- Created By emmet849
Disclaimer: All Bleach characters, settings, etc. are the property of Tite Kubo and his respective representatives. No copyright infringement is intended and I make no money or profit from this fanfiction.
Renji reclined thoughtfully on his bed asking himself the same question he’d been asking for years. It was so irritating, he could never quite reach a satisfactory answer and although he was brave in battle, being brave in love was another issue all together. If only he could be sure of how she felt…
No, he didn’t even need that much. All he wanted to know was if sharing his feelings with her would be a mistake or not. He could handle unrequited love, but he wasn’t going to lose her again, even if it meant never saying one word about it and being permanently stuck in the purgatory of unending friendship.
It seemed as if many of his evenings passed like this, he’d weigh his options, and eventually decide that once again he couldn’t stand in the way. Ichigo had long ago replaced him as the person she was closest to. He had let his desire to overtake her brother and his newly acquired promotion edge them apart. Their relationship, however, was finally mending well, especially now that they were members of the same squad, so he couldn’t help thinking that maybe, eventually, he’d have a chance to get back into the easy companionship they’d once shared, maybe carry it even further.
The Soul Society had finally decided that since they had needed to dispatch so many special teams to Karakura Town over the last two years, they might as well simply make a special squad of it. And it was Renji who was chosen to be captain. The squad was, of course, made up of Ichigo and the rest of the nakama even though they weren’t soul reapers, but it was him who was captain. There was only one thing that lifted his spirits even higher and that was the fact that his vice caption was, of all persons, exactly the one his thoughts kept circling around, Rukia. Much to her brother’s dismay, she had been named his vice-captain. It was only logical after all, her knowledge of the world of the living as well as her consistently superior skills were now undeniable. The Soul Society had even purchased a small apartment for Renji and Rukia to live in. He was finally able to see her as much as he wanted to. He was by her side from the first light of the sun to the last glimmer of the stars.
Except when she wasn’t there, which, now that he thought of it, occurred more often than he liked. Rukia’s position demanded that she run around more than he needed to, so she often came home late. This was one of such times and he was coming very close to going out to search for her, under the guise of needing some fresh air of course, or being bored, or needing food, or whatever excuse he hadn’t used recently.
Frowning, Renji listened to the screaming silence. The apartment sure seemed empty when she wasn’t there. He always thought that if he were assigned to the world of the living, he’d never run out of things to do and yet here he was brooding, in bed, alone. This was just getting pathetic.
Renji sighed as he rolled over and opened the drawer of his night stand. Underneath documents, magazines, and expensive sunglasses was a picture of his squad. Orihime had insisted on having the picture taken when she heard the news and had distributed copies of the picture to everyone. There Rukia was standing between himself and that orange haired bastard. She looked so small in between the two towering men beside her, trying to draw herself up taller, trying to look so official and noble. He stared at the picture as he thought back to his childhood. Rukia’s presence had been a blessing; he often doubted he would have survived if it hadn’t been for her. He might very well have frozen to death during the cold nights when they were unable to find shelter if it hadn’t been for her cuddled against him.
He ran a finger over her face in the picture before putting it away as he heard her coming home. This particular night hadn’t kept her out due to official business, however, but rather an invitation from Orihime. Now she had finally returned to rescue him from his voluntary isolation.
He yawned and feigned that she had woken him up as he greeted her. “Can’t you be any quieter when you come home? For such a shrimp, you sure do stomp around.”
Rukia glared at him, “How many times do I have to tell you to close your damn bedroom door?”
Renji smirked. In many ways this was his favorite time of the day. “Are you telling me what to do Vice-captain Kuchiki?”
Rukia rolled her eyes as she walked past him and into the kitchen. He followed her, leaning in the doorway as she started some rice and began chopping vegetables for her dinner. He cleared his throat forcing her to look up.
“What now?” She sighed.
“Report.” He ordered.
“Report what? I wasn’t out on official business.”
“Are you questioning an order?” He shook his head.
“Well Captain, I am under no obligation to report matters that do not directly affect the mission. On the other hand, if I were talking to Renji, I might be more willing to talk.” She smirked.
Renji’s arrogant smile faded quickly as she retaliated. It could be so difficult to get her to open up about anything. He sighed dramatically before plopping himself down at the table. “Damn you’re annoying.” He said under his breath. “Fine” He sighed. “What did Orihime want?”
“Oh that? Nothing much.” She paused to further draw out his ire. “She and Ichigo are dating and she wanted to make sure that was okay.” She smiled smugly at him from where she stood.
“They’re dating? And why would you think that this information wasn’t relevant to the Captain of the squad?” He yelled.
He watched her as she tried not to laugh, her face contorting into a dramatically nonchalant expression. Ever since she had been placed under his command, she had done everything to make his job a little harder. So what if he grilled her every time she came home? He knew as well as she did that this new squad could be terminated at the whim of the Soul Society. Nothing had been made permanent yet. More importantly, however, it was really the only way he could think of to inconspicuously ask her how her day had been. He knew she’d never voluntarily open up about anything if she didn’t have to, acting as her superior seemed to be the only way he could avoid her suspicions and not seem too creepy about wanting to know every detail of her day. He needed to know what she ate for breakfast, did anyone of the street give her trouble, did she encounter any hollows, how school had been, had Ichigo touched her, had she kicked him if he had?
She shrugged, “I guess I just didn’t think it was that important, after all you’re so busy watching how I do my job, that I doubt you have time for your own. Besides dating within a squad is commonplace.” She replied casually.
Renji drummed his fingers on the table as he thought things over. “So it doesn’t bother you at all.” He muttered, trying to keep any hint of hope out of his voice.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Damn it, she wasn’t supposed to hear that, time to make a quick cover. “Well, to tell you the truth, it always seemed to me that Ichigo and you would end up together, but you never quite sealed the deal.” He had accidentally blurted out the truth instead of coming up with a swift comeback. Damn it, she seemed to be the only one who could always knock him off his guard, even when he was sure he had the upper hand.
“That’s funny, Orihime said the same thing.” She said as kept chopping.
“So you’re okay with this…?” He asked leadingly.
“It actually is possible for a man and woman to be friends and not fall in love with each other you know.” She answered with annoyance.
“It takes a hell of a good friend to go all the way to the Soul Society, get the shit beat out of him countless times, and learn bankai just to save your stubborn ass. I know I wouldn’t have bothered.”
“Is that so? If memory serves me correctly, I seem to remember someone else with weird eyebrows busting out of prison, learning bankai, and almost getting killed while helping him.” She grinned up at him.
“Well I was already there, I knew Ichigo couldn’t do anything by himself.” Renji stood up calmly and walked over to her. Standing behind her, he placed his hands on either side of her small frame to trap her between his body and the counter, effectively leaving her defenseless. “Besides, my eyebrows are sexy and you know it.” He leaned down to whisper in her ear “No one can resist the eyebrows, remember that.” With that he started to strut away.
Rukia stood in stunned silence for the briefest of moments before she collected herself enough to lamely retort “I can! And by the way, you spat in my ear.” She wiped her ear dramatically to emphasize her point, but Renji didn’t look back at her. Instead, he took the high road and merely flipped her off as he walked out of the kitchen.
Renji paused just out of site to see if she would have any sort of reaction, anything to show that his poor attempts of flirting had been accepted or rejected.
“Dumb ass.” He heard her mutter.
Renji cringed. So that was what she thought of him. He leaned back against the wall and let out a sigh. At least he knew now and he could finally move on with his life. He wouldn’t need to spend every second thinking about her, replaying every conversation in his mind over and over. Nope, that was finally over, he was no longer stuck in this purgatory. So why was her voice still ringing in his ears?
He dragged himself away from his hiding place and allowed himself a rare moment of weakness cowering on the couch with his head buried in his hands. He groaned aloud, covering his ears while the voice reverberated and echoed over and over again.
“Dumb ass. Dumb ass. DumbassDumbassDumbass. DUMB ASS.”
Her voice had been chiding. He could envision her exact reaction in his mind even if he hadn’t actually seen it. He knew her well enough to visualize her every move, he had studied her every emotion and fluctuation in the years since they had lived in the dirt together. He had studied her closer than he had any opponent and in many ways she was the deadliest he had ever faced. He was positive that if he didn’t figure out a plan sometime very soon, she would certainly be the death of him.
“Dumb ass.” In his mind, he could see her shaking her head, a small hint of a blush darkening her cheeks, and smiling. Wait, smiling? Renji paused to think about that, yes, she was definitely smiling when she said it, almost laughing in fact. He was sure of it. Rukia never shied away from yelling insults at anyone when she was annoyed, but always hid her approval. How many times had she quietly smiled from a distance when he had accomplished something? He had watched her training with Ichigo enough to know that she could beat anyone into submission without thinking twice about showing mercy, but when Ichigo finally succeeded at something, she would silently show her approval with a slight upturn of the corners of her mouth or an almost unnoticeable nod. Praise and recognition were emotions she rarely displayed openly.
So she had been smiling when she called him a dumb ass. What in the hell did that mean? If she had been angry, she would have screamed it at him, but she said it quietly, to herself. He felt a slight elation. Maybe his advances had been noticed after all and not only that, but appreciated.
So maybe she liked it when he whispered in her ear? No, no way. He’d barely escaped that incident with his body intact. Wait, why was his body intact? He should be singed with scorch marks from her kido at this point. He knew that he must have annoyed her on some level, yet she hadn’t attacked. She had actually smiled instead as she insulted him. Freakin’ girl just loved to confuse the hell out of him, didn’t she? She couldn’t be obvious about anything and she wasn’t going to make anything easy.
In frustration, Renji stole a pillow and threw it towards the kitchen, barely missing Rukia as she emerged.
“Just what is your problem?” She shrieked incredulously.
Renji averted his eyes away from her face in embarrassment, covering by intelligibly mumbling something about the apartment being too girly for such a virile captain. He refused to look at her as he sat down next to him and instead grabbed the TV remote from off of the coffee table, pouting as he flipped aggressively through the channels. His aggravation grew as the delectable smell from Rukia’s meal reached him. He thought back to what he’d eaten that day, wishing that he wasn't such a useless cook. Suddenly the ramen he’d been so proud of earlier seemed completely inept.
Rukia hid her amusement when his stomach growled noticeably, followed by a gentle creeping of crimson up his face. She pretended not to hear or notice for a few minutes as she continued to munch on her rice and vegetables.
“I think I made too much again. I left the rest in the kitchen if you want it.” She offered casually.
Renji scowled at her before giving up and fetching some food. He was already stuffing his mouth hungrily as he returned to her side. It tasted as good as it had smelled. She was always making too much food. He would have thought she would be able to cook an appropriate portion for herself by this time…unless she always made too much on purpose. It was almost like she was watching out for him in a very restrained way.
He stole a glance out of the corner of his eye, but could see nothing in her face to give her away. His eyes returned to the television as his mind continued to wander. She was a strange one. Always doing little things like that to make sure he was taken care of. Was it something she’d do for just anyone?
“Renji!” Rukia tapped him on the head with her chop sticks.
“Damn it! What the hell do you want?” Renji startled.
“I asked if it was okay.”
Renji stared at her for a second, “If what was okay?”
“The food, you moron.” Rukia rolled her eyes.
He looked down at his meal, “There’s no meat,”
“I figured you’d say that. You’ll get sick if you keep eating so fast, you know.” She sighed as she collected their dishes and walked back into the kitchen.
As soon as she was gone, Renji smacked himself in the forehead. It would have been the perfect time to compliment her or thank her or at least say something intelligent. Too bad he seemed to be reduced to a bumbling idiot anytime she caught him off guard. He inclined his head backwards, resting it on the back of the couch as he stared up at the ceiling. It didn’t matter what he did, she took up every inch of his thoughts. He rolled his eyes at his own berating, knowing that there were many other matters that he should be thinking about. Captains weren’t supposed to be love-sick puppies, were they? He stretched his arms upward before lacing his fingers behind his head.
“Something on your mind, Renji?” Rukia asked as plopped back down beside him, crinkling her eyebrows in that cute way she did when she was puzzled.
“Huh?” Renji looked over at her as he let his arms flop down to rest across the back of the couch. “Umm, no.”
“If you say so.” She replied as she looked away.
He couldn’t bring himself to look away. His fingers twitched as he fought the urge to brush the hair away from her beautiful face. That one strand of hair always got to him. It was so sexy and yet hid a part of her away from him. He continued to watch her face intently, hoping that she would turn to look at him once again. Somehow everything was okay when he could look into her eyes; the bitter cold that always seemed to surround him disappeared.
“What is it now?” She asked without redirecting her attentive gaze at the show babbling in the background.
“Nothing.” He could feel heat creeping up his face as his lips tingled slightly.
“Quite staring at me. You’re making me…”
“Nervous?” He interjected waggling his eyebrows subtly.
Rukia jerked her head around to pin him with a glare. He felt his blush quickly retreating, leaving what he was sure was a tone similar an unattractive, pale, sickly white.
“No, you’re giving me the creeps, Renji. Cut it out.” She gave him a warning jab to the ribs before cuddling her knees to her chest with a slight shiver and turning her attention away from him once more.
Renji swallowed the lump that had grown in his throat when she had pinned him that stare of hers, the one that could reduce anyone to a quivering child. He could almost feel the cold sweat breaking across his brow as he longed for glance once more.
She wrapped her arms more securely around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. She looked up at him from the corner of her eyes and gave a little shrug, “A little,” she admitted.
He tentatively lowered his arm until it rested lightly across her shoulders. Rukia looked over at his hand as his fingers softly clutched her upper arm. A small, almost undetectable smile tugged at her lips. She reached up and laced her fingers with his before she leaned into his body, laying her head against his chest.
Renji felt the tension in his body melt away as he pulled her in closer. He nuzzled his nose into her hair as he breathed her in deeply before placing a soft kiss on the top of her head. He might not be able to say what he wanted to, but he could show her, besides, he’d always been more of an action kind of guy anyway. Whatever stupid mixed messages she decided to send in the future, this was progress in the right direction.
A/N: Thank you for reading! I’d love any feedback you might have, c/c is always welcome.
The quiet buzz of the fluorescent lights harmonized strangely with the irregular rattling of his breathing. An old man now, she never expected him to die like this, alone in a brightly lit hospital room with only herself at his side. This, however, had been his last request. He had refused the pleas of his sisters to allow them to care for him in his final days and to die at home. He had told them it was better to die alone since death was rarely the peaceful slipping into some apneic sleep that people liked to believe it was.
She wore the disguise of an old woman, although she had hardly aged since she had first met him. It had been difficult for her to watch his youth slip away while hers clung to her relentlessly. A tentative hand reached out to smooth his wrinkled brow, her fingers tenderly traveled over each of the ridges easing their tension His lips felt dry and rough against her own as they touched. His kiss was unbearably absent in returning hers for the very first time. Time had always seemed so trivial to her until she had watched it take its toll on him. She had been forced to stand helplessly by as it won its battle with him, leaving her unscathed. In any case, she consoled herself, none of it would matter anymore, soon he would once again be the reckless young man that he had always been in her mind.
Even knowing this, watching the process was nearly more than she could bear to endure. His body, once strong and muscular was now frail and emaciated from disease. The only color to his ashen skin was the tiny blotches of petechia scattered all over him. His eyes were closed and she was thankful that consciousness had left him long ago. “Don’t worry,” she whispered, more for her benefit than his, “this is only a temporary discomfort on the way to near immortality.” His soul would soon leave this earthly vessel forever. In a short while they could finally be together in the same plane of existence without either one of them using the assistance of a gigai or otherwise.
The only thing left was for him was to finally give in and come with her. She knew that he would cling to any tiny speck of life remaining inside him whether he wanted to or not. It was his nature to fight anything that threatened to force him into submission, even if that submission would be a happy release from the suffering he had endured.
The fluid in his lungs was audibly drowning him and she could almost see his heart straining with every laborious contraction. Tears brimmed and over flowed as she continued to watch his body struggle to keep going.
“Ichigo, let go. I’m here to take you to the other side just like I promised.” She whispered as she gently enclosed one of his papery-skinned hands between her own and brushed a kiss against his clammy forehead. “We’ll be together soon.”
His eyes fluttered open at the contact and he stared into her irises as a tear fell onto his cheek.
“Rukia,” He sighed hoarsely as a shaking hand struggled to wipe away the wetness off her cheek.
She helped him bring his palm to her cheek as she smiled at the sudden lucidity. Leave it to Ichigo to leave this last bit of strength for the very end.
His hand paused over her wrinkled skin, “Why do you always come to see me in that stupid hag gigai these days?” He complained.
“You idiot,” she chuckled as she averted her eyes from his age-clouded ones “What would people think if I came here in a younger one?”
“They’d think I was some sort of stud to have a cutie like you coming to see me on my death-bed, especially since they know Karin and Yuzu are the only family I’ve got.” He half-smiled at her.
Rukia smirked down at him. “I’m always cute, even as a hag. Well, hurry it up already, would you? You know I’ve got work to do back at the Soul Society. I don’t have all day to wait for you to kick the bucket.”
His smile widened as his eyes glazed over proudly, “Oh yeah, I forgot. I’m so sorry to keep you from all your important duties, Lieutenant Kuchiki. I’m sure it’s nothing your douche-bag captain can’t handle though.” She winced as he gasped for breath every few words.
“Oh please, you know I spend most of my time fixing all the disasters Renji leaves wherever he goes.”
Ichigo sighed happily as his eyes drifted closed, “Yeah, I know,” he said as he traced her lips with his thumb. “No more tears, okay? If I’d wanted water works for my final moments, I’d have let my sisters come.”
Rukia was thankful that his eyes were closed as new tears brimmed. She tightened her grip on his hand as she crawled over the rails into the bed, laying her head on his shoulder.
“It’s time to go, Ichigo.” She whispered into his ear. “You’ve fought long enough in this life. Come home to me now, please.”
With a final strained sigh, she felt his body go limp. The Ichigo she always remembered arose from his body.
Relief finally swept through her followed by a gentle excitement gradually building. This part, this horrible part was finally over. Without bothering to sit up, she fished a piece of soul candy from her pocket and swallowed.
“There’s my pretty girl.” Ichigo smiled as her soul also took form. He looked down anxiously at her now empty body. “No Chappy?”
“It wouldn’t make much sense to put a replacement soul into a body that’s supposed to be dead, now would it?” She answered as she jumped down to the floor.
“I guess not.” He shrugged as he stood beside her. “Well, let’s do this.”
Rukia nodded solemnly as she unsheathed her sword. Taking his hand in hers she performed the konso that would allow him to travel with her to his new home. Ichigo withdrew his own Zanpakto and opened the door to the Soul Society while grinning down at her before sweeping her into his arms and carrying her across the threshold.
A/N: Thank you very much to my beta for all of her hard work and patience. Much love!
I do no own Bleach or claim any rights to it, the characters, plot, setting, etc.