Dedicated, again, to Aido.

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Hunger is a wanderer
by afrai

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Rukia slept half-wrapt around Renji, to keep away the cold of winter; Renji, who rarely slept, stayed awake and watched the night.

They were safer than most of the children in the Alley, protected by the hole punched through Renji's heart. They would sense any real threat before it came, shinigami or Hollow, so Renji mostly watched Rukia.

When they got older he started feeling hungrier, an urgent gnawing ache that followed him like a bad memory, but was worst when he watched Rukia sleep, her limbs white in the dark. He did not understand the urge himself, but when once he gave in to the temptation to mouth her thin arm, taking it delicately between his jaws, the ache only got worse. But in an odd way, it was pleasant. He felt wild and hungry and exhilarated, as if on the hunt. He wanted more.

It was when he was trying to figure out what more meant that Rukia woke up.

The silence that ensued was somewhat embarrassed.

"Ungf," said Renji.

Rukia did not say anything. He let go. She took her arm back and moved to touch the reddened grooves his teeth had left in her flesh (Renji breathed fast, his claws scrabbling in the dirt), but then she changed her mind. She said, almost off-hand,

"Do you want it?"

Renji's eyes rolled. "What?"

Rukia had bowed her head so her hair hid her face. "I only need one arm," she said. "And -- if you're hungry -- "

Renji gaped.

"I know the food we get doesn't really -- " said Rukia, and stopped.

Renji's powers of speech began to return to him.

"Dumbass," he said. "Who would eat you?"

Rukia's eyes widened. "You ungrateful -- I was trying to be kind, but clearly kindness is wasted on some people -- "

"If you wanna be kind, try not being such a moron it's exhausting to talk to you!"

"Oh!" Rukia sat up. He thought she would stalk away, and then he would have to spend a long weary day keeping out of her sight and senses, because she didn't like to think that finding her was, for him, as easy as breathing -- these days, easier.

But she only said, brusque,

"Fool. It is no advantage to me if you are ill-fed. What use will you be if you are always thinking of food?"

Renji did not try to explain that this was not the way it worked for Hollows; that what your average monster dreamt of was not fresh meat flavoured with the unique seasoning of human experience, but more insubstantial things -- the loves they had had, the joy and even sadness they'd felt, before these things had been taken from them. That he was hungry, but only eating Rukia whole would appease the hunger -- all of her, every memory, every thought, every secret she kept locked in that mysterious heart. And when she was gone he would still be hungry: always, always alone.

Sometimes he was tempted -- to taste her innermost thoughts on his tongue; to peel her down, layer by layer; to have her, finally, inside him, where she could be forever inviolate. But so to take was to lose, and -- and she deserved more. Renji would not have had her if she had offered herself.

He only made this last clear. "Speak for yourself," he rumbled, "I'm not the one with the one-track mind here," and he turned his back on her and curled in on himself.

An indignant silence behind him: then Rukia kicked him in the back and said,

"Move over, idiot."

He made space so she could lean against him, surrounded on all sides by fur. She closed her eyes, still frowning, but when Renji started thinking she'd dropped off she said, whispering against his flank,

"But still, Renji ... if you wanted ... "

"Don't want anything," he said curtly, so that Rukia went to sleep with a marked scowl dragging down the black flicks of her eyebrows. He stayed awake, repeating the lie over to himself, with Rukia curled sweetly close. (His teeth had pressed against the bone, sinking in soft flesh.) It was near enough the truth, anyway -- if there was anything he wanted, this much was for certain: it was something he couldn't have.

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