Disclaimer: Yeah, I'm totally Tite Kubo. Really. Whaddaya mean, you don't believe me? No, seriously, Tite Kubo is a six-foot tall, devastatingly sarcastic, female, Applied Theatre/Mathematics major. I kid you not.

Well, maybe a little…

Listening to: Peaches – 'Talk To Me' and The Cure – 'Close to me'.

This was all Grimmjow, Rangiku and Maiko's bloody fault, Renji was certain of it.

In fact, if you wanted to go back further, then Ichigo, the creator of the drinking game 'I never', several sake manufacturers and the Kuchiki clan were all partially to blame, but it was predominantly the first three he was interested in finding responsible. It helped that they were nearest to hand.

Actually, he could also blame Ulquiorra. It was he who had brought Maiko along to the last drinking session with the boys (The pale arrancar had recovered enough from his last try to give it another go). Apparently he'd agreed to take her in order to pay her back for locking him in his office. Renji wouldn't have considered this a good thing, but judging from the improvement in Ulquiorra's mood and his new relationship with his captain, Nel, Renji had a feeling that it hadn't been where Ulquiorra was locked, but whom he was locked in with that he was thanking Maiko for.

Either way, she'd joined their merry little troop (aka. Renji, Ichigo, Ulquiorra and Grimmjow) to taunts that she wouldn't be able to keep up with them and that they weren't going to pick her up off the floor when she inevitably passed out, which she had greeted with a sweet smile as she took her seat.

She'd proceeded to drink them all under the table.

Later, as Renji slurred out a query about how she'd done it, she had grinned, swayed slightly in her seat with her arms raised above her head in triumph, and simply replied, "Rigorous training and delusions of grandeur."

He raised an eyebrow and grinned. "Right. Well, if ya can still say that shit after however many bottles, it paid off. Anyway, why'd ya wanna come drinkin' with us? Didja get bored hangin' with the girls?"

She rolled her eyes in response. "Nah, it just gets awkward discussing attractive women with 'em."

Renji's eyes widened as he put together the things that hadn't made sense, like the way she had eyed their waitress all evening, and the fact that she was female and standing within ten metres of Grimmjow but hadn't been subjected to one of his pitiful and yet oddly successful attempts to pick up. He grinned and saluted her as he tried to stay in his chair.

"Well then, maybe I should jus' start drinkin' with the girls. We'd have somethin' in common."

Maiko grinned as she realised what he was implying. "That so? You got a particular someone on your mind?"

And that was how, against better and more sober judgement, he'd told Maiko about Captain Byakuya Kuchiki. He'd told her everything, how he'd served the guy, fought against him, fought alongside him and, somewhere along the line, realised that he'd ended up in love with his aloof, noble and very straight captain. The man may have been a freaken iceberg, but every once in a while something else would show through, and Renji would get a glimpse of the Byakuya that existed free of the Kuchiki name and expectations. He loved that. He loved that he, of all people, seemed to be able to provoke that, though that probably had more to do with how successful he was at pissing off his former captain, rather than any bond between the two. Still, a guy could dream. Hell, it had even seemed less than far-fetched as the war continued and the two of them grew closer, fighting side by side. But, as soon as he'd been promoted, it had all disappeared. Every time he swung by the Sixth, Byakuya was nowhere to be found, and his former captain had made no attempt to seek him out. He'd told himself to shrug it off, but here he was, six months later and still moping.

Maiko had understood, confiding that she'd been devastated when she found out that Yoruichi Shihoun was with a man (not really surprising, but still…). They'd talked into the night and it had felt good to finally speak to someone who could relate to a lot of the crap he was dealing with. He just probably should have stopped talking and remembered that this was the woman who had locked her captain and lieutenant in their office so that they could resolve their sexual tension. Clearly, Maiko Yukaya was the sort of woman who liked to see her friends get what they wanted, no matter how crazy it was or how crazy she had to act to make it happen.

Yeah, he was regretting the sharing now. The Twelfth Division were hosting some sort of shindig that involved an inordinate amount of contraband living world technology in an attempt to set things up as a sort of nightclub. He'd been in one before when he was in the living world (but off duty, if anyone asked) and he'd enjoyed it, but that was before three deranged friends of his decided that they were going to try and make him happy, whether he wanted them to or not. And apparently a happy Renji was a Renji who told his old captain how he felt, and tonight, as far as they were concerned, was the night to do it.

Not going to happen.

This, of course, was why Ran was currently going through his wardrobe, Maiko was attempting to brush his hair and Grimmjow was sitting down and shaking with silent laughter at the whole thing, his head in his hands. Renji glared and then winced as Maiko worked through yet another knot.

"Shit!"

"Yeah, well your hair's a mess and whose fault is that, huh? Seriously, you couldn't brush every once in a while?"

"I still don't see why I've gotta wear it down." Grimmjow was still laughing, and it was pissing Renji off no end. "Oi, Jeagerjacques. Two words. Soi. Fon."

Grimmjow lifted his head and flipped Renji off, still grinning maniacally. "Ok, so she still hates me. At least I get laid in between. You just mope."

Ran snorted. "If by 'get laid' you mean 'hit on every woman in sight until I find one stupid enough to sleep with me', then yeah, sure, you get laid. You probably also get diseased though, so I'm thinking Renji is still in a better position."

"And hopefully he'll get to be in many positions, if all goes to plan and he tells Captain Pretty Boy how he feels", Maiko added, "and you're wearing your hair out because it looks shit loads better that way. Seriously, it's almost good enough to make me consider playing for both teams."

Grimmjow leered and looked Maiko up and down. "Really?"

Ran sighed. "See? Every woman in sight. Kami, you are sad."

"'M not. At least, not as sad as chicken boy right here. He's not going to tell Captain Kuchiki jack all except maybe how his day has been if he gets asked."

Renji growled. "Look, there's a shit load of reasons why telling Byakuya Kuchiki that I think he's hot is a spectacularly lousy idea. Not only that, but these are reasons so fucking obvious that I can spot them, and I don't need you lot to remind me that I can be fucking oblivious sometimes, especially with romantic crap."

"Done!" Maiko exclaimed dramatically as she dragged the brush through the last of his hair. "Anyway, give us one decent and irrefutable reason why you shouldn't tell him."

"Yeah, we wanna hear a decent argument", Rangiku added, as she threw some clothing at him. "Put this on. Bathroom, now."

Wrenching the baggy black pants off his face where they had landed, much to Grimmjow's amusement, Renji grabbed the hooded sweatshirt that was made of such thin material that he usually just wore it as a shirt and stalked into the bathroom, muttering something indecipherable about interfering friends and how they were nothing but a pain in the –

"I don't hear reasons."

"Fuck you, Maiko."

"Silly, I'm a woman. You don't want to do that to me. Byakuya, on the other hand -"

"I hate you all." Renji, having finished dressing, gave himself a once over in the mirror and had to admit, however annoying those three could be, they did know how to make a guy look good. Still, he was a guy. "Ya do realise he's straight, right?"

Grimmjow snorted. "His sword turns into pretty pink flower petals."

"Yeah, but they're pretty pink flower petals that eviscerate you." Renji knew that one all too well.

"Still gay", Grimmjow insisted.

"He was married. To a woman!"

He couldn't see Maiko, but he could still hear the eye-roll in her voice. "Yeah, coz no gay man ever got married before. Can you say 'cover up'? Has he shown interest in any other woman since?"

Renji considered this. She had a point, but still… "He ain't shown interest in anyone, male or female."

"Not entirely true." Ran's voice sounded thoughtful. "He showed a good deal of interest in you when you were his lieutenant."

"That was professional, and he only took an interest in helping me after he almost fuckin' killed me! It was more of an apology than anything. He treats all his lieutenants like that."

"Except for the part where he totally doesn't", Ran countered. "Toushiro was telling me about it. Apparently he never kept another lieutenant as long as he kept you, and he certainly didn't bother spending all his time training them."

"We were at war, he needed to! Besides, if he cared at all about me outside of my position in the squad, he'd have bothered to talk to me since I got made captain. He hasn't." Renji couldn't help but feel that he was losing this debate.

"He's proud", Rangiku pointed out. "You're going to have to make the first move."

"Fine, well it'd completely ruin our professional relationship. Grimmjow, stop makin' the fucking chicken noise."

"Sorry, I figured that was you cluckin' away in there. Being the chicken an' all. Anyway, didn't ya just say ya didn't have any sort of relationship since the captaincy ceremony? What you got to lose?"

"Oh, I dunno. Any respect people give me?"

"Moron." Maiko had rejoined the conversation. "We're not asking you to confess your love via loudspeaker. Just take him aside and ask him to dance, preferably after you've proven to him that you know how. He says no, you shrug and go get wasted with me. He's not exactly the type to gossip about it the next day."

"I dunno", Grimmjow muttered, "the guy does go to the Shinigami Women's Association meetings for Rukia. Shit, why doesn't he jus' come out already? Speaking of that, get your arse out of the bathroom. I'm sure you look very pretty and some of us need to get ready still."

Renji growled and stalked toward the bathroom door, wrenching it open to stare at his so-called friends. Grimmjow strolled in past him, while Ran and Maiko looked him over before high-fiving one another.

Maiko grinned. "Man, we do good work. You clean up good, hun. You'll put us to shame."

Renji had to doubt that. Rangiku was considered one of the best looking women in the Seireitei for a reason, and, while her pale blue dress for once did not show off her most famous assets, it did reveal that she had an impressively long pair of legs. She'd left her red-gold hair free to cascade down her shoulders and had put on a pair of heels that would no doubt leave whomever she stepped on in excruciating pain. Maiko may not have had Ran's good looks, but she was tall and her corseted dress drew attention to her hourglass figure. The black lacy dress fell to her knees, where it was met by a rather scary looking pair of boots, and her long, straight black hair almost reached her waist. They made a rather striking pair, though he was starting to wonder if all female footwear was designed to convince a person that messing with the wearer was a bad idea. He didn't want to be on the receiving end of injuries doled out by either pair of shoes.

"You both look hot. Grimmjow, on the other hand…" Renji turned to grin at the former Espada who had claimed the mirror and was currently trying to gel his hair.

"Fuck you Renji. You're just pissed coz I always score."

Maiko snorted. "Hun, I've seen the women you go home with. I wouldn't touch them with a barge pole. Seriously, is potentially diseased and skanky blonde your type or something?"

Grimmjow added the finishing touch to his hair before flipping her off. "Jealous much?"

"Oh yes", Maiko deadpanned, "totally. There's just so much there to be jealous of."

"Che, you're all bastards." Grimmjow scowled into the mirror before rolling up the sleeves of his black dress shirt. "Renji, you got a decent belt?"

With a resigned sigh, Renji fished around in one of his draws before pulling out his favourite, complete with a skeletal hand as the buckle. "Fine, but you're not keeping it."

Maiko's eyes lit up. "No, he isn't. I am."

Rangiku gasped as she looked at the clock. "Shit. We should probably get going. I know Rukia is making her Nii-sama attend tonight, but not even she can keep him there for more than half an hour."

Renji took a deep breath.

I'm not even vaguely ready to do this. It's ridiculous. He's not gonna be interested and, even if I have the balls to tell him, I don't think I can get out of range before he says 'Chire, Senbonzakura'. This lot just won't let it go, though.

I am so fucked.

Not even in the good way.

He shrugged his nervousness off, grumbling, "Looks like we'll probably miss him, then."

Ran grinned. "Nah. You're gonna give him a reason to stay."

xXx

Byakuya had decided a while ago that this was all Rukia's fault.

Little sisters had a way of getting information out of you, largely to your detriment, and even when they claimed they were trying to 'help', one couldn't stop the shivers from racing down one's spine. On the other hand, Rukia did have a point when she had claimed he need to do something about his problem.

Yes, Byakuya Kuchiki, head of the Kuchiki clan, the foremost noble house in the Seireitei, had a problem (If it were in a Kuchiki to swear, he would have said 'a major fucking disaster') on his hands. And while he was all for suppressing it and never speaking of it again, Rukia, his dear adopted sister, had decided that it was time he confronted the source of his woes.

There was no way in three worlds that that was going to happen.

See, it was one thing to deal with an issue along the lines of, say, an unruly clan member. That, he could handle. He'd survived a ryoka invasion, he'd fought Ichigo Kurosaki twice and lived, he had, as Rukia claimed, 'kicked arse' during the war and survived that too. For the most part, he knew what he was doing. All the same, it was quite another thing to confess to your old lieutenant that you were somewhat enamoured of him and spent the vast majority of captain's meetings surreptitiously staring at him as he stood across from you.

Maybe it was a better idea to leave the second half out. It was just too pathetic to think about.

Yes, he had feelings of a romantic nature for Renji. He had accepted that. He was moving past it, at least, in theory. Once Renji had been promoted and Byakuya realised how much he missed him, he had been shocked to see how deep his feelings went. It was not a pleasant shock either, given that his affections were not returned, so he had tried to make things easier for himself by keeping his distance. He'd confined his contact with Renji to captain's meetings and had mentally listed all the reasons that Renji was a bad choice for an object of his affections. The only problem was that half the things on the list were what he liked about Renji anyway, like his outrageous tattoos and vivid red hair, his ferocity, his outspokenness and his passion.

He had always been a bit of a fool about things like this. He'd mentioned that fact to Rukia and she had merely shrugged and said that he would never know if he didn't at least try to tell Renji how he felt. As far as she was concerned, a confession was obviously on the cards. Byakuya couldn't help but feel that sometimes she was playing with the wrong deck. After all, she enjoyed the company of Kurosaki.

Byakuya was not going to confess anything tonight, but Rukia had been acting so determined this past week he was starting to worry that any decision to announce his feelings could be taken out of his hands. It didn't matter how many reasons (and they were not excuses) that he had given her - expressing his doubts about Renji's sexuality (when you had lived as long as he, sexuality was very much a fluid thing, but Renji was considerably younger), pointing out the potential of confession to damage their working relationship, citing his own inability to open up to people and his lack of social skills, and eventually just muttering that he didn't want to, damn it. She had been unmoved and an unhealthy gleam had appeared in her eye as she had shaken her head.

It had alarmed him to the point that he had agreed to go along to the Twelfth Division party to appease her and was now at leisure to regret it. The music was deafening, with the bass turned up so loud that he could feel it reverberate in his chest, and the dance floor was full of semi-intoxicated shinigami dancing with each other in ways that suggested that their clothing would not be staying on much longer. His own clothing felt uncomfortable, Rukia having forced him into articles far more casual than anything he usually wore, and living world in origin at that. As far as he was concerned, the tight black jeans and boots were ridiculous, and were not fitting for a Kuchiki, although he was reserving judgement on the midnight blue dress shirt that Rukia claimed 'brought out his eyes'. Still…

He was officially in a personal hell.

He made his way to the nearest table as soon as he'd entered, and had been joined by his old teacher and Rukia's captain, Jyuushiro Ukitake, and by a typically cranky looking Toushiro Hitsugaya, who had muttered something about Matsumoto being late. Byakuya had to admit, he was enjoying the spectacle of the uptight ice prince developing feelings for his wayward lieutenant, despite Rukia constantly needling him about alleged parallels with his own situation. She may have a slight point but he wasn't going to give her the satisfaction, especially since she'd run off with Kurosaki shortly after they'd arrived and left her 'Nii-sama' standing at the bar. 'Nii-sama' was currently staring into his drink as his two companions took in the train wreck that was Shunsui Kyoraku trying to dance.

Jyuushiro shook his head as his fellow white-haired captain gaped and queried, "How does Nanao put up with him? Is she seeing this?"

Turning to Hitsugaya, Jyuushiro shrugged. "She loves him. And she just doesn't watch. I think she's over there with Nel and Lieutenant Schiffer trying to ignore it."

Aren't we all? Interestingly, Renji does not appear to be here. I may just get through the night unscathed after all…

Hitsugaya, meanwhile, shuddered. "Where have the rest of Nanao's drinking friends gotten to? I know Matsumoto's late, but where's Nemu?"

Scanning the crowd, Jyuushiro frowned when he caught sight of a petite, dark-haired woman manning the bar. "She's serving. On her own too. That doesn't seem fair. It's a Twelfth Division event, they should all be helping, not just the lieutenant."

"Hmmm…" Captain Hitsugaya regarding his drink. "Speaking of things that aren't quite right, does the General know about all the living world gear that got smuggled into this place? I'm pretty sure that is not supposed to happen."

"Take it up with him." Byakuya had finally entered the conversation, albeit reluctantly. "I last saw him at the bar with Zaraki. I cannot be sure, but I think they were doing tequila shots."

He was distracted from their reactions by the entrance of two very familiar figures, only to hear the normally stoic Captain Hitsugaya make a noise that sounded like 'gleep' and stutter out, "She has… legs!"

Byakuya raised an eyebrow. He had to concede, most people in the bar were having the same reaction to Rangiku Matsumoto's appearance. She did look good as she strode across the room, dazzling Toushiro further as she grinned at him, but it was the man next to her that worried Byakuya, with his bright blue hair and his roving gaze that fixed on him as a wicked grin spread across his face. There was no questioning Grimmjow Jeagerjacques' sexuality - if it wore a skirt he was in there. For him to look at Byakuya like that meant only one thing – he knew something that Byakuya didn't, something that amused him.

It was definitely time to worry.

Byakuya barely had time to whip himself into a mild panic before he realised just who was entering right behind Grimmjow and Rangiku.

Oh…

Shit.

Standing in the doorway, with a strange looking girl dressed all in black attached to his arm, was Renji, and a devastatingly good looking Renji at that. His hair was down, blood red tendrils falling past his shoulders onto a black jacket, the material thin and clinging to him like a second skin. He'd unzipped it partway, revealing scores of tattoos and the fact that he wasn't wearing a shirt underneath, which drew a lot of stares, Byakuya's included.

This is not good. I need to calm down and focus on something else. I have seen Renji with his hair down and his chest bare before. Admittedly, he has always been blood-spattered and in the middle of battle at such times, but it still shouldn't affect me so. A Kuchiki cannot lose control over something so slight.

A Kuchiki shouldn't have to make an effort not to drool.

Byakuya felt his chest tighten as Renji strode into the room, laughing at something the woman at his side had said. His eyes narrowed as he nonchalantly queried, "Who is the young woman with Captain Abarai? I don't recall seeing her about."

"Huh?" Toushiro managed to tear his gaze from Rangiku and turned to see who Byakuya was talking about. "Oh. Maiko Yukaya. She's the Third Seat of the Seventh. Friend of Matsumoto and, I believe, Lieutenant Jeagerjacques."

"Really." He consoled himself with the knowledge that she wasn't too good looking - she had a stubborn chin and her face was more vivacious than pretty. Still, she made up for it with a flashing pair of deep blue eyes, and Renji certainly seemed to like her.

A Kuchiki never has cause to be jealous.

She'd made Renji laugh again, leaning over and whispering in his ear.

I should have brought Senbonzakura, and seen how this Maiko creature liked that.

Jyuushiro must have seen something in his face, because he looked rather concerned as he asked Byakuya if anything was the matter. Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he replied in the negative, before sneaking another glance at Renji only to see his old lieutenant looking back at him. Giving a mock salute, Renji grinned, before turning back to his companion and walking to join Grimmjow and Rangiku, who had located Nel and Ulquiorra near the bar.

Byakuya exhaled, releasing the breath he hadn't even realised he'd been holding.

He was going to need a bigger drink.

xXx

"He was totally checking you out!" Maiko was practically bouncing.

"You started drinking already?" Renji replied, scepticism evident in his voice. As much as he would've liked to believe her, he didn't feel like indulging in wishful thinking. It was bad enough that Byakuya had shown up looking the way he did. He may have seemed slightly uncomfortable in living world clothes, but damn, they looked good. He'd even taken his kenseikan out, letting his hair frame his face naturally, and all Renji could think about was how good it would be to run his fingers through it…

"Soul Society to Renji! Anyway, we only had a little. We opened a bottle before we got to yours, but that was it, I swear!" Ran fluttered her eyelids. "I never lie about sake."

"Oh Kami, what are you lot up to?" The mock horror in Nel's voice was slightly tinged with the real deal.

"Nothing!" Ran and Maiko replied in unison, as Grimmjow chuckled darkly.

"Good answer", Ulquiorra muttered, "since now Neliel and I can both genuinely say that we knew nothing beforehand. It is a good position to be in after all hell has broken loose."

"That's the spirit! Oi, are you gonna finish that drink?"

"Don't even think about it, Grimmjow. Why don't you go harass your captain? I'm sure she will be thrilled with your company."

"Yeah, yeah, rub it in. You get lucky with your captain and I don't. I'm workin' on it, though. Where'd you say she was?"

As he sauntered off in the indicated direction, Renji shook his head. "Man, what did Soi Fon ever do to you?"

Ulquiorra shrugged. "It's nothing to do with her, I just enjoy seeing Grimmjow take a blow to the ego every once in a while. It's good for him. I have his best interests at heart, I assure you."

Nel grinned. "I love it when you're evil. So, how about a dance?"

Ulquiorra took in the gyrating couples on the dance floor. "I don't really know how."

Her smile turned wicked. "You don't really have to dance, you just have to hold me while I do."

He blinked as he took that in, before his lips twitched into a half smile. "I think I can live with that, Neliel."

They disappeared onto the dance floor, Rangiku following soon after, murmuring something about getting a dance off of her captain. Maiko nudged Renji.

"Are you going to mope at the bar all night while staring at him, or are you going to get out on the dance floor and show him what he's missing?"

Downing the rest of his beer, Renji took the offered hand and was willingly dragged onto the dance floor, completely unaware of the pair of midnight coloured eyes following his every move.

xXx

Two hours later, Byakuya was running out of bigger drinks. He was, however, still convinced that this place was hell. At least, his own version of it.

Renji was all too good at moving on the dance floor, and the Maiko-bitch (as he was now referring to her in his mind) was matching him step for step.

A Kuchiki never has cause to be jealous.

Bullshit.

He had to admit, he was slightly tipsy, but he had decided that he had better keep drinking or he may do something stupid.

Though I can't recall the logic that lead to that conclusion. Probably not a good sign.

Wait – is she unzipping his jacket?

Sure enough, seconds later the discarded shirt sailed over several heads only to smack into Byakuya's face. Peeling it off, he almost gave in to a scowl.

When someone throws an article of clothing in my face, my two initial thoughts should not be about how good it smells or how I am annoyed that it is impeding my view of the owner now sans the aforementioned item of clothing.

Damn, that's a lot of tattoos.

Struggling to relocate his gaze from Renji, Byakuya focused on his partner, only to see her smirking at him and nodding at the shirt she had just thrown. His eyes widened and his knuckles turned white as he gripped his drink.

That little bitch! She threw it at me on purpose! She's even giving me the same smile as Jeagerjacques – that 'I know something about you and it's quite a something' look. That does it – I'm going Bankai on her as soon as I get home and get my sword. And get sober.

No one fucks with a Kuchiki.

I probably shouldn't have had that last Screwdriver.

The Maiko-bitch grinned and winked at him, before turning back to dance with Renji. His brows slightly furrowed, Byakuya tried to make sense of things.

The Maiko-bitch appears to know something of my feelings for Renji and she is friends with Jeagerjacques, so that explains why they seemed amused at my expense tonight. But how did they find out? The only person who knows is Rukia, and she isn't friendly with either of them. It doesn't make sense. Does Renji know?

No, he could never have greeted me so calmly if he had been aware.

So, what the hell is going on?

"Nii-sama!" Now here was a chance to get some answers.

"Rukia." Byakuya noted her companion and fought back a sigh. Really, a Kuchiki should have better taste. "And Kurosaki. I trust you are having a good night? Or is this a different scowl to your default expression?"

Ichigo's frown deepened as Rukia elbowed him. "Never mind, Nii-sama, he's just annoyed at what Urahara decided to name this club. Apparently he and Yoruichi are going to make it a permanent thing, isn't that exciting?"

About as exciting as crawling naked across a field of broken syringes. I need to leave. My obsession has kept me here too long and it's just depressing to sit here and watch him dance with someone else.

At least Nemu mixes a good cocktail. The night hasn't been a total waste.

"Thrilling", Byakuya replied, "and I must apologise Kurosaki, I had no idea that Captain Urahara would take my suggestion seriously. All the same, you must admit that 'Death and the Strawberry' has a certain ring to it."

Ichigo's eye twitched as Rukia laughed. "Shut up midget. And Byakuya, what the hell have you been drinking?"

Rukia smacked him over the head. "Way to be disrespectful, asshat."

"What? He's acting human for once. I want to know what the hell kind of substance is capable of inducing that."

"I am right here, mentally and physically, thank you very much." It was official - short of public humiliation, Byakuya's night couldn't get any worse.

There was a very awkward pause. Rukia, seeing her opportunity, leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered, "How are things going on the Renji front?"

"Fabulous, if you're Maiko Yukaya. Not exactly so, if you are me. I think I could use another drink."

Rukia looked out onto the dance floor, watching Renji and the young woman, her brow furrowed. "Huh. Maiko. I think Ichigo knows her. Oi, Ichigo!"

Having let his attention drift, Ichigo turned back to them. "What, midget?"

"Baka!" With a kick to the shin to emphasise her point, Rukia continued. "It's rude to not pay attention in conversations."

"Hey, you and Byakuya were having your own little chat. I was just letting you bond and shit. So, what do you want?"

"You know Maiko Yukaya, right? She's over there getting very friendly with Renji."

Ichigo snorted. "Won't do either of them any good. They both swing the other way."

Rukia looked confused and Byakuya was having a little trouble putting it together. "What exactly are you saying, Kurosaki?"

"Shit, don't you two know anything? Ok, let me spell it out for you. Maiko likes the ladies, in the same way that Grimmjow likes the ladies. The only difference is that she has better taste and better pickup lines. And Renji likes guys."

Byakuya almost choked on his drink.

Renji is… gay?

His mind racing, he began to put things together.

I've been assuming that Maiko and Grimmjow were acting the way they were because they knew how I felt, but how could they? Rukia is not the type to tell other people, and no one else knows. And who could guess? I have kept my distance so well that the suspicion couldn't possibly have entered any one's head. So why would they appear to know something about Renji and I? Unless…

Unless it's the other way around. They are Renji's friends, he would confide in them. They would know if he had feelings for someone. What if…

He remembered Renji's smile and salute earlier that night and the rush he had felt, seeing those bright brown eyes directed his way. He looked out onto the dance floor, where Renji was dancing with Maiko who, now that he reconsidered, seemed to be a lovely young woman, one who clearly had Renji's best interests at heart. After all, her presence was what kept Renji occupied and saved him from dancing with any undesirable parties. He could only hope that he was reading this right and that he didn't also fall into the 'undesirable parties' category. He figured it was worth a shot. It was time to take action.

Meanwhile, Rukia's face had lit up. "Renji's gay?" She whipped around to face Byakuya who had now stood up. "Nii-sama! Did you – Wait, where are you going?"

Finishing his drink Byakuya placed it down on the table, taking a deep breath to steel himself.

"I need to see a man about a dance."

xXx

Renji had to admit, dancing with Maiko was fun and all, but having her constantly urge him to go and talk to Byakuya was not. And he still hadn't forgiven her for throwing his favourite jacket at the object of his affections.

"C'mon, he loved it. He was only upset because it obscured his view!"

"Maiko, I dunno what kind of shit goes on in your head - "

"Tap-dancing penguins and water-skiing squirrels juggling chainsaws mostly. Why?"

"… Ignorance was bliss. Look, this is stupid. Of all the people in the Seireitei, I couldn't have picked one less likely to be interested - "

"Uh, me?"

"Ha ha sodding ha. Look, it's pointless, me chasing after him. There is a reason that the whole 'monkey and the moon' story exists – because it proves something. People like me don't end up with - "

"Excuse me, can I cut in?"

Oh Kami. This has to be real. There's no way the Maiko would look that smug if it wasn't.

Which means that Byakuya Kuchiki, Byakuya fucking Kuchiki for crying out loud, is actually standing there, holding his hand out to me and asking me if a want to dance with him.

Where's the catch?

"Uh, you sure you don't mean Maiko?" He'd pinched himself and Byakuya was still there, so he was waiting for the next cruel twist of fate.

"Very sure, though I am certain that Third Seat Yukaya would be a lovely partner. She is, however, not the person I meant, Renji."

It was still a bit much to take in. "You want to dance with me?"

Maiko rolled her eyes, before pushing him in Byakuya's direction. "No honey, he wants to dance with the Renji behind you. Kami, my friends are such morons." She shook her head and then grinned. "Have fun boys. I'm off to rescue Grimmjow. Or Soi Fon, depending on how things are going. At this point in the evening it really could go either way."

And with that she was gone, leaving Renji to gape at his former captain, who could only find his lack of reaction confusing.

Byakuya raised an eyebrow. "If you do not wish to dance with me, you need only say so."

Renji blinked. "What? No, that ain't it, I just - " He stopped, collected himself and began again. "Why?"

Byakuya tilted his head, staring into the eyes of the man in front of him. It may have been wishful thinking, or it may have just been the alcohol, but he could have sworn that in the confusion he saw there was something that could very easily be… hope.

Now or never, Kuchiki.

Renji should probably have been trying to absorb it all and figuring out what to do next, but the expression in the other man's eyes caught him. It seemed almost vulnerable.

Now I know I'm going mad. Anyway, what is he -

Carefully, almost delicately, Byakuya leaned in and pressed his lips to Renji's. It only lasted a few seconds, before Byakuya pulled back, leaving a stunned looking Renji who could only stare at him, his mind in turmoil.

I think I have goose-bumps. This is real. I'm not going to wake up. He's real. Shit, that was barely a kiss, but it felt amazing.

He drew a shuddering breath and met Byakuya's eyes, simply uttering a stunned, "Oh."

A rueful smile crossed Byakuya's face. Renji seemed more stunned than anything else. Apparently he had read this all wrong, and the surge of feeling that had coursed through him when they kissed was entirely one-sided. It was definitely time to head back to the mansion to mope.

A Kuchiki is staunch in defeat. At least, until they are safely in the privacy of their own home.

"Oh, indeed. I am sorry for bothering you." He turned to leave, before a calloused hand grabbed his and dragged him back to face a pair of gleaming brown eyes.

"Ya know, we can't all be prodigies. Some of us need a couple of seconds to figure out what to do when something unexpected happens. An' then maybe another to pinch ourselves and make sure we're not dreaming."

He was smiling. That had to be good, Byakuya reasoned. "This is a common occurrence in your dreams, then?"

Renji's grin widened. "Maybe. Anyway, you promised me a dance?"

Byakuya's lips twitched, his eyes alight. "I did. Kuchikis don't break their promises. Unless, of course, they involve the execution of a family member."

Which reminds me, I need to buy Rukia as much Chappy merchandise as possible. That should say 'thank you'.

"Yeah, and even then ya still reluctant." With a smirk, Renji drew him closer and they began to sway with the music. "So, you actually do like me, after all?"

"You are impertinent." Byakuya smiled. "For some strange reason, I happen to like that. You're also correct. So, does that make this mutual?"

Renji pulled him in for a searing kiss as Byakuya's eyes widened at the sensation. They fluttered closed as his lips parted and his tongue darted out to meet Renji's, revelling in the taste, a reminder of where he was and who he was with. Minutes later, they parted. Byakuya tried to get his breath back surreptitiously, his gaze directed at Renji.

"Is that a yes?"

"That's a 'hell yes'. Now, we were dancing?"

"Hmmm. You know, now that I reflect upon it, this place isn't so bad. I might start coming here more often."

They danced on, blissfully unaware of the busty redhead and a tall, dark-haired woman high-fiving one another before turning to escort a rather beaten-looking man with bright blue hair out of the bar.

All in all, another Saturday night in the Seireitei.

xXx

Omake

"Ulquiorra, you're positively grinning. Should I be worried?", Nel queried, her eyebrow raised.

Ulquiorra composed himself. "Of course not. I was just observing Grimmjow. Maiko and Rangiku are helping him outside now. It looks as though Soi Fon was not in the mood after all."

She laughed. "Just pray that she doesn't find out who told him where she was."

"You wouldn't turn me in now, would you Neliel?"

"Course not. Who'd do my paperwork?"

He smirked, reached over to tweak her nose. "Imp. Anyway, I think I have deduced what your friends were up to."

"They're your friends too."

"Maiko and Rangiku, perhaps. I deny all knowledge of Grimmjow."

She shook her head, grinning. "Ok, you win. Now, what have they been up to?"

He motioned toward the dance floor, indicating a couple who were clearly blind to anyone else in the club but each other. Nel's eyes widened as she stared openly. "Byakuya and Renji?"

Ulquiorra sighed. "If you get a nosebleed, I will never forgive you."

Giggling, she leaned forward and kissed him, before drawing back teasingly. "Silly. I only have eyes for you."

He gave her a look that had her almost melting in his arms. "Really?" He leaned forward.

"Remind me again, Neliel…"

xXx

Woot! I has finished. This has been kicking around in my head for a while, so it feels good to get it out there. Anyway, I may disappear for a bit (as in a couple of weeks) as exams are upon me and I have to plan out my next baby (Grimm/Soi, if you're interested).

Back ASAP, k?

Cheers!