Author's Note: Written for yaoi challenge on LiveJournal. Thank you monoshiri and dark viaticum for the betas.
It started out a day much like any other, if one ignored the fact that the mess hall had run out of oatmeal and Renji had been forced to eat eggs. And shit, did he ever hate eggs. He had woken up to the sound of the gong tolling, dressed, and not eaten oatmeal (damn it). Then he'd reported to his captain's office for the first time in over a week to see Byakuya. Usually Renji didn't go so long without seeing his captain, but paperwork from an extremely messy offense against a sudden gathering of Menos Grande had piled up high enough that Renji had been dismissed from his usual duties to handle it. It was then, as he walked into his captain's office, that the day had become a little weird.
For one thing, it was highly unusual for Captain Kuchiki to not be wearing his kenseikan. Unusual enough that Renji couldn't honestly recall seeing his captain without them in his hair. Unusual enough that Renji honestly didn't know how, well, attractive his captain looked with his hair down. Renji barely even registered that anyone was speaking when his captain irritably mentioned that Rukia had taken them, for some reason Byakuya personally couldn't figure out, and he didn't want to bother her about it now that their relationship was stabilizing. Since Renji was often in Rukia's confidence, did he have any idea where she might have…
Renji had often noted in the past that his captain was good-looking (purely to size up the competition, of course), but with his hair down, he was really… really… The day was actually a little unseasonably cold, so Renji couldn't chalk up the sudden heat that spread over his body (focusing especially on his face and somewhere a great deal lower) to the weather. He barely had the presence of mind to stutter out something about how he hadn't talked to Rukia recently, and how about he went and looked for her now?
It was fortunate Captain Kuchiki was distracted by a new stack of paperwork that had just come in or else he might have noticed something was off. As it was, he barely gave Renji a cursory glance before nodding his permission. He didn't even bother with a glare at Renji's lack of etiquette as his vice-captain rushed out of the room, scuffing the floor in the process.
It took Renji about ten minutes to find Rukia. She wasn't exactly trying to hide, sitting on the roof of the Thirteenth Division's headquarters, sipping on one of the boxed drinks she had become fond of in the living world. And if the white ivory she was tossing around was any indication, she did indeed have her brother's kenseikan.
She glanced up only momentarily as Renji situated himself on the roof beside her, turning her gaze almost immediately back towards the landscaped gardens below. In the peaceful silence that only the beginning of spring could make possible, Rukia sitting quite comfortably while Renji toyed anxiously with his vice-captain's badge, Renji finally blurted out, "I think I'm in love with your brother."
At this, Rukia calmly sucked up the last of her juice, making a slurping sound as she did so. "It's about time you figured it out."
Renji choked. Rukia sat by patiently until he finished coughing up his spleen. This took some time. When he finally got his breath back, all Renji could come up with in response was "What?"
Rukia turned to him serenely. "Why do you think I took nii-sama's kenseikan? You're just too dumb to come to your own conclusions, so I helped you along a little." She inspected her box drink critically for several seconds before throwing it back over her shoulder. "Still, you took long enough. I stole the kenseikan days ago."
"I haven't seen him in a week!"
Rukia looked at him for a moment, then nodded in understanding. "Ah."
The silence returned, Rukia looking back out over the Thirteenth Division's gardens while Renji fidgeted at her side, before saying, "How long-"
Rukia shrugged. "I don't know, but I started noticing after the Aizen incident. You started talking less about surpassing nii-sama and more about getting him to respect you, so I knew something was up."
Renji took several minutes to absorb this. "So what now?"
Rukia frowned in contemplation. A bird twitted nearby. Renji wondered how birds ended up in the same afterlife as humans when nothing else did.
Rukia was still frowning when she pulled another boxed drink from her sleeve and artfully shoved the straw into the top of the box. Renji considered asking Captain Kuchiki about the bird thing, since he seemed like the type of person who would know, before remembering that it was his captain that had caused him to end up on the roof of the Thirteenth Division's headquarters to begin with. Rukia sipped her juice.
"You know, I haven't actually thought that far ahead yet."
The first thing Renji did was return his captain's kenseikan to him, as Rukia pointed out that being distracted by how her elder brother's hair fell down his back wouldn't make it any easier to think about how they might bring about a resolution to Renji's dilemma. Namely, figuring out what the hell do with the knowledge that he was in love with his best friend's brother, who also happened to be his commanding officer.
The first issue, of course, would have been that he was in love with his best friend's brother, except said best friend thought it would be a great thing if they got together, if only because she thought it might make Byakuya a little less uptight if he had a boyfriend. Thus, the true first issue was that he was in love with his commanding officer. Rukia brought a quick resolution to this by revealing that she already researched the legalities of this, and it turned out that there weren't any.
At first, Renji had been skeptical of this. "You telling me there isn't anything about… I don't know, fraternization with a superior officer or some such shit?"
Rukia emphatically shook her head. "Nope. Actually, it used to be encouraged, but they took that off the books a couple centuries ago when a captain was found to have been sleeping with every single one of his top nine ranking subordinates and they were plotting assassinations to get rid of the competition. Now there's nothing."
The second real (and remaining) issue was, of course, Captain Kuchiki himself. And whether, for instance, he liked men.
Renji doubted it. "Wasn't he married once? To your sister?"
Rukia had no such doubts. "Nothing in the rules that says he can't like both. Nii-sama loved my sister, but either she spoiled him for other women or she was a one-time thing, because I've never seen him look twice at a woman, and I've lived with him for years."
Renji raised an eyebrow as he sipped his own boxed drink (Rukia had, in the end, been the one to shove the straw through; she hadn't the patience to teach him how to work the contraption). "And what, he's been checking out guys and I just haven't noticed?"
Rukia raised her own eyebrow. She, Renji noticed sourly, was much better at it than he was. "Renji, you're just oblivious. Why do you think he insisted on being the one to interrogate Ichigo after the Aizen thing was all over and done with?"
Renji choked. Again. Except this time, it wasn't just because of his surprise, and he spent the next five minutes coughing up apple juice. "Ichigo? You're telling me he likes that stupid-"
Rukia sighed. "I'm not telling you anything except that nii-sama is repressed and latched onto the first person who's bested him in decades as the object of his physical desire while telling himself it's just respect for a fellow master swordsman. No real substance to it." As Renji tried to absorb this, Rukia continued with, "Besides, Ichigo isn't any competition for you. In fact, he's the one who's going to be helping us with the next stage of our plan. Since we are fairly certain that nii-sama likes men, now we have to get him to like you."
Renji glared. Not that he didn't get along with Ichigo most of the time, but the guy did on his nerves on occasion. "What the hell does the glorious strawberry man have that we don't?"
Normally, communication between the worlds of the living and the dead had to be authorized beforehand by a captain, but somewhere along the line in her role as main liaison between Seireitei and Karakura Town, Rukia had gained a cross-dimensional cell phone with unlimited minutes. Renji knew she used it most of the time to chat with the people she had become close to in the living world instead of for work, but he doubted that she had ever used it before for something so... unusual.
"Ichigo? Hey, it's Rukia. Yeah, I know you told me not to call you so late unless it was something important, but I need you to Google something."
Renji stared at his longtime friend. He had spent not a short amount of time in the living world himself as part of the mission to stop Aizen, but obviously Rukia's experience with human matters vastly exceeded his own. For instance, Renji didn't have near Rukia's mastery of human verbs. How the hell did you 'Google' something, anyway?
"'High-class seduction techniques.' Yes, you heard me right, Ichigo. No, this isn't a joke. Renji's finally figured out he's in love with my brother and doesn't know how to go about getting him in bed." If Renji was interpreting the tinny noises he could faintly hear from Ichigo's end correctly, the guy was choking on something. Renji didn't blame him. Rukia often had that affect on people when she was on one of her crusades.
Eventually, however, the honorary shinigami got a hold of himself, and apparently whatever he was coming up with was good, if Rukia's thoughtful nodding and the scribbling on her notepad with a pencil she had pulled out from somewhere were anything to go by. After a few minutes, she thanked Ichigo and said goodbye, then clicked shut her phone. Renji, despite his doubts as to whether Ichigo was useful as a reference for this sort of thing, couldn't help but ask, "So, what'd the strawberry head say?"
"We need to find out nii-sama's favorite type of flower."
Realistically, they had no way of doing this. It wasn't something Captain Kuchiki was likely to have discussed with his coworkers, and of course they couldn't ask the man himself. In the end, Rukia suggested they just go with sakura blossoms, on the assumption that the flower's association with Byakuya's zanpaktou would make it a likely candidate for top flower, or at least make it a distinct possibility. After some consideration, Renji agreed, mostly because he knew exactly nothing about flowers. So early the next morning, they covered the desk of the Sixth Division's captain with freshly bloomed sakura blossoms, among them a small note written by Renji that didn't have anything too sappy in it or anything, but was a start at least.
This turned out to be a mistake.
Renji, working in his own office adjacent to his captain's, looked up just in time to see Captain Kuchiki emit a glorious sneeze. Instead of doing so delicately into a white handkerchief embroidered with the emblem of the Kuchiki noble family, this was done into the sleeve of his captain's haori, loud enough to make Renji jump. "Er... Captain Kuchiki, sir? Are you... alright?"
Byakuya opened his mouth, but what came out was a cough that actually managed to exceed the volume of the sneeze. Renji stared. "Sir?"
"Renji. I need you to-" The captainsneezed again. After wiping his nose (Renji couldn't help but notice it was done none too elegantly), Byakuya continued. "I need you to go into my office and clear off the sakura blossoms some fool left there. I know you have your own work, but unfortunately I can't continue with mine until my office is clear."
Renji was beginning to wonder why his luck couldn't be something other than bad once in a while. "You don't like sakura blossoms, sir?"
"I'm-" More coughing commenced. "I'm allergic. Normally it isn't so awful, but with the flowers in such a large quantity, I can hardly breathe in there."
Renji had never felt more justified in his distrust for Rukia's fondness for anything from the living world. The internet was currently at the top of the list. "Right on it, sir."
As he pushed the sakura blossoms off Captain Kuchiki's desk and into a disposable bag, Renji examined the note he had put with them that his captain hadn't noticed. Then he threw it in with the flowers. So much for that plan.
Rukia frowned. "So it didn't work?"
"He's allergic, Rukia."
Rukia nodded thoughtfully. "Well, that explains why he avoids the sakura trees in spring. That means the flower tactic is out. We'll have to try something else."
"No way I'm listening to you anymore. The sakura blossom thing just ended with snot all over Captain Kuchiki's haori and his eyes watering. I've never seen him so discomposed."
Rukia grinned. "Yeah, quite a change, wasn't it?"
Renji looked up from his morose examination of the tabletop with a suspicious frown. "How the hell would you know?"
Rukia, as expected, dismissed the question with a negligent wave of her hand. "Unimportant. But that means we move onto the second item of the list Ichigo gave me. Poetry."
Renji stared at her. "You're shitting me. I can't write poetry."
Rukia rolled her eyes. "I didn't think you could. That's why we're using someone else's."
Renji regretted asking even before he opened his mouth, but despite everything, he did want his captain to know how he felt, and at least Rukia had ideas. Just not very good ones. "Whose?"
"Ever heard of a western playwright named Shakespeare?"
Renji hadn't. As it turned out, the reference library in the Twelfth Division's headquarters had even less on the man than Renji did. What a waste, Renji thought, considering he had only gained access to through bribing of one of the division's main scientists, Akon, who possessed a thoroughly exploitable weakness for chocolate-covered raisins. Those had cost Renji a full night of drinking, at least. Rukia quickly solved that problem by calling Ichigo again- who hadn't bothered with the grumbling this time and gone straight to screaming (apparently working on his 'business final paper,' whatever that was, made him somewhat irritable)- and having him email her via phone several of Shakespeare's famous love poems. Or at least, that's what Rukia told Renji they were.
"You're kidding, right?"
Rukia glared at him. "I'll have you know, Renji, that this is considered the height of love poetry in the living world."
Renji snorted. "Yeah, well, then everyone has crappy taste. Half of the stuff written here aren't even words. No way in hell you can convince me that 'niggarding' is a real adjective."
"They probably sound better in the original English," Rukia admitted, "But some of these poems are very beautiful." She pushed the scroll button on her phone for a moment before grinning and stabbing a finger at one of the poems. "This one, for instance."
Renji leaned closer to inspect the sonnet in question. Then he scowled at her. "I'm not reading a poem about a girl dying and being the world's widow to Captain Kuchiki, Rukia. He isn't a girl, and he's already dead." Renji should have known better than to come to Rukia for help. She didn't know any more about romance than he did. "This is stupid."
He started to turn away. Rukia's voice stopped him. "Then what are you going to do, Renji? Sit at your desk for the next century and pine over my brother? He isn't psychic. You have to let him know how you feel. Doing nothing isn't going to accomplish anything."
Renji stilled. Thought about it. Sighed. Damn it. "Just… print out the one about the weather and sky, alright?"
Even though his back was turned, Renji could still sense Rukia's grin. Nothing else radiated as much in the way of smug triumph.
Byakuya looked up, his brow furrowed slightly as it always was when he was faced with having to wade through several feet of Hollow reports. Renji was distantly aware that he shouldn't find a furrowed brow so damned appealing, but then, his captain had the ability to make eating ramen look graceful. Making a furrowed brow hot probably wasn't even worth breaking a sweat over. "What is it, Renji?"
Renji looked down at the piece of paper clutched between his hands, now slightly stained by nervous sweat. He took a deep breath. Let it out. Swallowed. After about thirty seconds of this, Byakuya waiting patiently the entire time, Renji's nerve finally surfaced. He started talking in a rush before it disappeared into the depths again.
"Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons' quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And constant stars in them I read such art
As 'Truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself, to store thou wouldst convert';
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
'Thy end is truth's and beauty's doom and date."
His captain stared at him. Renji stared back. Byakuya didn't look… angry. Or even disapproving. Renji felt his hopes rise a little before the expression his captain was wearing finally registered. Complete and utter bemusement. "Renji… I apologize. My ears must still be stuffed up from my allergy attack yesterday. I didn't hear… was it about the weather? I didn't think we were to receive the forecasts for this week until tomorrow."
Renji's nerve didn't so much plummet to rock bottom as it was eaten and subsequently digested by reality. What the hell was wrong with him, reciting love poetry to Captain Kuchiki, of all people? He was an idiot. He felt himself automatically mumble something about getting the weather reports a little earlier than usual before bowing and walking out of the room. He threw the crumpled sonnet into the trash bag on his way past the receptionist's desk in the Sixth Division's front office. What a waste of time that had been.
"You could have just repeated yourself."
Renji glared at her. "I felt like enough of an idiot as it was, Rukia. No way was I going to say all that shit again."
Rukia chewed thoughtfully on a stick of strawberry Pocky, one of many in a box she had bought in her last foray to Karakura Town. "Well, I suppose that means it's time for our next-"
Rukia looked at him. Her Pocky was now half as long as it had been when she'd started. "No?"
"No. No more. I give up." Renji stared at his hands. It was easier than looking anywhere else. "I'm not good enough for him. I mean, I can't even come up with stupid plans on my own. I have to have you do that for me. And I keep on screwing those up."
Rukia's reply was spectacularly unsurprised. "So that's it? You're just going to spend the rest of your life looking through the wall between your office and nii-sama's office, thinking of what might have been?"
"I've decided to put in a request for transfer to the Ninth Division. Hisagi needs the help, and I figure that in a couple of years, old man Yamamoto will decide I'm experienced enough to captain a division. That way I won't have to deal with Captain Kuchiki much. It'd be too hard."
Rukia stared at him. The surprise that had been absent before finally made its appearance. "Transfer?"
Renji nodded. Then he pushed himself to his feet. "I gotta go, Rukia. Still got some of the paperwork to fill out." He gave her a halfhearted wave. "See you later."
Rukia watched Renji leave, as he walked across the Thirteenth Division's gardens and out through the main gates. As soon as he was out of sight, Rukia pulled out her phone and clicked autodial. The person on the other end picked up after three rings.
"Rukia?" Ichigo sounded irritated. Not that that was anything new. "What the hell do you want now?"
"We have a problem."
"Huh?" Now Ichigo just sounded confused. "I thought everything was working out."
"It was. But Renji's acting stupider than usual and he's ruining everything. I need to borrow something from you…"
Renji knocked on his captain's door, and waited. He felt as if his stomach was trying to escape through his mouth. He didn't want to leave the Sixth Division, not really. But he couldn't deal with this. He'd ignored how he felt, suppressed how he felt, for long enough. He just couldn't do it anymore. Even if it meant hardly ever talking to Captain Kuchiki again.
In far too short a time for Renji to properly compose himself, Byakuya's infinitely formal, carefully modulated voice was audible. "Come in."
So Renji did. He took a deep breath, and abruptly lost all the air in his lungs along with any memory of the speech he had painstakingly planned when he notice a very crumpled piece of paper held between his captain's hands. A very crumpled, familiar piece of paper. "How- where did you-"
"Amaya found this in the wastebasket beside her desk with my name written at the top. She thought it might be something important." Byakuya looked at him, his even gaze only slightly perturbed by the hint of curiosity. "What is this, Renji?"
Renji had to swallow a few times before he replied hoarsely, "It's a love poem, sir."
Byakuya looked down at the poem again. "It's very beautiful."
"I didn't write it," Renji found himself admitting. "I just thought it… you know. Fit."
Byakuya's expression was blank. If Renji hadn't known his captain better, he would have said it was studiously so. "You expected to find me in heaven, did you?"
Renji grinned a little weakly. "Well, we are dead."
"You sent the flowers."
"Yeah." Renji winced at the memory. "Sorry about that."
Byakuya folded up the piece of paper with elegant, practiced movements, and set it carefully on the edge of the desk. "It was a nice thought."
"Didn't turn out so great, though."
"No," Byakuya agreed. He pushed his chair back and moved to his feet, walking around the desk and only stopping when he was standing close enough that Renji could make out individual eyelashes. His captain had very long eyelashes. "Would you care to try again?"
Renji nodded. Took a breath. Let it out (normally, this time). Then… "May I take you out to dinner tonight, sir?"
Byakuya had said yes. Then he had kissed Renji lightly on the lips, Renji had responded not nearly as lightly, and by the time he finally stumbled out of his captain's office, his lips were bruised, he could hardly see straight, and he was trying to consider the most tactful ways of asking Yumichika if he could borrow a scarf for the next few days without mentioning the hickeys, without any success to speak of.
It was only after Renji had made it to his own office that it occurred to him that he hadn't written Byakuya's name at the top of the sonnet, but he quickly shrugged it off. It wasn't like it was important. Amaya-san had probably just seen him walk out of Captain Kuchiki's office with it and assumed… Somehow that line of reasoning didn't quite line up with reality, but at that point in time Renji was quite happy to abandon reality for the moment. Quite happy to abandon his paperwork for the day, too. Now, what restaurant would he and Captain Kuchiki be going to tonight…
Rukia didn't bother restraining a satisfied grin as she watched her brother and her best friend make out through the window of the Sixth Division's captain's office. It would have been a dangerous enterprise, seeing how sharp her brother's instincts were when it came to noticing reiatsu, if it hadn't been for the binoculars Ichigo had sent her via Seireitei-living world mail, extra postage attached for fast delivery. "Our plan worked out great, Ichigo. Didn't even have to bribe Amaya into signing nii-sama's name at the top of the poem and delivering it to his office. She was happy to give an assist."
On the other end of the line, Ichigo let out an annoyed sigh. Probably just regretting (again) introducing her to basketball and all the clichéd sayings that came with it. "It wasn't our plan, Rukia. It was yours. You just blackmailed me into helping."
Rukia thought on this for a moment, before privately admitting that Ichigo probably had a point. "Maybe so, but you have to admit that the trick with the sakura blossoms was near genius. Nii-sama's always found well-intentioned bumbling endearing."
"How the hell would you know that?" Ichigo's voice was skeptical.
"He listened to your attempts at pointing out the error of his ways, didn't he?"
Rukia clicked shut her phone just as Ichigo started getting into a proper huff, and again pressed the binoculars to her face. Yep, things had worked out pretty damn perfectly. Though maybe she didn't really need to see her brother stick his tongue down Renji's throat…
Notes: The poem used in this story is Shakespeare's sonnet fourteen. The poem that uses the word 'niggarding' is sonnet one, and no, I have no idea what it means either. Kenseikan are the white ornaments Byakuya usually wears in his hair.