I art alive!

Recently, I've spotted the shiny that is Zangetsu and Sode no Shirayuki and wandered over to see what all the fuss was about. This series is named after a self-help book I stumbled across.

Disclaimer: If I owned Bleach, I would have named it something infinitely cooler than a strong-smelling disinfectant.

The Root of the Problem

Growing up surrounded by nobles when you're acutely aware Inuzuri is a total slum does wonders to your self-esteem. Make that a couple of hundred years surrounded by said nobles, and anyone born outside of the Noble Clans would feel like an impostor.

She didn't consider herself particularly smart, or pretty, or charming, or good with steel and spells, and Kaien's death certainly didn't help make her feel anymore worthy of anything. She was judged to be inferior by the Elders and another untouchable snob by most everyone else. The sole fact that she was told (not in words, but in actions, which hurt significantly more) she was never good enough was soon rooted so deeply within her she could not help but completely believe it herself.

And so, when she first heard the insane rumours flying around that one Ichigo Kurosaki was harbouring feelings more than friendship for her, Rukia Kuchiki simply could not find it in herself to believe them. So, naturally, she dismissed them as someone with too much free time on their hands and thought nothing more about it.

Too bad nobody else thought the same.

"You," Rangiku Matsumoto announced on the courage of too many bottles of sake, "have to wake up."

The voluptuous blonde and Rukia herself were the only ones still conscious – Rukia because she had had none and Rangiku because her liver was made of cast-iron. She had been in the process of gently extracting Renji's hands from their chokehold position around Ikkaku's neck, but stopped to raise a delicate eyebrow at her friend.

"Wake up to what, Ran?"

"Everyone in both worlds can see it," she continued, as if she hadn't heard. Rukia rolled her eyes and continued working her dead-weight of a childhood friend into a position that would be relatively comfortable come morning, then turned her attention to Ikkaku. "Matsumoto, I highly doubt the rumours are true."

Rangiku hopped down unsteadily from the table and wobbled over to sit on the least untrashed chair in the room (missing a back and one leg had teeth marks), picking up another bottle as she went. She was silent for a while as she watched Rukia tend to each of the unconscious in turn (the motherly part of her brain tsked in disapprovement at how the Clan could degrade her long-time friend when she did things like this, and absent-mindedly wondered how Byakuya would react to a stern lecture).

"Honey, I usually start the rumours, so I know from experience that they aren't around this long unless there's some truth to it." She squinted to gage a reaction. Rukia was frowning, but she couldn't tell if it was because of her words or because Kira's arm was stuck under the combined weight of Hisagi and Iba.

Knowing it was quickly going nowhere fast, she tried a different approach. In a hushed tone (although no-one was conscious for miles around), she whispered: "Do you like him?" Disappointingly, the petite shinigami didn't stutter or turn amusing shades of red. She groaned inwardly and took another giant swig. Fodder for the rumour mill usually came so much easier than this.

"Ruuu-kia! You can't tell me you feel nothing for that human hunk! I mean, screw what everyone else says, his hair colour is sexy, and he has the most gorgeous eyes…"

"He's underage." And went back to rolling Iba off Hisagi and onto a spare patch of dirt.

Really? That's really her response?

"He's twenty! I'll have you know that in most countries the age of adulthood is eighteen. Ichigo's legal with a capital L, sugar! And," her eyes crinkled mischievously in a way that had men feeling their shihakusho's were tied too tightly, "you still haven't given me an answer."

"I don't know."

She stopped mid-swig. "You don't know…" Rangiku tested the words, frowning, searching through the haze of her mind to find the hidden meaning in those words. "How can you not know?"

An exasperated sigh. "Ran, I'd prefer we didn't talk about this."

Full lips turned down in a playful pout. "Aww, Ruki-chan, we're both wom—"

"I never ask you about Gin." Okay, that hurt. But despite her thirst for gossip, the blonde was especially sensitive to her petite friend's emotions. Dropping the happy-go-lucky, she fixed scarily sober-looking eyes on Rukia.

"Okay okay, I'm sorry. But Ruki, I just want you to be happy. The War's finished and it's just exasperating for us to sit here and watch you two dance around this issue when you could've sorted it out ages ago. I just want you be happy," she repeated. "Because Kami knows you deserve it."

Rukia held her gaze, but though Rangiku knew her words had touched her friend, she would never truly believe them. Sometimes she wanted to slap the Elders for the mess they had made of her friend's self-esteem.

"I'm leaving now. Drink lots of water, okay?" Her heart sank.

But at the door, she paused and turned, and was rewarded with a tiny smile. "Thanks, Ran."

Rangiku was left to her thoughts, surrounded by passed-out friends and empty bottles, contemplating the dilemma that hit so close to home. One thing, however, gave her hope.

'I don't know' may not necessarily mean yes, but it didn't mean no either.

First Bleach fic, so constructive criticism is very much appreciated. I feel like I still haven't got a proper grip on the characters, but I'm trying hard to correct that.

I also promise the later one-shots will be longer and more light-hearted. As it'll all loosely come together in the end, suggestions are welcome!