Unohana taichou carefully checked the chart in front of her and then extended her hands over the raven-haired man who lay on the examination table. She sent her reiatsu through him once, twice, and then a third time, looking for any sign of what might be causing his symptoms. The man lay perfectly still, looking calm and even serene as she studied him from head to toe, then made some notes on his chart. She completed the examination and stepped back.
Kuchiki Byakuya sat up and sought her eyes, not really expecting that she had found anything. He had his suspicions…but…
"Kuchiki taichou," she said softly, "You are in perfect health. I cannot find a thing wrong with you. Now, let's go through the symptoms again."
"Sometimes…my heart seems to flutter or ache unexpectedly. I sometimes feel light-headed…occasionally, a little weak. I am having trouble focusing on my paperwork…my training, and I have been having odd dreams and thoughts."
"And where are you when these things happen?" she asked.
"Hmm…" he said, considering, "Sometimes in my room at the manor, sometimes at work…anytime I am not directly focused on something important and my mind wanders…and sometimes when I am busy, but I just can't seem to help it."
Unohana smiled patiently.
"And when did these odd symptoms begin?"
"Well…" he said quietly, "I think it started a few weeks ago, right after I returned to the Seireitei after killing Kouga in the living world. As you know, much was in chaos at that time…perhaps it began because of that…"
"Hmm…" said Unohana, considering, "Do you remember anything that happened just before that? Something that might have affected your emotions in an odd way?"
"Well," he said, thinking, "I was under a great deal of stress, having lost nearly all of my friends and being outcast by my own necessary choices. If not for Abarai fukutaichou, I might have been overwhelmed by the difficulty of the situation. But…does that mean it could be simply stress? I do remember feeling this way before…just after Aizen Sosuke's betrayal. That was a difficult situation as well…and if not for Renji being at the healing center during my recovery, I know it would have gotten much worse."
The healer smiled and continued writing notes.
"When do you seem to have the most symptoms?" she asked.
"Almost anytime, really, when it's quiet. Sometimes at the office, when the rest of the officers have gone for the night and we continue to work until well after dark. Especially when he…"
"Renji…When Renji goes to make tea and I lose my train of thought for several minutes. But also when I walk in my gardens after going home…sometimes when I sit, looking into the depths of the koi pond…"
"I see. And are there any common thoughts that seem to pass through your mind as you suffer these symptoms?" she asked.
"Strangely, it seems to occur with pleasant thoughts…a lovely view of the moon, a blanket of stars, hot green tea…the touch of silk against my skin…Unohana taichou, it is important that I must be able to function and at times, I am stricken to the point where I feel immobilized!"
"You are unable to move?" she asked.
"To move…to breathe…to get any work done. I was nearly late to the taichou's meeting yesterday evening. I know I was fine when I got up from my desk, but by the time I reached the door, I was already light-headed. Renji thought it must be that I hadn't eaten in some time, but I had eaten normally that day…"
"And what is the last thing that happened before the episode began?"
"I just said good bye to Renji and he said 'See you tomorrow, Taichou,' as he does every day. It wasn't stressful, nor was the thought of the meeting. I cannot see why it would make me feel light-headed…"
"Ah," said Unohana taichou, nodding.
"So you know what is wrong with me?" he asked.
The healer smiled.
"I think it could be one of several things, but I assure you that it is not dangerous. But we do need to identify it so that we can return you to some sense of equilibrium."
"Well…it is encouraging that it is not serious, but…how do we figure out which thing it is?" he asked, hoping it wasn't a difficult process.
"I think it would help to keep very careful track of those times when you are affected…under what circumstances…at what times…in what places…involving what people…"
She reached into a drawer and pulled out a small blue hardbound book, then handed it to him.
"Take this book and whenever you have symptoms, write down all relevant information into this book. Keep notes for one month and then we will look at your notes and see if we can find any patterns."
"And who might see these notes?" he asked, a bit nervously.
"Oh, they will be kept between us. No one will see them but you and me."
"And you are certain that this will make the source of my symptoms clear?" he asked.
"I believe that by the end of this month, we will definitely know what is affecting you, Kuchiki taichou," she assured him, "Now, why don't you go back to your office and write down any symptoms you encountered today."
Byakuya frowned, but slipped the book into his shihakushou and left the office. He walked slowly through the streets, his thoughts spinning. What could be causing this? How would he know what was relevant to write down? What was important? She did say it wasn't dangerous, right?
He opened the door and ran into Renji, taking the two of them rather unceremoniously to the ground. He started to apologize, but the startled look in Abarai Renji's eyes took him by surprise and he simply sat, staring as Renji jumped to his feet and extended a hand to help him up as well.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Taichou! I should have sensed you coming and…"
He spotted the blue book sitting on the floor next to Byakuya and picked it up.
"Oi, Taichou, I never knew you kept a diary. Here, you should put it away so no one sees who's not supposed to…you know?"
"Ah…well…it's nothing, just…a gift from a friend," Byakuya said, finding his voice and taking the book.
He ignored Renji's offered hand and got up quickly.
"Would you like some tea, Taichou?" Renji asked, "I can make some before I leave for the day."
"You're…leaving?" Byakuya said, his mind not quite remembering why he was leaving early, but really not wanting to admit it.
"Hai…remember, the fukutaichous are meeting to discuss the training schedules and then I promised Rukia that I would help her with a project in the thirteenth," he explained.
"Oh, yes, very well then, good afternoon, Abarai," he said dismissively.
"I asked if you wanted tea…"
"No, go on, Abarai, I will see you in the morning," Byakuya said, turning away.
Renji looked after him for a moment and shook his head briefly before flash stepping away.
Byakuya watched as Renji disappeared and the office became quiet. He sat down at his desk and set the blue book in front of him. He tried to think, but found his mind drawing a blank. He tried to relax himself by reading and signing several reports and letting the book sit silently on the desk by the hand that held the papers. He managed to put it off for quite some time before the last report was done and he realized how late it had gotten. He sighed softly, glancing over at Renji's empty desk and feeling a smile come to his face as he remembered their collision. Being able to think of nothing else worthy of being written, he catalogued the event.
I knew exactly what I wished to write as my first entry when I reached the sixth division, but as I opened the door, I crashed headlong into Abarai Renji and we fell to the floor together. He offered me a hand, of course, but my mind was as scattered as leaves on the wind because of the incident and whatever symptoms I might have had disappeared into his apologies and his offer to make tea…then his farewell.
He spotted the diary when it fell out of my shihakushou and, for some reason, I was loathe to admit to keeping a diary, and so made an excuse that it was a gift. I don't know why I felt the need. It is just Abarai Renji…my fri…fukutaichou, not some stranger. Anyway, I have no idea now what I wished to say, but I do have a very strong urge to return home, walk slowly through my garden and stare up at the stars.
I am somewhat regretting, however that I didn't have Renji make the tea he offered. It would be exceptionally soothing right now. Ah…most likely, because now is about the time he usually offers it. I hadn't realized. I am just so used to the question that the answer occurs without thought. Like the reports and the living world assignments and the training schedules, these things go on night after night, until you would think we live a life that is completely scripted…but the truth is, those things are merely the structure to which the more interesting deviations cling. Like the time the power went out and we had to use kido for reading. His kido is more volatile, so I had him come to read at my desk. We sat elbow to elbow for hours…and I couldn't help but notice the way his lips moved as he read, how he smelled, having showered after the evening training session. I do remember having one of those symptoms…the heart flutter…when he touched my hand as I gave him the report on our last trip to Hueco Mundo. It must have been the memory of how going there always gives me a sinking feeling…stress, I think.
Byakuya sighed sleepily. It was difficult to stay awake without Renji's small noises…the creak of his chair as it tilted back…his almost silent yawns…and the soft shifting of papers as they moved through his hands. He caught himself drifting off and sat up, drawing a deep breath.
It was too late to walk home and enjoy the gardens. Instead, he stood and slipped the diary onto his desk, closing the drawer, then stepping away. As he did, he failed to notice that the edge of his sleeve got in the way…and pulled the drawer partway open as he stepped away. He walked out to the hallway and walked into the taichou's quarters, closing the door softly behind him.
"So…what's wrong with you tonight, Renji?" Rukia asked, "You were supposed to help me look for a gift for Nii-sama's birthday…and you've hardly been any help at all!"
"Sorry," said Renji, studying the store shelf absently, "I'm just a little distracted tonight."
"Is this about Nii-sama again?" Rukia asked, narrowing her eyes, "Renji…"
"Yeah, I know, I said I'd tell you if there was any sign of trouble. I mean, things were rough for a bit while he was settling back in after…what happened. But the squad is fine now. It just seems that despite things going back to normal…he is distracted."
"Sounds like you!" Rukia laughed.
She read the seriousness of Renji's expression and sobered.
"You're really worried, aren't you?" she asked, "And that means that there may be something to worry about. Okay, you want to get to the bottom of what's happening? You should watch him closely."
She took a small red notebook from her shihakushou and ripped out the page she had written gift ideas on, then handed it to Renji.
"Anything odd that happens, write it in here and it will help you figure out what's wrong. Then, we can figure out what to do about it."
Renji gazed down at the notebook, frowning.
"I can't spy on Taichou!" he objected, "What if he finds out? He'll cut me into tiny little pieces!"
"Oh, stop! He will not!" The young woman admonished him, "Now, get out of here and try to spend some time thinking of better ideas for Byakuya's gift!"
She turned and flash stepped away, leaving him holding the odd little notebook. He stared at it for a moment, then stuffed it in his shihakushou and started back toward his apartment. He realized when he arrived, that he had forgotten his key at the sixth division. He flash stepped through the nearly empty streets, noticing that most of the shops were closed and realizing just how long Rukia had spent dragging him from shop to shop, looking at all sorts of things. He rather thought that Byakuya would have enjoyed the book he saw called The Moon: Myths and Legends from the Living World. He was so sure that his taichou would enjoy it that he bought it himself (even though Rukia teased him about it and went on to look at other things as Renji held the book in his hands and imagined how much Byakuya would like it.) He wouldn't show it, of course. He would accept it quietly and thank him properly…but it would be in the small things…the way he would look up at Renji as he turned to go back to his desk…in the softer tone of his voice as he spoke to Renji for the rest of the evening…and it would be in the fact that as they rose to leave, he would catch sight of Byakuya slipping the book into his shihakushou…and allowing himself the smallest of smiles. He realized that he had been standing at the door of the sixth division for some time…staring at nothing and thinking about the book that was concealed in his shihakushou.
He shook his head to clear it and searched for the illusory rock that actually held the spare key. He slipped the key into the lock and stepped into the office.
The lights were off and all was quiet. Renji walked to his desk and sat down for a moment, turning on his desk lamp and sitting down. He located the keys, but sat for several minutes, pulling out the gift book and the notebook and setting them on the desk in front of him. The gift book was wrapped in pale green paper that Renji had chosen because it was the shade of the ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu that the noble wore. Attached was a small card that read, "Happy Birthday, Taichou" and had his name signed at the bottom. He hadn't quite known what to put before his name, so he hadn't filled that part in…
He looked over at the red notebook and shook his head in annoyance. There was no way he was going to spy on Taichou…no way at all. He got up and carried the wrapped book to Byakuya's desk, setting it down and preparing to turn away. As he started to turn, he realized that the desk was open and the blue diary Byakuya had been carrying was in the partially opened drawer. Renji felt his heart quicken…
It's probably empty…just a gift, as he said.
He tried to make his feet move, but the blue book beckoned him.
He sighed softly and reached down, stroking the book gently…then he slowly pushed the drawer closed. He leaned over, taking a brush and adding the word 'regards' to the gift card, then turned back and walked across the room to his desk, not noticing the door closing softly in the hallway.
Byakuya stood, pale faced, with his back against the door, his heart pounding, his eyes wide and dreamy and his hair tumbled. He had only left the room because he had been awakened by a noise out in the office. He hadn't expected to see Renji…much less Renji leaving a gift on his desk…even less, Renji missing an opportunity to look in the blue book. He had sensed the strong curiosity, the longing, the regret…
What does this mean?
Out in the office, Renji sat back down at his desk and opened the red notebook. He stared at it for several minutes, then slipped it into his desk. He got up and started toward the door. As he turned off the lights and prepared to leave, he felt a twinge of something odd. He was still thinking about the book.
He wasn't going to get many chances to see what was in it…
But it would be wrong to look…
His feet moved without thought, his hands not of his own accord. He slipped the drawer open and picked up the book, opening it and expecting to find it empty. Surprise flooded his body as he spotted Byakuya's beautiful handwriting. He knew he shouldn't look.
It was wrong…but…
The words rose up off the page and settled into Renji's mind. He felt his heart racing madly. His heart twinged as he saw how Taichou had begun to write the word friend…then changed it to fukutaichou. And he found himself breathless as he read Byakuya's perspective on that night when the lights went out.
He remembered that night very well…
He closed the book and put it back in Byakuya's desk, then slid the drawer closed. He felt a twinge of guilt as he moved back to his desk. He sat down at his own desk, his heart racing madly and his mind whirling.
Taichou speaks of me with such respect! With such…affection…He sees me as his friend!
He breathed a long sigh of relief.
He doesn't seem to realize that I am in love with him!
Smiling, he opened the red notebook and marked the calendar with a circle around the next day, which was Taichou's birthday. On the next page, he wrote the words that wouldn't leave his heart…
Taichou's birthday is tomorrow. Maybe that is why he seems distracted. Sometimes birthdays can make a person feel vulnerable. But Taichou will be fine. He will have an enjoyable birthday spent with friends…I hope to be among them.
He closed the notebook and left it on his desk. He left the office (with his keys this time) and flash stepped home.
As the lock clicked into place, Byakuya slipped out into the office and watched as Renji left. As the redhead disappeared into the distance, he turned back toward the hallway…and caught sight of the red notebook on Renji's desk. He had seen Rukia carrying it around…and indeed, a picture of Chappy the Bunny was drawn on the cover. He touched the picture and opened it to see if it held any more of his sister's artwork. He was surprised to see the small scrawled note in Renji's handwriting. He closed the book, feeling a little guilty, but he was caught, frozen in his tracks, staring down at the now-closed notebook.
Renji considers us friends…
He returned to his room and fell asleep with the smile still on his lips.