Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply.

"Taichou, can I ask you a question?"

"You're already asking me one."

"Well…can I?"

Byakuya did not bother to sigh. He had seen Renji's slower days after all. "Did I not answer your first one, Renji?"

Not exactly. But the sour thought quickly dissipated; it was not his fault the Captain found it beneath him to give simple yes or no answers. Abarai Renji was many things any person, dead or otherwise, should not be at once: persistent and resilient. Kuchiki Byakuya, you don't scare me!

"Taichou, you said once that it'd take at least fourteen years to master my Bankai, didn't cha?"

Byakuya's sculpted left eyebrow dipped downward slightly, following the line of his averted gaze impeccably.

Renji wished he had not learnt his Captain's body language quite so well. "Taichou, don't tell me you don't remember?!"

That, or he was mocking him in that infuriating Kuchiki way-

"Are you sure I did not say ten times that?" Byakuya asked lightly.

Oh, he was mocking him.

Renji could feel hot, young blood rush to his head but he had indeed learnt (the hard way) to keep a tight rein on his tongue around his nobler-than-thou superior officer. It was no easy feat.

"Ah, you know how I hang on to your every word, Taichou-" he waved a careless hand in the air, "I would not have missed anything as complimentary as that!"

"Hunh." Byakuya lifted his calligraphy brush again and conveniently ignored his bristling second-in-command.

After a short eternity, Renji's well-known temper finally reared its head. "Taichou, you think I can't do it."

His accusatory tone was not lost on Byakuya. "Be grateful for what you are, Fukutaichou. It matters only to me what I think or do not think about you."

Renji said nothing and peaceful silence was once again restored to the atmosphere the way Byakuya liked it. It was rudely broken moments later when Renji marched to his desk and boldly slid a crisp piece of paper across the desk toward him.

"What is this?"

"Requesting for a temporary leave, Kuchiki-taichou."

Byakuya took no more than a few seconds to ascertain the gist of the letter. "What business have you to attend to in the Living World?"

"A personal one, Taichou."

"And what of the running of the Division?"

"I'm sure Taichou can manage by himself with no difficulty at all. After all I am only a lowly Lieutenant with nothing to lend to his name 'cept for some old scars and a rusty sword."

Byakuya rapped all fingers of one hand sharply on the edge of his desk and Renji felt his insides instantly turn to ice.

This is it.

Byakuya tapped a long, tapered finger against the header of the letter slowly, rhythmically, in perfect sync with every fifth beat of Renji's racing, dead heart.

My arse is sooo fired.

"If you're looking for a personal trainer, I hardly think that snot-nosed yob is worth his salt."

Far be it from Renji to begrudge Kurosaki Ichigo anything (except for maybe Rukia's affections, on particularly bad days), the Shinigami rep was as good a sparring partner as he could get; they had fought alongside each other, gone to hell and back together, and survived.

"He'll suffice," Renji said tightly.

Besides, Kurosaki Ichigo was not whom he had in mind in the first place. Renji was wise enough to never say the name around his Captain for fear of being decapitated, or worse.

"They say Urahara Kisuke's zanpakutou is a female spirit unlike any other."

If Renji's eyes could get any bigger he'd be picking them off the floor.

"Is it true?"

Renji's mouth worked to form words but for once in his life, he was tongue-tied.

Kuchiki Byakuya was one terrifying creature.

"So now you have nothing to say."

For someone supposedly in exile, his fangs still reached beyond the realms of the living and the dead after over a century-

The legend that was Urahara Kisuke lived on in the wake of his past sins; despite his genius, everything he touched he destroyed, and Byakuya had no qualm about killing him if ever they were to meet one day.

"It is not wise to become too attached, Renji."

Byakuya swept his application letter aside. Onto his 'To Discard' pile, Renji realised with a rapidly sinking heart.

"The gates to the Kuchiki Manor will open for you at dawn tomorrow. Do not be late."

Renji was still staring longingly at his wholeheartedly-penned, now rejected, request letter. His voice was as glum as his face. "You…are having a party, Sir?"

"My training grounds are at least twice the size of that of Shihouin Yoruichi or Urahara Kisuke's."


"An officer from my Division cadging off a criminal?" Byakuya's lips curled almost imperceptibly in distaste. "I will not have it."

Nothing good ever came out of associating oneself with the infamous outlaw. The last thing he wanted was his Lieutenant coming back all Hollowfied, like that brat Kurosaki Ichigo. Or worse, in an experiment vessel for another Hougyoku. Soul Society was still reeling from the aftermath of the debacle the last one had brought.

"You-" Renji cleared his throat and tried again. "Uh, you want me to use your training grounds?"

"I am overseeing your training." Byakuya clasped his hands neatly atop his desk. "Personally."


"The reason you strived to attain Bankai in record time, was it not to kill me?" Byakuya asked lightly.

"W-Well, you see, Taichou-"

Byakuya was enjoying this, tremendously. There was no way he was letting Renji out of the hole he had dug himself. "I will hear it, Renji."

Renji sighed. How in the world did he manage to get himself into this mess? Rukia was never going to let him live this down. He mumbled a subdued, "Yes, Sir."

"Your answer pleases me." With a finality that was characteristically him, Kuchiki-taichou brought a clean end to a conversation that would have never seen the light of day had Renji not confronted him with the threat of leaving. Young people nowadays simply have no manners.

As he surreptitiously watched a stunned Renji take his seat, Byakuya allowed himself a slight shake of his head. As the only Division in Gotei 13 to have both Bankai-level Captain and Vice-Captain, the 6th Division had been enjoying a certain degree of fame among the elite of Soul Society. Renji was probably the only person oblivious to the respect it commanded, being the hopeless commoner that he was-

"Baka Renji."

Renji must have heard, and perhaps Renji too was a mind-reader, or perhaps Byakuya had a very small smile on his face…for soon, Renji too was wearing a very small one of his own.

Well, it was just another day at the 6th Division Headquarters after all.


A/N: That made me feel a lot better. :) Thanks for reading, and comments are very much appreciated!