A/N: Very excited to finally release this piece! This fic was part of the Ichiruki AU 'zine. Working alongside some of my favorite writers and artists honestly was so fun. So glad to have been a part of this project! (*´▽`*)

The cover was a commission done by the amazing guruan, who also contributed to this 'zine!

The first table read of his life and Ichigo couldn't stop his hands from shaking. Being surrounded by celebrities you once admired on the screen—being considered an equal—was a lot to take in on his first day.

All that paled in comparison to meeting the Kuchiki Rukia. The Kuchiki Rukia who commanded every scene she was in. The Kuchiki Rukia he'd had a celebrity crush on for years.

The Kuchiki Rukia who was his co-lead in the up-and-coming yakuza drama One Blood. The premise was simple enough. Love, revenge, how far one was willing to go to obtain both. Ichigo blew the casting directors away during the initial audition.

Not so much during this table read.

Of course, his character was meant to be nervous for the first couple of episodes. Most of the other cast members brushed it off as a part of his act.

Everyone apart from Kuchiki Rukia herself, that was.

"Hey, good work today, Kurosaki," she said while they packed up their things.

Ichigo stood up straighter. "Oh, yeah, thanks."

You were good today, too, Kuchiki-san, he wanted to say. You've always been a huge inspiration for me.

"It was fun working with you today, too, Rukia," he blurted out instead.

He wanted to die then and there.

An amused smile played on the edge of her mouth. "I hardly had any lines this episode, but thank you, Ichigo."

He watched, helpless and stiff, as she strolled up to him and gave his chest a playful, back-handed slap. Kuchiki Rukia was so much shorter than he thought she'd be. "You could loosen up a bit more, though. This is just a table read. I'm sure you've had some experience if you managed to land the lead role."

"I-I mean, I was Shakespearean-trained."

Her eyebrows shot up. "And your first T.V. role was an extra in Fighting Syndrome? That show had so many dramatic monologues."

Ichigo wasn't sure if he was happy or embarrassed that she recognized him from that role. Social media had made him a spectacle for a few days purely because of his bright orange hair. He was even trending at one point. Mainly through "spot the main character"-type memes, which granted, were quite funny at first.

Even after all that, though, he was never given a bigger role. Until now, at least.

"The director liked me well enough," he said and looked away. It felt too much like bragging. What good would that do in front of a seasoned actress like her? "But the producers wanted bigger names for the lead roles at the time. And my hair was kind of a problem for them, so I wasn't given much to do."

After he blew up on social media, he'd been given a single fight scene against one of the leads. The director told him to lose miserably to shift the focus back to the main characters.

It worked. He hated that it worked.

And yet, the crew for One Blood thought differently. They thought he was good enough to be the lead. They thought he was good enough to act alongside Kuchiki Rukia.

"That's a shame," she said, snapping him back to this surreal moment. "You expressed longing so believably in that read. Even I became a bit overwhelmed during that impassioned monologue you had about vengeance."

A proud smile tugged on his mouth despite himself. "All those times I played Hamlet probably rubbed off on me."

"Well, unlike Hamlet, I hope you won't hesitate to kill it on the shoot tomorrow, Ichigo."

And with that, she slung her purse over her shoulder and left with a smile. The contrast of that gentle smile with such a corny joke—a theater-related joke, no less—made him feel warm. It was the absolute lamest joke anyone could ever make, and still, he found himself laughing.

When he was a teenager, he likened her on-screen smile to a freshly fallen cherry blossom petal—soft and fleeting and beautiful. He'd even written poems inspired by her, many of which he'd long since discarded.

That cringy longing hadn't ever truly left him, it seemed.

He dared to walk beside her, and just like that, Kurosaki Ichigo and Kuchiki Rukia became friends. It was never something they needed to confirm with one another after their first conversation. It simply was, and it was enough.

The shoots for the first two episodes went well. They drifted to each other after each take, always talking or laughing over incredibly painful theater-related puns no one else found even remotely funny.

Then the third episode's shoot came along.

One Blood focused on Ichigo's vigilante character tracking down the yakuza that butchered his family several years ago. Rukia's character was a mysterious hooded woman he saved from some yakuza in the first episode and was now sheltering in his apartment.

As it turned out, she was no ordinary woman. By the end of the third episode, famous yakuza-typecast actor Grimmjow Jeagerjaques burst through the apartment's doors to take his gang leader's daughter back home with him. The plan was to kill Ichigo for allegedly kidnapping her, but in true Kuchiki Rukia fashion, she stole the scene back with her desperate plea for him to be spared. For him to join their gang and fall under their protection.

When she looked over her shoulder at him on his knees, held back by a couple rough-looking extras, Ichigo needed to be furious. The camera called for a close-up on his rage, and he needed to deliver.

Unfortunately, he just couldn't tap into those emotions for the scene. How could he when she always shone so brightly in her performances? How could he when she looked at him with such believable tears in her eyes?

The director yelled for them to cut. Ichigo wasn't all that visible in the shot where she pleaded for his life, but it was still enough to catch all the wrong emotions reflected on his face.

A shame, too. Rukia put her entire soul into that performance.

They couldn't re-do the take with her face already tear-stained. They'd have to take a short break while Rukia got her make-up fixed again.

The director called him aside. He wasn't being chewed out exactly. Unohana Retsu just had a precise way of making her intentions for the shoot clear to him with a soft, threatening smile. Ichigo had never been more terrified of a director in all his life. He wouldn't dare try to disappoint her again.

Crew members shifted set-pieces back into place around him. A few asked if he needed anything, to which he politely declined. He needed to focus. Needed to tap into some memories that made him angry enough for this scene.

As he scanned over the set, he caught Rukia talking to his agent. Urahara Kisuke was perhaps the shadiest agent in the business. At least, the shadiest one Ichigo had the displeasure of knowing. How else could you make it in this cutthroat industry without someone like him at your side?

He also used to be Rukia's agent, back before her older brother found someone else that better fit his more high-class sensibilities.

She met his eyes across the set, and in that instant, he knew she had something to tell him. It was odd how well he understood her cues despite only knowing her for a couple of months. Building on-screen chemistry together did that to people, he supposed.

"What's up?" he asked when she approached him.

Without any warning, she slapped him hard across the face. He reeled back, dozens of stars and angry questions rattling around his head.

"Ow! What the hell?" he shouted, cupping his stinging cheek.

She slapped him again. "Your character should be angry with mine. Why're you staring off into space during such a crucial moment, you fool?"

Before he could say anything, she grabbed his face in both hands and dragged him down to her eye level. "Get angry! Be angry at me!"

"Well, I'm angry now!"

And if he wanted to be honest, a little flustered by her strength, too. Her eyes gleamed under the blue stage lights, searching for any hint of lingering softness. Ichigo prayed she couldn't feel how warm his face had become.

Satisfied, she pulled away. "Good! Channel that into the scene then! And have Inoue-san fix up your face before we do another take."

With that said, she sauntered away as if slapping a co-star across the face was business as usual.

Ichigo refused the ice packs the interns insisted he hold against his cheek. The slaps hurt, sure, but he needed an anchor to tap into once they started filming again.

Urahara strolled up to him, a slight skip to his step. "My, my, I never thought Kuchiki-san could be such a diva! Guess she's been in this business too long, eh?"

"Shut up, Urahara-san. I bet you told her to do that, didn't you? Bastard."

"Oh, come now, Kurosaki-san!" He waved him away dismissively. "I was just catching up with an old client. You can't blame me for your poor acting."

Ichigo ran a hand over his face.

"Although, I did mention you might need a little...motivation to be mad at her," Urahara added with a coy smile.

Ichigo scowled. "I didn't need Rukia to slap me. Even if she was right."

Though his agent's teasing smile faded, the tricky gleam in his eyes remained. "You want my advice?"

"No, but I know you're gonna keep talking anyway."

"Repress your crush on her until the last few episodes. I promise you won't be disappointed with the script, Kurosaki-san."

He elbowed Urahara in the side and stomped away, a prominent blush crawling across his face.

They finally had a day off after shooting episode seven, and Ichigo somehow had the guts to invite Rukia out for coffee. She seemed hesitant to accept at first, but then she named a small café she liked and it was a date.

"Not a date-date," he snapped at his agent over the phone. Urahara always checked in on him at the worst times. "We're just friends."

Ichigo hung up and stole a table near the back. It was out of the way enough so people coming in wouldn't be able to see them. Not like anyone would recognize him. They had yet to advertise One Blood on any networks.

A small figure slid into the seat across from him. Their hoodie was drawn tight over their face, a scarf covered their mouth, and ridiculously gigantic sunglasses shielded their eyes.

He blinked. "Uh, sorry, but that's my friend's seat."

The person moved their pink scarf down and lifted their sunglasses. Rukia's unmistakably violet eyes pierced through him. "It's me, Ichigo."

"Why're you all covered up?"

Her scowl made him feel like the biggest idiot in the world. "People will recognize me if I don't cover up like this, dummy. I'd rather not be the subject of petty gossip today."

A precursory sweep around the café proved everyone else was too wrapped up in their own conversations to even look their way. "Relax, Rukia. I don't think people are looking at you. If anything, I'm the one that sticks out too much."

She deadpanned. "That confident in yourself, are you?"

"Not confidence." He waved above his head. "It's just my hair color. Even before I started acting, people would always look at me funny. Some people still remember me from those Fighting Syndrome memes a while back, too. Mostly, people assume I'm some kind of troublemaker and leave me alone."

Ichigo suddenly shot up from his seat, not wanting to dwell on the thought. "Anyway, what did you want? I'll order it for you. My treat."

As it turned out, this café specialized in latte foam art. Specifically cutesy foam art. Specifically rabbit-related cutesy foam art.

He never took Kuchiki Rukia to be into this kind of thing. It was endearing nonetheless.

The coffee itself was pretty good, too. Not too bitter, not overly sweet. The perfect warm treat for an otherwise gloomy day outside.

As he finished up his latte, Rukia asked, "What made you want to get into acting, Ichigo?"

The question threw him off. They'd been talking about such mundane topics before this.

"My mom used to be an actress," he began and shifted in his seat. "She was great at it, and I'm not just saying that because she was my mom, either. My mom could be an entirely different person on-stage. She'd take me with her to her rehearsals if my dad was too busy working to watch me. I was in awe of everything she did."

Rukia sat for a quiet moment, then, "What happened to her?"

Ichigo stared out the window. People shuffled past the café, bundled and huddled against the drizzle starting to pour outside.

"She's...not around anymore."

He so hated the rain. It rained hard that day his mother shoved him out of the way of that falling stage light. The crew members frantically shoved him to the back alley outside, trying to prevent him from seeing the blood and glass. But he caught a glimpse, a sliver of a glimpse of her lying on the stage, and he knew.

Rukia's hand reached out to his. He hadn't realized how hard he'd been gripping his mug until he let go to accept it.

People always gave him their condolences and little else once they found out. He didn't want pity. Not when it was his fault for not moving away in time.

Rukia took off her sunglasses. That soft look in her eyes was not pity.

She understood somehow. She knew.

He tightened his hand around hers. He couldn't bear to think of what she must've been through for her to understand his pain.

"You don't have to tell me any more if you're not ready to," she said. "But when you are ready, I'll be here to listen."

She was here now. She was here, and he couldn't get himself to say the words.

"Thank you," he said instead.

Their conversation returned to something lighter, and soon, it was time for them to leave.

As he turned to head to his car, she stuttered, "Would you like to…um…"

Ichigo looked over his shoulder. It was hard to tell what she was thinking all wrapped up like that.

Her shoulders fell. "Goodbye, Ichigo. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Y-Yeah, see you tomorrow."

Her pink rabbit-shaped umbrella bobbed across the street. He started to wave goodbye, then felt awkward when she didn't notice.

His eyes trailed after her long after her car sped off without him.

One Blood was surprisingly brutal for a T.V. drama. Ichigo's character picked off the more prominent yakuza throughout the series, and now it all led up to the bloody conclusion. The episode before, Ichigo finally took on the insane yakuza who murdered his family: Grimmjow's character.

It was a tense, rain-soaked brawl that ended with Grimmjow collapsing in a pool of fake blood. Though this wasn't scripted, Ichigo screamed in anguish up at the rainy sky. It was such an inspired improvisation that the director and crew were more than happy to keep it in.

Meanwhile, the yakuza family scrambled to find out who was targeting their most valuable members. Rukia's character dug into the matter on her own. Everything eventually, inevitably led her to Ichigo. Rukia would have to confront him for the sake of her family. To protect her world, she would have to kill the man she dragged into it. The man she had protected over and over again. The man she had grown to love.

Their hostile confrontation was filmed on the studio's roof. They spent the majority of the day yelling their lines at each other while Rukia aimed a prop gun at his face. This scene wasn't nearly as emotionally draining as he thought it would be. A weird part of him even found it a little fun. This was the penultimate episode. The audience would be on the edge of their seats, not knowing if Rukia's character would kill Ichigo for the sake of vengeance.

Then came the difficult part. They were supposed to rush toward one another and kiss while the camera spun around them. It wasn't as if Ichigo hadn't ever done a kiss scene before. He wasn't inexperienced with it off-stage, either.

Becoming close friends with Kuchiki Rukia was already a huge step for him. But kissing her?

Fortunately, the cameramen had trouble setting up the new rig, so the director decided to film this part tomorrow.

Rukia invited him over to her apartment to rehearse the rest of the scene. Though she knocked the accusation scene out of the park, as always, she still felt that she couldn't quite get it down right.

Ichigo agreed on the condition that they cook dinner first. It wasn't an easy task, what with the mess of ingredients and falling into their usual, petty bickering. They still enjoyed a decent meal nonetheless.

When it came time to rehearse the kiss scene, however, Rukia seemed to want to do anything else. He indulged these distractions at first. Getting a tour of her place and watching old shows she had starred in was nice, but it wasn't what he came up to her apartment for. They hadn't even looked at the script yet.

Pushing for them to rehearse only made her agitation all the more apparent. She wouldn't look at him as she continued to dance around the subject.

Ichigo put a firm hand on her shoulder. "Hey, is something wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong," she said, a little too quickly.

"Then why won't you look at me?"

She became very still. A terrible notion overcame him then. It felt like he was staring at her through a screen. Like he had simply pushed pause on his favorite show and all this had never been.

He squeezed her shoulder to rid himself of that imagined distance.

Then she finally looked up at him, and he knew.

It was a terrifyingly exhilarating experience, knowing that the person you adored loved you, too.

"Rukia." Her name was a prayer on his lips, always hoping but never daring until this moment.

They didn't need any other words. All it took was their eyes, their fingers, their lips to meet.

She broke away, turning her head when he leaned in again. Slow fingertips brushed down his arm to interlace with his hand. He let her lead him down the hall to a door at the very end.

Without a word, she walked them to her bed and laid right in the middle.

He crawled over her. "Are you sure?"

Rukia's cold fingertips traced down his face, his neck, underneath his shirt. He shuddered instinctively when her hands admired the muscles of his stomach before pulling the shirt over his head.

"I'm sure," she whispered and drew him close.

How surreal it was to love and be loved. How wonderful it was to be so completely open with her.

What a shame for it all to end.

Ichigo held her to him long after. He was just on the brink of falling asleep when she stirred in his arms.

"You awake?" she whispered.


"I've never told anyone this, but I once wanted to quit acting."

This came so suddenly that all he said was, "Why?"

Rukia sighed, her breath warm against his chest. "Most people can never be truly genuine around me, you know. I couldn't take it. I took a walk one day to clear my head, and came across a local theater showing Hamlet. And there you were, pouring everything into this one performance. It reminded me why I love acting. I wanted to lose myself in a role like that again. You... inspired me. And I've wanted to work with you ever since."

Ichigo didn't know what to say. He never thought his acting could affect someone in such a huge way. He never thought Kuchiki Rukia even knew who he was before this show.

"You'd make your mother proud, Ichigo."

He laid a reverent kiss to the crown of her hair.

He wasn't ready to tell her everything. Still, Rukia was willing to wait. She would stay by his side, and he would never leave hers. Not when he could finally, confidently be in love with her.

The world fell away until there was nothing but their soft breathing against cooled sheets.

They smiled at each other from across the studio roof. This would soon melt away under the pretense of rage that the confrontation scene needed. For now, he was just happy to kiss her again.

It might've been obvious to everyone else how he felt, but Ichigo didn't care who knew. He loved her. He couldn't imagine doing this with anyone else in the world.

The slate loader held the clapperboard in front of the camera. "Episode 11, scene 8, take 1. Marker."

The director raised her hand. Ichigo shifted his stance.