Disclaimer: None of the characters belong to me. They are the property of Bleach and Kubo Tite.
Also, this is my first attempt at writing an actual story, hopefully with some plot. I have the attention span of a gnat, so I'm also hoping I finish this one. Thanks!
The subtle increase in atmospheric pressure was almost imperceptible.
"Ahh…here again…" the store owner noted. Nothing coming from the Soul Society ever passed the acute senses of this shop keeper.
However, the bearer of this reiatsu was not trying to keep it hidden. Without fail, every week, Urahara would feel the familiar reiatsu weight itself in on the real world, in the dark night. It would pulse, twice, like a beacon, and wait….wait for a responding murmur, or scratch ….or something, anything.
There was nothing. Never an echo or response, just the empty night.
Urahara sighed. It both surprised and intrigued him that the one who would be so vigilant on recovering a lost comrade was the one who was here tonight. The former captain remembered the frenzy almost a year ago now, when the orange haired teenager and his friends had searched in vain for the Sixth Division's lieutenant.
He had gone missing at the end of the Winter War, after the pillars had fallen, and Karakura town had been brought back to the real world. The real battles began in earnest while the humans slept, and many died in their unnatural sleep. An "earthquake" had befallen the country, with Karakura as the epicenter. It was the only way to explain the crumbled buildings and overall destruction. The entire town, after waking, had been in panic. Three straight days of chaos, before the town finally settled. Then the pictures of the lost and missing began to appear. In the town plaza, pictures of entire families, children, spouses, and even pets looked out of forlorn paper squares. Had anyone seen this person? For the lucky few, lost family members had been recovered in the rubble or at the local hospitals.
Abarai Renji was not among those recovered. Reports of the lieutenant's last known position during the ensuing bedlam of all-out-war had him right over Urahara's shop, fighting with two of the hundreds of Aizen's arrancar. The roof of the shop had been ripped off, and a few of the spare gigai were missing or in pieces. One of the theories of Abarai's whereabouts, was that for some reason, he was somewhere in a gigai, unable or unwilling to let his presence be known.
After a few months of searching, even Rukia had finally accepted the fact that her childhood friend was lost, perhaps dead, and would not be recovered. She had thought there was no way Renji would intentionally hide himself from her, and had made it a point to patrol Karakura town by herself on many occasions, to give him the opportunity to find her if that were the case. She never saw him. She mourned him, as did the others.
The lone shinigami now hovering over Karakura town would never accept not finding his fukutaicho. The Kuchiki heir closed his eyes and opened his mind….picking up each and every one who had one iota of reiatsu in the vicinity, and compared it to the one he knew so intimately. Quickly, he was able to discount every flare of spiritual pressure…now too familiar with the end result of not finding the one he looked for.
Except there was one that now headed his way, also familiar to him, but not the one he sought.
"Kuchiki-taicho! So pleasant to see you...you haven't graced us with your presence at the shop in quite a while..." chirped the crafty shop owner.
"You've been coming to Karakura on a regular basis. " The voice was still pleasant, but it was not a question.
"The Sixth Division does not leave anyone behind…" There was no reason to deny the obvious reason he was here.
"Mmm…" Urahara nodded, accepting the answer, confirming his assumptions of the other's presence in town, "I'm surprised Yamamoto-soutaicho has given you free reign with your many trips here...Soul Society must still be in disarray without multiple captains." ...and lieutenants, he thought.
"What I do on my own time is none of their concern..." the bitterness in the reply was not masked. "I also suspect you know that the Kuchiki have their own seinkaimon gate. I give myself free reign." The arrogance back in that last parting shot.
Urahara was a little stunned. He had never known the noble to voice anything other than calm superiority, yet here he was, in the shop keeper's opinion, practically yelling (okay, so he raised his voice a little...).
For whatever reason, the former captain wanted to help this old acquaintance of his. Urahara had known the head of the Kuchiki clan centuries ago, in a former life, when they were former friends. Now, he would be hard pressed to use that adjective to describe the relationship these two shared. Well, he would describe it as having no relationship, really. But he reached out anyways, tonight...he had a feeling the captain was a little...stressed.
"I admire your perseverance in the matter, Kuchiki-san. Abarai-fukutaicho would be so honored to know you still come to the real world to look for him," the sly shopkeeper joked, trying to make small talk. Little did he know his aim was quite off target.
The silence between them stretched uncomfortably, he was sure the aloof noble would not answer. It seemed it was beneath him to give voice to such things to someone like himself.
Hearing the name no one ever dared to mention is his presence anymore, the noble visibly blanched. They hadn't hid their relationship, but neither had they announced it to the whole world. In fact, no one had really known about his feelings for his fukutaicho, because no one really took a good look at the aristocrat. An observant eye would have noticed a slight warming of the steely gaze when they glanced at the second in command, or most obviously, that instead of walking a step behind his captain, Renji walked at his side. But everyone knew now, that to even breathe the man's name around the Sixth Division leader, was to be crushed with the glacial stare and the choking reiatsu.
Byakuya was in deep, and the loss of the one person that had brought so much heat and life back into his heart was devastating. It was worse than the loss of his wife. At least then, he had known she was dead, beyond his reach. This...all this not knowing... it was torture, it was debilitating...it was almost more than he could bear. He turned to Urahara, anguish blatant in his troubled stare.
"…He is not dead. It is something I would feel. I would know it, if it were so." the deep timbre faltering ever so slightly. The voice dropped, the confession so softly spoken, the blonde wasn't sure if he imagined the last words... "He is merely lost, and will come home to me. I come to guide his way…."
Urahara's eyes widened, as he understood the meaning of the words, and bowed his head in recognition of being accepted into the noble's council. Understood that the Kuchiki pride was no longer enough of a deterrent to prevent what it took for the noble to say these words to him, understood the amount of grief that must be weighing on the other man's heart, allowing him to give voice to his pain.
Surprising himself, his eyes misted over, and he had to clear his throat to respond, "He will find his way back to you, Byakuya," an echo of reassurance, his voice serious and compassionate, so unlike the Urahara everyone has come to know. Perhaps only one other has ever heard this voice. "If I hear anything, you will be the first to know," he promised.
"Thank you, Kisuke." A slight inclination of the head as a response. A dismissal, if you will.
Urahara saw the mask fall into place again on the noble's face. The eyes flattened and frosted over, the misery hammered down, and sealed away. This beautiful man, he thought, ethereal in the moonlight, looked fragile and weary. Two words he never would have believed he'd use in describing the powerful and stoic captain of the Sixth division.
"Good night, Kuchiki-taicho...Please...come see us on your next visit here..." In a flash, the shop keeper was gone.
Tormented grey eyes searched the town below him, stretched out for miles.
"Renji….where are you?..." Byakuya whispered. "Come home…"