Tug of War
(Originally posted on Bya-Ren-Forever)
Chapter 1: Late Night Training
"You may go, Abarai," Byakuya told his fukutaichou.
He should have been pleased at finally being excused from the office. The two had reported to work early that morning and had worked steadily all day, with only scant time taken for lunch and only slightly more for a dinner delivered by his taichou's servants. His taichou had been extremely generous that way as of late…ever since the day of the execution. He forced his thoughts away from that day. They were trying to leave it behind them, but Kuchiki Taichou, he knew, was plagued with guilt…over his treatment of Rukia, his attempts to undermine the rescue efforts, and the battle he had waged with his own fukutaichou.
No matter what he did, Renji knew he didn't feel that it was enough. But then, Kuchiki Taichou wasn't accustomed to consuming time feeling sorry for his actions. He did what was required, end of story. Why would he ever need to apologize for that?
But now he was sorry. The bitter truth of just how badly he had been deceived and used…against his own sister and fukutaichou ate away at him, tormented him until it seemed he was afraid to ever leave the Squad Six Headquarters…to walk the path back to Kuchiki Manor and to fall into his bed, aching with regret and terrified of closing his eyes. Renji had watched him day after day since that first awkward day after…and he grew more and more worried by the moment. The stress never showed in the pale features or in his general behavior, but being that Renji had known the man for so long, that he had watched him closely, learning as much about him as possible, he wasn't fooled. No, Renji wasn't fooled at all.
But there was a long distance between knowing something was wrong and knowing what to do.
So he continued to watch Kuchiki Taichou carefully. And what he saw building beneath that calm exterior didn't just worry Abarai Renji, it scared the hell out of him. At the surface, he seemed fine. He had always worked nearly incessantly and he still remained for hours at his desk, poring over reports and records. But more and more, the most repetitive work was handed over to Renji and Kuchiki Taichou spent hours reading and rereading everything that had ever been written about Aizen Sosuke. He sifted through the pages again and again…and he sought after any new filings of sightings. He made it his business to know as much as possible about the man who had betrayed the Gotei 13 and had left for Hueco Mundo to begin his conquest of the known worlds.
Then there were the late night training sessions. So far, Renji had not been able to see what Byakuya had been practicing. He only knew it involved putting in place a heavy privacy shield so that none outside the training ground could see what he was doing and the powerful blasts he released would not cause damage to anything…anything except Byakuya, himself.
Because twice now Renji had seen the signs of injury, the slight twitch of discomfort that touched his face and disappeared almost instantly, the requisitions for more bandages from Squad Four. The slight alterations of movement that only Renji would notice. Small things, perhaps, but more than enough to warn him.
"Abarai," Byakuya said calmly, "I said you may leave."
"Hai, Taichou," Renji replied, turning towards the door, "See you in the morning."
He passed through the door and closed it behind him. It was already getting dark and his friends would already be down at the bar, drinking away the stress of another long day. Renji longed to join them, but his concern for his taichou took precedence. So he followed the edge of the building and slipped through the back and into the training grounds. He found an out of the way corner, from which he could watch…and waited.
He had almost dozed off when he felt the rise of reiatsu that heralded the arrival of his taichou. Byakuya entered the grounds, dressed in a plain shihakushou, and without his haori, gloves, kenseiken or the ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu. He moved out into the open space in front of Renji, looking around for a moment, then enclosing the area with a privacy shield. Renji carefully reined in his own reiatsu, drawing it down within himself to make himself less likely to be noticed. Then he waited, watching as Byakuya summoned a practice target and drew his zanpakutou.
His taichou fell into a fighting stance and lowered his head slightly, his focus on the target. As Renji watched, the power began to rise around him, shaking the training grounds and lighting his body with a beautiful white glow. Renji loved seeing Byakuya this way. Even before…even when he had despised Byakuya and sought to surpass him…he couldn't help but notice is captain's beauty.
The slender blade in his hand dissolved and erupted into a huge wave of deadly bladed cherry blossom petals. They swirled together and surged forward in a frighteningly beautiful wave toward the target and struck with perfect precision, registering a certain kill. Byakuya's slender form straightened slightly and his power rose around him again, flaring more brightly and leaving a light burning feeling on Renji's skin.
"Damn!" he whispered, rubbing his arms lightly.
"Ban Kai, Senbonzakura Kageyoshi."
Two rows of huge steel blades rose out of the ground on either side of him. As they reached their full length, they dissolved and grew into a huge mass of petal blades that shot across the training grounds and engulfed the target. Renji was sure that anything short of an Espada would have died under the weight of that blast. He shivered softly, remembering the sting of those blades. Most of his wounds had healed…but sometimes he still felt them.
Byakuya shifted slightly in his stance and raised his zanpakutou. The spirit energy raged around him, shaking the grounds until dust rose and leaving Renji feeling as though he might be suffocating. He felt himself panting for breath and beads of sweat broke out on his forehead.
Out on the training ground, Byakuya bowed his head, raising his spiritual pressure to an excruciating level. Renji couldn't quite suppress a pained moan, but the rumbling of the room covered the sound. Ahead of him, Byakuya's head lifted.
"Sakura Howaido Zetsumei," the taichou intoned.
Renji cried out sharply as the power exploded outward. He caught a glimpse of white cherry blossoms, then he was surrounded in whiteness…raging power…energy gone out of control. He heard Byakuya gasp in pain and saw him falling. The whiteness flared a final time, then blinked out, leaving the room awash in darkness and dust. Renji felt the retreat of power and heard Byakuya's body hit the ground. He was on his feet and flash stepping forward in an instant. He reached the fallen taichou and turned him onto his back. His already pale features had gone frighteningly white and blood leaked from numerous slashes from the out of control petal blades he had unleashed. Renji swallowed hard. His instinct was to call for a healer, but something told him that Byakuya would not want anyone to know what he had been doing or what had happened.
He slipped his arms beneath his taichou's nerveless body and lifted him. He felt surprisingly light in his fukutaichou's arms and Renji caught the mingled scents of sakura and fire. He blinked to clear his suddenly dizzy head and carried Byakuya back inside the Squad Six Headquarters. As he made his way down the darkened corrider, Byakuya's head fell against his shoulder and he mumbled something unintelligible.
Renji carried him to the Taichou's quarters and slipped inside. He set his taichou on the floor for a moment and loosened his clothing. Moving his hands slowly over Byakuya's body, he focused healing power into the cuts and watched as they slowly closed and the bleeding stopped. He found Byakuya's nightclothes and returned to his side.
He hesitated for a moment, somewhat unnerved by the idea that he was about to undress his taichou…but Byakuya would probably not appreciate being put into bed in the torn, bloody shihakushou he wore. So he removed the shihakushou, trying not to notice the attractiveness of the pale slender form it had concealed. He gently washed away the dirt and blood, then dressed Byakuya and lifted him into bed.
He studied his taichou and found him to be sleeping comfortably. He left the room and returned a few minutes later with two cups of hot green tea. He set Byakuya's on the small table beside the bed and waited, taking small sips of his own tea. Slowly, the scent of the tea reached Byakuya's senses and he stirred softly and opened his eyes. They went first to the tea and then, as he sat up and picked up the cup, his head turned and his eyes came to rest warily on Renji.
"Renji," he said in a hushed voice.
He didn't miss the way Byakuya used his first name this time.
Byakuya sipped at the tea and Renji sat, quietly watching the steam rise from the cup and how it gently touched the noble's fine features. He wondered if he should say something, but couldn't think of anything to say. He had so many questions, but he knew that if he said too much, his taichou was likely to turn inward and tell him nothing at all. He forced down the questions and sipped silently at his tea.
"Why did you come back?" Byakuya asked softly.
Renji looked into the dark, steel gray eyes and saw a glimmer of anxiety in the cool, clear depths. He wondered if he should admit to what he had done…but if he did, then Byakuya was likely to become even more secretive. But to lie to him seemed somehow wrong.
"I…was concerned," Renji said, then he hesitated, searching for the right words.
"Ah…" said Byakuya, jumping to the wrong conclusion, "you felt the reverberations of power."
Renji breathed an inward sigh of relief and decided to let his taichou keep his mistaken impression. It wasn't lying exactly…if he simply said nothing to correct Byakuya.
"I found you in the training grounds and brought you back here for healing."
"Healers were here?" he asked, an edge of worry in his voice.
Why are you so worried, Taichou? Why would you be so worried about healers discovering that you were learning a new attack? Why are you being so secretive?
"No, Taichou," Renji said, watching closely as Byakuya sighed in relief at the news, "but why are you worried about healers coming to help you?"
The dark eyes grew calm and guarded again. Byakuya sipped at his tea and gazed at Renji, and the red haired fukutaichou could see that he was withdrawing.
"Taichou…if I may ask…What were you doing that injured you so?" he asked cautiously.
Byakuya looked away.
"I was not greatly injured," he said dismissively, "I would have been fine."
Renji sighed and shook his head.
"Taichou, I healed you. I saw how you were injured. Those cuts…Taichou…those cuts were from your own zanpakutou."
Byakuya lowered his eyes.
"As I said, Renji, I was not greatly injured. Do not concern yourself."
He saw the look of hurt and disappointment in Renji's eyes and his expression softened slightly.
"I appreciate your assistance, Abarai fukutaichou, and I would also appreciate your discretion in this."
Renji wanted badly to object, to push Byakuya to say more, but he sensed that such an outburst would only make his taichou turn inward more tightly and resist all the harder. So he swallowed his concerns and forced himself to nod in acceptance.
"Hai, Taichou," he managed softly.
He watched in silence as Byakuya relaxed against the pillows and closed his eyes. He thought back to the days just after the execution, the days he spent sitting in a chair in Byakuya's hospital room watching him, making his tea…engaging him in what small bits of conversation he could. He had been so pale and quiet…so withdrawn…the way he was right now.
"Arigato, Renji," Byakuya said in a calm, quiet voice, "you may go."
Renji had expected this, but now having heard him say the words, he couldn't quite bring himself to leave. He sat back in his chair, looking at Byakuya and trying to think of some way to convince his taichou not to send him away.
"You must be tired, Renji," Byakuya went on, "You should go home and rest."
He honestly couldn't leave, so he had no choice but to be honest.
"I won't be able to sleep if I go home, Taichou," he admitted softly, "I am worried for my Taichou.
The dark gray eyes opened and observed Renji with what looked to Renji like regret.
"I do not deserve, nor do I need you to be concerned for me…Renji," he said in a voice barely above a whisper.
"I know that," Renji acknowledged with a short nod, "You told me that when I sat with you in the healing center. I told you then that it is my duty to care for my taichou's needs. I will remain nearby while you sleep."
He rose and took the cup from Byakuya's hand. As he did, his fingers brushed lightly against Byakuya's hand. Their eyes locked for a moment and Renji shivered and swallowed nervously. He turned away quickly and started across the room, trying to ignore the feeling of heat that touched his face. Byakuya's voice stopped him just short of the door.
Renji looked back over his shoulder and allowed a small smile to touch his lips.
"You're welcome…Taichou," he replied, turning away again.
When Renji returned, Byakuya was sleeping. He returned to the chair at his taichou's bedside and sat quietly, watching the moonlight crawl slowly across the room and enjoying the way it made Byakuya's skin seem to glow softly. Again it occurred to him that Byakuya was beautiful…not that he would ever have the courage to admit it aloud…but he could feel it in the safety of his heart. That was where he had been keeping it. Ever since that day…the day he had watched his taichou nearly die to save his sister, Renji's lifelong friend. After watching that happen before his eyes, Renji knew that things would never be the same.
Byakuya turned in his sleep and the moonlight lit the fine lines of his face. He was relaxing now that sleep had allowed him to escape his worries…his regrets. Renji sighed softly, grateful that, for this night at least, it seemed that his taichou was getting some much needed rest.
Now if only he could make himself do the same. But his concerns for Byakuya were growing. He had the very disturbing feeling that his taichou was preparing to do something reckless. He resolved that whatever happened, he would be there to make sure that he came to no harm.