The Pieces of a Shattered Moon
(This story is the result of the reviews and e-mails I got about The Monkey and the Shattered Moon. It is a revamping of that story, so that is why you will see similarities. I wanted to continue the original story as it was and I will still do that, but then several readers indicated that they would like to see this as a Bya/Ren love story. This story is the result. Even though I have never written a yaoi love story before, I feel encouraged to give it a try. I hope you enjoy the results. Thanks so much for reading my stories!)
Prologue: Definitions of Love and Hate
"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?" my captain asks, turning to stare out the window.
I look down at the pale, heavily bandaged man lying in the bed in front of me and I realize that I can't find the words. They were there just a minute ago, poised on my lips, just waiting to be released. I sigh heavily instead and drop into a chair at his side and scratch my head. I wanted to say something before…wanted with all of my heart to say it, but when that moment was broken, the reality of what it would mean...the probability of heavy consequences made me lose my nerve. Now I gaze blankly at my captain, unable to move forward and with no chance of turning back. Because even though the words never left me, they are still in my mind...and in my heart.
"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."
I half expect him to pursue me with questions. I almost wish he would, because then, if I told him what I was thinking, it would be because he forced it from me. I wouldn't have to feel this aching fear, this lonely torment that comes from wondering. Is it just me? But my captain simply accepts my answer with a polite glance and faint nod of his head, before sliding down into the pillows and closing his eyes. At this point, I don't know if that means I should leave. In the past, it would have been a clear dismissal, but the man lying in the bed before me is not the one I despise. He isn't the man I've sought so long to surpass. That man disappeared under the shattering blows of his battle with Ichigo, and under the horrifying weight of learning just how badly Sosuke Aizen used him. I try to think of how that's got to feel. It is unimaginable. The damage to his shattered body pales in comparison to what has been done to his spirit. It isn't pity that I feel for my captain. What I feel is sympathy with him. All of us made mistakes. All of us. We share the blame in what happened. But some seem to be paying more than their share of the cost.
Even the cuts he placed on my body are not enough punishment for my mistake, my failure...because even though he supported Rukia's execution, even though he dedicated himself to stopping those who, like me, wanted to rescue her, the truth of the matter is that his heart wasn't in what he was doing. It was a relief to him when Ichigo defeated him. And it was shattering for him to learn that the law had been manipulated, that he had been turned against his own sister by a man whose wickedness was rivaled only by his naked ambition. I have to wonder. If I had done right by him from the start, would he have fallen so far? Would he be lying here half-dead in front of me with his heart torn and his mind tormented with guilt?
I'm his vice captain. There is a responsibility that goes with that...one that I didn't have to abandon, because I never intended to honor it. I didn't become his vice captain because I wanted to. I was promoted. Simple as that.
I won't say that I wasn't pleased with the assignment. It couldn't have worked better into my plans. They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Although he wouldn't have considered me worthy of being his enemy, he was definitely mine...because of Rukia. And now he was close to me, so close that I wonder why he didn't sense what I was doing. I don't know...maybe he did and he figured that, even so, I was useful to him and I posed no real threat. Or, most likely, I was simply beneath notice. In any case, my promotion resulted in two important changes. First, it brought me back into Rukia's orbit. Secondly, it gave me a place from which to observe him, to watch and learn everything about him...so that some day I could turn on him and defeat him. That's right. Even before he did anything blatantly wrong, even when his worst crime was to offer Rukia a place in a wealthy home, I had it in for him. I wanted him to pay, because he took her out of my life. In truth, he had no idea what role Rukia and I played in each other's lives. Why would he? He is noble. Rukia and I are street rats. The only reason he did what he did was because he was honoring the request of his late wife.
After I heard him tell Rukia the story, I couldn't help but feel the totality of my failure. Byakuya Kuchiki is not who I thought he was. He is not a heartless bastard noble who thinks he is better than everyone. He is a noble man who fell in love with a peasant woman and married her. He's a fucking prince who took that woman into his noble home even though it was against the rules. He didn't think that he was too good for her. He loved her enough to break rules and to pay the consequences. What cause would I have to despise someone like that?
But I mistook his behavior to mean that he was heartless and arrogant. Okay, he is arrogant, but he isn't heartless. Or at least he wasn't heartless. What he is now is heartbroken...and you can't be heartbroken if you never had a heart. I completely misjudged him.
So I wonder who was more arrogant...me or him? He loved a woman everyone considered to be beneath him. I hated a man for offering my best friend a place in a wealthy home. He sacrificed what he wanted...to honor the warring wants and needs of his wife and his parents, and got torn apart for it. I took a position of trust, never intending to honor it.
It's hard to wrap my mind around who this man really is...beneath the noble mask he wears. I hated what I saw at the surface. I still hate the mask enough to want to shatter it. But I didn't have to shatter it. Ichigo and Aizen did that for me. And once they did, it changed everything. Because, how can I hate a man who embodies everything I love? Who looks beyond the surface of a person to what lies beneath? Who thinks that who a person is is more important than the family he comes from? How can I hate a man courageous enough to defy the stiff rules of the noble class? Who would deny his own wants and needs to serve those of others he loves...his wife?...his parents? How can I hate a man who would take what should have been a fatal blow to save the life of his sister? I can't hate a person like that. He may put up the front of being an arrogant, stuck up bastard, but the man beneath is nothing like that. And now that I know who he is, I can't deny that what I feel is about as far from hatred as you can get. But I can't say the words now, not even to myself. It would be hypocritical. And it would be worse if he felt the same. I set out to hurt him. I don't deserve anything more than the cuts he gave me.
But there is something I can do to make things right. I can't go back and change the fact that I took this position near him with the intent of taking him down, that I took on this trust with the intent of stabbing him in the back. But I can make sure that from this day, I honor the place I have at his side. I will never leave his side again. I will always be there for him. As long as I defend him, nothing will touch him. I am not worthy of his love, but I can serve him. I can really be his vice captain...the one he deserves...the one he should have had at his side when he took those frightening steps to save Rukia.
While I'm still deep in thought, the door opens behind me and Rukia walks into the room. I stand and motion for her to take the chair next to her brother. I pull another chair up alongside her.
"How is he, Renji?" Rukia asks quietly.
"Physically?" I say, "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 asks, looking up at me.
"No one knows," I tell her, "They say it depends on him. The healers can only do so much. He has to want to get well, Rukia."
Rukia sighs and lays a hand on his arm.
"Byakuya," she whispers.
She leans against me, laying her head on my shoulder, her eyes fixed on her brother. We stay that way until darkness comes, until the healers come to tell them us visiting hours are over and shoo us out of the room. In all of that time, Byakuya's eyes never open. It isn't until I start to get up that I finally notice where a single tear has broken free and traced a line down the side of my broken captain's proud face. I feel as heartbroken as he is. I am careful to turn Rukia away before she sees it.
Chapter 1: Trust
"Renji…I'm sorry." Byakuya says, his voice so soft that it barely reaches me.
I can't believe what I'm hearing. I don't know why he thinks he needs to say it. I don't know what made him break the silence and let the words out. I only know that they cut into me like a blade. And now, after two weeks of near silence, these words come out so suddenly. There was a time when I would have given anything to hear these same words, but now they tear at me.
"Stop, Captain, we've all done things lately that we're sorry for," I tell him.
"But," he continues 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."
I can't help but stare in confusion. Byakuya has never, ever spoken to me like this. He has been all about coldness and indifference. This is very, very different...and it frightens me.
"What do you mean, Captain Kuchiki?"
Byakuya sighs, a soft release of breath and sorrow. I can't breathe at all. It's him again...the man beneath the mask, but now he's talking directly to me. Why?
"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 explains.
"Then, how can you say that her dying was your fault?" I ask.
"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."
But he had listened to his heart instead. It wasn't his fault. It's not like he could have known she was sick. If there had been a way to know, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have done whatever he could to keep her alive. He would have given up on having children with her, with anyone, ever...something else his noble family would have opposed.
"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. You paid for it, too. For me, 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. Renji, 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."
I can't listen anymore. It's bad enough to have misjudged him and to have failed him as I did, but to have him sit here and say these things to me...to the one who, just a few weeks ago would have killed him without a second thought. I can't do this.
"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?"
His eyes close and he turns his head away. I'm glad he's not looking at me now. I take the time to brush away the tears that are rising in my eyes. I can't think about that moment...him stepping in front of that blade, my failure to be there for him, the fact that he almost died, the fact that he thinks he deserved death. On legs that feel like they are full of lead, I step closer. I'm about to break a hard and fast rule. The cold and indifferent man I knew before would probably kill me for it. Something tells me this man won't.
"I think," I say, 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."
His body trembles softly when I touch him. I don't think he expected this from me. In truth, I didn't expect to try it, but things are different now. We are redefining boundaries.
"But how do I know which one?" Byakuya whispers, looking up at me.
"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."
I can't move. I can't breathe. What did he say?
"Wait! What?" I stammer, "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?"
He manages something that looks suspiciously close to a sad smile. He has no idea how hard this is making my head spin, how fast my heart is beating.
"You tell me the truth, Renji. You don't conceal things. When you say something to me, I know that you mean it."
What the fuck? What is he saying? How can he say that? But then...maybe I was wrong. Maybe it wasn't that I was beneath his notice. He noticed me all right, but he must have completely misread my intentions. Now I really feel like a dog. I tell him the truth? I don't conceal things? Shit! Has he ever got me wrong! And now he is giving me his trust. He's pouring out his heart. A few weeks ago, I would have only collected the information to use against him later, but now I can't be that cold. I don't know what to do. I don't deserve to be taken into his confidence. I don't trust myself. But I can't refuse him either. If I do, who will he have to turn to? Out of fairness and a good measure of guilt, I give him the chance to back down.
"But I failed you…in the worst way a vice captain can!" I remind him, "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."
"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."
He won't let me off the hook. Damn! I don't deserve this. He doesn't deserve to have his heart put in the hands of someone like me. But who else is there? For some reason, Byakuya Kuchiki chose me. Why? Why would he do that?
"You made some mistakes, Captain. We all make mistakes."
"You see, Renji," he says, almost smiling again, "even now…after everything, still you stand by me and tell me the truth. That is why I trust you."
Well, it's done, now. The trust has been given. I have no choice now, but to honor it. The problem is, once again, I'm being dishonest. I'm concealing something from him. I am secretly overjoyed that he chose to place his trust in me. I want him to open up to me. I want to embrace the man beneath the mask...because I am in love with him.
"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," I promise him.
He gets really quiet for a moment, then he looks up at me. I've never seen that kind of emotion in his eyes before. He's letting me see him. He's letting me in. My body is shaking and I can't stop it.
"Renji…I don't know what to say."
I gather all of my courage and do something I never thought I would. It isn't an admission of what I'm really feeling, but it does convey something of it, just perhaps not enough to be blatantly obvious. I reach over and take his hands. He freezes, but he doesn't pull away. His eyes are locked on mine, questioning. I'll leave things like this for now. It isn't the time to push him. There is a long road ahead of us and, right now, what he needs is a friend. I can do that. I can be a friend.
"Don't say anything," I tell him, "This is what should have existed between us all along."
I've never seen him look the way he does now, with his vulnerability brought all of the way to the surface. He is at a loss for words. He's trying desperately to respond.
"I don't deserve that kind of loyalty, Renji," he says finally.
There is no way I'll let him keep thinking that. I give him a dismissive glare.
"Shut up, Captain, don't be stupid. Of course you do."
"Honesty is good…but…don't forget your place."
Okay. I can be his vice captain and his friend.