Warnings/notes: Rukia/Renji, references to Soul Candy Packages (Chappy & co).
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
written at 25th april 2007, by Misura, as Quint, for a challenge made by: Mysteron which read: Bleach, Renji/Rukia - art appreciation.
There were several things Renji Abarai wondered about Rukia until the day he died (in the metaphorical sense of that expression, not the literal one, because Renji'd been dead long before he'd met Rukia, and he thought that was rather a good thing, since Rukia would have been the death of him otherwise, either intentionally, by killing him herself for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and keeping quiet when she'd wanted him to tell her something, or unintentionally, by being Rukia).
He never wondered if she'd ever really loved him. Renji was, at heart, a simple soul, preferring simple solutions and answers to simple problems and questions, and he left the more complicated questions of life and death (why was the sky blue? what was the sound of one hand clapping? had Byakuya Kuchiki ever loved anyone?) to those inclined to waste their time thinking about such things.
Renji liked to pretend a problem you couldn't beat up, gut, slash and hack to pieces wasn't really a problem; he knew it wasn't true, but he also knew that nobody'd ever expect differently from him (least of all Rukia) and in this case, he felt it was easier and better for everyone if he lived up to what people expected from him. The only thing he'd ever done well was that he'd become a Soulreaper, and considering where that had gotten him alternately made him think back longingly of the days where he used to be a streetrat, and want to go look for Ichigo to kick his ass.
Being a streetrat certainly hadn't been all that, but being a Soulreaper wasn't exactly all that either, and at least when he'd been a streetrat, he'd known where the best trashcans were, and which were full of smelly junk, and whom he could trust. Given a choice between a good meal and a good friend, Renji knew what he'd choose any time, and it wasn't getting to see Rukia once every two weeks, and that only if he were lucky and if Rukia wasn't out pulling a stupid stunt that might get her killed.
There were, Renji knew, things he'd never find out about Rukia. There were things he'd never find out, period, but those things, he was more or less okay with, because that was life (or death). Rukia was different. Rukia did crazy shit and then expected him to keep his cool about it, or (worse) stay away from her and simply sit by twiddling his thumbs while she got herself rescued by some orange-haired idiot who had no business whatsoever waltzing into the Soul Society and rescuing Rukia's butt.
Rukia made godawful drawings and then got pissed off at him when she asked him how he liked them and he replied that they were godawful. Renji thought there was nothing wrong with being honest - in fact, the Soul Society might definitely become a better place if more people were a little more honest and told each other what they really thought and wanted, instead of leaving suicide-notes when they were just going out for a little walk and making vague hints and vaguer threats.
Honesty was, all in all, a virtue. As a streetrat, being honest had gotten him into trouble (he'd always been secretly impressed by Rukia's ability to be completely and utterly dishonest, spinning tales about the cruel fate of her parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters and twenty-odd nephews only for a scrap of bread that didn't have mould growing on it, or an apple that was only a little bruised). As a Soulreaper, being honest had gotten him assigned Assistant-Captain to Byakuya Kuchiki.
Renji wondered, sometimes, if Rukia ever showed her drawings to him, and what he said, and what she said to him in return. The idea of Byakuya Kuchiki at a loss for words amused him, but the idea of Rukia showing her drawings to her big brother like a typical younger sister might do did not, and the idea of Rukia smugly smiling as Byakuya absent-mindedly dredged up some not-quite-dishonest-but-close adjective to describe Rukia's drawings ('interesting', perhaps, or 'unique', or 'uncommon') as a dutiful elder brother might do when faced with the mostly harmless antics of his younger sister made his blood boil. Renji had a lot of things against Byakuya Kuchiki, but mostly, he disliked the man for not appreciating his good luck in getting Rukia for his adoring little sister (inasfar as Rukia could be anyone's adoring little sister). Renji didn't want Rukia to be his sister - incest was one sin that had never appealed to him much - but he thought it'd have been nice if she'd have admired him a little every now and then, instead of walking all over him and then not even sending him a postcard when she went missing for weeks in a row. He'd have liked to mean something to her, to be someone to her, but the most he ever seemed to be to her was plain old Renji, all-round idiot, fool, and art-critic without taste.
"They're bunnies, you moron!" she'd say, and it had to be a bad sign that he felt better after she'd whacked him than he had before. "Bunnies! You know, like Chappy."
"So what?" he'd say. So what? If Rukia claimed she'd drawn bunnies, then Renji was sure she'd drawn bunnies, and he was all ready and willing to skewer anyone who'd dare to disagree with her, should Rukia so desire. "You can't draw worth shit, Rukia."
Rukia'd hit him again, but after years of exposure to Rukia, Renji had gotten used to it. He'd also noticed that Rukia only ever hit people she (for lack of a better word) liked. That Ichigo-kid didn't know how lucky he was, really. She never hit Byakuya Kuchiki that Renji could see - Renji liked to think it was for lack of affection, or perhaps lack of inclination, and not because Rukia had somehow figured Byakuya as a better person than she was. Renji seemed to be her favorite victim, and if it made Renji a sick pervert that he considered that a compliment, then Renji was a sick pervert, and quite happy with being one, too, so long as Rukia wouldn't change her mind about him.
"You clearly have no appreciation for true art," Rukia'd say next - or some variation thereof. Becoming a Kuchiki hadn't made Rukia prouder than she already was; if anything, it'd taught her how to be humble and pretend to respect other people. "What are you, a Schteiner-fan?"
"Diana, actually," he'd say. Actually, he couldn't care less about the whole Soul Candy Package-war that had been raging through the halls of the Soul Society for as long as he'd been here, and probably long before that either - Renji might admit to a certain liking for Alfred, but he wisely steered clear of discussions about the Big Three and had raised avoiding having to voice an opinion about any of them to an art. Renji believed in fighting for things you believed in, and sometimes for fun.
Stories ('legends', Rukia'd scowled) were being told about Yuki having been the most popular once, and about Pupples having dropped from second to third place after some diabolical mastermind had provided him with that hat-thingy - Renji steered very, very clear of people who told such stories, too.
Rukia, of course, was in the thick of it.
"I have a true artist's soul," she'd say, staring down her nose at him.
He'd crack one of the standard-jokes about the ownership of souls; she'd been expecting that, of course, and would have a scathing reply all ready for him, maybe even smack him, if she was in a good mood, or a little drunk and inclined to be magnanimous.
"You - " she'd say next, after some friendly rough and tumble (sex optional). "You've got nothing at all, Renji. You're all empty inside. Especially your head." That last, Renji knew, saved him.
Rukia had always been more observant and sensitive than people'd give her credit for, mostly because noticing you were hurting somebody's feelings wasn't the same as caring and Rukia noticed a lot in the people around her, but she never seemed to particularly care. A whack on the head was the most comfort she'd ever offered Renji - sex with Rukia was many things, but it wasn't a comfort, and Renji knew that as well as he knew Rukia (not always as well as he wished).
He liked some parts of his new life as a Soulreaper, true - being strong was always more fun than being weak, and Renji felt like he'd been born to kick ass and enjoy it - only the longer he was one, the more it nagged at him that he was, basically, not going anywhere, except to the next fight, the next night out drinking with Kiba or Ikkaku or whomever, the next time he'd see Rukia ...
"I know beauty when I see it," he'd say. Rukia wasn't pretty - too rough around the edges, too much of a streetrat still remaining in her, for all that she belonged to a noble family now. She was beautiful to Renji though. She was Rukia - and 'beautiful' was not the right word, but it was as close as Renji could get. Like her drawings, Rukia didn't fit into a standard-and-ready category - she was 'interesting' and 'unique' and 'uncommon' and Renji knew she might never talk to him again if he told her he loved her.
Her drawings had always been godawful, though; that one thing they didn't have in common with Rukia, who could be unfeeling and harsh and insensitive but never cruel for cruelty's sake.
And until the last day of his existence, Renji Abarai wondered if Rukia knew what her drawings were, and didn't want to admit it, or if she saw something in them that nobody else could see, if they were, in short, Rukia's way of telling the world about all those things she never said out loud, like the fact that maybe, just maybe, she'd loved him.