private gods, secret masters

So this was what it felt like to finally be something more than nothing.

Renji's barely-healed muscles ached, and the changed grip of Zabimaru was both strange and familiar in his hands as he braced himself for reaction. Disbelief and pleasure ran through him, finer than sex, stronger than alcohol. He'd seen him. He'd finally managed to see the Captain when he moved.

It was abso-fucking-lutely unbelievable, but he'd done it.

And that moment of surprise in Byakuya's eyes, that shift from polished certainty to possible humanity, that was the proof of it.

---

Renji was used to others looking down on him, but nobody had ever had the right to do it before. Even Rukia's friendly scorn had been that of an equal, not of a superior. When the shopkeepers whose wares he'd stolen called him a thief, he hadn't cared. When the shinigami studying at the Academy sneered at him, he'd never conceded them the right to judge him. When his new fellows in Eleventh Division kicked his feet out from under him and laughed, he'd only sworn to be better than them and make them eat their own fucking dust.

But Captain Kuchiki had been different.

That first time they met, when the Captain made that offer to Rukia -- well, Renji could understand that, even if he resented it like hell. He knew her quality. If it had been him, and he'd been someone who could take her in like that, he would have done the same. He could hate the Captain for taking her away, but he could understand it. But then the Captain had looked at him with those cold dark eyes and turned away again, and Renji couldn't understand why for a moment he had trembled.

Later in Eleventh Division, when there had been people like him to spar with and drink with and talk with, they'd all been ready to agree on one thing; that Captain Kuchiki was a hardass and an aristocrat and a prig and a right bastard, but he deserved his captaincy. Nobody could argue with his skill.

("And it's such a beautifully named bankai," Yumichika had said, before they dragged him over to the waterbutt and dumped him in it and spoiled his hairstyle for him.)

And then Captain Kuchiki had chosen him for his own vice-captain, and everything was different again.

---

In the slums of Rukongai abuse had been a fact of life. The powerful took what they wanted and the weak had to accept it.

Renji had never accepted it, would never accept it.

What he let Captain Kuchiki do to him -- was something he chose not to think about at other times, because those moments between the two of them, behind closed doors, behind drawn blinds, were part of his life, damn it, part of what he was and it scared him because he couldn't stop it. Because he didn't want to stop it. Because when Captain Kuchiki looked at him in that way and beckoned, it made his blood burn.

Because he was in the Captain's shadow, and it was like living in moonlight; everything was strange and yet everything was just as it should be, now and forever. He was terrified of the Captain. He wanted the Captain. He wanted to be the Captain. He wanted to surpass the Captain.

Sometimes he looked at the other vice-captains, and wondered, Do you feel this too? Are you theirs as I am his?

What he had felt, still felt for Rukia was one thing. What he felt for Captain Kuchiki was something else.

And oh, he wanted to surpass the Captain, to force a momentary weakness, a crack in the perfect ice, but at the same time a part of him would never want Captain Kuchiki to be other than he was.

---

The mortal brat was right in some of the things he'd said about Captain Kuchiki, but he still didn't understand the whole of it. He couldn't understand that the Captain would deliberately shove his hand into the fire if he thought that he had to.

Fucking aristocratic sentiments. Fucking duty and fucking honour and all that shit. Rukia was going to get killed and Captain Kuchiki would kill part of himself in the process and it was wrong, wrong, and he owed Rukia for all those times before, and he owed Captain Kuchiki for everything he dreamed of. He owed himself and his own pride for what he would never forgive if he let it happen. He owed himself for all that he had given and Captain Kuchiki had simply accepted. For fear and respect and desire and will.

For himself. For Rukia. For all those moments when Captain Kuchiki's gaze brushed him like ice and Captain Kuchiki said nothing. For all those times when Captain Kuchiki crooked a finger and Renji came to him.

I'm here. Acknowledge me. I'll make you kneel.

---

Silk drifted down onto him like the touch of hands, like cherry blossoms.

---