Title: What You Wish For.
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 | Three | Four
What You Wish For
As a new shinigami, Rukia’s first and foremost desire was to prove her worth so that she might make her brother and her mentor proud. She worked longer and harder than everyone else, even after she was passed over for promotion again and again.
All the extra work proved worth it because, in the absence of any encouragement from her brother, Kaien stepped in. Mentor, leader, friend, brother— he filled every role.
Except one. For Shiba Miyako, he was husband.
Student, subordinate, little sister— Rukia was never meant to access the part of him reserved for his wife. She idolized Kaien’s wife, their beloved third seat, and she would never have intentionally taken something that didn’t belong to her.
But Rukia cannot control her heart. Not then and not now.
She knows it’s an entirely selfish desire, but she really hopes Miyako isn’t watching over them now. Not while they reenact every shameful wish her heart has made since her joining of the thirteenth division and meeting him. Miyako-dono would never forgive her. Why should she?
The field they’ve chosen lies on the outskirts of Rukongai. Tall grass obscures them from any passersby, but there hasn’t been any sign of another person.
From her position on the ground, Rukia stares up into a molten sky and wonders if she’s dreaming or awake. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the difference. With her back against the earth, she experiences the strange vertigo that comes from confronting the heavens. The world is upside down, and if she were to take a step forward, she would fall into the sky.
Wild heather tickles the side of her face as she tilts her head up to glance at Kaien, whose head rests across her bare stomach. His languid breathing tells her he’s fallen asleep. Rukia considers him as her fingers absently strum through his hair. It’s strange to see him so relaxed now when less than an hour ago he came to her with torment in his eyes. For once, strange is good. She doesn’t want to wake him, but just now she feels a need completely free of lust to touch him.
Frowning, Rukia returns her gaze to the sky.
It’s going to rain.
She should wake him so they can dress and return to their separate homes. She should, but she doesn’t. Though the sweat on their bodies has long since cooled to a chill everywhere they are not touching, she feels reluctant to move. From some stubborn streak within her comes the desire to stay and face the rain when it arrives, to tell the rain, See? You took him from me once, but I’ve gotten him back. You have no power over us anymore.
There’s a more practical reason they should dress and go. Every moment of happiness she has with him like this is tempered by the fear of discovery. She doesn’t fool herself into thinking that there’s even one person who would congratulate them. Those who love Kaien most also loved Miyako. And Rukia knows she doesn’t deserve what she’s taken.
She wonders why they haven’t been caught yet. As it turns out, Kaien can’t be bothered with discretion. He follows her everywhere. She’ll find herself ambushed at the most random of times. During a patrol, she’ll be unexpectedly pulled into a random alley, where Kaien will unapologetically use all of his unfairly advantageous charms to encourage unprofessional conduct on her part. He’s mostly successful.
With all the people who must be watching him— observing, waiting, studying— it seems impossible to her that no one has yet discovered why (or how) he spends so much time in her company. Perhaps her behavior arouses no suspicion because she has already been spending all her spare time with Kaien anyway. Nonetheless, Rukia has a whole slew of excuses prepared should anyone deem to ask her. She even believes them.
However, there’s one excuse that’s quickly losing credibility even with her.
Kaien stirs. Groaning, he stretches and probably finds a few new kinks in his back courtesy of his lying half on the ground and half on top of her. He gives her a blurry smile. “Hey.”
She can’t help smiling back. “Hey. Did you have a nice nap?”
“Bah! I wasn’t sleeping. Just resting my eyes.”
“Of course, Kaien-dono,” she says, reaching forward to wipe some stray drool off his chin.
Their clothes are strewn all over. He looks chagrined as he tugs his yukata down from where it’s lying atop some tall grass. The bright-colored fabric might as well have been a flag alerting everyone to their presence. Rukia sighs. So much for discretion.
Kaien suddenly notices she hasn’t bothered to move from her place on the ground. “You look as if you’re the one who’s ready for a nap.” A devilish smile crosses his mouth, and he trails a suggestive hand up her thigh. “Unless…”
Rukia shivers, but she says, “I have to get back to work.” She sits up and, before he can protest, helps tie his yukata back into place.
Kaien grins. “It’s killing you that we’re doing this during your patrol, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rukia says primly, and she can’t help adding, “But in the future, if you could only wait until after my shift—”
He groans, rubbing his forehead. “I must really be losing my touch. I don’t remember having any trouble distracting you before.”
Kaien tugs her closer and rests his forehead against hers. “Hey, remember that spot hidden behind the waterfall?” His laughing eyes share a secret with her.
No. She does not remember. Rukia never met him in any hidden spot. It wasn’t her.
Pulling away from him, she focuses on locating the various pieces of her uniform. Her hands only shake slightly when she pulls on her kosode.
Kaien makes a face. “Uh, I think something bit me.”
“Of course,” she says shortly. “You’re in a field.”
The surprise on his face speaks to the harshness of her tone. Rukia immediately blushes in embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Kaien-dono.”
He doesn’t seem angry so much as concerned. “You all right, Kuchiki?”
Rukia would give anything to be able to say, Yes, everything is perfect. We’re perfect. She’s been telling herself that it’s only a matter of time, but the truth is that his memory does not appear to be improving. The pieces are there, but they don’t all fit together as they should. It’s been weeks, and there are still recurring indications that he does not remember their past together the same way she does.
Most of the inconsistencies are relatively harmless, such as confusing the places where they once trained together or mentioning a comrade she has never met. It’s been a long time since the days of her early training, and he can’t be expected to remember every detail perfectly. If Rukia remembers even the mundane things, then it’s because they held greater weight for her.
But some of the other things… There are times when Rukia gets the impression Kaien believes they were— she hesitates to even think it— lovers before she killed him. He never comes out and says as much, for which she is grateful, but the implication lies between the lines of what he does say. Things he means to be romantic, she finds disturbing. A do you remember as his hands trace her body that she cannot return in the affirmative.
“I have a headache,” she murmurs.
“You know, that’s the excuse you’re supposed to give before we—”
He laughs. “All right, Kuchiki. I’ll let you get back to work. For a price.”
Smiling despite herself, she tilts her face up obligingly, and they share a long, lingering kiss. At least his moods have improved.
Her smile fades as she watches him go.
Kaien does not mention Miyako.
What might seem like a lover’s courtesy to some disturbs her most of all. Rukia recalls him once mentioning having taken Miyako to a flower festival while they were still courting, but when she casually mentions the festival, all she receives is a blank stare.
What would you do in my place, Miyako-dono? she asks the sky.
But this is a foolish question because Miyako would never have found herself in Rukia’s predicament. Brilliant and compassionate, she would know immediately how to reach Kaien. She would never make the same mistakes as Rukia. She would not have killed Kaien in the first place. Rather, Miyako would have found some way to save him without condemning him to a hellish half-life as a hollow.
But Miyako— wife, idol, perfection— is dead.
A raindrop lands on her face.
Rukia lives, and as long as she still draws breath, Kaien will have her to depend on.
Still, she doesn’t dare ask the inevitable question. If Kaien believes he and Rukia were lovers all those years ago, then what else does he ‘remember?’ Where is his wife in his fractured memory?
She doesn’t ask. And she hates herself for it.
* * *
“Rukia, we need to talk.”
She sees her captain’s grim expression and instinctively knows it’s all over. Their foolishly indiscreet behavior has finally come to her captain’s attention, and she’ll never be able to meet his gaze ever again. Her stomach turns to ice, and all her reasoning and excuses die instantly on her tongue. “Captain…” Really, what can she say?
“Are you familiar with Kurumadani Zennosuke?” he asks.
She blinks in surprise. “I, um… No. That name is unfamiliar, Captain.” What does that have to do with…?
“He is the shinigami who took over your post in Karakura.”
Rukia searches his face for some indication of where this is going. “… I see.”
“I just received his request for a transfer.”
This time, Ukitake pauses as if she should recognize the significance of this information. They are both left staring at each other with increasing awkwardness as the silence stretches between them.
“A transfer out of Karakura,” he adds helpfully.
“This… doesn’t have to do with Kaien-dono?” she finally asks.
Now, Ukitake looks surprised. “Kaien? No. Not at all. I wanted to discuss your current assignment.”
Rukia closes her eyes and takes a deep, shuddering breath. Okay, he doesn’t know. They’re okay.
“I thought you might want the opportunity to spend some time in the living world with your friends,” he says cheerfully.
Rukia knows she’s just uselessly parroting his information back to him, but she can’t seem to stop herself. “In… Karakura? Now?”
This is a gift, she knows. Her captain thinks he’s doing her a favor with this assignment. At any other time, it would be a favor. But now…
Ukitake winces at her conflicted expression, no doubt reading her like an open book. She feels guilty even considering leaving now when Kaien is still so fragile— something Ukitake has obviously picked up on.
“He’ll be all right, Rukia,” he assures her. There’s no question of who “he” is, not between them. “You’ve brought him home, and everything will be all right now.”
Tears well up in her eyes before she can stop them. Those words… She wants so much to believe them.
“He has his family, and I’ll be sure to check on him as often as possible. We can even make a game out of how soon he’ll get sick of me!”
Rukia manages a weak smile.
“And it won’t be forever!” Ukitake continues. “A short assignment. Just a few months. Long enough to see your friends, purify a few hollows, and then you’ll be back before you know it!”
She knows she should act grateful, but a few months might as well be a few years. “If Captain wishes me to—”
“No, no,” he says quickly. “Don’t make that face, Rukia! This isn’t an order. You can refuse the assignment if you want.” He already looks disappointed, as if he’s expecting her to do just that. “I only thought you might appreciate the break.”
From Kaien, he means. Rukia’s mouth doesn’t fall open, but it’s a close thing. “Captain?”
Ukitake sighs. “Maybe you thought I hadn’t noticed—”
Her heart skips a beat.
“— how thin you’ve been spread between all your duties and Kaien. I know he’s been relying on you a lot lately. You’re very loyal, Rukia, and I know everyone appreciates how dedicated you’ve been to helping him… recover.” There still isn’t an appropriate word for what Kaien is currently doing in Soul Society. Recovering? Recuperating? Readjusting? All and yet none at the same time?
“But another of your friends may be in need of your help as well.”
Before she can ask, Ukitake says, “Kurumadani-san has included in his reports— several, actually— his… difficulties in dealing with Kurosaki-kun as of late.”
Ichigo? “What’s wrong?” she demands.
“No need to look so worried! Kurumadani-san has merely mentioned a certain… reluctance on Kurosaki-kun’s part to work with him or acknowledge his role as the resident shinigami of Karakura town. I suspect Kurumadani-san has found it very frustrating to do his job in competition with all your talented friends. I suspect as much because he has written it out in very long and detailed statements in many of his recent reports.” He pauses as if he expects Rukia to laugh and then sighs when she doesn’t.
Ichigo’s being a pain in the ass, huh? Somehow, this news doesn’t surprise her. Rather, it’s reassuring as she recalls the way his eyes look when she last sees him. Lost. They looked lost. Even then, her sixth sense tells her he needs her, but there hasn’t been an opportunity since to check in on him. Until now.
After weeks of sneaking around and being unable to look anyone in the eye, the idea of going back to Karakura has some appeal.
But she has to wonder at the timing.
It’s a paranoid notion, but she can’t help wondering if this assignment could be just an excuse to get her away from Kaien. Maybe this is a disguised act of mercy. Instead of publicly shaming her for taking advantage of a vulnerable man, Ukitake could be giving her a way of graciously removing herself from the situation.
Or else she really has finally lost her mind and this assignment is exactly what it seems.
Frustrated, Rukia rubs her eyes until she sees stars. She cannot be in two places at once. Simple as that. But if she’s honest with herself, then she hasn’t been much use to anyone lately other than Kaien-dono. And if she’s really, brutally honest with herself— maybe not even him.
Maybe a short vacation is in order.
“You think… Ichigo needs my help?”
“I think that, sometimes, seeing an old friend can be the best medicine for that which ails us.”
* * *
Rukia is just dropping off her last bit of paperwork for the day when she’s given reason to pause outside Ukitake’s office by loud shouting.
She freezes with her hand on the shoji.
“Something’s wrong with him, Ukitake!” booms a voice that could belong only to Shiba Kukakuu.
There’s only one person they could be talking about.
“We can’t push him. You know what he’s been through,” Ukitake says patiently.
Rukia silently disagrees. No one can even guess at what Kaien is going through unless they’ve seen the raw rage in Aaroniero’s eyes or heard the things he told her on the mountain that day. Her fingers drift absently toward her stomach, and for a moment there’s a low buzzing sound in her ears.
She nearly jumps out of her skin, but Ukitake smiles at her despite having just caught her eavesdropping.
“I— I apologize, Captain,” she stammers. “I was just—”
“Are you all right?” he asks.
Come to think of it, her forehead has gone clammy and she’s feeling rather dizzy. “I’m fine, Captain,” she says weakly.
He clearly doesn’t believe her, but Kukakuu yells, “Kuchiki, get your ass in here!”
If Rukia thinks her voice sounds scary, then it’s nothing compared to her expression. “He found out you were leaving, and he threw a fit,” Kukakuu says, blunt and to the point.
Rukia gets the impression she’s about to be hit again by those powerful fists, and she braces herself just in case. She doesn’t know how Kaien found out about her assignment since she hasn’t had the opportunity yet to tell him.
“It’s only for a few months,” Ukitake says.
“I know that!” Kukakuu snaps, and again Rukia wonders how? “But you try and tell him! Or, better yet…” She glares at Rukia. “How about you tell him since you’re suddenly so important?”
“That isn’t fair,” Ukitake says, a note of steel creeping into his otherwise gentle voice. “He wouldn’t even be here now if it weren’t for Rukia. You know that.”
Kukakuu sighs. She looks as tired as Rukia feels. “Yeah, yeah.”
And that’s as much of an apology as she’s ever going to get.
“But what are we going to do about him, Ukitake? I tell you there’s something wrong with him. He mopes around all day and snaps at everyone. That fool, Ganju, has been running himself ragged trying to get him to lighten up. It’s pathetic, and I’m tired of watching it. We’re trying to be patient, but… He’s just not himself,” she says, defeated. “And he’s obsessed with her.”
Rukia flushes at this accusation, for an accusation it is. “Um… I… He isn’t—” She wishes she could say that she hasn’t done anything to warrant such a look from an overprotective sister. But a flash of sense memory of Kaien’s taste in her mouth kills the lie before it can even leave her tongue.
“Kukakuu,” Ukitake says warningly.
“You should have seen him this morning!” she yells, ignoring his subtle plea for caution. “It took both Ganju and me to put a stop to it after he started destroying the house. Three of my staff threatened to quit. My staff.”
Now, Ukitake looks worried. “Why would—?”
Kukakuu points a finger directly into Rukia’s face. “Because of her.”
Ukitake and Rukia both wince.
“When he found out she was leaving, he had some kind of anxiety attack and started destroying the house. Nothing he said made any sense…”
The room starts to shrink around her.
“He was just rambling…”
Which one was rambling?
Her stomach knots five different ways, and Rukia doesn’t want to hear any more of this. Kaien feels abandoned, and it’s all her fault. Again.
“I think…” Something about Kukakuu’s defeated tone makes Rukia snap to attention. “Maybe we should talk to Mayuri…”
“No,” Ukitake gasps before Rukia can.
“Unohana then! I don’t care! My brother needs help, and he’s not getting it by following her around everywhere like a puppy!”
The truth hurts. Rukia sucks in a wet breath.
“He… doesn’t want to see Captain Unohana,” she whispers.
They both stare at her. Rukia stares at the floor.
“There has to be another way,” Ukitake says helplessly.
“I’m all ears, damn it!”
With Kaien unwilling to submit to medical care, their options are limited.
“And what about her?” Kukakku demands. “Are you still sending her to the living world?”
What do they want from her? Do they want her to stay away from him or do they want her to remain nearby?
No one seems to know the answer.
In the end, the assignment’s already been given, her bags already packed, and she leaves for Karakura.
But when she goes back to the living world, Kaien comes with her.
* * *
On the night before she leaves for Karakura, Rukia takes two of Unohana's pills and has another dream.
They’re on a lake.
Rukia watches with what is probably an indecent amount of attention as Kaien’s strong arms flex with the strain of rowing their small boat across the water.
“You’re staring, Kuchiki,” he teases, but his eyes are warm as they gaze at her.
Blushing, she leans over the side of the boat to gaze into the water beneath them. Rainbow-colored coi fish like those in Niisama’s tranquility pond dart around the boat as if curious about them. On its surface, the lake is smooth and serene, the sun gentle and benign. Out here with Kaien-dono… she’s happy.
Nonetheless, she feels obligated to at least ask, “Shouldn’t we be training, Kaien-dono?”
He laughs. “Too late for that, Kuchiki.”
She assumes he means it’s too late now that he’s rowed them so far out. Typical. Just this once, since it’s such a nice day, she doesn’t question his lazy approach to his duties. She leans her head back, closes her eyes, and drinks in the warmth of the sun on her face.
Kaien’s voice eventually breaks her comfortable reverie. “It’s nice here.”
She hums her agreement.
“Too bad it can’t last.”
No, summer never lasts. Leaves fall and gentle breezes become icy winds. Warmth becomes scarce. For now, though, everything’s perfect.
“Kuchiki, it can’t last.”
Frowning, she opens her eyes. Kaien has stopped rowing. Leaning forward over the oars, he regards her with a strange expression. “You already said that—”
Just then, the boat knocks against something solid.
Rukia turns to see that their boat has collided against a solid rock mass.
Surprised, she cranes her neck back and sees that the rock, sleek and black like obsidian, stretches impossibly high and wide. Strange. Rukia places her hand against the rock, and her fingers come away wet. How did this get here, in the middle of her lake, and why didn’t she notice it before?
When she turns back to question Kaien, she gets another shock. The lake has vanished entirely, and he stands before her wearing a strange white outfit with a high collar and long sleeves. The rock mass, no longer cliff-like, has spread all around them, and she realizes suddenly that they’re back in that same cave from before.
She instinctively seeks out the anonymous shinigami and— sure enough— she’s still lying right where they left her.
The whispering wind has returned as well, and snippets of a one-sided conversation breeze past her ears.
What the heck are you actin’ all weird for? Everyone loves me! You should be happy…
“What happened to the lake?” she asks in a small voice.
“Kuchiki, you haven’t been paying attention,” he says sadly.
“Why are you dressed that way?”
Kaien doesn’t answer, but she’s distracted from her question by the fallen figure on the ground behind him. Seeing that girl again fills her with unease.
“What happened to her?” she asks even as she takes a step backward.
“You don’t know?”
No, she doesn’t know, and maybe she doesn’t want to know. Kaien grabs her arm when she goes to take another step back. “Don’t.”
I can pass my heart to you here…
Kaien wants her to move closer to the body on the ground, but it’s suddenly very important that she go nowhere near that girl and so she resists.
Suddenly, the wind increases in pressure and volume, whipping her hair across her face and nearing a shout. My heart, my heart, my heart, cries the invisible voice, trapped in a terrible loop. Her head whips around in search of a source for the noise, but there’s nothing except darkness. The louder it gets, the more frightened she becomes.
He won’t let go of her arm. “Kaien-dono!” she pleads, tugging at his grip.
MY HEART, MY HEART, MY HEART…
“Kuchiki, there isn’t much time left,” he says urgently. He has to yell to be heard over the other voice.
She wants to cover her ears. “Please, let go!”
Frustrated for some reason, he shakes her. “Kuchiki, wake up! You have to wake up!”
Then, she does. She wakes to a pounding heart and the horrible feeling that she’s forgotten to do something important. Staring into the darkness of her bedroom, she places shaking hands over her ears, the voice still echoing in her mind. Or maybe something terrible has already happened that she’s failed to prevent.
She doesn’t know.
* * *
End of Part One.
Read On to Part Two...