(Another wild plot bunny, courtesy of Walkure Leaud…talk about a muse! As usual, angst will abound, but love will conquer all…)
Chapter 1: Shooting Stars
Byakuya carefully cleaned the small classroom, wiping down the aged chairs and tables, picking up stray pencils and scraps of paper. He went to the front of the room and erased the chalkboard, then turned to look out the classroom window. The sun was beginning to set, full and red-orange and lovely. On this night, he could forget his hunger…could look out the window of the small school and lose himself in the beauty of it. He could forget for a moment that there had ever been another place or time…and believe that the person he was now…the poor teacher from Inuzuri, was all he had ever been.
He was often hungry. He owned nothing. He was powerless. But here in the poor streets of Inuzuri, he finally had some kind of peace. Life was simple now. He was a teacher of children, someone gentle and intelligent, who had appeared out of nowhere and given this town a gift.
Knowledge…survival skills…the very things that would give these children a fighting chance. There were reasons beneath his wanting to do that, of course, but with
each passing day, the memory faded…and he became more and more the simple person he pretended to be.
Byakuya turned and a smile rose on his lips. He took in the sight of the ten-year-old…tall for his age, lean and muscular…pale skin and gray eyes, a frame that looked too delicate to carry the strength it held…and mostly black hair with an unruly cluster of red strands on the left side, that he kept braided to keep it from misbehaving.
"Yes, Ronin, I am nearly finished. Run ahead and start dinner. I'll be along."
He watched the youth disappear out the door, then turned back to watch the sun set. As he watched, he noticed an odd shape at the bottom of the great, fiery orb, something as red as the setting sun, itself…and he couldn't help but be curious. He slipped out of the classroom and made his way across the rocky ground until he saw the outline of a man, also watching the setting sun.
The man was tall, muscular and fit…and his shape and the flash of red hair, lit by the setting sun made his catch his breath in surprise. A breeze moved through his hair and fluttered the bright haori he wore.
And suddenly, everything came rushing back…
"Don't go, Renji…"
"Bya…I know you don't understand, but…you and I…we come from different worlds. We are…different in ways that I didn't understand before…but I see them now. I am sorry to hurt you like this. Please…understand. I can't let you lose everything just because of me. Goodbye…"
Byakuya put a hand on his abdomen and holding back tears, prepared to tell Renji. But a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Let him go, Byakuya. You know he is right. Do remember your pride…"
And then he was alone…alone except for the one thing Renji left behind…and a few months later, before the elders could sense it, or anyone knew, he gathered a few things and ran. He stopped only once as he left the Seireitei…to watch as Renji left the ninth division…his own division. He only wanted to see the redhead one last time. But when he broke down and decided to talk to Renji, when he walked up and opened the door, what he saw, made him leave without even saying goodbye.
Tears formed in the raven-haired man's eyes and, not having a reason to stop them anymore, he let them drift onto his cheeks.
Why? Why did you leave me? Why did I let you go? And why, Renji…why did you just replace me like that? Why? If only things could have been different. I know if I'd told you, then you would have come back…but I didn't want you to stay just for him. I wanted you to love me…I wanted you to love me enough to stay…
One hand settled on his abdomen and the other covered his mouth. He stepped back, planning to disappear into the darkness, but at that moment, a huge shooting star blazed a beautiful fire trail across the darkened sky. He wasn't sure whether he might have made a sound, but ahead of him, the red-haired captain turned and their eyes locked.
Renji watched the setting sun disappear and felt a weight falling on him as day gave way to night and the moon rose. Whenever the light faded and the moon was full and bright like this…he couldn't help but think of Byakuya. He blinked and bit his lower lip, trying to forget, but the memory wouldn't leave him.
But Byakuya died over ten years ago. He died because of me. And no matter how much time goes by, that won't change. I never should have listened to that bastard cousin of his. I should have known he was up to something. I thought at the time that I was doing the right thing. But all I was doing was taking away everything Byakuya held on to. In the end, giving him up didn't do either of us any good. All it did was make him weak. All it did was make him lose the will to live. Damn! No one even knows how he died, really. He just…disappeared…Bya…I would give anything to have a chance to do things over…to undo that part of the past…to fight for you like I should have…
His thoughts were disrupted as a shooting star swept across the sky. Renji watched it go over him, then sighed and closed his eyes. A small sound and the sudden scent of sakura brought him out of his reverie and he turned. Then, a second shooting star blazed across the sky overhead.
A man stood, staring at him. His clothes were poor, but well kept and his pale skin looked cleaner than it should have been. One slender hand rested on his abdomen and the other covered his mouth. The gray eyes were wide and filled with tears. Renji inhaled sharply.
And in an eye-blink the man was gone…
Renji stared at where he had been. It wasn't possible, of course. If it had been Byakuya, he told himself, he would have sensed the strong reiatsu…even if it was masked or hidden. He had been close to the noble. Byakuya couldn't stand that close to him and Renji not sense him…
"I must have been dreaming," he murmured.
He shook his head and flash stepped away. Byakuya crawled out of the bushes he had hidden in and wiped away the traces of blood where the thorns had caught him. He wiped the tears from his eyes and walked back as far as the school. As he went inside to lock the doors, the memories repeated in his mind and he dropped to his knees near the schoolroom door. Silent sobs gripped him.
I have to stop this! Renji walked away from me over ten years ago. He doesn't want me anymore. He has gone on with his life and I am no part of it. I am content here. I have all that I need. I have my work, my cottage…and Ronin. Isn't that enough? I am free of nobility…and the rules and stupidity that tore us apart. I didn't give it up for him…but because I didn't want Ronin to suffer as I have. I left everything behind. And all there is to do now is to forget…I have to forget…I am Bya now…just an Inuzuri schoolteacher. This is the only place and the only life I know…
He forced the tears away and made himself stand. Renji might have broken his heart, but he still had some pride. Even without Renji, he wouldn't let himself die inside. He had a son who needed him…a home to go to. He didn't need to waste his tears and regrets on a lover who had abandoned him and moved on.
He locked the schoolroom door and slipped out into the cool night. The streets were mostly empty and the few people on them glanced at him warily and walked on. He moved through the center of town and out to the edge of it, into a calm, quiet glen. He took pride in the fact that, although much of Inuzuri refused to support life, his home glowed with it. This glen was grassy and filled with flowers…a gift from Byakuya's own father that had managed to stay with him when all of his other powers failed. He could still make things grow. So the glen where his home stood and the land around it teemed with life. He might have worried about intruders, but he and Ronin were more than a match for most. Because his loss of powers had left him no weaker physically. His hakudo was still as sharp and dangerous as it ever had been…a necessity in Inuzuri…and he trained with Ronin every day to pass those skills on to his son.
He walked into the house and breathed in the savory scents of vegetable soup and warm bread. Ronin smiled up at him and handed him a bowl of soup, then joined him at the table. They ate quietly, but Ronin's eyes kept rising to look at him with curiosity…and when finally, he could stand it no longer, he just asked.
He is so sensitive to emotion…
"I am fine, Ronin…just tired. It was a long day."
He smiled at the boy easily now, though such a thing would not have happened had they remained at Kuchiki Manor. He was a gentler person now…calm and quiet. There was no one to posture for and no one expecting anything of him.
"I saw a shinigami today," the boy said quietly, "I showed him my kido and he said that I should try to get into the academy."
"You…talked to a shinigami? What did he look like?"
"Hmmm…" said the boy, thinking, "He was kind of tall and had black, kind of spiky hair and some lines on his face…and a tattoo on one side…"
Shuuhei Hisagi…the one he…
"Dad, are you okay? Dad?"
He realized he had upset his bowl and hot soup had spilled onto his hand. He dried it away hastily, thankful that the pain could act as a way to explain the sudden tears in his eyes. He hadn't been so weak before. But, he reminded himself, love had made him weak inside. And that weakness had led to his downfall…his reduction in life to one who had to struggle just to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. There were no two ways about it. For him, love was far too costly. It was better, he thought, that Renji hadn't followed him…that he had gotten away. It would be better if he forgot the redhead existed. Renji was with Shuuhei and probably very happy without him. He wouldn't want to be saddled with a long thought dead ex-lover and a bastard son now. No…things were fine as they were…they had to be.
If only I hadn't seen him… If only I hadn't gone out to see…
He felt a strong pair of arms wrap around him and forced away the memory it caused. Turning, he met his son's eyes gratefully.
"Let me heal you," Ronin said, taking his father's hand in his.
So like Renji…so very like him…
From the emotional sensitivity to the warmth and innate healing power…
But it is his very likeness to Renji that will make him leave me someday…
Healing green light rose around the boy's hands and erased the angry red mark from Byakuya's skin. Ronin turned his hand and studied his arm, noting the fresh scratches.
"What happened, Dad? Was there trouble on the way home?"
He quickly raised his power over Byakuya's protest and the cuts disappeared. Ronin leaned over and kissed his cheek, then cleared their plates from the table. Byakuya sensed that he was waiting purposefully. He read his father well, and knew when to ask questions and when not to. Byakuya knew he wondered about his other parent and had been honest enough to say that the other left him. He told the boy that the rest was too painful to remember, but that when he was old enough, he would tell the story.
And now Ronin was nearly old enough to join the shinigami academy and he didn't know if he could go through with it. There were too many 'what ifs' involved.
What if someone found out he was a Kuchiki?
What if Ronin ended up in Renji's squad?
And what if the son he had loved and raised left him as his father had…and Byakuya was left alone again?
He studied his son as the boy washed the dishes and prepared for bed.
He's such a good, unspoiled child. Perhaps he won't leave. Maybe he will choose to stay here…but no…his powers are strong. He should be trained by someone with power. I have given the boy all I can. When the time comes, I must let him find his own way. I will be all right without Ronin. I got through losing my parents, Hisana, Renji, Rukia and my entire life in the Seireitei. I can get through this. I can live alone again…
Renji tossed and turned in his sleep, his mind replaying what he had seen earlier that night.
Long, raven black hair pulled back and held back with a red hair tie…smoky, gray eyes that were opened wide with shock and filled with tears…pale skin, a slender form made even more so with hunger…
"It couldn't have been…" his lips whispered, "It couldn't…"
In his dreams, he walked that same way again, and again the man appeared before him. Again, he disappeared. But this time, as Renji walked away, he felt a presence in the bushes nearby. He stopped and turned back, walking across the cold, dry ground and stopping at the edge of the brush. He smelled the strong scent of sakura, and when he looked in deeper, saw a scattering of cherry blossoms scattered on the ground.
"Byakuya!" he hissed, sitting up, suddenly.
Shuuhei sat up and gazed at him from the bed across the room from him.
"Captain…" he said softly, "Are you all right?"
Shuuhei knew well that he wasn't. He hadn't been right since Byakuya's disappearance…or actually since the two had parted ways. He had tried to break his captain's fall…to comfort him. But after a few months, both had to admit that Renji's heart wasn't ready to move on…and in the years that had past, it had remained the same. Even death, it seemed, could not let Renji move on. Shuuhei laid back down and drifted off to sleep.
Renji rose and moved to make tea, but then caught sight of the moon outside…and wanted to feel closer to it. He left the small house they were using during their assignment and walked slowly out to where he had watched the sunset. He stood first where he had been, then turned and walked in the direction in which he had seen the man that looked so much like his former lover. To his surprise, there was a small clump of brush…and beneath it, a scattering of sakura.
Renji caught his breath and looked more closely. He touched the brush lightly and felt something stir inside. He found a trace of blood and just a tiny sliver of reiatsu. Tears came to his eyes.
He looked around to see what was nearby…a few small hovels and cottages and a little schoolhouse that hadn't been there when he lived there before. He tried to sense a trail, but the reiatsu was too weak.
But maybe he's living around here somewhere…
He tried to tell himself not to get his hopes up…that even if the reiatsu was like Byakuya's, it might not be him, but just that tiny bit of hope had lit a fire inside him…and he felt the warmth that had once been between them flare brightly again…
Byakuya…if you are here, it doesn't matter what it takes, I will find you. No matter what it takes, we'll be together again…