Bound by Duty

Light of 1000 Stars

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. Just write about it.

Warnings: None in particular

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Chapter One

"You're leaving yourself too open, Mistress," the redhead advised sternly, holding his bokken over his shoulder. He grinned triumphantly, watching the younger, raven-haired girl before him pant in discontent.

With a small grunt, she ran past him with utmost speed, stuffing her own bokken into his stomach. The taller man doubled over in pain, his bokken rolling in the grass.

She kept her stance—feet apart and bokken firm in her grasp—and also kept her gaze forward. She smiled to herself when he heard the man behind her coughing, suffering with his lack of oxygen.

"And you let your ego get too big, master." Rukia Kuchiki retorted calmly, standing straight and pivoting to turn to the red-head suffering on the ground.

"Why you—!" He grabbed his bokken and aimed to strike her upon the head. Rukia smiled and stepped to the side, allowing him to fall face first and taste grass.

He stood back up, trying to regain composure. "Fine, you win this time, Mistress."

"I always do." She smiled wider, violet eyes sparkling. "You allow your rage to blind you from your attacks, Renji."

"Stop with all that stupid wise crack." He pointed his index at her. "I'm the master around here!"

"We're the same age, and I've acquired as much knowledge of fighting as you!" Rukia threw back, crossing her arms in front of her yukata. "How does that make you 'master'?"

"Shut up," he growled, taking Rukia's and his own bokken and put them upon his shoulder. "Let's go home. I need a break."

She ran a bit, to catch up with him. They walked together in small silence, staring at the quiet forest. Once they reached the marketplace, they walked through the small murmurs of town, side by side. Both knew that they had escaped to the forest to keep their mind off of matters that needed to take place today.

That forest, to them, was somewhere they could run away from their problems and see each other. Where they could relax, enjoy—away from social classes and duty.

Their minds seemed to connect. For when they came across the Kuchiki residence, Rukia noticed that her red-headed companion had stopped in his tracks. His face was wrinkled in deep thought. She watched him, wondering if it was alright to speak. If they were thinking the same thing. If he was afraid, like she was.

"Rukia," he called out, avoiding her face.

"Hm?" she pushed out through her breathing, her heart pumping at the thought of what was to take place today.

"Is it tonight?" he asked simply, and then and there, Rukia understood that they had been thinking the same thing all along.

They stood there for a second longer. Renji waited for her response, but half of him didn't care for it.

"In the evening." She answered appropriately. She couldn't bring herself to answer straight forward with the word 'yes'. Rukia hated this just as much as Renji did.

"Hn." He thought for a bit, then turned to her with his best fake smile. "I'm happy for you."

"Why?" Rukia looked at her large house, staying away from locking her eyes with his. "I'm not even happy for myself."

"You get a new life. You get to leave these dumps. A new place to live in. Someone to take care of you properly." Renji placed the bokkens on the ground and grabbed his old friend's shoulders, forcefully turning her to face him.

"You'll be happy." He concluded, his smile becoming harder and harder to keep up.

Rukia searched his eyes and found his sadness, his flaws. He was horrible at lying. Through all of the years Rukia has known him, she knew how to find out if he was lying.

"I'm happy here," she countered back, scowling. "I have Hisana and Byakuya to care for me. I have a great friend in you, Renji. And this place is where I've lived all of my life in."

"Don't be an idiot!" he gripped her shoulders even tighter, his smile sickeningly wider. "Even if you do have all of those things…what other choice do you have, huh?"

Rukia glanced up at his headband, his hair that was tied up to flare behind his head. She blinked.

"I don't have a choice." She muttered lowly.

"Exactly! So why not just keep in your mind that you will be happy, huh?" he laughed, trying miserably to lighten the mood—more for his sake than for hers.

He lifted his hands off of the petite girl and picked up the bokkens. Straightening, he flashed her one more smile. Rukia was too busy staring at her sandals. Her mouth was drawn tightly in a frown, and her violet eyes had become pale, dull orbs that fell at the bottom of her eyelids.

Renji hated to see her like this. If he didn't know anything, he knew enough to realize that he cared about his old friend.

"C'mon. Cheer up." He told her once more. "Let's go inside. Your sister will want you to change out of his sweaty training garmets and get ready. I'll come inside and help you change, if you want." He grinned inwardly, knowing he must have hit her nerve somewhere.

Rukia shot her head up, scowl pinching her features. "Pervert!" she shoved her fist into his chest. "I can change myself!"

He laughed. There you are.

Regaining composure, she frowned again. "What if he doesn't like me?"

A question like that seemed so childish coming from Rukia. Renji was taken aback a bit by her inquiry, and hesitated to answer it.

"What's not to like about you? I've known you since we were little and I've never hated you, Rukia." He assured. And every word was true.

"What if he hits me, Renji?" she kept her gaze on the ground.

"You hit him back, idiot!" he punched his fist enthusiastically into the air. She still didn't look at him.

"Hisana told me 'wives' hands were never meant to hit their husbands'." Rukia answered simply.

"But it's alright for you to hit me? Your best friend? Man, I should've married you a long time ago!" he joked openly. And half of him meant it.

She smiled, looking up at him and giving him a playful push. Rukia began to walk inside of her house, Renji following behind.

"Ah Renji," she breathed out. "We can joke about this all we want. But it won't change the fact that I'm leaving this place."

"It is a bit strange," Renji answered. "We've known each other for so long. Who am I going to beat up in the forest from now on?"

Rukia laughed. "If only you ever did beat me up, master."

He laughed too, sadly. "We won't be too far away from each other. You will come visit, won't you?"

"Of course." Rukia answered, leading him inside. "But I won't be that sweaty little girl you've grown up with."

"Oh," Renji drawled out tiredly. "Don't tell me you're going to stop training with me."

"'It is not a wife's place to fight. Husbands are to work to protect, not the other way around.'" Rukia stated.

"You're taking your duty a bit too hard. I'm sure your new husband—" Renji stopped to ease the shock of the pain in his heart. "—won't mind if you practice."

"You don't get it," Rukia took the bokkens from his hands and placed them in the proper place in the training room. "He's one of the nobles in town. His reputation is great, and I can't do anything to ruin it. Reputation is important. My brother stresses it for our family all of the time."

"So, you're a noble too. Your family reputation is important, but you don't care and still practice your fighting. Why does it change when you get married?" he sat down in her living space on one of the pillows.

"I just can't, Renji. You know that. Don't act so stupid." Rukia spat out. "I just can't ruin this. I've always trained in the forest, hidden from view. It's unproper for women to be fighting in this day and age."

"So practice hidden from view when you live your new life, then!" Renji pushed. He wanted to hold that thought; the thought of being able to keep Rukia with him.

He held on, sifting through new excuses and ways she could come…

"What will my husband think when I'm gone every few days? He will certainly question me! What do I do then?" Rukia placed the tea cups and tea pot angrily onto the table before her guest.

Renji began to panic as he realized he wouldn't to be able to freely spend time with her anymore. He dug in his mind for excuses and ideas. His blood began to boil as his panic level rose.

"Lie to him then!" he shouted, smashing his fist angrily onto the table. "Why are you making a big deal out of this? Just lie!"

"Why are you making a big deal out of this? Why do I still have to train? This such a stupid thing to fight over, Renji. You know that?" she yelled back. Rukia stood over him, ignoring the tea he had spilled. Their eyes locked, both angry and battling to win.

"Why can't you lie to him?" Renji asked lowly, although he knew the answer.

"It isn't proper for a devoted wife to lie to her husband," she answered back with the same tone—calm, collected, yet seething.

"All of these rules, your duty—that's all that's important to you now, huh?" he asked, standing up.

"I'm preparing to be a good wife to him. Duty goes above all." Rukia looked up at him, violet eyes fiery.

"Let me get this straight." He bore into her eyes, and hovered intimidatingly over her figure. "You think your duty goes above all at this point?"

She nodded sternly, daring him to contradict.

"Above all; even your friends?" he brushed past her and walked out of the door.

"Renji!" she swiveled around to face his retreating back. "We've talked about this before!"

"Yeah. And every time, I've made my point. And all you've done was make my point even clearer." Renji turned and narrowed his eyes at her. "You don't care for anyone except your new husband right now."

He turned and left her house. No glancing back.

He held on, sifting through new excuses and ways she could come…

come back to him.

But now he understood. His grasp on her wasn't tight enough. And he had lost her.

"Renji!" Rukia called out angrily. "That's not fair! I don't care for him! I never even met him before!"

Renji disappeared into the darkness, into the streets that led off to places Rukia's been to.

"I don't even love him, Renji, do you hear me?" she called out to the darkness. "I don't care about him!"

She could hear her voice breaking under some sort of invisible weight. Her eyes felt heavy and were stinging. So she cried. Her soft sobs echoed in the house, stirring her older sister from her room upstairs.

Rukia fell to the floor, drew her knees to her chin, and felt tears fall down her face. She's fought with Renji many times throughout the years, but somehow, this time seemed different.

She knew she had hurt him much more than her words have. And she was afraid of her future.

All of this knowledge, all of this stress, scared her. And in a few hours, everything would flow its course.

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::He held on, sifting through new excuses and ways she could come…

but he had lost his grip. And so found himself falling into the darkness.::

Author's notes: It will become clearer in the next chapter. So hopefully, I'll be able to answer some questions next week!