“Rukia-san, you have so many dresses," Akane squealed. "Your closet looks like a shop!"
"No," Nobara disagreed. "It's more like a department store. You have everything here!"
"I have more clothes back at my brother's house."
"What? You have more?" Akane's eyes widened comically.
"Just pick a dress please," I sighed. I was already wearing a red cocktail dress that had thin straps and was puffy at the bottom. Our hair-dresser and make-up artists had already left. It shouldn't take them this long to decide on a dress… I rubbed my temples tiredly. "We don't have much time left. And the seamstress still needs to make adjustments so that they'll fit properly."
"Ah, you're right, sorry," Nobara poked her tongue out cheekily.
I wrung my hands as I watched them go through my dresses.
I still wasn't sure if letting them attend Ukitake's party was a good idea but my brother said he'll make sure they would be the first ones to leave if things turned ugly. But to be on the safe side, I had made Nobara, Akane and Ichigo promise me they would leave without a fuss when I told them to.
"Woah, you even have a fitting room?" Nobara asked and tried to open the white door near the back. "There doesn't seem to a handle… Do I press?" She studied the sensor before pressing it.
Before I could stop her, there was a beep and the door to her right swung open. Inside was a room filled with cabinets and inside them, placed in neat rows, were…
"Plushies?" Akane exclaimed in delight. She had already changed into a baby blue strapless dress that reached just past her knees. "I never knew you collected plushies!"
"I don't," I answered her with a wry smile. "These are decoys."
She looked at me blankly. With a sigh, I placed my hand on the sensor Nobara pressed on before and a hidden door on my left slid back with a hiss.
"These are where I keep my… weapons"
Her mouth fell agape, "You have a whole room of them?"
I scratched my neck, "It kind of accumulated over the years… But the room with the plushies are to avoid questions if there is an emergency." It had happened before, when a new cleaner alerted the police after they saw me sorting out my collection of weapons. Several policemen arrived at my apartment within minutes and demanded to see my room. The look on the cleaner's face was priceless when I showed them the room full of dolls while pretending to be embarrassed and asked them not to speak of my secret hobby.
"Can we look inside?" Nobara asked curiously while peering inside the dark room. She was wearing a silky purple dress that had a side strap. When I wore it, the bottom of the dress touched the ground, but it barely reached Nobara's knees. I looked at her and tried my best to hide my envy.
"There's not much to see though..." They kept pleading me with their puppy dog eyes and I sighed. "Fine. I need to get something anyway." I flicked the switch and the lights in the room lit up. My two friends finally got a clear view of what was inside.
"This is 'not much'?" Nobara mouth fell to the floor. "You have three walls filled with them! Don't tell me you have more at your brother's house…"
"I do…" I answered albeit awkwardly.
"What happens if there are burglars or something?" Nobara pointed out.
"The door is locked," I explained. "The sensor only accepts my thumbprint. Not even my brother can access this place."
"But what if the intruder knocks you out or threatens you to open it," she pushed on.
"I wouldn't let them have the chance to," I said darkly and then forced myself to laugh to chase away the tense atmosphere I had created by accident. "After all, I've been learning martial arts since I was young." It felt kind of awkward, having them watch me intently as I strapped on my knife and gun holsters.
"I was wondering why you chose such a plain dress," Akane spoke. "But I guess I know the reason now. It's so you can hide all those things, right?"
"It's easy to move in this dress as well," I nodded. And the blood splatters won't be as noticeable since the dress is already red, I added in my head.
Fortunately, the two girls had already bought their shoes earlier since their shoe sizes were different to mine so we didn't waste any more time.
Everyone who was attending the party was already waiting for us at the foyer. After planning everything out it was decided that only a small group of us would attend the party while the others would wait outside on standby if – no, when – something happened.
"You girls look stunning," Ichigo complimented. He was wearing a standard black suit and I reminded myself to take a picture of him later.
"Stop pretending," Nobara rolled her eyes. "You're obviously only looking at your girlfriend."
"No, I meant all three of you, honest," he said quickly, causing us to laugh.
I didn't want to make my brother wait for us any longer so I ushered them into the car. The address on the invitation card turned out to be an expensive-looking restaurant a half hour drive away. There were already a lot of people there by the time we arrived. Ukitake had booked the biggest private room the place had. With a quick glance, I estimated about 150 guests. They were all civilians. Since Silver Snake was a principal before, it wasn't a surprise that he had this many connections with normal people.
There were several tables around the room. On the left side, against the wall, was a row of rectangular tables with a copious amount of food and drinks placed on top. To the back of the brightly lit hall was a dance floor with a group of musicians playing in the corner.
"This is the first time I've been to such an elaborate party," Nobara couldn't help but say.
"You'll be attending a lot of these when you work for our company," I informed her.
"Welcome, it's been quite a long time since I've last seen you!"
I tensed at the voice and automatically balled my fists.
"Yes, it has been a long time," my brother faced Ukitake. Although he recovered from being burned by fire, the burns had left scars on his hands and no doubt all over his whole body. There were some lighter scars on his face as well but they were skilfully covered by his long hair.
I glared at him as they talked.
How dare he talk so naturally to my brother after everything he has done!
The memory of him shooting my brother at the deck of the ship appeared in my mind and I gritted my teeth. Ichigo suddenly touched my hands and massaged it, causing me to look up in surprise. His eyebrows were knitted in concern and I looked down at my hands. I had balled my fists so tightly that my nails formed red half-moons in my palms. Had I kept it up any longer, I would've started bleeding.
"Ah, Rukia-san, Ichigo-Kun, how have you been?" I heard that wretched man say. Ichigo held onto my hand tightly. "Are you doing well in university?"
"Very well, thank you," Ichigo answered. Ukitake noticed me shooting daggers at him with my eyes and he turned his attention to the two girls beside us.
"You must be Akane-san and Nobara-san," he said to them. "I've heard quite a few things about you from my daughter."
Gathering information on them, huh, I thought angrily. I won't forgive you if you try to hurt them!
Ukitake continued making small talk with my brother and I busied myself by imagining ways to send him to the next life. Eventually, the silver-haired man got sick of the angered glares I kept sending to him and left to attend to the other guests. But before I even had the chance to relax, Shirayuki appeared in front of me.
"Yuki-sempai, how have you been?" I greeted with a tense smile. Although I wanted to kick her so much my foot twitched I knew enough manners to remain civil in public places like these.
"The usual," she replied in the same fake, cheery tone. "How did you go on your tests?"
"I did pretty well," I responded. "Despite the fact that someone pulled a stunt that caused us to lose precious study time."
"Oh, is that so. How very inconsiderate that person is," she said but her smile had faded. "Oh, before I forget, there is someone I would like you to meet." She motioned and a tall man sporting a green bandanna appeared at her side.
"Hello, I'm Kuchiki Rukia," I held out my hand.
He glared at me, "Don't touch me, you murderer." I pulled my hand back, startled by the unexpected hostility."Ah, I'm sorry for his rude attitude," Shirayuki said while obviously trying to keep a straight face. "His name is Shiba Ganju - Kaien and Kuukaku's younger brother."