Chapter 26: Remembrance

"Come on," Renji said softly to a stunned and silent Byakuya, "They went to quite a bit of trouble to do this for us. We shouldn't disappoint them."

"I don't understand how they managed this," Byakuya said, finally finding his voice, "with all of the extra work they've had to do to compensate for the ones we lost…and the preparations for the memorial…Renji…"

"Byakuya…I don't know if you realize what you did yesterday, but I know what I saw. You took away the distance between yourself and the staff who serves you. You treated them as equals. Your remaining staff realizes the gift you gave them. Think about what you did…what you were saying. Bya, you and I both know that your gesture, having the ones we lost buried with your family…that's unheard of. And after the service, I heard others planning to do the same. What you did resonates with them. They wanted a way to say 'thank you.' We should let them do that for us."

Byakuya nodded. Still hand in hand, they passed through the doors out of their bedroom and into the garden. Rukia, Takeo and the twins already sat around the table, speaking in quiet voices and enjoying bowls of fresh fruit as they waited. Hajime rested calmly on Rukia's shoulder, his fingers gently pulling on her hair. They looked up, smiling as Byakuya and Renji joined them at the breakfast table.

"Daddy Bya! Daddy Ren!" Chisaki exclaimed excitedly when she saw them, "Happy Anniversary!"

The others at the table happily echoed her sentiment. Byakuya and Renji took their places at the table, letting the warmth of the moment steal away their melancholy and tasting the sweetness of the fruit placed before them.

"I've arranged to take the children to Karakura Town for tonight so that the two of you will have some time alone," Rukia told them, "After all that's happened, it will be good for you to be able to relax together."

"But the children have already spent so much time away…" Byakuya said softly.

"That's true," admitted Rukia, "but one night more won't cause too much trouble, right guys?"

The children shook their heads.

"People who love each other like you do need to be alone sometimes," Chisaki said, smiling, "and besides, Yoruichi and Kisuke are funny. They like to play funny games with us and we get to practice with our shunpo and our animal forms."

"Well then," Byakuya said softly, "it looks as though it's all been decided. Just you two remember not to harass each other with those animal forms."

"I won't if he won't…but he always does," complained Chisaki.

"Shut up! I do not!" Takeshi snapped.

"Yes, you do," said Renji, "Ease off on the hot temper or that hair of yours will catch fire!"

Takeshi's answer was more growl than words. His scowl delighted Chisaki, who began to giggle. Her giggle set Rukia and Takeo laughing and soon even Takeshi was smiling.

They broke off as breakfast arrived and delicious smells filled the gardens. As the servers laid the food before them, Byakuya touched the arm of the head server. The woman looked down at him, smiling.

"Can I get you something, Captain Kuchiki?" she asked.

"Azumi, I only want to tell you…arigato. Renji and I appreciate everything the staff has done for us."

"We'd hoped you would enjoy it, sir. I know you hadn't planned to mark the day, but your marriage to Captain Abarai is the best thing that ever happened to all of us. You make each other happy and that makes this a wonderful home to serve in. Besides, there has been too much unhappiness around here. You deserve happiness. We all do, sir."

Byakuya nodded.

"Again, arigato. Renji and I deeply appreciate this and we will not forget your kindness."

"Nor will we forget yours, Captain," she said, turning away.

The meal was quickly consumed and their gifts opened, then Rukia and Takeo gathered the children and left for Karakura Town.

Abandoned by family and staff, they returned to their bedroom. They filled the large jetted tub and sank into its heated depths.

"So tell me," Renji said, resting against Byakuya, "what's the best memory you have of us being together?"

Byakuya smiled.

"That's not an easy question, Renji," he replied softly, stalling to think, "I thought the day we married was beautiful."

"Are you kidding? Do you remember that day, Bya? I was in a hospital bed! And it was in Hueco Mundo…at the base. I mean, it should have been here…with all of our family and friends…"

"I still loved that day, Renji. But I also thought that our first anniversary was wonderful. You really took me by surprise."

"Is that your favorite, then?"

"No. I think my favorite memories will be the birth of our children, Renji. Both times were memorable for very different reasons. The twins' birth was beautiful because I never even dreamed we could have any children, but Kisuke really came through. Then when we were gifted with Hajime…there are no words for what I felt, Renji. It was such a welcome miracle and it came at a time when we couldn't have needed it more."

Byakuya shifted slightly to look into Renji's eyes.

"So what is your favorite memory?"

"Hah…There are so many! I thought you were really cute in Inuzuri when you shoved me in the river."

"It was just revenge for you watching me bathe, you know."

"Yeah, I know. Making love to you for the first time…that first night was amazing, Bya. How many times did we make love? I lost count."

"As did I."

Renji laughed softly.

"What?" Byakuya asked.

"Oh, I was just remembering when I gave you the cure for threshold sickness. You almost killed me…but seeing you howl and collapse on me like that…priceless!"

"Shut up, Abarai."

"But I haven't told you my favorite memory."

"Then stop trying to irritate me and tell me," Byakuya said, nuzzling closer.

"I loved the day I became a captain…the moment when you put the haori on me. That was wonderful…and like you, I loved the birth of our kids. But I think the greatest memory was when we discovered that we had Soul Bonded…and we made love in our inner world."

"You do remember that we did that minutes before our death," Byakuya reminded him.

"Yeah, I do. Doesn't matter. That is the closest I've ever felt to you, Bya."

"And now there is no distance between our souls," Byakuya said softly.

"I love you, Byakuya," Renji said, leaning forward to deliver the words into his ear, "I know we say it a lot, but it never loses its meaning. Arigato, for making room in your heart for me. Nothing has been the same since…and every day with you has been worth the struggles we've faced."

"It's I who should be thanking you, Renji. You loved me enough to follow me to Inuzuri, and to take me from the hands of my enemies time and time again. No matter what we've faced, you've never deserted me or given up on me…even when I was ready to give up on myself. Arigato…and know that I love you also."

Beyond the need for words, they brought their mouths together. Lips heated from the steam that rose out of the water they soaked in, met forcefully and parted. Hot tongues tempted each other and stroked each other teasingly.

Abandoning the hot water, Renji pulled his lover from the tub and lifted the stunned captain into his arms, carrying him dripping wet, their mouths still fastened tightly on one another's to their bed. He released Byakuya and they fell onto the bed together, sending sakura blossoms into the air all around them. Blossoms attached themselves to every imaginable part of their damp skin, sending their dizzying scent into the air as they were crushed between the lovers' bodies.

Caught in the spell of Renji's deep brown eyes, Byakuya fell back, pulling Renji down with him. Renji wrapped his body warmly around the noble's, treating his body to an endless barrage of seething kisses that seared the skin of his face, throat and chest. He worked his way slowly downward, gently teasing the erect nipples, brushing warm lips and breath against his abdomen, then sinking his tongue into Byakuya's navel and sucking deeply. He continued downward, blazing a trail of kisses until he reached the noble's swollen member and teased it with heated breath until Byakuya was left moaning and panting beneath him.

Moving lower, he teased each inner thigh with nips and kisses before warming the sensitive skin in his mouth, then returning to lick his way slowly upward again, sending a shiver of delight through Byakuya's entire body.

"Ahh…Renji…" Byakuya panted breathlessly.

Renji smiled warmly.

"Like that, Bya?" he asked softly.

"Ahh, again!"

He smilingly repeated the gentle assault. The noble moaned and panted something unintelligible.

"What was that?" Renji chuckled softly.

"Ahh…ahh…Renji, I…"

"Don't tell me to do that again. You'll pass out. You can barely breathe as it is!"

"Who…needs to breathe?" Byakuya hissed.

"You've got a point, there," Renji whispered, sinking down again.

Byakuya's body trembled and his eyes glazed over. He barely registered when Renji repositioned himself and slowly entered him. He only knew that his body was alive with feeling, that they were joined, not just in body, but at the very heart.

He let his head fall back and welcomed the warm rush of kisses against his throat, the movement of Renji's hands over his flesh and the movement of their bodies that left his mind whirling and his lungs unable to draw breath.

Renji was whispering something in his ear, but he was beyond understanding what it was. The words didn't matter anyway. All of the meaning was in the softness of his tone, the tenderness of his touch and the explosion of pleasure that took hold of them and made everything else disappear. There was a wave of light sweeping through Byakuya and then he heard his name being called repeatedly.

Slowly he regained awareness and found himself staring up into Renji's warm eyes.

"You okay, Bya?" he asked softly, "You kind of checked out for a minute there."

"I'm fine, Renji," he assured his lover, "I just got swept off my feet, that's all."

Renji grinned.

"You look cute covered in sakura petals," he laughed.

"Speak for yourself, Abarai," Byakuya said, smiling.

They fell asleep among the sakura petals, waking every so often to make love or to exchange slow indulgent kisses. When evening came, they dressed and moved out into the garden again where dinner was eaten by candlelight and then the two rose to walk in the moonlight.

Byakuya took Renji's hand and started down the forest trail. They didn't speak as they walked, content to enjoy the simple pleasure of each other's presence. Their feet were noiseless on the path and the wind whispered in the trees.

Byakuya felt a lightening of heart, a feeling of well being that coursed through him carrying away some of the sadness that had torn at him ever since receiving word of the massacre. He knew there was more pain to be reckoned with, but the gift that the staff had given them was enough to lift him above that dark weight, if only for a day. It was a blessing, he thought, even though the melancholy would return. But this would give him something warm to hold on to in the darkness.

"You look happy, Byakuya," Renji said, breaking the silence.

Byakuya looked up into the warm brown eyes with affection.

"I am," he replied, squeezing Renji's hand, "For all that darkness does its best to surround us, you and I will always light the way for each other…Renji. And that is no small comfort."

Renji nodded.

"For me too."

They continued along the trail until they reached the top of the waterfall. Walking along the edge of the cliff, they reached the stand of sakura trees and sat down beneath them. Byakuya leaned back against Renji's shoulder, a thousand happy thoughts coursing through his mind. But one thought outshone them all. One thought was so beautiful that it came to his lips and broke the stillness of the evening air.

"Arigato, Renji Abarai, for giving me the happiest ten years of my life."

Renji was too touched to find the words to respond, so he gave his answer in the form of a thousand kisses.