Title: Someone to Protect
Pairings: Renji/Orihime, mentions of Ichigo/Rukia, one-sided Renji/Rukia, one-sided Ichigo/Orihime
Characters: Renji, Orihime
Description: She needed a hero, and he desperately wanted to be one. It was as simple as that.
She needed a hero.
And he desperately wanted to be one.
It was as simple as that.
His entire life, Renji had been searching for that one ideal, the one purpose that would give his existence meaning. He wanted to be strong. He wanted to be somebody. He wanted to shine in someone else's eyes.
Rukia had always been too strong, never really needing him no matter how much he tried. He couldn't save her, and she hadn't wanted him to. It was a truth that took all too long for him to accept, and even in the end, his heart didn't really want to believe it.
Time and time again, he was faced with his own failure, his own lack of skill. But he kept trying because it was all he had to cling to. A desperate desire to make his place, a want to be needed, a determination to become stronger than Kuchiki Byakuya, if only to see the look in her eyes.
Only, he hadn't expected Kurosaki Ichigo.
He hadn't been prepared for the substitute shinigami to turn Soul Society upside down and do what he could not. He wasn't ready to accept the shift when her gaze stopped landing on him, only to fall solely on the brat from Karakura. The substitute had become a genuine replacement, and he was left standing on the sidelines once more, wondering and waiting, reaching for a star that seemed too far for a dog to reach.
He hadn't wanted to accept it, but he had no other choice. She didn't need him to protect her. Yet...
A thank you.
It had started with a thank you, slightly stuttered and chirped in a kind tone. She had smiled and rubbed the back of her head, but her words had been genuine, her gratitude sincere.
He had been so stunned by it that he had nearly missed the next attack by the Hollow. As he had continued to fight, her voice and her words had resounded in his head, over and over. It had begun then, a strange thumping in his chest and singing of his blood.
He had won that battle. He had won it spectacularly, managing for once to come out unscathed, his body trembling with victory. And there, she had stood on the sidelines, that grateful smile on her face. She had been grinning and waving at him as if a battle had not occurred. She had offered to heal, just in case he had any wounds.
In her eyes, he was already strong.
He didn't know why he did it. Renji wasn't sure what exactly gave him the courage. He knew already; everyone knew except perhaps that dumbass, but Renji knew that Orihime was in love with Ichigo. In that, they were much the same, both desperately trying to grasp onto a love that would never be returned.
Renji knew this. He knew that her heart was strained and cracked; when her eyes turned to Ichigo, they swarmed with so much love that it was nearly tangible.
Even Rukia knew, and she pitied Orihime, which may have even been worse. Then again, much could be said the same about Renji himself, about his own bleeding emotions.
They were both looking for something… for someone.
He still didn't know why he did it. He had mustered up his courage, tentative though it was, and silently had hoped that it wouldn't hurt this time.
He had asked her if she was hungry.
Bluish-grey eyes had blinked at him but not in confusion like he would have thought. Orihime was much smarter than people gave her credit for, and understanding dawned in her expression. Understanding… and maybe even the dimmest glimmer of hope as she had smiled brightly and nodded.
It had been easy from there.
He had opened the doors for her. She had smiled back.
He had bought her food with money swiped from Ichigo and had tried not to grimace when she mashed it all together into a very unappetizing paste. She had offered to share, and he had politely turned her down.
They hadn't spoken of Rukia or Ichigo. They hadn't talked of what they couldn't have.
And when a Hollow attacked several days later, she had thanked him again, this time for taking a hit that had been meant for her. Bluish-grey eyes had darkened with worry as she healed the minor wound.
She had cared.
In her gaze, he caught the same look, the same flicker of emotion. His heart thudded with the realization that he had found what he was looking for.
Orihime needed someone; she needed something to admire. She needed somebody to be her hero.
And Renji desperately wanted someone to protect.
It was as simple as that.
A/N: Thanks everyone! Especially those who have me on their alerts or favorites list! I appreciate the support. Leave a review before you go! (And any suggestions you might have as well. I write down all requests and eventually get to them).