Stare at the Sun
“Are you sure it isn’t a problem to do this right now?”
Not, Renji had to admit, that the Thirteenth Division seemed any less motivated because their captain was sitting on the sidelines talking personnel instead of directing. At least not the handful of squads involved in this exercise. The shinigami side chased the Hollow side good and sharp.
Maybe it had something to do with who was standing in for Ukitake-taichou. Renji thought he’d probably jump, too, if Rukia was barking at him like that.
It was good to know she hadn’t lost any of the edge off her vocabulary after all those years in a noble house.
His grin lingered as he turned back to Ukitake, who was waving a dismissive hand.
“No problem at all. Might as well get some work done while I’m sidelined.” He frowned a bit. “Are you sure you want to let this one transfer, though? With his battle record…?”
“Very,” Renji growled before he could stop himself. “I mean… ! I’m sure I’ll be able to work around it. That’s a captain’s job, right?” He didn’t think his attempt at a hearty laugh fooled anyone. Ukitake’s eyes were twinkling, for pity’s sake. Renji sighed, wondering who else he could palm off Sukikase on. He’d already been in and out of all the other Divisions. Back to Eleventh, maybe, and hope Zaraki killed the man, this time?
“Captain!” A booming bass exclamation interrupted them. “I have the medication you left behind today! Please accept this sign of my great respect!”
A screech answered. “Kotsubaki, you cheater! I was going to say that! Give me that bottle, I’ll deliver it to the Captain!”
Ukitake sighed, and Renji eyed the approaching scuffle. He really, really hoped Ukitake wasn’t as evil-minded as, say, Rukia, for example, was. Because if he were then he’d offer to trade these two for Sukikase.
Rukia’s head swiveled to fix the pair with a stare to do a basilisk proud. “Kotsubaki! Kotetsu!” Her voice cracked out like a whip.
Even Ukitake jumped a little, and his two fourth seat officers froze—with Kotsubaki’s hand jammed in Kotetsu’s face to hold her off while she flailed for the bottle and Kotetsu’s foot drawn back to kick him in the shins. They blinked at Rukia.
“You embarrass our division and our captain, acting like this,” she rapped out.
They wilted under her stern look, shooting hangdog glances at Ukitake as they shuffled upright, straightening their uniforms.
“Yes, Rukia-san. Sorry.”
“My apologies, Rukia-san.”
Renji had to stifle a laugh, and a comment of Bossy as ever. Those two looked like little kids called on the carpet for getting their best clothes muddy or something. And then their expressions changed, and he started.
Kotetsu gained a small, shy smile. Kotsubaki looked down at his toes before glancing back up, and Renji could swear he was blushing. He turned to look at Rukia, wondering if she’d cast some spell he’d never heard of on them.
And maybe it was magic, but it wasn’t one he didn’t know. Rukia was smiling at them, gentle and warm. A fond look that lit up the air around her like the sun had suddenly come out.
“Why don’t you two go help the Hollow side?” she suggested, taking the medicine with, he couldn’t help noting distantly, a thief’s deft snatch. “I think the shinigami side is having too easy a time.” She deposited the bottle beside Ukitake and herded Kotsubaki and Kotetsu off to join the exercise.
Renji sat down with a thump.
“Abarai-kun?” Ukitake asked, mid-swig. “You look like you could use some of this stuff yourself. Is something wrong?”
“She used to smile like that.” It came out in a whisper as he stared after Rukia, feeling like he couldn’t catch his breath. “She used to.” Before they became shinigami, before she was Kuchiki, before…
Ukitake cocked his head, hair sliding over his shoulder. “So?” he said, softly. “Now she does again? She’s gained things. Family. Friends. That’s something to smile about, isn’t it?”
Family. A brother; Nii-sama. And friends. Best friends; just friends. The words echoed in his head, and the echos hit him like rocks, and Renji turned a glare on Ukitake only to find Ukitake’s eyes dark and serious, not mocking at all. Renji turned away sharply. “Yeah, it is.” He cleared his throat, hoping to clear the harshness from his tone. “So about this transfer.”
“I’ll take him,” Ukitake agreed. “As long as Kuchiki is here, Thirteenth can handle all its problem children just fine.”
Renji’s mouth curled in an unwilling smirk. “Yeah, I’ll bet.”
She was back, he told himself, sternly, as they scrawled signatures on all the necessary lines. The Rukia he had grown up with was back, here in the middle of the Court of Pure Souls, kicking ass and taking names and besotting everyone around her again, and he had no place being upset about a freaking miracle having taken place.
Even if he wasn’t the one who had made it happen.