Gift of Affection
(This Story is my Christmas gift to KingHerod. Thanks so much for the lovely Bya/Ren Shattered Moon family Christmas picture! I have a special place near where I do the bulk of my writing, and I've put it there so I can look as I write. What a treasure! I love writing, but can't draw, so it's nice that you could give me such a nice pictorial testament to my work. Take care…and happy holidays!)
Byakuya sat quietly opposite Rukia at the breakfast table, dressed, not in his uniform, kimono or a yukata, but in relatively plain clothes with his long hair pulled back into a ponytail. They ate in near silence, but where the silences between them had once been oppressive, this was more comfortable.
Slowly…bit by bit, he is letting me in…
But the process was a very slow one. And because of that, Rukia still found herself being careful around her very complex older brother. There was still much left unsaid between them…the changes being more in actions than in words, but Rukia was learning day-by-day to understand that while his actions and the few words he said might seem small, the emotion went far deeper.
And he was undertaking something larger on this particular day…
He had discovered her penchant for sneaking away to Inuzuri and had quietly confronted her about it…
"I understand that you were in Inuzuri today," Byakuya said quietly, not looking up from the papers he was studying.
He waited for her to say something by way of explanation, but at his words, she had completely frozen in both body and mind. Her lips parted, but nothing came out. Sweat broke out on her forehead and all she could manage was a silent nod that he only saw because he looked up to see why she hadn't answered him.
"I am not angry," he said, causing her to swallow hard and meet his eyes.
They were calm and inquisitive…and she had no idea why she still felt overwhelmed and small. His reiatsu was calm and unimposing. Actually, he wasn't doing anything at all that should have made her uncomfortable…
"I merely wished to know what took you there…Rukia."
"I…I went to…tell stories to the children," she managed finally, "It's something I used to do when Renji and I lived there…and sometimes I still like to…but I can stop if…"
"Why would you think I would not want you to do that?" he asked, derailing her thoughts again.
And now, all she could do was to stare. She had no idea where he was going with this.
"I would like to go with you when next you go," he said calmly.
Her eyes went wide and doe-like and her mouth fell open, but she managed a nod and a bow as he dismissed her. And ever since, they had gone once a month to sit with the children and tell stories. At first, he simply sat quietly and listened, but after a time, he began to tell a few of the thousands he had read in the family library…and then he paid the merchants to hand out hot soup, tea and bread to the children as he and Rukia told their stories. One day, without a word, he had handed her a key to enter the library. It quickly became her favorite place. And sometimes they would go together and…
"We should go soon," Byakuya said, breaking into her reverie, "But before we do…I would like to discuss something with you."
She looked up at him questioningly.
"Do you wish to spend Christmas in Karakura Town with your friends this year?"
He didn't look to have lost his senses and other than an unusual flush on his cheeks, which could have been caused by the weather, he didn't look ill.
"B-but Nii-sama, you will be alone…on Christmas Eve…"
"I shall rather enjoy the peace and quiet. And we can have dinner and you can share with me what you did when you return."
"Come, let's not keep the children waiting. Wear your heavier cloak. It's cold today…already snowing."
I feel the affection between us now. It's never in the obvious things, but in the subtle actions…in the carefully chosen words. He's so complicated! I want to return his affection, but how? What can I do?
Something meaningful…not obvious…subtle…
"Hey…Merry Christmas, Rukia! Nice of you to stop by," said Renji, grinning as he hugged her, took the tray of cookies she offered him and invited her into his apartment to sit down.
They left the cookies on the table and went into the small kitchen to make two cups of spiced apple cider, then sat down at the table close to the window, so that they could watch the snow fall as they talked. Renji felt a twinge of curiosity at Rukia's nervously clasping hands, at the tension in her body and the way her eyes flicked about more than usual.
"Rukia," he said, taking a sip of the hot cider, "You look like you're about ready to jump out of your skin…or like when Captain Kuchiki talks to you…all wide-eyed and out of sorts. What's up?"
"Well," said Rukia, swirling the cider in her cup, "actually, my brother is the reason I am here. Renji…I want to ask if you'll do me a really huge favor."
"Hmmm," said Renji, reaching over to the plate of fresh chocolate chip cookies, taking one and biting into it hungrily, "What…is he getting on your nerves again?"
"Well…no, not really. He's actually been pretty great…ever since the whole thing with Sosuke Aizen, we've been closer. And he did something that was…really nice, but…I don't know what to do…"
"Huh?" said Renji, furrowing his brow, "You want to try to make some kinda sense here, because you say he did something nice, but you don't know what to do. If he did something nice, you do something nice back…duh! Even I can figure that out."
"Well, there's something nice that I want to do, but if I do that then I can't do what he was so nice to allow me to do…you see?"
"Actually…no," admitted the redhead, "You're getting flustered. Why don't you just start at the beginning? Tell me what he did that was so nice."
"Oh…well, you know how Ichigo and the others always ask me to come and spend the Christmas holidays with them?"
"And every year, I tell them that I can't go, because I am committed to spend the holidays with the family at Kuchiki Manor with Byakuya."
"Which has never made a lot of sense to me, because you don't really do anything from what you've told me. Sure, a gourmet dinner and a quiet walk in the forest…and he says a few more words than usual, but…"
"Hey," said Rukia, looking hurt, "I know he's not the most expressive of people, but…he's trying. And he's been wonderful, going with me to tell stories to the kids in Inuzuri…"
"I know," Renji said, smiling, "He's been trying to be nicer to me too. He's let me go early from work a few times this week. Oh, and he ordered us lunch from my favorite noodle shop yesterday."
"Renji, he also just told me out of the blue that I should spend the holidays with Ichigo and his friends."
"Huh…that is really nice."
"But Renji, that means that Byakuya will be alone on Christmas," Rukia said, looking tormented, "And that just seems wrong to me. Besides, when we got back today, he was looking kind of like he didn't feel well. Of course, he wouldn't admit it, being Nii-sama. You know how he is. Oh Renji, I want to go to Karakura Town, but…"
"But you want someone to be with him on Christmas?"
"I know you probably have plans with your friends…"
"Okay, I'll do it."
"I know Shuuhei was saying you guys were thinking of going skiing or something," Rukia went on obliviously.
"I said yes…"
"And maybe it seems weird to you to spend all of that time with…"
He grabbed Rukia lightly by the shoulders and kissed her cheek. Violet eyes blinked questioningly.
"There…got your attention," said Renji, grinning, "Now…I said I would be fine with spending the holidays with Captain Kuchiki. We're together most of the time anyway."
"Really?" Rukia asked, hugging him tightly, "Renji…thank you! Thank you soooo much! Oh my gosh, we are going to have so much fun…shopping and decorating and…singing and…"
"You should probably start getting ready to go," suggested Renji, "It's snowing kinda hard."
"Yeah, well I'm already packed. I was on my way out of town," she laughed hugging him a last time.
"Huh?" said Renji, looking flustered, "How'd you know I'd go along with this? What if I'd been busy or something?"
Rukia gave him a knowing look.
"I knew I could depend on you!" she said, smiling, "Now, you should go right away. Byakuya will be home from work soon and the staff will have made dinner before being excused for the holiday. Hurry…go!"
"Wh-wha…? Rukia! You…you really had this all planned out! The invitation to Karakura Town, the cookies and cider to soften me up…you are one smooth operator!"
"Like I said, I knew you wouldn't let me down. I have to go," she said, kissing his cheek and scampering out the door.
"Yeah, run…traitor…" Renji muttered.
He sighed softly.
"Guess I'd better send a hell butterfly to Shuuhei…" he muttered.
He whispered a message to the butterfly and watched it as it winged away.
"Great," he groaned to no one, "goodbye snow, hello Ice Prince…either way, I'm about to freeze my ass off."
Still muttering under his breath, Renji gathered his things and dressed in his warmest clothes, then left his apartment and flash stepped to Kuchiki Manor. He tapped on the door and waited for the housekeeper to greet him. He did the usual and grinned, then when the door opened, he said, "Hello, beautiful, can I come in?"
It usually made her blush.
He realized suddenly that although he had given his best smile and delivered the flirtation flawlessly, the face he was looking at was not the housekeeper's. It was, in fact, Byakuya's solemn face…solemn and a little more flushed than usual.
"That's hardly an appropriate greeting, Abarai," he said in an oddly muffled voice, "but thank you for the compliment. Come in."
Renji swallowed his embarrassment and took a step forward, but stopped in his tracks as Byakuya caught his breath several times, shivered and sneezed into the crook of an arm. He tried again and sneezed again, then sniffed and caught his breath.
"Oi, Captain, you don't sound so good."
But despite how Byakuya sounded, Renji couldn't help but notice how cute he looked bundled up in his thick, soft red yukata and wearing slippers. The long midnight strands, freed of the binding kenseiken half covered one dark gray eye and the rest tumbled down over shoulders and back.
"Why are you answering your own door? Where's Matsuko? You give her the night off?" Renji asked.
"I always give my staff Christmas Eve off," Byakuya replied sneezing again, this time managing to remove and use the handkerchief from his pocket, "Is something wrong with that?"
"Ah…no," said Renji, "not at all. It's nice. It makes perfect sense actually."
They stood, staring at each other for a long moment.
"Why are you here, Abarai?" Byakuya asked finally, "Did something happen at the division?"
"Oh…no, nothing happened. I uh…just…thought I'd stop by and wish you a happy holiday."
"And you…felt the need to say this…in person?" Byakuya asked, the cool gray eyes studying him intently.
"Well…yeah. That's really the best way, after all. But I can see that you're not well. I shouldn't trouble you."
Byakuya shook his head and gave Renji something dangerously close to a small smile.
"It's no trouble. Although if you plan to erupt into any other heartfelt platitudes, I'd rather you came all of the way indoors instead of letting the cold in."
"Oh!" said Renji, shocked into motion, "Sorry Captain, I wasn't thinking."
He stepped inside and watched the door close. Byakuya turned to show him into the sitting room, but started coughing and sneezed again. Renji flash stepped to a pitcher of water that sat in the sitting room and poured a cup for the noble. Byakuya accepted it with a grateful nod and took a sip. Almost immediately, he erupted into coughs and sneezes again. Renji gazed at him sympathetically.
"Captain…is anyone here with you tonight?"
"No," Byakuya answered, dropping onto the sofa, "As I said, I excused all of the staff for the holiday…and Rukia went to Karakura Town. But there is food. The staff prepared a very nice dinner. They were expecting Rukia would be staying, so there is quite enough for both of us, if you like."
"That sounds great, Captain…but, tell you what. Let's get you back into bed and I'll bring the food and we can eat in your room."
"Absolutely not," Byakuya said shortly, "I do not wish to have vermin in my bedroom."
"Wh-what?" Renji said, blinking, "Did you call me…?
"I was not speaking about you, Abarai…I meant the rats that are attracted if you leave bits of food about."
"Come this way," the noble said, turning into the hallway.
He led Renji into a small, cozy dining area and a table decorated beautifully for the holiday. Renji smiled, admiring the room.
"Captain, this is beautiful," he commented.
"Rukia and I use this dining area most of the time…and the larger for more grand occasions."
"Well, it's really cozy…but…you know, with you feeling so bad, isn't there somewhere you can recline a bit and eat?"
"I am fine, Abarai," the noble said shortly, "Sit. I will…"
"No way, Captain," Renji said firmly, "I'm not going to come barging into your house while you're sick and make you serve me. That would be ridiculous. Now…where can we eat where you can lie down?"
Byakuya sneezed and pointed to a sitting room across the hall. As Renji turned, Byakuya began coughing again. Renji caught the surprised noble around the waist and turned him into the room, then watched as he dropped onto the couch and sneezed into his handkerchief.
"Where can I find you a blanket?" the redhead asked.
"On my…ah…my ah…"
He sneezed several more times before blinking and finishing.
"On my bed…in the room at the end of the hall, thank you."
Renji stood for a moment, frowning.
"What is it?" Byakuya asked.
"I'm just frustrated, because I can't figure out how to get you into bed. I keep trying, but you're so damned stubborn…"
Byakuya stifled a smile and erupted into a coughing fit as Renji's face turned as red as his hair.
"Sorry Captain…I didn't…I mean I…you…okay, I didn't mean that the way it sounded…"
"No?" said Byakuya, "I see."
"Look, I promise I'll personally vacuum up every crumb that drops. It's just, it isn't good for you to be out of bed when you're so sick. Please…will you go back to bed and let me bring dinner to you?"
Byakuya stared for a moment, then sighed and nodded in acquiescence.
"Very well, Abarai, if it is so important to you, then I would be pleased to share dinner in bed with you."
He climbed back to his feet and stumbled into the hallway. He stopped and coughed several times, then caught his breath sharply as Renji swept him off his feet and carried him back to his room.
"Renji, what the devil are you doing?" he asked, barely managing to sound annoyed.
"What does it look like?" he said, laughing, "I'm putting you to bed, Captain. It would have taken all day for you to walk down that hall and, I don't know about you, but I'm good and hungry."
He set the noble down and tucked him into the bed, propping him comfortably with pillows and wrapping the blankets warmly around him. Byakuya looked up as the redhead smoothed the blanket, suddenly cognizant of the short distance between their faces.
"Warm enough now, Captain?" Renji asked, smiling.
Byakuya nodded, slightly dizzied with the delicious masculine scent around him. He felt Renji's eyes touch him again and felt a stirring in his stomach.
"You should be cautious about getting too close to me, Renji," he said, feeling a little bit breathless, "I am likely to infect you."
Renji laughed good-naturedly.
"As much time as we spend cooped up together in that office, if I haven't got it already, then I will soon anyway, so don't worry about it."
"Augh," Byakuya groaned, holding back another cough, "I would never wish this on you. I wouldn't wish it even on Sosuke Aizen…"
"Like hell you wouldn't," Renji chuckled, "Now, stay here while I get some tea and our food."
Byakuya watched, his lips betraying a near smile as Renji walked to the fireplace and carefully stoked the fire, then left for the kitchen. He was dozing in relative comfort when Renji re-entered the room, climbed onto his bed and set up a tray in between them. They sipped at the tea and contemplated the appetizer tray.
"So…" said Renji, "These look great."
"You'll want to skip the two on the end," Byakuya suggested, "I know you don't like spicy food. You should enjoy the others."
Byakuya took a few of the appetizers and ate them slowly, watching Renji taste the others on the tray.
"Wow, these are really great, Captain…and what kind of soup is that?"
"Fresh pumpkin…a family…ah…ah…"
He turned his head and surrendered to a fit of sneezes, accidentally splashing warm soup onto his vice captain's shihakushou. Renji smiled.
"Family recipe?" he finished.
Byakuya coughed, took a sip of water and nodded.
"My apologies, Renji. Why don't you go and take one of my yukatas…"
Renji laughed softly and left for the dressing area. He returned a few minutes later wearing a red silk yukata. Byakuya nodded in approval.
"That looks better on you than it does on me, I think," Byakuya commented, "Again, I apologize for my clumsiness."
"Hey, you're sick. You couldn't help it…You know, I think you should eat some more of that soup. You sound really bad. Any more fits like that and I'm going for Hanatarou…"
"No need," Byakuya said, sipping at the soup, "I already saw Captain Unohana and I'm on medication. Actually, it's about time for another dose. But I want to finish dinner. The medicine fogs my head a bit and I won't enjoy dinner if I can't perceive the taste of it. Not to mention, it would leave me unable to be very good company."
"Where's your medicine?" Renji asked, "You need some now, Captain."
"On…ah, the ah…ah…dresser," Byakuya said, erupting into coughs and sneezes again.
As Renji walked to the dresser, he caught sight of several pictures in frames on top. One was a photograph of Byakuya and Hisana, holding hands and looking into each other's eyes…one of Byakuya standing with Rukia in front of him and a third. Renji blinked and picked up the last, looking more closely.
"Captain…" he said questioningly, "Is this…the one they took of us at my promotion ceremony?"
"When you were made my vice captain, yes," the noble affirmed without looking up.
"Oh…nice," Renji commented, feeling touched at having been included in such an intimate display.
He took the medicine bottle and returned to the bed, then poured out a measure and handed it to Byakuya, who swallowed it without comment, then continued to sip at the soup and tea.
"Is there anything else I can do to make you more comfortable, Captain?" Renji asked.
"Hmmm…" Byakuya said thoughtfully, "I'm still feeling cold. I would rather like to sit closer to the fire."
Renji took the tray from his lap, then watched, and then moved to help as Byakuya pulled a large, comfortable looking mat from beneath the bed. It was plenty big enough for the two to share so that they could eat in front of the fire and enjoy its warmth as they visited. Renji took the heavy blanket from the bed and wrapped it around Byakuya's shoulders, then brought several pillows over and arranged them to the noble's liking. Byakuya rested on his side now, facing the fireplace, with Renji next to him. He rather enjoyed the way the firelight played across the golden tanned skin, making the black markings seem to move…
He relaxed against the pillows, taking sips of tea and soup and watching Renji plow through the rest of the meal as though he hadn't eaten in ages. Somehow, that eagerness seemed very attractive to the fevered noble. He wondered if it was just the medication…but no…Renji had been on his mind a lot lately…quite a lot, actually. In fact, he'd felt a funny feeling in his stomach that felt nothing like illness when he realized it was Renji at the door. It felt more like the flutter of a thousand hell butterflies…
"You want any more to eat, Captain?" Renji asked.
"N-no, arigato," Byakuya said, his head spinning slightly from the medication, "All I can manage is the tree…tea."
He shook his head to clear it as Renji took the food tray and left, but the shake only muddled his mind more. He suddenly felt overly heated and dizzy…and exhausted, but for some reason, he didn't want Renji to leave. Perhaps it was that Renji's company was such a familiar thing…and being ill made him cling to the familiar…
"You all right?" Renji said as he re-entered the room.
"R-renji…you're…I mean I'm…too hot," he said, turning away from the fire.
An icy hand reached around and shocked the skin of his face.
"Shit, Captain!" Renji said quickly, "You're burning up! Let's get you back in bed."
"R-ren…I'm fired…filed…just tiled…tired."
"Sure…whatever you say, Captain," Renji chuckled, lifting the near delirious noble and carrying him back to bed.
"W-wait," Byakuya moaned softly, "I need to wash away the sweat from the fever."
"But Captain, you don't look like you can stand for long."
"I'll be…" the noble said, trying to stand and swaying.
Renji shook his head and wrapped an arm around him, helping him to the dressing area. Byakuya took a fresh yukata and then Renji helped him to the bathroom. He leaned against the sink as Renji started the water, then slipped the yukata he was wearing off of his shoulders.
He had expected that the redhead would leave, but instead, Renji helped him finish undressing and then disrobed, himself.
"I hope you're…not…expecting…to…" the noble began.
"I'm not going to let you do this and pass out or something. Just relax and let me help you," Renji said, guiding him into the shower.
Sighing in resignation, the noble climbed into the shower and adjusted the water so that it took some of the heat from his skin without making him feel chilled. Renji stood behind him and, to Byakuya's surprise, began to gently massage his neck, shoulders and back. He stifled a moan and leaned into the warm, soothing touches with a little sigh.
"Arigato, Renji," he said, nearly losing awareness, "That feels wonderful."
In moments, he was half dozing against the redhead as Renji massaged shampoo into the long, black hair, turning him to rinse, then moving on to slowly rub soap all over him. The feel of those strong, calloused hands touching him that way felt better than any healing touches he had ever experienced. He couldn't quite contain a small sound of pleasure and when Renji turned him and their faces moved close together, he let his lips brush against the redhead's throat. Renji flinched slightly and looked down at him, and not being certain if Renji would like it if he knew what thoughts were passing through the noble's head, he closed his eyes and mumbled unintelligibly. There was a long pause, then Byakuya felt warm lips touch his forehead. The noble cracked an eye open as Renji shook his head and finished rinsing the soap away. He was so comfortable and relaxed being so close to Renji that way, that by the time the shower ended and the redhead dried him off, he was practically asleep in Renji's arms.
He managed to raise his alertness slightly as he felt the yukata being wrapped around his freshly washed body. He started to turn towards the bed, but was quietly lifted off his feet and carried out of the dressing area.
"I can get in myself," Byakuya said, struggling until Renji dropped him on the bed.
The noble groaned.
"Sorry," Renji said, sincerity in his voice, "but you wiggled around so much I couldn't hold on. You okay?"
"Go away," moaned Byakuya, "My head hurls…hurts…"
"That's from the fever, Captain. Here. Let me get you a cool cloth."
"Relax, Captain," Renji admonished him gently, "You're sweating all over your nice clean skin. Wait a sec…"
"B-but it…Ren…it isn't…"
He trailed off and groaned uncomfortably. Renji returned with a cool wet cloth and turned the noble onto his back, propping him comfortably onto his pillows and pulling just a sheet and light blanket over him. He sat down next to Byakuya and gently washed his still heated face and throat.
"You d-do not have to…"
"I know," Renji said, squeezing his hand, "I want to help. Now shut up and be a good patient. Docter Renji is going to take good care of you."
"When did you leave Squad Six and join Squad Four?" Byakuya asked, only half aware, "I must have missed the memo."
His breath was taken away by the wonderful coolness of Renji's hands and the wet cloth that moved again over his face and throat. There was a pause, then a slight tugging at his waist and his yukata opened.
"I'm not getting fresh, here. I'm just trying to cool you down, Captain, so don't get flustered."
Renji's hands and the wet cloth moved slowly over his chest and abdomen, making him moan softly with relief.
"Oh…oh that's better…Renji," he sighed, looking up through deeply hazed eyes, "I think if I could move, I would kiss you…"
Renji's hand paused and he thought for a moment. Then, slowly, he leaned forward.
He's pretty much out of it…and come on! I've always wanted to…
He only meant to kiss the noble's fevered brow, but Byakuya shifted slightly and their lips met suddenly.
Renji froze, his lips tasting Byakuya's and his hands still on the noble's cooling chest. Glazed gray eyes searched his for a reaction. Renji felt a shiver go through him.
"Renji," Byakuya said softly, "that wasn't wise…"
Renji sat back, his eyes downcast. He knew he should apologize for his forwardness, but the truth was, he couldn't be sorry. His captain was beautiful…and so incredibly cute like this…heartbreakingly wonderful to be with on Christmas Eve. He wanted to kick himself for ever imagining this night would be anything but stellar…perfect…except…
"I'm sorry, Captain. I, uh…you were just so…I mean…I know it wasn't right."
Byakuya reached up and touched cool, pale fingertips to his face.
"It's all right," he said quietly, watching Renji's expression closely, "I didn't mean that you shouldn't have kissed me."
Renji caught his breath and stared. A slow smile crept onto the noble's lips.
"I only meant that by kissing me now, you've exposed yourself to my illness. And now, because I'll have infected you…you'll be ill…and I will be duty bound to care for you."
Renji's look of surprise melted into a beautiful crooked and giddy grin.
"You will, eh?" he laughed softly.
"So," Renji went on, meeting the noble's eyes warmly, "If I'm already infected, then I can kiss you all I want and it won't matter…ne?"
Byakuya's smile widened.
"I imagine you are right. Kiss me all you want, if you feel compelled to do so…just…remember, I cannot breathe through my nose, so you will have to free my mouth for an occasional breath."
"Ah," said Renji, a weak, happy feeling sweeping through him and making him feel light-headed, "I'll try to remember that."
He fell forward, bringing his lips to Byakuya's and attacking them hungrily. The noble's mouth opened and sucked the redhead's tongue inside. Renji winced slightly at the heat of it, then plunged in deeper, exploring every inch he could reach, breaking away to allow Byakuya to take a breath, then diving in again. When finally their lips broke free of each other again, both were panting softly and very aroused.
"If you have no other plans, I would be pleased if you would stay with me tonight," Byakuya said softly.
"Wha…you mean…in here? With you?" Renji stammered, "B-but you're still sick and I would feel bad if…"
"I realize that I'll be rather poor company, in that all I feel up to is watching the snow fall and kissing you until I fall asleep, but if you can live with that…"
"Can I live with that?" Renji mused, "Captain…"
He brought his face close to Byakuya's.
"I could live for that alone…just that…"
"Renji," Byakuya said with mock sternness, "I certainly hope you want more than just that…"
"I do," Renji said, kissing his eyelids, then his lips, "but the rest can wait, Captain…until you are well…"
Renji extinguished the light and opened the curtains so they could see the falling snow outside, then returned to Byakuya's bed and climbed in, pulling Byakuya onto his chest and turning his head to look at the snow coming down outside. Byakuya rested his head on Renji's chest, his eyes blinking as he also watched the snow fall.
"You do realize that she set us up, right?" Renji laughed.
"Well," said Byakuya, "I knew she was trying to think up some kind of plot…so I might have made it easier, sending her off to Karakura Town like that. I have to admit…I was hoping she would say something to you…and I was hoping even more that I would see you here tonight. You being here is the best of gifts, Renji. Merry Christmas…"
"Merry Christmas, Captain," Renji said, nuzzling closer to the noble.
"Byakuya," the noble said, touching his fingers to Renji's smiling lips, "Call me Byakuya…when we are alone like this."
Renji thought his face would crack from smiling so widely.
"Merry Christmas, Byakuya…aishiteru yo…"
The two cuddled close together and drifted off to sleep. They were so comfortable that they slept well into the next day. And neither saw the violet eyes that peeked in from outside the garden doors. Rukia smiled at the lovely sight of her brother resting contentedly in her best friend's arms.
"Mission accomplished," she said, turning away.
Inside the room, Byakuya's eye opened for a moment.
"Arigato Rukia," he whispered.