(**This is a Bya/Ren story that does not really require you to have read my others, though I may reference them as storyline dictates. So if you haven't already read, Pieces of a Shattered Moon, Blood Red Fang, Pride With a Vengeance, and The Price of Defiance, don't feel that you have to read them first. They are a good read, though! Enjoy…and please review.)

Chapter 1: Love in the Rukon District

At twelve years old, I pretty much decided that my heart would belong to Rukia. She was, after all, my constant companion. We spent all of our time together. We got up every morning and went out into the streets before the younger ones woke, and stole or otherwise acquired food for everyone. We knew inside that stealing was wrong, but it was that or whore ourselves for food…and we weren't going to allow ourselves to stoop to that. It wasn't an easy life, but it was better than dying on the streets of Inuzuri.

When I wasn't focusing on survival, I liked to rest beneath the trees or in them and watch Rukia play with water flowers in the river, or to look over into the distance, where I could see the dark outline of Sokyoku Hill in the faraway Sereitei. I let my mind go at times like that. It was one of the few times when I could relax and not think about anything. Often, I would fall asleep in the trees and sometimes Rukia would just give me a gentle pat and let me sleep there. Only when the weather was good, though. It was on one of those nights that something unexpected happened.

I had fallen asleep some time before. I was extremely tired from practicing kido spells. Rukia and I were determined that we would get out of the Rukon District someday and become soul reapers. Actually, I wanted to all along. It wasn't until later, when the hard life of Inuzuri had claimed most of those we grew up with that Rukia finally truly decided that it was time to leave.

Anyway, it was one of those nights when Rukia had left me sleeping in the tree and had gone back to the abandoned shack we all shared. Everything was silent except for a soft breeze moving the tree branches. I came awake late at night to the small crunching sound of feet under the tree. Thinking it was probably Rukia, I prepared to drop down and surprise her. The one who ended up being surprised was me. Because when my feet landed on the ground and I took a closer look, I realized rather quickly that I wasn't looking at Rukia. Her face was too delicate, too much like porcelain, her hair too light and her body to fine and slender. She was one of the not-so-lucky, who had been forced down that path Rukia and I had enabled each other to avoid. And tonight she had paid the price. Her hair was tumbled and on looking closer, I could see bruises rising on her skin. Her lip was bleeding and she was breathing heavily. She was ready to run away, but she had been hurt too badly. Her legs gave out beneath her and she dropped down at my feet.

I dropped to my knees next to her and I used the meager healing kido I possessed. For some reason it actually worked and in a short time, the bruises were disappearing and the color was returning to her skin. I didn't have anything warm to drape over her, so I did as we Rukon kids had to. I used my body heat to warm her.

She was soft and pale, and I wondered how any creature so soft and fine could survive here. I wondered how she could bear the hard life of a prostitute at such a young age. There had to be more to her story. No one becomes a prostitute in Inuzuri without there being compelling reasons behind it. In Inuzuri, prostitution is a last resort…for those who can't make a living any other way.

We rested there beneath the tree until she began to stir just before dawn. Her eyes opened and she looked up at me with calm gratitude in her eyes.

"Thank you for healing me," she whispered, then she kissed me…and kept kissing me, until my hands came up and gently pushed her away.

She looked surprised.

"I have nothing else to offer in return," she explained, "I was just trying to offer you something for your trouble."

I swallowed hard, realizing that this is how things work in Inuzuri.

"You don't need to do that," I told her, "touching her hair gently, "just tell me something. Why do you do this? Is there some reason? I'm part of a family of kids. If you want, you could come and live with us. You don't have to go back."

Her eyes filled with tears and her kiss felt like butterfly wings on my cheek.

"You are very sweet to offer me this…and without even knowing my name or my story. I would go with you, but…I am protecting someone. I can't say any more. Just that."

"Do you have a name?" I asked.

"Kasumi," she told me.

"I'm Renji Abarai."

"Thank you for your help, Renji Abarai. Now, I'm afraid that I must go. I will be missed."

"Wait a moment," I said, touching her arm, "Kasumi…if you ever need my help again, you can find me here. I come here every night to watch the sunset."

"And sometimes you sleep in the trees. Thank you again, Renji. I will remember that."

She disappeared into the morning mist. She came back a few nights later, not in need of healing, but company. She seemed to want to share my company and I was more than happy to offer it. I never sought to pressure her, but with time, things grew passionate between us. She would come late at night and stay until just before dawn, then disappear into the mist. We never talked about what she did to survive. It didn't matter. We were all just surviving in whatever ways we could. She had a reason for walking the path she was on. When I asked, she always gave the same vague answer she gave me that first night.

Young hearts burn with passion and idealism and I thought I could help her get away from that life, so I offered to do that, yet again. Again, she refused, but I could tell that she was wearing thin. It was too hard a life for her and she was beginning to show the signs of that. Then, she became pregnant. It didn't matter to me whether it was mine or someone else's. I thought that this would finally bring here home with me to stay.

"There is a doctor I know who will make sure the baby is healthy and I will be here to take care of you…I promise."

She smiled and although I thought she would refuse me as she had every time before, this time she accepted…and she did not go back to wherever they kept her. Time passed and the baby grew inside her. I made sure she ate well, and all of the other kids helped to watch over her. We eagerly awaited the arrival of our little brother or sister.

Then, one night, they came for her. It goes without saying that once you walk that dark path in Inuzuri, it remembers you. They found us sleeping in the tree together and tore her from my arms. They beat me into unconsciousness…but something went very wrong. Because when I woke, she was still there, her beautiful porcelain skin kissed with morning dew. But she never moved. They didn't want her back. They only came to us to kill her.

"Kasumi!"

"Renji, are you all right?" Byakuya's voice sounds strange after having seemed to go back in time.

"Yeah," I tell him in a voice just above a whisper, "it was just a dream."

"Do you wish to talk about it?" he asks, rolling over and resting his head on my shoulder, his body warm and relaxed against mine.

He doesn't know that much about my life in the Rukon District. He knows I didn't have it easy, but he leaves it to me to share what I want him to know. I had almost let go of it…although it took a long time. We all have our scars. Byakuya and I both. But tellisg him won't change the facts. Kasumi died a long time ago. I push the memory to the back of my mind and pull Byakuya closer. Whatever happened before, he and I are together right now.

"Nah…I just need something to help me sleep. You know anything that might help?"

Dark eyes meet mine with mayhem in their depths.

"I have a few ideas."

"You do?" I ask, smiling.

"We could engage in sparring…that usually tires you."

I have to laugh at that.

"How about something that doesn't hurt?" I ask, blinking at the sight of passion rising in his eyes.

"Well…it might hurt a little…"

"Yes?" I say.

"Shunpo race?" he queries.

"Nah…you're too good at it. I wouldn't stand a chance."

"Well then," he says, bringing his lips close to my ear, "might I suggest…"

I don't know what heats me more…his breath on my ear or what he suggests.

"I think I'll choose option three," I whisper back.

"I see," he says, studying me in the dark, "but make no mistake, Renji, I can't promise you that someone won't get hurt."

"I'll survive," I assure him.

"Well, then, if you're sure," he breathes.

His body wraps around mine and our hips come together with a jolt. He buries his face in my throat, his lips and tongue paving the way for a surprisingly aggressive set of nips and bites. His fingers are in my hair, sliding through its length. I'm lucky there are no tangles. That would hurt…but he did warn me. His hips thrust into mine, making me moan and push my hips upward for deeper contact.

I miss the moment he releases the ties on our kimonos. I just know that all of a sudden, I feel the heat and pressure of his skin against mine, and it almost sends me into oblivion. I see the look he's giving me and start to open my legs, but he grabs my wrists and brings them down to rest on either side of my head then laces his fingers into mine. He gives me a very passionate, indulgent kiss, before raising his upper body away from mine. As he moves, he sinks down onto me. He stops for a moment, breathing heavily and then he starts to move again. His eyes halfway opened and locked on mine, he begins slowly, then moves increasingly faster and harder, his breath shortening and his eyes glazing over with intense pleasure. I can't hold my hips still and they thrust hungrily upward, deeper into his.

I love watching him when we make love, because there is so much emotion in his face. He always begins looking calm and in control, but when he rides me like this, he lets himself go. It starts in his dark eyes with a exotic, wild glint, then they widen with intensity and the emotion spreads like wildfire across the rest of his face, making his nostrils flare, his lips tremble softly and his head tilt forward so his hair falls all around his face. I know he's going to climax when his eyes begin to drift almost closed and his legs tighten around me. The sight of this alone makes me climax as well and then his body sinks down onto mine and he finishes things by treating my mouth to a few minutes of very intense exploration with his.

Knowing I'm not likely to go to sleep just yet, we move to the huge jetted tub and he attacks my mouth again, his hands sliding down my hot wet torso, pulling me closer, waiting until we've both recovered enough to continue. By the time we drain the tub and return to bed, we're both exhausted and happy, and I've forgotten the nightmare that brought me awake.

"Will you be able to sleep now, Renji?" he asks, his breath teasing the skin on my chest.

"Yes, thanks, Byakuya."

He gives me a final kiss and drifts off to sleep in my arms. I'm slower to fall asleep, but the soft drip of water in the now empty tub, the warm weight of him against me, and the soft night sounds creeping in from outside lull me to sleep more gradually.