She thinks that there must be some rule that states two friends who grow up together will eventually fall in love, especially if they are of the opposite sex. That love with turn to marriage and children and happily ever after. Or at least, it is a law that everyone seems to accept since they are dead set on her pairing with Renji and riding off into the sunset. Admittedly, most of it is his fault since he keeps pulling foolish stunts that make him look like a lovesick dolt.
Rukia is pretty sure that she doesn’t love Renji, at least, not like that. They are simply friends, and honestly, the big, dumb idiot would probably get on her nerves. Besides, she has too much fun kicking him around, sometimes just for the hell of it.
This best-friend rule falls flat between the two of them because Rukia finds her eyes wandering elsewhere. To a kind smile and a gentle disposition, to a man who makes mistakes and admits to them, a man confident in his abilities. She finds her heart warming to a shinigami who asks her to stay.
She still remembers that day, telling Renji that Byakuya wanted to adopt her into his clan. She remembers hoping that Renji would be selfish, hoping he would ask her to turn it down, to stay with him. A part of her wanted him to say that because she was scared, of nobility, of Byakuya, of stepping into a world she didn’t know. And she didn’t want to lose Renji. There was a well-known distance between commoners and nobles that she would have to follow.
The smile on his face, the encouragement, it broke a part of her heart. The logical side of her knew that he thought she’d be happier there, and he never was any good at seeing the big picture or even really understanding her.
Yet, Rukia knows that there was also a foolish side to her heart. It was this side that broke, crumbling around her and leaving her aching. She remembers feeling the warmth of her tears at the back of her eyelids, wishing Renji had been just a little bit stronger, a little bit more selfish. She thinks that maybe it might have been then that she realized she could never love Renji as anything more than a friend.
And eventually, history repeats itself, as it is known to do.
Kaien’s death is something she’ll never forget, remaining firmly imprinted on her heart. She uses it as a reminder to herself and vows to never make the same mistake. She feels she can learn, and maybe someday, she’ll be okay. Maybe she’ll forgive herself.
Byakuya doesn’t see it with the same eyes. He is furious, though he doesn’t display it outwardly, especially with Ukitake-taichou. He wants her to choose another division, to transfer somewhere else. He wants her safer, away from the dangers of battle. He doesn’t want to lose someone else.
And Rukia tells Ukitake-taichou this, her face somber and worn. It is in the back of her mind to just tell Byakuya yes, as she always does, but a part of her doesn’t want to leave the thirteenth division either. She enjoys it there with the friends she has made, and they have already lost Kaien. She doesn’t want to leave them, not now.
Her white-haired captain gets a strange look in his eyes when she tells him what her brother insists upon. He asks her if she really wants to leave. She says she doesn’t know. She’s still waiting in her mind.
Ukitake-taichou frowns but not at her and shakes his head. He holds out a hand, laying it gently across hers comfortingly. It makes her feel warm on the inside, a faint blush rising to her cheeks. He can’t have known how she feels about him, how her admiration, still strong even now, has turned to something a little bit deeper. A little bit stronger.
He lifts his gaze to her, dark eyes gentle and affectionate and something akin to hope flutters up in her heart.
And then, he asks her to stay.