Post-Soul Society arc. Rukia and Renji, friendship, and growing into your immortality.
"Oh, come on. They're not that bad."
"Renji's got more tattoos than a yakuza! Yumichika looks like a drag queen! Ikkaku walks around with a STICK!"
Rukia smirked at him. "I notice you don't complain about Matsumoto. She's the one that gets stared at the most."
Ichigo's mouth shut with a snap, one hand rubbing the back of his neck, his eyes wandering away like there was something absolutely FASCINATING on his desk. Likely it wasn't his algebra homework.
Rukia crossed her arms smugly. She knew victory when she smelled it.
Later, she insisted to herself that she hadn't been TRYING to hang out with Renji all day. Honestly, it'd just happened. Hitsugaya had refused to come at all, insisting that someone stay "undistracted" in case something came up. Everyone else had wandered around together almost peacably (she'd only had to separate Renji and Ichigo via facekick twice) for a few hours. Around lunchtime, Matsumoto and the Ikkaku-Yumichika collective had disappeared, conveniently after they'd passed a sake house on the outskirts of the park.
That left Rukia with the two Duelling Dork Wonders (dork was a word that she'd learned from Orihime's friend Tatsuki, and it had a nice, Ichigo-esque ring to it) which, really, was its own entertainment. It was a stroke of genius on her part to steer them to the shooting gallery. The girl who was manning the booth watched all three of them as Ichigo and Renji argued and shouldered each other and generally spent the rest of their money trying to outdo each other. Rukia just stood to the side and pointed out what prizes she wanted. The woman handed them to her with a grin, once leaning over to say, "So, which one of them's free?"
Rukia snorted and answered, "Both of them", which earned her a laugh.
By the time they ran out of money and remembered she was there, Rukia was smiling smugly around two armfuls of fluffy stuffed animals and a small army of keychains jingling off her fingers. Ichigo stared at her for a second, his eyes narrowing as the lightbulb went on. "Heeeey...." He hadn't even gotten a chance to yell, though, before two of his friends from school spotted him and called him over. "Sneak," he muttered to her as he passed, punching her shoulder.
"Idiot." Rukia smiled and kicked him in the shin as she adjusted the rank and file of her plushie army against her chest.
Renji shook his head at her. HE got it, too, but he'd been playing into her schemes since before Ichigo was born. "Get everything you wanted?"
"Yep! Here. I got this one for you." She shuffled her armful until she could get a hand on the plushie in question and held it out to him. It was some kind of video game character with spiky red hair, a big grin and a huge sword.
Renji held it up by its hairspikes to inspect it, a look of fierce concentration on his face. "Eh. Doesn't look a thing like me." His mouth was quirked in the corner in a familiar way, though, and he settled the polycotton swordsman in the crook of his arm.
Rukia's stomach rumbled. "You hungry?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it." Renji looked out over the crowd. "We waitin' for Carrot-head?"
"He just ate that huge powdered sugar cake thing like an hour ago...."
Ichigo dodged a stroller getting over to them. "Hey guys, Kyo and Shiro said that the line for that new coaster is only about a half hour now. Want to go get in it?"
Rukia could almost feel Renji turning green beside her. Just watching it had made him look ill. She could sympathize. "Hell no. Hungry," Renji said.
"Yeah." Rukia held up a plushie dolphin to shade her eyes from the sun. "Not everyone pigged out at the cake stand."
Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Whatever. You guys ok by yourselves? Want to meet up later?"
Renji waved a hand. "Yeah, yeah."
Rukia looked wounded. "Oh sure, just ditch us for some fast machine."
"Heh. Any day of the week." Ichigo turned to head off, waving behind him. "Give a call if you want to meet up later!"
"Yeah, as if, loser," Renji called cheerfully as they waved him off.
Ichigo yelled something back, but Rukia dragged Renji foodcourt-wards before they could end up shouting at each other over the crowd. "Come on. Less picking on Ichigo. More food. I want a hot dog."
"Aw man, a...a hot...dog...?" Renji looked down at her strangely.
It took a few seconds for Rukia to realize what he was thinking. "Yes," she said cheerfully. "It's a delicacy here. See, they take these cute little pug dogs and fatten them up and then--" Renji's eyes went wide, his skin starting to turn green under his tattoos again, and she couldn't hold back a laugh. "--Renji, I'm kidding. KIdding! It's some kind of pork meat wrapped in bread."
Renji coughed. "I knew that!"
"Sure you did."
"I did! Really!"
"And that's why you were turning green."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Musta been a trick of the light."
"Then you'll be fine with trying a hot dog?"
The green tinge made a reappearance. "Of course! I can eat anything!"
"Great!" Rukia grinned as she put them in line for the hot dog cart. "Then you won't have any problems eating one when I tell you what's REALLY in a hot dog...."
They never met up with Ichigo. Not really on purpose, of course. Renji forced himself to eat a hot dog, slightly green the whole time until he realized that it really WAS tasty. Rukia finally deigned, after five minutes of pleading, to lend him the money for a few more. She figured it was only fair. The plushie battalion she was still carrying around was partly won with the last of his money, after all. In fact, she found herself taking him on a tour of her favorite foods. Hot dogs, then french fries, then ice cream, then popcorn as they wandered over to the boardwalk near the beach.
She had to admit that eating was one of her favorite things about being in the human world. In Seireitei you could get hungry and eat, too, but there was something fundamentally different about eating here. Something bone-deep and more...decadent about it. Maybe it was having enough payment to eat whenever and whatever she wanted. Not that she couldn't eat whenever she wanted in Seireitei, but still.... Rukia'd spent much more time hungry in Soul Society than full, just like Renji had. Which was probably why he tried everything she put in front of him, even though they were both waddling a bit as they looked out over the ocean.
They were sitting on the embankment, looking out over the waves in a companionable, sleepy, food-induced coma, Rukia's plushie army arranged at her feet. Renji sighed. "Ne, Rukia?"
"The kids. Carrot-head and the others. Do they seem...really young to you?" She turned to look at him and followed his gaze to a gaggle of high school kids, bunched together down the boardwalk, the girls giggling in a huddle and the boys loud and awkward. "Like not physically, but...just...young? Y'know what I mean?"
Rukia opened her mouth to make some crack about Renji being one to talk, but was stopped by the look on his face and the scar snaking up his forearm. It was one she didn't recognize, healed but relatively fresh.
She looked down at her hands. They weren't without their scars, either. And it wasn't hard to look at all the peaceful, happy people and imagine a hollow or a Menos falling into their midst. She'd seen enough things like it to make it downright easy.
Some days, she wondered if it wasn't that Ichigo and the others were young...but rather that she was getting old.
"Maybe," she said. "They're learning, though." She nudged Renji with an elbow. "WE learned." A looooong time ago, she thought but didn't say. She couldn't help but smile, though. Rukongai was hard, but those had been good times, with Renji. Others would come and go, but Renji was always there. Still was.
She remembered the shooting gallery and was pretty sure that Renji had egged Ichigo on as much as she had. She'd forgotten how nice it was to be backed up like that.
"We," Renji said flatly, "were never that clueless."
"Pssh. Sure we were." Rukia fished around in her bag for the extra drinks she'd brought. "Want one?"
"Yeh." Renji took the can, eyeing it doubtfully, knuckles rapping on the metal. "How do you open these things anyway? A zanpakuto?"
Rukia glanced at her can of juice, then at his can of soda. "No, there's a trick to it. You see, you have to shake it first...." She demonstrated, shifting her weight carefully to get her feet under her at the same time. "And then you get your finger under the tab like this and pull." She did so, the can's pressure letting go with a demure hiss.
"Shake, and pull the...how did you...oh, like thi--YAAAAAAH!" With an impressive FFFPPSSSSSSSSSH!!, fizzy carbonated anger exploded upwards. Renji dropped the can by reflex, but not before catching most of the geyser of bubbly soda indignation.
Rukia nearly bit through her lip trying not to laugh, but must have made some kind of choked noise, because he looked over at her as he wiped soda out of his eyes. She'd meant to say something along the line of, "oh dear, that's what happens when you do it WRONG...." Instead, the sight of orange mango soda dripping off Renji's nose undid her, and she stuffed her hand in her mouth, laughter still bubbling out.
"Kuchiki...," Renji gritted out, "start running."
"Heh. Like you can catch me, slowpoke!"
"I'll show you who's a GET BACK HERE SO I CAN MURDER YOU!"
On the embankment, the plushie army watched impassively. For awhile, the sound of yelling and laughter floated back to them, and then a squeal, some thrashing, and then an impressive splash, as in the exact kind that a girl being tossed unwillingly into the ocean might make.
The red-haired swordsman grinned into the wind, falling sideways a bit to lean against a dark-haired magical girl. She didn't seem to mind.
Author's Note: Yes, I KNOW the hot dog pun wouldn't work in Japanese, so sue me. ;PP Also...this did not turn out as funneh as I was going for? Sorry about that. I think I'm incapable of writing straight (hah!) humor. o.o;