Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or the manga would be a lot more different. See below the story for my Author's Note.
Pairings: In chronological order, Kaien/Rukia, Renji/Rukia, Ichigo/Rukia, Byakuya/Rukia. Slight Ichigo/Orihime, but it's implied and I can't stand that pairing anyways.
Warnings: This is extraordinarily depressing. Character Death runs rampant in this and there's mild violence and gore. Some suicidal thoughts. Mention of heavy substance abuse.
in G Minor
-Go on and play it again. Go on. The world is listening-
(The beginning of the end)
The roses are limp in her hand, withered and shriveled in their plastic cages. She crushes them, clenching her hand until the thorns prick her skin and her blood runs to mix freely with faded shades of brown and green and dusty red. The skies are dark and midnight tolls far away, sounding hollowly in the night in tune with her slowly fluttering heartbeat. Twelve mournful strikes, twelve painful attempts for her heart to escape its cage.
She pushes back the torn and tattered veil with pale arms, raises her eyes to look up at the blanketed sky, and thinks that this is what they meant by a tragic bride. Distances away, a raven caws into the chasm of loneliness and cocks its head as the sound echoes back, like a swinging pendulum with no purpose. Her slim fingers dig into the vein in her neck, searching and exploring as if there is a secret mark to be discovered in that expanse of porcelain skin.
Maybe she's trying to reassure herself; maybe she's trying to remind herself. Maybe she's lost her mind.
She should leave. He'll find her again and she won't be able to escape. She should leave.
Ah, but she doesn't.
(Do you see her? Her devastated dress, that dully shining ring, those tears that stick to her face? Do you see her as she stares straight into a dim future and struggles onwards? Do you see?)
Her footsteps are light, merely slight whispers on the soft grass as she moves. Her laughter is breathless, a sound that remains suspended in mid-air before falling away into obscurity. She dances underneath a moonless, starless black canvas, muddied white dress rising gracefully around her delicate ankles. The insanity is almost delightful and the illusion is almost tangible.
She'll wait for Him.
And He will find her.
I. Allegro non troppo
The sun was so bright that day.
She was still in high school and he was in his last year of college. It had been another celebration, one of many held during the easy days of summer. She'd never been much for excitement or for social gatherings, but Inoue had dragged and pleaded and she really had beenso sick of being the resident school recluse.
The beach sand had been so warm on her feet, sandals dangling from one hand as she ran carelessly around. The sea gulls had been cawing and they'd covered the beautiful crystal blue skies with the flutter of wings. The ocean was cold and chilling, but so pure and the sounds of aimless chattering hadn't really bothered her. She'd loved the sights, the sounds, the feel of sunlight warming her skin and bringing back a part of her that she'd been so careful to lock away.
So preoccupied, she'd ended up tripping headfirst into the water, scrabbling for a way to stay afloat. Inoue hadn't noticed, too absorbed with staring at an orange-haired boy on the shore, and everyone else seemed oblivious to her predicament.
(Oh, she's drowning. She drowning, and still the world continues to turn on its axis. Can't anyone see her?)
She'd panicked, sinking deeper and deeper as the current tugged her further and further away from the shore. The salt water had been everywhere and she couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't see.
And then there were warm hands wrapped tightly around her, bringing her back to the surface, and she was no longer drifting aimlessly. Anchored, she'd felt a pair of lips cover her own, pushing precious air back into her body. She'd never felt more vulnerable, more lost and scared than then, clinging onto an unknown person and wishing the world would stop spinning.
When her eyes had fluttered open, she'd seen him. Shiba Kaien.
And it was as if her world of black and gray had suddenly been flooded with color.
His smile had been awkward, arms still cradling her as if she were a doll about to break. He'd smelled of water and sunshine and everything that she wanted but couldn't bring herself to have. He'd saved her and she'd owed him right from day one.
He'd apologized for inadvertently kissing her, and apologized even more when he'd found out that he'd stolen her very first kiss. His voice had been comfortably caring and kind, and she'd never wanted him to stop speaking, to stop holding onto her. It hadn't been love at first sight, but something had happened that day, and she found as the days passed that she just couldn't forget him.
It had become a habitual addiction; one that she'd never really fully gave up.
She would walk to the beach after school, carrying her raggedy backpack in one hand and a pair of sunglasses in the other, an almost-smile forming on her small lips. Her feet would dig into the sand, warm as always, and she would pretend to read her physics and mathematical equations, eyes watching him from behind her slim shades. She'd doodle a bit on her homework after awhile, writing love equations that always seemed to have her name inexplicably intertwined with his.
Maybe she'd been lovesick, lumbering ungracefully after the very first male that had ever bothered to pay any attention to her.
But she hadn't cared much and didn't really find out that he was always there because she was always there until a day before his lifeguard duty expired. He'd tiptoed behind her, so preoccupied was she with her sketching of his face, and removed her sunglasses with a single swift move. She'd flushed a bright red at being caught and quickly shut her sketchbook, but he'd ripped out the page before she could even sputter at him to stop. His smile had been teasing even though his eyes had been genuinely interested in her awkward lead lines.
"So, this is what you've been doing all this time?" He'd murmured softly, breath blowing over the eraser shavings littering the page.
(He hasn't been able to forget their first meeting, the feeling of having her in his arms, hearing her heart beat frantically beneath his touch. He has no qualms about taking what he wants, and he wants her. He needs her.)
She hadn't responded, too mortified to give a proper answer, because why would a guy like him ever consider a girl like her anything special? She'd wanted to bury her head in her arms and disappear off the face of the earth. She'd wanted to run away and forget all about him. But his hand had caught her wrist and he'd been too close, way too close, and his smile was so special, as if it was meant just for her. And then their faces were too close and her heart had nearly leapt out of her chest, hammering so rapidly that she thought he could hear it.
And for the second time in her life, Kuchiki Rukia had been kissed.
They'd stayed there for a while, holding hands silently and watching the sun set and the skies turn into beautiful shades of rich purple and flaming orange. She'd never even noticed that he'd stuck the picture she drew of him into his pockets.
August ended slowly like a flowing river and sweet like cotton candy.
He'd promised her he'd be back once a week to see her and she'd believed him.
Her high school days were spent like water, slipping through her fingers even as she waited for the sun to appear so she could hold it in her hands, hold him in her arms. The first Friday since he'd left, she'd taken her time in packing up her books and papers, lagging behind even as Inoue rushed ahead to a date with the orange-haired boy from before. And then there'd been hands covering her eyes, shrouding her world in a teasing darkness.
(She looks so small standing by her desk, picking up papers and pencils. He wonders if her classmates are blind to her presence, to her spirit. He thinks secretly that they are idiots for never getting the time to know her and he prides himself on being the first to notice. It is one of the few things that he thinks he has done right in his short life.)
She'd screamed before she could stop herself and the hands had removed themselves hastily, revealing an almost abashed Kaien. He'd rubbed the back of his head, a sheepish expression on his face, and thrust a bouquet of flowers into her arms. It hadn't been romantic, especially since her heart had still been thumping loudly in her ears and the adrenaline had flooded her body until her blood fairly sang with excitement. But the roses were a vivid red and she'd loved them, her first gift from her first love.
(A bumbling, laughing twenty-year old boy, not yet man, waiting for his sixteen-year old high school outcast. He'd teach her love and she would learn so diligently. He would give everything and she would give him her heart and soul. Do you know? What it feels like to be cherished and treasured? Do you know?)
They'd left her classroom together, her backpack hanging carelessly off his shoulder, and their laughter filling the deserted hallways. He'd never had a lot of money; college always seemed to drain his scant earnings. But he'd bought her a new backpack that day.
"Don't you ever get tired of holding onto the old, eh Rukia?" He'd pointed at her ugly, green backpack as an example and laughed as she flicked him on the forehead in embarrassment.
"Well, if you think you're so great and so rich. Why don't you buy me one?" She'd meant it as a joke, but he'd taken her at her word and bought her a brand new, deep indigo bag.
That night, when he was gone, and the traces of their third kiss still lingered on her lips; she'd sewn her name and his on her new bag.
(Pink letters spelling their names and tying them together. Such a simple act, but it meant the world to her, as if she would carry him with her forever. As if they would always be with one another. Do you know? What it feels like to know you're in love, know that the world can be conquered? Do you know?)
The seasons had all blurred together until she was graduating already and his face was the only one that stood out in the crowd of cheering parents and ecstatic friends. She'd never taken her eyes off of him, and when she threw her graduation cap up, she'd thrown it to him. He'd caught it one-handed, winked playfully at her, and ran to envelop her in a crushing hug when she'd stepped off the stage. It was like experiencing home again, as if she had a place in the no longer confusing world.
He'd proposed that day.
The ring wasn't anything particularly attractive. It wasn't sparkling and gleaming, screaming priceless left and right. It was a little bit chipped at the edges, the gold band wearing down, but what did it matter to her? It was hers. He'd looked so nervous, down on one knee with his bangs covering his eyes; something he'd never done before. Her breath had caught and everything suddenly had seemed to slow down. There was only his heavy breathing and her lips moving soundlessly until she'd taken the ring, slipped it on her finger, and barreled into him.
"Yes. Yes." She'd murmured again and again in his ears until they'd collapsed into a pile, laughing and crying.
"You know…I never thought I'd be the type to get married." His voice had been soft, a gentle hand tipping her chin up.
She'd grinned, a silly and foolish smile, but the happiness was overwhelming her and her heart was throbbing with love. "You don't seem like the type." She'd said quietly, planting a kiss on his forehead, and gasped as he swept her up into his arms bridal-style.
"I've got to practice, don't I?" He'd said, loud and confident, swinging her around as the trees danced to the summer breeze.
But the wedding never came.
(She still remembers it. Still remembers the sights, the smells, the hysterical sounds; the taste of it. And do you know what it's like to have everything and then lose it all the next day?)
He'd taken her to the city, because she'd never been there before.
She'd held his hand tightly, taking in all the strange pollution and the busy taxis as they beeped incessantly in the smoggy air. But everything was so interesting and Kaien had seemed to enjoy the city, so she'd stayed silent about it all and followed him ever so loyally.
"After our wedding," He'd said, tenderly squeezing her hand, "I'll take you around the world."
She'd laughed, an odd sound to hear in the nighttime especially with the clubbers bustling frantically around them. "Where?" She'd asked, naïve and partially teasing.
"Anywhere you want to go." He'd replied, as sure of himself as ever. "We'll climb the Great Wall of China, walk around the Taj Mahal, visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Anything at all Rukia. For you, I'd go anywhere."
His words had had her feeling butterflies inside her stomach, thankful for his presence and his smile. "Let's go home."
She doesn't know what it was that she'd done wrong that time, that day.
Maybe it'd been her purse, the chipped diamond ring that flashed all the more brightly amidst the glow of the neon signs on her finger as she'd gestured. One second, she was holding Kaien's hand and telling him about their future together. The next, he was shoving her away from him, shouting something that she couldn't comprehend.
It wasn't until many years later that she'd realized he'd screamed for her to run.
And there'd been the sound of something similar to a sharp knife cutting through a ripe lemon. But there wasn't a lemon, and the knife wasn't cutting through something. It was cutting through someone.
She'd watched shell-shocked as the blood flew up in a bright spray and splattered all over her. And there'd been something running through her head, repeating like a mantra that wouldn't go away.
And then there were people screaming, guys tackling the man murderer to the ground. And Kaien had stumbled forward, arms reaching for her, and she'd enveloped him in a deep embrace, wishing that she could have the ability to take his pain away. The blood has squished between their bodies and when she'd opened her mouth to cry, to scream, to tell him everything was going to be all right, the red had flown into her parted lips and sealed them shut.
"I…I guess…" Kaien's voice had been so faint, as if it were coming from a very, very long distance.
She'd swallowed the blood, his blood, and put a finger to his mouth. "Shhh. Don't speak. They're coming to help you. Shhh…It'll be…. It'll be alright." She'd said, even as she fought to choke back her own tears.
But he'd smiled, and for a second, it looked so much like the old smile from before, like the smile she'd seen when he'd kissed her for the second time. And she thought that everything was really going to be fine and that if Kaien could keep on smiling, then everything would work itself out.
"I guess…I really was—wasn't the type," He'd coughed and she'd sagged against the brick wall, his weight resting solely on her. "To get married…"
And her heart had dropped into her stomach, and the blood was everywhere. "D-Don't say that…"
He'd brushed a finger against her cheek one more time, wiping away the tears that were spilling uncontrollably, and fell limp against her body.
(He wants to say that he's never liked seeing her cry, never liked seeing her so helpless. He wants to apologize for dying on her. He wants to hold her one more time, run his fingers through her soft hair, and tell her that she means everything to him. But it's all fading away into the background and her tears are so cold on his hands…so cold…. The darkness takes him away.)
There had been no "I love you" as his final words.
And as she cradled his body closer to her, her hands wrapped around his waist and her head buried into the crook of his neck, all she could see was a pale face and pitch-black hair. A strange face, but it'd left as quick as it'd appeared, and all that was left to feel was a hollow hole in her chest where her heart still beat and where his no longer did.
Her world, so abruptly flooded with color….
Had faded to black and white again.
II. Molto Andante
She'd drifted away, somewhere between the real world and her own shattered distortion of reality. She saw that pale face and black hair often in her dreams, wondered who it was, and would wake up with the taste of blood in her mouth. She'd become withdrawn, shoving Inoue away from her and retreating back into the darkness, back into the alleyways with druggies and alcoholics.
Maybe she'd given up back then. Maybe she'd been looking for a way to die quietly.
Maybe she was wandering around, looking to be saved.
She'd overdosed so many times, injecting the needle's contents until the world blurred into nothing and her head would fall to rest limply on her chest. She'd sit, back against the brick wall, gazing listlessly at the clouds above, counting the different ways she could join Kaien in heaven. The cocaine and morphine didn't ease the pain, but they erased her memories of everything, even if only for a little while.
Renji had been all too happy to provide her with her little suicide carriers. He was what some would say, a drug dealer, low on cash and low on life. He'd grown up in the slums, shoved into a nursery home where nobody bothered to really care for such a dirty, disgusting brat. So he'd tumbled off the path of righteousness, skidded to a stop in the pool of drugs, and made a home for himself there.
The prices were cheap. The drugs decent.
She couldn't have complained even if she'd wanted to. He'd been delighted to have such an addicted customer, shoving her full of cocktails and marijuana until she couldn't seestraight, couldn't tell right from left, right from wrong. It'd started off as once a week, then it became once a day, and then once every two hours, until she'd found herself by his doorstep every single second begging for more.
Maybe he'd felt sorry for her. Maybe she'd reminded him of himself.
(Her smiles gone, wiped away as easily as his bloodstains from her clothing. She'd torched her bloodied blouse, watched as the flames consumed her first love and her first memories. She hated fire. Do you know what it's like to be the only one left? What it's like to cling to survival without a meaning left? Do you know? Do you?)
He'd taken her in gruffly, taken her into his rickety shack across from a constantly noxious factory. She remembers holding his hand, stumbling and falling all over the place, so high off of her drugs and her grief. His hand had been warm, but it was scarred with the remnants of a million needlepoints, and she'd thought that he was nothing like Kaien.
She'd hated him for it. Hated him for taking her in, for giving her the means with which to escape the world, hated him for trying to even think of becoming her friend.
She'd just wanted to die with someone there with her.
Maybe it'd been a selfish wish. Maybe it'd been cruel of her to ask that of him.
Surely, she'd been looking for a hand to pull her out of the swirling black of her nightmares.
"Give me more." She'd pleaded, her body lying on the shaky wooden floors. "Please."
He'd given her a shadowed look, eyes piercing and lucid even as she struggled to remain conscious. "If I give you anymore, you'll die." He'd said quietly, bluntly. She was thankful for that at least. She'd needed to hear the truth for once in her life, needed to know that not everything was right with this world.
She'd laughed, weakly, a faint reminder of what it used to be back when Kaien was alive and life had been worth living for. "Did it ever occur to you that that was what I'd wanted all along?"
"You're that desperate, huh?" He'd glanced away, kicking an empty wine bottle with his foot until it hit the wall with a final thump.
"Yeah. Yeah I am."
He'd grunted, leaned over to her barely-there self, and closed her eyes with his marred hands. "Go to sleep, woman. You'll change your mind when you wake up." And then he'd walked away from her, and she heard him lock the drug cabinets and hide the alcohol in the house.
He hadn't trusted her back then. She doesn't think that he ever did.
But that was okay, because she'd never trusted him either. Not even now. Least of all now.
(He can tell that she used to be beautiful, but the drugs have taken that beauty and distorted it, like an unfinished painting left out in the rain. He wonders if it always rains inside her head, a land of perpetual water. He wonders if she ever wakes up screaming for air, for someone to pull her out of the ocean again. But these thoughts are fleeting and they pass without ever being spoken. He can tell she used to be beautiful and tells himself to stop thinking that way.)
She'd woken up the next day, stumbled to the bathroom, and spent the morning heaving until she felt that her heart would come out of her mouth any moment. That was how he'd found her, kneeling on the bathroom floor, a trickle of pearl white liquid running down the side of her mouth. She'd been breathing too heavily, one hand on her stomach, and the other furiously trying to press back the tears. He hadn't said anything, but he'd thrown a wet towel onto her lap before walking away.
"Why didn't you give me what I wanted?" She'd mumbled, her throat hoarse and her voice rusty and cracked.
He'd stopped, turned his head to gaze squarely at her, and made her feel as if he'd had the power to save her, to bring her back, just a little bit. "I may be a drug dealer, a druggie, a delinquent, a nobody, even an unloved psychopath. But I'm not a murderer." But he is a murder, he is.
"I would've killed myself. I would've been the one to inject myself with the morphine. I would've been my own murderer." She'd reminded him, her own eyes clearing for a bit.
He'd shut the door behind him then, but not before he'd had his last words to say. "Besides, it wasn't what I wanted and I'm selfish." She'd learned then, learned that Abarai Renji didn't know how to play fair and didn't want to either.
She'd hated him for that, hated herself for needing his approval to die.
He didn't even know her name back then. He'd just called her 'woman' on the rare times they spoke. And even at that, they hadn't really been speaking, it'd been her yelling and screaming at him and it'd always ended up with him walking away. He'd started limiting her drug intake, started confiscating the alcohol from her hands.
She'd snapped one day, maybe because she was an addict, maybe because she'd wanted him to hate her enough to let her just murder herself. Either way, she'd ended up with a broken beer bottle in her hand and things had spiraled out of control.
"You never let me do anything. Why? What do I matter to you?" She'd screamed, pressing him up against the wall, gesturing wildly even as she was dimly aware that the sharp glass of the broken bottle could kill him.
He'd glanced away, and he could've shoved her off, could've knocked her out, because he was bigger and stronger and not nearly as insane. But he hadn't.
"Why haven't you kicked me out yet? Why haven't you asked for anything back from me? Why do you put up with me?" And the edged glass had drawn closer and closer and closer to him until it'd finally sliced the skin of his neck. It hadn't been deep, but the blood was so startling red and he hadn't been doing anything to stop her even after all that.
(He knows she needs this to happen, knows that she's got to have her breakdown. He knows that in order to heal her, she must first be broken. He just wishes he didn't have to be the one to break her to fix her. And isn't that his blood? Fascinating, he thinks. Fascinating. I can actually bleed, he marvels. I can actually bleed…. It doesn't even hurt.)
She'd backed away, the image of a bleeding, dying Kaien burning in the back of her eyes. She'd backed away and fallen to the floor, a mess of crying and anger and white-hot shame. It'd hurt, remembering everything that she'd tried her damned hardest to forget.
He'd walked past her, left her in a sobbing heap on the floor, his blood falling in little drops onto her head.
But he'd come back. He'd come back, bandaged and pale, but alive.
And he hadn't blamed her, hadn't hated her.
She'd still hated him.
Because the only alternative to hating him was to love him, and she couldn't do that to herself again.
"I'm not going to ask why you did what you did. But I should at least know the name of the girl who's been living with me for the past three months. I should know the name of the girl who's been begging me to kill her."
She'd turned to him, legs folded underneath her too-slim body even as the moonlight filtered and outlined her sunken appearance, her hollow cheeks. "Rukia. Kuchiki Rukia." She'd murmured in the quiet of the night and he'd smiled, hesitant, jaded, and slightly cynical.
It wasn't anything like Kaien's smile.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Abarai Renji."
He'd been trying to rewrite everything, to reintroduce himself. And for the first time in what seemed like forever, she'd begun to hope again, to believe again. Erasing the past. Maybe it'd been a silly and childish dream, but it was all she had left.
"Same here. Now get out of my bedroom; I have to sleep." Her sarcasm had faded a while ago, and it'd been such a struggle to adjust to being back in the light, to caring after so many days of hopelessness.
He'd laughed, understanding her efforts for what they really were and shut her door tightly.
(How many times did she wake up in the middle of the night, screaming as the nightmares clawed at her sanity? How many times did she wake up, sweating and crying, remembering a night of blood and the flash of a dagger? Addiction had been so easy to fall into. Leaving it was like ripping a piece of her soul out and stepping all over it.)
Her knees had given out, and she'd collapsed on the floor, heaving and gasping as the pain dug deep into her ribs. Just a little drop, she'd begged Renji. Just one drop of morphine, of meth, anything. He'd pinned her underneath his watchful gaze and had walked away, leaving her curled up on the wood screaming for something, anything to take away the pain.
The tremors had nearly done her in. The depression that followed—did. He'd come home on a Monday to find the lights all turned off and the kitchen knife missing. He'd panicked, dropped everything and screamed her name in desperation. He'd wondered if one little drop would've helped, if it'd be his fault if she died.
She'd been sitting with her back against the wall and the knife balanced precariously between shaking fingers. There'd been a thin trickle of red dripping from her wrist, the cut too shallow to kill but deep enough to bleed. She'd looked possessed, murmuring words that hadn't made sense, crying out for a way to escape.
She hadn't wanted to die.
And it was that inexplicable will to live that had saved her as she'd climbed slowly out of her self-imposed torment.
(He got to see her for who she really was, a beautiful and lost young woman. He'd never seen such sorrow in one person before, but he took comfort in the fact that she liked him, maybe even loved him, enough to share her memories. Ah, he thought. Ah. So this is what it feels to finally love someone.)
It'd taken weeks and weeks for her to heal, even longer for her to be able to look at herself in the mirror and not hate herself.
But it'd happened and in the end, that was all that mattered.
They'd ended up patching up the pitiful looking shack together, spending afternoons and weekends outside with nails, hammers, wood, and just the two of them. It hadn't even been close to what she'd experienced with Kaien, but it was enough for her. It'd been enough. It'd probably been even more than she'd deserved.
And then he'd taken it one step further.
She'd been making breakfast that day, watching contentedly as the eggs sizzled and popped on the pan. The wind had floated in, chilly but a comfort to her warm skin. She hadn't heard Renji get up, hadn't heard him enter the kitchen, hadn't seen his soft smile. But she'd felt his strong arms wrap around her waist and she'd smelled his familiar scent, a mix of redwood, grasses, and the faintest hint of alcohol.
"R-Renji?" She'd asked, hesitantly, so unsure of falling again, of allowing herself to fall again.
He'd chuckled, turned her around until she faced him, and kissed her. It was rough, not at all like Kaien's gentle and teasing kisses. He'd kissed her like she was his everything, his air, his sky, his world. He'd kissed her with the desperation of a drowning man, and she'd accepted.
He hadn't been afraid of breaking her with his desire.
She'd grown thankful towards him for never playing in the field of dreams, for keeping it real all the time. Honesty meant that you could never be let down, could never be disappointed. She'd needed that so much. She'd needed his words of brutal, harsh reality. He'd never lied to her about their financial situation or the state of affairs out on the streets.
"Rukia, we don't have enough money to cover the rent."
"It'll be soup again, for the fourth time. I'm sorry, but we can't afford anything else."
She'd never kidded herself about their poverty. There hadn't been any point in being delusional anyways.
(To take their mind off of everything, he thinks. He's waited long enough and she is irresistible with her vulnerable look and bird-like, frail limbs. It makes him feel stronger than he probably is, makes him feel invincible, as if he owns a part of her. She won't break if he pushes, he knows. He fixed her and he knows better than anyone else how she works.)
Kaien had never deflowered her, always telling her that he wanted her first time to be memorable. And what could be more memorable than their wedding? But he was gone now, and she'd long since given up on ever marrying. He had been her first love, her first kiss, her first boyfriend, and her first fiancée.
Renji took what was left. He'd been her first lover.
They were married at a rundown chapel by the side of the road. He hadn't gone down on one knee like Kaien had, he'd told her to dress her best because he had a surprise for her. He hadn't given her a ring, like Kaien had, but he'd given her a husband for the very first time.
She'd honestly thought that was it. She'd honestly thought that her life would be spent with Renji by her side until she died. She'd thought that they would grow old together and live in their little shack as the years flew by.
She should have known better.
Two years later, they'd received a knock on the door.
It'd seemed innocent enough at first. "I'm Officer Madarame. Is there an Abarai Renji here?"
She'd nodded, figuring Renji had probably been speeding again and forgot to stay to get his ticket.
"Oh…oh shit." Had been Renji's words as he'd rounded the corner.
And then the officer's smile hadn't been so kind anymore and his voice hadn't been as soothing as before. "Abarai Renji. You are hereby arrested on two charges of first-degree murder and one charge on the possession and selling of illegal drugs."
As the handcuffs closed over his wrist, Rukia could feel the silver clamping down on her dream of the future.
(Oh, he thinks. He rages, but there's nothing he can do in the end. He's guilty of murder, though he's tried so hard to forget about it. He's guilty of selling drugs. He's guilty. Guilty. Guilty. But when his execution is announced, he cries for her—and not himself.)
She'd gone to his execution, walked stoically into the steel room, and held his gaze as the local church preacher spoke of Hell and damnation and salvation.
"Any last words?" Officer Madarame's voice was curt and rude, and it hadn't been so much of a question as a demand to have this be over with.
Renji had hesitated for a few moments; unsure eyes flicking back and forth between the syringe and her before he'd stopped moving altogether.
"No. I have none."
She'd walked out of the room before she could see the needle inserted into his skin. She'd walked out of their life and their memories.
She'd walked out, and that time, she'd felt no remorse.
The pale man from her nightmares, from that night when Kaien lay dying in her arms had appeared again while she was standing in the rain, alone with no place to go. Cold black eyes had calmly assessed her from the shadows, and she'd stared back—angry, defiant, and maybe even a little bit heartbroken.
Time had ruined her, had made her stronger and harsher and nearly unbreakable.
She hadn't waited for the stranger to disappear again.
That time, she'd been the one to turn around and leave.
(He doesn't say anything because he doesn't want to break her with the weight of his words and his apologies. He fixed her and he can't bring himself to break her and send her tumbling back into her past of blood and fire and burning shame. He is sorry, for himself, for her, for the fairytale ending that could've been. He is sorry, but the needle takes away his pain—and with it, his life.)
III. Vivace con fuoco
She'd ended up running away from it all.
She'd run to the corners of the world and she'd never been able to escape her memories. It'd been an endless circle and she'd landed right back where she started, right back at that fateful beach where she'd first met Kaien and where they'd first kissed.
"Rukia?" Inoue's voice had been so careful, as if she were some frightened animal ready to run at the slightest provocation.
She'd frozen, eyes turning to the one friend that she'd ever had, the one friend she'd left behind when Kaien had died. "Rukia's gone." She'd found herself murmuring, and the words had been so true. She hadn't been the same Rukia as before; she'd changed—and not for the better.
"No. You're still here. You're still the same Rukia that left." Inoue's voice had been so urgent, as if her words alone could bring the happy and smiling part of her friend back.
"I'm not." Her answer had been sharp and angry and filled to the brim with self-loathing.
Inoue had flinched, but she'd stood her ground in the end, walking closer and closer until they were next to one another. "It's alright. I'll always be here. You're not the only one who's changed over the years."
She should've cried, should've broken down sobbing on her friend's shoulder, but she hadn't. She had no tears left within her. Dry, automated, and wholly inhuman. "You haven't changed at all." She'd said, bitter at how well life had treated Inoue.
"Kurosaki-kun left me." Had been her first words, and she'd looked so heartbroken, so sad. Her body had shook and she'd collapsed onto the sand, whimpering.
For the first time in a long time, Rukia had felt pity. "Why?" She'd asked, curious and feeling the beginning anger set in. Inoue had always been the sweet girl, the kind one, gullible and charming. And the orange-haired bastard had ruined it, had shoved sorrow straight into her face.
Inoue never really did answer her, but she hadn't had to.
Rukia had found the idiot soon enough. It'd taken just a week.
"Oy, carrot-top." She'd jeered, ramming into him with enough force to send him tumbling into the wall.
"What the hell?" He'd exclaimed, shoving her off him, irritation taking over his previously stunned expression. "Who the hell are you?" He'd spat to the side, standing up, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"I'm Kuchiki Rukia and you've got some explaining to do." She'd smirked, picking herself up off the concrete and fixing a steely gaze on him. She'd had years of anger and he had been the perfect target. He'd hurt Inoue and for that, he deserved a punishment.
He'd gaped at her in surprise. "You're kidding me. You're Rukia? Kaien's fiancée right?"
(He dimly remembers a newspaper article shoved in the back of all that shit. He remembers a knifing incident and something about a widow. But he hadn't cared back then, too worried about his own life to care if some other person had kicked the bucket or not. It bothers him, those words, but the question is out in the open. It's too late, he thinks. It's too late. Bile rises up in his mouth even as he stares at her weary expression. Oh, oh no. But it's true and it's too late to take it back now.)
It was as if a downpour had drowned all her anger. The pain had still been raw inside her, made worse by the lingering memories of a red-haired man who died by the hand of the law. "No longer." She'd said softly, gazing past him dully. "Or didn't you hear? He's dead. He died before our wedding."
There had been an awkward silence, interrupted only by the sound of a lighter being clicked.
"You smoke?" She'd asked to distract herself from her dangerous thoughts.
"Yeah. Want one?" He'd breathed out, the smoke trailing in lazy circles above his head.
Her lips had curled up into a cynical smile, white hot and burning. "Nah. I gave that up awhile ago." She'd replied carelessly and he'd shrugged so casually, stuffing the box of Marlboro into his bag.
"Why did you do that to her?" She'd asked, before her mind had even processed the motion of her mouth opening.
He'd flicked a nonchalance glance back at her before training on the trashcan further down the street. "I have no clue what you're talking about."
"Don't be an ass." She'd snapped back, hand raised to slap him across the face, but he'd caught her wrist before she could.
"Don't be a moron." He'd replied, his hand tightening around her wrist until she'd thought it would break, before letting her go. "That kind of comment could get you hurt around here."
She'd laughed at his awkward way of voicing concern. "I don't think you understand, Kurosaki. I don't care about being hurt, but I do care when certain bastards walk around hurting my friends. Does the name Inoue Orihime sound familiar?"
For a moment, he'd looked guilty, but the expression had disappeared as quickly as the smoke that rose from his cigarette. "Sure. She was my ex-girlfriend."
That time, she'd managed to slap him once. Right across the face, imprinting her hand on his cheek in a bright, flaring red. "Don't be insensitive."
He'd cursed, holding one hand to his face while the other threw the burnt out nicotine stick away. "At least I'm not the one going around hitting people for kicks."
(He'd been impressed by her attitude, even though he'd never admit it to anyone—least of all her. She was cocky and self-assured, proud as hell, and it half pissed him off, half turned him on. She wasn't someone that he could walk over; he doubted that anyone would be able to walk over her without her permission. He'd been intrigued and it was that intrigue and flair for flirting with danger that opened his eyes in the end.)
She'd reached up on tiptoe, jerking his ear harshly until he'd fairly howled from pain. "You either tell me or you'll have to hit me to get me to let go." She'd whispered menacingly to him and he'd sworn in every single language that he knew.
Kurosaki Ichigo despised lying, but he hadn't been about to give the truth over so easily. The truth was dangerous and he'd never been a fan of getting others into trouble with him. "Fine. You win. I dumped your best friend because I wasn't ready for what she wanted from me. I couldn't promise her a life with me." He'd smacked her hand away roughly, slouching against the old flyer taped up against the alleyway wall. It was a half-truth at least, but he hadn't been ready to give it all over to the pixie from Hell.
"He was never the type to get married…" She'd whispered to herself, and he'd instantly felt alert at her words. They were somber words, carrying a heavy undertone with them, and it spoke of half-healed wounds and sleepless nights.
"You're talking about Kaien, aren't you?" He'd asked brusquely, mad for an unexplainable reason.
She'd whirled around, fixing a furious stare at him. "I was wrong, you aren't a bastard. You're an ignorant and unfeeling jackass! You may look a bit like him, you may even slouch like him and have that same wa—" She'd trailed off quickly, eyes widening in an almost comical expression.
"The same what?" He'd teased, enjoying the momentary upper hand. He had a feeling that she wasn't the type to easily trip up.
She'd pinched him. Hard. And the scowl on her face was warning enough that if he were to ask one more question, she'd have no qualms about beating the living shit out of him. "The same nothing. Forget what I said."
He'd backed off and she'd left after a minute, stopping only to whack him once on the head for good measure before taking off in the opposite direction.
She hadn't been around to hear him coughing, but it wouldn't have mattered in the long run anyways.
She'd kept on coming back afterwards, sometimes once a month, and sometimes twice a day. She'd been as unpredictable in her appearances as she was eager to hit him lightly just for the fun of it. Her excuse had been that the town was small and it was hard to go anywhere without seeing a familiar facesomewhere in the crowd. But she'd been lying, and it hadn't been a good lie anyways.
It had been an odd game of hide and seek, a version where he was always 'it' and she was always hiding in the alleyways or by a shop, waiting for him to find her.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she'd been reminded of the way Kaien had discovered her and the way she'd secretly watched him. Only this time around, she wasn't secretly watching and Ichigo wasn't that great at finding her. The similarities had been astonishing once she'd gotten to know him a little bit better. They were both overprotective and teasing. Ichigo was a little more caustic, a little more violent, a little less caring.
No, she'd told herself, horrified as the past began to repeat itself. She'd told herself to stop dreaming, to get her head out of the clouds and run away.
She hadn't wanted to go through that again, to experience another Renji, another Kaien.
She'd struggled enough.
She hadn't wanted to repeat the cycle again and again like some masochistic freak.
(He was concerned when she stopped appearing after three weeks. He wondered if she'd left, if she'd left because of him. The world seemed to be duller, the skies grayer without her bitchy comments and her stinging hits. How odd, he mused, to miss Rukia as if she actually mattered in his life. He wanted her back, even though he didn't know why.)
"Oy." He'd knocked on the door once Inoue had left the house, leaning against the stair railing, a casual cigarette in his lips.
Oh no, she'd thought with something close to despair. She'd barricaded herself in with chairs and tables, running away even when she knew he would eventually catch up with her. "Go away." She'd hissed and closed the window blinds lest he see her panic.
But he'd been stubborn, staying even when he knew that Inoue would come home soon, come home and see her ex-boyfriend waiting for her best friend. "No. Stop being such an idiot and open up the fucking door before I break it down."
She'd ended up opening the door for him, afraid he'd actually follow through with his threat. "Don't be such a drama queen." She'd huffed, turning around so her back was to him.
He'd laughed, loudly. "That's my line. I wasn't the one who left and then tried to hide behind a door." He'd walked past her, trailing a line of smoke, and turned to flash a cocky grin at her.
"I wasn't hiding." She'd complained, a petulant expression crossing her face.
He'd snorted, throwing his cigarette into the trashcan. "Yeah, right. And I'm secretly a woman. Why did you stop coming by?"
She'd paused, letting his words rush over her in an overwhelmingly strong surge. "That's a loaded question." She'd replied, a slight tremor running through her voice.
He'd smirked, running a hand through his spiky hair so much like Kaien that it hurt, hurt so bad. "Who said I had to play fair?"
The words had bitten into her skin, cold and chilling, as if a ghost had suddenly come to speak to her. So familiar, those words. Renji had said them once. Red hair, a myriad of black tattoos, the flash of dirty needles and a sinking familiar in the pit of her stomach. She'd collapsed on the floor, hands clutching her head as she willed the images to go away, go far, far away.
"Hey, you alright?" He'd asked, so concerned, eyes creasing from sudden worry.
She couldn't have looked at him. She would've seen Kaien's face, would've retreated further into that shell of insanity.
Small blessings. She hadn't looked at him.
"Don't you ever say that again," She'd screamed, hoping against hope that her frenzied words would drive him away.
He'd put a hesitant hand on her shoulder. "Alright. Alright. I won't say that again. Wanna tell me what's going on with you? You never answered my questions anyways."
She'd collapsed against him, her head buried in the crook of his neck. "You're so stupid, so stupid." She'd said, closing her eyes and telling herself that if she'd just said it now, then he would leave. "I didn't want to see you again. The closer I seem to get to someone, the more they seem to suffer. Because of me." She'd known that that she'd sounded half out of her wits, but she hadn't cared because his touch was burning her and it hurt to be held by him.
"Is that what Kaien told you?" His voice had been carefully neutral, controlled even though he'd been furious.
"It's what I know." She'd replied and she'd told him all about Renji, her stint with drugs, and his execution.
He'd turned to the side afterwards, deeply contemplative, and shifted so that she lay completely in his embrace. "I started suffering long before you came." He'd said quietly, reflecting back on the murder of his mother.
He'd left after a couple minutes, still cautious about Inoue appearing.
(He should've told her then. But he didn't and he wondered if it was what made her cry when it all boiled down to it. He should've warned her that she was marrying a dying man, but he didn't. He was selfish, after all and he'd only wanted her to stay, regardless of the cost and the price she would have to pay.)
"Ichigo." Her voice had been still, like the surface of a calm lake, but there'd been an undercurrent of something.
He'd turned towards her, feeling the heavy weight of the box in his pocket, wondering if it would burn a hole through his pants. He'd been that nervous.
"You lied to me." She'd refused to meet his gaze, staring up at the slowly setting sky, mesmerized as the ocean reflected her image in shades of magenta and burgundy red.
He'd been silent, somehow knowing inevitably what was to come, and unable to stop it.
"The doctor called me today asking for you. I told him that you were outside and asked if there was a message he wanted me to deliver. He said that your sickness wasn't getting better and that soon the liquid will fill your lungs completely." The seagulls had been gone by that time, flying away to a warmer and a better place. How she'd wanted to fly away with them and leave this world and all its unfairness behind.
"What do you have, Ichigo?"
He'd refused to look anywhere at her, far preferring to stare into the distance, slipping one hand to hold tightly onto the tiny little black box. "Tuberculosis." He'd kicked a rock over the edge of the bridge and scuffed his shoe awkwardly on the chipped concrete. "The doctors say I don't have much of a chance."
"That was why you didn't want to marry Inoue." Her tone had brooked no argument, more of a flat statement then a question.
He'd suddenly felt so guilty for even thinking about marrying Rukia. He'd loved her, but he couldn't let her go like he did to Orihime. And standing there, he'd felt sodirty for even having the damn ring in his pocket the whole time.
She'd watched him with disappointed eyes as he'd gone down on one knee, fingers fumbling with the ring. "I—I know that you'll hate me for it and that you probably already do…but, but…I just wanted to know if you will marry me."
She'd taken the ring, slipped it carefully onto her finger, and bent to kiss him softly on the forehead. "I will." She'd whispered, and she hadn't been the least bit excited, the least bit joyful. And he hadn't swung her around bridal style. She was too jaded, too cynical to laugh anymore, to have a reason for smiling. He was too reserved, too awkward around her to do that anyways.
In retrospect, it hadn't been so much a proposal as a promise to let him die with someone by his side, with someone to love him and to cry for him. The ring had sealed her in, had sealed her in and thrown away the key. She'd been tied to him for whatever time he'd had left.
"'Till death to us part."
They'd parted soon enough. Six months. Six months of holding his hand as he'd withered away before her eyes. She'd never complained though, hadn't complained when he'd coughed, wet and deep, splattering blood all over her. She'd learned to shut up and take it a long time ago.
(It's not supposed to be like this, he thinks. He's supposed to be the one comforting her, wiping away her tears. He's not supposed to be stuck in a hospital bed, tied up to wires and machinery and being told that he's got one less day left to live. He sometimes wonders why he'd proposed in the first place. But he's not sorry for it even though he should be. He isn't. He's always been selfish after all.)
"Rukia." He'd murmured, the words sliding slick from his mouth along with the endless spray of crimson that would always inevitably follow. "Come here."
She'd stood up from her permanent position by his side and went to take his hand, clasping them (so hot, so feverish) between her own cold ones. "You're going to die soon, aren't you?"
He'd tried to grin around the oxygen mask strapped firmly to his face. "Yeah. I'm sorry." He'd said.
She'd chuckled bitterly, wiping the sweat away from his forehead and resting her head lightly on his frail chest. "Don't apologize for something you're not sorry for. I knew what I was getting into when I said yes to you. I knew, and I said yes anyways."
"But…" He'd trailed off weakly, watching as the fluid wasn't being drained nearly fast enough and he'd felt the steady pressure building within his lungs.
"Close your eyes. I'll be here when you wake up." She'd said so calmly, knowing full well that he wouldn't wake up again…at least not in her world.
"I love you, Rukia."
She'd stopped breathing for a moment, finally hearing the words that both Renji and Kaien had denied her in their final moments. And if her voice had cracked when she'd finally opened her mouth to reply, and if her tears had been falling in steady streams, and if her hands had clenched tightly around Ichigo's hands, well…no one would've been there to tell anyways. "Shhh…It's alright. Just—Just go to sleep."
Her voice had shook, trembling as fervently as a dying butterfly's wings. "I know. Believe me. I know."
He'd smiled one last time, whispered, "Tell me you love me too," and then closed his eyes.
His heart monitor had gone flat the same instant his hazel eyes had disappeared from her sight. She'd slowly let go of him, feeling his body grow cold already.
"I love you, Ichigo. I love you."
She'd had one more deed left to do. Fleeing the hospital's sterile and death-ridden room, she'd run back to their home, dragged out her wedding dress covered in his blood, because the illness had already gotten to him and he'd been coughing red droplets all throughout the ceremony. The roses left over from two months ago, she'd picked up and ran away with them.
(There's no pain. Smile. There's nothing left to hurt.)
(The end of a beginning)
She doesn't stop twirling in the twilight, her hands scraped and bruised from the sharp thrones of the dead roses. She doesn't stop, not even when she begins to cough up her own blood, not even when the crimson dots her already bloodied wedding dress in a macabre design.
"You're dying." He says, quiet and observant, pale hands ready to lead her away into his domain.
She turns around, glowing violet irises connecting with his black pupils. "I know."
He's amused, almost. He's never encountered a human so carefree about dying before. "You don't care?"
She laughs and the sound echoes around them, hollow and full, depressing and cheery, insane and almost too sane. "Why would I? I was the one who chose to marry a dying man. I was the one who kissed him to ensure I suffered the same fate. I was, have always been, my own murderess."
He stares blankly back at her, uncomprehending. "This is not your first time seeing me." He remarks, not the least bit surprised as she half coughs, half tries to reply.
"No. I saw you when you took Kaien away from me. I saw you when you stole Renji away. I see you now, your hands bloodied with my late husband's soul." She doesn't sound accusing, just neutral, as if the emotion has bled out of her completely. Her legs shake, but she keeps on dancing, flitting back and forth like a shadow.
"You don't even know who I am." He says in a monotone, waiting for the last second when she'll finally, finally be his.
"You're Death." She says simply, throwing a withered rose at his feet.
He picks it up, fingers it carefully and holds onto it. "It's time." He says.
She turns to him, luminescent under the full moon's ivory spotlight and lets her arms fall to rest by her side. He thinks that she is beautiful, in an untouchable, unattainable way and understands why those men had loved her so. He holds out his hand for her and she takes it carefully into her own.
"Will I finally see them again?" She asks, quiet and tranquil as she feels her own body grow colder and stiffer.
He fixes a loathing stare at the rose in his other hand and watches it as itfreezes over. He lets go of it and there's an odd comfort in watching it shatter when it hits the ground. "You will do no such thing." Envy is an odd feeling, jealousy another. He is Death and he will not share her presence with any other.
She kneels on the floor, hands slipping from his grasp and going to collect the tiny shards. "You won't let me, why?"
"You are to be my Queen." He murmurs, and brushes a pale and lifeless hand against her raven hair.
She looks at him, unguarded in her surprise. The shards of her frozen rose trickle away and she can't feel her heart beating anymore. Her question goes unasked and he nearly smiles at her naiveté.
"There is no one in this world that can give you want you want." He says slowly, softly. His eyes are frigid cold, neither warm nor intense, and his hands are neither comforting nor assuring as they rest on her shoulders.
"And what do I want?"
He smiles a half-smile, stealing her last breath with a kiss and whispers his answer in a caress above her lips. "You want eternity, a forever. You want immortality, not as an eternal life, but as an eternal death. You want what only I can offer you."
She doesn't respond. She can't. She's dead.
He cradles her in his arms, watching the seconds and minutes tick by. The fireflies glow around them, lighting a pathway to a land of obscurity.
Her eyelashes flutter against pale and bloodless skin, a fiery violet burning in her eyes as she wakes again, no longer of the real world. "Your name," She whispers, her breath chilling the nape of his neck.
"For you, I will be Byakuya." He answers, sliding an obsidian ring onto her finger.
She smiles, soft and sweet and slow like before.
(He has waited for this for so long. He has followed her throughout her life all for this one moment. And now, she is his and he is hers. He has his Persephone and she has her Eternity.)
"Come, and I will show you my kingdom." He steps forward into the darkness, with her in his arms, and she is unafraid.
This is her ending.
Where she belongs.
-Go on, play it again. -
Author's Notes: This is my first time writing anything over 10,000 words long. Period. I've always been a procrastinator and have constantly suffered from a "no-more-than-3000-words" syndrome. This was to prove that I could write something long and make it worth reading. I was inspired by Death and the Maiden and the idea just kind of ran away with itself. Before any readers say that Rukia is a slut, I would like to state that everybody falls in love more than once. How many people divorce countless time trying to find that "somebody"? She's found her matches, but she's never been able to keep them. Thus, my argument is that she is a suffering person, desperate and scared to love. This does not make her a slut. I would really appreciate feedback and comments. I worked tirelessly over this and it would make me feel like I've done something worthwhile if you just leave a small note for me. Thanks for reading and I hope that this has been more than a wallpaper story to you guys.
Final Word Count: 10,102
Inspirations: "What Goes Around Comes Around" by Justin Timberlake, "24" by Jem, "At the End" by iiO, and Melitza, a fabulous fanfiction writer.