Their first and only kiss is, without a doubt, the singular most awkward ever shared between two people.
Ichigo has just been made captain of the Eight, has just attained a place no substitute has ever dreamed of before, and he’s a little high on the victory of it. Rukia, long since a lieutenant but just as giddy, doesn’t protest when he pulls her away from the festivities and into a secluded corner of the Eighth’s garden.
Then he kisses her, because, well, that’s what he’s supposed to do, right? They’ve beaten the bad guys (all of them), saved all three worlds and then some, survived their various (many) trials, and emerged victorious. There’s supposed to be a ‘get the girl’ somewhere in that equation, isn't there? And he’s fond of Rukia—certainly fonder of her than any of the other girls he knows, because she’s strong-willed and feisty and more than able to hold her own in a fight.
Rukia goes along with it, because she’s never been one to let her emotions get in the way of what she thinks should happen. And besides, she and Ichigo have been attached at the hip for so long that they’ve long since grown accustomed to old-married-couple jokes and questions about when the wedding is. He’s handsome and strong and tolerable for the most part (except for those occasional bouts of intense stupidity), certainly more so than some people she could name (Renji). And she’s got her own equation to balance with this, as well as a few (fairly shameful) bouts of damsel-in-distress-ness to justify everything.
Truly, truly awful.
There are noses and teeth and tongues and absolutely flat-out not a single spark to make it anything close to bearable. They could each be kissing a side of beef for all the reaction it brings beyond vague disgust.
One second, two, three just in case it’s some kind of fluke and will get better with a little practice, and then Ichigo pulls back with an aggrieved sigh. Rukia grimaces, sinking back onto her heels—and really, like she’s going to want to get a crick in her neck every time she feels like kissing her partner—and resists the urge to wipe her lips.
There's a long moment of silence, and then Ichigo snorts.
“Never mind, then,” he mutters, rolling his eyes just a little.
Inwardly relieved that he’s having the same reaction, though she’s certainly not about to show it, Rukia rolls her eyes right back and steps away. She wavers, just a little, and clears her throat a touch awkwardly. “So…”
“Friends?” Ichigo suggests, a rare, wry smile touching his lips.
Rukia hides her grin and kicks him in the shin, purely on principle. “Best friends,” she corrects, planting her hands on her hips and glaring up at him. “Don’t think you're getting rid of me that easily, carrot-top.”
“Oi, who’re you calling a carrot-top, midget? OW!”
“Violent little shrimp!”
“What was that?!”
“You heard me!”
When they slip back into the party, not a single person can tell that anything has changed.
(Though, honestly, nothing has.)
They get an apartment together, because Ichigo has always been slightly masochistic even if he hides it well, and Rukia likes to have someone to boss around who puts up a fight but still caves to her eventually.
Things go swimmingly for the first six months, shin-kicking and short jokes and all, and then one night while Rukia is working late Ichigo opens the door to find Kuchiki Byakuya hovering haughtily on their doorstep.
“Um,” Ichigo says, caught entirely flat-footed, as he was expecting Renji with a few bottles of booze.
“Kurosaki,” Byakuya says, eyes narrowing faintly as he takes in Ichigo's loose track pants and well-worn tank top and bare feet. “I wish to know your intentions regarding my sister.”
There's a long, long moment of silence. Byakuya looms. Ichigo blinks. Then, as the words finally register, Ichigo goes crimson, slaps a hand over his face, and groans.
“No,” he says flatly. “I'm not having this conversation with you, Byakuya. I'm also not sleeping with your sister. If you want any more information than that, go talk to Rukia.” And he slams the door in the other captain’s face.
Byakuya blinks at the barrier for another moment before his eyes narrow and he reaches for his sword.
“Scatter, Senbonzakura,” he intones, and from within the apartment comes a violent squawk of protest, half a second before a hail of glittering pink shards tear the door apart.
Only three days later, Rukia, enjoying a rare day off and not even on call, hears a knock on the door and wanders out in her sleeping yukata to answer it, a cup of green tea in one hand and a new book tucked under her arm. “Yes?” she asks blearily, opening the (newly replaced) door even as she fights a yawn.
It’s Renji on the doorstep, looking all of three feet tall as he hunches down and wringing his hands like the world is ending. Worse, actually, because Rukia has seen him deal with the end of at least two worlds with a lot more equanimity than this.
Rukia stares at him for a beat, then arches an imperious brow and drawls, “Renji?”
The other lieutenant flinches like she just slapped him around the head, and when he glances up, his expression is somewhere between mournful and horrified and deeply, deeply regretful. “Er, Rukia,” he says nervously, running a hand through his hair. “I, um… How are you?”
The eyebrow stays up, and she crosses her arms over her chest for good measure. “I was enjoying my morning off,” she answers. “What is it? You look like you just killed my puppy.”
“You have a puppy? That’s new—”
He cringes. “Ichigokissedme,” he spits out, wincing like it physically pains him to do it.
Rukia blinks and uncrosses her arms. “Oh?” she says in faint surprise. “You mean he actually manned up and did something about that ridiculous crush of his? That’s exciting. What did you say?”
Renji gawks at her, mouth gaping open and eyes like saucers. Inwardly, Rukia reflects that she has absolutely no idea what Ichigo sees in him. As a friend, yes, definitely. But for romance? She’ll never understand men.
“But,” the redhead splutters, “but you two are together—”
Over his shoulder, Rukia catches sight of Ichigo stalking down the walkway, expression one hair shy of murderous, and realizes that she can guess what Renji said. She waves cheerfully to him, leans forward to hiss in Renji's ear, “We are not. Fuck him and get rid of that stupid scowl or so help me I am finding a prostitute to get him laid,” and very firmly shuts the door.
The sound of offended squabbling rises from outside, but Rukia just flips her book open, takes a sip of perfectly brewed tea, and meanders over to the couch and flops down, humming under her breath.
“East! We need to go east, you directionally-challenged moronic strawberry!”
“Their reiatsu is coming from the north! That way! And what the hell are you calling me now? At least I'm not vertically challenged!”
“And at least I'm not mentally challenged! Do you want me to get out the picture books again and show you what directions are?”
“If they're with your drawings I wouldn’t be able to understand them with a dictionary, a lamp, and a compass!”
“Hey! Just because you can't appreciate art—”
“Oh, so we’re calling that art now? I didn’t realize the bar had been set that low— Ow! God damn it, woman, stop kicking me! Ow!”
The shinigami in their squads are grouped a good ten feet back, watching the show. Several of the newer members are wide-eyed and gaping, while the more experienced shinigami, well used to this, just look mildly entertained.
“Wow,” a young woman, newly come from the Academy, whispers to her friend. “I didn’t know Captain Kurosaki and Lieutenant Kuchiki were married.”
There's a second of absolute silence, and then—
“YOU THINK I’D MARRY THAT?!” two voices howl in horrified chorus.
“Married!” Rukia huffs, throwing her hands up in absolute disgust. “Why the hell does everyone think we’re married?”
From where he’s standing in front of the stove making dinner, Ichigo rolls his eyes. “Maybe because you exactly fit the stereotype of the abusive spouse?” he mutters, and a book nails him in the back of the skull. “OW! You little shrimp, that hurt!”
“What was that?” Rukia asks sweetly, hefting another book.
Ichigo glares and brandishes his spoon. “Oi, who exactly do you think does all the work around here anyway? I clean for you, I cook for you—”
There's a beat, another, and then Rukia whoops with delight and dissolves into laughter.
A moment later, Ichigo drops the spoon and joins in, throwing himself onto the couch as they both try to breathe through the mirth.
“Friends?” Rukia says, grinning, and holds out a fist.
Ichigo rolls his eyes, but bumps their knuckles together and counters, still chuckling, “Best friends.”
And really, there's nothing more to say.