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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.


One | Two

What You Wish For


Chapter Three
...


           The investigative team has a difficult time explaining how a hollow got into Seireitei.

          Rukia has a hard time explaining how Kaien could have killed the hollow without realizing he was interrupting an attack.

          In the woods, they find a body.

          The girl has been torn to pieces and rendered unidentifiable. After inquiries into who never shows up for duty that day, they eventually discover that she’s a new member of the fourth division. A newbie. Barely out of the academy and no match for whatever hollow attacked her.

          Though distracted at the time, Rukia has to admit it seems strange that she never senses the hollow— or Kaien— while this battle occurs apparently just some feet away from her. She can’t explain it.

          “Perhaps the hollow had some kind of reiatsu-repressing ability,” Ukitake suggests.

          The investigator from the second division seems skeptical, but any other theory can only meet a dead end. The hollow in question, or whatever was left of it after Kaien killed it, has long since disintegrated, leaving no trace or method of finding out what abilities it might or might not have possessed.

           Ukitake mistakes her gloomy demeanor for guilt over not being able to save the girl. “Rukia, it wasn’t your fault,” he consoles her as soon as the investigator is out of earshot.

          While she finds that debatable, Rukia’s more concerned at the moment with her decision not to tell her captain about what Kaien confided in her. She has no choice but to make a report on the hollow, but she can’t bring herself to tell anyone that Kaien is… She can’t even bring herself to think about what he is, and the idea that he might be taken away out of some overzealous sense of caution stills her tongue. Ukitake might be compelled to relay her information to the higher ups, and she doesn’t want to put him in that position. At least, that’s what she tells herself.

          Above all else, Kaien once promised he’d stand by her no matter what, at a time when he seemed to be the only one who would, and now Rukia has the chance to return the favor.


*   *   *

           By the time she’s dismissed from her duties that day, Rukia feels more exhausted than ever. She can’t remember the last time she had more than a consecutive thirty minutes of uninterrupted sleep. Fearful of spending another night in a similar vein, Rukia finally visits the fourth division.

          Unohana greets her with a smile. “Kuchiki-san, how can I help you? Are you feeling all right?”

          Bowing respectfully, she says, “Trouble sleeping, Captain. My brother suggested I seek your assistance.” In truth, Niisama merely makes a vague comment over breakfast about the usefulness of sleeping aids. Her insomnia must be written in the dark circles under her eyes.

          “What kind of trouble?” Unohana asks. “Are you having nightmares, Kuchiki-san?”

          Rukia hesitates, but Unohana’s kind expression encourages her to give a tactically abbreviated version of the nightmares that keep her up at night. She mentions past battles but never Kaien’s name. Unohana listens patiently until she finishes speaking, and then goes to retrieve a remedy.

          When she goes to take the proffered pills, Unohana surprises her by not letting go of the bottle. “You had a very difficult journey, Kuchiki-san,” she says, “and more emotional hardship than most shinigami ever have to face in the line of duty.”

          Rukia’s throat tightens, and she says nothing.

          "Hanatarou-san mentioned that you and Shiba Kaien were involved in a battle before he found you in Hueco Mundo.”

          She can't go over it again. She simply can’t. Unohana must sense that Rukia is seconds away from bolting, pills or no pills, because she smiles reassuringly and pats her on the shoulder. “I only mean to say that your nightmares are nothing to be ashamed of.” She tucks the pill bottle into Rukia’s hand.

          “Thank you, Captain,” she says, only privately skeptical. Her dreams are a reflection of her sins, she knows. She wouldn’t be dreaming of Aaroniero if she hadn’t killed Kaien in the first place and allowed his spirit body to become fused with that monster. No one has ever seemed comfortable assigning her blame for this, but Rukia knows who’s responsible. She’s always known.

          Unohana gives her a final warning before sending her off. “Be careful, Kuchiki-san,” she tells her. “These pills are very effective, but some people have reported having strange reactions to them. Use them sparingly, and if they cause anything other than a few nights of comfortable rest, then you must come back and tell me.”

          “I will.”

*   *   *

          That night, Kaien prepares tea for them with smooth, genteel gestures.

          She’s enjoying watching him perform this ceremony, so it’s only with a half-hearted gesture that she attempts to take the tea pot from him. “Shouldn’t you let me do that, Kaien-dono?”

          “Nah,” he says. “Relax and just leave this to me.”

          She accepts a cup. The tea is hot in her mouth, the smell comforting.

          A whispering voice echoes throughout the room, bouncing from one wall to the next and passing through her ears like a soft breeze. The voice’s one-sided conversation overlaps their own but no more obtrusively than the babble of a brook or chirping of a far-off bird. She only catches bits and pieces…

          Hey… You probably won’t tell me if I ask you…

          Kaien watches her from across the table.

          “Where are we?” she asks him.

          At first, she thinks they’re in division headquarters, except the walls are gray and seem to be shifting in and out with a much darker color. Ukitake’s art pieces on the walls are incomprehensible to her, but she doesn’t think they’ve always been so.

          “Eh?” He glances around as if surprised. “You don’t recognize this place? Geez, Kuchiki, it hasn’t been that long!”

          And then she realizes they aren’t in a room at all. They’re in a dark, cavernous space, and there’s streams of water and patches of ice everywhere, as if an arctic balloon has just popped.

          There’s someone lying, face-down, several feet away from where she and Kaien are sitting. She recognizes the shinigami uniform, but nothing else. Whomever that is, they aren’t moving, but she doesn’t think they’re dead.

          “Who is that?”

          Kaien shakes his head. “Kuchiki…”

          “You aren’t drinking your tea, Kaien-dono.”

          “What are you talking about? I’ve finished mine. See?” He turns his cup upside down and— he’s right— it’s empty. “You’ve finished yours, too.”

          It’s true. Her cup is empty as well, which is strange because she’s fairly certain he only just handed her the cup, but she doesn’t dwell on it.

          What? It was a joke. If you don’t play along, I’ll look like an idiot…

          Her gaze keeps drifting back toward the person on the ground. “Shouldn’t we help her?” Or is it a him? From where she’s sitting, it’s hard to tell.

          Kaien gives her a strange look. “Do you want to help her?”

          Thinking about it, she realizes, no. She doesn’t. For some reason, the idea of getting any closer to that person gives her a distinctly anxious feeling. Better to stay where she is.

          If I ask you why you look so troubled…

          “No,” she decides. “Is that all right?”

          He shrugs. “She still has some time,” is his vague answer.

          She wants to go back to Ukitake’s office. Something about this place… “I don’t like it here.”

          “Good.”

          “What?”

          “Kuchiki,” he says, his tone grave. “It’s time to wake up.”

          “What do you mean?” They are having such a nice time, so why does he look so serious?

          “It’s time to wake up,” he repeats.

          She does.


*   *   *

          In the sixty-third district of Rukongai, a group of teenagers are pulling a scam on an unsuspecting water vendor.

          A girl with dark hair provides a distraction while her friends steal jugs of water right out from under the vendor’s nose. From a distance, it’s hard to tell whether she’s charming the vendor with her silly antics or else taunting him. Either way, he’s being suitably distracted as her friends move with skilled efficiency to liberate him of his wares. He’ll notice in a moment that the jugs are gone, and then he’ll likely give chase. She doesn’t expect he’ll catch them.

          A fond smile slips onto her mouth.

          “Bring back memories?”

          “I don’t know,” she says playfully. “Does it, Renji?”

          He grins. “Seems familiar.”

          Their legs dangle over the side of the roof as they watch this familiar scene play out.

          She taps her chin, pretending to consider. “Come to think of it, I seem to recall a certain red-haired idiot messing up a lot of my plans. He was never very smooth. Not like those kids.”

          He makes a choking noise. “Hey!”

          “On second thought, that couldn’t have been me. A Kuchiki would never take part in such sordid foolishness. Must have been someone else.”

          “Shut it, you.”

          They settle into a comfortable silence as they watch the street rats escape with their bounty. This is the most relaxed Rukia’s felt in a long time. She cranes her neck to check on Kaien, who is messing around with a group of children nearby. He’s laughing, and the sight warms her heart. He should always look so carefree. He did once.

          Noting the direction of her gaze, Renji’s smile disappears. “You and Shiba have been spending a lot of time together.”

          They have. Her current assignment has her patrolling every day in Rukongai, and Kaien has been accompanying her. It’s been like old times again as they patrol together. He seems more at ease away from Seireitei, and she’s relieved by how he appears more himself again. She can almost pretend that night in the woods never happened.

          Almost.

          “Yes. He… needs a friend now.”

           “I thought he had lots of friends,” Renji mutters.

          She feels a stirring of annoyance. “What’s your point?"

          “Don’t know. I guess I just don’t see why all the responsibility has to fall on you. Again.”

          “You make him sound like a burden.”

          Renji picks at a stray strand on his hakama so as to avoid looking her in the eye, but his silence says, Well, isn’t he?

          “Renji—”

          “I know what he means to you…”

          Does he?

          “But there’s only so much of you to go around.”

          She bristles. “I haven’t been slacking in any of my duties!”

          “Probably not,” he says warily, “but you can’t see how worn out you look right now.”

          She isn’t vain enough to care if she isn’t exactly looking her best. Thanks to Unohana’s help, she’s been sleeping through the night, but she still never manages to feel truly rested. This results in a much shorter temper, which explains why she snaps, “Thanks a lot. You always knew how to flatter a girl, Renji. Oh, wait, no, you didn’t.”

          More than familiar with her temper, he just rolls his eyes. “My point is that you’re taking on too much. Again.”

          “Again, again, again. You sound like a parrot.”

          “Rukia—”

          “Fine!” she says, deflating. “I hear you, all right?”

          “Do you?”

          “What do you want from me, Renji?”

          He gives her a strange look that makes her want to shift uncomfortably. “I want,” he says carefully, “you to let the people who care about you help once in a while so you don’t have to do everything yourself.”

          She looks back to Kaien. “I can’t this time,” she murmurs. “It has to be me.”

          “Why?”

          “Because…”

          She could lie, but she suddenly doesn’t want to. She kept the truth from Ukitake to protect him, but Renji… Keeping Kaien’s struggle a secret has been like a weight around her neck. To tell someone, anyone, would be the relief of a great burden.

          “Rukia, why does it have to be you?” he insists.

          “Renji, you have to promise me you won’t tell anyone, especially not Niisama—”

          “Rukia,” he interrupts sternly. “Tell me.”

          He won’t betray her. She can trust him, she knows. And so she does. She doesn’t elaborate on the fight against Aaroniero— she never will again if she can help it— but she tells him about Metastasia and glutonerria and about how Kaien has become a kind of hybrid of all Aaroniero’s devoured hollows. “But he’s still Kaien-dono,” she says before he can claim otherwise.

          Renji’s expression fluctuates between confusion and alarm as he takes it all in, but he listens attentively. He waits until she’s finished speaking before he asks, “Is this like Ichigo’s hollow?”

          “Yes. No. I don’t know. Ichigo only has one hollow. Kaien-dono has…” She can’t bring herself to say thousands. “... more. But it’s his memory, Renji. He says the memories from all the different hollows are mixed together with his.”

          “Rukia…”

          “But I know he can beat this,” she says hurriedly in response to his skeptical expression. “He just needs time and support!”

          “But—”

          “I have to help put him back together, Renji,” she says, watching as Kaien tosses one of the small boys into the air and catches him. The words solidify in her mind and fill her with resolve.

          When only silence comes from her companion, she gives him a quizzical look. “What are you thinking?” she asks with trepidation.

          Rubbing his head ruefully, he sighs. “Rukia, he didn’t grow up in Rukongai. We did, but he didn’t. Shouldn’t you be showing him things from his own life?”

          She tenses, sensing an accusation. “What are you saying?”

          “I don’t know, Rukia. It just seems strange, you using pieces of our life to ‘put him back together.’”

          Her throat goes dry. How could he say such a thing? “That’s not what I’m doing.”

          He just shakes his head, and she angrily responds, “I’m not, Renji.”

          “You haven’t told anyone else about this? Not even your captain?”

          “No! And you promised you wouldn’t either!” she whispers furiously. Frantic, she grabs his sleeve. “Renji, you promised—”

          “All right, all right,” he says, holding up his hands in surrender. “Let go, crazy woman!”

          She releases him only reluctantly. “You won’t tell, will you?”

          Renji groans. “This is stupid, Rukia. What you’re doing…”

          Frustrated, she climbs to her feet and moves away from him across the roof. It was a mistake to confide in him. She never should have opened her big mouth. If she can't make even Renji understand, then who else would?

          She’s standing directly above Kaien and the children when he senses her movement and glances up. Their eyes meet, and she does her best not to look as ruffled as she feels. Smiling, Kaien crouches down on his haunches so that he’s eye-level with the children and says something to them. He points up toward her. The children all look up at her and start hopping up and down excitedly, chanting something that sounds like, “Ice! Ice! Ice!”

          The day has grown hot, and she remembers many similar days like it before there was a nice, cool mansion to go home to in order to escape from the heat. She draws Shirayuki and releases a shower of ice, which rains down on the cheering children like snow. They dance around trying to catch the ice as if it's something precious. To them, it is. Here at least is a group of street rats who won’t necessarily grow up fearing and hating shinigami.

          She doesn’t turn when she feels Renji at her back.

          “I need you to tell me just one thing,” he says quietly.

          “What is it?”

          “Is he dangerous?”

          Kaien grins at her.

          “Has he tried to hurt you? I mean, after he remembered who he was?”

          There’s no hesitation in her answer. “No,” she lies.


*   *   *





Continue to Chapter Four


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starvinbohemian

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