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Fic: What You Wish For, Chapter Three...

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.

Part One:
One | Two


What You Wish For

Part One

Chapter Three...


         In the woods, they find a body.

         The investigative team has a difficult time explaining how a hollow could have gotten into Seireitei.

         Rukia has a hard time explaining how Kaien could have killed the hollow without realizing he was interrupting an attack. When she asks, Kaien just shrugs. "Sorry," he says, sheepish. "But I don't know anymore than you. At least the hollow was stopped before it could hurt more people, right?" Kiyone and Sentarou saw him home before the investigative team arrived, though they will undoubtedly visit to ask him in person.

         The girl has been torn to pieces and rendered unidentifiable. After inquiries into whom 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.

         There's no excuse for this. Rukia was there— right there— and she never sensed anything while this battle apparently occurred mere feet away from her. She didn't even sense Kaien until she was right on top of him. How? She can’t explain it.

         She keeps waiting for the justified reprimand, but Ukitake never brings it up. “Perhaps the hollow had some kind of reiatsu-repressing ability,” he 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. “Kuchiki, it wasn’t your fault,” he consoles her as soon as the investigator is out of earshot.

          While that is debatable, Rukia finds herself more concerned with her decision not to tell her captain about what Kaien confided in her. She had 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. She doesn’t want to put him in that position.

          They might misunderstand. Of course they would. Because who else has experienced what Kaien has? To be murdered, possessed, and then resurrected only to be devoured, reborn, and still possessed by evil? Who could relate to that? She can't blame him if his sanity sometimes... slips under the pressure of post-traumatic stress. Maybe he hasn't accepted it yet, but Kaien is safe now, home. Aaroniero is just a bad dream they all have to move past. And they will. Together. But she can't risk explaining the extent of it because...

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

*   *   *

          After hours and hours of figuratively banging her head against a brick wall and then literally almost walking into a very real wall, Rukia finally admits to herself that going so long without rest is probably counterproductive. She can’t remember the last time she had more than a consecutive thirty minutes of uninterrupted sleep. She just... can't.

          Unohana greets her at the fourth division with a gentle 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, Byakuya merely made a vague comment over breakfast about the usefulness of sleeping aids. Her insomnia must have been written into 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 reaches for 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. She says nothing.

          "Hanatarou-san mentioned that you and Kaien Shiba 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 offers 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.”

*   *   *


           As Kaien prepares tea for them, his movements are smooth and genteel, belying the aristocratic background he thinks he disguises with his rough demeanor.

          Rukia is enjoying watching him perform this ceremony, so it’s only with a halfhearted 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.”

          Well... okay. 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 the 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.

          “I... um. Where are we?”

          At first, she thought, when she thought to wonder, that they were in division headquarters. Except the walls are gray here and seem to be switching in and out with a much darker color. Ukitake’s decorative 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. 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.


*   *   *

The investigative team concludes that the girl died in the line of duty, the hollow's undetected presence in the Seireitei an anomaly.

                                                                                                    *   *   *

            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 teases. “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,” he says with a playful nudge.

             They settle into a comfortable silence as they watch the street rats escape with their bounty. The day has grown hot, but even as she wipes the sweat from her forehead she doesn’t mind because this is the most relaxed Rukia has felt in a long time.

Squinting against the sun, she cranes her neck to check on Kaien. In the alley below, another group of children has gathered around to watch him act the fool for their entertainment. He has six clay pots balanced precariously on his head until one of the kids boldly pushes him over— “Gah!”— and all the pots (and Kaien) come crashing down. Shaking the ceramic dust from his hair, Kaien laughs louder than all the children combined. 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. Rukia’s current assignment has meant patrolling every day in Rukongai, and Kaien has been accompanying her. It’s been like old times. He seems more at ease away from the 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.

“What’s your point?"

“Don’t know," he says with a shrug. "Guess I just don’t see why all the responsibility has to fall on you. Again.”

She feels a tinge of annoyance. “You make him sound like a burden.”

Renji picks at a stray strand on his hakama, maybe to avoid looking her in the eye. She doesn’t have to see his face because his silence speaks for itself: 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!”

             Renji snorts. “Course not, but if you were me looking at you right now you would worry, too. You look like you haven’t slept in years.”

              Rukia 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, “Years? Why, thank you so much, illustrious Vice-Captain! You always knew how to flatter a girl! 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. You’re only one person, Rukia.”

              “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.”

                They’ve been over this before, only last time he had her clutched in his arms and they were running for their lives. She turns back to Kaien. “I can’t this time,” she says quietly. “It has to be me.”

                Renji curses under his breath. “Why, damn it?”

                They were having such a nice time. Why does he want to ruin it? “Because…” She could lie. She probably should. But…

                 She 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.

                “Why does it have to be you?” he insists.

                  She takes a deep breath. “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. And so she does. There are things about Kaien and Aaroniero and herself that she will never tell another soul, but she tells him about Metastasia, about glutonerria, and about all of Aaroniero’s devoured hollows. Renji’s expression fluctuates between confusion and alarm as he takes it all in. Once she’s finished speaking, she waits and waits, but Renji seems at a loss. She doesn’t blame him, but his silence still makes her feel anxious. “He’s still Kaien-dono,” she adds before he can claim otherwise. “No matter what, he has always—”

    Renji’s voice is low when he interrupts her. “Is this like Ichigo’s hollow?”

    The question gives her pause. “Yes. No. I don’t know. Ichigo only has one hollow. Kaien-dono has…” — she can’t bring herself to say thousands— “... more. It’s his memory, Renji. He says the memories from all the different hollows are mixed together with his.”

                  “Rukia…”

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

    “From you?”

    “Yes,” she says defensively, defiantly.

    “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. She can do this.

    When only silence comes from him, she nervously asks, “What are you thinking?”

    Renji shakes his head. “You really want to know what I think?”

    His tone implies that, no, maybe not. “Yes.”

    The look he gives her is grave. “This is dangerous. He’s dangerous. What you’re doing is really stupid.”

    It shouldn’t sting, but it does.

    “I see,” she says stiffly. Rising to her feet, she pretends to brush some dust from her uniform. “If that’s how you feel, then I won’t bother you anymore about Kaien-dono. I should get back to my patrol.”

    “Rukia…” Renji tries to catch her sleeve, but she dodges him and starts 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?

    “Why did you bring him here?”

    The question stops her. Rukia turns back with a confused frown. “What?”

    Renji pushes himself to his feet with a grunt. He gives her a wide berth, which would have amused her under different circumstances. “Shiba 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.

    “I’m not, Renji.”

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

    “No! And you promised you wouldn’t either!” 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?”

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

    Frustrated, she moves away from him and back to the roof’s edge. She’s standing directly above Kaien and the children when he senses her movement and glances up. Their eyes meet. 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. He tells them something and points up toward her. The children all look up at her and start hopping up and down excitedly, chanting something that sounds to her like, “Ice! Ice! Ice!”

    Rukia remembers many hot summer days before there was a nice, cool mansion to go home to in order to escape from the heat. In a swift movement, she draws Sodeno no Shirayuki and releases a shower of ice. The ice rains down on the cheering children like snow. They dance around trying to catch it as if it’s something precious. To them, it is. Here at least is a group of street rats that 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 up 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.


*   *   *

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
green_amberjade
Apr. 5th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
GAH. I love how intense this story is even when the characters are dealing with mundane things like patrolling or tea parties or going to get medicine. The tension is cooking so slowly and yet, eventually it's going to explode and the consequences are going to be large.

I love the implication at the start that the hollow Kaien was battling was himself and that he ended up killing that girl. It makes me wonder how more victims he'll have before they finally stop him. Also, the way that Rukia automatically defends and lies for him just says so much about her feelings toward him.

It's something I really love about this story, you can see how much certain characters love without ever saying it out loud. Like how Kaien tries to protect Rukia from his darkness in her dream; how Rukia will defend Kaien to the last; and how Renji wants Rukia so much even though he'll never say a word. It's just so beautiful and it makes a little sad as there can't be a happy ending for everyone here - not to mention that there's also Ichigo (who will hopefully come back, which will lead to Kaien staking his claim?).

I'm so excited for the next chapter!
starvinbohemian
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:30 am (UTC)
"GAH. I love how intense this story is even when the characters are dealing with mundane things like patrolling or tea parties or going to get medicine."

Haha! Thank you!

"It's something I really love about this story, you can see how much certain characters love without ever saying it out loud."

Aw, thank you. I'm glad that comes across, especially for poor Renji.

"it makes a little sad as there can't be a happy ending for everyone here..."

That's a theme both Music of the Night and What You Wish For share, yes? Our pairing is very, very angsty what with the death, all-consuming guilt, cannibalistic espada, and second death.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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