Author's Notes: Spoilers up to manga chapter 174. An homage to Renji. ;)
Visions of DamascusHe has never wanted anything more in life than to look down. To look down and see something surpassed, some impossible obstacle that has at last been defeated. To stand at the brink of a chasm and see victory at his feet.
He's tall, pale, with long, slender fingers and a light laugh that grates on Renji's nerves. He's made of white and gold and a gracious smile; a flick of his wrist sends power spinning carelessly into stone. Renji both hates and loves him, but he does not admire him. They stand on the same ground, that same chasm, just from different places. Both of them looking down and seeing nothing.
"Shall we spar today, Renji?" Kira asks, books tucked under his arms, robes pristine. He's smiling with clean, even teeth and a gentle air.
"Only if you want to be beaten," he replies, with a growl that somehow always contains a grin. Kira's lips flatten and his smile closes and widens at once.
"I don't really feel like losing today," Kira says, both a warning and an excuse.
Renji puts a hand on the hilt of his sword. "Neither do I."
Renji ruffles her hair and watches dark eyes glare at him with all the ferocity of a child who's been embarrassed in front of her elders. Hinamori has always been somewhat of a little sister to him, a girl both dedicated and naïve. He knows her strength though, and it's there in the way she recites poetry in the dark, her fingers etching words into the air.
"O flame of the heavens! Descend and rend earth and sky, come on feathered wings unto the ends of the earth."
She creates embers out of nothing, her small face so bent on concentration he could have bested her without even trying. He doesn't, of course, because the thought would never occur to him, and because it's extremely difficult to be underhanded with Hinamori.
Unlike Kira, he did not compete with Hinamori. They worked in harmony and to the betterment of the other.
She had no chasm to stand on whatsoever. In fact, he could bet, she never thought of it.
Theirs is a relationship born from remembered terror and shaking courage, cries in the night. Renji might have been inclined to fight him if he didn't remember the other man fighting to protect him, blood running down those great claw marks on his face. That, and Shuuhei was a fucking ladies' man and Renji had no time to deal with that sort of thing and was perfectly happy to leave it alone.
What was even more irritating was that Shuuhei was completely blind to anything but his job. He barely noticed women unless he sought them out himself, and paid no attention to those that followed him around with their hearts in their eyes.
So, Shuuhei was not only a military genius, he had a rakish appearance and a rock-steady loyalty that Renji admired, but did not covet. When together, they spoke of their orders and the number of Hollows defeated and neither ever thought of crossing swords with the other even in jest.
They were bonded in their horror of that night, long ago. Fighting would have been useless.
Hisagi turned his back on that high cliff of glory and did not miss it.
Rikichi is not a leader, but Renji doesn't really notice. He's used to having a double-shadow that is looking more and more like him everyday. He appreciates it too, in a way that is obtuse and almost impossible to see, offhanded in a way that means he will never, ever mention it.
In Rikichi, Renji finds that "to win" is a notion that is absurd. The boy's sacrifices weave a shield of finest power around him and the truth becomes obvious.
He can never win against Rikichi.
Rukia needs a good beating every now and then, if only to bring that infernal pride down a notch or two. It's done with a grin and good-natured ribbing that is completely lost on Rukia as she glares up at him from the flat of her back.
"Bastard," she snaps in irritation, rubbing her shoulder as she stands again. Renji shakes his head.
Even as short as she is, he still feels as if she's looking down at him, not in reproach, but as if to say, Hurry, idiot, or you'll never reach me.
It might have surprised him to know she thought the same thing of him.
His Captain is a man that will never be humbled. Dirty, bloodied, broken, completely without hope - none of it matters. Honor itself bows to Kuchiki Byakuya, duty bends it knee, loyalty inclines it's head. Even if he stood in the ruins of his life, stripped of everything including his name, his spine would still stand straight, his eyes utterly devoid of chaos.
Renji follows him as someone must when they find their goal, that shining thing in the distance. Renji admires him, respects him, and - most annoying of all - loves him. It is not a love of emotion, but one of such great marvel that there could be a man of such deep character. It radiated from Byakuya, touching everyone who came in contact with him. Some called it the aura of a noble, but Renji knew differently. It was the quality that came to men when they had suffered all there was to be suffered and lived to face that agony again some day.
Renji wanted to beat him, needed to find that strength within himself, that wave of high integrity that would finally force Byakuya to acknowledge him.
Of course, when that moment finally came, when his Captain's knee finally touched the ground, he did not feel like he had won but as if he had allowed something divine to come crashing to earth.
And then Byakuya rose again, as he always did, and sent Renji back to his place - on the ground and bleeding.
Later, he would remember that it felt less like losing and more like understanding.
He has never wanted anything more in life than to look down. To look down and see something surpassed, some impossible obstacle that has at last been defeated. To stand at the brink of a chasm and see victory at his feet.
Never anything more than that. Until now.
"You should know it's useless for me to run, Ichigo," he says with a remnant of his former grin. "There is still something I can do." He hefts his broken Zabimaru and Ichigo smirks like the punk he is. The action makes Renji stand a little straighter, his blood run a little faster.
"Alright then," Ichigo answers, the light of battle in his eyes. "Let's join forces!"
And there's no more chasm, no towering height to be overcome. They're standing side by side, swords crossed not in fury, but in determination.
Just the way it should be.