Selfish by BelleDayNight
As soon as he heard the news, he rushed to be at her side. However, he wasn't allowed anywhere near her as his very own captain barred his entrance.
"I want to see her," Renji growled, locking his feral eyes onto the icy, impassive eyes of Byakuya Kuchiki.
"She is fine," Byakuya answered, not budging from the doorway.
"Rukia nearly died. I have the right to see her."
"You have no such rights."
Renji's hands formed tight fists because as much as he hated to admit it, what his captain said was true. He had no right. He had given up the right to his Rukia the day he had encouraged her to accept the offer to become nobility. "At least you managed to save her this time, instead of trying to execute her." The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, not that he wanted to stop them.
Something flickered in the stoic captain's eyes, but he said nothing.
"Very well, captain." Renji stepped back, defeated, or rather choosing to save his battles for another occasion. There was no need to force his way into the sick room. Rukia was going to make it. He knew it.
Besides, he would know if her life were in peril. He was certain that if she were to die, he'd feel it, because he knew he'd die as well. He knew that because he'd die first and she would only succumb to death after he failed to protect her.
And he would never fail.
"You have your orders vice captain," Captain Kuchiki reminded him.
"Yes sir, the Bountos will be defeated." With one last anxious look past the adopted brother of Rukia, Renji left.
Byakuya waited until Renji was gone before he turned back to the bed where Rukia was sleeping. Only she wasn't sleeping. The eyes, so like her sister Hisana's, were watching him. Sometimes it haunted him how much she looked like his late wife.
"How do you feel?" he asked sitting on the floor beside her futon. All night he had sat by her side, he had intended to be gone before she awoke, but thanks to his stubborn vice captain's interruption that had not happened.
"Was that Renji?" she asked quietly, knowing the answer, having heard the entire argument. He nodded slightly. Rukia shifted under the covers and raised herself to sit up. "I am fine," she answered with a weak smile. "Thank you for saving me, nii-san."
Byakuya said nothing. Of course he would save her. He regretted that due to his vow to never again break the law, he had felt obligated to execute her earlier when the orders had been given. However, she had not been executed, but by no means could he take credit. It had been her friends from the real world, his own vice captain, and several other captains that had in the end prevented her death.
It had all been a decoy by Aizen and Byakuya had been too blind in his need to honor his promise to never again break the law that he could not see the trap.
Perhaps the worse consequence, more so than Rukia becoming involved with the humans, was the rekindling of her friendship with Lieutenant Abarai. He had thought that relationship had been properly extinguished when he had adopted her into his noble house.
But when his own vice captain fought against him in order to save her, he knew that their bond had only grown stronger in spite of the separation. There was some human phrase about absence making the heart grow fonder. He wasn't sure about the truth behind the phrase, since the loss of his wife he hadn't grown fonder of her memory, but found that it had begun to fade over the years.
It would seem that Lieutenant Abarai would disagree. The possible loss of his childhood friend had made him leap chasms in order to keep her. Byakuya did not understand that kind of devotion, but he did know that it would cause problems if he allowed it to continue.
Rukia was nobility and though Abarai was an excellent warrior, he wouldn't be his vice captain otherwise, he was not of noble blood. "We must speak soon," Byakuya said, coming to a decision.
"We can speak now," Rukia offered. "I really am feeling better." There were more words waiting to spill forth, but she always found herself speechless around her adopted brother, or perhaps she should think of him as her brother-in-law now that she knew the truth.
"You came very close to death," he began. "As a member of the Kuchiki clan we must think of the future."
Rukia said nothing at first, unsure of where the conversation was headed. But when Byakuya didn't continue she had to say something. "You're not going to make me resign are you?" she asked with a panicked look in her large, expressive eyes.
"That is not what I had in mind."
"I can see by the scowl on your face that he wouldn't let you see her either, huh?" Ichigo asked when Renji joined the humans later to share a meal.
"It's certainly not like he owns her," Renji complained pouring himself a generous amount of sake. He drank it all in one greedy swallow and felt his throat burn from the alcohol, but he didn't mind. "She was just starting to regain her powers too," he mumbled.
Ichigo threw his hands into the air, palms thrust out in surrender when Renji turned his glare towards him. "Hey, I already said I didn't mean to take her powers in the first place."
"Che, I know." Renji began to drum his fingers on the table, wanting to pick a fight but he couldn't muster the enthusiasm when the one he wanted to fight was his captain. But he knew that was stupid as well and tried to concentrate on the Bountos. They were the true enemy and the ones that had endangered all of Soul Society.
"It is important to remember who your enemy is right now and not be distracted," Ishida pointed out as he pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose.
"That should be easier now that the Bounto that could control our comrades has been defeated," Ichigo pointed out.
"I'm going to go sleep in the sixth division's barracks in case something urgent comes up." Renji excused himself from his new companions. He couldn't be around them without thinking that Rukia was a central part of their group and yet she was missing. It felt wrong to be with the others without her presence.
After entering the barracks he leaned against the far wall and slid to the floor, long legs stretched out in front of him. Thoughts of Rukia haunted his mind.
They grew up together, survived together, dreamed together. Would it have been possible for either of them to have made it through a childhood in the brutal 78th district if they hadn't had one another to rely upon?
Their lives, so interwoven with one another had been rent asunder a first time when she had been adopted by the greatest noble household. He had encouraged her to accept the offer, it was a golden opportunity and he would deny her no happiness. She would have a family, one that provided a future that he, a lowly kid from the 78th district, couldn't have given her.
They hardly saw one another; both were so busy in their new lives. He trained in school while she joined one of the great thirteen divisions of Gotei early. He'd soon join her as a member of one of the thirteen divisions, but it would take a while, because he'd have to merit the honor through hard work, but he didn't mind.
He knew that the death of her vice captain had come at her hands. The evidence showed that he was possessed and she had done the right thing. But he knew she was devastated because Kaien Shiba was someone she both respected and idolized. He had wanted to comfort her, but he hadn't been allowed to then. She was nobility and one simply could not approach nobility unless invited.
And she hadn't invited him. She hadn't needed him. She had her captain and her nii-san. So he trained harder and made the decision that he would graduate top of his class and join the sixth division.
He would become stronger. He would defeat Byakuya Kuchiki. But why? He knew it was because if he beat the noble he might then feel worthy to tell Rukia how he felt. But, he did battle with Captain Kuchiki, brought him to his knees even. All in order to save her from execution.
But, he wasn't the one to save her, was he? No, the one that saved her was the human who had put her life in danger in the first place. Ichigo Kurosaki. He had honestly hated the boy when he first met him in the real world.
That hate had been displaced by a begrudging respect when the temperamental orange-haired boy fought his way to their world to save Rukia. Foolishly, Renji had thought Captain Kuchiki would have argued with the sentence. He never thought she'd be faced with the ultimate punishment.
But Byakuya did not back down and did all within his power to see Rukia's execution executed. And Renji had been too late to save her himself. It was the boy, the one who had caused her to break the law in the first place that saved her. The boy and her captain, Ukitake.
Renji had showed up as fast as he could and the human, Ichigo had tossed Rukia down to him. So Renji ran with her in his arms, never letting go, even in the battle against a traitorous captain and vice captain.
But together, they survived. He wasn't about to let go of her again.
And then he had been sent to earth, to take her place in fighting the hollows alongside Ichigo and his earthly friends. In reality, he had volunteered. He had wanted to see for himself what it was that had attracted Rukia to stay on earth for nearly three months.
It wasn't until several weeks later that Rukia had returned. He had been so excited and unable to contain himself that he had called her cell phone immediately when he learned of her presence. And not a few seconds later had barged into Ichigo's house to see her. Of course, he'd have to admit that Ichigo's father was a rather strange man.
It was a comfort to have her in that strange environment with him, learning such things as how to properly drink coffee. It reminded him of their first days at the academy. The two of them, a team, out of their element but making it work and work successfully.
A new threat had sent them all back to Soul Society. There seemed to be a plethora of threats these days. He didn't mind though, because he had been able to work alongside Rukia again, her nobility no longer served as a barrier.
Except when she was injured and being tended to by her overbearing adopted brother Captain Kuchiko. The same man that had purposely kept Renji busy with duties in the sixth division that kept him away from Rukia.
Renji knew why, he was trying to sever their bond. Didn't he realize it could not be severed? Didn't he realize their bond had been created through fate and thickened several stands through out the years?
Renji shook his head, he didn't care to be psychoanalyzed, even if it was by himself. He stood up and then crawled into his bunk. He'd be ready to face the Bountos should they be detected. He would avenge Rukia's injuries and vent off some steam at the same time.
"Nii-san, you cannot be serious," Rukia protested.
Byakuya merely kept his gaze level on hers. How could she think he was anything but serious? He didn't joke. It wasn't something he did.
"But, we're in the middle of a great war. Now is hardly the time to think of marriage contracts."
"Life continues no matter the circumstance."
"I know, but an arranged marriage? Doesn't that seem a little…" Rukia trailed off, not knowing if Byakuya would understand. He often seemed so cold and uncaring, but she knew that he had loved once. "Doesn't that seem cold?"
"It is a wise decision to form a union amongst the nobility. It strengthens the future generations."
"You didn't marry my sister out of duty," she reminded him. She felt mildly guilty when the little color in his pale face drained away. "I mean no disrespect nii-san, but I'd like to have a say as to who my husband will be. I refuse to marry someone who doesn't care about me for who I am, but only my title."
Byakuya shrugged one shoulder elegantly. "If that is all that troubles you I can solve that easily."
"Oh?" Rukia asked, with an arched brow. The only person she had ever considered to be future husband material for her was Renji Abarai. He was the only man, since before she was ten years old, that she could imagine spending her life with always. In a way, they had already done so.
"I care about you. You could marry me," Byakuya suggested casually.
Rukia's jaw fell open at the proposition. "You are my nii-san. Do you not feel that would be inappropriate?"
"It is only a formality, we are not blood kin." He offered a slight upturn of his lip, perhaps it was a smile? "You would not even have to change your name."
"Do you really care about me? Or do you care about the fact that I have my sister's face?" She regretted the words after they passed her lips, but it was too late. She continued before he could answer. "You married Hisana for love. I think that I should be allowed the same privilege."
"I swore I would no longer break the laws."
"It is no law, but a tradition."
"I will not have you marry Renji Abarai."
Rukia's eyes opened wide at his blunt statement. She could feel the old insecurities both she and Renji had felt in being from the 78th district and going to the academy amongst all the nobility and higher classes. Renji had proven himself to be one of the greatest death gods and yet here was her adopted brother saying he was lacking. "He is a very honorable man. In fact, I thought he was your vice captain because of your great respect for him."
"He is not nobility," Byakuya stated stubbornly.
"Perhaps I don't believe what you say has any weight in such a decision as to whom I marry," Rukia said preparing to gamble for her future.
"I am head of the Kuchiki clan."
"You gave me up for death. Why should you care how I live now?"
"I didn't let you die yesterday," he said.
"No you didn't," she quietly agreed. They both sat staring at one another silently for a few moments.
"We will table the issue for now but we will come back to it as soon as the Bounto threat had been handled."
Renji swatted away the annoying hand that was shaking his shoulder and rolled over onto his side to go back to sleep. "Quit bugging me," he mumbled.
The sharp tug of his long hair woke him up promptly. His blinked owlishly at the woman hovering at his bedside. "Rukia?" he asked in disbelief before he threw his arms around her and dragged her against his chest in a bone crushing hug.
"Ow! Stupid, let go of me! I can't breathe when you do that!" He loosened his grip but still kept his hands on her shoulders. She reached up and ran her fingers through his loosened silky red strands of hair. "I like it when you wear it down, it's so pretty," she mused.
"What are you doing here?" Renji asked quietly, sensing that no one was around and that they had privacy at the moment. "Is something wrong? Other than the Bounto trying to destroy Soul Society that is?"
Rukia laughed softly. "Yes, the destruction of Soul Society is generally a pretty big deal," she agreed. "I'm sorry nii-san wouldn't let you see me this evening when you came by."
Renji shrugged. "No big deal. I knew you were in safe hands; that's all that mattered."
"Renji," Rukia started, but tears clogged her throat.
Distressed at seeing her distressed Renji pulled the petite woman up onto his bunk to sit with him in his lap. Her arms entwined around his neck and she buried her face against his bare chest and cried silently. His skin grew damp with her tears but he didn't stop her. He ran his fingers through her short crop of dark hair, completely lost as to how he was to comfort her. "What?"
"Kuchiki-sama says I must marry."
He felt a lurch in his chest. He knew that one day she would marry, but it wasn't something he wanted to think about. Ever. "Of course, one day," he agreed, unsure of what else to say.
"He says it must be to nobility, but I want to marry someone who cares about me, that I care about. I want him to be someone I can depend on and who can depend on me." She took a deep breath and pulled back enough so that she could look directly into Renji's eyes. "I even told nii-san as much. And you know what he said?"
"He suggested I marry him! Can you imagine?"
All too well could Renji imagine. His arms tightened around Rukia possessively. "What is it that you want me to do, Rukia?"
"I don't know," she said in a broken voice.
Renji decided it was now or never. If he didn't confess now then he'd have to forever hold his peace, and he was hardly a peaceful man. "Always, I have encouraged you to do what was best for you. When the Kuchiki clan wanted to adopt you, I wanted you to be happy and told you to accept.
"When you were in the tower of penitence, I told you of the progress of your human friends as they came to rescue you. At the time, I blamed them for your situation, but I still told you of their progress because I could see that it gave you hope.
"After we foiled the attempt to execute you I would not let go of you, no matter how you begged me to sacrifice you in order for me to escape.
"What I am saying is that this time, I will not tell you to do what is best for you." He moved his hand to gently cup her cheek before taking a firm hold of her chin. "This time I'm going to be selfish."
Renji leaned down and pressed his lips against those of his Rukia. He kissed her with all the passion he possessed in his fiery spirit. He kissed her with the innocent love of youth, with the harsh love of bitterness, the desperate love of sadness, and the everlasting love of true soul mates fated to be.
He drew back after his head began to swim from lack of air. She was smiling up at him with a dazed expression. "I may not have the title of nobility, but for you I have the most noble of hearts."
Rukia lifted her chin and smiled at him before giving him a soft, delicate kiss. "That is what I wanted to hear you say."
Renji smiled down at her with the cocky, boyish charm that had first endeared her to him as a youth. "Do I need to challenge your nii-san to another duel?"
Rukia tightened her arm around his back while brushing the fingers of her other hand over his forehead, tracing along his tattoos. "You've changed so much over the years."
"So have you," Renji said. He took hold of her wrist and brought her hand away from his hairline and placed her palm on his chest, over his heart. "But this has always been the same."
"What are we going to do, Renji?"
"What we do best," he answered. "Defeat the obstacles standing in our way."
"Not everything is about winning."
"Ah, but the best things are worth fighting for."
They both paused when they felt the presence of the sixth division captain enter the division head quarters. They felt him pause outside the door to the barracks, no doubt sensing them. And then, just like that, they felt him walk away.
"What do you suppose his walking away without a confrontation means?"
"I think what it means is that nii-san is willing to break tradition once again for the sake of the greater good."
Renji rested his forehead against Rukia's and smiled. "I can get used to this whole being selfish bit. Now if Ichigo tries anything….."
"Renji!" Rukia slapped his chest lightly. "He is your friend and comrade!"
"True," he agreed. His smile vanished. "You don't think Byakuya left without making a scene because he's planning on killing me during a mission do you?"
"No, idiot. I have a feeling he knew this was going to happen."
"He probably just realized that since I can bring him to his knees in battle that he'd better preserve his reputation by backing off before hand."
"Yes, I'm sure that's it."