Author's Notes: Renji and Rukia and Byakuya and loyalty, in a nice complicated package. No pairings exactly, although you can probably argue for Renji/Byakuya or Renji/Rukia depending on how you read between the lines. However, it was not written with any specific pairing in mind.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, nor will I in any remote future.

Some Other Sky

I.

"Wait," he says, but nothing comes out. Rukia moves past him like a wind through reeds, treading daintly the space that has suddenly appeared between them. It is a galaxy, a universe of air and blood and the syllables of a name.

Kuchiki.

He will not turn. He will not grasp the ends of her sleeve and hold her there until the plum of her irises meet his. Not because he doesn't want to - she's still Rukia, damn it - but because he doesn't want to see the distance there, too. She's made of paneled wood floors, rice paper screens, and windflower silk now. The dirt streets and starvation of their childhood are over.

II.

He sees her new guardian outside the academy and slows his steps, pulling his books tighter against his hip - worlds of swords and magic hidden in words. The man is a noble and it's impossible to miss even from so far away. Kuchiki Byakuya has perfect posture, standing so straight one would almost think he had never done a day's work in his life. Renji knows better. He knows the Kuchiki's hands are calloused from the use of his sword and he would have scars from practice, the claws of Hollows. Even an aristocrat has to prove himself to become a captain.

But Byakuya is untouchable.

Renji learns this because when he walks by, Byakuya never lifts his head, never stirs from his contemplation of the book between his fingers. His clothes do not ruffle in the wind of Renji's passing.

He is far, far, too far above to notice the presence of a dog.

Renji vows to bare his fangs at Kuchiki Byakuya and make him see it.

III.

Rukia won't speak to him. At least, not like she used to. She shrugs him off and Renji is never quite sure if it's deliberate.

"I have to attend Nii-sama tonight," she says, and already her gaze has turned, looking elsewhere, away. "I'll see you tomorrow."

She's becoming something different, something polished and neat when Rukia has only ever been a brat with a loud mouth and a horrible taste in art. He should ask her if she's found what she wanted, if she's alright there, but he won't.

A little bit of him wishes he could go with her.

He hates himself for that.

IV.

They graduate.

Soon after they are both recruited into the Gotei 13. Renji spends his days fighting and learning and then fighting again. There is too much sake and paperwork, mornings he wakes sprawled in an alley and suffers Hisagi's teasing when the bastard knows his head hurts. He gains new moves and a few tattoos and does not think of Byakuya. Rukia's brother has revolved out of his world, a star in some other sky.

Renji is young and lean and smiles with too many teeth.

He's never felt better.

V.

He tells himself it's only coincidence when he looks down into Byakuya's clear eyes and calls him "Captain".

VI.

He remembers his vow, he does, he only wishes that Byakuya didn't look quite so much like Rukia. He doesn't really like the fact that he feels a very real loyalty to the man, either. Renji wants to dislike him, to outshine him, but with every battle he learns again why his captain is one of the strongest. With every clink of china and fallen cherry blossoms, he sees again why his captain is a mystery.

Rukia watches in the frames of doorways and understands even more, but nothing about what matters.

VII.

There is a day when Renji is saved from another death only by a rain of sword blossoms.

Byakuya says nothing to him, simply joins in the fray and manages to come out without a spot of blood on his clothes. Renji is wounded and dirty and so exhausted even Byakuya's spiritual pressure is starting to wear on him. His captain loops one of Renji's arms around his neck and helps him limp back to the 4th Division's headquarters where one of the healers take him in hand.

They never speak of it, but Renji remembers. Byakuya's touch had been warm.

Defeated, Renji puts his vow aside.

VIII.

Years later, Rukia leaves for the real world.

At first nothing changes. The 6th Division is busy and they have little time to spare for themselves. Renji fights and laughs and wonders, sometimes, how a little street brat is doing on her own. He drinks with Hisagi, spars with Kira, and works quietly while Byakuya has his tea in the morning. He has found his routine, his corner of the world, and he enjoys it despite himself. Almost he forgets he wants to be more.

Then Byakuya receives an order and they step into Karakura with a black butterfly fluttering behind.

His captain's face is unreadable. Renji feels only energy and the thrill of the chase.

He pulls down his visor and grins.

IX.

One might think it would all come back to him the moment he saw her. It did not. Full of his new life, he tracks down his former partner in crime, oblivious to the voice that is chanting this is Rukia, this is Rukia. He's been given an order.

He draws her blood.

It takes an orange-haired idiot and the cold rain in his face to make him realize what he's doing. And even then, it's too late.

X.

Renji is trapped. He's halfway between Rukia, the girl of his childhood, and Byakuya, the man he promised he would one day bare his fangs at but who - in all of life's spirals - has become more than a goal. For one instant, he's halted, stopped in the middle and feels the terrible pull of two different paths.

Then Byakuya turns his back on his sister and (once again) says nothing while her sentence is passed.

Renji starts walking. He's decided.

He's going to have to keep that vow after all.

End