Chapter Four

Renji didn't want to turn, knowing his emotions would betray him, the look on his face currently one of confusion and despair. But that tone, the way his taicho had just said his name, hadn't sounded cold at all. It had nearly breathed spring breezes toward him, light, tantalizing.

He comprised, waiting a moment to get his emotions more under control, then turning to face Byakuya, expecting the icy facade that nonetheless warmed Renji's thoughts. And he found it, his taicho's manner proper and blank. But the eyes somehow were softened, and stirred memories of something in Renji's mind.

Ice and fire do not mix. Do not touch me if you cannot control the result. Control must be maintained. . . .

The images that came with this statement, in Byakuya's light tone, sent a shock through Renji that he had trouble concealing. His taicho continued to regard him with those eyes, those eyes that stirred up memories of lingering icy touches, of sudden warmth, of a kiss. . . .

He took a step forward, barely realizing it, wondering if Byakuya's ice would melt as it had in the dream. Instead he spoke, the words frosting over again to regain his winter.

"I hadn't meant to set you back in your paperwork with my suggestion," he said, authority and proper conduct ringing in his tone. It wasn't an apology, for Byakuya would not apologize to his subordinate, merely a statement to remove the blame from his haori-wearing shoulders. Renji understood this, the words bitter as he repeated them in his head.

But that dream, the sudden remembrance, was worth fighting for, and Renji was determined not to give in. A proper fukutaicho would accept that his taicho meant what he said, and leave it at that. Renji wanted to see behind the words Byakuya had given him, to find the true meaning that shone in those eyes.

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, blunt as always, though his tone asked for a deeper understanding.

Byakuya didn't show it, but Renji hoped he was surprised. The weight of the conversation once again rested on him, on his ability to craft his true feelings into something cold and empty.

But he barely missed a beat, keeping Renji's eyes trapped with his own.

"It means it would have been better had you not taken things to the extreme in order to prove something to me."

"What do I need to prove to you?" Renji spat back, shocked that Byakuya understood the true reason behind his outburst. Could that mean. . . .

"If I understood that, I doubt I would be asking you now."

Those eyes had shifted, a new emotion rising to shine in them, something that recalled the dream in Renji's mind sharper than ever.

"What do you need to prove to me?"

"I . . nothing!" Renji said, nearly opening himself up to this man for a moment. Byakuya didn't answer, merely continued to stare, his gaze working to bring the truth to Renji's lips.


"It doesn't matter," Renji forced out, finding that every time he looked away from his taicho his eyes were drawn back, forced to once again meet with the dark grey orbs that seemed to be able to read his soul. Byakuya's voice was softer as he spoke again, nearly sending shivers through Renji's tense form.

"Ever since you became my fukutaicho you have been striving to best me."

Renji didn't answer, feeling somehow cheapened by this statement, feeling as if all his struggling thoughts and emotions could be summed up in so few words. Yet his taicho understood him in this much, maybe. . . maybe he would understand, if Renji told him. . . .


The word was delivered in the same blank tone, a question that brought Renji back into reality, where what he ached to say couldn't be made known. He clenched his jaw to hold everything back and inhaled deeply, forcing any thought that had made its way to his tongue back into his mind, to stay hidden.

"Why not? I want ta be stronger. That's it."

"You could look after Kenpachi in that case, as you once did, or Genryuusai-dono. But you stay here, continuing to push at me, trying to prove yourself to me. So what do you truly feel you need to prove?"

"Maybe that yu're actually a human being?!" Renji spat out, forgetting himself for a moment.

Byakuya was more than a little shaken by this sudden remark, but didn't show it, merely raised an eyebrow at his fukutaicho's choice of words.

"Ya know what I mean!" Renji growled, his eyebrows knotted with anger and frustration and something else he didn't care to think about.

"Despite the flaw in your logic, I actually do not quite understand your meaning," Byakuya said calmly, as fluid and composed as ever, although he wished to truly express himself, to asked in better terms what his fukutaicho wanted to say.

"Real people have problems, they make mistakes. They ain't constantly goddammed perfect!"

Renji breathed hard, feeling a weight leave his shoulders as he finally expressed his true feelings, although it was almost instantly replaced with another, heavier, weight; the pain of wondering if he'd suddenly burned all his bridges with his taicho.

Byakuya's voice was light, quiet, though merely chilly, rather than his usual freezing cold.

"You really think my life is perfect?"

"Ya make it that way, cut out anything that might disrupt yur perfect order of things," Renji said, wanting to bite back his tongue, but letting it tell Byakuya everything he'd wanted to for so long.

Byakuya continued to stare his fukutaicho down, concealing his emotions, but every time the word "perfect" left those lips he felt a sharp pain deep within his heart. If that was so, if his life had to be "perfect", didn't his fukutaicho understand that he played into this setup, that he was fine, "perfect", the way he was? That he didn't need to change, to act in any way but himself? Perhaps that was the problem, Renji needed to understand what Byakuya really thought, but Byakuya knew that was the one thing he couldn't say, the one thing that would tear his walls down and let his emotions out for the world, or even just Renji, to see.

So he didn't speak, not knowing what to say. He kept his gaze level with Renji, who seemed to be waiting for an answer. When one didn't come, he scoffed and turned his angry eyes away, as though he was going to leave again. The thought of this, of Renji leaving with this conflict unresolved, of him never learning of the feelings Byakuya had for him, hurt him worse than anything else.

"My life isn't perfect. It isn't everything I want it to be," he murmured, catching Renji's attention. Byakuya hoped this would be enough to tide his fukutaicho over, his walls wavering with even this simple statement. He didn't think he could stand to give anymore.

But Renji merely scoffed again and spoke, his words biting into Byakuya's nearly exposed emotions.

"Nah, course it ain't, cause I'm still here. Though I guess that won't be much of a problem anymore."

He turned to leave, for what Byakuya suddenly realized was to be the last time. Have I really pushed him that far?

There was nothing left but to risk it all, and give Renji what he wanted, give him something to prove that he fit into Byakuya's life, even if Byakuya couldn't give him a real reason why.

"I'd rather you didn't leave," he began, but didn't give Renji time to protest this. He continued, not trying to overwhelm his fukutaicho with his words, but putting enough emphasis into each one so as to keep him there to hear the next.

"My life wouldn't be quiet the same without you as my fukutaicho."

Byakuya paused to take a breath, knowing he was still avoiding expressing his true feelings, and Renji jumped into the silence, forever competitive.

"What's that s'pposed to mean? Ya seem ta do just fine without me. Don' I just hold ya down?"

A brief thought flickered through Byakuya's head at this last statement, but he barely gave it notice, caring more about the seriousness of the situation than whatever small pleasure the sudden image may have given him.

"I lied. My life is quite perfect the way it is, and I'd rather it didn't change."

No, that still wasn't right. No matter how he tried, Byakuya still couldn't properly convey his true feelings.

"You'd rather it didn't change? Well, maybe it's time for ya ta realize that everything ain't always about you!"

"I realize that. I know that."

Byakuya nearly groaned with the effort. He couldn't think of any way to tell Renji how he truly felt.

"Well, sorry, but I ain't gonna stick around just so you can feel better about yurself! Just so yur life can be perfect!"

Byakuya suddenly realized what the problem was. The way he felt, it couldn't be properly conveyed in words, not matter how he tried. He had to show Renji how he felt.

He took a faltering step forward, followed by a more confident one. One more step and he was before his fukutaicho, standing very close, but not quite as close as he craved to be. Before Renji could react, before the surprise could die from his eyes and once again be replaced by anger, Byakuya closed his eyes and leaned in, capturing his lips in a kiss.

Renji didn't move, didn't react, so after a moment Byakuya removed himself, not moving away, not rebuilding his wall of ice. Renji stared back at him, seeming unable to close his mouth or blink, unable to take his eyes from Byakuya.

"Does that explain anything?" Byakuya managed, his heart pounding with fear and a sudden strong desire to kiss Renji again, to string his hands through that long red hair, to feel those strong sculpted muscles and see just how far down those tattoos went. He controlled the second emotion, as he had for as long as he could remember, but the first was harder to manage, as Byakuya was so unused to feeling it. There was a quaver in his voice he couldn't hide.

Renji didn't speak, didn't answer, and Byakuya suddenly found a way to give voice to his feelings.

"If you can't accept your own perfection, then I suppose that I wish for my life to be imperfect, as long as it's a life with you."

With his eyes Byakuya begged Renji to say something, to break the silence, to accept his gesture.

Renji finally closed his mouth, looking to the ground. Byakuya felt a sinking feeling in his heart, felt the silence grow uncomfortable.

Then Renji looked up again, slowly raising his hand until it was level with Byakuya's chin. He ran his hand up his cheek, his pinky gliding over his the edge of his lips, then sliding around to grasp the back of his neck, guiding Byakuya back to his lips with a warm rough kiss that lit Byakuya's heart on fire. Renji's other hand found its way to Byakuya's hip, pulling him deeper into the kiss. Byakuya slid his hand up this arm, caressing it, his other hand finding the small of Renji's back, keeping them together, all the while concentrating more on his lips than anything else, on the amazing feelings that were running through his body.

When they finally broke apart, Byakuya wasn't quite sure what had happened, how they had gotten to the point they were at. They didn't move beside tipping their heads back far enough to meet each others eyes.

"Do ya want to get ta work on all that extra paperwork?" Renji asked, an evil gleam in his eyes.

"Some things are more important than paperwork," Byakuya murmured, a touch of a smile lighting his lips before they were once again captured by Renji.