Ichigo: If I got out of this situation unscathed –or perhaps particularly if I didn't–I would murder Chizuru, that red-haired bitch! She was not ever going to be allowed near Tatsuki or Orihime again after this kind of betrayal, and I should hope she would have known that before she handed me over to the enemy –best known as the Uryū Ishida Fan Club. Maybe I'd just let Tatsuki beat her up, like she'd been wanting to do since the very first time Chizuru hit on Orihime. Gritting my teeth, I glared out at the crowd of milling, angry females. "Look, how long is this gonna take? There's someone waiting on me, and I would prefer to not keep them waiting." The last thing I wanted to deal with was an angry mob of women. Luckily for me, at least I had some experience with angry mobs. Angry mobs of females were certainly new, though. It seemed as one of them finally got the nerve to speak. "How could you?!" one brunette girl snarled at me. "Our Prince should never hang out with such a barbarian as you!" An inhuman snarl escaped me, and even the bravest of the girls shut their mouths. "Your 'Prince'?" I asked accusingly. "Yeah, he happens to have a name. It's Uryū. And Uryū is more than well-equipped to keep me away from him himself if he didn't think me worthy of his presence. Yet if it is all as you say, how is it that I am the company he seeks out?" I glared at each and every one of them in turn. "You… you must be blackmailing him!" one accused. I cocked a brow at that. "Honey, I have classes with him. Believe you me, he's got more blackmail material on me than the other way around." "What sort of temptress's spell have you woven to snag him in your web?" demanded another. Full, amused laughter amused from the deepest parts of me. Didn't they realize that by calling it a 'temptress's spell', they implied femininity? Didn't they know that for temptation to function, the tempted had to be open to it? "Why? So you can go out and use the same 'spell', as you call it? Babe, if you want his attention, you are more than capable of trying to entice him yourself. The only 'spell' that I wove was being fairly interesting, of above average intelligence, and… oh yeah, not treating him like some sort of idol carved of alabaster!" "How vulgar!" the young woman sputtered at my accusation –and my advice. "Why should he go out with King? Why should he go anywhere near someone like you?" she spat. I growled low in my throat. Of course they were all so very focused on all of my bad qualities. Never mind that I was fiercely loyal, that I protected all of my friends to the highest extent of my ability, that I made Uryū smile and laugh. I was King, and therefore utterly unacceptable. "Why don't you ask him?!" I bellowed. "You heartless bitches, shouldn't Uryū get a say in his own life?! If you must know, we coincidentally stumbled upon each other. I would deny dating him, but hell, you will all repeat whatever the hell you want, anyway. He hangs out with 'someone like me' because I listen to him, I care about him, and I realize his is more than just some sort of title, role, idol, or prize. And, for the record, I have a name, too. However, if you can't bring yourselves to use the name of someone you all seem to prize, I can hardly expect you to realize that –let alone, know it. Bottom line, I am Uryū's friend because it is Uryū's choice." They all stared at me with wide eyes. My body trembled with barely-contained rage. "Don't you get it? As much as you lot love to place him on a pedestal and give him titles and whisper his name reverently in hallways, Uryū Ishida is a living breathing person, not some statue or image or idol. And I'm sure he'd be much more interested in talking to the whole lot of you if you would simply treat him that way." I moved to escape the distracted, no-longer-so-angry mob, a single slender female blocked my path. "King." My lips twisted into a sneer. "There is someone waiting on me," I enunciated, as though she were hard of hearing. "Make it quick, or I swear to Shiva I will put my cigarette out in your eye!" Never mind that I would have to light one for that express purpose, or the fact that it was a waste of a cigarette, or that damn goat-faced father of mine got me hooked on expensive cigarettes. She arched an eloquent brown at me. "Well, I was going to say that you were good for my dear little bookworm, but after language like that, I'm not so sure." I eyed her for a moment. Despite her short stature, she was wearing a sundress and sandals, not the familiar charcoal uniform –a fact that I normally would have registered immediately, but for the fact I was so damned pissed off. There was something really familiar about her, but I shoved that thought aside in honor of apologizing for my faux pas. "My apologies, ma'am. I got held up by a gaggle of rabid fan-girls, and I was still a bit angry, or I would have realized you weren't one of them." She scanned my face slowly, her expression betraying her astonishment. "That… that was down-right creepy, boy." "Sorry. Gotta switch the masks," I remarked dryly. What I referred to as masks, most people might call situational etiquette. I thought of them as masks because that was what they really were: masks I put on to hide my emotions to show the world exactly what it wanted to see. Shifting nervously, she glanced around before looking back at my face. "Ichigo, right? You are Ichigo, right? That guy that Uryū keeps talking about?" I smiled softly. Obviously, she was a friend of his since she used his first name. Besides, it genuinely pleased me to hear that Uryū had been talking about me to one of his friends. "Yes, ma'am. What can I do for you?" "Well, first off, stop calling me 'ma'am'," she quipped. "I actually want to you remain friends with him, unlike those… rabid fan-girls, as you called them. Uryū needs someone who sees him for who he is instead of what he is or what he can become. I kinda get the notion you might understand that." I cracked a wry grin. "You might say that," I returned noncommittally. 'King' was my title and pedestal, and more often than not, my burden. I looked at her for a moment longer, still struck by how familiar she was. "You look really, really familiar. Have we met before?" She extended her hand. "I'm Rukia Kuchiki. I met you when you used to date one of my friends." Despite the dark twinkle in her eyes, I took her hand and gave it a firm shake –mostly because I remembered where I'd met her before. She was one of Renji's friends. "Ah, well, please don't say that one too loud. He'll probably run me through with that blade he so adores if that gets out." "Duly noted. Sorry to come find you at school, but I really didn't know where else to find you." She smiled tentatively. "I work at the Quincy's Bow most days after school if you need to find me again. Sorry for the misunderstanding." I gave her a snappy salute. "Gotta run." She inclined her head. "I understand. Enjoy your lunch." I laughed. "Or at least my cigarette? Catch you later, Rukia Kuchiki." And with that, I took off, wondering if my… fascinating friend was waiting on me in the place that had become our usual sanctuary. Right now, I needed the mellow, happy peace his presence usually afforded me.
Uryū: I watched group the girls disband, though I felt as though my eyes truly saw nothing. Even I knew that I was biding my time, staring off into the distance in hopes that a particular guy with strawberry-blond hair and whiskey colored eyes would come and join me up on the rooftop. Merciful Shiva, I had not expected something like that to happen –not to him. I had no idea how the girls had managed to corner him, yet I would willingly confess that I expected a fight to spring out of the situation. He was cagey even with his friends. How much more would he hide in front of a group of strangers? I had never expected him to get angry and yell at the girls for close to ten solid minutes, and I had been surprised at his reaction to whatever accusations they had thrown at him. Then again, I supposed that Ichigo might have an intimate understanding of my situation. He, too, had people that he shouldn't hang out with if he wished to maintain his title, his image. He, too, was the type to exclude himself from the student body because they wouldn't understand. Still, hearing his impassioned voice swell over the crowd of girls had been very surprising. I was sure I only heard bits and pieces of the conversation, but the parts I had heard only seemed to make me happier to be acquainted with him 'You heartless bitches, shouldn't Uryū get a say in his own life?!' No one that I had ever met before had defended my right to make my own decisions in my own life. Most of them expected me to become a doctor because my father was a doctor. Most of them expected me to do well in school because I should want to do well later on in life. No one had ever stopped to think, 'Hey, what sort of career do you think Uryū would choose? Do you think it will make him happy?' Almost everyone I had ever met –and there were very few exceptions– had looked at me and saw only what I was or what I could become. For the first time in my life, I felt as though someone was encouraging others to look at who I was, instead. I had to wonder: had Ichigo ever had someone in his life who tried to make others see him for who he was instead of what he was? 'He hangs out with 'someone like me' because I listen to him, I care about him, and I realize his is more than just some sort of title, role, idol, or prize' It was quite strange to me that he already could see through me so well. Then again, he also gave me credit for seeing through him, as though he knew that he always seemed to be at his most readable when he was with me. Still, it felt wonderful to hear aloud that he cared about me, that he knew that I was more than just the class president, the class idol, valedictorian, or my father's son. It made me happier still that it was him who managed to see past all of the roles and titles to the real person inside. He saw me, not Class President Ishida, not Class Idol, not Ishida-sensei's son, not a motherless child, not the top ranked student –me. 'I am Uryū's friend because it is Uryū's choice.'' It was the first time anyone had ever taken so much pride in being chosen by me. Most people just brushed it off, like it was an arbitrary or plebian decision. Yet Ichigo was incredibly pleased to have been chosen by one such as I. It wasn't because I was intelligent –his intelligence easily rivaled my own. I doubted it had anything to do with my appearance. In my humble opinion, his appearance was much more striking than my own. We were classmates, but that was a trivial arrangement managed by school personnel and emotionless computer software. It wasn't because I frequented the business that employed him, and several other businesses that had their connections with him. In fact, he had little reason to register such a fact. I had no idea why. Considering the many times I had been used and manipulated in my life time, that fact should have worried me. But for some reason –like the fact I was utterly infatuated with him– it somehow made me like and appreciate it all the more. Oh, you are so in too deep. When I heard hurried footsteps tromping up the stairs, my heart thundered to echo their tone. When the door opened tentatively to reveal that familiar face, his hair mused from running his hands through it, my heart worked its way up into my throat. When his eyes found me and that sweet crooked smile worked its way across his lips, I had to smile in reply. When he took a single step toward me, I found my feet in motion, hurling me toward him. My arms tightly wrapped around him of their own accord. At first he seemed very startled, then calm and resigned. It surprised me a bit when his arms wrapped around me as well, his elbows bent at my sides and his hands resting on my spine. Silence reigned, but the touch was more than enough. It was warm, soothing, comfortable. It was a physical reminder that I wasn't alone. "Hey, Uryū," he greeted softly, his breath brushing against my ear. It was now that I wanted to blush. I wondered if I was, but it wasn't like he could tell anyway. "Hello, Ichigo." "Just needed a hug?" I nodded slowly, wondering how to tell him that I'd heard part of what he'd said to those girls without sounding like a creepy stalker. "What held you up?" I inquired. "Rabid fan-girls. Yours, I believe." He laughed softly. "I'm afraid you might get stuck dealing with mine, as well." "I… I heard part of what you said to them." "Did you?" He made no move to end the embrace at all: no protests that hugs weren't manly, no complaints that if someone saw they might think us a couple, no backward steps. Those strong arms stayed wrapped around me loosely but acceptingly. "I did. When you raise your voice, it really carries…" I sighed softly. "I'm sorry you had to deal with them, though." "I'm not. Someone needed to set them straight about a few things, anyway." He chuckled softly. A long pause followed as I tried to find the words I wanted to say to him. I swallowed hard. "Hey, Ichigo? No matter what anyone else says, I'm proud to call you friend and I am proud to be a person you call friend." The arms around me tightened. "Me, too, Uryū. Me, too." I hid my face against his shoulder and blushed, way too pleased to have him agree with me.