Series: Bleach
Title: A Gift
Author: thatreevesgirl/Lemon Drops
Pairing: Renji x Rukia
Rating: PG
Genre: romance
Word Count: 2000-ish
(Because it is my birthday today (June 2) and I couldn't come up with a better prompt than stupid birthdays. The story is also cheese-tastic! Like velveeta cheesy.)

Renji clenched a tiny, purple paper-wrapped box in his hand. Renji had been a bit sloppy when folding the corners of the paper, and the blue ribbon tied around it clashed, but he knew Rukia would love it. When they were younger they and their friends in the Rukon district didn't have the means to give one another gifts, and as a result non-gifting had become the habit between himself and Rukia.

Renji was seated on the steps directly outside of the main hub of the thirteenth division. He was whispering quietly to himself in preparation, practicing what he would say to Rukia when she walked out of the officer meeting she was in. "Happy birthday…Happy birthday, Rukia…Hey there, Rukia, I gotcha something for yer birthday…Happy Birthday, Rukia, now you're…"

Well, maybe he'd avoid the age thing. Women were sensitive about stuff like that, especially when your lifetime as a shinigami had already spanned many, many decades.

He went back to his muttering, nervously fidgeting with the box and staring at the ground as he came up with a hundred different ways to tell his oldest and dearest friend happy birthday. He didn't get to see her often enough, and at times it was awkward between them. The only times he didn't feel at least a little uncomfortable with Rukia was when they were bickering or she was driving her tiny fist into his hard noggin.

"Happy birthday, Rukia, let me take you out for a little sake…Happy birthday, I think you'll like this…Happy birthd…"

"Renji," she interrupted him, "What are you doing?"

The redhead has stopped midsentence and stared up at the tiny female form hovering beside him. His mouth went dry, his words just wouldn't form. Rukia always had this kind of effect on him. He hated being such a bumbling idiot around her, but he hated being away from her even more.

"Oh," Rukia continued, knowing that Renji was lost for words because of the dumb expression on his face. She secretly found that blank, embarrassed expression of his to be endearing. She always had.

"Is this for me?" she asked excitedly as she pointed at the little purple gift.

Renji nodded and thrust it toward her. He hadn't found the ability to speak yet, but he had regained the mask he wore to hide himself from her. He scowled and impatiently poked her with the gift until she pulled it from his fingers.

Rukia smirked and ripped at the paper. Trying not to seem too enthused by the event, Renji feigned disinterest as he propped his elbow on his knee and then his chin in that hand. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, trying to keep that hopeful smile from creeping onto his lips like it was threatening to do.

She aww'd as she opened the box, and he couldn't help but smirk at her typical female reaction. She tried to be a tough, no-nonsense kind of woman, but she was as girly as they came sometimes. Rukia smiled from ear to ear as she pulled the cute bunny charm out of the box and let it dangle by the fine silver chain.

"I found it in a little shop in Karakura town," he grumbled. "I figured you liked that kind of cute shit, seeing as you always fawn all over it when we're in the human world."

Rukia promptly smacked him upside the head. Renji grit his teeth, but secretly was grateful for her reaction, because they immediately fell into that comfortable world they used to live in. It was the place where Renji was by Rukia's side and he was always doing something stupid that required her attention. Unfortunately it didn't stop him from reacting in his normal, loud way.

"What the hell did you do that for?" Renji yelled as he got up, hopping mad. "I get ya a damn present, and you go and clobber me for it?"

He was still seething and cursing when Rukia wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Renji, I love it."

Once again, Renji was stopped in mid-sentence, completely frozen as Rukia's small body pressed closely to his. If Renji could have seen the way he was looking at Rukia in that moment, he would have been too embarrassed to speak to her for a year, but he didn't. The heat and anger that had contorted his face into a frustrated glower completely dissipated. He couldn't help but let his real emotions show as she clutched him tightly.

"Would you help me put it on?"

Rukia asked Renji that with her face buried in his chest. He could feel the blood filling his cheeks. He could hear how loud his heart was pounding. If he could hear it, he was sure it was a deafening hammer to Rukia. He couldn't help his embarrassment as he pushed her away just enough so he could kneel next to her.

Taking the bunny necklace from her hand, Renji undid the clasp and wound his arms around her neck. It would have been so much easier if he had done this from behind her instead of in front of her. He craned uncomfortably and then moved closer so he could actually see what he was doing. It didn't help that he was rather clumsy, because somehow he managed to smack his forehead against her ear.

Rukia's hand flew to her ear and she bemoaned him for being a moron while cursing about the pain. Renji threw apologies at her, cupping the hand that was over her ear, carefully removing it and inspecting where he'd managed to ram her with his head.

"I'm sorry, Rukia," he repeated as he noted the redness and warmth where he'd managed to get her pretty good.

"You're lucky that you got me such a nice gift, or I might really be mad," she told him. He motioned for her to stay there as he ran off for a minute. She watched him head in the general direction of the tenth squad, which was just down the way a bit from the thirteenth, and when he came back he was holding a small cloth filled with ice. She wondered just what he'd bribed Hitsugaya with to get that. Then again, Renji and the young captain did get along fairly well, because Renji was one of the few people who gave him the respect he deserved.

He held it against her ear, and then drew one of her hands up to keep it in place. When she had control of it, Renji smirked at her and said, "Okay now, let's try this again." This time he did get behind her, and quickly and smoothly the little bunny charm was draped around her neck. All it cost Rukia was a sore ear and a bit of pride. Now she was the one who was blushing.

Both of them were searching for something to say. It just wouldn't be right if they called it a day and went their separate ways at this point. Rukia had hugged Renji. Renji had bought her jewelry. This was adding up to an odd kind of day, but neither of them could find the words to discuss it.

At this point Renji was waiting for her to say goodbye, so he could say his regular G'night before wandering back to his quarters, but Rukia was just content to press a cloth of ice to her ear as she stared at the ground. Renji was content to stare at her.

"So…" Rukia began, unsure of her words, her voice wobbling a bit as she continued, "Did I hear something about sake earlier?"

"If you want," Renji told her softly, without much thought, because at this point he was not thinking clearly at all.

Rukia had hugged him, and he had nearly been wrapped completely around her. In all their years they'd had a few awkward close calls, but nothing like this. Nothing that made his heart pound this hard, or his stomach do so many flip-flops that Renji was sure he'd throw up. He could feel his resolution cracking and faltering. He had promised himself that he would be worthy of her and her family before he'd ever admit his feelings, but those emotions were so close to the surface that he could barely contain them.

"A little sake, maybe a bit of cake?" she suggested. Her hand reached for him and her fingers balled in his kimono. She didn't look him in the eye, instead she stared straight ahead, and even though the angle was bad, Renji saw the pretty flush that was spread across her cheeks.

"Sure, Rukia," he murmured. Renji reflexively reached out and patted her head, but he didn't stop there. His hand seemed to have a mind of its own as he weaved a strand of her dark, silky hair through his fingers. Renji let it gently fall, and then his fingers followed, tenderly raking her scalp as he touched her so softly.


Usually when she said only his name it was meant as a warning, but the way it seemed to quietly roll of her tongue in such a relaxed, inviting way made Renji's heart clench. He chose to cup her face and brush her cheek with the pad of his thumb. It made Rukia sigh and lean into his touch.

"Rukia…" Renji began, kneeling in front of her again and bringing his other hand to her other cheek.

"Rukia…" and he kissed her forehead. Renji whispered her name again, and this time he kissed the tip of her nose, each of her eyes, each cheek, and the corners of her small mouth.

"Rukia, look at me?" he asked, so close to her that it was hard to actually focus on that petite face and her large, pretty eyes. It took Rukia a minute, but she complied, her gaze meeting his.

Renji began the most difficult thing that he would ever say, "Rukia I…" but the words were stuck. Not because he didn't want to say them, but because he did. More than anything he wanted to change the relationship they had. Renji sought to be welcomed into her heart, and in return he desired to give her everything that she'd never had. He wanted it so badly, but at the same time it struck him as unfair to force his feelings onto Rukia when it could possibly throw her world into such chaos.

"I…" he tried again, but it was still stuck in his throat. He knew, somewhere deep down in his heart Renji was sure that she loved him too. He wanted her to be happy, and he was unsure if a love between himself and Rukia would make her the happiest. Renji could feel everything building up inside him. His throat felt so raw, and he had to fight hard to keep the misting in his eyes from forming into tears.

He wanted this so much. So much!

"Renji, you're such an idiot," Rukia cooed at him, stroking his cheek as large, wet tears fell from the corners of her own eyes. She leaned in, and in a mere whisper, her lips lightly brushing against his lips as she spoke, Rukia told him the thing that he couldn't bring himself to say. "I love you, Renji."

With those words the dam Renji had used to hold himself together broke. Renji couldn't contain himself. Gritting his teeth hard, so hard they hurt, he drew his brows together and tried to fight the tears beginning to streak his face. This was Rukia, his Rukia—his dearest friend, the woman he been pining over for decades—and she had just admitted that she loved him. He really was an idiot.

Sucking in a broken breath and pressing his lips to hers chastely, he returned her feelings. "I love you, too. I do, Rukia, I love you."

And then he kissed her. Renji kissed Rukia long and hard and deep and with as much passion as he could muster. When they finally broke away from one another she playfully bonked him on the head with her knuckles. "Moron," she chastised him in jest, "Took you long enough."

Renji smiled crookedly at her and just responded with, "Happy birthday, Rukia," before he kissed her again.