Hope this lengthy chapter makes you all happy

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Been a while since we visited our favorite 6th Division couple. This chapter is dedicated to them ^^

Renji took a deep breath.

'Okay,' he muttered, glancing down at the tray in his hand. 'Tea. Check. Soba. Check. Weird human breakfast flat cakes with sticky syrup. Check.'

He stood up straighter, feeling a lot more confident, and began to make his way towards his taicho's room. Operation Impress Taicho was in commencement.

Well, he wasn't trying to impress his taicho. More like get rid of the uncomfortable atmosphere between them. Since that…incidental night, it seemed like the two of them just couldn't meet eye to eye. Every time Renji would look at his taicho, the stoic man would be looking somewhere else and whenever the man would look at Renji, the redhead would nonchalantly pretend to be busy with something else. It was getting damn unnerving. If this kept up even after the mission was over, Renji swore he'd be signing up for a transfer faster than he could say, "Mod, I don't think we're in Soul Society anymore."

Not that breakfast in bed was going to get rid of that worry. But it didn't hurt to give it a shot. He'd seen plenty of human world movies and it seemed to work. Maybe it would too on his stone-faced taicho. Well, Renji did especially get green tea, knowing how much the man adored it. Plus he woke up super early because that austere taicho of his had a knack for getting up at the ungodly hour of six in the morning. And besides, who could say no to a bowl of nice, hot soba…

…which they also had the night his taicho kissed-

'SHIT!' Renji yelped and almost ran into a door. He needed to backtrack and get rid of the bowl of soba. How the hell could he forget?! This would only make his taicho remember and probably make things even worse. He was so stupid!

'Okay, okay, okay,' he chanted to himself. 'Just keep calm and put the-crap!'

He hissed in pain as he spilled some of the hot tea in the cup onto his bare wrists. Instinctively he brought the scalded skin to his mouth and sucked on it, trying to ease the pain. And realized that he wasn't holding the tray anymore.

'No, no, no, no-SHIT!'

Soba, flat cakes, tea and china crashed to the ground, spraying all over the perfectly white walls, the lush carpeted floor and Renji's secondhand shinigami robes. He groaned as he glanced down at the mess. This was not his day.

'Abarai?'

Renji froze. Then, still covered in soba and tea, he forced himself to turn around. He smiled weakly.

'G-G-Good morning, taicho,' he managed to say. 'Um, breakfast?'

That was lame. So utterly lame. If lame had to have a picture, it would be that situation.

Byakuya stared at him for a moment.

'You have soba in your hair,' he remarked. Renji winced. Talk about irony. 'Please clean yourself up. We need to leave for Urahara's at once.'

Someone was probably sitting with a voodoo doll of him and laughing their head off while poking him with needles. Fucking bastard…

I need a pick me up, he thought moodily as he, now perfectly soba-free, and his taicho flash-stepped from rooftop to rooftop. The sun was slowly making its way over the horizon, dying the sky a lazy yellow with hints of pinks and blues. It was an exceptional sight. But that wasn't doing anything to cheer Renji up. A really good pick me up.

He pulled the door of the shop open. And stared.

'Maybe it's just me,' he said aloud. 'But is there a reason why Ichigo is wearing a dog collar?'

The orange-haired shinigami's cheeks reddened. He hastily pulled up the collar of his jacket to hide the vermillion leather strip around his neck with a…was that a strawberry dangling there?!

Not the pick me up I was looking for but I guess I could live with it.

'Stop laughing at me,' Ichigo shot at him.

'I'm not laughing!'

'You're grinning.'

'I'm not!'

Ichigo glared bloody murder.

'Okay, so maybe I am. Sue me. Are you going to explain things or let me continue grinning at your predicament? I'm good with either.'

'Well, don't let me spoil your good mood.'

'Just tell him already, Kurosaki,' Hitsugaya-taicho sighed in exasperation. Renji almost jumped. Since when did the 10th Division taicho get here?

'I agree. I have never come across such a pointless argument,' the Cuatro Espada remarked. 'And I know Nnoitra.'

Why was everyone so snippy this morning?

'Don't mind them,' Ichigo muttered. 'They've been here all night. Lack of sleep can do that to you. Even when you're dead I guess.'

Renji nodded. He knew that feeling.

'Grimmjow was changing into a Hollow,' Ichigo explained gravely. 'And not in a good way. My body was changing him to adapt to me and that was slowly killing him.'

Renji whistled. Guess he wasn't the only one having a bad day.

'So, uh, how did the cute-I mean, ugly collar come in?'

'It's a repressor. Urahara doesn't know how to reverse the process now that it's happening. But he could slow it down. As long as I wear this…' the boy fingered the collar nervously, '…Grimmjow's going to be safe.'

Renji raised an eyebrow. Since when did the boy care about the Arrancar's safety?

'Interesting choice of words,' he mused. Ichigo scowled. But he was already blushing.

'What?' he snapped. 'I have to care about him! I mean, if anything happened to him I'd be dead! So it's not like I want to!'

That was some strong denial. Or maybe it was just…

'Hey,' Renji murmured, giving the boy a little nudge in the shoulder. 'No need to get all tough guy on me. Don't forget, I already know more about this relationship than anyone. Not like I wanted to but I just do. And I'm not going to judge you, Ichigo. I'm your friend. You can trust me.'

Ichigo glanced at him from the corner of his eyes, as if contemplating. But Renji knew it was all an act. Ichigo wasn't one to hold a grudge for long.

'I don't know, Renji,' Ichigo finally muttered. His shoulders sagged like he was tired. He looked tired. 'Everything is just coming at me from all directions. This mission, this new power, this weird guy sitting up in Hueco Mundo and the Arrancars coming here. And mostly…mostly just Grimmjow.' He sighed heavily. 'I honestly don't know how I feel about him. But I do know that if anything bad happened to him, I'd go apeshit. I know I would. It's just…weird. You know?'

'What do you mean?'

'As in, have you ever had someone you just don't get but you'd do anything for them?'

Renji felt his heartbeat quicken and he willed himself not to glance at his taicho. Now Renji considered himself a friendly guy. He could get along with anyone. But Byakuya Kuchiki was just something else. No matter what Renji tried, the aloof taicho would never unwind or show the slightest emotion in front of his subordinates. But despite all that, he would give his life for the man. Was it out of respect? Camaraderie? Duty? A mix? He wasn't sure how to answer that. Not just to Ichigo but even to himself.

'Guess we'd have to see when it happens,' Renji finally replied, although he knew he sounded uncertain. Best change the subject to something lighter. 'So, uh, did Grimmjow get a kick out of your collar?'

Surprisingly, Ichigo didn't get pissed. In fact, he smirked.

'Probably,' he answered, crossing his arms. 'But not as much as I got out of his.'

'His?'

'He has to wear one too. So that it slows down on both ends.'

'Ah.'

'It's blue.'

'Nice.'

'With a Hello Kitty tag.'

'…I think this is one of those moments where Urahara is just brilliant.'

'Agreed.'

'Where is the old geezer anyway?'

'The old geezer is busy getting your zanpaktous ready for your most formidable opponent to date.' Urahara casually stepped in. 'Now what was that about me being brilliant?'

'Hitsugaya-taicho told me of your…clever invention for our zanpaktous,' Byakuya said stiffly as he approached the shopkeeper. 'Are you sure they will work?'

'Byakuya! Good to see you looking all fresh and ready!' Urahara beamed. 'Have you had breakfast? Tessai made some delicious soba this morning. Would you like some?'

The corner of Byakuya's mouth twitched. Renji held in a groan.

No more soba, he thought desperately. PLEASE. Before I go insane…

'Renji? You okay?'

The others were now streaming into the little shop. Shuuhei had managed to squeeze in beside the redhead and was regarding him with concern.

'Eh? Yeah, I'm just fine. Just a little lost in thought-'

'Renji! 'Sup?' Ikkaku called out boisterously and thumped him on the back. Then he sniffed in the redhead's direction. 'Do I smell beef? Have you been eating soba?'

'Who's been eating soba?' Yumichika asked aloud, making his way over.

'Renji! He smells like it!'

'Well, that's not fair! We'd like some soba too, wouldn't we?'

'I heard there's some soba in the back,' Kira said helpfully as he sidled up to them.

'Hell yeah! Hope it's beef soba!' Ikkaku hooted.

'Did someone say soba?' Kenpachi growled, insane grin in place.

Will everyone shut the fuck up about soba?! Renji almost screamed out loud.

'You sure you're okay?' Shuuhei asked again. 'You look like you want to…explode.'

'I'm fine,' Renji said through gritted teeth. 'Just need to get the hell out of here and kill something.'

'Grab an activation patch and make their way downstairs!' Urahara shouted over the noisy crowd currently squashed in his little shop. 'Damn, I really need to expand this place…'

'Activation patch?' Renji repeated in confusion.

'They're actually just little stickers that help our zanpaktous counter the Hollows,' Shuuhei explained, picking out a wolf-shaped one. 'Urahara apparently made each one specifically for a certain zanpaktou. And shaped them accordingly as well.' He wrinkled his nose at his sticker. 'Why the hell is mine a wolf?'

'You're a wild card? I don't know,' Renji said with a shrug and peered into the basket. 'Wonder which one is mine.'

'Oh? I think it's this one.'

'…You gotta be kidding me.'

'Why?'

'Are you seeing this?! It's a fucking monkey.'

'I think that's a baboon.'

'Doesn't change the fact that it's still a monkey.'

'Quit being a kid. That's the least of your concerns.'

'And what is my main concern?'

'Your taicho's already downstairs and I don't think he likes to be kept waiting.'

'Shit…'

The two fukutaichos hurriedly scrambled down the stairway, relieved to see that nothing of great importance had happened yet. Muguruma-taicho might be forgiving but Kuchiki-taicho would have Renji's head. And no pun intended considering how disastrous this morning was.

What if he's fed up with me? Renji suddenly thought. What if he thinks I'm not capable to be his fukutaicho? What if he's already thinking of replacing me when we get back to Soul Society?

Panic welled up inside him and he fought to keep it from showing on his face. He was overreacting! Kuchiki-taicho wouldn't be that harsh. Would he? He shook his head to clear it. Maybe he just needed to talk to someone about it. He could confide in Ichigo but the teen had his own problems. And besides, he was just a human boy. He couldn't understand. Perhaps he should turn to Shuuhei or Kira. Or even Rukia. Those three were always so composed and level-headed. They would be the right choice if he wanted some advi-

'Oi! Urahara! Open up the Garganta already!' Ikkaku yelled impatiently. 'I'm ready to kick some Hollow ass!'

'You won't be entering Hueco Mundo through the Garganta,' Yoruichi pointed out calmly. 'Nor will you be using the Arrancar method. Those are too obvious and plus, the "Master" would expect that of us if he believed his Espada betrayed him.'

'How clever of you,' Ulquiorra mused. 'You are correct. He would suspect betrayal. He never trusted any of us.'

'Exactly.' Urahara nodded. 'Which is why we're going to use a shortcut.' He pulled out a marker from his pocket and started to draw something on one of the giant rocks protruding from the ground.

'What is he doing doodling at a time like this?' Yumichika said distastefully.

'No fair! I want to draw too!' Yachiru pouted.

'He's not doodling,' Kira exclaimed, impressed. 'He's configuring an old entrance. Nobody has used that method since the Zero Division was formed. And that's because all evidence of it had been destroyed.'

'Why was it destroyed?' Rukia asked, curious.

'Because the number of people making it out alive on the other side was rare. Most just died on the way.'

'How reassuring,' Ichigo muttered sarcastically.

'That's because no one has ever thought of entering it two at a time,' Urahara remarked, recapping the marker. There was now an inked picture of a circle with weird scripture whirling inside. Four rods stuck out of it, each ending in a little circle of its own. It looked simple enough but after hearing the history behind it, it sent a shiver up everyone's spine.

'The trick,' he continued. 'Is not to go in alone. This pathway is pure energy because it cuts across the bands of reishi joining all the worlds together. It is impossible to manipulate a path through it like you can in the Garganta. But that's because it takes two people to make the path together. You all need to divvy up into pairs and enter it a pair at a time otherwise it might cause a catastrophic effect to the entrance. Don't worry about finding the exit. It'll show up when you get there. So, who's going first?'

Please. No need to go at it all at once, Renji thought with a roll of his eyes. After hearing that exciting bit of information, he was starting to feel a little queasy about this mission and he was probably not the only one. He could see Kira looking paler than usual.

Well, guess he better pair up with his taicho. Although, the man might want a stronger partner than him. And probably one who didn't smell of goddamn soba.

Suddenly, someone yanked on his arm.

'Wah-?!' he yelped in confusion and looked up in surprise. 'Shuuhei?! Wha-?'

'Pair up with me,' he muttered, eyes darting about. Renji raised an eyebrow.

'Um, is there something wrong with your taicho?' he asked, suspiciously. The man was acting shifty and a little nervous which just wasn't Shuuhei at all.

'No, no, no,' the dark-haired man said hastily. 'Just hurry up so we can both go through the-'

'You ready, Hisagi?'

Muguruma-taicho sauntered up to the two of them, eyebrows knitted and mouth turned in a grimace. Maybe it was just Renji but it looked like the 9th Division taicho wasn't happy to see him.

'Muguruma-taicho,' Shuuhei said politely. 'I'm sorry but it seems I've already paired up with-'

'Are you ready to proceed, Abarai?'

Renji winced as he turned around to find his taicho standing behind them. Perfect.

'Erm, t-t-taicho,' he stuttered. 'I-I think Hisagi-fukutaicho wants me to…uh…'

He faltered when he noticed Shuuhei giving him the deadliest glare possible. He swallowed thickly. Was he not supposed to say that?

'Excuse me, Hisagi-fukutaicho,' Kuchiki-taicho said curtly. 'But Abarai is my subordinate hence he needs to accompany me through the entrance. I'm sure your taicho would want the same from you.'

Renji could practically hear Shuuhei grinding his teeth behind his lips. So much for pairing up.

Giving the man the most apologetic look he could muster, Renji scurried after his taicho. He looked back one more time to see that the two 9th Division leaders were both squirming in each other's presence. Maybe Renji wasn't the only one having problems with his taicho.

'Everyone ready?' Urahara shouted. Surveying everyone one last time, he turned to the stone and began to chant a complicated spell.

'Abarai,' Kuchiki-taicho suddenly murmured. Renji looked at him, startled. 'Whatever you do, don't leave my side.'

'Y-Yes, taicho. I promise. I won't.'

White light began to spit and crackle from the symbols on the rock, outlining the drawing. Slowly, it engulfed the entire rock before exploding out. Renji felt his face heat up from the energy emanating from it. Even his knees were shaking from the energy pressing down on him. That was some power.

Just as quickly as the light came, it retreated to the stone, which was now pulsing white hot like a beacon in the middle of the training arena.

'Well, good luck everyone!' Urahara beamed, touching his cap. 'Oh! And before I forget, watch out for Halves. Pure energy beings, kinda like Hollows except they don't eat you. First they make you explode and then they eat you.'

Joy, Renji thought bitterly. One more thing to worry about.

Byakuya Kuchiki made his way towards the rock. He didn't have to say anything. It was obvious he wanted to be the first to enter. Heart racing, Renji followed him. Glancing to one side, he could see Ichigo giving him a reassuring smile. Like he was saying, "See you on the other side."

Renji grinned back. Then, he let the rock swallow him whole.

At first, he felt like he was floating in water. Everything was so heavy but at the same time it was so light. And it was so overwhelmingly calm that he just wanted to kick back and do absolutely nothing.

'Abarai!'

His eyes snapped open. Shit, had they been closed all this time? He glanced up. Kuchiki-taicho was standing on what looked like a white disc. A few were already constructed before him, like a staircase.

'Do not dawdle. I cannot make these steps without your help,' the man said sternly and nimbly moved onto the next step.

Feeling a little ashamed, Renji quickly made his way over. Well, more like swam his way over. The gravity in that place was so perplexing. You were as light as a feather as long as you were suspended in the greyish purple matter. But the minute you found a place to ground yourself, your weight hit you like a ton of bricks. The redhead almost collapsed on his feet when he made contact with a white disc-step.

'Sh-Sh-Shit!' he hissed and slowly got to his feet, feeling the strain on his joints. Kami, he felt like he was over 10,000 years old. He glanced up at his taicho moving like he was taking a walk in the park. How the hell was he doing it?

The disc beneath his feet began to shake. That's when he realized it was slowly disintegrating.

'What the hell?' he yelped and quickly hopped onto the next one, watching in horror as the one he had previously stood on dissipated into thin air. 'What just-?!'

'I believe this place feeds off of reishi, being made entirely of it,' Byakuya explained. He was already a few steps ahead of Renji. 'It's why a lone shinigami wandering through it hardly makes it back alive. The longer you stay, the longer it feeds off you until there is nothing left. Hence, we should hurry.' He glanced up ahead into the void. 'Try to make a step.'

'Huh? Um, sure, uh, how do I-?'

'Just concentrate.'

Just concentrate? Sure, that was easy. Real easy. As easy as finding Rangiku after she had downed five bottles of sake.

Renji scrunched up his eyebrows and squeezed his eyes shut. Concentrate, he thought. You can do this. Just prove your worth. Make a step. Hell, make a couple of steps. Just-

A miniscule disc the size of a teacup saucer popped at his feet. After a beat, it was quickly swallowed by the emptiness. Byakuya stared at the spot before looking up at his fukutaicho. Renji opened his mouth, ready to stammer an apology but the look of disapproval in those eyes made him purse his lips.

'Just stick close to me,' Kuchiki-taicho said icily, turning his back on the redhead. 'And don't try to fall off. Who knows what might happen if you do and I don't think I can save you then.'

The tone made Renji want to do otherwise but he quietly nodded and followed after his taicho.

This just keeps getting better and better, he thought bitterly. I need to say something. ANYTHING. This silence is stifling and I feel like the only thing I can do right is apologize for my stupidity.'

'I apologize for my performance, taicho,' he suddenly blurted out. 'You…should have paired up with someone stronger.'

Renji was almost relieved to hear a reply. At least his taicho wasn't ignoring him. But the reply made his blood run cold.

'If I had then you would've been unable to defend yourself,' the stoic man pointed out blatantly. 'I could not let you fall for it would have shamed me and my Division.' He gave the redhead an accusing glare. 'I will not put up with that, Abarai.'

Renji swallowed and quickly focused his eyes on the ground.

'Of course, taicho,' he murmured.

Of course. He had been expecting too much. Really, his taicho doing something out of the goodness of his heart? Was that what it took to be a Kuchiki? Be as hard you can, even to those who are close to you? Renji didn't have the heart to do that. Maybe that's why he and Byakuya could just never get along. They just…lived in two completely different worlds.

Something suddenly stirred in the corner of Renji's eye. He looked up quickly and squinted. That was odd. He was sure he saw something move. He shook his head. He was upset. Of course he'd be seeing things now. He just needed to relax and-

-realize that a row of sharp teeth were heading towards his taicho.

'TAICHO!'

The usually calm man turned around in surprise to find himself suddenly knocked to one side with Renji right on top of him. He scowled angrily.

'Abarai, what in world-?' he started and stopped when a rather large mouth devoured the stairs he had been standing on not too long ago.

'Halves,' Renji panted, rising to his feet, zanpaktou in hand. His mind was racing. He didn't know what to do. Keep moving? Fight? Protect his taicho? What was more important?

Then something crazy overtook his mind.

'They're like Hollows,' he murmured. 'They attack anything with a lot of reishi. Taicho, you need to get out of here. I'll distract the Half while you escape.'

'Aba-!'

This time, the Half came from the side, intent on devouring them both. The two officers jumped to opposite sides. Renji almost teetered off the edge of his disc. His eyes darted about. Where was it?

He spotted it. It was shaped like a tadpole, thin tail and fat body with glowing yellow eyes and mouth full of jagged teeth. Its body was cleverly camouflaged in the whirling reishi, its presence only noticeable if one squinted hard enough. Now said Half was making its way back towards his taicho again. And Renji was stranded on a single disc.

'Shit,' he muttered. The Half had smashed the other discs. How the hell was he supposed to help his taicho now?!

Byakuya was holding up well. He had his zanpaktou wedged between the teeth, preventing the Half from closing his jaws around the Kuchiki leader. But that was also hindering him from releasing Senbonzakura.

Concentrate, you idiot! Renji screamed at himself, eyes scrunching shut, heart racing in panic. You need to save him, you need to save him! Not just to prove yourself! You need to tell him that-

An array of discs suddenly popped up like mushrooms. Right towards the Half. Without thinking twice, Renji shot off, blood roaring in his ears.

'Hey!' he yelled as he got airborne. 'Over here, froghead! ROAR! ZABIMARU!'

His zanpaktou extended out powerfully, almost knocking Renji over. But the blade found its mark, embedding itself in the Half's bulbous head. The Half roared in pain, reeling back, trying to shake the steel lodged in its head. Byakuya saw his chance and yanked his zanpaktou free. He pointed the blade downwards.

'Scatter,' he murmured. 'Senbon-'

The beast suddenly swished around to face Renji, its tail whipping back sharply. And catching Byakuya right in the chest, sending him cascading off the discs. Renji's heart stopped for a second.

'TAICHOOO!'

The look of surprise on his taicho's face replayed in his mind, over and over again. He was gone. The man was gone. The passage had swallowed him whole so that nothing remained of him. Renji felt numb. But mostly, he felt downright pissed.

'I am going,' he said through gritted teeth as he stared at the Half with bloodthirsty eyes. 'To rip you to pieces.'

He attacked without hesitation. He blocked and parried, bobbed and slashed. He never felt so alive and so dead at the same time. He had failed his taicho. He had one job and that was to protect his taicho. And he had failed miserably. But he will have his revenge. He will not rest until he had his revenge.

'YAAARGHHH!' he cried out as he took to the air, ready to slice the monster's head off. Suddenly, the tail darted out and wrapped around his ankle, yanking him down to the path. Wincing in pain, Renji slowly sat up and reached out for Zabimaru.

'C'mon,' he murmured. 'You can't give up. You can't-'

He squawked in surprise as he was jerked upside down in midair. The Half regarded him with unblinking yellow eyes. Up close, not only was the monster ugly but it stunk of dirty fundoshi and week old soba.

He snorted. Just when he was about to be devoured, he was thinking about soba. Well, blown to bits and then devoured. But hey, who was keeping a tab anymore?

'I'm sorry, taicho,' he whispered, eyes fluttering close. 'I failed you.'

'Scatter, Senbonzakura.'

Renji's eyes shot open. Right when his ankle was released and he made contact with the floor once more, this time just as painfully. He looked up and gaped in disbelief.

Byakuya Kuchiki stood at the top of the staircase, the many petals of the famed Senbonzakura surrounding him like a halo of energy. The Half hissed.

'You are a pathetic creature,' the 6th Division taicho said smoothly, his hair blowing about as the cherry blossom petals whirled around him. 'I pray…that my zanpaktou gives you a quick death.'

The petals streamed down to engulf the Half. The beast roared but was muffled out as the petals whirled faster and faster until it was nothing but a blur. Renji could feel his robes fluttering from the speed. He shuddered. He almost pitied the creature trapped in there. He knew what it was like…to be surrounded by nothing but pain and those pink shards. It was like hell, but a thousand times worse.

When it was over, Senbonzakura returned to its owner and Byakuya sheathed it calmly. Slowly, Renji stood up, legs shaking. Shit, had he been that scared of dying?

'Taicho,' he murmured as he drew closer. 'Are you-?'

'I'm fine,' the man cut him off, turning his back on his subordinate. 'Let's keep moving forward.'

The man was shaking. Renji could see the way his hand trembled as it lay on his zanpaktou. He clenched his own into fists.

'Taicho,' he said firmly, making his leader stop in his tracks. 'Let me make the path for now. You should rest until you are strong enough.'

The Kuchiki leader stood silently.

'Very well,' he finally said. Sighing in relief, Renji stepped forward. Then, as if he was still possessed by this new found courage, he opened his mouth once more.

'I'm glad you're alright,' he murmured. 'I was very…worried about you.'

He heard the hitch of breath behind him. But he made no comment about it.

The rest of the way was fairly uneventful. Though they did spot a few Halves here and there but they were more wary this time and made a path around the creatures. Once Byakuya was strong enough, both he and Renji started working together on their road, moving surprisingly fast when they worked as a team.

Perhaps, Renji mused. We're not so different.

There was a door at the end. Nothing special or intricate. Just an ordinary, modern day door with an old-fashioned brass doorknob. Renji kinda felt stupid since he had expected something grander. But then again, the spiritual realms were always unpredictable. So maybe he shouldn't be too disappointed.

They were greeted by the inky black skies, glowing white sands and lifeless trees of Hueco Mundo. Renji exhaled slowly.

'We made it,' he sighed happily, soaking in the moon's light. After treading under constant danger, letting all that tension go felt pretty good. He turned to his taicho and frowned. The man still seemed tense since his eyes were knitted in a frown. 'Taicho? Is something the matter?'

'Abarai,' his taicho said softly. 'About that night. Could we just…forget about it?'

Renji felt his heart quicken. Was his taicho talking about…that night? The night they…kissed?

He took a deep breath, calming himself down. He needed to do this right without screwing up. Or he was going to regret it for the rest of his life.

'I'm sorry, taicho,' he said carefully. 'But I'm afraid I cannot obey that command.' He lowered his head, his hands bunching into his hakama. 'You see, it's not that I can't forget. It's just…I don't think I want to…'

There were a few minutes of silence between the two. Then…

'Very well,' Byakuya murmured. 'I guess it cannot be helped then.'

Renji glanced up. And his eyes widened. Was that a…smile?

Suddenly, Byakuya turned his head to the right. He frowned.

'We've got company,' he murmured.

You finished? Good for you! I'm surprised this turned out so lengthy but I hope you enjoyed it!

Now I know I sped through the part of Ichigo and Grimmjow but I promise to go more into detail in the later chapters. I just wanted to focus on Renji and Byakuya because I felt like I had forgotten about them. By the way, kudos to anyone who recognized the Wizard of Oz reference in the beginning. I love doing quips like that.

Well, I'll try updating once a month since I need to plot out this story more thoughtfully. Looks like it might be more action than yaoi but I'll try to include some smut and fluff here and there. Till next time everyone!