A.N. The second and the last chapter, have fun!
northernshinigami-thanks! about my 'dashes fetish'... you may read my profile)))
Emphasis on the word
-"I put my axe at stake."-He called his servant and the man placed in his hands the axe with the black handle. He placed his weapon, and it meant that to continue the game the other players had to do the same. The West did not plan to leave the table, so he pulled out his eye, placing it in the middle of it. The East was thoughtful, but he quickly made his decision and widely smiled.-"I pass."
He stood up and bowed.
-"Why do you quit? You are winning."-Asked Renji.
-"My kunai are too important for me, I do not wish to lose them in this, or any other game. I can easily become a winner, but to you this game is more important, than to me. If you don't mind,"-he turned to the judge,-"I will stay and observe."
The old man positively nodded, and Minato sat by Byakuya. Abarai turned to his colleagues. –"I have no right to make a decision like this. I need your permission."
The whole day passed, since he last talked to them. But now he came to acknowledge their presence. Byakuya understood that the question was directed at him. If the North placed his weapon, then it means that his lieutenant should do the same. And undoubtedly, it would be his zanpakuto. Does this artifact worth it? Hitsugaya questioningly looked at the captain Kuchiki. Byakuya closed his eyes, and his silence meant agreement. Renji hesitantly put his katana on the table.
-"It's not just a sword. My zanpakuto… is a part of me. More so, I mastered bankai, and it is a level of a captain. Your piece of metal is nowhere near the power of that weapon."
The North stooped over the table, examining the sword in the red sheath with curiosity. –"Does it serve you well?"
The South slightly frowned, wondering where that question led. –"He listens to my commands."
-"My slaves are obedient too," –The North snapped his fingers and behind him appeared two servants, kneeling and waiting for his orders. –"These are my best warriors. I think I evened the score."
-"I disagree," - Renji shook his head negatively. –"I never take slaves."
-"Judge, after all, zanpakuto is an animate thing? Then, it must be alive."
The judge turned thoughtful, and slowly stroked his beard. –"South, your sword… is it human?"
-"No, it is animal."
-"Is that important?"
-"He has a baboon with a snake for a tail", - explained Ikkaku. –"And both heads of it are talking to each other..."
-"Understood." – The judge pointed with his hand at the two warriors behind the Master. –"I decline your request. Those two are equal to your stake."
In Renji's eyes Ikkaku could easily read the promise of pain, and he unconsciously crouched under the negative waves, directed at him.
-"It's all lies!"- The West loudly threw his cards on the table, raising his voice. -"What are you talking about?! A piece of steel?!"
-"This is your first warning," - said the judge.
-"Let him show us that bankai-thing, so I could see it with my own eyes! I don't trust his words in the slightest!!"
-"The West, this is your second warning. You quit."
But for the Eye it was too late. After two warnings the player must quit the game. He quickly gained control over his emotions, but for him this game was over. He coldly asked
-"Can I take my eye with me?"
-"You already made your stake…"
-"Judge, it's all right," - Renji interfered. – "I'm not angry; we are all tired, and the West just lost control for a moment."
After pause the judge continued.-"I understand your allowance for him. If the North will agree, you may take your eye."
All attention was directed at the North. He wasn't in a hurry with response, and was examining the small orb with his gaze. He scratched behind his left ear.-"And I will not agree."-He replied. That was cruel, and he only graced the West with a smirk.-"I am curious to know, what you got there. People say that thanks to that thing, you can see through the cards."
The West did not stand in place; he quickly turned around and left through the courtyard. The South followed him with his gaze and for a moment, on his face was seen indignant expression.-"Why didn't you give him an eye back?"
-"I am not obliged to give it back to him, as I am not obliged to answer your stupid questions."
After one more player left the table, the deck of cards was replaced. The North looked to be satisfied with that change. He smirked, and cunningly glanced at the South, trying to guess what cards the red head received. Smiling at his own thoughts, he spoke
-"I raise the stake. I place my house."
-"You have placed all your houses already, where will you live?"-Replied Renji, though, in his voice was no sound of sarcasm.
-"You're very caring. Well, what do you put?"
-"The house in 10th sector, on the West side."
-"I want a different one."
-"I do not care what you want."
-"Judge,"-the North asked with a smirk. Renji gritted his teeth, realizing what the man thought of.-"Can I insist that the South places only his ownership, which is on his territory, in the south Rukongai? After all, both of us represent the opposite sides."
The judge tiredly swayed, sitting with his legs crossed by the table; with one elbow he leaned on his knee, and in the other hand he held a cup of green tea.
-"I agree with that."
Renji's muscles tensed. The blood boiled inside of him with the anger, but he did not show his emotions, only slightly smiling.
-"I wouldn't mind if you place your little house with a garden, in the 7th sector. I doubt there is anything else you have."-Continued the North.
The lieutenant squeezed his left knee with force. His neck tensed, and he slightly lowered his head; the few red strands of hairs fell on his chest.
-"More so, I place all of my servants. Here are two hundred souls in the least. You know, the last time I counted them was quite long ago."
After a pause the judge tilted his head with suggestion.-"Bara-san, you can quit the game."
Whatever decision he makes, the North would win; if he quits, the North will be the winner. If he agrees… No, he will never make a stake like this.
-"Oh, come on, Bara. What, you don't want to share with the bird in a cage? I am taking her from under you anyway. Everybody knows that you visit her few times in a week. I am sure she must be… pretty…"
Renji's eyes burned, their brown color took a shade of red. The muscles on his face stilled, and his lips were pressed tightly. The North noticed these small things, but from afar, it still seemed, that shinigami was composed.
-"Don't you dare. She has nothing to do with this."
-"She lives in that house."
-"She does not serve me. You place your servants. I have no such thing."
-"But you have to add to a house at least one soul…"
-"I haven't made that stake yet."
Renji rose, and made several steps. He deeply breathed in, trying to hide his shaking, that reached every part of his body; he fixed his hairs, throwing the strands away from his forehead.
-"Do you quit the game?"-inquired the old man.
-"No, I need to think."
He walked outside. The Master used that moment of the free time to leave and rest too.
In the game room, the witnesses still sat by the wall. The tension in the air did not let them sleep. They heard everything, but the judge did not let them interfere. It was not a game anymore.
Byakuya was lost. He was a very composed and reserved man, but the details of the last dialogue did not sit well with him. He raised his gaze on the blond man by him, the East, and asked.
-"Do you know what they talked about?"
-"Ah? Oh, that's just Yuki. People say she's a nice, beautiful girl."
-"So that means that Abarai has a girlfriend?!"-Shouted Ikkaku, moving off the wall.
The air outside was fresh. There was a smell of the grass. He breathed in that sobering smell and hid his cold hands in the pockets. He tilted his head, focusing on the sounds around him and the distant whispers.
He stopped his gaze on the flowers. And then he smiled. He doesn't have to make a decision. He made all the decisions long ago.
All yesterday afternoon and then the night fell the rain. That is why there was no dry spot for a foot to place. Rukongai was drawn in pools. It was cold. The two officers of Gotei on this part of the road, jumped from one more or less dry surface on the ground to the other, instead of using shunpo. By the doors of one of the houses, that was on the right side of the street, stood a girl. She did not move, looking at the puddle that formed in the doorstep to her house. One of the officers noticed her, and changed his direction. He got close to her.-"I'll help you."-He lifted her up in his arms with a smile, and jumped over a pool, placing her gently in the middle of the road.-"Now you can go!"
He left, catching up with his friend. The bald shinigami smirked.-"You would've spread your uniform over the puddle too? Freaking gentleman…"
-"Did you ever ask yourself why women stay away from you, Ikkaku?"
-"They don't understand my beauty,"-Ikkaku stroked the back of his smooth head.
-"They understand my beauty."
-"Now, I don't understand, Abarai, are we discussing the beauty topic or are we training your bankai?"
The girl stayed in the same place, not moving and following the officers with her widely opened eyes.
The few hours later, after the training, they traveled back the same road. Surprised, Abarai found the girl standing in the same place as before, right where he left her.
-"Oh, she got back."-Ikkaku noticed.
-"No,"-Renji examined her form intently,-"she did not move from there."
He got close to her jumping. The rain started to fall again.-"Hey there, what happened? Maybe, you're afraid of something?"
-"We don't have time for this, Abarai."-Ikkaku jumped down by him.
-"Go on without me, I'll catch up later."
-"Fine, if you want to get wet till the last thread, that's your business."-He did not grace his friend even with a pause and simply left, jumping away.
-"Can I help you?"-he asked.
She was quiet. He looked around, then lifted her and placed her back on the doorstep to her house. The door was slightly opened. He looked inside, but couldn't see a thing in the darkness. But it looked like she lived alone. He stood for a moment, waiting for her to react somehow or say something.
After a minute of silence he turned away, to leave.
-"I never..."-he turned to her, hearing her quiet, soft voice.-"I never leave a house."
He was surprised.-"Why?"
-"I am scared... I... I have… a phobia..."
He turned thoughtful, trying to understand what that meant.-"Then it means, that I like an idiot, took you from one place to the other?"
She blushed. She had long, wavy, black hairs, light skin and unusual, yellow eyes. He noticed that she was somewhat alike Rukia, but he wasn't sure. She was higher, her forms were rounder, and maybe, she was older.
-"You must fight your fears. Face them and fight,"-he said, sharing with his experience.-"Sooner or later, you will have to leave the house."
She lowered her gaze. The rain fell. On the pools appeared the bubbles, different in size, and the sound of drops on the roof could be clearly heard.
-"My name's Abarai Renji. I'm a shinigami, officer of the 11th squad,"-she blinked, surprised, making her eyelashes flap almost seductively, which made him smile.-"What is your name?"
She got back to her senses and flushed even more.-"Yuki… Yuki no Hana."
Few weeks later he had a chance to visit her. She was happy to see him. His hands were not empty; he brought some sweets and a kimono as a gift. It took her long to accept it, and even longer to put it on.
She considered it's too expensive. But she found out that day, that Abarai Renji is a very persistent and stubborn person. And while she watched her reflection in the old mirror, he suggested a proved method of "how to get rid of fears".
Not explaining a thing, he took her hands and led her out of the house. When she understood his plan, it was too late, but she still tried to break out of his hold. She almost succeeded in this but he already pulled her legs. She tried to hold on to anything in her house, even to walls. Her shouts and prayers didn't stop him, and she was terrified with his power. Her behavior made him only smile and laugh; he even told her a few jokes, and it helped to ease her frightened heart.
By the end of the second month since they met, all his efforts resulted only in one hundred meters, and this is how far she could walk away from her house.
The next time he came was different from others. He came at night and she woke up screaming, when she felt hands on her body. Frightened to death, she recognized his face.
-"Ah! You, pervert!! Bastard, get your hands away from me!!"
Waving with her hands and writhing hysterically, she scratched and hit his face; he hardly caught her limbs, drawing back from her.
-"You!! You!! Don't touch me!! I will, I will bite you!!"–She didn't wait and immediately fulfilled her promise. But instead of a scream she heard a hoarse "ouch" full of indignation.
- "Yuki, you, stupid woman! All of you (women) have some sick imagination!" – He sat on the floor, holding his right cheekbone; he rubbed it and looked at his palm. He didn't see anything, because it was dark, but it felt wet, and he knew it was the blood from the scratch. But he only smiled, fascinated with a warrior-like temper of the girl.
-"And what should I think of?! You came here in the middle of the night, grabbed me…"
-"I didn't want to wake you up…"
-"And what did you want?!" – She was still shocked, but slowly came back to her senses. Thinking about it more clearly, she asked again. –"Now that I think of it… what did you really want?"
-"I wanted to take you to another place."
-"Another house, that is much better than these old walls."
His breathing evened out. He stood out against the darkness for the big and darker shadow he created with his body. He sat by her bed, and his sparkling eyes were watching her, to which the shivers went up her skin. To send them away she turned the lamp near her bed on. Then she turned to him and saw the blood on his cheek. She got up and he noticed her short white chemise. She walked out of the room. Renji turned his head in different directions, but stayed in his place. She came back with a wet towel, and sitting on the edge of her bed, started to wipe his face.
-"…I have a garden," - he continued. She silently held the towel on the wound, watching him. –"…Stop imagining stupid things...! I don't want anything from you."
-"I won't go."
-"Who said that you need to go," -He murmured looking somewhere to the side. –"I will carry you."
-"But I will be afraid anyway!"
-"…Then how about this. You will turn the light off, and pretend to sleep. And I'll carefully take you, and bring to my house. Ok?"
-"That is your first script?"
She looked at him, examining his features. In the beginning she was afraid of him and fearfully gasped every time he appeared suddenly from nowhere. But his kindness and care earned her thankfulness and sympathy. She stroked his hair. Renji noticed uncertainty in her eyes. Then she thoughtfully watched the floor, and, at last, looked in his eyes. With little of light in the room his pupils seemed wider, and their color was now dark red, just like his hair.
She reached with her hand to the lamp and turned the light off. He heard the noise; Yuki lay on her bed comfortably. He waited, until her breathing would even. Then he carefully lifted her. He silently walked out of the house. She pressed herself to him and closed her eyes tightly. With the fast steps, then in shunpo he headed to the place that will be her new home. He heard how loud her heart was beating, but it seemed to him, that it was not because of fear, but excitement.
End of Flashback
Byakuya raised his gaze on the blond man by him, the East, and asked.
-"Do you know what they talked about?"
-"Ah? Oh, that's just Yuki. People say that she's a nice, beautiful girl."
-"So that means that Abarai has a girlfriend?!"-Shouted Ikkaku, moving off the wall.
-"I don't think that she's his girlfriend. Rather, he cares for her like she is his younger sister," - at these words Byakuya's orbs went wide; he shivered, but held his posture. –"But I don't know for sure, I just heard some rumors around. It seems he is looking for a candidate for her husband."
Renji came back to the room. Master's servant walked out to call for the Head, and a minute later the North was already in his place by the table. The South seemed composed and ready.
-"So, what shall it be? Are you ready to continue?"- The North rubbed his hands, smiling.
-"I place the higher stake."
The North got numb. He slowly lowered his hands, not understanding. –"Higher…? Is it even possible now?"
Abarai pulled out of his pocket a red rose, and put it on the table. Master's eyes landed on the flower, then on the South. –"You're kidding me?"
The South stayed silent. The room went quiet. Only crickets and the rustle of leaves on the wind could be heard. The master didn't move for a long time. Then, he rose rubbing his forehead, smiling in apologizing manner, because he didn't expect this kind of turn of events. – "I need to think."
Both players left the room again. The Judge walked out to breathe in some fresh air. But the tension still reined in the air. Again that flower. Three shinigami heads turned to Minato. Three other heads already peacefully slept for a few hours in other rooms; since yesterday they healed their headache in exactly the same way they provoked it. They will sleep till the morning, or even afternoon. The East, as usually, smiled, but his smile turned in something resembling an "o", when he noticed questioning looks. Ikkaku and Hitsugaya seated themselves comfortably and to have a better view turned to the East, crossing their hands in front of them. Byakuya did the same.
-"What?"- asked the East, puzzled.
-"What does it mean?" – Toshiro pointed at the table, where the flower lay.
-"What means what?"
-"Renji put a rose on the table. And he showed it, introducing himself. What does it mean?" – Byakuya calmly explained.
-"You are his colleagues; didn't he tell you anything?" – Three heads shook negatively. – "May be I shouldn't too… "- three pair of eyes glared at him intensely, demanding an explanation. – "Well, ok. But it is all just rumors I heard from others; I wasn't there."–Three heads nodded, showing that it will satisfy their curiosity. –"Ok. So, about eighty years ago, I will tell it as a story, one girl stole from a rich house one very expensive thing,"
-"What girl?" –Toshiro asked, frowning.
-"You want a story or you will interrupt?"
-"Please, continue,"-added Byakuya softly.
-"So, she stole an expensive thing. She managed to run away, but she was seen, and people started searching for her. She went into hiding, afraid to be found. And… she had a friend. He suggested that they will give that thing back, and the searches will stop. And they did so; they put it stealthily back, in that house, but it wasn't enough. The man, who this house belonged to, had a special reputation and influence. He wanted to have a revenge on that girl, and it wasn't a secret, that he planned to sell her to the brothel, when he'd catch her. He wanted that to be a lesson for her. But then, several days later, her friend visited him, and he offered himself in exchange for her. In those times, in the south Rukongai, as well as in these days, unfortunately, children without guardians, or parents and alike, were given to wealthy families as slaves and servants. These children had in their hands a flower that was a symbol of purity and loyalty. That boy had this flower with him. But the man just laughed at him, and offered to play cards. He said that if that boy would lose, then his life will belong to that man, and he will keep his promise and find and sell the girl. But if he would win, then he will have the man's life, and do whatever he wants with it. I believe, he wasn't sober, when he made that kind of offer. The witnesses say that he lost, and the boy killed him."
-"What do you mean, he killed him?"-Interrupted Ikkaku.
-"Well, he won. He had a right for this."
-"No one has a right to take someone's life like that."-Voiced Byakuya, but there was no convincement in his tone.
-"You have your rules in Seiretei, and Rukongai is ruled by concepts. There is no other way to survive here."
-"Well, what happened next?"
-"Didn't you get it, Ikkaku?"-Hitsugaya closed his eyes, showing with his pose that he has understood everything long ago.
-"That man, that was a Storm, the previous South. By the rules, Renji took his place, and received a name that was a symbol of his victory, Bara."-Replied Minato. The listeners turned thoughtful, and seeing their confused faces, the blond man added.-"All of this are just rumors, it doesn't have to be a truth, maybe, everything turned out in a completely different way."-Here he smiled wholeheartedly, and it made an impression of him having a lot more secrets himself, than it seems from the first glance.
The North was back inside the room, and his servant went to the garden to notify the South of continuation of the game. He came back, and both players faced each other by the table. The judge was close to them, where previously sat Minato.
-"What decision have you made?"-Asked the old man.
The Master looked South in the eyes. His fingers slightly trembled, but it could be caused by excitement.
-"I agree with that stake. The winner takes everything."
They smiled to each other, but their smiles were different. The North was smiling with confidence in his victory, while Renji smiled only to stop the grimace of the more powerful feelings that could overwhelm him. The Master turned his cards first. He turned them one by one, and with each, his smile was growing wider. Renji's face did not express anything, he was watching the pictures, but did not move. The North laughed, satisfied with his victory. He patted Renji's shoulder, happily rising from his seat.
-"Abarai… you lost…?"-Asked Toshiro; he rose and examined the cards, not understanding what they meant.
-"Well, what did you have there?"-Relaxed, the Master reached his cards that were on the table with their back sides turned up. He slowly turned one after the other, glancing at Renji with a smile. But with each next his smile was fading, and seeing the last, he wasn't smiling anymore. With the dim eyes he examined them, and sat back in his seat. Ikkaku, tired of silence and uncertainty, rose too and joined Hitsugaya. He looked at the cards and changed in his face, but before he could say what he sees, the judge announced.
-"Today, in this game, wins the South."
Moments later the South gripped his sword and swung to the right with force, pushing everything off the table. At the same time he unsheathed it and moved the table away with his left hand. He crossed the freed space in two steps, stopping in front of the North. The man did not move nor fought, still in shock. The South dragged him out on the courtyard. These were seconds, and when shinigami got to their senses, they only heard a quiet, muffled shout. In the next moment Renji was back with the bloodied weapon.
-"What did you do? Did you... kill him?!"-Shocked, Toshiro ran outside. Renji wiped the blade with his sleeve, and picked up the sheath. He placed his sword on his sash, and then Toshiro got back, now calm, though still panting.-"He cut off his tongue."-he explained to the rest. The judge heavily rose, sighing tiredly. He silently bowed and left. The East rose, moving off the wall and strode to the South. Even now, on his serious face, the smile seemed to appear.
-"My congratulations; you're a good player."
Renji squeezed his left shoulder, as if stopping him from leaving. He walked to the table, and picked the glass orb that was on the floor, by the table leg. He turned to Minato and placed the eye in his palm.-"Give it to the West."
-"Why won't you do this yourself?"
-"He doesn't like me."
Minato closed his palm, and embraced the South with a smile, brightening everything around. He left, leaving him alone with the other shinigami. The night became cool; morning was coming. The sky lightened the horizon, and the transparent clouds were barely seen above.
They were silent. They didn't know what to say. Abarai suddenly turned his head to the side, as if he just woke up, and his surprised gaze fell on the captain Kuchiki. He relaxed, as if remembering that he didn't come here alone.
-"We need to go."
Ikkaku picked up the casket. – "Wouldn't he fool us? Maybe we should open it and look inside?"
-"Don't. He wouldn't do something like this." – But even these words did not sound like Renji defended the Master.
Ikkaku suppressed the urge to pick up something else and left with the others. Master's servants bowed to them, and some of them went to the rooms to wake the sleeping shinigami. Ikkaku and Hitsugaya waited at the entrance for their officers. Abarai and his captain without a hurry were slowly walking away from the mansion. They walked through the garden when Renji stopped and turned. –"Why are you following me?"
Byakuya snapped out of the daze, and he was taken aback with that question. Then he heard a noise behind him, and turning around saw the two warriors of the Master, that were staked by him as equivalent to Renji's zanpakuto.
-"From now on we will serve you and obey your every order," -they informed.
-"You are free. You can go."
-"It is impossible, you cannot…"
-"Fine," - Renji was not in the mood. – "Just so I don't see you."
The warriors vanished from his view. Abarai raised a brow at their speed, and then walked farther. Byakuya quietly followed him. He was thoughtful just like his lieutenant, but he couldn't hold his musings inside. He opened his mouth a few times but didn't say a word. At last, he closed his lowered eyes and asked.
-"Was it Rukia?"
Renji stopped, surprised.
-"It is because of her eighty years ago, you played with the South."
Renji turned to him with a frightened face. – "How do you now of this?"
-"…The East told us."
Renji sighed, relieved. –"He talks too much..."
Byakuya was now next to him and they continued walking. – "What were you afraid of?"
-"Well, I thought, who knows, may be she found out…"
-"She doesn't know?"
-"No," - he quickly answered.
-"...Why are you hiding this?" – Byakuya started after a pause. –"You protected her. There is nothing wrong. But, to tell the truth, I don't understand why you killed him…"
Renji strangely looked at him, and Byakuya didn't know how to interpret his reaction. –"…You didn't…?"
-"…No… I did."
-"… Then… why? You didn't kill that Master now."
Renji didn't now what to say. He turned away. Byakuya waited, but he didn't receive a reply.
-"Renji…?" – Byakuya felt as if he touched something deep inside, and curiosity washed over him, though he tried to suppress that improper feeling, and not to push his subordinate.
-"…I have no right."
-"What do you mean?"
They were alone. It was already daylight, and early-dew sparkled on the grass. Birds didn't sing yet, and it was quiet.
-"…I had no right, because I didn't win…"-he said quietly, almost whispering. –"I lost." –He smiled bitterly. –"There were no witnesses. That is why I killed him…"
Byakuya started, opening his eyes widely. He stared at his red haired lieutenant, who was open hearted with him, now and here, as never before, and tried to gather his thoughts. All of this was logical. He had his reasons, and it justified him. He walked closer. His face was close to Renji's right shoulder. He frowned thoughtfully, but relaxed, speaking quietly-"But you still defended her."
-"At that moment I defended myself."
Renji made a step forward, and stopped.-"Byakuya,"
That was a first time he called him by the name. He was always respectful to his superiors, and never let himself be familiar, but now this moment was too personal.
-"Nobody knows of it."
They continued to walk. There were heard the loud shouts from Matsumoto on verandah. The sun rose and lightened the mansion with its rays, embracing it with the gentle light. The birds started to sing. The blooming flowers spread a pleasant scent. The day promised to be as hot as the previous. Suddenly, Byakuya remembered a story he heard from the East, and inquired
-"Who is this girl you plan to propose as a wife?"
-"Oh, you consider getting married, Taicho?"-Renji got back his sense of humor that had an insolence added to it.
Byakuya stopped, blushing till his ears turned red.-"I just asked…"
-"No problem, I will introduce you to each other."
Byakuya sighed bothered, but raising his brows at his own thoughts, kept quiet. Other shinigami caught up with them, shouting the questions about what interesting happened while they slept. The birds sang more happily. The day will be hot…
Though... there may be continuation... it depends. So, what do you think of it?