- A Bleach One-shot -

I waited my whole life for you.

For years I had you all to myself. It was just the two of us back then, roaming the streets and causing havoc in Rukongai. It was happiest I've ever been in my whole damn life. I got so used to you being at my side that I never contemplated what it would be like if you were gone, until the day you were.

I told myself it was for the best. They were offering you security, stability and a family name to stand behind - all the things we never had growing up and all the things I couldn't give. So I let you walk away. Hell, I pushed you into their waiting arms.

Now I think I'd trade just about anything to go back to that moment. I'd tell you then all the things I should've said. I'd tell you...


Damn, you really have no idea how much I love you.

Everything that I've done since that day we met - every accomplishment, every accolade, every victory - has been for you. I've worked these fingers to the bone and suffered more injuries than I could ever possibly count in the hopes that some day I would be worthy of that smile of yours.

But I know better now - I'm nothing but a mongrel and you, Rukia, you're an unreachable star.

For a long time I thought your brother was my ultimate rival, but now I know better. My fight isn't with him. Even if I used these fangs of mine to cut him down, it wouldn't change a damn thing. I'll never master the refinement and grace that's embodied in every Kuchiki step and I think I'm finally okay with that.

Instead I hide behind jokes and easy smiles. I play the role of the good friend, always at your side when you need me, to hide the fact that I can't stand not to be there.

But the hardest part isn't putting on a smile or pretending that I'm fine, it's seeing with my own eyes how happy you are with him.

Every smile, every playful slap and crude remark cuts me deeper than you could possibly know. I want to be him. I've never wanted something so badly in my entire life.

And as much as it pains me to say this, you need to hear it - he's good for you. He's helped you to heal in ways that I never could and that's why I can't hate him.

I don't even think you realize how much he's affected your life, but I have. I notice every little change in you. Like the look that passes through your eyes when you're thinking about him. There's a warmth and tenderness there that didn't exist before him.

I know I'm nothing but a dumb mutt from the street - what the hell do I know anyway? - but if you're going to torture me at least give my pain a purpose. I don't think I could forgive you if you cut into my heart for the next hundred years without finding true happiness for yourself. And before you go telling me to mind my own business and that I don't know what I'm talking about, I want you to shut up and think about what I've said.

Forget for a moment about duty and obligation. Forget about being a Kuchiki and forget about my feelings for you. Ask yourself, "What do I want?" and when your heart answers back with his name I want you to follow it.

If you can't do it for yourself, then do it for him. He needs you, maybe even more than I do.

Don't worry about me. I'm not going anywhere fast. Besides, I feel like a better man knowing I've got someone to fight for, even if I can't call them my own.


Ichigo was standing at the door, hands in his pockets, resting his shoulder against the jam. His mouth was stuck in its perpetual frown and a new one had formed between his eyebrows. His eyes lingered on her body, studying the collection of bandages and the methodical rise and fall of her chest. His frown deepened. I could sympathize. I knew the feeling all too well.

"Hey," I answered back, my voice echoing the listlessness in his.

"Sorry if I'm intruding. I just wanted to see how she was doing. I can come back…"

His words were genuine but the look in his eyes said that he had no intentions of leaving. He'd probably been pacing a hole in the floorboards of Urahara's shop for the entire time I'd been in here.

I knew what it was like to be in his position – the gnawing worry in your gut, the endless knots of anxiety in your shoulders, the frantic sense of panic that resided just below the surface – it'd be cruel to deny him. He'd managed to keep out for a solid half hour but the tense way he held his body now, just on the perimeter of the room without stepping in, told me loud and clear that he'd reached his limit.

With an inward sigh of defeat, I rose to my feet and made my way to the door. His posture relaxed almost immediately. Clapping my hand over his shoulder I smiled at him like any true comrade would and lied through my teeth.

"Don't worry about it. I'm pretty hungry so I was thinking of raiding the old man's kitchen. He's usually got some ramen stored in one of the cupboards."

I rubbed my stomach for effect, but I was far from hungry; just the thought of eating made my insides roil and churn.

"You should keep her company while I'm gone," I added casually. "She looks kinda lonely laying there by herself."

I glanced over my shoulder and swallowed down the lump in my throat. She looked lonely alright - and small, and vulnerable. I wanted to scoop her unconscious form up into my arms and shield her from the world. I'd gladly sacrifice every limb I possessed to spare her injury, but none of that mattered.

I wasn't the one she wanted.

I saw his head move in a jerky nod out of the corner of my eye and I pushed him forward into the room.

"I'll be back later. See ya!" I called with a casual wave before sliding the door shut behind me.

I waited with my back against the wall, listening until I heard the dull pad of his socked feet against the floor. With a shuffle of clothes he knelt next to her and then there was only silence.

A part of me was tempted to crack open the door to watch, but with my mind's eye already playing such a vivid image for my benefit I didn't see a need to drive the dagger deeper.

The silence coming from the room became protracted and I found myself smiling as I pushed away from the wall and sought out the kitchen.

It turned out he and I weren't so different after all.

Author's Note: My first attempt at a Renji/Rukia pairing (one-sided though it might be).

Thoughts, comments and reviews are welcome :)

~ Langus