Chapter 2: Among the Sakura Petals

Abarai Renji was both surprised and not surprised by the simplicity of Kuchiki Byakuya's home. The grounds were large and certainly his taichou could have filled them with whatever sort of things he chose. And not surprisingly, there were things that would have cost more than Abarai Renji would ever see, let alone hold in his hands. Still, the furniture and décor seemed much more focused on comfort than displays of wealth. The colors all around were soothing and quiet. Wood and marble surfaces shined in warm earthen hues, and every place one might recline was soft and very comfortable.

The one place that actually looked luxurious was the garden area. He didn't know the names of even half of the plants and flowers, but they enchanted the hell out of him. Where the house was warm and earthen in tones, color seemed to burst forth and brighten everything here. Sakura petals wafted gently on the breeze and settled in the clear water of the huge koi pond. Renji decided that if he should ever have to die, he wished it might happen in a place like this.

"You seem to enjoy the gardens, Abarai fukutaichou," Byakuya's voice said from the bed behind him, "go out and have a closer look if you wish."

Renji nodded silently and stepped out through the open doors of Byakuya's bedroom into the gardens. As he went, his taichou's eyes followed him, and Kuchiki Byakuya was struck with the thought that here, too, Renji looked exotic and beautiful, something colorful and alive among his bright surroundings. And there was respect in the way he moved so slowly, taking in everything as if he didn't want to miss the smallest thing. As Byakuya watched, he paused for a moment, closing his eyes and just breathing in and out. It was surprising to see one so fiery and active be overtaken by such calm.

He hadn't realized that he was leaving his bed or that, still dressed only for sleeping, he slipped out of the doors himself and onto the garden path. But he couldn't seem to help himself. Renji was thoroughly enjoying himself here and Kuchiki Byakuya found that the gardens were even more alive, more enchanting while he walked there. He found himself suddenly at Renji's side.

"Taichou, aren't you supposed to be resting?" Renji asked.

"My body won't regain its strength very quickly if I do not start getting up and around. Walking is good for healing and I won't stay long."

Renji nodded. They continued walking the garden path slowly and while they walked, Renji asked questions about the names of the plants and flowers and to his surprise, Byakuya seemed quite willing, even pleased to answer his questions. Renji was seeing someone wholly different than the near-silent taichou who spent his days locked in the far less colorful Squad Six Office, poring over endless white pages and hardly saying a word. He wondered how two such different men could inhabit the same body. As they turned back toward Byakuya's room, Renji sighed contentedly and commented on how Taichou must sleep well surrounded by such beauty and calm. Inside his calm and controlled body, Byakuya felt his heart stir almost painfully.

"One must be at peace inwardly as well as outwardly to sleep well, Renji," he commented.

"Does that mean you are still not sleeping well, Taichou?" Renji asked, looking genuinely concerned.

"Do not concern yourself," Byakuya said calmly, "I am fine, Renji."

"I was going to say," Renji went on, "that if falling asleep is a problem for you, I may be able to help."

Byakuya lifted an eyebrow in curiosity.

"How?" he asked quietly.

"Just something I learned growing up," Renji answered, following Byakuya back into his bedroom, "Lie down while I go make your tea and I will show you when I come back."

Byakuya slipped back into the soft, comfortable bed and rested with his eyes turned still to the gardens, remembering how much more beautiful it seemed with Renji walking in it. No time seemed to pass before Renji stepped back into the room and set a cup of tea in his hands.

"Arigato, Renji," he said softly, accepting the tea.

The hand that delivered the tea withdrew a bit more slowly than usual and Byakuya felt his heart skip. He sipped at the tea, observing Renji with one dark upturned eye.

"You were saying before that you could help me sleep more…soundly," he said, finally breaking the silence.

He noticed that the tea tasted very slightly different, but in a surprisingly good way.

"It is an herbal mixture that I learned from a doctor who cared for me once when I was a kid in Inuzuri. Don't worry," he said, noticing Byakuya's uneasy expression, "it contains no drug, just soothing extracts of plants. It should relax you somewhat for what comes next…if you wish me to continue."

Now Kuchiki Byakuya was both soothed and curious. He finished the tea and handed the cup to Renji, who deposited it on the nightstand and sat down next to him on the bed.

"With Taichou's permissision?" Renji asked respectfully.

Byakuya nodded.

As curious as he was, after the first few touches, Byakuya lost awareness of his surroundings and drifted quickly towards sleep. None of the touches were suggestive and each was delivered with warmth and respect. And when Renji was finished, Byakuya was sleeping very soundly beside him.

Upon their arrival, Byakuya had instructed Renji that he was to sleep in a small recess in his room that was usually occupied by an attendant when Byakuya was ill or injured. Instead, Renji sat at Byakuya's side, gazing out into the garden and watching the stars move across the night sky. He hadn't intended to doze off there next to his taichou, but it had been a long day…and Byakuya's bed was extremely comfortable. He closed his eyes just for a moment and dropped off to sleep.

It was just Renji's luck that Kuchiki Byakuya was an early riser and Renji liked to sleep in. That fact gave Taichou time to consider carefully what to do upon waking in the early morning darkness to find Abarai Renji sleeping beside him. His first impulse was to shove him onto the floor as punishment for such a disgraceful thing…but, Renji had helped him to obtain the first good night's sleep he had managed since the day of the execution. He was still considering what to do when Renji turned in his sleep. A warm arm settled across his chest and Renji's head came to rest on his shoulder. The contact was, to say the least, unsettling. And after the dreams he'd been having, he wasn't completely sure that this wasn't one of them. He turned his head slightly and rested his chin on the top of his fukutaichou's head, thinking.

He knew what he should do. He knew it and he couldn't make himself move. Things simply felt too comfortable the way they were. So, he decided, perhaps just this once, he would allow himself the luxury of sleeping late. This way, when Renji woke, he would, most likely, retreat to his own bed. As long as Renji woke first there was no issue. He could simply ignore the fact of Renji sleeping beside him…couldn't he? After all, he was more than used to controlling his impulses, strong though they might be. Kuchiki Byakuya had more control than most…and still he nearly lost it when Renji shifted in his sleep again and Byakuya felt warm breath brush the skin on his throat.

A flash of heat passed through him and he knew he must have moved, because at that moment Renji's eyes opened. They opened and sleepily looked into his, slowly becoming aware of just where he was and who was looking back at him. Seeing the panic rising in his fukutaichou's eyes, Byakuya forgot for one moment all about controls and reacted on impulse.

Turning quickly, he caught Renji's lips with his own. His fukutaichou's body went taut for a moment, then slowly relaxed beneath him. The fact of that shocked Kuchiki Byakuya into really considering what he had just done. He hesitated for a moment, his lips still pressed warmly against Renji's. His fukutaichou felt the hesitation and responded by moving his own lips enticingly. The sensation woke something inside the noble, something he hadn't felt in a very long time.

He knew that if either of them stopped to think or said anything aloud, this fragile moment would shatter, so he parted his lips and gently teased Renji's with his tongue. Renji's mouth opened and Byakuya's tongue sank into it, finding his fukutaichou's tongue and curling around it, ensuring it would not make a move to ruin whatever this was that was happening. Meeting with no resistance, he moved on, stroking the myriad of surfaces, tasting the sweet remains of sleep and the herbal tea they had been drinking. As he slowly explored Renji's mouth, he studied the hazed look in the brown eyes and it nearly shattered what restraint he had left.

But they were both enjoying this…so why not continue?

That simple question brought everything to a screeching halt. He pulled away from Renji, his mouth still burning from the heavy contact. He was gathering himself to speak when he suddenly found himself on the receiving end of a very heated, open-mouthed kiss, one that drove him down onto his back as his fukutaichou rolled onto him, trapping him with carefully positioned body weight and a hot, eager tongue.

He could easily have stopped what was happening. With one word or an angry shift of his body, he could have sent the message that such behavior was completely unacceptable, but as before, when Renji had walked in his garden, Kuchiki Byakuya was enchanted with how exotic he looked, eyes halfway closed and his body extended warmly on top of his taichou's.

Renji, for his part, had lost awareness of everything but the powerful man who rested beneath him. He ravished the full lips and opened mouth relentlessly, only pausing when a sharp change in reiatsu and a tension in his taichou's body reminded him that he had forgotten to allow Byakuya to breathe. He released his taichou's lips reluctantly, giving him time for a few shallow breaths before renewing his assault, releasing a flurry of nips and kisses down the length of the pale exposed throat.

Byakuya inhaled, prepared once again to stop Renji, but seeing the intent, his fukutaichou again claimed his mouth, silencing him with heat and pressure, teasing his tongue into motion, making it dance warmly against Renji's. Byakuya moaned softly and Renji remembered suddenly that he was still recovering from a chest wound. He looked down into his taichou's eyes and saw the traces of pain. With an effort…and no small amount of regret, he pulled away.

For a moment, there was silence between them.

Byakuya's cheeks and throat were lightly flushed and his lips were pink and slightly swollen from the heavy contact. His normally calm eyes were clouded with lust and Renji could still feel the sharp cadence of his taichou's heart racing beneath his hands.

"My apologies, Taichou," Renji said, climbing out of bed, "I shouldn't have let myself drift off there like that."

Byakuya opened his mouth to respond and was suddenly very relieved they had stopped themselves, when a knock sounded on his bedroom door and breakfast arrived. They moved to the garden patio and spent the next hour very carefully avoiding any discussion of what had happened in the bedroom. The staff would, of course, be discreet about whatever they saw or heard, but one could never be too careful…and Kuchiki Byakuya was already in enough trouble with the Kuchiki Elders as it was. They had objected strongly enough to his marriage to Hisana. If they found out he was…was…attracted to a male, and someone not of noble descent…it was highly likely that they would forget he was the strongest shinigami in the family's history and have him quietly assassinated. Then there was the whole issue of Renji being his subordinate. Such things occurred with startling regularity, he knew…but he was trying desperately to maintain some adherence to the rules. Aizen Sosuke's treachery might have tainted the rulings coming out of Central 46, but that didn't mean they could simply forget all of the established rules and codes as well. He had, in fact, overstepped by taking advantage of his fukutaichou's willingness to serve his needs as he recovered from his injuries. Renji came here to do a job…to perform a duty, not to satisfy the lust of his rule-breaking taichou.

And yet nothing in Abarai Renji's behavior suggested that the experience had been anything less than pleasant for him. He had, in fact, seemed to be quite accommodating. That stopped him for a moment as he came face to face with the question of what role he might be playing in Renji's life. There were place markers and there were serious relationships. What was he to Abarai Renji?

Not that it mattered, he reminded himself. It wasn't as though they could take things much farther without risking serious consequences. He could explain away some stray kisses, but if they actually made love, that would bring on a whole new host of issues. The more he thought about it, the more he resolved not to let it happen again. Yet when evening came and he retired to his room, Renji appeared with tea and again offered to use that unusual method of touch to calm him and help him fall asleep. He opened his mouth to refuse, but found himself, once again, accepting.

As before, he fell asleep easily, but this time he woke to find Renji gone from his bed. He looked into the servant's recess and found that it was empty. He started to go back to bed, but found melancholy returning. Why had Renji left without explanation? Had he done something to offend his fukutaichou? Could Renji be fearful that Byakuya might have been somehow put off?

His bare feet carried him out the doors of his bedroom and into the garden. He gazed up at the moon for a time, watching the stars and trembling softly from the autumn chill. Dropping to his knees, he settled beneath one of the sakura trees. He told himself that he didn't require company, that he preferred the calm and peace of being alone, but it rang hollow in his mind as he relived walking in the gardens with Renji, sharing his appreciation of all of the beauty there. It had been enjoyable, but Renji would only be helping out for another day or two, then life here in the Kuchiki home would return to the way it had been before the redhead had appeared to warm the environs. The thought nagged at Byakuya as he sat shivering beneath the sakura tree. He sat for some time mentally kicking himself for becoming dependent on Renji for anything. Eventually, sleep overtook him and he slowly sank to the ground on a bed of sakura petals.

When he woke again, his mind felt fuzzy and distant. He was vaguely aware that he had somehow returned to his room, but he didn't remember getting up from under the tree. His mind was foggy and he shivered with cold, even beneath the warm blankets. In the back of his mind, he realized now what must have happened. He had fallen asleep beneath the tree and had contracted a fever. Someone must have found him in the garden and returned him to his room.

Great…now in addition to having offended Renji somehow, he had left his staff with the impression that he had lost his mind. Because what person in his right mind would go sit in a freezing garden all night in sleeping clothes?

He felt a cool cloth on his forehead and opened his eyes. Warm brown eyes looked down at him with genuine concern.

"What were you thinking, Taichou? Why were you out in the cold like that?" Renji asked softly.

"Why did you leave?" he whispered back.

Now the eyes looked confused.

"I didn't leave," he replied quietly, "I was only in the kitchen making some herbal tea to help me fall asleep. I told you I would stay for a couple more days to help out. Besides, if I was going to leave, I would have told you."

"You do not need my permission to come and go. You are not bound to me."

"No," Renji replied, "I don't feel like I'm being forced to stay. I want to be here. I already told you…I like taking care of you. But you do require careful supervision, Taichou. You are far too inclined to wander off and get into trouble."

He would have had a hard time holding back a smile if he hadn't been shaking with cold.

"I cannot stay warm," he commented softly.

Renji nodded.

"Do you want me to lie down with you, Taichou?" Renji asked quietly.

He hesitated for a moment.

"Do you want to lie next to me, Renji?" he asked softly in return.

Renji leaned close, his breath tickling Byakuya's skin.

"I want to do more than lie next to you, Taichou," he whispered, "but the rest will have to wait until your fever breaks and you are well again."

After that, maintaining warmth was no longer a problem for either of them.