The Monkey and the Shattered Moon
(This story takes place prior to my other books, so you do not have to have read my others to enjoy this! If you read The Hand that Stopped the Pendulum, you may recognize some of this. I got the idea while writing that other novel. Enjoy & Please R&R!)
Prologue: In the Aftermath of Treachery
"Renji…why are you here?"
"I'm here because…you're my captain."
"You probably wish I was dead. That's probably what you're thinking."
"No. If you were to die, then what motivation would I have for getting stronger? And in fact, Captain…"
"You were saying something, before Ichigo burst in…what was it, Renji?" Byakuya asked, turning to stare out the window.
Renji looked down at the pale, heavily bandaged form that lay in the bed in front of him and discovered he couldn't find the words. He dropped into a chair at his captain's side and scratched his head. He had wanted to say something before…wanted with all of his heart to say it, but when that moment was broken, he had lost his nerve. Now he gazed blankly at his captain, unable to move forward and with no chance of turning back. He sighed softly.
"It…was nothing, Captain. I just meant that you shouldn't think that I would want you dead. I don't…so please don't say that anymore."
He half expected Byakuya to pursue him with questions, but his captain simply accepted his answer with a polite glance and faint nod of his head, before sliding down into the pillows and closing his eyes. Renji didn't know if that meant he should leave. In the past, it would have been a clear dismissal, but the man lying in the bed before him was not the one he despised. He wasn't the man Renji had sought so long to surpass. That man had disappeared under the shattering blows of the substitute soul reaper and under the horrifying weight of learning just how badly Sosuke Aizen had used him. Renji thought for a moment about how that must feel. The damage to his shattered body paled in comparison to what had been done to his spirit. He didn't feel pity for his captain…but he did feel sympathy with him. All of them had made mistakes. All of them.
The door opened behind Renji and Rukia walked into the room. Renji stood and motioned for her to take the chair next to her brother. Rukia sat down and Renji pulled another chair up alongside her.
"How is he, Renji?" Rukia asked quietly.
"Physically? He shouldn't even be alive. Gin's zanpakuto tore through his heart and half of everything else. He shouldn't be here at all. I don't know what kept him alive. I don't know anyone else that strong, Rukia."
"Have they said anything about how long it will be before he regains his power?" she asked, looking up at him.
"No one knows. They say it depends on him. The healers can only do so much. He has to want to get well, Rukia."
Rukia sighed and laid a hand on her sleeping brother's arm.
"Byakuya," she whispered.
Rukia leaned against Renji, laying her head on his shoulder, her eyes fixed on her brother. They remained that way until darkness came, until the healers came and told them that visiting hours were over and shooed them out of the room. In all of that time, Byakuya's eyes never opened. It wasn't until they had turned their backs and started to walk out of the room that a dark eye opened to look at them and a single tear broke free and traced a line down the side of the broken captain's proud face.
Chapter 1: Trust
"Renji…I'm sorry." Byakuya said, his voice so soft that it barely reached his vice captain.
Renji shifted uncomfortably in the hard chair he had occupied of and on for the past two weeks…since the battle to save Rukia, the revelation of Aizen's treachery, and since the moment of his greatest failure to date, the near loss of his captain.
Strangely, this last was the hardest for him to stomach. It didn't matter that the stuck-up bastard had walked into his life and destroyed it by taking Rukia away from him. It didn't matter that he'd actually supported Rukia's execution…until the end, when he realized what Aizen had done. It didn't even matter that he had nearly killed Renji, leaving deep wounds that had not yet fully healed. All that mattered to Renji was that when Aizen's treachery was revealed and the traitor had ordered Gin to kill Rukia, it was his captain who threw his body in between them. His captain had taken what should have been a fatal blow. And as Renji had watched his captain fall, he realized how badly he had failed Byakuya Kuchiki.
"Stop, Captain, we've all done things lately that we're sorry for," Renji replied quietly.
"But," Byakuya continued in the same hushed tone, "I've done so much damage…to people I was sworn to protect. I thought…that…that the pain in my life…the things that hurt the most…were a kind of punishment for my choice to disobey the rules and laws I was supposed to follow."
Renji stared in confusion.
"What do you mean, Captain Kuchiki?"
Byakuya sighed, a soft release of breath and sorrow.
"A long time ago…I made a decision…to follow my heart. I was deeply in love with Hisana. I knew it was wrong in the eyes of the law, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn't change what was in my heart…nor could I ignore it. I had to be with her. I…couldn't leave her…even though I knew it was wrong. Somehow, I think that…that I was responsible for her death. The illness she had…it was bad enough on its own, but when she became pregnant, it became fatal. Because I went against the law…and I married her…and I tried to build a family with her, I weakened her to the point where she sickened and died."
"But, Captain, you didn't know she was ill when…"
"No…it was only once we lost our child that it became clear that she was ill," Byakuya explained.
"Then, how can you say that her dying was your fault?" Renji asked, narrowing his eyes.
"I caused her to be with child. I did that. If I hadn't…loved her, married her…made her pregnant, she might have lived. I know this…because I asked Captain Unohana. She said that what made her weaken so quickly was the demands that her pregnancy placed on her body. That…was my fault. If I had listened…If I had obeyed the rules…she would be alive. I have to live with that."
"There's more…Before she died, Hisana asked me, no…pleaded with me to find her younger sister and to make her a part of my family…to protect her. This too, was a violation of the law. Also…my taking Rukia into the family deeply affected your life, as well. I broke the law again by taking her into the family. And again…I paid for that. Everyone around me paid for it, too. The pain of even looking at her was so…unbearable, that I did everything I could to keep Rukia at a distance. I thought that because I let no physical harm come to her, that I was remaining true to what I had promised my wife. I completely missed the point of having her with me. Hisana wanted Rukia with me…because she wanted us to share a pain that we would have in common. As much as she wanted me to protect Rukia, she wanted Rukia to heal my broken heart. If I had taken the time to look at the life Rukia already had, if I had spent a moment caring about what might be best for her, I might not have taken her away from you. My choice to break the law caused heartbreak for me…and for you. In addition, it left Rukia bereft of her best friend and valued support that she could have used."
Renji looked up into Byakuya's eyes, his own eyes widening in distress.
"Please Captain…stop…don't blame yourself. You were only trying to do what was right."
"After I saw the damage that following my heart had caused, I vowed to follow the law. But, Renji, that was wrong, too. It almost got Rukia killed…"
"You didn't let that happen, Captain Kuchiki. What you did…pulling her out of the way, taking that blow for her…I mean, you could have died."
"I deserved to die for my mistakes. I don't…understand why I'm still here, Renji. When I stepped in front of Gin's blade, I knew I was going to die. I thought that it was justice…that I was just going to pay for what I'd done. But I'm sitting here alive and I have no clue what to do now. I don't trust my own heart…and I don't trust the law. What is left? How do I know what to do now?"
Byakuya's eyes closed and he turned his head away.
"I think," Renji said, placing a hand on his shoulder, "that you just have to put one foot in front of the other…find your balance again. Life is like that, Captain. Sometimes it's best to follow your heart, sometimes your head, and sometimes the law."
"But how do I know which one?" Byakuya whispered.
"I don't know that, Captain, but what I do know is that you can't do it alone. You need others, people you trust to be there, to help you when you don't know what to do."
"I don't trust anyone…except you."
Renji gazed at him in disbelief.
"Wait! What? How can you trust me? I…I turned on you. You are my captain and I tried to kill you. How can you say that you trust me now?"
Byakuya managed something that looked suspiciously close to a sad smile.
"You tell me the truth, Renji. You don't conceal things. When you say something to me, I know that you mean it."
"But I failed you…in the worst way a vice captain can! I attacked you…and then I…I wasn't there for you when you needed me…when Shinzou was tearing through your body. I should have been at your side."
Byakuya shook his head firmly.
"No…you were right to try to save Rukia. I was the one who did everything wrong. You were there all along, trying to tell me, but I wouldn't listen. I deserved that wound. I deserved to die."
"You made some mistakes, Captain. We all make mistakes."
"You see, Renji," Byakuya said, almost smiling again, "even now…after everything, still you stand by me and tell me the truth. That is why I trust you."
"Well, from now on, I promise you, I will be deserving of your trust. I will be there for you. I promise I will watch your back. I will always be at your side. I will always tell you the truth, even if it makes you want to kill me…and I will listen, too, Captain. I will listen any time…whenever you need it," Renji promised.
"Renji…I don't know what to say," Byakuya breathed in a choked whisper.
Renji placed a hand on his arm.
"Don't say anything. This is what should have existed between us all along."
Byakuya closed his eyes and went silent for a moment.
"I don't deserve that kind of loyalty, Renji," he said finally.
Renji gave him a dismissive glare.
"Shut up, Captain, don't be stupid. Of course you do."
"Honesty is good…but…don't forget your place."