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Update!

Title: What You Wish For.

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.

Part One

One | Two | Three | Four | Five

Part Two

Six | Seven



Chapter Eight…


           Kaien’s face is relaxed in sleep as Rukia lightly traces her fingers over his features.

           When she touches his nose, his face twitches and he swats at her hand without waking. She does it again. Though his hand comes up to wave her off, Kaien doesn’t wake. With a sigh, she rolls onto her back and stares at the ceiling.

           “Do you have any idea— the things I’ve done?”

           The question, whispered against her neck while he’s still inside her, makes her shudder.

           “Do you?”

           She shakes her head wordlessly.

           He wants her to ask, but Rukia doesn’t want to hear all the horrible things he could tell her. She doesn’t want to know. If she doesn’t know, then he can still remain the same Kaien-dono from her memories. She won’t have to think about him spending all those years alone, in Hueco Mundo, doing whatever it was he had to do to gain the rank of Espada Novena.

           Kaien’s breath is wet against her neck, and his arms cling tightly around her. He’s shaking. “Kuchiki…”

           Save me, she hears.

           If his voice breaks, then they’ll both be finished. Rukia squeezes her eyes shut and makes a decision. She folds her legs back around his waist and circles her arms around him, pulling as much of him into herself as possible.

           “Tell me,” she says.

           He does.

           Afterward, Kaien falls asleep and eventually rolls away from her. Hours later, Rukia still hasn’t slept. Vague fears jerk her awake almost as soon as she closes her eyes. No gentle drifting off for her, but rather a current that drags her under only to return her in a painful burst against the reef.

           Rukia wakes, before she’s even asleep, already reaching for him. Her heart continues to pound until long after she finds him still asleep beside her.

           Sometime before the sun rises, Rukia gives up on the idea of sleep altogether. Instead, she watches Kaien sleep as the shadows stretch and then drain from the room. She leaves her hand on his chest just to feel the steady rise and fall of his breathing.

           With another sigh, she finally climbs over him and wanders out to the kitchen.

           Urahara’s already there, leaning against the counter as he sips his morning tea. “Good morning, Kuchiki-san!”

           Rukia eyes him warily. She had hoped Kaien would have time to sneak back to the room he’s supposed to be sharing with Renji before anyone woke. It’s just her luck that Urahara would break his pattern of being a late riser today of all days.

           “Did you sleep well?”

           Something about his tone grates on her nerves. Whether he overheard them or not, he must know which room Kaien currently sleeps in. “Why?”

           “So suspicious!” he trills, flapping his fan. “It’s just a polite inquiry, Kuchiki-san.”

           Of course it is, she thinks wryly. In no mood for Urahara, she does her best to ignore him as she goes about making herself breakfast. If he isn’t going to directly acknowledge the elephant in the room, then she won’t either. She doesn’t care what he thinks.

           His smirking eyes follow her around the kitchen, but there’s a surprising lack of crude comments or sly innuendo from him. When he speaks again, he’s given up coyness in favor of sounding serious. “You should be careful, Kuchiki-san.”

           Groggy and sleep-deprived, she assumes he’s referencing the toaster she stole from the Kurosakis’ kitchen. “I know how to use it,” she mutters, dropping in slices of bread.

           Urahara sighs.

           She’s just about to take a bite of her toast when her communicator suddenly goes off.

           “If only hollows would keep civilized hours,” Urahara laments.

           “Not a hollow,” she says, frowning at the small screen. It’s an order for a meeting with her superiors. She performs a double-take at the assigned time to be sure she’s read it correctly. Thirty minutes from now? Why?

           Abandoning her toast, Rukia returns to her room and dresses without bothering to keep quiet. Kaien rolls over at the noise but still doesn’t wake. She considers more aggressive tactics to get Kaien up and back into his room before anyone else wakes up but ultimately gives up on this route in favor of making her meeting on time.

           Waking Kaien wouldn’t have mattered, she discovers, as Renji steps out of his room at the same time she does. Rukia shuts the shoji too quickly to appear casual.

           “Morning.”

           Renji stiffens at her approach. After several beats, he returns, “Morning.”

           She hesitates before him, unsure of how to proceed. If only he would look at her. She would make a joke about his snoring only getting worse since their Rukongai days, and he could pretend to be offended just as he has a million times before. Easy banter to reassure her that they’re still okay. But he has to look at her first.

           “What’s with the bag?” she finally asks to break the tense silence.

           Renji shuffles awkwardly, still not quite meeting her eyes. “I’m going to stay at Ichigo’s,” he mutters.

           A lump forms in her throat, and Rukia suddenly can’t look at him either.

           She almost doesn’t ask. “Why?”

           Renji sighs and rubs his head. “I just think it’s for the best.”

           Anxiety rushes over her at the idea of him not being here, of him leaving her behind, though she has no idea why.

           “But Ichigo—”

           “Not exactly giving the kid a choice. It’s just… too crowded here, Rukia.”

           What can she say to that?

           There’s nothing she can say, so she lets him go.

*   *   *

           For some reason, Rukia experiences surprise at seeing that no one has bothered to take down the enormous transmitter between Karakura and Soul Society in Inoue’s apartment. The huge screen takes up an entire wall, with wires and tubes of dubious origin spilling out all over the floor.

           When she asks Inoue about it, the other girl laughs nervously and waves her hands around in denial. “Oh, I don’t mind, Kuchiki-san. I think the wall looks great! No one else has a wall like mine, so it’s an original. People pay lots of money for original walls, and mine was free!”

           “Inoue…”

           She sags slightly at Rukia’s tone and says, in a much softer voice, “I really don’t mind, Kuchiki-san. I like knowing that if there’s trouble or someone needs help, then I’m right here with my giant wall. I like knowing I can help everyone if they need me.”

           “But..”

           “Also,” she adds, perking up, “if there’s a giant storm, and hollows are taking over Soul Society, and the phones are out, I can run really fast to get help! Though… if the phones are out, then I guess the transmitter would be, too… Do you think the transmitter would work in a giant storm, Kuchiki-san?”

           Rukia has no idea what she’s talking about and so she just shrugs. Inoue looks tired, faded. She didn’t notice at first because, even on a bad day, Inoue’s more beautiful than most. But there’s a sadness lurking in her eyes now that wasn’t there before. Rukia wants to ask about Hueco Mundo, but she knows from personal experience that talking about Hueco Mundo can be… difficult. What’s important is that she’s here, safe.

           “And see?” Inoue says. “You need my wall now, and I’m here to help!”

           Rukia smiles. “Yes. Thank you, Inoue.”

           Inoue politely excuses herself as Rukia sets up the connection. When the screen comes up, she’s surprised to be greeted by Captain-Commander Yamamoto, her brother, and— Kukakuu?

           “Shiba Kukakuu has requested to be part of this conversation as it concerns her brother,” Yamamoto explains before she can ask, though she wouldn’t have asked.

           “Damn right I did,” Kukakuu growls. Rukia has never been more terrified of a televised image, and that includes those shows with scary monsters trying to sell her hamburgers in the Kurosakis’ television box.

           “Your captain has elected not to be present at this meeting.”

           This surprises her more than anything else. Ukitake didn’t want to participate in a meeting concerning Kaien?

           “The purpose of this meeting is to determine whether former vice-captain Shiba should be immediately returned to Soul Society.”

           He pauses as if waiting for Rukia’s response, but she’s too stunned to say anything. The three of them only just arrived, and she’s already being ordered to bring Kaien back?

           Yamamoto continues. “Captain Ukitake acted hastily in providing clearance for Shiba Kaien’s departure from Soul Society. The matter should have been presented to his fellow captains to be deliberated. We are here now to discuss the issue further.”

           “What’s to deliberate?” Kukakuu says. “You think it’s a bad idea. I think it’s a bad idea. Everyone can see it’s a bad idea! He should come home.”

           Rukia looks to her brother, but he remains stoically silent.

           “I wish to hear Kuchiki Rukia’s opinion on the matter,” Yamamoto says.

           The captain-commander wants to hear her opinion, and Rukia has no idea what her opinion is. She was against Ukitake’s plan as well, and in just a few days the whole thing has already proven disastrous. Renji’s left, Ichigo’s upset, Kaien’s coming apart at the seams, and she’s… Well, her feelings don’t seem as important.

           This, though, is an opportunity to cut the failed experiment short and bring Kaien home where he belongs without anyone beyond this meeting knowing she's responsible. It's tempting.

           But, of course, she can't. Doesn't she owe her captain and Kaien at least an attempt at arguing their case?

           Despite her misgivings, Rukia tries.

           The conference ends up lasting the rest of the morning.

           They start by going back and forth on what’s best for Kaien. “Being with his family is what’s best for him!” Kukakuu yells. “I never should have let her take him to begin with!”

           Though Rukia privately agrees, she does her best to articulate Kaien’s feelings of displacement and alienation. But Ukitake has apparently already exhausted these arguments with Kukakuu, and she yells out in frustration, “How long are we supposed to humor his identity crisis?”

           That’s a good question. “It’s only for a few more weeks,” Rukia offers feebly.

           It’s Byakuya who brings up the real concern neither Rukia nor Kukakuu have the courage to voice. “What if he succumbs to his hollow?” he interjects quietly. He’s remained mostly silent, listening to everyone without revealing any of his own thoughts, but this point is too important to neglect.

           The lie comes easier with practice, she discovers. Rukia swallows down her fear and says, “He won’t.”

           “You cannot guarantee that,” Byakuya says, and Rukia starts to sweat.

           “Should that occur… Urahara Kisuke is more than capable of subduing Kaien-dono until reinforcements arrive,” she reminds them.

           Rukia isn’t surprised to be met with such skeptical expressions. Leaving Kaien’s well-being in Urahara’s hands… Urahara, whose motives are murky even on a good day.

           “Do we rely entirely on Urahara Kisuke in the case of devolution?” Yamamoto asks.

           Devolution?

           The lack of sleep must be catching up with her, because a sudden wave of dizziness has Rukia swaying on her feet.

           Do you have any idea— the things I’ve done?

           Yes, she does, and devolution can never happen again. Ever.

           “My vice-captain, Abarai Renji, is also available as a reinforcement,” Byakuya adds, confirming Rukia’s suspicions about Renji’s assignment.

           She doesn’t tell them about Renji moving out.

           “And Kurosaki Ichigo is right across town,” she adds a bit desperately, though she feels a twinge of guilt for involving Ichigo.

           “Between those two and the kid… they could probably take him,” Kukakuu concedes reluctantly. “If they had to.” Rukia feels no bitterness at being excluded from her list— only relief.

           “Kuchiki-san?”

           Startled, Rukia turns and sees Inoue holding out a dish of steamed rice covered in some kind of jelly and bits of something not immediately identifiable. “I thought you might be hungry,” she says cheerfully. She waves at the figures on the screen. “Hello, everyone!”

           “Yo, Inoue,” Kukakuu says in a much warmer voice than she’s otherwise used during their meeting.

           “I’m sorry for intruding during your lunch, Inoue,” Rukia says, but Inoue just waves her off.

           “That’s okay, Kuchiki-san! I’ll just be in the kitchen if you want some more Orihime’s Super Surprise Rice!”

           Rukia very bravely does not take a closer look at this so-called surprise, though as soon as Inoue disappears back into the kitchen she cautiously sets the dish aside.

           After going back and forth on everything from what Kaien will eat every day to the city’s safety plan in case of emergency floods— not an unreasonable concern considering Kaien’s particular power— Rukia eventually persuades them to let her carry out her assignment with Kaien in tow. She has to make the concession of daily reports to be sent to both Ukitake as well as Yamamoto.

           That’s as much as she can ask for. She knows she can’t stay in Karakura forever— and either can Kaien.

           It’s a dubious victory.

           “I don’t like it, Kuchiki,” Kukakuu says gravely. “My brother better remain in one piece.” This time, she doesn’t say, but she doesn’t have to. “You better know what you’re doing.”

           Even if she were functioning on a full night’s sleep, Rukia would still have felt exhausted by the time the meeting ends.

           She’s just biding goodbye to Inoue when the other girl stops her. “Kuchiki-san has so many people depending on her,” Inoue says, smiling wistfully. “She always manages to save everyone. How do you do it, Kuchiki-san?”

           Rukia gives her a weak smile. “Not well, Inoue.”

           “Kuchiki-san?”

           “Yes?”

           Inoue’s expression looks somehow both pained and resigned. “Kurosaki-kun needs you, too. Especially now.”

           Rukia’s breath catches.

           “He needs you to do that thing like you did when you came to our school and beat him up to make him feel better. He’s been so… Maybe you could throw him in front of another hollow?” she suggests hopefully.

           She can’t just be talking about what happened yesterday, because Ichigo hasn’t had enough time to noticeably mope over Kaien’s lack of sensitivity. “Inoue—”

           “He needs help!” she squeaks. “Ever since what happened in… But he won’t listen to anyone— not even his friends. But he knows we just want to help! I… just want to help.”

           There are tears in Inoue’s eyes, and Rukia thinks that she couldn’t possibly feel any worse until Inoue says, “Kuchiki-san always knows what to do.”

           If she only knew.

*   *   *

           A wind picks up as Rukia’s making her way back to the shoten.

           She ignores it at first, merely holding her hair out of her eyes so she can see where she’s going, but the wind never lets up. A particularly strong burst actually knocks her sideways against a brick wall.

           The sudden voice makes her freeze.

           Even if you survived

           Barely a whisper and yet undeniably familiar. She knows that voice. But how? How can she be hearing it again?

           Even if you survived, the fact remains that you can’t kill me much less strike me down…

           Already recognizing it for a futile gesture, Rukia looks around desperately for the source of the voice. Unsurprisingly, she’s alone on the street. But she can’t be hearing this, she can’t, because she isn’t asleep. That voice belongs where she left it— in her dreams.

           Rukia doesn’t realize she’s trying to block out the voice by placing her hands over her ears until a sudden shift in the tone and pitch of the voice has her dropping her arms again.

           If I could clear up that one thing, I would be able to kill you without mercy…

           Though still distorted, the voice clearly belongs to someone else now. The words are clearer than ever before. But who is that?

           I’ve remembered where...

           Remembered? Remembered what?

           I’ve remembered where...

           It’s too much. “Leave me alone!” she screams.

           And just like that, the wind dies down, and Rukia’s left huddled against the wall, staring blindly, and with her heart pounding in her ears. What…

           Her communicator starts beeping.

           It takes several seconds for the sound to penetrate her stupor, and she lifts the communicator with shaking hands. A hollow? Now? If she were anyone else, then Rukia would have ignored it in favor of falling to pieces at the idea that she could very well be losing her mind.

           She is losing her mind. Something is very, very wrong with her.

           But she isn’t anyone else, so Rukia starts running in the direction indicated by the device.

           She barely makes it about a block before she realizes running isn’t the best idea. She doesn’t throw up in the middle of the street, but it’s a near miss. Bending at the waist, she rests her hands against her knees and tries to breathe through the nausea.

           What’s happening to her? When was the last time she was even sick?

           Just then, a burst of familiar reiatsu hits her, and she forgets her own pain. Stumbling, she forces herself forward.

           She hears their yelling before she sees them. Turning the corner, Rukia stops at the sight of Ichigo and Kaien with their swords drawn. The spirit of a little dead girl clings to Ichigo’s leg, and she’s sobbing so loud Rukia can hear her from across the street.

           She skids to a stop between them as she slides out of an ill-advised shunpo. “Where’s… the hollow?” she demands through labored breathing.

           Ichigo jumps back in surprise at her sudden appearance, but he doesn’t get far with the little girl attached to his leg. “Rukia!”

           “Where is it?” she repeats. She doesn’t like the thought that they would stand around arguing while a hollow endangers innocent civilians, but it is her first one.

           “Taken care of,” Kaien says, stepping back.

           Rukia stares at him. She followed Ichigo’s reiatsu here, but she didn’t sense Kaien until he was right in front of her. Why?

           She wipes the sweat from her clammy forehead. Bizarrely, she’s sweating so bad she might have run for miles rather than just for a few blocks. “What are you doing here?”

           Rukia doesn’t mean to eye Nejibana, but Kaien notices her line of sight and quickly drops his sword’s released state. Before he can answer, Ichigo growls, “Yeah, why don’t you tell her what you were doing?”

           Kaien sends him a resentful look before saying to her, “I felt the hollow arrive. Just thought I’d help out—”

           “That is not what he was doing!”

           She frowns. “Ichigo, what are you talking about?”

           “Rukia, when I got here he was—”

           “What?” Kaien snaps. “What exactly was I doing, Ichigo?”

           “I don’t know!” Ichigo yells, turning purple. “But it was wrong! The kid was running away from him! Look at her— she’s terrified!”

           The spirit child lets out an ear-splitting wail as if to highlight his point.

           Icy fear rises in her chest, and she takes a shaky step toward him. “Ichigo…”

           “She’s confused,” Kaien says coldly. “That hollow was chasing her—”

           “Bullshit!”

           “Ichigo, stop it,” she says angrily. “There was a hollow. Why do you think we’re all standing here?” Why is he pushing this? The hollow’s gone, and the little girl seems to be okay beyond the frightened hysterics.

           “I know that! But when I got here, it was just him,” he says, pointing accusingly. “Rukia, he was doing something!”

           Kaien shakes his head in disgust. “That’s some imagination you have, kid.”

           Ichigo lunges for him so suddenly that he inadvertently dislodges the girl from his leg. But Rukia throws herself between them and grabs the front of Ichigo’s kosode before he can get to Kaien. The move costs her, and she probably would have sagged to the ground if it weren’t for her grip on him. “Idiot, what are you doing?”

           “Rukia, he’s lying. Don’t you see that? You aren’t listening, but you have to wake up!”

           Kuchiki, wake up! You have to wake up!

           Rukia’s eyes go wide, and she stares up at him in horror. “What… What did you say?”

           The little girl, still a sobbing heap on the ground, starts mumbling to herself.

           Kaien’s hand falls on her shoulder and he tugs as if to pull her away. “I wasn’t doing anything except your job, kid!”

           “Like hell!”

           The girl’s mumbling grows louder. “Eating… Eating it…”

           “Stop,” Rukia tries, though the dizziness almost tips her over. “Please…”

           They don’t seem to hear her.

           The little girl cries harder, and the sound seems to magnify impossibly loud in her ears. Rukia’s nausea increases tenfold. Pressed between them, she suddenly finds it hard to breathe.

           “Kuchiki?”

           The sky slants sideways, and she’s falling.

           “Rukia!”

           Someone tries to catch her, but she slips out of his hands and falls, falls, falls…

           Rukia lands in a pool of water. She’s sinking deep below the surface when a current catches her, and she’s pulled gently along. When cool air hits her face, Rukia, blinking in surprise, realizes she’s drifting along the surface of— what, a lake?

           Above her, the sky is a beautiful, blinding blue. There are clouds in the shape of Chappys. She smiles.

           But the sun, hovering above her, is too bright. Closing her eyes, Rukia enjoys the sensation of being enveloped in a warm cocoon, arms spread wide open, and without concern or worry. She could stay like this forever.

           “Not yet, Rukia-chan.”

           Her eyes shoot open just as something heavy comes down on her stomach. Rukia cries out in surprise, but water immediately washes into her mouth and eyes as she’s pushed beneath the surface.

           Panicking, she kicks and spins to get away from whatever’s holding her down, but the object comes down on her again, and she’s shoved deeper. Her serenity disappears, and she suddenly realizes she can’t breathe. She’s going to drown.

           But then a hand closes around her throat and she’s dragged back up.

           Rukia emerges from the water spitting and choking. Just as suddenly, the hand disappears and she’s unceremoniously dropped. She lands flat on her stomach. Curling in on herself, Rukia gasps for breath.

           Someone gently pushes her wet bangs out of her eyes. “Now, now. Such a fuss! It’s not as bad as all that, is it?”

           That voice. Her eyes snap open. It can’t be…

           The sun shines at the figure’s back, obscuring them in shadow as they lean over her.

           “You’re…”

           Her laugh, melodious as a wind chime, is so familiar Rukia might have heard it just yesterday as opposed to decades ago. “It’s been a while. Huh, Rukia-chan?”

           She’s suddenly so cold she’s shaking. The sun’s gone.

           “Miyako-dono?” she whispers.

           The shadows evaporate, no longer obscuring her face. Wearing her shinigami uniform, she looks the same as she did the last time Rukia saw her. “Aw, you remember.”

           Of course she remembers. How could she ever forget?

           “But you’re…”

           “I’m a lot of things right now,” she says cheerfully, tossing Rukia’s sword from hand to hand, “which is why…”

           Rukia jumps when Miyako suddenly stabs Sodeno no Shirayuki into the ground beside her head. “You’re probably going to want to pick this up, Rukia-chan.”

           “Why?”

           Her smile is unpleasant. “Because this is going to be over really fast if you don’t.”

           She doesn’t have the chance to ask what she means before Miyako pulls her own sword from her obi and brings it down on Rukia’s head.

*   *   *

Chapter Nine Coming Soon.
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starvinbohemian

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