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Spring had come to the Seireitei, the plum blossoms unfurled slowly in the wan light of the early afternoon. The flower’s fruity smell filled the practice yard of the Sixth Division. Lieutenant Renji Abarai stifled a sneeze. Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at Captain Byakuya Kuchiki, who stood, as always, expressionlessly observing training. A light breeze tugged at the hem of the captain’s haori, sending the white fabric fluttering delicately in the breeze.

A lovely picture.

Yet, all day today, Renji had become aware that his captain was in a mood, that on a different man, he might have described as a serious funk. Renji would never characterize Kuchiki Byakuya as particularly effusive, but, today, his mouth was set in an even grimmer line than usual– if that was possible.

Not that anyone else seemed to notice. It was a subtle difference that the rest of the Sixth Division blithely ignored, but Renji could not help but be attentive to the slightest fluctuation of the captain’s reistsu, his spiritual pressure. He would never ever admit it, but just a brushing touch of Byakuya’s reistsu could make Renji’s heart jump to his throat or send shivers down the very core of his being.

Thus, when the captain caught him looking at him, he couldn’t help but straighten to a more formal stance. “Sir?” he asked nervously.

“Attend to me in my office his evening, Renji.”

“Hai, Taicho.”

 

#

 

The cool, pale image of the moon reflected in a puddle in the courtyard Renji hurried through. Early evening had brought a light shower. The drizzle had passed, leaving the cool, crisp scent of ozone in the air. It had finally become a decent night, and all Renji wanted to do now was curl up with a nice bottle of beer and maybe a willing, warm body. The idea of spending any amount of time cooped up in his captain’s office did not appeal. Especially given that the captain’s mood, if anything, had worsened as the day wore on. At least Renji had been able to suss out the reason for it.

Today was the anniversary of the captain’s wife’s death.

When he’d run into Matsumoto, she’d warned him that the whole thing had been very tragic. Byakuya’s wife had lingered with some horrible illness. He was bound to be cut up about it, even now, years later.

That explained the dark edge to the captain’s reistsu, but what Renji still could not understand, is what on earth he would need from his lieutenant at this hour. As he made his way to the captain’s office, Renji wracked his brains. Paperwork overdue? No, he’d taken care of all that. Some conflict with one of the seated officers, someone else in the division? Not likely. Everyone knew better than to misbehave under Byakuya Kuchiki’s command.

At last, he stood outside the captain’s door. Renji slipped off his shoes and took a moment to adjust his shihakushô, tightening the belt around his zanpaktō. He could sense his captain just beyond the rice paper door, waiting. Even so, he hesitated. His heart, for some reason, filled with sudden trepidation and hammered noisily against his eardrums.

“Fukataicho, I asked that you attend me, not stand outside my door gawking.”

Despite the slight tease in his tone, Byakuya’s deep, gravelly voice made Renji start.

The door pulled aside with a gentle whisper. The interior of the office was darkened, but a single lantern illuminated where Byakuya knelt behind a low table on the floor. A window was open to the courtyard bringing in the scent of freshly fallen rain.

As always, when he looked upon his commander, a single thought drifted through Renji’s mind: This man is peerless.

Long hair, so black it seemed to disappear into the inky darkness that surrounding him, fell in careful strands separated by the kenseikan, a bone white hairpiece that symbolized his rank and station. The captain regarded Renji steadily. Slate gray eyes penetrated, even at this distance. Byakuya’s arrogantly handsome face was as pale and enigmatic as the moon herself.

Despite himself, Renji swallowed nervously, “Sir?”

“Come. Sit.” With a languid welcoming gesture, he beckoned Renji inside.

Closing the door behind him, Renji obliged, pleased to see a pot of sake on the table. Ah! Perhaps he would get his drink, after all. As he sank to the floor opposite Byakuya, Renji noticed with some dismay that there was, however, only one bowl. He glanced hopefully in the direction of the nearby counter where the rest of the service sat. When no offer was made, he nearly reached for one, but he could hardly help himself to the captain’s things without permission. One of the captain’s sake bowls was probably worth six months of Renji’s salary. He tried to catch Byakuya’s eye, but his captain’s gaze was hooded, unseeing, as though lost in some deep thought.

Ah, then he must wait.

Instead of offering his lieutenant the drink he desperately wanted, the captain slowly poured himself another bowlful. Renji caught the barest whiff of the tang of the rice wine as it gurgled, torturously, from the pot.

Renji allowed himself a soft grunt of disappointment, and waited, hands on his thighs.

The captain continued to say nothing, keeping his own counsel.

Byakuya, it seemed, merely wanted company as he drank.

 

#

By Byakuya’s third bowlful, Renji’s calves had fallen asleep. Pins and needles had him shifting as much as he thought he could get away with. His back was stiff, and it took all his willpower to keep from drumming his fingers impatiently on his thighs while he waited for whatever it was that Byakuya needed from him. Several times, Renji considered just breaking the oppressive silence and screaming for the captain to tell him what the hell he wanted. But, the somber mood in the office and heavy pressure of Byakuya’s reistsu had kept his mouth shut.

As he fought to keep his body still, Renji’s mind wandered.

At the moment, Renji dreamed of the carefree life of being the sixth seat in the 11th division. Wine followed freely there. The 11th division had a blessedly simple credo: drink, fight, fuck. Get up and do it again! Oi! That was the way a man should deal with grief. Gather his friends around, get piss-blind drunk, sing a few bawdy tunes, and fall into someone’s bed.

Man, Renji wished he was doing that right now. Pretty much anything would be preferable to this interminable waiting.

He snuck another look at his captain. He could read nothing in the detached expression that graced Byakuya’s sharp aristocratic features. At least nobleman seemed know how to drink, but what kind of man doesn’t share his bottle with his fellow compatriot?

A man, Renji mused, who likely doesn’t consider the other his equal.

A notion which he supposed should be obvious, given that the captain had not spared him a passing glance since inviting him in to sit.

What am I doing here?

Unconsciously, he scratched the back of his neck. The movement apparently stirred something in his captain, for Byakuya spoke. “I would see your tattoos. Remove your headband.”

“What?”

“Your tattoos. I wish to see them.”

Okay, the captain was definitely drunk. That his words weren’t more slurred was impressive, but what kind of insane request was this? Still, Renji could see no harm in it, and untied the white cloth he usually kept wrapped around his head. He laid it across his lap.

When he glanced up again, Byakuya was observing him from behind his bowl of sake. It was a strangely seductive look—or perhaps more predatory than all that. What was Byakuya seeing when he looked at him so? Whatever he saw, he seemed decidedly hungry for it. The usually ice gray of his eyes roiled, as though with a gathering storm. This new heat was… uncomfortable, but captivating. Renji’s breath hitched, and he dropped his eyes, least they betray him with their wary anticipation of… what, he wasn’t sure.

The bowl clinked down onto the table with a hollow sound. “Now the rest.”

“Sir?” The captain could not possibly be asking him to undress, but the remainder of Renji’s tattoos covered his entire body – arms, chest, torso, legs… even his ass.

“I gave you an order.”

“Yes, you did, but…”

“I will not ask again.”

The sharp increase in spiritual pressure warned Renji that disobedience would not be tolerated.

Still, he did not immediately move to obey. Perhaps, Renji could gamble on the fact that the captain must be asking because he did not know the full extent of the tattoos. He would show him his upper body. That would satisfy, surely. Yet even the thought of that much exposure made him grimace. Through gritted teeth, he managed, “Sir.”

He had to take a steadying breath to calm himself. Trembling fingers loosened the knot of his belt. Carefully, he unwrapped it, setting his zanpaktō on the floor. He held onto the sheath for a beat longer than was necessary. He would be vulnerable enough half-naked before his captain, but unarmed as well?

Hazarding a glimpse at his captain’s face, he tried to decipher this moment. How to judge that look in his eyes? Impossible to read. But, the reistsu had, what… softened? No, that wasn’t quite right, there was still something sharp and needful in the air, but something else was there too, something curious… eager….

With effort, Renji’s hand left the sword. Then, it was a simple matter of shifting his shoulders. The silken fabric of the shihakushô slipped away. It bunched at crook of his elbow. His fists clenched at his waist, desperate to keep the robes from parting to reveal more than was strictly necessary to obey. As the cold air of the room pricked goose pimples from his naked flesh, heat burned on his cheeks.

“Stand so I can better see.”

A growl escaped before Renji could contain it. What, was he some kind of animal on display? Still, despite his resistance, he dutifully pulled himself to his feet.

Under Byakuya’s unflinching, possessive gaze, he felt utterly exposed, laid bare. His jaw twitched with the effort to keep his head up, shoulders back, and his gaze steady. He would not cower or tremble before this man, who would order him stripped just to satisfy idle curiosity.

But there was no idleness in the way Byakuya looked at him in return. His face reflected the change in atmosphere. His usually narrow eyes had widened ever so slightly, and his lips parted.

Then the captain made a sound that threatened to completely undo Renji’s composure.

It was almost inaudible, but Renji heard it. It was a moan.

A deep, sexy moan.

The blush on Renji’s cheeks spread. His entire body warmed to that noise. Stirring parts of him he really did not want the captain admiring. What was this? Did he crave that kind of attention from this man…? The feeling was too complicated. He found he had to turn his head, sharply, to break the gaze and stare, wide-eyed out the window, at the full moon rising.

“Beautiful,” Byakuya said quietly, as if to himself. Then, louder: “Turn. I wish to see the back.”

Grateful for the opportunity to turn away, Renji pivoted sharply. But the instant he complied, he regretted it. Now he could only imagine the way the captain’s eyes roamed over his body.

Another sound, an appreciative grunt? Then, with a playful, seductive tone, “But, Renji, there are more, are there not?”

Ai! How drunk must the captain be? He was absolutely certain the captain would regret this in the morning if Renji didn’t stop him. At any rate, there was a limit to how far he would debase himself for his captain’s pleasure.

He turned around. “There are,” Renji admitted.

“Then I will see them.”

“No, you will not.”

It was clear from his expression, Byakuya Kuchiki had rarely been told “no” by anyone, much less a subordinate. Renji pressed the advantage of his captain’s speechlessness. After all, the captain looked kind of cute the way the color drained from his face and his mouth hung open, stunned. A very mischievous part of him spurned Renji to lean over and plant a bruising kiss on those pale, thin lips.

Finally! A taste of sake.

Of course, it was an expensive vintage. Sweet and… exquisite. So much like the mouth itself. Oh, how he could drowned in that taste!

But, he would not give into the temptation, not under these circumstances. He pulled away. Smiling wantonly into Byakuya’s scandalized expression.

Awkwardly bending to retrieve his zanpaktō, Renji made to leave.

Byakuya seemed breathless for a moment. “Wha…? Then he seemed to compose himself with a snap. “Fukataicho, I’m not finished with you.”

“Nor I with you, sir. But, for now this is where we leave it. In the morning, when you’re sober – and if you’re man enough – then you may finish with me.”

 

End of Part One