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Well, y'all, somebody had to write it. I've waited years since Chapter 266, and no one else (that I know of) has attempted the big, epic AU what-if of Aaroniero actually being Kaien. It started out as an urge to finish a ficlet that has been wasting away on my laptop and has so far surpassed over 16,000 words and had to be divided into parts to fit on lj.

Title: What You Wish For.

Author: Starvinbohemian.

Rating: NC-17.

Pairings: Rukia/Kaien and with all the implications this would have on Rukia/Everyone Else.

Summary: “Drown not thyself to save a drowning man.” An AU wherein Aaroniero really was Kaien. Rukia comes to terms with what it would have meant for Kaien to be alive.


What You Wish For:

Part One

“Drown not thyself to save a drowning man.”

— Proverb.


"This is the last time I'll abandon you
And this is the last time I'll forget you
I wish I could."

— "Stockholm Syndrome" by Muse.

*   *   *

Chapter One...

          Hanging in the air, suspended and impaled by the triton, Rukia knows she’s come to the end of the line. She’s lost. It's over. That horrible laughter, a perversion of what was once a joyful sound, fills her ears as everything else begins to blur. She’s failed…

          So sorry… Kaien-dono… Inoue…

          Just when her thoughts and her body start slipping away, when she can almost feel the breeze at Mt. Koifushi where she once trained with Kaien-dono, she hears—


          The voice sounds as if it’s coming from far away, but it’s familiar. Is that…?

          “Kuchiki?” asks a voice much closer. “Kuch— Rukia?”

          Kaien… dono?

          A sudden wrenching of the triton sends fresh pain through her body. She screams. Then, there are hands on her face, and it takes several slow blinks of her eyes before Kaien-dono’s— no, Aaroniero Arulueri’s face comes into focus above her. Strangely, he looks frightened.

           “Kuchiki, don’t die,” he pleads. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please…”

          Trapped somewhere between here and away, Rukia stares at him in complete bewilderment. He sounds like Kaien-dono, but he isn’t— he said

          Aaroniero starts rocking them back and forth, and she suddenly realizes that he’s cradling her body. The wrenching she felt must have been the removal of the triton from her abdomen because one of his hands is pressed against the bloody wound. He’s busy murmuring apologies into her hair, and she realizes somewhere in her mind that this would be an opportune moment for a surprise attack. He wouldn’t see shirafune coming. If she could only lift her hand… But she can’t.

          Without warning, Aaroniero suddenly hurls her body from him. He stumbles up and away. “No!” he moans, clutching his head with hands stained red with her blood. “No, no, no…”

          It takes all of Rukia’s remaining strength to turn her head so that she can watch Aaroniero struggle with some invisible foe. “You’re mine!” he roars, and at first she thinks he’s speaking to her. But then he says, almost in a different voice, “No, I won’t let you hurt her!”

          What…? Who is he talking to?

          He makes an abrupt lunge at her, grabs a painful fistful of her hair, and hisses, “Bitch, I’m going to tear you apart,” but then her head falls back to the ground, smacking against a block of her own ice, because he’s recoiled again. “No, no, no…”

          The espada has clearly lost his mind, but Rukia can’t really think about that now because she can feel that brush of wind again. She’s sinking down within herself, the pain draining away to only a memory. Kaien-dono is calling her again, but she mistakes the Kaien of the past with the one currently leaning over her, saying, “Kuchiki, are you all right?”

          When she only stares back at him, he adds, “Kuchiki, it’s me! Kaien!”

          But it can’t be…

          He places his hands over the tear in her robes and immediately starts transferring healing kidou into her wound. Sensations slowly begin trickling back into her body. Confused, she watches his focused expression as he works. Aaroniero has no reason to heal her when he clearly wants her dead. But Kaien-dono… Could this really be him?

          She has the strength now to lift her arm, and she reaches without really thinking toward his face. At the touch of her hand, his eyes slide closed. He feels real. But he felt real when he placed his hand on her head and told her to kill her friends, too.

          She’s still touching his face when his eyes fly open in alarm. Groaning, Aaroniero disappears from her line of sight. Rukia struggles up onto her elbows and sees that he’s thrown himself against a wall. He curls in on himself, muttering, “You said it, didn’t you? If I followed you, I would be released from all this pain? I hate it! I hate it! I hate it! Aizen-sama!”

          “Kaien-dono?” she tries hesitantly.

          His gaze shoots toward her, and he stares with feverish eyes for a moment before nodding slowly. “Y-yes. I’m Kaien.” He doesn’t sound so sure.

          Just as quickly as sanity arrives, it disappears again as he tosses his head back against the stone wall and releases a blood-curdling scream that makes Rukia want to cover her ears. Eyes rolling back in his head, he slumps to the floor like a marionette whose strings have been cut. She waits for several minutes, but he doesn’t move.

          Her healing isn’t complete, but Rukia finds the strength to crawl—well, pull herself really— toward the still figure. It’s a struggle, but she couldn’t stay away now even if she wanted to. Not if Kaien-dono really is in there somewhere.

          Panting, she forces herself up into a sitting position against the wall and then tugs his head into her lap. The effort costs her all remaining energy, and she sags heavily. They stay as they are for what feels like a long time. She’s almost fallen asleep when he finally stirs.


          “Yes,” she says, relieved. “Are you really Kaien-dono?”

          He smiles at her, and it’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen. “Yeah, it’s me.”

          She believes him.

*   *   *

          Rukia is surprised to see Byakuya and Hanatarou coming to her rescue, but it’s nothing compared to their surprise at finding her with Kaien.

          Hanatarou sees to their healing— apparently she managed to take a few chunks out of him before he impaled her— and Byakuya, already composed after the initial shock, goes on ahead of them. Aaroniero— Kaien— seems to have temporarily gotten a hold of himself. Maybe a little too much, since he’s already cracking jokes at their expense.

          “You brought me back, Kuchiki. I knew there was a reason you were my favorite. Took your time, though. I was getting real tired of those espada tea parties.”

          No one laughs. Rukia has to turn her head away so they won’t see her eyes well up with tears at hearing that corny sense of humor again.

          Everything after that goes by in something of a blur. By the time the three of them manage to catch up with everyone else, Renji and Chad are already fighting the exequias. She misses Ichigo by mere moments— traces of his reiatsu still linger in the air— but there isn’t time to worry about him because she has to fight.

           With Kaien’s help, they make quick work of the remaining exequias. Chad takes Kaien’s presence among them in stride, but then he has no reason to marvel over the return of a man he has never heard of before.

          Renji, more appropriately, looks as if he’s seen a ghost. But there isn’t much time to explain before Yammy shows up. It’s just as well because Rukia has no idea how to explain this. Kaien died, except he didn’t die, except he was eaten by an espada, except he still exists inside that espada, except, except, except…

          Either because he isn’t completely back to form after their battle or else due to a reluctance to fight one of his comrades, Kaien gives them a chance at taking down Yammy on their own. He watches them with a strangely blank expression.

          The wave of nostalgia from fighting in front of him again almost takes her down before Yammy does.

          She’s certainly too distracted for a fight on this level— she’s always found him too distracting on the battlefield— and it soon becomes apparent that Espada 0 is too much for even the three of them.

          Kaien waits until Yammy has her trapped in a giant fist before he finally acts. Nejibana slices neatly through Yammy’s thigh, though the injury hardly seems to faze him.

          “Finally lost it, Number 9?” Yammy laughs. “Or…” His giant eyes swing toward her, and Rukia barely has time to realize the threat before she’s being hurled, head-first, toward the ground. The wave of power works like quick sand against her, and she can’t get her balance or pull out of the spin in time. She squeezes her eyes shut in preparation for a collision with the ground… that never comes.

          A strong arm comes out of nowhere, wraps around her waist, and then she’s deposited safely on the ground. When the sand clears, she sees her rescuer.


          The sight of him, alive and well and here, threatens to break her. In a moment of insanity, she forgets Yammy and almost spills out everything to this boy. More than anything, she wants to tell him about everything that’s happened since she last saw him. How she almost died by a turn of the karmic circle, how Kaien-dono has come back to her, and how this changes everything. It feels strangely important that he know how close she was to dying.

          “Why… are you alone?” she asks instead. “Weren’t you supposed to save Inoue?”

          The look he gives her freezes her heart. “I did,” he says after a long pause. “She’s healing Ishida on the roof right now. They’ll be fine.”

          Why doesn’t she believe him? “Ichi—”

          “Rukia, stay here,” he says. “I’ll just finish this up, and we can head back to the real world. I’m going to put an end to this stupid fighting right now.” He moves to leap away, back toward the fighting, but she grabs his sleeve.

          “Ichigo, look.”

          He seems to finally realize that someone has already beaten him to Yammy. He frowns. “Who’s that?”

          Where to begin?

          Thankfully, the captains arrive just then and everything speeds up again.

          Ichigo gets sent back to Karakura, and she stays behind.

          She watches him disappear with Unohana through the crack in the world with some trepidation. Ichigo is Soul Society’s only hope against Aizen? She watched Aizen cut him down while barely lifting a finger. The fact that they’re sending this sixteen-year-old boy out to the front lines would be worrying enough, but Rukia saw something in Ichigo’s eyes which warns her that this is only the beginning.

          What exactly happened up there on the dome? Those eyes… aren't the eyes of a victor. They aren't the eyes of someone preparing themselves to kill an enemy either. What happened? What happened to you, Ichigo?

          She’ll wonder later if she shouldn’t have volunteered to accompany him. She doesn’t, because she’s learned the hard way that she has to trust Ichigo to take care of himself. The burden of victory always seems to fall to him, no matter how much she might wish otherwise. And she does.

          And, of course, there’s another reason…

          “Just because Shiba’s back from the dead doesn’t mean he gets to have all the fun,” Kenpachi laughs just before he plunges into the fray. Everyone seems to be taking Kaien’s reappearance in stride, and Rukia feels like the only one whose world hasn’t stopped spinning since Aaroniero took off his mask. She takes a shaky breath.

          Ever serene, Byakuya watches the fight from beside her. He doesn’t place his hand on her shoulder or anything similar, but she feels comforted just having him there.

          When he speaks, he betrays no emotion. They could be speaking about the weather. “He believes he is Shiba Kaien.”

          Rukia curls her hands into fists to hide their shaking. “Yes, Niisama.”

          “His reiatsu feels like Shiba Kaien’s.”

          “Yes,” she whispers.

          He does, he is, he isn’t— she doesn’t know. She doesn’t know anything right now except that she can’t leave. Her gaze remains fixed on Kaien, still fighting with Yammy, as if he’ll disappear if she looks away. He’s using some familiar moves and some not. It’s only her injuries that keep her in place. She held herself back from helping him once before— did it again with Ichigo— but right now she feels more worn down than fortified by experience.

          What if he dies again? She shakes the thought off violently. No, never again. Not on her watch. Shaken as she is from the last few hours, she doesn’t think she could stand one more loss. Not today.

          Please, don’t die

          There’s a huge, epic battle taking place on the other side of the wall, with Ichigo right at the center, but Rukia has her own war to contend with now that involves making sure she never has to bury Shiba Kaien ever again.

*   *   *

          Aizen escapes. Again. She’s starting to wonder if he always will. But the battles are over for the time being, and they can finally leave Hueco Mundo.

          Rukia takes Kaien home.

          There hasn’t been a single day since she murdered him that Rukia hasn’t desperately wished for this opportunity, the opportunity to bring him home, alive and well, to make up for the time she delivered his dead body.

          Kuukaku and Ganju are overjoyed, of course. Once the shock clears, there’s screaming and laughing and crying. Kaien seems overwhelmed by it all, almost standoffish even, though his siblings don’t seem to notice. He awkwardly pats their backs as they cling to him as if he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Rukia doesn’t blame him. It’s been years. Long, traumatic years. She shudders.

          News of his resurrection spreads fast. Poor Ukitake, barely healed from an arrancar’s fist through his chest— a condition Rukia sympathizes with— comes as soon as he’s able. One glance at Ukitake’s face as he looks upon Kaien for the first time in decades, and Rukia chooses to direct her stare at the floor instead. It’s too much.

          Sentarou and Kiyone come next. “Kaien-sama! Kaien-sama!” they chorus like manic monkeys. Kaien’s right to look genuinely terrified when they pounce on him.

          As more people arrive, many unfamiliar to her and probably from either before her time or else from parts of his life inaccessible to her, it soon becomes a full-out party. The sake flows. Kukakuu breaks out the fireworks, and the sky stays aflame all night. There’s a rotation occurring between people who want to cry all over Kaien and those who just want to hug him. They push sake into his hand and clasp his shoulders.

          Amidst all the uninhibited emotion, Rukia feels embarrassed and out of place. She tries to partake in the sake like everyone else, but her hands are trembling so bad she can barely keep from dropping the cup. She gives up before anyone can notice. Eventually, she tries to politely excuse herself, but Kaien’s hand clasps around her wrist just as she stands to leave. She’s surprised by the desperate look he gives her, but calmly sits again.

          “Don’t go,” he pleads.

          She won’t leave as long as he needs her. She manages to hold out until Kukakuu drags Kaien away to view the fireworks. However, the last straw comes about an hour later when Ganju attacks her from behind. His big arms are squeezing the life out of her when he whispers, “Thank you, Kuchiki-san.”

          Rukia has to leave.

          By the time she makes it back to the Kuchiki mansion, her whole body is trembling. It suddenly occurs to her that she’s been in a state of shock since Aaroniero first appeared. Her body has been moving on autopilot, but she’s officially running on empty. As soon as the door to her bedroom slides closed, her legs give out and she sinks to the floor. She can’t remember the last time she slept.

          He’s home. She brought him home.

          Rukia bows her head and weeps.

*   *   *

Read On to Chapter Two...

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-05 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love you.

This is the greatest thing ever - I love how twisted and dark the whole premise is. You had me hooked from the moment Kaien starts fighting Aaroniero and somehow manages to gain enough control over himself not to kill her - that right there, expresses so much about his feelings toward her and the fact that nothing's said really drove that point through to me.

And then, Kaien's interaction with everyone else - there are so many subtle hints that he isn't the same man whom he was, but at the same time, only Rukia really seems to be noticing that. It's going to be so interesting watching that play out.

Thank you so much for writing this - it's so beautiful and it makes me want to run off to write more Aaroniero/Rukia for my own verse. But first! Three more chapters! You've really spoiled me. ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-04-06 02:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I blame the dark, twisted premise entirely on a marathon watch of Twin Peaks while I was working on this. David Lynch is to blame.

You spoil me, and I spoil you, and then there's lots of twisted Aaroniero/Rukia to go around. ;)


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May 2010

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