Please forgive any OOC-ness and any proofing errors. I am trying to get better with the proofing, but sometimes... sigh and shakes head Anyhow, I hope the readers enjoy.
Respectfully - P. (aka BrightRedGlow on LJ)
Courtesy Warning: If you are a new fan or you are a fan of the anime only, this is a friendly warning that there may be spoilers in this fic for the Soul Society Arc although it is not overt. For anyone who has read the manga up to 181, you should be okay.
Summary Set sometime in the week after Rukia is freed (between chapter 180 and 181). Renji and Rukia find a moment to talk.
The Wound that Binds Us
He found her in a field of grass that surrounded her with a thin facade of protection. She was gazing at the top of the hill and as he followed her line of vision, he wondered what she was seeing. Although he could not see her expression, he could feel the intensity of regret emanating from her.
"What do you see?" he finally asked her because he could think of nothing else to say.
Her head dipped in half profile. "My fear," she admitted and slowly turned to face him.
Upon meeting his eyes, a hesitant half-smile appeared and beckoned him closer and as always, he hesitated to answer her silent order. It had always been like that with him. She smiled and he shuffled his way to her.
At least, that is how it had once been.
In his delay, he watched as the congenial expression faded. "Well, Vice-Captain," she said with a raised brow, a habitual smirk replacing the smile. "Have you made up with my brother yet?"
He grimaced. "No," he snapped, irritated that she would bring that up now. "He is still recovering. Unohana said he is not yet ready for visitors."
The mention of her brother's condition sobered her. "Not even from his vice-captain?" she questioned with concern.
He knew that his glower deepened even as he tried to control it. "I do not know if I will remain his vice-captain," he confessed.
She studied him for so long with those piercing violet-blue eyes that he squirmed under the scrutiny. Finally, she told him in that low pitched voice of hers, "He would be wrong not keep you as his second."
For such a tiny creature, it had always seemed odd to him that she would have such a command of dignity in her voice. "You are such a strange girl," he muttered. "What do you know?"
A flash of pain went through her and made her body shimmer briefly in the setting sun. "You're right. What do I know? Lowly, powerless shinigami that I am."
She bowed deeply to him and then moved to pass him as if she had made a decision from which there was no return.
"Rukia..." His voice tripped over the name. He did not want her to leave. Not just yet. Once they returned, her time would be taken by everyone but him. It was hard enough to face her here. It would be even harder to face her when surrounded by others who knew how he had failed to be the one to save her.
And he did not want to ask her the question that he feared would break him in front of the others.
She stopped next him but did not turn away from the direction of her destination. He could feel the sleeve of her kimono brushing against his arm, teasing and tempting him to do something. Anything.
"Rukia, will you be leaving?"
"I don't know."
He gulped. "Do you want to go?"
He had seen the way she looked at Ichigo. The admiration, the gratitude, the affection. For all that he was grateful to the boy, Renji knew he was jealous too. And he didn't want to be. Not when it came to her.
I can do this, he told himself. I have done it before. I can do it again.
Her pause was long and measured. She turned her dark violet-blue eyes to him and he felt a slow, shattering sense of deja vu taking over.
He wanted to interrupt her and tell her to be happy. Do whatever you want to be happy, Rukia. Go back to the human world. Go back with your friends. Go back with that orange haired boy who saved you, who risked everything for you... who deserves you.
But to say any of that would be too humbling and he found that he could not do it and so remained silent.
"I don't know," she repeated softly. She returned her attention to the path before her and a sad grin lifted a corner of her mouth. "Do you have a suggestion for me, Vice-Captain Abarai."
He shivered at the way she used his title. The title has been both honor and curse to him, but the way she could say it made it sound like it was a betrayal.
Abarai Renji, vice-captain of the 6th Division and longtime idiot in the presence of this one slip of a girl, straightened as his eyes narrowed on her dark hair and his mouth fell slack.
Pride was the wound that blessed them with the courage to survive, cursed them with the betrayal of silence, bound them to the will of others.
Kuchiki Rukia could not say outright what she wanted. That, he finally understood. She had tried once and he had failed her. But here she was. Giving him one more chance and for only the second time in their long life, she was asking him to say to her what he should have said those years ago.
"Rukia, do not..." His fear made him stumble, but her eyes bade him to continue and awkwardly, he placed a hand upon her shoulder. "Please, Rukia. Stay."
The words were released and Renji, an admitted failure many times over, felt a liberation of his spirit even if his stomach felt like coming up through his throat.
Her hand, small like a butterfly, raised up to touch his. Her fingers entwined with his briefly before she let go. "Walk with me, Vice..." She stopped and corrected herself. "Walk with me, Renji."
And so they walked back to the seireitei, side by side, almost touching but not quite. She did not promise that she would stay and he did not ask again. They only spoke of what they needed to do. She to face her last fear. He to face his captain. What happened after that, they could not say.
But in the dying light of a setting sun, the wound that bound them was healing and for him and for her, that was all that mattered.