For Reasons Unknown, It's Harder to Keep it Together

(49 years ago)

Renji rushed through the hall to Rukia's class with his second exam paper in hand. As he ran, he didn't didn't stop to let several older students pass. Instead he pushed through them as they protested. Renji was feeling that the day could not possibly get better.

His and Rukia's dream would soon be realized. They would become shinigami and finally leave behind the harsh life of Rukongai. They had lost so much on the way, but things would finally start getting better for them now.

"Rukia! Rukia guess what?" he shouted excited when he reached the doors. He was out of breath, but that did not stop him from calling her name loudly.

He threw them open, not waiting for her answer. "I just passed my second exam! If I pass the next one…Uh…huh?"

Renji paused. Rukia stood with her back to the door. A cool noble man and several attendants stood in front of her. They had obviously been discussing something very important.

The atmosphere in the room immediately silenced him. He forgot why he entered.

A withered attendant muttered to his master, "Perhaps here is not the place to discuss this Mr. Kuchiki."

Kuchiki? Renji gaped. He knew that name. Even if he was an uncultured brat from dog town, he'd be a fool not to know the name of one of the four major noble families in Soul Society. But what was a man with that name doing in a place like this with Rukia?

Renji's sudden intrusion stirred Rukia senses. After she had heard Byakuya's offer, her mind and body had gone numb. Was it truly possible? He wished to adopt her? But why? She wasn't anything special. She couldn't even make it into the first class with Renji.

Compared to him, who smiled even when he failed, and shined all the more brighter when he succeeded…Rukia felt no matter how hard she tried she would always be just one step behind him.

But this man….did he really see something in her? Rukia could not believe it. Even if she did believe she couldn't accept it. Now Renji had entered. Rukia felt guilty for even considering their offer. She didn't know what to do, but Renji would help her. A spark of hope flickered in her heart.

After Byakuya left, Renji still stood frozen in place.

"Renji," Rukia called to him. That brought him to attention.

"Oh…Rukia…" he said trying to sound conversational. "They were pretty tense. What were they here for?"

Rukia couldn't look him in they eye when she said it. It would probably be angry with her. Perhaps that would make her feel better. Renji would surely tell her how stupid she was for thinking of joining a bunch of "stuck up nobles" and hit her on the head like usual.

She told him. "They want to adopt me into the Kuchiki family. If I agree, they will have be graduate immediately and put me in the 13th division."

She could feel Renji's body tense. Still she could not look at him. "Renji…I…This"

This isn't what I want…I don't know what to do. I don't want to leave your side. We're suppose to join the Gotei 13 together.

That's what she wanted to say, but she couldn't find the words. Surely Renji understood. He wanted the same thing too right?

Renji was speechless. What could he say? This was the greatest opportunity for Rukia. Joining the Gotei 13? That accomplishment was a laugh in comparison to becoming a member of a noble family. And the Kuchiki clan? Wow…

Don't get in her way…This is the best thing for her Renji.

Renji swallowed hard. He mustered the biggest smile he could for her sake and tried to sound excited.

"Rukia that's great!" he shouted and grabbed her by the arms.

"Uh?" It was Rukia's turn to be speechless.

"If you become a noble, you'll be so rich! You can eat whatever you want! I'm so jealous!" He laughed.

"You get a family and you can graduate early too! Man you're so lucky."

Renji…you idiot…Rukia felt her heart sank. So he didn't really care if they graduated or not? Of course…why would he? He had new friends now. He had his own successes. He didn't need Rukia anymore. He probably never needed her. Not even that day she considered herself saving him from the angry thug when he and his gang stole the man's water.

We weren't a family…I've just been in his way…

Renji laughed louder and pat her firmly on the shoulder. Inside, he felt like every movement he made was tearing him inside.

God I'm such an idiot. Just let her go already. You made your decision didn't you?

He felt Rukia's hand on his wrist. She moved his hand from his shoulder.

"Really?" She muttered. What could she say? Her eyes began to sting. Rukia kept her head low and rushed passed Renji before he could see the tears fall.

"Thank you," she whispered, her voice already feeling the choke of a sob.

Rukia hurried out of the room. She couldn't look back. If Renji was going to be happy for her, she would have to try to be happy for herself. But she couldn't shake the feeling that something wonderful had ended before it could even began. It was like a beautiful dream. Now she had been rudely awakened.

Renji still stood in the doorway. He could feel the warmth from where Rukia's hand had touched his wrist.

Don't get in her way. She's got a family now. Dammit…Renji don't…

Hot tears trickled down his cheek. The exam was still clutched in his fist. It was nothing more than a memory. A wrinkled reminder of what could have been. A token of fading happiness. He tossed it in the nearby trash can.

(A few years later)

Rukia had never imagined having a noble family could be so…lonely. Her adoptive brother hardly spent any time with her and only spoke to her when it was necessary. She wasn't even allowed in certain parts of the manor.

She thought things might be different when she joined the 13th division, but even there they all treated her like someone unapproachable. She wanted to shout to them, "I'm just like you! I never asked to be a noble."

But she couldn't. She didn't have the same courage as Renji.

No I can't think of him anymore.

Rukia pushed her feelings aside and tried to be strong. But it was difficult. With each passing day she felt so alienated. That was when she met someone unexpected. The lieutenant of her squad, Kaien Shiba. He was also a noble, but everyone felt so comfortable around him. He was a true leader. And he spoke to Rukia like she was a simpleton. For the first time in a long time, she felt like she was that same little girl in Rukongai stepping of grownups heads after kicking them over.

For the first time in a while, Rukia felt she could smile honestly.

Maybe it was that moment he had laid eyes upon Byakuya walking with Rukia, perhaps it was that day Kira had spoke these words: "You should stay away from her. It's for you own good and hers too. She's in a different place from us. She knows that."

Whatever triggered his decision, Renji had made up his mind. He would not lose Rukia. Not completely. They had been set back some by her becoming a noble. But he couldn't just let her go no matter what he told himself. He would get stronger. He would surpass Byakuya Kuchiki and take Rukia back.

He often wondered if he had been honest with her that day, if he had just told her "Don't go" would she have stayed? But what right did he have to tell her such things?

After joining the 11th squad, Renji approached Ikkaku, the 3rd seat at the local bar. He knew the man was stronger than his seat number suggested. 11th squad was the strongest of the 13. Perhaps it was his good fortune that Aizen had sent him to join this squad.

Everyone had their idols. Kira admired Captain Gin. Momo was infatuated with Captain Aizen. But Renji was only focused on one thing. He didn't want to be like anyone. He wanted to be better. Better than the one they said was the best. As long as he didn't lose sight of that, Renji was confident he could do it.

"I want to be stronger Ikkaku-san," Renji said with determination. It was a bold statement for a mere 6th seat. But Ikkaku looked impressed. Perhaps that was why he agreed to personally train him.

However, Ikkaku warned him how difficult the task would be. Getting stronger than Byakuya was surely a feat in and of itself, but holding together a relationship that had already suffered from so much distance and damage…that would be where the true trouble lay.

Yumichika mused as he sipped sake. "Compared to letting it fall apart, trying to hold it together is always so much more difficult."

"Even so. I have to try. Because it's my fault that it has suffered so much," Renji said.

I'm sorry Rukia. I can't stay out of the way. I'll get stronger and then I'll take you with me.