Author's Note: Well, this is it. The conclusion. Many thanks to all who have read this far, and even more thanks to those kind enough to review. I greatly appreciate it.

Written For: Stages of Love. Theme: Five Stages of a Relationship - Morning After/Outcome/End of the Road.

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A Bene Placito – Chapter X: Renji

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"Lieutenant Abarai, I'd like to speak to you."

Renji paused and glanced behind him. Byakuya stood at the bottom of the steps, as inscrutable as an iceberg. Renji looked away before he betrayed an expression. It still stung to look at Byakuya—and to think about how stupid Renji had been for thinking that he had a shot at something real with Byakuya. He shivered and told himself it was the rain.

"Lieutenant Abarai." Byakuya's tone was sharp enough to draw Zaraki's attention as he passed. Zaraki glanced down at Byakuya with a gleam in his eye. Yachiru sat on his shoulder, holding an umbrella over both of them.

"Wow, look, Ken-chan, Division Six is filled with dummies. Bya-kun and Red-chan forgot their umbrellas."

Zaraki sneered. "Yachiru is overseeing your captain's proficiency test, Abarai, though she doesn't get a vote."

"Yes, I do!" Yachiru said, beaming at Renji. "My vote is Ken-chan's vote. I want to see your bankai, Red-chan. Pachinko Head said it involved bubbles."

"Bubbles!" Renji cried. "There's no damn bubbles!" Stupid Ikkaku and his stupid lies.

Yachiru paid him no mind as Zaraki headed up the steps. "And there's supposed to be rainbows and candy," she told Zaraki. "I didn't believe him about the candy, though—UkiUki has the candy bankai."

Renji smacked a palm to his forehead. If there weren't bubbles involved, Yachiru would pester him until he created some. He wondered if he could soap up his hands before the test and blow some bubbles for her. Zaraki disappeared inside the First Division's headquarters, and Renji realized that Byakuya still stared at him.

"We're getting wet," Byakuya said. He gestured at the overhang of a nearby building. "This will just take a moment."

Renji worked his jaw. There was something odd about Byakuya. His expression was as blank as ever, but something in his eyes had changed. He looked directly at Renji, and he rarely did that except when they—Renji cleared his mind, not wanting to think about the sex. It would just ruin his resolve. "Fine. But make it quick," he said. He marched over to the overhang and shook raindrops off his sleeves.

Byakuya did not bother shaking off raindrops. He ignored the rain. Renji found his gaze strangely intense and looked away. He ached when he realized that Byakuya would never look at him like that again, but he had to leave. He would not let his heart be broken any further. He had been stupid to let it get this far, to let himself pretend that Byakuya cared about him.

"I order you to stay," Byakuya said.

Renji started, his gaze darting back to Byakuya. Byakuya, for the first time that Renji had ever seen, dropped his gaze. He held out a hand, palm up.

"Please."

Renji took a step back and swallowed. "Why? I'm retaking the test like you wanted. You just wanted to indulge me, right? Well, you indulged me. Now, leave me alone." This had to be some sort of new game Byakuya was playing. Did he even realize how he tormented Renji?

"I don't want to leave you alone."

Renji wanted to stop his ears, because if he listened anymore, he would break. "Just shut up. You can find someone else to fuck. Maybe your next lieutenant, even."

Byakuya's eyes narrowed. "I don't want another lieutenant."

"I thought that was the whole idea behind what… we did." Renji thrust out his chin. "You got your wish. I'll march in there and perform my bankai, so you can be rid of me."

"Are you listening to me? I'm not going to repeat myself."

"Listening to what? You're not saying anything. You're just bossing me around, like you always do, and I'm sick—"

The sensation of wind and force shocked Renji to silence. Just as his lips crashed into Byakuya's, he realized Byakuya had yanked him forward by the front of his kimono. Despite his frustration and hurt, Renji melted at the kiss, at the feel of Byakuya's wet lips and warm tongue. Renji decided Byakuya tasted like perfection.

Byakuya had never kissed him before.

Renji opened his eyes as Byakuya pulled back. His entire body tingled, and he stared up at Byakuya in wonder.

"I won't repeat myself," Byakuya whispered, ironically repeating himself.

Renji closed his hands over Byakuya's hands—hands that still gripped his kimono. "I thought you were just 'indulging' me." Renji whispered. Byakuya's touch emboldened him, and he stroked Byakuya's long black hair. It felt as soft as it looked.

Byakuya glanced away. "I'm indulging both of us."

Renji tugged on Byakuya's hair. "Things need to change."

"Some things need to change." Byakuya plucked Renji's hair tie off, sending Renji's hair cascading down his back. "Some things remain the same. Especially since you liked it."

Renji crossed his arms and looked away. "Did not."

Byakuya leaned forward to brush his lips against Renji's ear. "Your goal is to defeat me, yes? If you can do that, then I'll allow you to chain me up. You have to earn that privilege."

That sent shivers through Renji's body, and he vowed to train every day just for that. "The Commander-General and Captain Zaraki are waiting for me to blow bubbles for Yachiru."

"Mm," Byakuya said with a gleam in his eye. "An impertinence I shall have to punish you for."

Renji grinned. The threat never sounded sweeter.

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Some things had already changed. Renji lay in the middle of Byakuya's bed, with an unclothed Byakuya tucked against him. Byakuya's hair tickled his nose, and Renji brushed it aside, trying not to wake Byakuya. He still felt sore from Byakuya's earlier "punishment," but it no longer stung his pride. Knowing that Byakuya wanted him around made all the difference.

Renji thought of Hinamori and smiled. He had been shocked to find her awake when he visited her the evening before, standing by the window. "Thank you for talking to Tōshirō, Renji-kun," she had told him. "I wanted to die for so long, thinking that I was too dangerous to live, but he came back and told me that he needed me and that he missed me. So I woke up."

Hinamori was different now. She had emerged from her personal hell with iron in her spine. She would be captain soon, Renji suspected. Hinamori had said she had withdrawn to the inner world of her zanpakutō while in a catatonic state. She had left Soul Society that evening to master her bankai. When she returned, Renji knew she would become the captain that everyone had thought Aizen was. That was who she was meant to be. And Renji would remain Byakuya's lieutenant, as he was meant to be. Hinamori had promised everything would work out for both of them, and she had been right.

"Are you awake?" Byakuya mumbled.

Renji stroked his hair. "Yeah. Thought you were asleep, though. Did I wake you?"

"No."

Renji waited, but Byakuya did not elaborate. His breath warmed Renji's skin, and he stroked Renji's chest, fingers tracing the dips and curves of Renji's muscles. Renji continued to stroke Byakuya's hair, reflecting that he had never felt this content in his life. He half-expected to wake up and find this was all a dream, cliché as the sentiment seemed.

"What—what made you change your mind?" Renji asked.

Byakuya took so long to answer that Renji thought he had gone back to sleep. "You did, I suppose. My intention was for this to be a meaningless and temporary indulgence, but now it's… not."

"But how did I change your mind?"

"I can't explain it." Byakuya turned his head and peered up into Renji's face. The lamp had long since flickered out, and Byakuya's eyes glittered in the moonlight. "Can you explain why you… feel for me?"

The delicate way that Byakuya said "feel" made Renji wonder how much Byakuya knew of Renji's emotions. "No," said Renji. "I just do."

"That's just how things work between two people." Byakuya kissed Renji's nipple. "Don't fear me anymore."

Renji stroked Byakuya's naked back, luxuriating in the honor of touching Byakuya as he pleased. "What do you mean?"

"You thought I was going to hurt you, sometimes, even though you stayed. Don't think that anymore. I told you the first night that I would not hurt you, and I meant that. So you'll just have to trust me from now on."

Renji smiled. "I'm sorry for doubting you, Captain. I trust you." I love you, he added silently, but he would not say it again until he was sure Byakuya returned the sentiment. He did not think he would have to wait forever.

Byakuya kissed him, his hair brushing Renji's skin. The kiss bore something new—the promise of something that Renji welcomed with all his being. When Byakuya lay back down beside Renji, Renji held him close. They fell asleep, bare skin pressed against bare skin, black hair scattered across the pillow with red.

The End.

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Title: "A Bene Placito" (Chapter 10 Omake)
Author's Note:
A little omake that takes place a few weeks after the story, starring Jūshiro Ukitake and Rukia Kuchiki.

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A Bene Placito – Chapter X Omake: Jūshiro

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Rukia burst into the room, her eyes so wide that they nearly swallowed her face. Jūshiro smiled at her and sipped at his tea. She blinked and worked her mouth, but no sound came forth.

"Are you all right, Rukia?" Jūshiro asked.

"I—" She took a deep breath. "I decided to surprise Nii-sama with a visit, since it's his rest day. I even made him lunch." She looked down at her empty arms. "I can't remember what I did with the food."

Grateful that he was feeling better than usual, Jūshiro stood up to pour her some tea. He pushed the cup into her delicate hands. "I'm sure he was happy to see you."

"No, he wasn't." Rukia's eyes grew even larger—Jūshiro wondered if they would pop out of their sockets. "Neither was Renji."

"Oh, that." Jūshiro smiled. "You never guessed?"

Rukia gesticulated so wildly that she spilled her tea. "But Captain, Nii-sama had Renji trussed up like a prisoner!"

Jūshiro nodded. "Well, yes, Byakuya likes that sort of thing. I imagine your sister did, too."

Rukia pressed a hand to her chest. "He… used to do that to my sister?"

"Well, I don't know for sure, but I imagine so. After all, he did it with numerous people before he met her."

Rukia gasped for air. "Nii-sama? My brother?"

"Really, Rukia. He was a young man, once. As were Kaien—"

"Kaien-dono?"

"—Gin—"

"GIN?"

"—and a few others I probably don't know about."

Rukia jibbered. Jūshiro put a hand on her head. "I'll make you another cup of tea. You should be pleased for your brother. He hasn't been this happy since before your sister died."

"He looks the same as he always does!"

Jūshiro patted her. "Only on the surface. You have to learn to read his eyes. Now, let's have some more tea, and you can visit your brother and Renji later, after they've had a chance to compose themselves."

Rukia sighed and smiled. "All right, Captain. Do you mind putting a little brandy in the tea? I need it for my nerves."

Jūshiro laughed and pulled out a bottle of brandy that Shunsui had left behind. As he poured Rukia a cup of tea and brandy, he decided not to tell her about his own adventure with Byakuya over eighty years ago. She did not look like she could handle it.