For the Third Time
The whole thing was… memorable. But some moments stood out more than others.
Renji would, of course, treasure to his grave the momentarily flummoxed look on Kuchiki’s face when Shiba Kuukaku showed up for the betrothal in her version of dress clothes. Renji hadn’t known it was possible to roll up the sleeves of a formal kimono, and that was just for starters. But to be honest most of the highlights clustered around the wedding itself.
Renji tugged loose his hair tie, grinning as he considered the past twenty-four hours.
Renji had thought they might be in the clear. The bonfires hadn’t burned any buildings down, Rukia’s litter hadn’t tipped over, bringing her here, neither of them had tripped on their own clothing and broken their necks. So far, everything had gone remarkably smoothly.
Clearly even thinking that was tempting fate.
Rukia was taking her first sip in the series of pledges to seal their declarations when Yachiru’s voice piped up. Yachiru’s very carrying voice.
“So getting drunk together makes them married? Ken-chan, how many men is Rangiku married to?”
Renji stopped breathing. If he moved a muscle, he was sure he’d lose it and start laughing, and then Rangiku would try to kill him, and he couldn’t run very fast in all these layers. A wave of snorts and muffled whoops swept the hall, along with a thump Renji thought was probably Hisagi’s forehead meeting his palm.
Rukia didn’t choke, didn’t spit sake all over him, didn’t even bat an eyelash. She finished the three measured sips and set the cup back down with a perfectly serene smile. Renji had never been more impressed.
And, as he took the next cup, he was very, very careful not to look at the wicked light in her eyes. Rangiku had much too clear a shot at his back if he snickered very loudly.
Rukia set the last sake cup down on its stack with a tiny clink that sounded through the whole hall, and Renji finally exhaled. It was done. It was real. They really were…
Rukia smiled at him and he lost his train of thought.
“You guys done being goopy at each other?”
They both started at Shiba-san’s voice, and Renji looked over Rukia’s shoulder in time to see Kuchiki-taichou giving his symbolic co-parent a quelling look. It didn’t seem to be working. Shiba-san just raised an eyebrow at them, waiting.
“Yes?” Renji hazarded.
Her grin would have suited a shark. “Well, then.” She pulled an innocent looking tube out of her belt and yanked the string hanging from it.
Balls of colored sparks exploded over everyone’s heads, raining down on the witnesses, a snickering Rangiku, an amused Captain-General, and a totally unmoved Kuchiki.
Rukia laughed and held up her hands to catch them.
Renji nearly jumped out of his skin, and whipped around to see a slim, dark, wickedly grinning woman lounging behind him, who hadn’t been there two seconds ago. “Shihouin-san!” Rukia turned, too, wide-eyed.
She waved a dismissive hand. “Yoruichi is fine. Figured I’d stop by and drop off congratulations and gifts from me and Uruhara and Ichigo, and all.” She tucked a handful of bright envelopes in the front of Renji’s kimono while he was still blinking.
“How did you…”
She snorted. “Even if any of you puppies could catch me, everyone but a skeleton guard is around here somewhere, celebrating. Or, at least, getting drunk.” She frowned out at the crowd spilling out of the courtyard, off tables and occasionally off the roofs. “Except Soi. I should go goose her or something; girl has to loosen up some time.”
Rukia raised sparkling eyes from the space where Shihouin had vanished, and Renji could tell she was imagining the intense and straight-laced Soi Fong getting pinched. They grinned at each other, listening for the squawk.
Some time after midnight Renji wondered if it was a bad sign that most of the Eleventh seemed to be calling Shiba-san “Aneki”.
Kyouraku seemed very amused by it all, but that could have just been that Ise had drunk enough to fall asleep on his shoulder.
It was late, or maybe early, when they finally retreated inside, and Renji made a fuzzy mental note to get nice thank-you gifts for the men and women of Kuchiki House, and the handful of his own division, who had cleared out the ceremonial trappings from the bottom floor. Navigation was hard enough at the moment, he didn’t need to be tripping over strange furniture.
“Hang on a minute, Renji.”
He wobbled as Rukia slipped out from under his arm. He might have protested, but it was Kuchiki, standing in the shadows by the door, she was heading for, and he wasn’t nearly drunk enough to try to come between them. He doubted it was possible to be that drunk.
He pretended to watch the nearest heap of snoring shinigami.
“I’ll see you in three days, Nii-sama.”
They were silent for long enough that Renji snuck a glance out of the corner of his eye. They were just standing there, looking at each other.
At least until Rukia made a small, inarticulate sound and stepped forward to wrap her brother in a swift hug.
His hands came up to rest on her shoulders, and only someone as close as Renji was could have seen him press her closer for a moment, before setting her back again.
“Thank you, Nii-sama,” she whispered, and the shadow of a smile answered her.
She was blinking a little extra brightness away, as she came back to his side. Renji eyed Kuchiki and found himself being eyed back. Cool and uncaring as always—at least in dim lighting.
It wasn’t easy to bow at a respectful angle while keeping one’s arm around another person, but Renji thought it was worth the trouble, to see the flash of pleasure in Kuchiki’s eyes before he sniffed and turned away. And Rukia’s silent laugh, against his side.
But however much of a pain parts of it had been, it all came down to this. To he and Rukia, having escaped from the layers of their formal robes and elaborate hair ornaments, down to a yukata apiece, in a dim bedroom that belonged to them.
Rukia curled up on the futon, by the window, leaning her chin on folded arms to look out. Sitting like that, without their uniforms, she didn’t look much older than she had when they’d met, and Renji had to smile.
“There’s a better view from over here,” he offered, sliding down against the wall at the head of the bed and balling up a pillow behind him. Rukia, looking curious, scooted over next to him, punching the other pillow into place.
“Oh,” she murmured.
The two windows almost became one from this angle, and though them they could see a high-peaked roof, alone against the sky. A faintly colored moon hung over it, a slice away from full, turning the lines of the roof sharp and black. Rukia sighed, happily.
It all came down to this. To Rukia leaning easily in the curve of his arm. To showing her a moment of the beauty she loved, instead of just thinking how much she would like to see it. To sitting on a bed that belonged to both of them, in rumpled yukata, hair ruffled by the night breeze.
Rukia smiled at him from the corner of her eye, and tangled her fingers with his, and rested her head on his shoulder.
When Renji could breathe again he lifted her fingers, hesitantly, to his lips.
The moon would wait for them.