Standard disclaimer applies.
Parings: One-sided RenRuki; implied IchiRuki
Timeline: Post SS Arc, but before the current one.
Author's notes: Hi! It's been a while since I posted something other than the one-shots from my IchiRuki collection, but I'm trying something different this time. This is my first attempt at a RenRuki of some sorts, but I never thought it'd start off so… heavy? It's all drama, drama, drama… Don't we all love it? But still, I hope I've portrayed the characters and their feelings well. Enjoy! Please read and review!

June 11th, 2006.

¤ by hikari yuuko ¤

His long fingers tread through her silky black locks, her small ones cling onto his shoulders, and their bodies are close enough to be called invasion of personal space, the fabric of their black robes grazing against each other. Rukia does not know what's coming over her that moment, but she can only feel deep affection for this man that she has known for a long, long time and so she deems this as the right thing to do. She doesn't even want to think about this anymore.

He brings her closer, need evident in the way his half-lidded eyes watch her hungrily before closing completely, and his lips press against hers one more time. Her eyes close themselves too and she gives in to his touch. Pain and guilt and regret and loneliness… she wants all of these things to be washed away from her mind, needs them to. Maybe he will be able to accomplish such a feat, Rukia thinks as the man then deepens their kiss with more urge and passion than before.

He cups her face, his tanned skin clashing against the pale of her face and her flushed cheeks. But the female shinigami is so wrapped up in her own thoughts and despair that she doesn't even notice the slight change in those gentle fingers that had been playing with her hair and that now caressing her chin. In spite of this, she can feel his warmth and his love and the only thing she really wants is that he makes sadness go away.

No one can blame her for trying.

They break apart, shallowly breathing and faces flushing with the heat. He envelopes her small frame in his strong arms and crushes her against his body, his lips murmuring husky words of love into her ear. And then she breaks away from him, pushes his arms away as her eyes widen, and she staggers back a few steps as his shock and hurt become evident in his features. She shakes her head and braces herself, staring at him with fright and sudden self-consciousness.

"Rukia?" he whispers, not yet believing the turn of events. Realization dawns upon him only to make him look more hurt than before. His eyes don't water as if to cry, but rather they harden at her in what she immediately recognizes as grief and betrayal.

Rukia cannot even gaze at him while he looks like that. The pain in her chest worsens because she knows she is the cause of all of this. What has she done to him? Why does she always end up hurting the people she loves the most?

She knows it; she knows it deep inside herself. This is the right moment; these are the right words; but…

"I'm sorry, Renji," she looks away, hands tracing her swelling lips.

He is not the right person.

Renji's shoulders shake, his hands clench into fists at his sides, and his jaw is tight. He too looks away, unable to stand the faraway look that has won over her eyes. He glares at the ground instead, breathing as deeply as he can. "Why?" he tries his best not to shout and swallows hard the knot in his throat.

Rukia closes her eyes shut, as though she wants to push away the images flooding into her head. Her hands rest on her chest and her fingers curl around the collar of her dark robes like some sort reassurance. She needs to hold onto something. Usually Renji is her first choice, but now she is stranded because he's the one that has made her stumble even without wanting her to.

"I don't… know."

"But Rukia…! I thought that we…" he stammers angrily, his eyes search for hers then. He is frowning and clenching his fists because he doesn't know what else to do. "You know that I… Rukia… you know that I…"

Renji sneers at her unresponsiveness; she isn't speaking or even looking at him. The pain in his chest is burning him from within.

Rukia strangles a sob and shakes her head, blocking the voices in her head as well as Renji's sad attempt to reach her. She knows she should have fallen in love with him instead… If she had fallen in love with him instead, things wouldn't be so hard and as painful as they are now. Why can't she love Renji like he deserves to be loved?

He stops trying to argue suddenly, realizing that his words won't mean anything to her. His words won't get through her as much as he strains his voice, not because she is thick-headed, or insensitive even, but because she knows already everything that he's got to say. However, nothing will change if he does speak up.

The wind rushes by them, the dust rustling on the dimly-lit streets. There's not one soul out at this hour and on an isolated part of the Court of Souls like this one. Everyone is most likely dozing off while some others stand guard at the gates, which leads him to believe that no one would come by any time soon. They are alone, completely alone, and yet there is much noise in their heads: their beating hearts, their breaths.

Renji gulps down his throat and seethes quietly. He considers himself a fool for even thinking that things could go well with her. He is a fool for believing that somehow she'd love him as much as he loves her, the way that he loves her. Oh, for he knows that he holds a place in her heart, forever will, but nevertheless it isn't the kind of affection he desperately wants her to give him. He should have settled with what they had, after all. Their close friendship had been precious on its own.

After a moment of collecting himself, he breathes again and his tone and his eyes soften at the raven-haired woman. "Do you love him?"

"What?" She turns to him, eyes wide and still clutching her clothes. "Renji, what are you talking about?"

She wants to take a step back, turn, and run away, but her feet are rooted to their spot. Her heat beats faster and faster and faster. Her knuckles are turning white as her grip on the robe's collar grows tighter and stronger. And her brows furrow together in a frown.

"Ichigo. I'm talking about Ichigo," his fingers trace the contours of her face and Rukia tenses. He smiles at her, that sad smile that she had seen before a number of times but that she had never realized the meaning underneath it. Now she does. "Do you love Ichigo?"

Rukia tries her best not to shake as Renji's hand cups her cheeks.

Does she love Ichigo?

The answer is quite simple, and still…

"It's go nothing to do…" she gets cut off when the long-haired man shakes his head, something he does when she is being stubborn and he can see through her act. She sighs. "I… well… Ichigo, he…" she hesitates uncharacteristically.

"Rukia," Renji murmurs her name in that deep, raspy voice of his. The sorrow latched onto his tone triggers her already pounding head to start aching more than before.

Does she love Ichigo?

Yes, yes, she does.

Yes, she loves that idiot brat that suddenly messed her whole life up (although she had been the one to pop into his room through the door that one time). Yes, she loves that human boy that is frowning always and calling her names and that she bosses around every time she has the chance to do it. Yes, she loves that man that followed her no matter where it'd take him, that has saved her in more ways than one, and that gave her a second chance to believe in everything that's good and right in this world. Yes, she loves Ichigo with every fiber of her being. Ichigo is in her every thought. Rukia even dreams with him on summer nights like this one. But even if she does…

"You love him," It is not a question anymore, but a plain statement. Renji pats her head fondly, like he used to so long ago when they were much younger and much more ignorant about the rest of the world. It definitely reminds her of those childhood days when they didn't have to worry about excruciating things like this. "What are you waiting for?"

"Renji!" she protests, scandalized, and looks up at him with bewilderment. She gulps, feeling herself wavering. "I never said that."

Yet, Rukia can tell already that it isn't even necessary to confirm it. She knows it and so does Renji. He is the one that knows her better than anyone. The female shinigami can't hide anything from her childhood friend. He knows how to read the look in her eyes; he understands the meaning of the way her whole body tenses up and of the clenching and unclenching of her hands that doesn't seem to stop; he worries over the pale color her face takes as sweat runs down her cheeks; and he can even notice the lips turning white and chapped due to her biting her bottom lip. She can't lie to him, never has been able to.

"You love him, you stupid," Renji repeats, his tone daring her to tell him otherwise. His hand is still resting atop her head, and so he strokes her hair softly as he asks seriously one more time, "What are you waiting for, Rukia?"

"It doesn't matter if I love him or not, Renji," she finally dares to admit. She wants to look away but Renji is tilting her chin his way now and his ruby colored eyes hold her dark blue ones in one smoldering gaze. "It doesn't even matter if he loves me back or not because we don't stand a chance at being together. We could never…" her voice strays, because she doesn't think it's necessary to elaborate.

"Geez, Rukia," he huffs at her as though she has said something rather stupid. He pokes her forehead with one finger before her perplexed eyes. "Come on, if it's you and that man I'm sure there'll be a way. You two are so damn stubborn that I can't even begin to understand how I can cope with you two. Ah, you're so stupid, really."

He scratches the back of his neck in that sheepish ways of his. Then Renji moves forward to hug her and Rukia stiffens in his hold. His long, red hair sways with the wind, caressing his cheeks and hers as well, hiding his wistful eyes from her view.

"You will find a way, there's always one. It'll be okay, Rukia," he murmurs, lips barely touching her hair, and he closes his eyes as Rukia relaxes into the hug. He leans against the wall behind him and moves so they are more comfortable in the embrace. "If something happens, if you ever need something… I'm gonna be here, understood? That's what friends are for."

He looks behind her shoulder at the long marble walls that run along Sereitei, he thinks of how long they are and how long it'd take them to reach that lake by the woods where he used to rest after training with Kira and Hinamori. Those had been good days even when he'd spent most of his moments training to be able to surpass captain Kuchiki. During those days, he'd been content enough with just crossing Rukia on the hallways of the Academy and having a bickering session every once in a while. His thoughts are forgotten when he feels her nod against his robes; her arms circle his broad shoulders and, pulling him against her, she begins sobbing. Renji sighs.

She doesn't want to cry, she really doesn't want to do this to him. Here he is, suffering of a broken heart thanks to her, and he is still willing to comfort her like he has done so many times since they met. Maybe if it rained, it would be easier to hide her tears from him. The rain has been such an unsuspected ally before. But then again, her body is shaking so much that it wouldn't be that easy either.

"Thank you, Renji," Rukia mumbles between sobs, her voice raspy, "Thank you."

On that moment, Rukia knows for sure that if she hadn't met Ichigo, she would have fallen in love with Renji. Without a doubt…

The red-haired man smiles at her with the understanding and compassion that he has tried to shower her with for so many years now as he continues to stroke her hair like before and gently asks her to stop crying.