thought you wanted to be public. You know what? This was our first public kiss.”
“I’m sorry,” Rukia called to the boatman. “We were getting a little carried away here. We’re sorry if we embarrassed you.”
“Oh no, don’t apologize,” the boatman said. “Comes with the territory. I’ve seen and heard some wild things on this boat.”
“Look who’s all shy now,” Ichigo teased. His hand was still rubbing her back.
They were quiet for a moment. The birds called. The water sang. The noise of the festival was getting further and further away.
“Is it me?” Ichigo asked. “Am I doing something to make you sad?”
“No, no, no.” Rukia leaned against his chest. “I’m having identity issues.”
“Never mind. Sometimes I forget that you don’t know some of the things I’ve learned from manga and television. You, a person who grew up here.”
Ichigo ignored the bait. He didn’t look like he wanted to squabble (or as she’d come to call it--"exchanging repartee"). He looked a little serious.
“I think I know why you wanted a date,” he said.
“It’s nice thing to do,” Rukia said. “Don’t you think we’re having a nice time?”
“It’s different from just hanging around. I think you wanted to--I don’t know--make things official?”
“I really don’t see how we did anything official today,” she said. “In fact, we spent a good part of this date apart. It was just hanging out--only in a different place.”
“Yeah,” said Ichigo and he watched the water.
There was a long, fluid pause.
“However,” Rukia said, “there’s more to a relationship that just hanging out.” Rukia disliked this part of intimacy--when something important seemed to be riding on every word. “I think,” she braved. “I think we should--"
“Yeah,” Ichigo nodded. “Like maybe we should be together more.”
“We’re not getting a hotel room.” Rukia snorted. He wasn’t getting it. “I can’t imagine being any more together. We’re practically on top of one another at division headquarters.”
Ichigo’s eyes looked playful.
“Don’t say it. Don’t say it. You know what I meant by on top of one another.”
The tour didn’t go near the river but Rukia could feel the pull of the current as they approached it. With a wide leisurely movement, the boat turned around. It was a short ride, really.
“I don’t think you understand,” Ichigo said, “about being together more.”
“If it’s anything to do with sex, of course I understand.”
“I wanted this date to be special, you know.” He wore that shining sincerity that always made Rukia feel like a heel. Ichigo was a well-meaning person.
He looked like he wanted to say something but then he didn’t.
The boat ride continued.
“It’s a pretty day,” Rukia said, not knowing how to goad him back into talking. “Bright sun, no rain, not a cloud in the sky.”
She kicked herself inside her brain. Only people who didn’t know one another well talked about the weather.”
“How about …” Ichigo began, and he had this look like he’d been preparing the exact words of what he would say next. He had that look. What look? Had she seen this one much before?
“How about instead of a hotel….”
That again. Please no, Ichigo.
“We rent a big reception room in the hotel instead?”
Where was he going with this? Group sex? Some reception rooms could hold over a hundred people.
“And we have a party,” Ichigo said. “Not anything like Ishida’s party, though. Nothing fancy. Just beer and stuff.”
This was strange. The somewhat asocial Ichigo wanting to throw a party.
“You want the public to know,” he said. “We can invite relatives and neighborhood people, even strangers off the street. You can call it an engagement party if you want. I don’t care what you call it; I just want us to have it.”
Rukia pulled away from Ichigo’s chest and looked at him. “Are you proposing to me?”
“Um.” Ichigo looked nervous as hell. He’d taken a big risk here, and he was trusting Rukia not to make light of him.
But she couldn’t help it.
“Wow. That’s what I call pretty romantic. Did you buy a ring at one of the stalls?”
Ichigo looked diverted for a second. “I didn’t think of that. That would’ve been something special. Funny but special.”
He was serious. He’d planned this whole thing. Right down to the boat he pretended not to know about. The boatman who just happened to take pity on a glum-looking girl. Advance reservations? She wondered how much it cost to bribe a boatman at the fair. Probably not much. The guy didn’t look financially secure.
And Ichigo’s Tanabata wish? It was probably a long plea for a special proposal that he didn’t mess up, for a special wedding where no one threw up … and a special hotel room, course.”
“Well….” Rukia assumed a practical tone. “I hadn’t been thinking about an engagement, just a public date--”
Ichigo looked stunned.
She smiled. “But now that you mention it. With our relationship, an engagement just seems to follow.”
The rest of the ride felt amazingly comfortable. Like a huge boulder had been shoved out of the way. They both knew the other wanted to get married. What relief. What happiness.
“I know it’ll be a pain in the ass organizing things,” Ichigo said. “Throwing parties--and then weddings. Can you get Ishida to help you.”
“Picking out the invitations, deciding on the menu.”
“How the hell do you know this stuff?” Rukia was getting more amazed at Ichigo by the minute.
Ichigo got the look like he was going to lie, and then he said, “Bridal magazines." He tried not to look embarrassed, "It was research.”
Rukia stifled a cackle. This was Ichigo’s special moment too--she shouldn’t laugh at him.
“Then there’s the honeymoon,” Ichigo went on. “We can’t afford one--unless you want to fly over to Hueco Mundo or someplace cheaper. Then there’s the matter of where do we live.”
“Where we live?”
“We never talked about it. It seems kinda important. Soul Society and the Living world are two very different places and it’s hard to … I mean, my family is here. My squad is up there--and it matters what you think. Living here would mean a weird sort of commitment. We could always go back and forth, too--”
Rukia raised her hand to Ichigo’s face and placed a finger on his lips. “Let’s talk about this later.”
For a moment, life was a boat. Everything was balanced and journeying against the current with ease.
Soul Society and the Living World did meet. The two worlds met where-ever Rukia and Ichigo were together. And Ichigo and Rukia were going to be together forever.