It's Dyed In The Bones

He had been so completely and utterly outclassed.

Some scruffy mutt with a lifetime of nothing but the street trying to compare against a blue-blooded, AKC registered dog, bred and trained for nothing but its purpose. To win.

Somehow, Renji had always known that Rukia was destined for something beyond a life of petty crime amongst the refuse and castoffs of a "greater" society. He had found freedom in answering to no one besides himself, to simply get up and go if that was what suited him, and the constant emptiness in the pit of his stomach was a small, and easily ignored, price to pay. Sure, he hated this place and the people in it, but he had no wish for nothing else.

From the moment Renji had met Rukia, he had always seen that elegance about her. The way she moved. The way she spoke. Her very presence. A look made the most dented piece of metal wish to shine anew, her footsteps somehow compelling even the jaded people of the Rukongai to stand a bit straighter as she passed. Simply put, she did not descend to the level of the streets, learning to revel in the anonymity as he had, she brought them up to her.

Perhaps she had done something of the like to him as well. Renji abandoned his hard won bit of independence without a second thought and followed Rukia, basking in her afterglow and the occasional glance she aimed his way. But despite what feeble glamour she bestowed upon him, the rules he deigned to follow to be close to her, and the civilized front he put on for the others, he always knew that he was still that mongrel who would prefer nothing less that to steal some bread for his dinner and eat under the stars. He did not deserve, and never would deserve, the confidence she held in him.

And soon the rules became the way of life, and the thought of simply going back to the streets became something entirely foreign. She left, just as he knew she always would, to go onto the life she so clearly belonged in. And the mongrel continued to chase her however he could, for he knew no other way, but even as she left some small part of him wished for her to stay. When one had already seen the best that life had to offer them- what choice did they have but to pursue it? She was the heavens and he was but some lowly stray, left to bay at them in some futile attempt to express the emptiness it felt just looking at them.

However, Renji loved Rukia. Rukia deserved better. And because he loved her, he would let he achieve her potential- even if it did not mean he was included. It was that simple.

And when he made the terrible discovery that she was abjectly miserable in that new life of hers, he also knew than she deserved something better than a "brother" who had never so much as touched her and a house as empty the look in her eyes the few times he managed to talk to her.

But she was beyond his reach once again. And this time, she had the most revered captain of the Gotei-13 sending a servant to forcibly remove Renji from the property in his first attempt to rescue her.

It was his job to give her what was best. Maybe he was not what she deserved, but he knew that this was not it either. And if there was one thing he could do it was fight. So fight he would do. He would fight until he deserved her, he was worth something, till he could look her square in the eye and finally kiss the lips he dreamed about day and night.

And somewhere along the way, chasing the coattails of Kuchiki Byakuya and rising through the ranks of the very system that had trapped them both in the first place, he lost track of his original goal. Sometime after the death of the assistant captain of her division, Rukia started to put on a cheery smile for those that cared to talk to her, and Renji let himself believe that she really meant it, even if he knew better, because it was easier. After all, there was nothing he could do about it anyway if it was not. And when she did not return from a routine mission some small part of him mourned for that elegant little girl he had once known, but a much larger part envied her for finally escaping.

And finally Renji succumbed- becoming so jaded that he allowed the system he loathed above all things to turn him against the one thing he had ever valued. He learned that such trivial things as dreams and goals and love and emotions were but naïve fantasies in the face of the real world and its restraints. The best one could ever hope for was the follow along sufficiently, and try not to be completely crushed as it passed over. Feeling was not allowed. He lived only to serve, even if it meant under the man he had once despised and on orders to slay Rukia.

And then here came this pure-bred, carrot-topped slip of a boy, and for the first time in he did not know how long, he felt some remorse as he cut into the soft flesh of his body, and as Captain Kuchiki left him to die in the street. He reminded him of something he has lost so long ago.

And as Rukia ran to him, and cried out with tears in her eyes for that… child, he knew that he had lost her forever.

And when that kid that they had left for dead came back- he lashed out. He didn't even believe himself when he threw words of blame from his lips to land at his feet- it was not his fault that Rukia had been condemned. It was Renji's own. He had failed her so utterly, so completely. He could rationalize his actions all he wanted- to say that one man could never hope to rescue her on his own, and he would only get himself killed and Rukia under further lock and key. Or that no one could have known this would happen when she was adopted into the Kuchiki family. Or that it really was this orange-haired kids fault that she had to transfer he powers to him.

But the truth of the matter was that he should have known, he should have tried, he should have been there. And he wasn't. And that was that.

And yet, here was this slip of a boy, with nothing but a few friends and a cat to help him, taking on the entire Soul Society and it's rules. No experience, no formal training, and who just kept getting up.

He knew he wouldn't have had the courage to come here after such as defeat as Ichigo had suffered at Byakuya's sword. Rules meant nothing to him. He did not deviate from his goal, even as he was wounded, even as Renji spat hurtful lies at his feet in some vain attempt at self-gratification. And while some small part of him knew that he could beat him in this battle, Renji knew that that was not the point. And as he begged for this boy to take up where he had failed her, so he could at least know that someone could take care of that elegant little girl even if he could not, he knew that he had truly lost.

But he knew he had been outclassed when the boy gave him a look that held no pity, only empathy, and only said "I will."

A/N: T3h Renji angst! Angst, Renji, angst. X3 I truly, truly hope he is in character here. Your thoughts are appreciated! And, really, I'm not near as satisfied as I wish I was with this, so please review! And…. HAPPY EARLY BIRTHDAY REN-CHAN!