Mastery of Affection
Chapter 1: Opposites Repulse
Renji knew that something was very, very wrong when he was brought awake suddenly by a splash of ice cold water across his face. It wasn't enough, he thought, that it was already chilly in the apartment with the heater barely working and the blankets on the bed being thin. Add to that, the fact that he was accustomed to sleeping sans restrictive clothing…and the blast of cold water was the last straw. He sat up, glaring at the darkly dressed intruder, his hand finding Zabimaru before he quite realized who it was that he was looking at. Then anger and a goodly amount of anxiety ensued.
"C-captain…Kuchiki?" he stammered, his teeth rattling, "Wh-what are you d-doing in my apartment? And before it's even work hours? And throwing icy water at me?"
His superior officer gave him a disapproving frown.
"Obviously, you have forgotten that we were given a mission…and ordered to leave at dawn!"
"Captain…it isn't even dawn yet!" Renji objected, "And, hell, the least you could do is give a guy a little warning!"
"Shut up, Abarai, and get dressed immediately!"
"What is wrong with you? Has your incessant laziness finally left you permanently attached to that bed?" Byakuya asked with calm sarcasm.
"N-no, Captain, but…well…would you mind waiting outside?" Renji asked.
"Why would I do that?" Byakuya asked dryly, "Is there something wrong with my being here?"
He looked around Renji's apartment, studying the clothing scattered about, the remains of past meals on the table and the lackluster décor.
"Ah, no," said Renji, flushing slightly, "It's just…"
It was then that Byakuya finally noticed the lack of a yukata.
"I see," he said, turning and flash stepping back out the window.
Renji flushed an even brighter pink and fled from the bed to the bathroom, grabbing the cleanest looking shihakushou he could find on the way. He slipped into the clothes, hastily tied up his thick, red hair, shaved and brushed his teeth. He made record time with everything and followed the path Byakuya had taken out the window, growling to himself at the injustice.
I wasn't even late! The least that he could do would be to wait until I actually do something wrong before he attacks me in my own home! But then, that's Captain Kuchiki for you.
"It's still not dawn, Captain," he muttered to an oblivious Byakuya.
"Come, Renji," the noble said, flash stepping away.
He's in a crappy mood today. I can always fucking tell because he does shit like this to torment me. He knows I have a short fuse and pushes me until I yell at him, then makes me spar with him or do shit work. Why can't he be like a normal person and just tell me he's in a shitty mood and to keep my distance. He doesn't freaking let me keep my distance! He only drags me closer so that he can annoy the hell out of me and then he gets pissed at me for having an attitude…
"You're slow," Byakuya commented as they swept forward across an open meadow, "It must be poor nutrition, or the hours you keep."
Why the heck is he on my case about what I do in my free time? How does the guy even know? Does he have me watched?
Renji flash stepped faster, trying not to fall behind. He didn't want to give his noble counterpart carte blanche to criticize him further. Not that he wouldn't be able to find something else to harp on…
"I was in bed by midnight," Renji answered in what he hoped was an even voice, "There was time enough for proper sleep if I hadn't been splashed with water at an ungodly hour!"
Byakuya let out a huffing breath and flash stepped faster.
What the hell is up with that? I thought we were getting along for a while. After he saved Rukia, I sat in the healing center every damned day talking to him, making him tea and doing whatever he needed done. I didn't mind. I just don't understand why he always seems to be pushing me so damned hard. Up every day and early to work, training twice as hard as required. The guy is a total pain in the ass…not that he doesn't have his good points. I don't mind the sparring so much. He doesn't go easy and ever since my time in Squad Eleven, neither do I. And he does talk to me a little more casually sometimes, when he isn't pissed at me for one thing or another. Sometimes I feel like he has something in mind for me…and I keep disappointing him…and that's why he gets so out of sorts…I don't know. Maybe I just get on his nerves…because I can afford to sleep in sometimes…and I have a pretty active social life and something to look forward to after work. I guess for him, there is no before and after hours, no letting down. He's always a captain and a Kuchiki. It doesn't completely excuse the way he torments me, but I can sort of understand…
Renji looked up and realized his captain had disappeared from the path ahead of him.
"Damn!" he muttered irritably and flash stepped faster.
Byakuya waited impatiently at the senkaimon for Renji to catch up with him. Waiting wouldn't have been a problem, but waiting for someone who could be faster and wasn't giving his level best was annoying to the noble. He realized that whatever shortcomings Renji had would fade with time, greater experience and the giving of greater responsibility. And in exchange for his personal sacrifices, he could well inhabit one of the unclaimed haoris in the 13 Court Guard Squads. The head captain had made the announcement to the current captains to prepare the best candidates in their squads…and Renji was the best in the squad…the only one having fully achieved ban kai…and one who had even gone so far as to train the hapless Rikichi to the point where Byakuya had to grudgingly offer the boy the seventh seat. He could have qualified for fifth seat, but then he would have had Renji reminding him that he had once said that Chappy the Bunny would get a 'top five' position before Rikichi did. Although Renji was truly gifted in some ways, he was egregiously undisciplined and lacking in others.
Byakuya sighed and frowned more deeply. He thought back to his own training and tried to imagine Ginrei taming the scattered, stubborn, undisciplined and sloppy redhead…and he hardly held onto his angst. He almost smiled, something rare, indeed, for someone who was always inundated with such responsibility. He forced himself to remember why he had decided to personally shove Renji into advancing…
Renji was powerful…loyal…protective and personable…all good, strong characteristics. He just needed the kinks worked out and the rough areas smoothed, and if it killed him, Byakuya was going to see that it happened.
Renji didn't know it yet, but he deserved that success, that position of power and pride. And for the first time in his life, Byakuya was fully invested in someone else's success.
What have I gotten myself into? Months have gone by and all of those rough edges are just as rough…and all of the kinks are still there. I know he is capable of this…but nothing I know of to do seems to work. All I've really succeeded in doing is to make him furious at me…And the fury goes both ways…What do I do?
He sighed as Renji flash stepped into view, panting.
"S-sorry Captain," he huffed.
"Hmmm…" Byakuya said, turning and stepping into the senkaimon.
They moved swiftly through the precipice world, Renji's speed in that area proving once again to Byakuya that Renji was capable, but held himself back sometimes out of stubbornness and laziness. He shook his head, thinking what his noble clan would have done to a boy like Renji…and he knew that a free spirit like the redhead's would likely have been crushed. He didn't understand what it was like to have his every move scrutinized, to be in a position of power and honor long before he could be ready and to be expected to act the part, even if he wasn't truly there maturity-wise. Responsibility had been the defining feature of Byakuya's life for as long as he could remember, so every time Renji rebelled, every time he fumed not quite silently under Byakuya's strict direction, every time he watched solemnly as leisure time was sacrificed to responsibility, Byakuya remembered how it felt to him and he sympathized. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done, because it was all part of the process. And the day Renji Abarai became a captain and Byakuya personally set the haori on his shoulders, the redhead would understand all of this…and he might not look at Byakuya with so much anger…
"So…Captain, what's the rush to get there? I mean, I know we're going in to take out Aizen's listening post near the shinigami base, but that doesn't seem to be a thing of such urgency…"
"So because there is not a defined need, you would simply let time be eaten away frivolously? The sooner that listening post is destroyed, the sooner our forces can make a significant strike on Las Noches without Aizen knowing it's coming. His early warning system has been a thorn in our side since he went to Las Noches. And forces are poised to begin a wave of attacks as soon as the listening post goes down. We are opening the way for the others who came after us. That is why we move with all due haste. The sooner Aizen is stopped, the better."
"Yeah, you have a point there."
"Hey! Moocher!" yelled Jinta as the two shinigamis flash stepped into Urahara's shop, "Are you back to empty our cupboards again? Oh, and you brought a friend to help clean us out in half the time, I see!"
"What an obnoxious child," mused Byakuya.
"Aw, he's harmless…"
"He insulted us both in a single breath," the noble noted.
"Yeah…that's Jinta…" Renji muttered, brushing past and ignoring the kid's continued taunts.
Byakuya turned on the boy, raising his reiatsu and letting a dark aura coalesce around him. Jinta stepped back in surprise.
"Cease verbally abusing us and take us to Urahara at once," he said in a low voice.
"Sheesh…fine. You don't have to crush me or nothing!" the boy complained, pointing them in the shopkeeper's direction.
"Hey, you probably didn't have to go that far…" Renji began.
Byakuya flicked his eyes to meet Renji's disapprovingly.
"He should not address officers of the 13 Court Guard Squads in such a manner. It amazes me that a vice captain would allow this…"
"He's a kid!" Renji argued.
"He is a young ruffian, who needs to learn his place."
"Well, you don't have to get nasty with him. He was just kidding around."
"Was he? I think he was disrespecting an officer."
"Yeah, well, he's a kid, not a squad member!"
"Uh…you two want me to leave so you can finish your spat, or are you going to use the garganta today?" Urahara asked.
"Oh, hi Kisuke," said Renji, smiling at the shopkeeper.
Byakuya gazed at Urahara quietly and said nothing.
"The garganta is ready," the shopkeeper said, "and I'm going to send you with a device I'm testing for the head captain. It is designed to provide an emergency, instant transport spell for those times when we find ourselves surrounded by the enemy and having no way out."
"I would not know the first thing about such a situation," Byakuya said, blinking slowly, "but as the head captain deems it of value, then Renji will carry the device. That way, when it explodes, it will be more limited in the scope of its destruction."
"Hey!" Renji snapped.
"Oh, don't you two start again," sighed Urahara, "Here…"
He handed the device to Renji, who looked it over suspiciously, then stuffed it into his shihakushou.
"I've put in the coordinates the head captain relayed over and Yoruichi went in on reconnaissance and mapped the area on this."
He handed Renji the map and the redhead stuffed it into an interior pocket.
"You'll come down in a small depression over which we've positioned a reiatsu negating field. They won't sense your reiatsu…but even if they see you, within the shielded area, all combatants will be limited to physical attacks, no power. And once you summon the opening of the return garganta, the shield will repulse and expel all of the enemy, so that they won't just follow you. That makes sure that if the shit hits the fan, you won't be overrun."
"All right, if there are no more questions, come this way."
The two officers followed the shopkeeper to the garganta. Byakuya paused just short of it, removing haori, kenseiken and ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu. He set them aside and motioned for Renji to remove his officer's badge.
"We must wear nothing that denotes rank," the noble explained, "In case we were to be captured, we would not want to give them any useful information."
He picked up two dark cloaks and handed one to Renji.
"For the sandstorms," he said, slipping one around his shoulders, "There are quite a lot of them in this area."
Renji nodded and set his cloak in place. He followed Byakuya to the garganta.
"Any last questions?" Urahara asked.
The two officers shook their heads.
"Then good luck," said Kisuke, opening the garganta, "Get yourselves back here in one piece, okay?"
"That is our intention, of course," said Byakuya.
Byakuya stepped forward with Renji at his side and the two entered the precipice world. Byakuya blazed a reiatsu trail and the two flash stepped along it, silent but for the hiss of air around them. They moved swiftly through the precipice world, hearing the groans and screeches of hollows rising up in the distance as they closed in on their destination. They reached the Hueco Mundo entrance and dropped down silently into the dark sand.
Renji felt the heavy, almost suffocating feel of the shield over them, but was pretty darned thankful for the cover, given the fact they were two men alone in a dark, cold place where a whole lot of really nasty creatures were just waiting for a chance to kill them. And still, he wasn't sure who was more scary, those murderous hollows or his powerful and sometimes unpredictable captain. For as firmly planted on the side of 'good' as Byakuya might be, how his leanings manifested themselves sometimes confused Renji. Oddly enough, and unbeknownst to the redhead, Byakuya felt something of the same about him…that Renji was definitely a creature of good, but that sometimes even good intentions didn't stop a person from being some sort of a menace. The two mostly got along well enough, both often wondered why Byakuya had chosen him as vice captain.
Byakuya, for his part told himself it was all about ability and promise, and that despite needing a few hard turns and some smoothing of the edges, Renji was definitely worthy of the position or he wouldn't be there. He tightened the screws on his vice captain fairly often to push him to excel, but overall, he had no great complaints and felt he had made a wise, though not without its difficulties, decision.
Renji, for his part, had no idea why the leader of a noble house, a man as dangerous as he was beautiful and as annoying as he was intriguing would choose, of all people, someone so much the opposite of himself and then constantly be at him to be better than he was.
Others outside the union of these two had mixed viewpoints. Rukia was stymied as to why her amazing brother chose an adorable idiot like her best friend to protect his life on the battlefield. Most of the more experienced captains…and incidentally Head Captain Yamamoto, felt it was the hidden inner child inside Byakuya finding a way of acting out in a sort of passive-aggressive rebellion. Urahara thought it was a rather sly move on the Kuchiki heir's part, while Yoruichi just giggled and said it was fun to watch them 'play' together (even when their play drew blood). Ichigo Kurosaki thought Byakuya Kuchiki was more than a little bit nuts and Renji was in for trouble, so he kept himself ready to get the redhead out of it. But all were in agreement that being around the two together was never a dull thing…
"Renji, we'll need the map now," Byakuya said, looking around and making note of the odd silence that had fallen around them.
The redhead nodded and reached into his shihakushou. As he removed the map, the odd device Kisuke had given him, caught his finger and came tumbling out as well. It bobbled madly on his fingertips as the redhead tried to recover, then it seemed to fall in slow motion, crashed loudly into a pile of rocks and began to smoke and sputter fitfully.
Byakuya sighed meaningfully and lifted an impatient eyebrow as Renji recovered the device, dusted it off and growled a clipped apology. He looked it over carefully as he handed the map to Byakuya and the noble began to study it. It seemed to Renji that the device had been activated, but improperly so he fiddled with the buttons until the thing stopped smoking and went quiet. Byakuya finished looking at the map and motioned for Renji to follow. The two crept slowly out from under the cover of the shield and made their way into the unprotected area, moving with cautious deliberation.
As they left the cover of the shield, the device Kisuke had given them began to beep madly.
"Oh, for kami's sake…" muttered Byakuya in a rare case of losing his cool, "Renji, shut that thing up before it attracts every hollow in the three worlds!"
The redhead nodded and set about his task dutifully, not noticing right away that Byakuya then fell uncharacteristically silent. He stared as a well laid trap began to fall on them and the sky around them began to fill with hollows. Renji looked up at his captain's hiss of discontent and muttered a well timed swear word.
"I guess that thing wasn't malfunctioning about the close proximity of the enemy," Renji managed.
The look Byakuya gave him was nothing short of deadly.
"Should we use it to escape then?" Renji said, reaching to activate it.
Byakuya would have told him that was the last thing he wanted to do, given that the thing had just been dropped into a pile of rocks and damaged, and that it was as likely that the thing would blow up in their faces and assist the hollows in killing them as save their lives, but Renji touched the button before he could get the words out.
There was a moment of complete silence between them…
A look of pure hatred from elder/wiser captain to bumbling subordinate…
Then there was a horrid, blinding flash, a feeling of being sucked away and, to Byakuya's surprise, the hollow reiatsu faded away. But when the smoke cleared, the captain of the sixth division found a whole new reason to despise his vice captain.
They stood on a lonely plain…still in the desert…not anywhere near safety…now lost and so far from an outpost that Byakuya couldn't sense the direction of the nearest. The map was now no good and as the two stood staring at Kisuke's rescue device, it sputtered one last time, groaned and died with a loud popping sound.
Smoky gray eyes met wary red-brown and in a rare moment of sychronicity the two muttered the same thing at the same time.