Spoilers: through the end of the manga
Pairing: RukiaàIchigo, RukiaàKaien, Ichigo/Orihime, RenjiàRukia
Word count: 2421 or so
Forgive Me Love
I climb up the drainpipe to your window, knowing that it wouldn’t be locked. It never had been when I lived with you, and you’re such a creature of habit, after all.
I shouldn’t really be here, without your permission or Ukitake’s or someone’s. But my memory for small things isn’t too good, and I’ve started to forget. Now that I’ve been reinstated as a shinigami, I have occasion to be on the mortal plane and since I’d been in the vicinity of Karakura Town, I thought that maybe, maybe I could return for a few reminders.
Inside your room I can smell you, and memories bloom, unlocked from wherever my mind likes to hide such things. I breathe in that combination of boy and whatever-it-was that was uniquely yours, and smile to know you’ve started using cologne. It’s woodsy, almost piney, and I wish—just for a moment—that I can bury my face against your neck and smell it on you, instead of just its lingering in the air.
I wonder what you’d say if you knew I were here. I came at noon, when I knew you and your sisters would be in school, your father at work in the clinic next door. I think if you knew, you’d be angry, would yell at me and call me stupid.
Would you forgive me, though? For everything I’ve done, not just this? I’ve changed your life so irrevocably; if not for me, you’d still be a reasonably normal young man (who just happened to be able to see ghosts). You wouldn’t be a shinigami, wouldn’t have this dual life, wouldn’t have experiences weighing on you that no teenager should have at your age.
I sigh, and peek into the closet that was formerly my bed. Kon’s stuffed-animal body lies limply on the pile of blankets, but doesn’t respond when I poke him; you must have taken his pill with you in case a Hollow beckoned. He’s in good shape; Ishida must be tending him carefully.
Your robe is thrown carelessly over the back of your desk chair. How many times did I see it on you, drooping off one shoulder or haphazardly tied around your waist, as you stumbled downstairs for breakfast? I count; I lived here, with you, for just over two months: sixty-four days. Sixty-four times, I saw you in that robe.
I pick it up, pull it into my lap and search the fabric for some sign, some mark, of those sixty-four days, like a prisoner marks a tick on his wall for each day of incarceration. I find little pulls in the cloth, a stain or two that even Yuzu’s talents could not abolish, and a trailing thread along the hem. Not a single one is proof of anything but that you should take better care of your clothing, you slob.
I spare a second of consideration before pulling it on, feeling the worn fabric drag over my uniform. It’s acres too big for me, and I roll back the cuffs so my hands are exposed. Your scent surrounds me; I like this new cologne of yours, so I go hunting for it.
Your drawers are just as confused as always, lacking any semblance of order. Socks and t-shirts jumble together, underwear vies for space with trousers, and there’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. I find the bottle in the middle drawer of your desk, behind the protractor and the compass you dumped there in relief on the last day of geometry. It’s in a box with a bright orange bow on it, and I slip it from the cardboard, pull off the stopper and dab a bit behind my ears.
When I put it away, I see that there’s also a CD in the drawer. It’s one of those American musicians you like so much, folksy rock that I can’t understand a word of, and neither can you. It takes me a while but I finally remember how to work the contraption that will play the music, and I stand in the middle of your room for a long time, listening to him sing something that sounds heartbreaking and plaintive and genuine.
I hear that song, and then another, before shutting it off. You might be home soon. I can’t risk being found here like this. But the drawer is still open, and there’s a small box of incense cones. Aloeswood… the highest quality of sandalwood. I wonder when you grew some taste, smirk, and decide to burn some.
As the first spiral of white-grey smoke floats skyward, I lay on your bed, curling up tightly within the confines of your robe, and watch. I study your room, searching for any differences from the time I lived here, jealously hoping it’s all the same. I’m a creature of habit, too, you see.
At first glance, nothing is amiss, nothing has changed. But there, sticking out from between two books, is a slip of paper. Incongruous paper, unlike-you paper, pink paper, and it is in my hand before another second has passed.
It says, ‘Ichigo-kun, yesterday made me so happy., I love you very much, will you meet me tonight?’ And though it isn’t signed, even though it’s been a year, I can still recognize the distinctive loops and flounces of Orihime’s handwriting.
The urge to flee rises up within me, like a rearing horse, like a tide. I’d better go soon, I think, but after I replace the note between the books I sink back onto the bed, rubbing my cheek against the cool pillowcase that smells of you, and let it soak up the tears I can’t seem to hold back.
You and Kaien are so alike. In looks, in temperament, in sense of humor, and movement, and everything. Both of you drove me crazy, so crazy I didn’t even notice myself stumbling into caring for you. And just like Kaien, you want someone else. I was always too late to have a chance—too late to love him, too late to save him, and now I see I’m too late for you.
Just as well. Worlds apart, goes the cliché, and that’s what we are. We had a moment, the slice of darkness during the blink of an eye. I knew we’d have to open our eyes again eventually.
And it’s not so bad, is it? Judging from Orihime’s note, you’re doing just fine. And I… I’m getting along. No one in Soul Society ever mentions you in my presence. They’ve all forgiven me my transgressions, but step carefully around me, their words dancing lightly, as if I’m an invalid they must treat with kid gloves. Byakuya and Renji and Ukitake all behave as if nothing had ever happened, as if they hadn’t been about to execute me, as if you hadn’t stormed heaven itself to save me.
I remove your robe, and realize that you will know someone’s been here. Can you forgive me for that, too, Ichigo? For coming here, for trying to stamp a little bit of you on me? For trying not to forget?
It’s time to say goodbye. I’ve suspected that for a while, when I started having trouble remembering the exact shade of your hair and the tone of your voice. And now, back in this place where I no longer belong, with proof in my hands that you have moved on, I know it’s time for me to do the same.
I smooth out your bed, push the desk drawer closed. The air in your room is cloudy, heady from the cologne and incense, and I breathe it in one last time before leaping to your windowsill and jumping off.
Back in Soul Society, Hanatarou waves, approaching like he wants to speak to me, but I just smile and continue on my way home. Byakuya stands on the threshold, and steps to the side so I can enter.
“You were gone longer than expected,” he says. “Was there a problem?”
I see his nose twitch slightly and know he can smell sandalwood on me. His brow knits, just slightly, as he tries to place the scent.
“No,” I tell him, “there was no problem. Everything went as I’d hoped.”
There’s understanding on his face, and I realize he knows what I’ve done. I start to bow, to apologize, but he places one hand on my shoulder. It feels immensely heavy, ponderous, and I see that weight reflected in his deep eyes.
“Be careful,” he tells me. “Do not—“ He stops short, as if gathering strength to speak. “I have learned one thing, my sister. Do not spend your life ruing what you failed to do, or what could not be.” I stare up at him, shocked, speechless. “Open your eyes to what is, instead of what was.”
And he looks past me, down the hall, to where Renji now steps out of his office. Renji’s face changes when he sees me there, smoothes out and lights up at the same time, and I feel my brother give me a gentle push in his direction before leaving the house.
“What’s wrong, Rukia?” Renji asks, meeting me halfway, but I can’t find any words. How could I not see, not understand, until this moment how he feels about me? I had refused to admit that what I felt for Kaien was anything but camaraderie and admiration, but I couldn’t delude myself any longer when Renji told me you’d come to Soul Society. I knew then what love was, because that lurch of shock and joy and longing couldn’t be anything else.
It was because you couldn’t recognize love until you felt it for yourself, whispers a little voice in my head, that you couldn’t see it in Renji. Byakuya could see it in me, because he has loved, and now—after years and years and years—I can see it in Renji. For me.
“I’m sorry,” I gasp out, and feel tears threaten.
“For what?” Renji asks, alarmed, and reaches out to grasp my arms, pulling me closer.
“For not seeing,” I say, and let my head droop until it rests against his chest. “How could I not see?”
“See what?” He sounds baffled, but his arms come around me, wrapping me in his big body. I leap up, wind my arms around his neck, and press my face to his throat. He smells as bright as his hair, like light and sun, and though it’s different from you, it’s just as good in its own way.
“See you,” I mumble against his skin. “I couldn’t see you.”
Renji pulls back, forces me to look at him. “But I was right here,” he protests, perplexed.
“Something was in the way,” I tell him, and the images of you and Kaien flit past my mind’s eye. “But it’s gone now. They’re gone now.”
Comprehension passes over his face, and the tension in his shoulders melts away.
“Will you forgive me?” I ask, somewhat pathetically.
And he grins, that quicksilver flash of teeth, before leaning forward and pressing a kiss to my forehead.
“As long as you figured it out in the end, there’s nothing to forgive,” he tells me.
I look at him, at the intricate ink on his face, the distinctive hair, the features I know almost as well as my own, and know he means it.
But he continues. “Have you also figured out yet why I told you I was happy when you were adopted by the Kuchiki family?”
“Yes,” I say. “I’ve figured that out, too.” Because I didn’t know what it was like, sacrificing my own wishes for someone else, until I knew I had to stay here so you could have a life of your own. A better life than you could have with me.
Now I do, and I can see what Renji gave up for me. “Can you forgive me for that, too?” I ask.
He flicks a finger against the side of my head. “Already did. Years ago.” He pulls me into his embrace again. “Now shut up about it. It’s old.”
That’s his way of saying I should forgive myself as well. Now that I’ve learned how to forgive others, perhaps this isn’t out of my reach, either.
So I flick a finger against his head in retaliation. Renji tries to flick me again, so I dodge and grab his wrist and before I know it, we’re rolling down the hallway, wrestling. I can hear the servants whispering, horrified that a Kuchiki would behave like this, but along with learning to love and forgive, I’ve also learned which things matter, in life and death.
Decorum isn’t one of them.
So I ignore the servants, ignore even my own lingering doubts, and concentrate on wrestling Renji into submission. I have no shot in hell, of course; he’s twice as big as I am, and it’s not a coincidence that he’s been a vice-captain for over a year while I remained in the lesser chairs.
“Why bother fighting?” he taunts me at one point. “Not like you have any idea what to do with me, once you get me.”
That surprises me enough to make me stop struggling. One of my hands is buried in his hair, and the other is gripping the collar of his haori. My legs, formerly thrashing, move so they can wrap around his waist.
“I’ve learned a lot recently,” I inform him, and pull him closer so I can kiss him. His shock lasts half a second, and then he’s responding fervently, almost desperately, and I realize that he’s loved me for a very long time, perhaps even before we became death gods.
“You should have told me, stupid,” I say when we pull back. “Why didn’t you?”
“Let it go,” Renji says. “It was a long time ago.” He shifts so his bulk isn’t crushing me, and while he’s busy, I study his face. Those tattoos are bizarre, but they suit him. They’re reminders that he’s not the same boy I grew up with, that time has passed, that the world around me has moved on and I have to move with it.
For the first time in decades, I see the future instead of the past. And start to forgive the biggest transgressor of all.