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SHADOW

Part 1: (one-shot)

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Kuchiki was the man's name. And even though Renji had been in his proximity for only a few seconds, he immediately knew several things about him. One, he was incredibly beautiful. Two, he was a noble with an austere personality. And three, the man's reiatsu was crushing the wind out of his lungs.

When two locals passed out from merely being in Kuchiki's presence, he seemed to notice and masked his spiritual pressure. Not missing a beat however, he proceeded with his speech, short as it was, declaring that Renji's best friend, Rukia, was henceforth to be known as Rukia Kuchiki.

And that was the end of it. A lot of stunned and confused faces, no further questions, and Rukia was effectively plucked out of Renji's life for the next forty years.

He found out quickly thereafter that the man's given name was Byakuya.

Byakuya Kuchiki. It rolled off Renji's tongue and danced through Renji's dreams. For Renji Abarai, a street rat from the lowest of the low districts of the Soul Society, Byakuya was a beacon. Head of the Kuchiki Clan —one of the four great noble families— and captain of the sixth division of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. He was immediately and inescapably enamored with him.

Through all of Renji's days in the Shinigami Academy, his sole purpose was to surpass the captain of the sixth division. Byakuya was why Renji trained tirelessly in the art of war; always pushing himself, always giving more, even more than he could give. Always with blazing dedication to his monumental goal. Through countless fights, spars, homework, paperwork, broken bones and bruised body, he was spurred forward by Byakuya, and Rukia, whom he watched from a distance, observed, studied, and longed to be near.

One day he would be worthy to be Rukia's friend again. And worthy of Byakuya's attention.

His energies were not in vein.

After years spent climbing through the ranks of the eleventh division, Renji had become a formidable warrior, and been selected to transfer to the sixth division as Lieutenant. Directly under Byakuya Kuchiki.

He was so close now.

The light was there, he saw the end of the tunnel finally. Yet every day that he drew closer to Byakuya, it seemed that distance grew longer. Byakuya was just too far ahead for Renji to ever catch up.

At least, that's what it felt like.

Renji had reached the prestigious Bankai, the final release of his zanpakutou, and yet he lay in a bloody pulp, closer to death than life, after deigning to confront his captain with it. It still wasn't good enough.

A monkey reaching for the moon, Byakuya had said of him.

Renji couldn't help but agree, and yet he still persevered. Because as much as he hated Byakuya in that bloody moment, the man was still Byakuya. No matter if the man had taken from him the only family he'd ever had, no matter if he had nearly killed the lieutenant; Renji owed Byakuya his life, for he would still be on the streets (or worse) today without him. One does not relinquish a lifelong desire so quickly.

Yes, that's what this was: burning inside Renji was desire. Desire for everything that was Byakuya Kuchiki. Even all these years later, that name still rolled off his tongue like a beautiful melody; still electrified every fiber of his being, alighting his body when he was alone.

Now a lieutenant, Renji was of respectable enough rank that he allowed himself to rekindle his friendship with Rukia. This turned out to be a small consolation, for it made Renji almost taste his ultimate goal.

And so many years more went by where Renji played good pet for his master, always at arm's length away, always within the waft of Byakuya's perfume, always right under the man's foot. Renji lived in his captain's shadow, and as time went on, he'd become accustomed to this. He pursued his goal with tireless training and adherence to his captain's strict schedules and rules, ever obedient —otherwise he'd fall too far behind to even call himself the man's lieutenant— but reaching him... Renji had given that up. He was reaching for a beautiful moon.

Renji had played catch-up all his life. That was fine. What more could he do after all these years? Reality had set in and he'd made peace with it. Byakuya was just too far ahead, had too far of a head start, was too naturally skilled to be conquered by a street rat like Renji.

Time went on, yet stayed the same.

Until one fateful day. Where it was proven that Byakuya was not infallible. Because Renji had miraculously saved his captain's life. This was certainly a first. However, such a maneuver came at no small price. He'd put his own life in mortal danger to save Byakuya, and hadn't even managed it well enough that they escaped intact.

No, they both escaped with their lives and that's about it.

Both bloody and wounded after the battle, they walk home. Renji tries his best not to drag his feet behind his captain. It would be unbecoming of a Kuchiki's lieutenant, he'd learned that much. And besides, they're almost home. Almost back to the sixth division. He can make it. He can endure his wounds. Focusing his eyes on the monotonous and delicate steps in front, Renji smiles, because at least he's more hurt than his captain. He'd call it a victory, small as it may be.

But pain is pain, and when it stabs, Renji stumbles, the smallest of missteps and catches himself immediately. Byakuya is a few steps ahead as normal, and Renji hopes his groan of pain was too slight to notice. They carry on, but not for more than a few more strides.

In the shadow of a sakura tree, Byakuya stops walking. The light is dimmest here; they are obscured from the moonlight, as if Byakuya is trying to hide.

"Abarai."

"Captain. I'm fine."

"You are not fine. I think we know each other well enough by now to acknowledge that you would say you were fine even on your deathbed."

"You noticed?" A smile brilliant enough to light up the dark twitches the corners of Renji's lips upwards. He can't always control his emotions. He tries. He's gotten better, but he's hopeless in Byakuya's presence. Even after all these years.

"I notice everything."

Renji scoffs, not unkindly. "Pardon if I disagree." The contraction of his lungs stings painfully.

"I know how strong you are, but make no mistake, I notice your weaknesses as well." Byakuya takes a step out of the darkness and a halo alights around him.

A stitch in Renji's side is sharpening quickly. The pain shoots up his spine and he grabs on to Byakuya's arms to steady himself. He didn't mean to. But Byakuya looks like an angel and Renji feels the life drain out of him too quickly to properly address.

He looks into Byakuya's eyes, probably the closest he's ever seen them, and he feels dizzy. Probably from blood loss. And says, "You're right. I am weak."

All coherent thought absolved, Renji closes the distance between them. Because it's the last thing he'll ever do, so let's have no regrets.

Renji kisses him and then collapses in his arms.

---

When Renji awakens it is daylight and Byakuya is at his bedside, quietly reading a book.

Renji panics. He's alive!

He's never been so disappointed to be alive. Because he remembers acutely —even if it's the only part he remembers properly— the taste of Byakuya's lips. Was it last night? How long had he been sleeping? Should he make some sign to let his captain know he's awake?

Byakuya however, was never as careless as he appeared. Renji might think the man was a perfect diamond, but beneath that was a man. And yes, he knows Renji is awake, but he waits until Renji is ready to speak. Because Renji always speaks. In that unrefined and genuine way of his.

"Captain, forgive me. For everything."

"Nothing to forgive."

"I insist. I was out of line—"

Finally looking up from his book, Byakuya settles a weighty look on him. "I insist also. You saved my life."

Unable to handle the gaze, Renji looks back down at his hands. Bandaged. Every part of himself that he can see is bandaged and he's propped up between crisp linens. "You've saved my butt a thousand times. And you never got us this—"

"Renji," Byakuya interrupts him. "Do you remember when I gave you my scarf?"

The question takes Renji for a loop. Why bring up that humiliation at a time like this? It takes him a moment to reply with an once of dignity. "Of course, Captain."

"I did so because you are worthy, and yet you still toil to prove something you've proven a million times over." A hint of a smile betrays Byakuya's lips, which Renji would have seen if he wasn't so focused on shrinking to an invisible size. "And you actually gave it back to me." Byakuya scoffs. A reprimand hangs unspoken in the air. You daft fool, it says. "I think of you when I wear it and wonder how in heavens you got the blood out of it. I wear that scarf now not as proof of my lineage, but as proof of how unwavering you are. How dutiful a lieutenant I have. And again, last week, you did the impossible—"
 
"—I've been asleep for a week?! Where am I?" The red-head sits up in a hurry and lightning shoots up his spine. He can't sit properly. He wants to crawl into a sewer and die like the pathetic scum he is.

The humble Byakuya disappears. "You're in one of my guest bedrooms. Pay attention!" He snaps back to his usual austere self; something the lieutenant understands better. The part about the scarf had gone completely over Renji's head.

There's silence then. Neither is sure how to continue this debacle of a conversation. In all their years of painfully awkward conversation, this one might be the worst.

So even after a call for attention, they don't speak. Renji, at a loss for words and adequate apologies, and with plenty of odd shoots of pain to distract him, slowly falls back into a lull of half-sleep. Too aware that Byakuya is still there. Right at his bedside. Reading his book again.

During other moments of lucidity that day, Renji notices a stack of a dozen books at the foot of the bed. Were those books Byakuya had finished or ones he was planning to read while waiting for Renji to recover? Both scenarios were daunting.

More thoughts wander through Renji's semi-conscious mind: That this is the first time he's been in a real bed that isn't a hospital bed. Did this count or was this still a hospital bed? He was dreaming again if he thought he could count this as a bed in a Kuchiki residence. He must have a concussion to make his head so big. Deflated, he berates himself again.

Still reaching for the moon.

When daylight fades, a servant comes to bring light and Byakuya's tea.

Renji still hasn't formed acceptable words to utter out loud.

"Would you like tea?" Byakuya asks. His voice sounds uncharacteristic and only one who'd been at his side for nearly a century would notice.

Despite the awkwardness, Renji finds his own voice. "Don't trouble yourself, Captain."

Byakuya becomes even less adjusted. "Have tea, you bloody fool!" He snaps suddenly. Renji looks at him, both alarmed, and Byakuya puts down the tea set, even though he was halfway through pouring.

His hands are shaking, and it's the first time in his life Renji has ever seen such a thing from his captain. Byakuya recovers his cool as quickly as he'd lost it.

"I'm sorry," Renji says first.

Byakuya says nothing this time. He finishes pouring the tea, then helps prop Renji up on the pillows and hands a cup to him.

They sip quietly.

The tea makes Renji more alert than he's been since their latest battle. He can feel everything now. His mind clears and Byakuya's words from earlier are pounding in his head. He wears his scarf for Renji? There had to be a misunderstanding somewhere...

"Captain?"

"Byakuya."

"Pardon?"

"When you are a guest in my home, you are my equal."

Renji feels more confused than ever. Nevertheless, he continues in the only way he knows. "Captain, please allow me to apologize for my unforgivable—"

"Stop, Renji."

And hearing his captain call him by his given name really does make him quiet.

"I owe you my life. If a kiss is what you want, I'll gladly give you as many as you wish."

"That's not what I want."

"Not as payment," Byakuya corrects.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand."

"Let me rephrase. What is it that you want, Renji?"

The red-headed lieutenant has no idea how to answer that question. It's loaded. And he doesn't know how truthful or open to be. It's possible that this is the first time Byakuya has asked his opinion on anything so meaningful. Meaningful, and yet Renji still doesn't understand the question. He just knows he's bound to get the answer wrong.

"I want to be a good lieutenant for you."

"You want more than that, don't you?"

How and why Byakuya would ask such a leading question was beyond Renji. What was the purpose of this torturous inquisition?

Throwing caution to the wind, Renji answers, "I want to surpass you."

The captain smirks. "Better. You have my respect, Renji."

"Then I want your love." Renji drops his tea. It spills all over the bedcovers and the priceless heirloom teacup shatters on the floor. He's speechless at his own stupidity for having said those words. He wants to swallow them back immediately. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that!" he sputters. "And your cup, I'm sorry!" Renji clamors to his feet, falls forward due to unsteady legs, and starts picking up shards of china. Byakuya is at his side again, grips his hands in his, stopping the clean up. "No, let me. I'm so sorry..."

Renji is so distraught at the mess he's made, that he doesn't notice that this is the first time Byakuya has ever touched him willingly. "Renji."

"I'm sorry," he babbles.

Byakuya shakes him, and finally Renji looks into his eyes with what can only be described as deathly fear.

The captain's expression softens more. "You have my love." The words are heartwarming but Renji still doesn't register what's going on. He's spent too many years as a shadow. Seeing himself as something other is unfathomable. Byakuya understands.

Renji has been the most loyal person Byakuya could ever ask for. That any man could ever ask for, for that matter. But there came a time when his companionship had overshadowed his loyalty; that's what Byakuya valued in him. Uncouth and rough as Renji was, in Byakuya's heart, he was a companion. If only Renji could see himself that way. If only Byakuya had ever let himself show this option. Was it too late now to start over?

With one hand grasping a bandaged wrist, the other raises to brush a lock of bright garnet behind the lieutenant's ear. "You don't need to try so hard. You already have what you're searching for."

"Captain?"

"Do you want to touch me?"

Renji's hands flex awkwardly. He makes a stunted motion to reach towards his captain, but can go no further.

Byakuya is disappointed. He lets Renji go and starts picking up pieces of china instead. His servant cleans the rest and brings them a replacement.

Renji shakes his head when he's beckoned to return to bed. No, he feels more comfortable as a lump on the floor. He belongs at his master's feet. Suddenly there's tears everywhere because he feels he doesn't even deserve that anymore after the way he's acted. Renji hasn't cried this much in decades. But this time he's completely lost and hopeless. He's really fucked himself over. He'll have to banish himself to the world of the living.

Byakuya hands him a handkerchief.

Goodness! Could this get any worse?! He doesn't want Byakuya's pity!

He stops crying instantly. As quickly as it came, the flood is over, and Renji looks up with a scowl. "I hate you."

That would be a real shock for Byakuya if he didn't know better. "Do you?"

"Right now, I do." Renji tries his best to stand up, and succumbs to his captain's help. They get him back into bed, for he's really too weak still to be elsewhere. "I feel worthless."

Byakuya wants to answer something usual, like, "do not blame others for your shortcomings," but he can't. Not this time. Not ever again with Renji, he hopes. He's trying to break that pattern between them. Is it too much too late? "I feel that you are plenty worthwhile. Let that be enough," he says instead.

He stands over Renji's bed and the man looks back up at him not as he did that day Byakuya nearly killed him for daring to raise his Bankai against him—no, that day, Byakuya was proud of him—but as a man defeated. This was probably the final straw for Byakuya as well.

Irrational and impulsive as this may be as a solution, it feels necessary—he raises a corner of the blanket covering his lieutenant and gets under it beside him.

They don't speak again until sometime in the middle of the night.

The shadows playing on Captain Kuchiki's face in the moonlight make him seem more fragile, more human than Renji is used to seeing him.

They're both awake and they both know it.

"What do you want?" Byakuya asks again.

Renji opens his mouth but no words come out. His unspoken words hang in the air however. Byakuya can see the answer in Renji's eyes. He pulls Renji's hand and suddenly they're kissing again. Like neither man has kissed before. It's opening doors Renji never dreamed possible.

And then Byakuya is pulled atop his lieutenant. Renji may not have strength to stand, but he has strength enough for this. He pulls at Byakuya's body, to make him one with his own, for it is never close enough. And Byakuya understands.

Deftly, swiftly, the elder sheds layers of their clothing beneath the covers and settles himself overtop. They're free to touch. Free to rub. Free to feel things they've never been free to feel before.

Renji just wishes he had fewer god-damn bandages so he could feel even more of Byakuya's marblesque skin against his own. There was so much on display for him right now. And maybe the quiet of the night was lulling him into a dream, but Renji was giving into this pleasure being served on a platter for him. He weaves his hands in Byakuya's ebony hair, delving his tongue into the elder's plush mouth.

Their kisses are interrupted by Byakuya's hands, and Renji has no idea what the man is doing, but it's heavenly rubbing into him. A few shuffles later, and Renji can feel more of Byakuya than he ever thought possible. Byakuya has divested of all clothing and sits back over Renji, resuming rubbing together. Renji's eyes go wide with shock that his captain has become so sexual so quickly.

Byakuya is all sharp angles yet soft to the touch, and he's working his hips into Renji and it's making Renji's breathing and heart race. The pleasure building between them is tinged with pain because with every breath, comes forced movement of his broken ribs, curving of his spine, and yet the shooting pain is nothing to the feeling of Byakuya's sex.

"Captain," Renji whispers brokenly. He feels weak, delirious from both pleasure and pain. He can't kiss coherently anymore.

Byakuya knows this, yet there's a goal here. He will not have Renji leave this bed, leave this night and not understand his feelings. He's determined not to go back to how things were. Because Byakuya has seen Renji sweep a million and one things under the rug for his sake and for the propriety Byakuya insists on. This will not be one of them.

So Byakuya travels his kisses to Renji's neck, and between all his bandages, and further down to the one nipple that's in view. Renji tenses and makes a move to stop his captain. The more Byakuya arouses him, the more his ribs and spine burn with fire. The overwhelming heat of pain and pleasure moves through Renji's body, radiating all the way to his toes and fingers, because Byakuya will not refrain. Instead, he spits obscenely into his own hand and brings it to his own entrance.

Renji uses this time to quiet his breathing before his heart hammers out of his chest, re-breaking his ribs in the process. There's not respite enough with how this captain looks back down at him. He looks determined, that, Renji can see. And his color has changed too. Byakuya's pale complexion has colored pink, and his eyes shine blacker than ever before. Renji bites his lip. What was happening? Was this really happening?

Then with a last kiss, Byakuya sits up on his haunches, over Renji's full erection, throwing all covers off them and showing his body to the moonlight. Blue shadows cast patterns over the captain's pale skin, and Renji feels overwhelmed by the beauty before him.

"Captain. Wait." Byakuya makes no motion to stop. Instead, he reaches for Renji's erection directly. "Please." He rests one hand on Renji's shoulder and uses his other to rub Renji over his entrance. He brings his face closer once more.

"I will not treat you kindly, nor softly, but know that you have my deepest love."

"I don't know what to say."

"Say my name, and tell me that you love me, like I know you do."

Such direct words sting more than the lacerations beneath his bandages. Renji's eyes well with tears. "I do. I love you." And when Renji closes his eyes to brink away his tears, Byakuya sinks down over his dick and Renji feels suddenly on the brink of passing out.

"Bya—ah!"

His body shakes and his heart feels so high in his throat he can barely breath, and all Byakuya does is wipe away his tears. He does not relent. He rests his hands on Renji's shoulders, finding the correct position to start moving in fluid strokes. Renji has never before had sex make him see stars like this. He feels his body hovering somewhere between heaven and earth, caught in a web of everything Byakuya Kuchiki has ever been to him.

The elder seems unconcerned of Renji's impending blackout. "Try again," he instructs, his voice more breathy than ever before. He rides his body up and down and bites his lip.

Renji tries to force his face to settle instead of constantly reacting to stimulus. One minute his mouth is slack and wide, the next he's cringing and clenching his jaw. This is everything overload and yet he wants more of it; to never stop.

"Byakuya," he says, more clearly and resolutely than either thought possible in the moment, and as always, Renji summons from within unimaginable strength for this captain. "Byakuya," he says again and settles his eyes determinedly on his captain's.

In the next second, Byakuya is on his back with Renji between his legs, being fucked so hard he must grip the headboard above him or have his head slam through the wall. Suddenly both men are ravenous and awake, especially Renji, who's lost all sense of reality and can only see Byakuya; before him, under him, around him, encasing him from all sides as he chases the high of his life. This man is beneath him, his crystal lattice-work shattered as his breathing also labors in his chest; his perpetual cool has been broken, and he is pliant and bent double willingly for his lieutenant on this night.

When Renji wakes up next, he is sprawled face first between a mess of expensive sheets and unraveling bandages. He panics at being so unkept inside the Kuchiki manor, and briskly sits up. He's surprised to find Byakuya reclining in his chair uncharacteristically leisurely, reading his book. He looks content and smiles gently back at Renji. The lieutenant has no idea what to say so they look at each other, hoping to establish how to proceed in this situation.

Renji had slept another two days straight after their sexual exertion, during which time Byakuya had walked among his sakura garden, and mediated on the thought of being more relaxed in the presence of his lieutenant. If he considered the man his companion, he should treat him that way.

A disheveled Renji looks back at him now, because Byakuya had ordered the caretakers to leave him be and not prim him between crisp folded corners and fluffed pillows and just let him sleep. Byakuya enjoyed seeing Renji look natural this way. As the man had tossed and turned, he imagined this must be the way he slept in his barracks each night. Probably with one leg over the edge of the bed, with his red hair a wide halo for his head. It was a relaxing view for Byakuya, a reminder to relax from now on.

The only thing Renji can think is how they had sex in this very bed. He runs an unsteady hand though his long hair, smoothing, and sweeping some behind his ear in an effort to look more proper.

"Do you feel well, Renji?"

"I—" It was strange hearing his given name on the captain's lips. "I feel well, yes. Thank you."

"Well enough for breakfast?"

"Will you eat with me?"

"I will. Do you feel well enough yet to eat at a table?"

Unknowing of the answer, Renji tries to move, shifts both legs over the edge of the bed to rest his feet firmly on the floor. Then he pushes up to stand, a bit unsteady, and Byakuya is there to lend his shoulder, which Renji rests his hand on before he can consider otherwise. He's not strong, but he's steady enough to stand finally.

"Table, it is."

The captain calls to a servant and gives his orders. Then hands Renji a yukata to cover himself with because Renji is still buck naked other than for his remaining swathes of bandages; a few of which have come loose and Renji plucks them off unceremoniously. He's healed enough now that his skin is only bruised or red but no longer torn.

The yukata Byakuya has given him is decorated with sakura petals and Renji smiles sheepishly. He’s always known Senbonzakura is deadly but beautiful, and now he feels it acutely. He looks up and can't help reach for Byakuya's face because he finally feels the love he’s longed for. The elder is surprised, but stays within reach as Renji runs his hand delicately over his cheek and ends on the tips of his ebony hair.

"Captain."

"Captain?" The look he receives is not unkind, just questioning.

"I will keep Byakuya for more intimate moments. If you'll allow me," Renji explains.

The captain smiles. Never the wide toothy grin Renji would probably make; he's still restrained, but the slight upward curve of Kuchiki's lips is genuine and the smile reaches his eyes.

"I'd like that." He makes to step away but Renji pulls him back and captures his lips in a tentative kiss.

"Thank you," he whispers lowly. He traces fingers through Byakuya's hair trying to express his feelings as they hold each other. It finally feels like they understand each other. Byakuya returns his kiss and they lose track of time in each other's mouths.

Renji is more than a shadow.

---

Chapter Text

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SHADOW

Part 2: (epilogue)

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Renji learned quickly what his captain meant when he said, "I will not treat you kindly, nor softly," for as soon as they'd got back to work, it felt like nothing had changed. During business hours, Byakuya was as sterile and austere as ever. Even during off-hours, because they barely saw each other. If Renji was lucky, he would finish the mountains of paperwork on his desk in time to leave the office at the same time as the captain—which was a rarity, only achieved if he skipped his lunch period—after which they'd trade a few awkward looks and walk out of sixth division together. Together, being a rather loose definition.

Byakuya walked and Renji walked beside him; which was indeed different than before, when Renji hadn't deigned to walk beside his captain, unless dire circumstances demanded it. But as for actually together, they may have been randoms on the street walking in the same direction.

The Kuchiki manor was in the direction of the sunset, which had nearly passed at this time of night, but they could still admire a few steaks of red along the horizon. The sight, Renji supposed, somewhat explained their lack of communication.

Renji walked his captain home, where they stopped at a massive gate and Byakuya thanked him for his company. Most would think he said it rather dryly, as the captain said all things, but Renji had more than a century of experience reading Byakuya's expressions, so he knew it was in fact, very sweetly, and it made his heart soar. They were the same parting words from all the other times they had separated in front of this gate, but every time, Renji couldn't help smile. The two men lingered a few seconds more, where Byakuya looked radiant in the moonlight, and Renji smiled too large for the situation. And then finally, Renji would look down and say, "My pleasure, Captain." And when he would look up, Byakuya would normally already be halfway down the path inwards. Then Renji would watch him walk away, his white haori billowing into the night; and when he could no longer see his captain, he would double back to the sixth division barracks and fall asleep to happy thoughts of Byakuya's "Thank you for your company."

But tonight is not a usual night, and Renji is shocked to find Byakuya still before him when he looks up. He wipes the smile off his face, immediately concerned he has befuddled something and about to receive censure. He is even more surprised when the captain speaks, starting with this given name.

"Renji." The word floats off the man's tongue and enraptures the poor lieutenant. He's still amazed each time he hears it, even though it's happened several times now in their off-work hours.

The moment drags on for longer than necessary. Perhaps Byakuya is deciding his words; Renji doesn't mind as long as he can remain in his presence for a while longer. "Would you like to accompany me to dinner as well?"

This is another of those moments Renji is unaccustomed to. Did Byakuya mean now? Or some other time? Or generally? He swallows and tries to sound refined. "I would like that very much."

The smile Byakuya returns is as wide as Renji has ever seen it. It even has the faint beginning of dimples, and Renji desperately wants to see if a full normal-person smile from Byakuya would indeed have adorable dimples. But it is over as soon as it begins. Byakuya has turned away and started up the path towards the manor, leaving Renji grinning stupidly at thin air.

Now what? Was he supposed to follow? Or go home? Renji isn't quick on the uptake of social decorum. Thankfully, Byakuya realizes this and pauses. It looks like it pains him mortally to do so however.

"Renji."

"Yes, Captian?" It is awkward talking like this from a handful of meters distance.

"I meant dinner tonight, with me." Captain Kuchiki makes the most uncharacteristic head-nod in the direction of his house, and Renji wants to die in this moment for how embarrassing it is. Never in his life had he seen the captain spell something out like that. It is obvious the infinitesimal action physically hurts Byakuya. Renji can see the restraint on the man's face. And in return, Byakuya can see the hesitation as Renji steps gingerly over the gate threshold.

Maybe moments like this will become easier with time, Byakuya tells himself. He could swallow some of his pride until then.

The path to the Kuchiki manor is curved and forked and lined with many sakura trees. They are not currently in bloom, but they still remind Renji of his captain. When the main house comes into view, Renji stares in awe. It is sprawling, with a never-ending porch wrapped around, and with several entrances by the look of it. They arrive at one such entrances, and Byakuya pauses again to look at Renji. The lieutenant struggles to understand what the look means.

Years of reading the minutest of airs from his captain come in handy however, otherwise he is sure no one else would understand. Renji still hesitates, but takes one of Byakuya's hands in his and sees he's made the right move. Then he looks into Byakuya's sparkling eyes and his look is still expectant, and Renji is still afraid he'll make a mistake that will ruin this moment. Byakuya, even after a long day's work is as beautiful as ever. In fact, Renji has never seen him not be breath-takingly beautiful. Whether in the midst of battle or raging anger, Byakuya is still beautiful to him. Now he has even more beautiful images of this captain to recount. Like how it feels to make love to him. Renji moves in slightly, wants to kiss those lips again, and Byakuya does not step away, only looks back at Renji and allows him access.

So Renji closes the distance between them, pulls his captain close, and weaves one hand into the hair at the nape of his neck; happy as if he were standing on the pinnacle of the Earth. They kiss, softly, tentatively, like Renji has never kissed before. He feels it in his toes practically, and when Byakuya ends the kiss, Renji is reluctant to pull away. He wants to stay in his presence, cocooned in his atmosphere. They breathe together, head to head, until the tiny distance between them hurts his heart, and Renji can't help kissing the other man again. More hungrily this time, with a step forward so Byakuya has to take a step back, but Renji holds him close. In this moment he is no longer afraid to touch, to pull Byakuya closer still, to wrap an arm protectively around his middle. He shows his love through his kiss.

Renji is not a particularly affectionate man, nor is Byakuya, but Renji has a free, juvenile spirit which Byakuya admires. Byakuya wants this kiss, he can't deny it. He can feel life itself in Renji's kiss and it scares him how much he wants this. Renji wakes something in him he hasn't felt in years, something which threatens to swallow him whole. What is love? Byakuya thinks this is it.

And then he snaps back to reality and thinks it's improper to have invited someone to dinner, only to take him to bed without it.

Byakuya's hand is on Renji's chest now, and Renji understands he needs to stop. But it's not unkindly, for Byakuya's other hand is on Renji's cheek and Renji is melting in a pool of how much he loves this man, and how lucky he feels to be here. This doesn't yet feel real. He's looking into Byakuya Kuchiki's eyes, and they aren't scolding or dismissive. They look warm, even through the usual ice storm of intensity.

Renji doesn't want to pull away, but Byakuya reminds, "Dinner, Renji."

"Does that include dessert?"

The look he receives in return is a warning. Much more like he's used to, and Renji remembers not to push his luck. Byakuya keeps his hand though, and leads him through the house finally, into a modest dining area. Similar to where they had breakfast before, but more intimate this time. Servants immediately double the place setting for Renji as well, and Renji feels awkward having others work to arrange things for him. He can practically feel the question in the air, "Who are you to the Master?" But the Kuchiki servants are the quickest he's ever seen, and too soon he and Byakuya are alone, seated across from each other in silence, with many good foodstuffs between them.

As with breakfast, Renji struggles through by copying as exactly as possible everything that Byakuya does. They do not speak, and Renji is grateful for it. He feels out of place in this house. He understands now, that in his own way Byakuya has feelings for him, but Renji doesn't yet understand how to be in his presence and not feel like he doesn't belong. He thinks he's going to have to get used to it, because the other option, that Byakuya slums it in the sixth's barracks, is categorically impossible. He feels redness on his face just imagining it and he's caught for it.

"What is it you find funny?" Byakuya asks, and Renji is stunned. The captain would normally not ask. The captain would normally not even take notice of something so trivial.

"I—uh. I was imagining you at our mess hall." He chooses to not say why.

Byakuya regards him, and ultimately sees through the words to the actual problem. "May I do anything to ease your stay in my home?"

Renji bites his lip. Should he actually say something or politely decline? "Captain," he starts, and Byakuya swallows visibly at the word (or from Renji's studied point of view). "If you could please correct my table manners?"

Byakuya's eyebrows peak. He says more kindly than Renji would have imagined, "You're doing very well so far, I see nothing of concern." It's highly doubtful he's being truthful, but it does put Renji more at ease. He looks down with a shy smile, prepared to let their conversation dwindle to nothing again, but after a few moments Byakuya continues. "I've noticed that there are times you eschew lunch in favor of work. You don't have to. I can wait for you at the end of day." Renji is frozen in embarrassment again, hand nearly dropping his chopsticks. He manages to look up. Byakuya has a pained expression on his face again, but Renji understands now that it means he's trying to accommodate their budding relationship.

"No, no, please Captain. I can't inconvenience you." Renji seriously wants to cry. He'll give up all his lunches if he could have dinner with his captain like this. Even if it's slightly awkward, it's more than he ever dreamed of. "You've done more than enough for me," he adds quietly.

The captain wants to say more but doesn't. They finish dinner with no further words. It catches Renji off guard when Byakuya stands, and so Renji stands also. "Thank you for dinner," he bows. Byakuya strains for a second but follows the action, albeit more stiffly. Renji feels his chest contract but chooses not to question his captain. He should just leave before anything worse happens. He's determined to leave now actually. What was Byakuya thinking, bowing to someone like him? "Captain, I—" What was the best way to make an exit now? What was appropriate? "I hope we can do this again. If you wish." Renji wants to wash his tongue for sounding like such a pussy.

Byakuya looks pleased however, and it makes up for the sick feeling in his chest. Renji focuses on not choking when Byakuya steps closer to him. "Will you stay tonight?" The words seem too informal on Byakuya's lips, but at the same time beguilingly seductive. Byakuya comes closer still and Renji can only nod this time. He doesn't trust himself with any more words, sure he's made enough of a fool of himself for one night.

They part then, the look on Byakuya's face unreadable, and the servants show Renji to his quarters for the night. He has a private bathing area and bedroom. It's more luxurious than the room he stayed in while recovering. This room opens to a courtyard, peaceful and lush, with sakura trees dressed only in moonlight. It reminds Renji of Byakuya's body in the moonlight. He sits on the porch outside his room reminiscing, suddenly too awake, not ready for sleep. He reaches a hand up to his lips instinctually. Byakuya has kissed him. And been in bed with him, so intimately. He can hardly believe it. Still, this all feels like the moon to him. So foreign and magical.

Renji thinks he is awake, but in fact, he had drifted to sleep, in wonderful thoughts of his captain. Byakuya finds him, cross-legged on the porch floor, back resting against the door jam, with a peaceful smile on his face. He wonders if he should disturb him. Renji wakes before Byakuya can step away.

"Captain!" He springs to life, as quick as ever; as quick as if they were facing battle. Byakuya should have known. The lieutenant could sleep like a rock, but also had excellent instincts for when to wake. "I'm sorry."

"Whatever for?"

Then Renji blinks. He has no idea what for. For sleeping improperly? For being caught sleeping on the job? For dreaming inappropriate thoughts of this captain? He bites his lip instead. "I don't know."

"You've had a long day. I'm sorry to have disturbed you," Byakuya says, and with a light brush of Renji's cheek, he turns away.

"Wait!" Byakuya is surprised that Renji actually takes his hand. They're looking at each other again. The moment is palpable, a curtain of solitude shielding them from the world, and that makes it comfortable. Whenever Renji can get close like this, it feels easier than when he is far. When he is across the room from Byakuya he feels nervous and uncertain, but when they are this close, breathing the same air, it doesn't feel like Byakuya is so unreachable anymore. "Let me kiss you again," he says. And he kisses his captain before he receives a reply.

He is spurred on by the thoughts he was having a moment ago, of having Byakuya draped in moonlight, bare and willing again. He dips his lips to the underside of Byakuya's jaw, kissing along his neck. He finds that Byakuya is no longer wearing his shikakusho, but a silk yukata which flutters and falls open at the lightest touch. Where the garment parts, Renji's kisses follow, lower.

Byakuya had come to find the lieutenant for this exact reason, but wonders if outside was the best place for this activity. He extracts himself from Renji's embrace, takes his hand and beckons him inside. Renji will have none of it. He sees the silk that's falling off Byakuya's shoulder, exposing milky skin, and won't have that be covered in darkness. He wants to see this man. He kisses up Byakuya's extended arm until they are together again and Renji can push him against the exterior wall of the room he was permitted tonight. He's not interested in the room. He's interested in Byakuya.

"Byakuya," he breathes, and the man trembles in his hold. Renji reaches up his thigh and finds it bare beneath the silk. This is so alluring, he bites into the first flesh he can find, just to keep from screaming. Then licks along the mark he's left on Byakuya's shoulder and soothes further with more kisses. He can feel himself unraveling, rational thought draining away, and pooling as lust, low in his abdomen. He stills before losing more control, to look into Byakuya's eyes, pulls away his hair bands and strips away the top of his shikakusho. Byakuya runs a hand through the lieutenant's now loose red locks, with an impish look in his eyes. Renji was going to strip further, but the darkness in Byakuya's eyes unbinds him. He lunges back into the captain's mouth, pulling his body into his, pulling his tongue into his mouth. Renji wants to devour this man.

Up until recently, it was hard to describe what that meant, but recently, Renji knows exactly what he wants. He wants to taste every inch of Byakuya Kuchiki. He wants to worship him, and pleasure him, and show him how good, and how bad he can be.

He loves that Byakuya's hands tangle in his hair, loves how he can finally hear him breathe, for normally Byakuya's presence is as still as stone, and loves how he can trail his tongue down his captain's chest uninterrupted. He loves everything about his captain. He'll gladly get on his knees for his captain.

Renji rests a hand on the ribbon holding Byakuya's yukata together and looks up from where he's kneeling. Byakuya's eyes are smoldering and dark in reply, and so Renji pulls on that ribbon to watch the silk fall open entirely, to only be held around Byakuya's elbows, as if the material was a pair of wings.

Beneath, Byakuya is bare for Renji, and Renji kisses his stomach in appreciation. He kisses lower and breathes in, wanting to secure this moment in his memory with all senses. He kisses until he's no longer kissing, but sucking, and looks up at Byakuya.

Byakuya has never been one for blowjobs much—something akin to dignity of both parties soured the experience for him—but seeing Renji before him seemed different somehow. His fingers clench in the man's red hair, and Renji seems more than happy about it, sucking Byakuya further into his mouth. Renji knows how to use his tongue and mouth more than Byakuya would like to admit. It's animalistic and wet, and obscene, and more than Byakuya had bargained for tonight. He'd prepared for something different.

Too quickly, he's at the brink; too quickly, he's warning his lieutenant he's close; but Renji doesn't stop, and he's tumbling over the edge, and Renji is cleaning him with his tongue.

Then he's holding him up with his body, kissing under this ear and telling him he's beautiful. Byakuya doesn't often want to cry, but the emotion is tugging on his heartstrings now. He can only reply, "Take me to bed," and Renji does. He scoops his captain up bridle-style and takes him into the guestroom. On the bed, he resumes kissing him gently, and Byakuya can barely stand it.

Renji picks this moment to say, "I love you," and Byakuya really can't hold his tears anymore. Renji covers them in blankets, as if that hides them further from the world, and kisses him more.

Renji must have kissed every inch of Byakuya's body before his tears dry, and still Renji kisses him. "Stop," Byakuya says finally.

"Why?"

"I didn't come here for this."

Renji looks up finally, and he's more aware than Byakuya thought he'd be. It reminds him of Renji when he fights. When he says Bankai and the world be damned. "Do you feel something? Something big? Like a tidal wave? That's about to knock you over? Shallow you whole?"

"Yes."

"I've felt that for you for years now. So no, I won't stop. And I won't fuck you either. Not tonight."

"Renji—" Byakuya is about to protest.

"You started this."

"Abarai," Byakuya warns this time.

"No. You started this, and I'm going to show you what love is."

Byakuya is slightly put off, even while curious. Renji doesn't fight him often. Last time, he'd nearly killed the man for it, so it's annoying when Renji's rebellious side flares up. Now doesn't seem like the time to spill blood, so Byakuya bites his lip. At the same time, he thinks he loves this brute. He'd prefer to spend many years and lives with him above others. Would prefer to watch him, and watch him laugh, and hear his jokes, and hear him speak, above all others. Definitely prefers his body to all others also, even with those infernal tattoos. If he hadn't inferred from his lieutenant's personality over the years, he's come to discover directly of late that Renji is very skilled sexually. Yes, Byakuya loves Renji, so the idiot needs to step off and not put all these feelings on him. Byakuya puts a hand out between them, and Renji takes it from his chest and brings it to his mouth. Not what Byakuya had intended.

"I kissed you because I thought I was going to die. I would have died happy. So this, everything after, I can do this for eternity." He's still draped over Byakuya's body, kissing parts of him. "I don't know why you like me. You don't need to answer. But you do, I know that much."

Byakuya feels restless. He wants to narrow his eyes and purse his lips and retort how Renji is a guest in his home so he should keep his place. But that's too cruel.

As if Renji had read his mind, he says, "Kill me, if you don't want me." It makes Byakuya soften. Renji is right, he does want him. Byakuya could have swept a single kiss under the rug, but he didn't. He'd started this.

Renji kisses him on the mouth then, elopes with his tongue, cards his fingers gently through Byakuya's hair. Byakuya no longer wants to fight. He tries to return the kiss as good as he gets, but Renji feels as if he's kissing Byakuya into submission. Like he's trying to steal all air from him. It's not unkind, just powerful.

He wanders a hand down his captain's naked body and finds the entrance he's searching for. It's slick and unnaturally wet for a man. No, he won't fuck Byakuya tonight. But he will make him come again. And again. With his fingers.

The captain sucks in a breath. He's getting pulled under. Like there isn't enough oxygen.

Renji kisses him.

In the morning, Byakuya wakes first. He's sluggish in a way he's unused to, head still foggy from the number of times he'd come last night, and he's covered in not come, but Renji's dry saliva. His lieutenant was too diligent. And because Byakuya knew him too well, he also knew Renji was awake and staring at his back right now.

He'd always known Renji to be a bit careless, unintentionally, around his love interests. From what he'd surmised around the Seireitei at least. But Renji wasn't like that at all with him. He was intense and attentive and eager to please in all ways, even when destructive to himself. This wasn't any different than most interaction Byakuya had ever had with him. Just, more, this time.

Byakuya can't even remember when Renji came into his life. He supposed it was around the time he started rounding on the inter-division sparring sessions, in search for a lieutenant. It wasn't a serious search. He'd done fine without one for long enough. And then one day he decided to take a chance on a mutt from the eleventh division. One that wouldn't stay down and die in battle. Other than that, there wasn't much that Byakuya had seen in Abarai. The relationship they cultivated was a slow one from his perspective. Until here they were today. "Kill me," Renji had said last night. Byakuya believed him. He'd killed many and held many lives in his hands, but Renji's—he didn't like that. Only love made people say such stupid things.

"'Morning," says Renji. There he is, saying more stupid things.

Byakuya gets up from the bed without a word, gathers his silk yukata from the floor and walks out.

"Shit." Renji says to an empty room.

After bathing, Renji is led to breakfast by a servant, and he's surprised to find Byakuya on the other end of the table. He's reading from a book, not yet started his meal.

Renji tries again. "Good morning, Captain."

"Good morning, Abarai."

Ouch. Renji sighs and takes his place. Byakuya puts down his book and they eat in silence. Well, he could live with this.

They walk to the sixth division together in silence, as well. The rest of the day is a normal working day with so much paperwork it's nearly midnight before Renji leaves, and he'd lost track of where Byakuya was hours ago.

It was more than a month later when something unusual happened again between the lieutenant and captain of the sixth.

Renji noticed towards the end of day that Byakuya was reading a non-work-related book. Hours later when Renji finished his mountain of paperwork, Byakuya was still reading that same book, just much closer to the end.

Honestly, it was funny how unfit Renji was for the day-to-day requirements of being sixth's lieutenant. Their squad, since being headed by diligent Captain Kuchiki, was the one bogged down with more paperwork than any other division, even picking up slack for the others, and almost the entirety of eleventh's because Zaraki didn't even know what paperwork was. Yet the person charged with attending to a large portion of it was Renji: Renji, who when entering the Soul Reaper Academy could barely read, and who was still slow to this day, and had terrible penmanship to boot. He did it all for his captain; but when one thought of all the people more capable than Renji for the job, it was laughable. Renji was only good at the fighting and physical training part of his job. The paperwork is something he tried his best with, but still knew he sucked at. Almost daily, Byakuya unspokenly corrected his work. Today would definitely be one of those days, because Renji had been distracted by the fact that Byakuya was still in the office at this late hour, and his work had become sloppy. Normally, he'd see his captain in the morning editing the work delivered tonight, but when Renji delivered his pile of work tonight, Byakuya started editing it right in front of him. Renji felt awkward suddenly. It was that feeling of being in the same room as the captain but unable to feel at ease.

He knows that if Byakuya is in the office, he can't yet go home. So maybe a reminder was in order, so Renji could finally get some sleep.

"You usually leave that for the morning, don't you, Captain?"

Byakuya scratches out a few more lines, nice and neatly, before putting down his pen. "You are correct. I am procrastinating," he admits, then looks up at Renji who is bewildered. "Will you walk home with me?"

Renji blinks. "Yes, absolutely." Had Byakuya waited for him?

So they walk to the Kuchiki manor, at the end of dusk, like all the other times, and outside the gate, Byakuya says, "Thank you for your company."

Renji's cheeks feel hot. He looks down and replies, "My pleasure, Captain."

When Renji looks up, Byakuya is already walking up the path to the main house. His haori disappears into the night and Renji is left with a pleasant yet terrible ache in his heart.

This Byakuya waiting for Renji thing happens almost once a week for the next month, until one of these times, Renji looks up from his feet and Byakuya isn't walking away, but he's still there in front of him and he says, "Renji, would you like to have dinner together?"

Renji didn't think this opportunity would come again so soon. He thinks he'd royally screwed up the last time, and this time he tries his hardest to keep on his best behavior. "I would like that very much. Thank you."

They don't kiss outside the entrance this time, and they don't talk during dinner. Renji is focusing too much on his manners to try anything like that again. After dinner, he wonders if he should leave. It's quieter between them than it is at work.

Byakuya stands first, and Renji follows suit. "Thank you for dinner," he says, and bows because he knows it's proper and hopes to god that Byakuya doesn't do the same again. Byakuya also bows, a little less awkwardly than last time.

When Byakuya looks into his eyes, Renji is at another loss for words. His eyes are dark, unsure but determined, and Renji's mouth is very dry. He's thankful to not have to say anything else when the captain takes his hand and leads him down several hallways. They end up not in a guestroom but in Byakuya's quarters. Renji doesn't need this explained, it's obvious by how many books are on display. Byakuya's room looks more like a library, and yet Renji is sure this manor houses an actual library, and that all these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Renji is more confused by the fact that Byakuya has started removing the kenseikan from his hair, then his shikakusho, and then completely unabashedly puts on a silk yukata, similar to the one he'd seen Byakuya don the last time. He hands Renji a yukata of his own, the same one he'd worn while recovering, the one with sakura petals.

When Byakuya and his silk covering slip out of the room, Renji makes quick work of changing. He tries to fold his shikakusho properly—the way they taught him in the Academy but no one really did—and hide the fact that his tabi probably smell by stuffing them underneath.

He tentatively follows in the direction that Byakuya went, and finds the man brushing his teeth. Byakuya seems welcome to Renji's company and hands him a toothbrush as well.

Of all the things he's seen, watching Byakuya Kuchiki brush his teeth seems like the most intimate one. He tries not to stare. Not mouth nor hand free if battle should arise, Renji imagines it would be hard to fight back at a time like this. He imagines Byakuya lunging at him with foamy mouth and toothbrush as weapon, and is surprised to find even that rather terrifying. The next time he looks at Byakuya, he finds the man has finished, and is only waiting for him. Renji spits and gargles quickly to catch up.

Then Byakuya takes him by the hand and leads him to bed. He drops his yukata and pulls the sash free from Renji's as well. They are both naked now and Renji is painfully aware. To make it worse, Byakuya reaches into a dresser and retrieves a small jar of something Renji thinks he knows the use for.

Byakuya places it into Renji's hands and Renji kisses him. This is another night where Renji goes unattended to, as he instead lavishes Byakuya with his mouth and fingers. It's amazing how few words are spoken between them. Renji only has to say the man's name.

This time when they wake in the morning, Byakuya is tracing a finger gingerly over the tattoos on Renji's chest, over this shoulder and to his bicep, and back again.

He thinks he knows why Renji marks himself this way, but he's never asked. He knows however that it will be hard to imagine any sexual encounters hereafter without them in his vision. Already he's gotten used to the sight of them, used to the sight of Renji in bed. Used to being sexual again, as he has not been in many decades. This was not something he had planned, but he finds it very easy to be intimate with his lieutenant. The first time was a statement more than an expression. But Renji hasn't treated him the same since. There has been a marked change between the Abarai he used to know and the one he now beds. He likes them both, but can't understand this new one that denies himself pleasure for the captain's sake. Byakuya wonders if he's done too much or not enough in accommodating this relationship.

Renji has been awake for as long as Byakuya has. He turns now, face half hidden behind a curtain of red and licks over one of Byakuya's nipples. When he looks into Byakuya's eyes, Byakuya can see the same eyes that looked up at him from below, eager to please and pleasure. In fact, he can see the same man that wouldn't die in a pool of his own blood. This thought shakes him. He wants to know how long Renji has felt this way. Renji had said years. Byakuya is starting to think it's more like decades. And he thought he'd understood Renji Abarai.

Renji is not particularly astute, in fact he's quite the opposite, except when it comes to Captain Kuchiki, whom he has studied more keenly than any book. So when Byakuya stares blankly, he's become rather good at understanding what kind of blank, and sometimes what it means. Not that he's very good, but definitely better than any other at deciphering his captain's expressions.

"After the first time I saw you, I spent three months pleading on the doorstep of the Academy for them to accept me," Renji explains. "I was young." He says it as if revealing such a truth is not Earth-shattering. Even Byakuya needs time to process this.

It is most often that Renji is the one admiring his captain, but more often, Byakuya is the one admiring his lieutenant. Renji makes time itself disappear. What is life if one can spend it with such dedication and loyalty to another? Blindly, Byakuya would like to add. Cannot Renji see how flawed the captain is? Why choose to live like this?

"You are still young, Renji."

"So are you."

The answer takes him aback; as always, unused to having the lieutenant contradict him. He stiffens and rises to begin his morning routine. He can see Renji again at breakfast and at work, but now he needs two moments of solitude.

It takes several more weeks until Byakuya can no longer stand being alone in his own bed.

Ever since he's let Renji into his body, he feels empty without him there. Too many nights since, Byakuya has walked through his private gardens and courtyard, his thoughts occupied by the other man. Maybe Renji was right and he was young still. Maybe they had all the time in the world. Maybe even at his age, he was still naive to some things.

Renji was nothing like Hasana, Byakuya thinks. Hasana was a bright star exploding in the night sky and gone the next second; while Renji is the kind of demon that waits dormant in ashes, never to extinguish no matter how you stepped on him. That's what Byakuya feels like now. He wonders how long he himself has felt this way; when he started seeing Renji as something more than someone to step on but more as support. He feels a kind of surrender happening within himself. He can no longer imagine a life without Renji at his side and he wonders when this happened. Many decades ago, Byakuya can say, but with no further precision.

Renji has given up his lunch for the third time this week, and so Byakuya relents and waits for him this time. The pile of paper on the lieutenant’s desk is the smallest it's been at this time of day for a while. Renji must be trying extra hard to win his captain's favor. So Byakuya picks up the latest novel he's been reading in the dead of night and resumes it.

Sunset comes and goes and Renji finally finishes. There have been extra forms to complete ever since the latest uprising so not even flecks of purple can be seen in the sky anymore, only a full moon tonight.

Byakuya doesn't even feel like eating anymore. Not at this hour. He dawdles during dinner so obviously that Renji asks, "Is something the matter, Captain?"

The words ring in Byakuya's head. He knows for a fact that with every other person, Renji would have said, "What's up?" or "What's wrong, buddy?"

Byakuya doesn't know how to answer. The only thing he can think of to do is stand and lead Renji to the bedroom. His bedroom again. Because he wants him close. Then Byakuya just starts shedding clothing. Renji follows suit like an obedient puppy.

Byakuya is not in a rush, more like in a daze, and when he sees Renji's bare chest, he falls into it and Renji wraps his arms around him.

Renji is like a security blanket, Byakuya decides. He can't live without it even if the benefit is illusory. But then a voice in his head says it is not. He indeed would not be alive without Renji. And he thinks this voice isn't talking just about the onetime Renji saved his life.

It seems Renji has understood his place, but only now was it Byakuya's turn to understand. Even after having told Renji he is worthy and opened himself to him. It is still a foreign feeling to give one's heart, even more than to give one's body.

As they stand toe to toe, it is Renji who is slightly taller, more muscled, and sure of himself. How is it that in these matters he is always more ready than Byakuya? Byakuya, who has honed the art of subtlety since he was born. Yet it is Renji, who is more sure, more bold, more concrete. Even in the subtle art of love.

Fine, then let him be consumed by it. Let it wash over him from the master. Byakuya gives up. Not for the first time, but with a first on his lips, he kisses Renji and these are his wishes: consume me, teach me, love me. Let me show you I am willing and I can love you back.

Byakuya wasn't sure what he had expected by opening himself to Renji, but he'd allowed in a tsunami of feelings and it felt like he was in the eye of the storm now. Kissing Renji is surrender.

"I want you in me. As part of me."

Renji does not protest tonight. With only one word on Renji's lips, his captain's given name, they come together. Joined.

Byakuya does not climb off his lieutenant even when he should. He stays and listens to his heartbeat beneath the chest he rests on. They are still joined and Byakuya can feel wetness between them. Other nights before this, Renji has licked him clean.

His breath returned to him, Byakuya licks a stripe up the lieutenant's sternum. "Again," he demands. Renji flips them, still between his captain's legs, and Byakuya reaches for the headboard of the bed.

The rhythm is faster than the time they've just had. Renji is more powerful in this position. Already his thrusts are harder than when Byakuya had screwed himself overtop his man. Still, "harder," he orders. Renji grips him by the hips, pulls him higher onto his thighs and Byakuya's breath skips at the next thrust. He covers his mouth with a hand, wants to keep some sort of control, even while begging to lose it. "Harder," he breathes while he still can.

Renji folds him double, takes away the hand he was hiding behind and comes to kiss him. "I love you," he says. The look in Renji's eyes is like fire.

"Kill me," Byakuya returns. He's said it into the confines of their lips.

Renji bites him. He'll have a cut across his lip tomorrow; he can taste his own blood.

When he sees Renji's eyes again, he's not the caged animal Byakuya expected. He's on the brink of tears, and he has a searching look in his eyes, and then as if he's found an answer, he kisses Byakuya on the cheek. "I love you," he says again, softly yet resolute. As if to solidify, and place himself before his lover for eternity. And again, "I love you. Always."

Renji was too much. Everything Byakuya had ever thought of him, the man always went further. Like now. They way Renji binds them together has Byakuya enveloped whole. Heart trapped, beating wildly. From now on, Renji Abarai really could kill him. He's surrendered.

---

It takes Renji many months to realize that Byakuya Kuchiki has been watching him when he goes to the eleventh division to spar with this mates.

Byakuya wants to make sure he hasn't killed the lively spirit he's always known in Renji. Because around him, Renji is so different.

With everyone else, Renji is still a classless brute. Especially when he fights. As if he still lived in the eleventh division. His shikakusho is torn to pieces, he's covered in dirt and blood, and Byakuya watches him savagely spit blood onto the ground, before lunging again at Madarame. A clash of weapons rings out, as Ayasegawa and other elevens cheer from the sidelines.

Byakuya's lips twitch in a slight smile where he is hidden and Captain Zaraki catches him at it. He'd been so wrapped up in watching Renji, that he hadn't noticed a lumbering bear like Zaraki approach him.

"Not thinking about stealing another of my men, are you?" he grunts.

"No, I am not," Byakuya replies. He wants to beat himself for having been so dense as to not escape a conversation with this baffoon.

"Then it's a pretty odd place to find you." Zaraki looks down at the other captain with a menacing eye. "Are you looking for a fight yourself, then?"

All traces of a smile are gone from Byakuya's face. "No. But thank you for offering." His words sound more like, "Never talk to me again." But Zaraki isn't one to understand such nuances. He laughs and continues talking jovially. The sight of a good fight always puts Kenpachi Zaraki in a good mood.

"You know, Retsu has always told me I look for fights too easily. Were you looking for something else?"

Byakuya splinters. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. No matter, Byakuya is not about to spill his feelings. "No again. Thank you for the courtesy of allowing me to watch your men train." Byakuya is gone in the next second.

He wants to bleach his tongue after every time he has to speak to Zaraki.

But he does like watching Renji fight. It pushes him to also train harder, because he's sure one day Renji will succeed him. If not for any other reason than for always defying expectations.

Renji chooses to not divulge that he knows when Byakuya watches. It makes no difference to him. Except he usually fucks him extra hard the next time they come together.

And Byakuya is usually extra needy.

Because the man who had everything finally has the most precious thing of all.



---

 THE END.