Today is the day we waited for…
Ten years ago, Aizen Sousuke betrayed the Gotei 13 and came to Las Noches. Before he left, he put heavy weights on the hearts of many. He deceived…and used…and murdered so many people. Along with that, he turned friend against friend, subordinate against taichou, brother against sister…
And so, we picked up the pieces and went on…always planning and training and hoping for this day. But although my friends are still at my side…and many hearts today are renewed in hope by the fall of Aizen Sousuke, for some of us, the price has been too high. For some of us, the victory is hollow, because someone who should be here to witness this is not. And after the fortress is cleared and we watch it burn to the ground, I will step into that man's shoes…will accept leadership of the squad that was once ours…and will honor him and everything he was to me by continuing the legacy of greatness we built together. We had over forty years of enmity, five of friendship and one night of passion before he disappeared into this place and never returned.
"Abarai fukutaichou," said Rikichi, breathless from running, "Soutaichou has given us clearance to begin the final purge. The way has been opened."
Renji nodded solemnly.
"Thank you, Rikichi."
He turned to the full complement of Squad Six, his hand on his zanpakutou.
"Listen carefully," he said the group of shinigami, "Stay in your groups, close to your leaders. Kill any hollows you come across. Free any prisoners you find. Call Squad Four for any injured…and…if any of you find any sign that points to Kuchiki taichou's fate, you are to report to me at once. As soon as we come out of the fortress, it will be put to the torch…so be thorough in your search for any innocents. Any questions?"
He was met with silence and a slight shifting of anxious bodies.
The groups separated. Renji motioned for Rukia, Rikichi, Yoruichi and Ichigo to join his search party and they turned in the direction of the prisons. It was there, Renji thought, that they might have the best chance of finding any clues. He knew better than to hope to find Byakuya alive, but at very least, there might be a shred of clothing, a tiny bit of residual reiatsu…something…something to give him answers.
The group was nearly silent except for the hiss of flash steps and the sound of footsteps moving from the sand onto the stone steps. They flash stepped to the top and stopped at the doors.
They stood open and unguarded…not a good sign…
Renji led his group inside and assigned pairs to check each cell. He motioned to Rukia to follow him and sent Ichigo off with Rikichi and Yoruichi. Rukia and Renji turned toward the section with the highest level of security and blasted the locked door apart. They walked through the smoking ruin and into the darkened entry room, using small kido spells to illuminate the area.
They found the guards lying on the floor, their bloodied swords buried in their own bodies, their faces twisted in pain. Strangely, the rest of the room was neat and looked nearly untouched. Renji moved to the Guard Captain's desk and searched it carefully. His fingers fell upon a book, which he pulled out and studied for a moment.
"Prisoners Log," he whispered, opening the book.
He scanned the pages carefully, noting the precise listing of the names and rankings of all of the powerful prisoners…the days of arrival, notes on Aizen's instructions, records of care and lists of each one's schedule of torments…everything down to the implements used and the responses obtained…and the dates of extermination. It sent a chill through Renji to know what many of these had faced. He read and re-read the log, frustrated that with such precise record-keeping one name had been left out.
The sudden pain in Rukia's voice made him look up. She had been searching through a section of storage lockers, each bearing the number of one of the cells. Several at the end were left without a number…and in one of these, Rukia had found the items she now held in her hands.
A black shihakushou and white fingerless gloves…
A Squad Six haori…
And the ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu…
Renji put a hand over his mouth and closed his eyes. He heard Rukia give a small sob and opened his eyes again. She wiped at her eyes with one hand, while holding Byakuya's clothes in the other. He moved to her side and reached out to take the clothes from her. As he did, they slipped and fell to the floor. He bent to pick them up and gasped involuntarily at the sight of a hole in the shihakushou top and haori…and the stain of blood.
The wound had been bad…too near the heart…
He quickly scooped up the fallen clothes and slipped them into the bag he carried over his shoulder.
"Come on," he said quietly, "We should check these cells."
They walked up and down the rows of cells, a coldness raking them as they noted that all of the cells stood open and in each…the prisoners lay motionless…neatly executed while still in their restraints.
"Bastards," Renji gasped softly, "If they hadn't killed themselves…"
He didn't have to finish. He and Rukia marked off each body they found in the log book and took it from the cellblock. They moved on, heading toward the officers' living quarters.
"Renji," said Rukia in a soft, choked voice, "What do you think it means that his things were there in an unmarked locker…and that he wasn't in the cellblock…or the log?"
Renji sighed softly.
"I don't know exactly," he admitted, "It could mean that he died before they could do anything to him. We should check the infirmary after the officers' quarters. There may be a record of him there."
He heard another stifled sob and slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"I'm sorry this is so hard for you," he said softly, "I know you and Taichou were on much better terms by the time he disappeared. I'm sorry this happened, Rukia."
She met his eyes with a sad smile.
"I'm not the only one who lost a loved one that day, Renji," she said softly, holding on to his arm, "I know that you only had that one night…but from what you told me, Nii-sama was falling in love with you, Renji…and I know from what you've done, how much you felt for him in return."
Renji swallowed hard, the memory welling up in his mind and sending it spinning.
Renji yawned and stretched, then carefully looked over the finished groupings for the battle. He glanced up at Byakuya and watched for a moment as his taichou read the intelligence reports and checked them against their plans. The calm, quiet features showed no sign that he had found any discrepancy. In fact, there was even a short nod of approval as he finished. Renji smiled.
"Is everything to your satisfaction, Taichou?" he asked.
Byakuya's eyes met his briefly and he nodded.
"Everything matches the intelligence our operatives received," he said quietly.
He sighed softly.
"As long as the information proves accurate, the attack should go well. Aizen will be occupied with his mission to the living world and will not learn of the attack on Las Noches until it is too late. We do, however, need to plan carefully for stalling any attempts for him to return. I have sent a hell butterfly to Soutaichou to ask for confirmation of his plans for this, but have gotten no answer. He is likely busy with his own final plans to brace Aizen in the living world. Hopefully, part of that plan will include my suggestion to attempt to disrupt the crossover points. Doing that will keep us from being overrun if he discovers our plans too soon."
Byakuya rubbed his hands over his face.
"Of course, he may decide that it is too much of an expense of time and men…and that it raises the chances that our plans may be discovered too soon."
"Hmm," Renji said, blinking sleepily, "I hope he listens to you, Taichou. I sure as hell don't want to be caught there raiding the fortress as the troops return. They'd rip us to shreds."
"Hai," Byakuya agreed, "That is why I offered the suggestion."
He studied Renji for a moment.
"You should get some rest," he suggested, "I need you at full strength, Renji. It will be a difficult battle."
"With all due respect, Taichou…we both need to be at full strength. You should get some sleep also."
Byakuya nodded briefly.
"In a minute. I just have to sign off on our groupings. Go on."
Renji turned and walked out of the office and into the hallway. He slipped into his quarters and undressed, then climbed into the shower. The hot spray brought life back into his body and he hummed softly as he washed from head to toe, then turned off the shower, dried off and slipped into a soft yukata. He walked out of the room, intending to go make himself a cup of tea, then caught sight of the light still burning in the office. He walked into the room and found that Byakuya had dozed off at his desk, while checking and re-checking the battle plans. Smiling and shaking his head, Renji approached the sleeping taichou and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Taichou?" he said softly.
Byakuya took a quick breath and lifted his head off of the desk, shaking it gently in an attempt to clear it.
"Ah," he sighed, "I just closed my eyes for a moment and must have drifted off."
"Can't blame you," Renji said, "You've been here working almost without stopping since dawn. Taichou…there isn't any more that we can do. Come on, I'll make you some tea and you should rest."
He realized suddenly that Byakuya's eyes weren't looking at his, but had strayed to the opening in his yukata where the tattoos on his chest peeked out. He felt a sudden blush rising on his cheeks and turned away to go make the tea. As he moved into the kitchen area to make the tea, he heard Byakuya walk into his quarters. Picking up the prepared cups of tea, he returned down the hallway and knocked on the door.
"Come in," Byakuya answered softly.
Renji opened the door and walked inside. His eyes rose and he almost dropped the tray as he realized that he had gotten a glimpse of his taichou's slender, beautiful body as he closed his yukata. He tried to look as though he hadn't noticed and set the tea on the nightstand, then waited for Byakuya to slip into his bed before handing him one of the cups. He was still thinking about that moment…that sudden sight of Byakuya's body, and it distracted him just enough to spill the tea onto Byakuya's hand. Byakuya flinched and made a soft, pained gasp.
"Taichou, I'm sorry!" Renji said, taking the tea and setting it down on the nightstand.
He took Byakuya's hand and quickly studied it, then sent healing energy into the reddened area. The noble sat quietly, allowing Renji to heal him. Renji was surprised at his silence as the healing continued and looked up at him. The way Byakuya was looking at him send a shiver through him. The dark gray eyes were wide and curious…not at all as serious and focused as usual…but then they were both tired and…
He looked down and realized that he was done with the healing, yet still holding Byakuya's hand. The gray eyes were alive and gazing warmly into his.
"D-does it hurt?" he asked, his voice trembling slightly.
"No," Byakuya said, his eyes still fastened on Renji's, "You reacted so quickly that it didn't have time to do much damage."
He started to let go of Byakuya's hand but found himself distracted by the fact that Byakuya's yukata had opened wider at the top, revealing the lovely, pale skin of his chest and a pink nipple. Renji swallowed hard and forced his hand to release Byakuya's. He stood and started to turn away.
"I'm really sorry, Taichou," he said, starting toward the door.
"Renji," said Byakuya, "You've forgotten your tea."
Renji turned back, embarrassed, starting toward the nightstand, but then realizing that the cup was now in Byakuya's extended hand.
"Do try not to spill it," he said in a very soft voice.
Renji reached for the cup and took it from Byakuya, feeling a shiver of warmth pass through him as his hand touched Byakuya's. He lifted the tea to his lips and drank a sip. Byakuya's eyes remained fastened on him, watching him sip at his tea, then smile.
"Let me know if need anything during the night, Taichou," he said, turning away.
He made it as far as the door, then heard a flash step…and watched the door close in front of him. He was pushed gently back against the door and held there. He felt the warmth of Byakuya's body close to his and his heart began to race.
"Renji," Byakuya whispered, "Don't be angry with me. I just can't hold back anymore…"
Soft, hungry lips found Renji's and tasted them lightly. Renji raised his eyes to meet Byakuya's and saw the uncertainty, the fear of rejection. And suddenly, all he wanted was to make that look disappear. He leaned forward and pressed his mouth hard against Byakuya's, wrapping his arms around the noble's slender body and pulling him closer. As their bodies brushed against each other, Renji could feel the hardness of his taichou's arousal touch his through their yukatas. Byakuya caught his breath softly and started to pull away, color rising on his cheeks. Renji tightened his hands, holding Byakuya close and kissing him harder. The noble trembled and relaxed into Renji's embrace. The redhead's tongue stroked his lips and Byakuya parted them, allowing the other's hot tongue to slip into his mouth, to find his, to touch…taste…and tease lightly.
He couldn't help but begin to move his hips, rubbing his hardness against Renji's and moaning softly into the redhead's mouth. He pulled his lips away from Renji's for a moment, a look of anguish on his face.
"Renji…" he whispered, looking tired and confused, "is this…really okay with you?"
The redhead smiled and brought his hands up to the noble's flushed cheeks.
"Are you kidding me?" he laughed softly, "Taichou…I've been thinking about this…wishing something like this would happen…for a really long time."
Byakuya managed a tentative smile.
"I have too…but I was worried…because I didn't know if maybe it was just me…or maybe…"
Renji kissed the soft, delicious lips again.
"It wasn't just you, Taichou," he whispered, between kisses, "I wanted this…with all of my heart."
Byakuya pulled his lips away from Renji's and met his eyes hungrily.
"Renji," he said, slipping his hand into the redhead's and lacing their fingers together, "I want you to come to bed with me…"
"Renji!" Rukia's voice cut sharply into the memory, "Renji…I feel his reiatsu!"
His heart in his throat, he followed Rukia through the long hallways, turning right, then left, then climbing a long set of stairs. They came to a door at the end of a long hall that showed signs of having been heavily guarded. Renji stepped ahead of Rukia and pushed on the door. It didn't budge. He tried again, only to find that it was locked.
"Do you feel it?" Rukia hissed softly, "His reiatsu…and Aizen Sousuke's!"
"Yeah…" Renji agreed, "It's so strong that even I can feel it now."
"Renji…this is Aizen Sousuke's…bedroom…"
Renji swallowed the hard, blazing fury and kicked the door open wide. They stepped inside and looked around. The room looked neat and untouched. A sword rack on the wall held an achingly familiar weapon and Renji felt Zabimaru sob with recognition.
"Senbonzakura…" Renji managed in a choked voice.
Rukia walked to the sword rack and carefully removed the weapon, handing it to Renji, who slipped it into his belt next to Zabimaru. They searched the room carefully and found half of the closet and one of the dressers to contain Arrancar uniforms that had been worn by the noble.
"He was here recently," Rukia said in a trembling voice, "Renji…"
She walked to the bed and touched it with her hand, then drew it away as though it had caught fire. Renji met her eyes for a moment, then rage burned inside as he spotted the restraints on one side of the bed.
"Damn him!" Renji swore, tears coming to his eyes, "That bastard is lucky he's dead!"
He pulled Rukia close and held her tightly as she sobbed silently into his shoulder. They heard footsteps in the hallway and turned as Shihoin Yoruichi entered the room. She studied their expressions and looked around the room, a deep sadness coming into her eyes.
"Kami," she said, her voice seething with anger, "How dare he?"
"It, ah, looks like he was here recently," Renji said.
Yoruichi nodded and slowly walked the perimeter of the room several times. Renji and Rukia looked on questioningly as she stopped and placed her hand on the wall. She stared at the spot for a long moment, then sent a blast of kido through it, shattering the wall and leaving a smoke shrouded opening ahead of them. Renji stared at her, then burst through the opening and found himself running up a long, winding stairway. He didn't even slow at the door, but blasted it open and raced inside.
His heart nearly stopped when he spotted a pale, slender man lying on a bed in the middle of the room, restrained within a kido field.
"Taichou," he sobbed, moving quickly to the noble's side.
The noble's eyes remained closed and he lay frighteningly still. Renji heard footsteps and felt the kido field over Byakuya release. He pulled the noble into his arms.
"Taichou! Taichou, can you hear me?" he called over and over.
He felt Yoruichi's eyes on him, but kept his focused firmly on the unconscious man in his arms.
"Taichou!" he called again, "Taichou!"
"Renji," Rukia said kneeling next to him, "Renji, we need to get him out of here."
Renji nodded and lifted Byakuya out of the bed, wanting to cry as he felt how light and thin Byakuya had become.
"Damn that son of a bitch!" he muttered, turning and heading back down the stairway, "If he wasn't already dead, I'd kill him for this!"