A/N: Day 22 Prompt: there's been talk about us

We fear that which we cannot see.

"Hey, have you heard?"

"That Kurosaki kid—"

"Yes, that Kuchiki girl—"

"No way! A delinquent joining our class?"

"Of course that untalented recruit is a noble. It's the Kuchiki influence. I thought so, too!"

Rumors chased after Ichigo and Rukia their entire lives. People liked to gossip about their appearances. About their statuses. It was always the trivial matters that rubbed others the wrong way.

And then came the rumors about the nature of their relationship. A bit surprising, to be sure, but not altogether unexpected, given how petty gossip hounds could be.

Just another bored rumor passed along the mill that would eventually be forgotten and replaced with something new. At least, that was what he hoped.

They both denied it as firmly as they could. It never satiated others' nosy appetites for long.

All those rumors fell away when she was whisked back to Soul Society. They were the last thing on his mind when he and the others fought to rescue her. He'd forgotten about them completely until she and the other Shinigami showed up during the next semester, unannounced, and the rumors started up again.

It didn't help that she was living with him now, either.

"What's the deal with you and Rukia-chan anyway?" Isshin asked while helping his son with the dishes. The girls were having fun getting to know each other upstairs, so he figured he'd step in.

Ichigo threw him a peeved side-glance. "What do you mean? She already told you she has no money or relatives here to help her."

"So you volunteered to take her in without a second thought, huh?"

"You expect me to let her fend for herself?" The defensive edge in his voice made Isshin pause.

He smiled as he took a dish from the rack to dry. "No, of course not. You've always been the type to stick your neck out for someone in need. Why do you think your mom and I named you Ichigo?"

Ichigo said nothing, just continued washing dishes. If one good thing could be said about his punk of a son, it was the fact that he never flaunted his inner strength.

"You've never really had many friends growing up. For the longest time, the only friend you had was Tatsuki-chan and then Chad. Everyone else was too scared to try and talk to you. So I'm glad you're putting yourself out there this year and making a bunch of new friends, Ichigo."

His son's face softened.

"That being said, you never answered my question, my son." Isshin's eyes sparkled with a single-minded pursuit. "Could it be you don't trust me enough to tell me the truth? Or is it that you're too shy?"

That all-too-familiar scowl returned to Ichigo's face. "What the hell're you talking about, Dad?"

"There you go, dodging the question again! I'm talking about Rukia-chan! Is she, y'know, your girlfriend?"

"My...girlfriend?" A dish slipped from Ichigo's grasp and shattered into pieces.

"Aw crap!" he swore, stooping to the floor. "Sorry, Dad!"

Before he could reach for the largest piece, Isshin gently pushed his son's hands away. "Let me handle this, Ichigo. I don't want you hurting yourself. Go get the trash can."

"Dad, it's no trouble. I can get it."

Isshin paused. "To be honest with you, son, my joints ain't as spry as they used to be. I probably can't get up right now even if I wanted to."

"Oh, what? You're such an old man," Ichigo said as he pushed himself up.

At that moment, Isshin slipped a small pill into his mouth. Urahara's gigai tech might have been impressive when he was first gifted the thing, but damn was it getting more and more unresponsive as he got older.

After Ichigo cleared the shards away, Isshin let his son finish washing the dishes. It was the easiest way to trap him there, at any rate.

"Anyway," he began again, "what is Rukia-chan to you?"

His son hesitated, brown eyes darting around as if he could pull some bullshit excuse from the murky dishwater.

He covered it up with yet another scowl. "We're just friends. Sorry to disappoint you and Yuzu."

"Aw, c'mon, Ichigo! Your sister and I are just curious!"

"You guys are way too keen about my nonexistent love life. Why don't you two get lives of your own?"

"You kids might not understand this since you're so young, but when you become a parent, your life revolves around your kids! That means your life is my life, too!" Isshin clenched his fist. "So c'mon, Ichigo! Tell me everything! Don't be shy!"

"I'm not being shy. Quit bugging me."

"Oh?" Isshin's eyes gleamed. "Only a truly shy man would be so cold! Come now, my son! Confess your deepest, darkest secrets to your father!"

As soon as he tried to embrace his son, all turned black as his face rammed right into Ichigo's elbow.

The girls upstairs heard a loud crash and Ichigo's infuriated cursing.

Karin frowned at the floor. "There they go again. God, it's so exhausting living with them. Sorry, you're just going to have to deal with them for the time being."

Rukia slapped on an innocent smile. "Oh, I don't mind! I think a lively household is kind of fun!"

Another crash thundered through the house as the two men continued brawling away. Karin sighed. "Fun, huh?"

"I just hope they remember to clean up after themselves! I'd hate to clean the kitchen again when I already did it last weekend!" Yuzu said.

Rukia had heard their muffled fighting before when she hid in Ichigo's closet. To actually bear witness to the Kurosaki family's antics was another matter entirely. Compared to the piercing silence of the Kuchiki household, this was a much more comforting change of pace.

"Now don't take this the wrong way, Rukia-chan." Yuzu fidgeted on her bed. "But…um…."

Karin tilted her head back with a loud sigh. "She wants to know if you and our stupid brother are dating."

"Karin!" Yuzu shouted, scandalized.

"It's what you wanted to ask her since she arrived, right?"

"Dating?" Rukia repeated. "No, we're just friends!"

"Just friends, huh?" Karin muttered.

"Yes, of course."

"So you say."


"I'm just saying it'd be way more interesting if all this was some elaborate ruse for Ichigo to introduce his girlfriend to the family is all." She flopped back onto her bed, letting her legs swing freely over the edge.

"That certainly would be more interesting, I suppose," Rukia conceded. "Unfortunately, that's not true. No offense to your brother, but he's too honest to think of doing something like that."

The three paused when Ichigo's booming sneeze echoed up to them from downstairs.

Karin smirked. "Friend, girlfriend. It's all the same to me, I guess." She pointed a finger at Rukia. "You and I might get along swimmingly once you drop that nice-girl act and be yourself, though."

Rukia blinked. And here she thought her human girl schtick would work here, too.

The smile that crossed her lips was softer, more natural this time. "You and your brother have the same instincts, I see."

"I'd say I'm better at reading people than he is. He's a big dope." Karin waved dismissively.

Yuzu's warm smile grew. "Whether you're just friends with Ichi-nii or something more, I'm still glad to have you in our home, Rukia-chan! It's nice to have more girls in the house for once!"

Rukia dipped her head. "I'm grateful that you're letting me stay here without questioning my motives. I hope I won't be a burden to any of you."

"If you can keep my brother and my dad in line, you'd be more of a help than a hindrance," Karin said. "Anyway, Yuzu tends to snore and fuss in her sleep, so I hope you can deal with that, too."

Yuzu flushed and threw a pillow at her sister's bed. "Karin! I don't snore!"

Siblings showed the oddest resemblances to one another from time to time. Karin's teasing grin was so much like her brother's that it made Rukia smile in return. Ichigo then barged into the room and plunked himself on the edge of her bed to hang out with them. They all talked about their day and mocked each other in that special way only siblings could. It was warm and exasperatedly caring.

All those silly rumors that once passed around Karakura High about her and Ichigo dating would definitely escalate if anyone saw her living with him. It didn't matter to her either way.

For once, she'd found a place where she didn't have to worry about being judged. Rukia could dare to be happy. She dared to relax and laugh along with them. The Kurosaki family treated her like she belonged, and that was enough.

"Wait, they live together? Are you sure?"

"Of course! Kojima-san went to their house the other day to bring Kurosaki all the homework he missed, and he told me that Kuchiki-san was the one who answered the door! And she took it from him on his behalf! Like she was his girlfriend or something!"

"No way someone as pretty as her would be shacking up with a guy like that, right?"

"I don't know. You remember how she climbed in through the third-story window and kicked him in the face and smacked him around? If anything, I feel sorry for Kurosaki."

Now those rumors couldn't be helped either. Rukia needed somewhere to stay, and like a little pest, she wormed her way into Ichigo's home and his everyday life. And with his month-long Vizard training going on, he wasn't exactly around to put a stop to them.

The rumors really started to get out of hand once Ichigo, his friends, and all those weird kids who joined in the middle of the semester disappeared at the same time. No one knew where they went, or if they were even alive.

Some theorized that they had all dropped out to form a street gang. Others proposed the idea that Kurosaki and Kuchiki-san had eloped and invited all their friends to the wedding. All of which were extremely ridiculous, but who was to prove them wrong? Certainly not the subjects of the rumors themselves.

Oddly enough, both Asano and Kojima were the first to dismiss any rumors they heard. They seemed less enthusiastic about it, like their friend's love life was no longer a fun puzzle to work out. They hung a lot more around Arisawa, who was equally morose and exhausted with it all.

Of course, this only fueled the wild rumors further. Perhaps they were bummed out that they weren't included in whatever escapades Kurosaki and his other friends got involved with.

Then Kurosaki returned. Without any of those weird friends of his. Without that odd Kuchiki girl by his side.

Kurosaki Ichigo became a recluse, even among those he once called friends.

Perhaps they'd broken up. Maybe she had to move away.

The mystique of their relationship died down pretty quickly after that.

It was not until May of their final year of high school did rumors about Kuchiki Rukia returning circulate around the school. Someone claimed to have seen her hanging around Karakura again. With how eagerly Kurosaki cancelled the rest of his sports team contracts to leave school earlier, it seemed more and more plausible.

Inoue Orihime's own confirmation that the Kuchiki girl was indeed back only fueled the flames. Apparently, Kuchiki Rukia and all the new kids had to move far away all of a sudden. No, they weren't all a weird family. No, she would not return to Karakura High.

As for the rumor covering Kuchiki Rukia and Kurosaki Ichigo's relationship status, Inoue, Arisawa, and Kojima were all tight-lipped on the matter. Despite their best efforts, Asano Keigo was not all that great at keeping secrets, and it only took a bit of pressure for him to crack.

"No, they're not dating! Can you believe that?" he'd screech at anyone who would listen. "I swear, I've tried so hard to hook them up, but nothing I do works! Tell me, what's a guy gotta do to help his dumbass friend score, huh?"

Rukia was in the middle of writing up a report when Ichigo decided to show up for an impromptu visit. Admittedly, it was nice catching up with him, but it did wreck her entire work schedule for the day.

Well, perhaps wreck wasn't the right word for it. She didn't mind his company. She just normally finished up faster than this.

The odd look her brother threw her when she requested that they be left alone put her off. It did not help that she had flushed when Renji raised a tattooed eyebrow at her before he left, nor the fact that the servants hushed their giggles when Ichigo looked over his shoulder at them.

"Hey, is something going on around here?" he asked after catching the latest servant stifling a smile as she passed. "The servants have been whispering to each other all day."

That's because you decided to barge in so blatantly like you live here, you fool, she wanted to say.

Rukia shrugged affectedly. "People like to talk."

About us, to be precise.

Ichigo scoffed. "People are always talking about me like I'm some kind of freak because of my hair. I've never cared all that much about gossip. It's all bullshit anyway."

She set her brush down on the inkstone. "I see. You too, huh?"

"Too?" he repeated, finally looking over at her.

"You heard Nii-sama explain why I was adopted into the Kuchiki clan, correct?" She took his silence as a yes. "The Kuchiki name is a prestigious one, but that notoriety does not come without its costs. The moment I was adopted, I was immediately placed in Squad Thirteen despite never having graduated from the Shinigami Academy. I was deemed a product of nepotism, and the other squad members hated me for it."

Rukia shut her eyes. The memory of Kaien's warmth flickered in the back of her mind. That would be a story for another day.

"It may seem ridiculous to you, how such a thing could hurt me." Her smile did not reach her eyes.

He shook his head. "It's not ridiculous, Rukia. What's ridiculous is all the stuff people assumed about you. They don't even know you."

"No," she said. "But even worthless rumors can start to take their toll once enough of them build up."

"Oh yeah? Well, I'm gonna change that."

Her smile fell. "How so?"

"We're friends," Ichigo said without any hesitation whatsoever. "So anyone who talks shit about you gets the business end of my sword."

"A little extreme, don't you think?"

Ichigo snorted but said nothing else.

To alleviate the tension brewing around him, she teased, "And what rumors about yourself have you heard lately? I've heard quite a lot. I've even been asked to confirm a few, on occasion."

"Yeah? Like what?"

Rukia turned the various rumors over in her mind, struggling to find the best way to spin it. A joke perhaps? Could he laugh off something like this?

No, Ichigo would probably get embarrassed and storm off to find the cretin who started these unsavory rumors in the first place. She would assume such talk was unbefitting of those who served in the Thirteen Court Guard Squads, but apparently she was mistaken.

"Nothing much. Petty gossip." She continued writing her report as if such matters didn't concern her at all. "About you and I, mostly. What we are to each other."

Ichigo scowled. "Not this again."

"Unfortunately, yes."

"It's like people don't have anything else to do with their lives. Stop trying to live vicariously through us already."

Rukia paused. "Live vicariously?"

"Yeah, it's like when people try to experience stuff through—"

"No, I know what it means. But what did you mean by that?"

The moment he met her eyes, she understood. There was a frantic, helpless gleam to them, but even so, he did not dare look away.

It was not a challenge, but more a question. It was a plea. His confession.

"Oh. I see."

"Look, I wasn't trying to…. I mean, it's not…. This wasn't the way that I wanted to…."

Ichigo put his head in his hands and took a deep breath. When he finally sat up straight again, he looked her right in the eye. "Rukia, do you want to go out with me?"

"Oh?" She leaned her head in a hand, the corner of her mouth tugging up. "Are you sure you want to prove those rumormongers right?"

He scowled. "This isn't about them! I told you, I don't give a shit about what other people think. It wasn't the rumors that made me like you."

"What a bold thing to admit." She covered her mouth in mock surprise.

"Ugh, shut up! It's hard enough to say as it is."

Rukia began to laugh. "You're so strange, Ichigo. I like that about you, though."

He tried and failed to hide how red his face had become. "Don't make fun of me."

"I'm not." Her smile became more genuine then as she reached her hand out to his. "I am happy you asked. Although, I hope you know that it is uncouth of you to drop in on a woman unannounced. According to what I read about courting in the World of the Living, it is also customary to have a chaperone along with us on our dates."

"Yeah, that's been outdated for centuries now. What the hell kind of books are you even reading?" he scoffed.

"How rude! And here I was, excited to ask Nii-sama to accompany us for our first date!"

"What? Don't bring Byakuya into this!"

Their silly bickering echoed all throughout the courtyard. Even still, they did not let go of the other's hand.

"Hey, have you heard?"

"That Substitute Shinigami and Lieutenant Kuchiki are dating?"

"Why is this news? Weren't they already a couple?"

"Ah, I see! So I was right all along."

Years and years of speculation, only to have the confession be far more mundane than they hoped.

The funny thing about rumors was, once they were confirmed, they lost their appeal extremely quickly.

Another rumor soon came to take its place.

"Kurosaki Ichigo is a noble? No way!"

"Sure, he looks a lot like Lieutenant Shiba, but isn't he just a human?"

"You sure he didn't just marry into the Kuchiki family?"

And so it goes. And so the rumors circled back once again.

If you can say that your heart doesn't change

Then that is strength.

No, nothing can change my world.

A/N: The only time a petty rumor is actually one hundred percent true lol. But I mean, it's not hard to disprove with the way they're always looking at each other.

I suppose this fic can kind of fit in the same AU as Home and Clearing Away the Rain. Maybe consider it a prequel of sorts, if you like!

Thanks for reading! Until next time!