Learning to Love Without Sake
(This story came from the wickedly creative mind of Walkure. She was so excited about it, she could barely type the description! LOL It is an angsty piece, but in true Spunky fashion will result in true, passionate love. Just…with these two silly boys, it might take its time getting there…Enjoy!)
Chapter 1: The Violet-Eyed Curse
"She is in there, Kuchiki-sama," the attendant told Byakuya.
"Very well," he replied quietly, feeling his heart quicken inside as he moved towards the closed door.
He wasn't sure what to expect, but whatever it was flew out the window as he opened the door and saw her standing with her back to him and looking out the window at the sky.
I can't do this…
But I promised her, so I'll make myself. It's only a few steps, and since when did I become such a coward?
I have to…
He froze in place as the girl, who was smaller than Hisana, but had the same hair, and the same sweet reiatsu, turned. Her violet eyes struck him forcefully and it took everything in him to hold himself perfectly still and to look indifferent.
"You are Rukia?" he asked, to break the silence.
"Yes," she replied, her eyes becoming wider and more intimidated as she studied him, "I am."
"I am Kuchiki Byakuya, head of the Kuchiki clan," he said solemnly, "I have come because…"
He shouldn't have paused and hadn't meant to, but it was as though the sunlight that was coming in through the window had gotten too bright, and suddenly, he couldn't remember what he had actually meant to say to her.
"I saw you while I was visiting the classrooms," he explained, "You remind me of someone I used to know…someone I was close to."
"W-was?" she queried, looking at him in a way that suggested she suspected a completely different motive behind the offer.
"Yes," he answered.
The girl looked back at him, waiting for him to explain, but Byakuya wasn't of a mind to go into the details. The details were still much too painful, so he moved past them and right to the point.
"Perhaps it sounds odd," he acknowledged, "but if you are willing, Rukia, I would like to adopt you into the family as my sister. We would see to your graduation from the academy and your placement in one of the Gotei 13 squads."
She stared back at him, blinking as the meaning of his words sank in and appeared to register. She nodded to show she understood, but looked at him with an expression that said she was wondering if he was really there at all.
"I realize that this comes as a surprise," he said, giving her a slow nod, "Why don't you give the matter some thought? My attendants will answer any questions you might have. And when you have made your decision, just send a hell butterfly to inform us."
Something registered in the girl's eyes and Byakuya felt a thin blade of anxiety pass through him.
"This…person I remind you of," she said softly, "You must miss her very much to do something like this."
His eyes closed for a moment and he took a breath to steady himself.
He didn't know what more he would have said had the door not opened and a tall, gangly peasant youth not burst through the door and into the room.
"Rukia!" he said, sliding to a stop and going silent as his eyes found the noble and widened in recognition.
Byakuya turned an eye to his attendants, by way of saying, Stay here and answer any questions she might have. He kept himself carefully composed and started towards the door, his reiatsu flaring and swelling around him. He had a flash impression of red hair and a harsh, barely controlled, burning reiatsu. He kept his eyes focused straight ahead, but as he passed the tall youth, he couldn't help but hear the strangled inhale, and the thoughts that tore across the young man's stricken mind.
What is this? This…incredible spiritual pressure. It feels like…it's strangling me…so beautiful…so powerful…kami!
Renji remained frozen in place as the terrifyingly powerful shinigami passed by and walked out the door. He regained his breath as Rukia crossed the room and stopped in front of him. And Renji wasn't sure why he felt like his world was coming down around his ears. He looked dazedly down at Rukia as she haltingly relayed what the Kuchiki clan leader had asked her.
I guess this explains that feeling I had…
"Aren't you going to say anything?" she asked softly, looking up at him in askance.
It was oddly easy to lie to her, to laugh and speak of how it was great that she was going to live in a noble home. He spouted some nonsense about how she had it made, and if he ever had such a chance of something like that, he would take it in an instant. He knew they were the right words when Rukia's eyes welled up with tears of deep gratitude.
"Oh, Renji," she sobbed softly, "I knew you would understand."
He didn't actually hear her say goodbye. He only felt his heart shatter as it crashed to the floor at his feet.
He could almost feel her footsteps in his broken heart as she walked away.
She's…gone. How could she be here one minute…and gone the next?
What do I do now?
We survived everything Inuzuri threw at us…but he appeared out of nowhere…and now everything is gone.
How could he just take her away like that?
But, no. It's selfish of me. She has a chance for something better…and she's like my own sister. I want her to have a great life…one where she won't have to struggle so much like we did before. She has that now. And even though it means I can't talk to her or see her, she has what she needs now.
She doesn't need me.
Rukia never did…
He wasn't sure how long it was that he stood in place after Rukia left. His feet began to move of their own accord then, taking him through the darkening halls of the academy, out into the dusky outdoors, past the main gates of the Seireitei and into the Rukongai. He wasn't sure why, after all those years trying to get out of the dank, smelly streets of the lower Rukon, he needed so much to go there again.
He knew she wouldn't be there. No, Rukia was off to settle into a beautiful mansion. He wondered why that man had asked her to let him adopt her…as his sister.
Is that guy for real?
He couldn't see how it could be real. Rich, handsome princes didn't just drive up and cart people away, as much as the human fairy tales tried to say they did. But he had seen the man with his own eyes and felt that frightening spiritual pressure all through his stunned body. He had been too taken aback to look too closely, but he had seen the large gray eyes and swirls of raven black hair, the kenseiken and that horridly expensive heirloom scarf.
I just don't understand why her. A guy like that doesn't need some girl from Inuzuri. He could have anyone…anyone at all! Why did he choose her? Why in kami's name did he have to choose her?
He flash stepped faster as the lights continued to dim around him, passing through the upper Rukon and mid-Rukon without seeing them. The streets began to grow narrow and the sour, biting scents assaulted him. The people grew more ragged and their eyes more haunted and sad the farther he went. Finally he stumbled past the broken sign that bordered the town and returned to the streets they had walked together. He wandered through them aimlessly, his heart catching at the sight of every dark haired girl running around in ragged clothes. With a weary heart, he carried himself as far as the river they had sat beside, the tree they had slept in together. He paused on the riverbank, tears streaming down his face, watching as the dying light made a lovely red-orange sheen on the dirty water. Thunder rumbled softly around him, and the sky went dark as the rain began to fall, soaking him to the skin in a matter of minutes.
"Rukia," he whispered brokenly, "Rukia…"
Byakuya paused outside of the academy long enough to remove everything except his shihakushou. He handed his things to his attendant and flash stepped away, leaving the wide-eyed youth staring after him. Tears burned in his eyes and he didn't want to have to go back to that cold, lonely place. Even more than that he couldn't face the moment when she would arrive. It had been hard enough to look at her before. To see her while his raw feelings were exposed and making his eyes tear…even if he could hold them back, it was unacceptable.
He knew he should just shut down his emotions. He had done so with perfection in the days following Hisana's death. His family had not been unkind. Despite having objected to their relationship, Once they had accepted that he wasn't giving in, they had ceased to speak their objections and had instead begun to gently urge the two in the direction of having children. Because having a half-noble child from Byakuya was at least as good as having a full noble child not of his line. He was extremely powerful and they expected that any child of his would be as well, so they pestered the couple, gently but persistently to procreate. He had known, of course, that Hisana, because of the difficulty in her life, was somewhat delicate, but he had had no idea that their attempt to make their child would end in the loss of both Hisana and their baby.
It wasn't anyone's fault, really. The family wasn't demanding. Once they accepted Hisana, they did not hold her peasant class against her. And they were genuinely pleased when she became pregnant. None of us had any idea what would happen…that she would deteriorate so suddenly…that we would lose everything. And despite having made that child with her out of love, I cannot help but feel that, by making that child with her, I killed her myself…
He heard thunder sound and sensed that his attendants were looking for them. And rather than face them while he felt so overwhelmed from having looked on the face of his late wife's sister, Byakuya reached down inside himself and repressed his spiritual pressure, making it so that he could not be sensed. He turned and opened a family senkaimon, passed into it and let it close behind him. He stood for a moment in the darkness of the precipice world, not sure where to go. It seemed that there was nowhere he could go and be himself, to bleed off some of the heavy emotion that seeing Rukia had caused.
I think there is only one place in the three worlds I have been where I have found that kind of peace…
And he turned in that direction, putting one foot in front of the other and moving quietly along the tunnel, Rukia's face still haunting him until the tears overwhelmed his eyes and, being in that odd half-world of the precipice, surrounded by darkness and alone, Kuchiki Byakuya allowed himself a soft, broken sob. And in the deep quiet of the precipice world, it echoed back at him, inviting more. He clung to what dignity he had left and held himself silent after that, moving his feet with more determination. He was grateful for the fact that when he stepped out of the precipice world, it was raining.
He was drenched in moments, but he didn't care. All that mattered was finding that place where he had found himself so many years before…injured, powerless and alone as dark had fallen on a night much like the one he was experiencing. He had managed to take shelter in a dilapidated shack beside the river. And as he had dragged himself inside, he had spotted a huddled figure in the corner of the small shack.
He had to have frightened the daylights out of the girl, even with his power drained away and his body weakened by loss of blood and reiatsu. But even though her eyes held fear, they watched him closely as he collapsed onto the floor and remained there, soaked and bleeding, panting for breath. Then, the next thing he knew, she was stripping his wet clothes away and wrapping a ragged blanket around him, then moving close to him to use the heat of her slight body to warm him. She had no powers to use to heal him and no way to move him, so she quietly bandaged his wounds and simply held him as the rain continued to fall outside.
He knew he was standing where the shack should have been, but the building had long since collapsed, and all that was left were a few skeletal boards littering the ground. He stood in the pouring rain, staring down at the remains of what had been, and wanting to cry like a child.
"Everything is gone…everything…except her. But I cannot even look at her! I cannot even bear the sight of her!"
He splashed down into the mud on his knees, letting hot tears blend with the icy rain and trying to make sense of what was happening.
How can my life look so perfect from the outside and be as devastated as this shack inside…?
He should have sensed the ones approaching in the dark behind him. He lashed at himself in the wasteland of his muddied thoughts as something struck him from behind and he crashed down onto the wreckage of the shack. His head ached and spun, keeping him from being able to release the lock he had placed on his powers, that was meant to keep him from being found. He felt cold hands probing his clothing, then undressing him. And as much as it hurt and as much as it left him naked, bleeding and nearly unconscious on the shore of the river, he had the presence of mind to be thankful that they hadn't slit his throat.
He had been stupid coming back and allowing himself to be so careless. And if he died here, it would be his own fault.
Who would have thought that the powerful Kuchiki Byakuya could come to such an end…brought down by common thieves, dying alone and with nothing…not even a shred of clothing.
He was grateful that his misery had left him so cold inside that he didn't even shiver in the absence of his clothing. He only laid upon the sodden ground, lost and unable to lift himself. He closed his eyes and drifted off, some part of him hoping that he wouldn't wake.
Renji stood on the bank of the river, shivering with cold and his hair and clothes weighted down with rain. He didn't know when the hair tie had come out of his hair, leaving it to drop down around his shoulders in a dark red, sopping mess. Mud had splattered onto his academy uniform too, leaving it unidentifiable. He knew he was a mess and he didn't give a shit…didn't even know if he wanted to return from this place. He wondered if it was even worth it to return to the academy. He hated thinking about the empty space that would be there, where Rukia had once been.
He was taken rather suddenly out of his reverie by the sound of nearby voices. His old instincts kicked in and he concealed himself and edged forward, sighing in resignation as he spotted a group of ragged teens looting the body of a fallen person.
He almost walked away.
Because it happened every day in Inuzuri. Crime. Loss. Death. Despair. Those things defined this place. And the person on the ground was better off dead if this was where he or she had come to be. It was cold, thinking that way, but it was also the truth.
Or maybe it was a lie he chose to console himself with…
He waited as the teens melted away into the darkness, then slowly approached the naked person they had left behind. He was taken aback by the pale, unblemished (except where they had struck and grabbed it roughly) skin that somehow seemed to glow softly, even in the darkness of the storm. The person was slender, but not bony, like he would have expected and had a fine, delicate build that suggested a kind of breeding one usually didn't see in Inuzuri. Anger sliced through the redhead, thinking that it might have been one of the good Samaritans, come into the town to offer donated food and clothing to the poor people there. Sometimes the streets proved to rough to tolerate even basic human kindness and such people were attacked.
It made him sick at heart…
"Well, at least you weren't raped," he said, by way of consolation, "Pretty girl like you…I'm surprised."
He started to lift the unconscious girl into his arms, then froze as he realized that although the smudged face was as delicate and pretty as the rest of him, the person he was holding was most definitely male.
Male and too damned pretty to be from around here. Looks familiar.
He laughed sarcastically at himself for the thought that crossed his mind.
Looks kind of like him…but it couldn't be…because he's off in his mansion, drinking fine sake and probably screwing his new 'sister' Rukia.
He wanted to throw up at the thought.
What am I doing? Why am I standing here in this dead place…in the rain…holding a beautiful, naked and unconscious man in my arms? Who is this guy and how the fuck did we end up here…together?
He shook his head and sighed, remembering that he had forgotten his identification and hadn't brought any money. He had the clothes on his body and not much else, but he was still better off than the naked man he was carrying. He remembered an old cave, a hideout from his younger days…well hidden. He thought (if he was lucky and the place hadn't been found, that there might be some provisions there. The food would have long since rotted, but he could at least find a ragged yukata to cover his new friend's body before rape became a distinct possibility.
He reached the small cave several minutes later and was surprised and pleased to find, not only a not too threadbare yukata, but a few old coins…enough to buy a loaf of bread in the morning, so that he would have something for the trip back to the Seireitei. He hoped that the guards at the main gate would cut him some slack and let him back in if they saw his uniform.
"Hey, will you look at that. You're in luck, beautiful," he said, picking up a small package of bandages, "And look. A bottle of sake…for medicinal purposes, of course…"
His companion stirred and groaned, prompting Renji to do him the courtesy of dressing him before he could be embarrassed by his nakedness. As the man's wide, unfocused gray eyes opened and fastened dazedly on him, he smiled and bandaged and healed what damage he found.
"I don't have anything for pain, but we do have the sake," he told the man.
His companion groaned softly again, but quietly accepted several deep swallows from the sake bottle.
"Arigato," he said calmly.
Shit, even his voice is beautiful. Who is this guy?
"N-no problem. Who…?"
"It doesn't matter."
He saw the look in the man's eyes then…the deep sadness that seemed to mirror his own. Smiling sadly, he took a few swallows of sake, then shared a few more with the other man. He seemed to drop off to sleep, or at least into some kind of oblivion as Renji kept drinking and his eyelids grew heavy. Having only one blanket and mat, he curled up next to the man, to share their warmth, and drifted off to sleep.
He woke the next morning to find himself naked and alone, his clothing on the floor by the mat and the rest of the room left untouched. He caught the scent of sakura in the air for a moment, then let it out in a long sigh.
"I hope you are okay."
He didn't know why he said it. The man was long gone and he'd probably never be back. And if Renji planned to not get thrown out of the academy, he knew he had to go back to the Seireitei. He got up and started to gather his clothes, then happened to look down and noticed a telltale stickiness on his flaccid member. He shivered at the traces of blood there and along one inner thigh. He was stricken then with a dim memory of pale hands reaching for him in desperation, senseless and wet gray eyes looking up at him…a warm mouth seeking his…slender legs wrapping around him…
Damn, I wish he hadn't left…
He waited for a few hours, hoping that the man would come back, but eventually realized that he was fooling himself. Shaking his head, he picked up the coins and left the cave and his thoughts of the man behind.
Byakuya fled through the precipice world, his head aching badly and his body quivering with cold. He slipped out of the family senkaimon and carefully avoided the eyes of the guards and servants as he made his way to his bedroom and swiftly removed the thin, ragged yukata he wore. He looked at it for a moment, tempted to throw it away, but some part of him wanting to remember.
That sharing of pain I felt…
The gentle eyes…the warm hands…the way he touched me…
Kami…and the gift he gave me!
I don't have to worry anymore. I won't ever have to go through losing a wife or a child again. When I gave myself to him, I bound myself to him. I can only have children with him. And I'll never go back there. I'll never see him again.
"Arigato…" he whispered, slipping the yukata into a hidden corner of his closet.
He slipped into one of his own yukatas and started across the room to his bed. Halfway there, he collapsed and lost consciousness.
He woke in the fourth division two days later, with no idea how he had ended up collapsed on his bedroom floor with a serious concussion…
He didn't even remember coming home from his first meeting with Rukia.