Chapter 10: The Mystery Inside

(Hey Walkure! Here's your much longed for update, and yes, I will have more for you very soon! *hugs*)

"I am saying that I am in love...with both parts of you...with all of you!"

"Holy shit..." Renji and Wren breathed together.

"I do not wish to cause discord between you," Byakuya said, looking from Wren's shocked face to Renji's, "but I feel that it is best to be honest."

His eyes locked on Renji's.

"That is what caused me to suddenly kiss you the other day at the division."

"You kissed him?" Wren asked, looking hurt.

"Y-yes," Byakuya confessed, "You have to understand, I did not set out to. I thought I was clear in that my feelings were for you alone, Wren. But, when we were together..."

He paused for a moment, searching for the right words.

"I...felt Renji's presence too...as though he was with us and part of our lovemaking."

"But," Wren objected, "If Renji was somehow 'with' us and you sensed it, then why didn't we?"

Renji bit his lip forcibly and kept silent, carefully avoiding eye contact with either of the two.

"Perhaps because his reiatsu and yours are the same, it would be easier for me to notice," the noble suggested.

"I guess that's possible," sighed Wren, "It's just so...weird!"

"I do not think so," said Byakuya, looking from one to the other again, "The two of you are really meant to be one. It is unnatural for you to be separated. So, maybe this is the way that your souls reach out to each other and try to be one, even though you are in two bodies."

"But the important question is, what do we do about it?" Renji said, frowning.

He flinched in surprise as Byakuya captured his hand, then lightly caught Wren's.

"Well, I am going to assume that eventually you will be reintegrated, and you will be one person again," said the noble, "But, while you are separated, it doesn't seem fair to choose one of you over the other, especially when I am sensing both of you when we are together."

He read Renji's expression and sighed softly, then continued.

"There is also the problem that while Wren seems to embrace a closeness with me, Renji, you seem to have reservations. Why?"

"Ah...Captain."

"Byakuya."

"Byakuya," Renji corrected himself, "this is all just going kinda fast. I'm not saying that I don't have feelings for you. But, ah, there are some things I have to work out in my head. I'm not trying to..."

"You don't have to explain," Byakuya said sympathetically, "I understand if this is all confusing to you, and you need some time to think things through. In fact," he said, smirking, "The idea of you stopping to think before acting is so unusual, I find it oddly endearing."

"Great," Renji laughed sarcastically, "I'm so glad I could amuse you."

"Renji," the noble said, making the redhead meet his eyes again, "I did not mean to offend you. In any case, it looks as though we have time while Kisuke Urahara conducts his research. Give whatever consideration that you need to things and we can come back to this once the situation and possible options become clear."

"Thanks, Byakuya," Renji said, lowering his eyes, "Thanks for understanding."

He took a breath and sighed softly.

"Captain, I need to ask a favor."

"What is it, Renji?"

The redhead met his eyes hesitantly.

"Captain, because I need to give this some thought, and also because I have lost my connection to Zabimaru, I'm going to need some time off to, you know, deal with things."

Byakuya nodded in agreement.

"I think it is best if you take some leave. I will speak to Captain Unohana and get a short medical leave cleared. Do not worry. I will not reveal your situation."

"Thank you," Renji said, looking relieved.

"But Renji," the noble went on, "You will need to remain here at the manor and close to Wren, as you have been instructed."

"Yeah, I got that. I just...I'll need some time alone to think things through."

"Of course," said Byakuya, "I will not interfere with you while you consider things."

"Okay," said Renji, "so, is there somewhere private I can go to do this thinking?"

"Yes, there are your guest quarters, and also you may walk in the gardens, or out the back gate and to the right. Take whatever time you need, Renji."

Renji nodded and turned away, but stopped as Wren spoke up.

"Renji, I, um...I need to talk to you about something."

"Heh," Renji chuckled half-heartedly, "Well, I guess being a part of me, I can hardly claim to need to get away from you, right?"

"Renji..."

"Sorry," the redhead said unhappily, "Come on. We can talk and then you can come back here to be with Byakuya. I know you'll want to spend what time you can with him while we're...like this."

Wren gave him a stricken look.

"Th-thank you for understanding," she said, her eyes growing sad, "But if you are not sure you are going to want to see Byakuya romantically, it doesn't seem right to...continue things."

"Wren is right," Byakuya said quietly.

"Look," Renji said, shaking his head, "You two may not have a lot of time, but you have some time, and that's a helluva lot more than some other people get. I don't mind if you're together. And...I never said that I wasn't interested in seeing Byakuya romantically later. I just said that I have some things to think about...to work out."

"But I still need to talk to you," Wren objected.

"Well, then," said the noble, "I have some things to see to. Why don't the two of you talk, and I will see you at dinner later?"

Wren and Renji nodded, and Byakuya couldn't help but smile at the similarity in their responses. He watched as they crossed the gardens and walked out the back gate. After they had disappeared from sight, he turned and headed back inside.

"So what are you all up in arms about?" Renji inquired as they walked along the forest trail, "I told you it's okay for you to see Byakuya. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"Renji," Wren said in a low, unhappy voice, "You have to remember, I am a part of you, and I am probably going to be merged with you again. I can't be selfish and just think about me, I have to think about you too...us, and what we'll be like when we are put back together. And you and I both know that what happened with Masato made it really hard for you...us...to trust nobles."

"Well, not you so much," Renji commented, "I wonder why that is. You're more emotional than me. Shouldn't that mean that you would be the one with the hang ups about the past?"

"I don't know," admitted Wren, "I don't understand, myself, why I can let go of all that and trust him like I do. I just...know that he won't hurt us."

"Ah," said Renji, comprehension rising in his eyes, "It's an emotional decision. I guess I'm stuck with just looking at what Masato did and deciding it's not worth the risk to go through all of that again."

"Renji, what are you talking about?" Wren said, shaking her head, "You know Byakuya. You know him better than anyone. And yeah, he hurt us before. But there were reasons why that happened that have nothing to do with why Masato was such an asshole to us. You just have to look at how different they are. Can't you do that?"

"Y-yeah...no...I don't know," Renji said, spotting a large rock beneath a sakura tree, at the side of a stream and sitting down, "I can tell myself to do it, but acting that way in the moment is another thing. I just have these flashes that happen. Like when Byakuya kissed me. I went straight back to...that! I didn't mean to. It just jumped into my head."

Wren sat down next to Renji and slipped a soft hand into his.

"Renji, you don't have to let your instincts get the best of you. Think of it like this. I know some of the hollows we've fought have scared the hell out of you, right?"

"Yeah," Renji sighed, "Some."

"But even though they can be scary as hell, we still go out and fight them, right?"

Renji swallowed hard, a strangely intense feeling of loss coming over him as he thought of Zabimaru.

"Yeah...well, when we have our zanpakutou we do."

"This is just like that, only instead of slaying hollows, we're falling in love."

"Huh," Renji grunted non-committally, "Those hollows don't have the ability to take your heart and bust it to pieces...I mean figuratively."

"No," Wren chuckled, "They do it for real. But you get what I mean. I know you do."

"Yeah," Renji admitted reluctantly, "but knowing it and living it are two different things."

He opened his mouth to say more, then paused uncertainly as a wave of nausea passed over him and his face paled.

"Renji?" Wren queried, gazing at him curiously, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, yeah I'm fine," Renji sighed, trying to brush the feeling aside.

He leaned forward and gathered water into one curled hand, then sipped at it as Wren watched quietly.

"You don't look so fine," she commented.

"Yeah, well I am, so leave off, will you?" Renji complained, "I'm probably getting that stupid flu that captain had or something."

"Well, if you're sick, then we should go back," Wren said, standing.

"Fine, whatever," Renji grumbled, getting up.

He pushed away the instant feeling of dizziness and forced himself into a walk, not noticing as Wren stopped and said something, her voice disappearing into the harsh buzzing in his head.

"Renji!"

Wren watched in dismay as the redhead swayed unsteadily and dropped to the ground.

"Renji!"

XXXXXXXXXX

Renji felt the haze around him begin to clear and heard a male voice call his name. Recognition seemed to require too much effort, so he settled for just sinking into the comforting voice and letting it carry him back off into oblivion. He wasn't sure how long he remained there, drifting weightlessly and not giving two shits if he ever woke up. But suddenly, the man's voice sounded again, and he could feel that someone was sitting behind him, with his arms curled around him. The person's hands rested on his abdomen, and a warm flow of reiatsu between them soothed away the discomfort that had led to his collapse.

"C-captain?" he murmured questioningly, "What are you...?"

"Be quiet and hold still. I am stabilizing your reiatsu," Byakuya said, his hair tickling the redhead's shoulder and his light sakura scent teasing Renji's senses.

"Stabilizing," Renji mumbled, "Why? Did something happen? What's going on?"

"I told you to be quiet," the noble repeated, "We will explain it to you later. Just rest for a while."

As weary as he felt, it was easy to accept the words, and Renji relaxed in Byakuya's comforting arms and drifted off again. He lost all awareness for a time, and only heard a soft mental buzzing that made his mind drift aimlessly as he slept. He woke again to find himself tucked warmly into bed, but sat up and looked around, experiencing a moment of uncertainty before realizing that he wasn't at Kuchiki Manor, or even in the Seireitei.

I'm at Urahara's place? How did I get here?

"Are you feeling better now?" Kisuke's voice asked from the doorway.

Renji sighed and rubbed his hands over his face as the shopkeeper entered the room, followed by Byakuya, and an unnerved looking Wren.

"Actually, I feel kinda like I just got the shit kicked outta me, but other than feeling like I need to puke my guts out, I can't complain," Renji muttered.

"Ah, he has regained his charming sense of humor too," Kisuke chuckled good naturedly, "Tessai is bringing some ginger tea that ought to soothe your insides. But you need to stay conscious this time."

"This time?" Renji asked, scowling, "What the hell are you talking about? What's going on?"

"Well," said the shopkeeper, "Truth is, I have not a clue as to why you lost consciousness and drifted in and out for the past three days, but..."

"Whoa! What? Three days?" Renji exclaimed, putting a hand to his aching head, "I was out for three days?"

"You scared me to death!" Wren complained, "We were just talking and you suddenly collapsed. I got Byakuya to come and he brought clan healers, but they couldn't figure out what was happening, so we brought you here on Tetsuya's horse."

"I ran every damned test I could think of," Kisuke went on, "but all I could determine was that your reiatsu was destabilizing. I don't know what threw it for a loop, but for a while, it was 'off the charts' crazy, fluctuating all over the place. And we figured out kinda by accident that when Byakuya comes near you, reiatsu seems to be flowing between the two of you."

"Between...Captain and me?" queried Renji, "What the hell is that all about?"

"I'm not sure," Kisuke admitted, "But it has something to do with a strange, concave structure in your body, in your lower abdomen. When your reiatsu destabilizes, he flows his reiatsu into that area, and it gathers near that structure and causes a balancing of your own reiatsu. There seems to be a cluster of energies that resonates with both of you, but I can't even begin to figure out what it is."

"Well, can't you do anything about it?" Renji asked anxiously, "Is it dangerous? Can't you just take that concave thingy out of me?"

"It's not that simple," explained the shopkeeper, "You see, I still don't know exactly what that thing is, or what it's supposed to do."

"Gods! It could be anything, right?" Renji exclaimed, looking alarmed, "For all we know, it's some kind of ticking time bomb or something that's going to..."

"Hey," Kisuke said bracingly, "it doesn't seem to be doing anything dangerous. And even though it's collecting reiatsu, it's staying relatively stable in size. It doesn't look threatening."

"Oh, it doesn't look threatening," Renji repeated sarcastically, "Well, excuse me if I'm not all that reassured by that. Geez, we are talking about a freaky hollow here that has majorly fucked with my body!"

"Oh!" said Kisuke, "I meant to ask, have you had sex or masturbated recently?"

Renji's eyes blazed and his reiatsu flared hotly.

"Are you really asking me that in front of my captain and my...my...female self?" he demanded, "Goddamned pervert! And no! I haven't been screwed and I haven't jacked off, okay? Got any other stupid questions?"

"When was the last time you did have sex?"

"You mean, other than in that damned wet dream I had before?" Renji snapped irascibly, "I don't know...a pathetically long time! What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

"Oh, nothing," said Kisuke, "I just wondered...because of the weird reiatsu flow that happened that night and the sexual nature of what you dreamed about..."

"Hey, do we really have to talk about this right in front of them? It's damned embarrassing!"

"Why would you be embarrassed in front of me?" Wren asked, crossing her arms, "It's not like there's anything about you that's news to me."

"R-right, well..."

"And, as your captain, I need to be kept apprised of your condition," Byakuya added.

"Fine, whatever! Then, have him give you regular reports, but just get out of here because it's bugging the hell out of me, being looked at like some fucking bug under a microscope!"

"Calm down, will you," Kisuke said, shaking his head, "You're going to get your testosterone level jacked up, and then your reiatsu's going to destabilize again."

"Sounds like you know a lot, for a guy who just said he doesn't know what the hell is going on!" Renji snapped.

"I don't know what's going on, okay," said the shopkeeper, "but I have this feeling that...the weird dreams and reiatsu flows, the imbalance of your reiatsu, that device in your body, the fainting and physical effects...it's all leading up to something, but there's just...this piece missing."

"Great!" Renji said sarcastically, climbing to his feet and shaking off Byakuya's staying hand, "Well, when you do figure out what the hell is wrong with me and how to put me back together, you know where to find me!"

"Renji!" Kisuke objected as the redhead took a step, then stopped and went pale.

Kisuke, Wren and Byakuya stared in dismay as the redhead swayed on his feet, then collapsed in a heap on the floor.

"Well," chuckled the shopkeeper, "He's right about that. We do know where to find him..."