Chapter 13: Protected

(This is the last chapter of this story, but I am working on a sequel. Don't have a title yet, but I have a storyline in mind. I'll have the first chapter up soon. Thanks to all for reading and reviewing. This story wouldn't exist if not for you. Luv, Spunky)

I won't say it to him…no matter what. I can't afford to say the words. He might not kill me for them, but every time I say them, I wish he would. Aizen Sosuke betrayed and hurt…even killed so many people. He used Rukia as though she were nothing, then ordered Gin to kill her. He made me forget that, and by the time I regained my senses, it was too late.

"Taichou?" Renji said again.

Byakuya remained silent.

Renji sat down on the ground beside him and Byakuya turned to face him.

"I thought you said that every time I open my mouth, I threaten to fuck up all of our lives. That is what you said, Abarai fukutaichou, is it not?"

"Yeah," Renji said, shifting slightly, "I did say that. Someone had to stop you from doing something stupid. As your fukutaichou, it's my job to watch your back…even when you happen to be your own worst enemy."

"Is that what you call this? Are you watching my back, Renji?" Byakuya asked softly, no anger in the words.

"It's about time, don't you think, Taichou? It is a very painful fact that if I had done that from the start, you and I wouldn't have ended up crossing swords. We would have worked things out before it ever came to that. It is also a fact that if I had refused to leave you behind, that we wouldn't be in this situation right now. I bear responsibility for that, so I need to do what I can to fix this."

Byakuya sighed.

"Abarai, I found it intolerable thinking you would assist me simply because you wanted to protect her and I find it no more reassuring to think you would protect me out of guilt. You did not abandon me…I ordered you to protect the files. I would give the same order even knowing what I know now. It was the correct response to the situation."

"Bullshit…we should have stayed together. We would have been able to escape them," Renji said with certainty.

"Perhaps," Byakuya admitted, "but probably not. Renji…this is not your fault. You did everything you should have. You even came back for me. You brought me home in one piece…and you held me together when you realized I was coming apart. I won't question any longer why you did that. I appreciate it. But now I am fine. I will get past this."

"Will you, Taichou?" Renji asked, genuine concern in his voice, "because that is not how I read this. That is not what I see when I look at you. I don't see someone moving beyond the situation. I see someone on the brink of going off the deep end. And I can't let that happen. Don't worry about my reasons for doing what I'm doing. You need to focus on getting yourself under some kind of control. We left Hueco Mundo and everything there behind. If you had thought that that wasn't the right thing to do…If you really thought staying was any kind of option, we never would have reached you. You came back for a reason, Taichou."

"Abarai," Byakuya said, his voice tinged with uncertainty, "you make it sound as though I made the decision…as though it was in my power to simply walk away from that place."

"Wasn't it?" Renji asked, an edge to his voice, "Taichou…I know you. I know your every move. I watched your sword battle. You weren't trying to kill him and he wasn't serious about hurting you. And at the last moment…you turned away from rescue…you hesitated and he cut you. I think he did that to protect you. Because if you turned back from rescue, you would be branded a traitor. For some reason, you had to leave, even though you didn't want to."

Byakuya held perfectly still. He dared not move.

"What happened to you, Taichou? How did you go from a taichou protecting information to one lover protecting another?"

Byakuya caught his breath sharply and his face paled.

I can't say the words!

"I know about falling for the wrong person. Hell, I've done it my share of times, Taichou, but how did Aizen Sosuke get past your defenses? How did he manage to steal the most tightly guarded heart in the known worlds?" Renji asked, his voice softer…almost pleading.

Byakuya stared at him, entranced.

How can he know and just sit there? Why hasn't he killed me?

Renji leaned forward, bringing his face so close that it was almost touching his and he could feel warm breath touch his skin.

"I would give anything…anything…to have been the one to do that…Taichou," Renji said, closing the distance.

Byakuya froze as Renji's lips pressed warmly against his. His mind spun and as Renji pulled away, he nearly fell forward onto hands and knees. Renji placed his hands on Byakuya's shoulders to steady him. Byakuya took hold of his hands, holding on for dear life. He was poised on the brink of releasing everything and he couldn't afford to do that. He shook his head to clear his mind. He searched his heart for something to say to Renji…for some way to make things right.

"Is that why?" he asked in a whisper, "Is that why you are protecting me…Renji?"

"I am protecting you for her…and as your fukutaichou, but I am also protecting you because I love you. I know you aren't in a position to return the feeling, but I do feel it. And I think you need to understand why I can be trusted. I won't take any action that will hurt you. I can't."

Byakuya closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath. He hadn't been expecting this. Renji was not usually able to conceal anything he felt. How had he missed this? How did he not become aware of it sooner? And what could he do now? Knowing did make him feel much more comfortable entrusting Renji with the truth…but he risked everything in saying the words aloud…and how would it make Renji feel to listen to him talk about such a thing?

I can't.

"Renji…"

The brown eyes held warmth again, not the anger he had seen there before. Tanned hands reached out and captured his face. He remained frozen as Renji's lips found his again. This time, his moved lightly in acceptance. Renji pulled away again, looking into his eyes.

"Talk to me," Renji said softly.

It was a request this time…and from the heart. And finally, Byakuya could hold back no more. He nodded slowly in acquiescence.

I'm sorry, Renji. I hate myself for using you, but I have to have a safe place to leave this! If I try to conceal it, it will consume me. And, as you said, I will fuck up all of our lives. I cannot do that.

Renji was taking his hands and pulling him back to his feet. He didn't say anything more, but simply walked alongside Byakuya as he made his way back to the manor. He didn't stop at the door to Byakuya's bedroom, but continued inside and waited quietly as he closed the patio doors. He left through the inside door and returned a short time later with tea.

Byakuya had undressed and was sitting on his bed with his knees drawn up, his head resting on his arms. He looked up as Renji approached.

"Drink this," he told Byakuya, offering him the tea, "it should help some."

He knew before taking a sip what Renji had added. He knew and he didn't care. He wasn't one who usually drank anything with alcohol in it…but now he drank it readily. He found the instant warmth and numbness comforting. When it was gone, he handed the cup to Renji and slid down beneath the blankets, resting against the pillows. He was surprised when he felt a weight settle onto the bed next to him.

"Are you staying then, Renji?" he asked quietly.

"For as long as you want me to," came the soft reply.

"Then you will find nightclothes in the closet. The red ones should fit you."

The weight lifted and he heard soft footsteps retreating to the dressing area. They returned a few minutes later and the blankets were drawn back. Something silken brushed against his skin and he felt the warmth of Renji's body next to his. He reached over and turned out the light. Renji turned and found Byakuya's mouth in the darkness. Byakuya lay still, allowing his mouth to be plundered, allowing the warm, comforting hands to slip beneath his clothes…to touch him more intimately than they had ever dared.

Kami, I'm going straight to hell for using him like this! I should stop him before he goes too far. It's only going to make things more difficult later.

But he wanted to be touched. He wanted to be held. He wanted that more than anything. It didn't matter that it wasn't Aizen Sosuke. That was something that should never have happened, something he had to get past. It was why he had had to leave Hueco Mundo. It was why he would do anything to keep himself from even thinking of returning to that place. He had left Aizen Sosuke out of necessity…and now he held on to Abarai Renji for the same reason.

His fukutaichou's mouth had left his and was close to his ear.

"Take what you need, Taichou," he whispered, "don't hold back."

You are mine, now. I desire you and I will take what I want from you.

He turned in Renji's arms and met the warm, willing lips and tongue in desperation.

But I will also give…Byakuya. And as I take pleasure from your body, I will yield it as well. You will enjoy this, I promise you.

His hands tore away their clothes in a feverish rush. He attacked Renji's naked flesh hungrily, biting down on the tattooed throat and stroking the heated skin relentlessly with searching fingers and a lustful tongue. Renji moaned and moved restlessly beneath him, threading his fingers into Byakuya's hair and whispering barely audible words of encouragement.

He slid a hand down to his fukutaichou's thighs and the strong legs parted easily. Abandoning restraint, he claimed Renji's body roughly, forcing his way in, although he met with no resistance…just a soft, restrained groan of pain, then faster, lighter catches of breath as pain gave way to pleasure. Renji's body was moving with his now, and his hands explored Byakuya's body, following its curves and stroking the sensitive places. And all the while, his low, soothing voice offered comfort to the one who had moved beyond reason, who now used his body relentlessly as a shelter and a comfort. And even though it hurt, Renji took hold of his hips, encouraging them to move faster, to thrust more deeply inside. At the same time, he thrust his own hips upward, moaning and gasping in pleasure as Byakuya struck the bundle of nerves inside him again and again until he cried out sharply and released. The sound of Renji's voice and the clenched fingers digging into his flesh shocked Byakuya's senses. He thrust deeply into Renji and held himself tightly to his fukutaichou's body as his own shuddered and trembled with release.

He gave himself only one moment of satisfaction as he rested on top of Renji, then the self loathing took hold and he pulled away, swallowing hard and breathing deeply to stave off the feeling of sickness that swept over him.

What am I doing?

Strong arms suddenly wrapped around him from behind and Renji's chin came to rest on his shoulder.

"Don't do this, Taichou," he said in a calm, soothing tone, "Don't hate yourself for taking comfort. I offered it freely. I don't expect anything in return. I know you have nothing to offer me right now and I don't care."

"You said you love me…" Byakuya said in a choked whisper, "and I took advantage of that…"

"Shh," Renji said, tightening his arms even more, "I do love you. But I know you aren't capable of returning that love…not now. I don't expect you to. I don't know if you ever will…but that doesn't matter right now. All that matters is getting through. You just have to get from one minute to the next, one hour to the next, one day to the next. Don't think about anything else."

"I never should have let him…Renji, I made an awful mistake!"

Renji took hold of his chin and turned the dark eyes so that they met his. Byakuya cringed, but forced himself not to blink.

"Falling in love is not a mistake, Taichou. You just fell in love with someone you can't have…just as I did. And you had the good sense to leave him and come back home. And even though what you did is wrong in the eyes of our laws, you didn't betray anyone or help Aizen in his plans in any way. I don't even have to ask if you did. I know you would never do that. That is why I am here, Taichou."

The sick feeling was passing and it left behind an empty aching feeling. He leaned back into Renji's embrace, sighing softly and beginning to relax. He was quiet for a moment.

"Renji," he said finally, "You said you wanted me to tell you what happened, but then you didn't say anymore."

Renji released a puff of warm breath into his shoulder.

"You weren't ready to talk about it. When you are, you will tell me. In the meantime, you need to rest, Taichou. If not because of your broken heart, then because of your wounds. Wounds require time to heal. They require proper care and rest. I'm going to see that you have that."

"Renji…I appreciate your loyalty…and even though I'm not free to return it, I appreciate your love," Byakuya said, reaching down to take hold of his fukutaichou's hand.

Renji chuckled softly against his back.

"Baka, you didn't have to say that."

Byakuya turned and brought himself down to rest on a strong, warm shoulder.

"I know I didn't have to say it…but I wanted to."

Calm was overtaking him and with it came a sense of returning peace. He had known that returning to the Seireitei would be difficult, but he hadn't realized just how hard it would actually be. If it hadn't been for Renji, he would have crumbled. His transgression would have come out and despite Aizen Sosuke's attempt to protect him, he would have lost everything.

One strong force had come forth to stand between Byakuya and self destruction. Abarai Renji. He silently promised himself that he would never forget his fukutaichou's loyalty. And no matter what it took, he would find a way to return the favor. He wished that he could offer Renji his heart…and in truth, if he could ever be free of his love for Aizen Sosuke, he could see himself loving Abarai Renji. But he knew his heart would never be free. He might learn to live with things as they were, but he would continue to love Aizen Sosuke…deep inside, where he buried all of his deepest emotions and desires. The only one these would ever be entrusted to was Renji.

Renji was his loyal fukutaichou and was proving to be a good friend. With Renji, he felt loved. He felt warm…comfortable…safe.

He turned and curled his body warmly around Renji's and was rewarded with a soft, sleepy sigh. He kissed his fukutaichou warmly on the neck and settled more firmly against him, slowly drifting toward sleep.

_ _ _

Aizen Sosuke lay next to Gin's sleeping form, sighing softly and turning to gaze out the jagged opening in his bedroom wall. The moon glowed brightly outside and a wolf howled in the distance.

It was over, he kept telling himself. Byakuya had not promised to return. He had promised to come to him if he succeeded in overthrowing the spirit king, but that was months if not years away. In the meantime, he would have to content himself with Ichimaru Gin. Gin was quite capable of pleasing his body, but his heart was another story. He had let himself get too close to Byakuya. It was a mistake he would never repeat. He couldn't repeat it. His heart was already claimed. Even though they couldn't be together, his heart belonged only to Byakuya. And it always would.