When You Fall
(This story was inspired by (but is not connected to) the latest Bleach Manga, in which Byakuya describes to Renji the loyalty of Soutaichou's fukutaichou. But here, it is Kuchiki taichou who leads by example, showing Renji the true meaning of loyalty. And I hope you're reading, alabirdie! Because I know how you love 'Renji in distress' stories, and this one will blow the doors off the others! Enjoy!)
Chapter 1: At Your Feet
What just happened?
I don't understand.
It wasn't supposed to end this way.
But there was no denying the explosion of pain throughout his body, the flash and burn as reiatsu overwhelmed his wide open spirit centers...as the breath froze in his chest, and his broken weapon dropped from a nerveless, bleeding hand. He didn't even feel it when he hit the ground, sending blood, reiatsu and sand flying outward from his collapsed form.
At least they got away.
I've always hated the times we had to rely on information provided by the Squad 12 taichou. Like he would give a shit about whether we come back alive or in body bags. He'd prefer us dead so that he could pick us apart and perform sick experiments on our corpses.
You won't let him do that to me...
Gods, he's going to be so pissed at me. It doesn't matter that the information we were given was crap, or that I managed to eke out a win for the team as a whole. How many times has he told me, it isn't a win if the lead officer doesn't come back? Luckily for me, I won't be going back. The doorway closed. I'm just going to lie here on this fucking cold sand...bleed out because I can't move...die...and get devoured by whatever hollow comes along next.
Shit...I hope I'm not still alive when it gets here.
I think I killed every hollow in a twenty mile radius around us.
Thank you, Taichou, for helping me to up the range on that. I may actually die before the next bunch of hollows arrives and I get eaten.
I wonder if Zabimaru is still alive...
Renji's fading eyes registered movement and light, soft footsteps on the sand and the scent of sakura.
I lived long enough for him to come and tell me what a damned disgrace I am.
Why is he alone?
The light faded, and Renji could feel that his taichou was leaning over him, doing something to the redhead's destroyed body, then lifting him over a shoulder.
"Wh-what...are..." he managed thickly.
"Don't speak," the noble warned him, "We have to leave quietly. This area has been sealed off."
"Then...why are you...here?"
"I said not to talk," Byakuya said curtly, "We need to find a shelter."
Wickedly soft and cool fingertips touched his face. A gentle throb of reiatsu passed through him and Renji's mind went into a spin, disappearing slowly into a sea of grayness. He couldn't see or hear, but he felt himself being set down, at some point, and felt the invocation of power that he knew was a reiatsu cage being raised. There was a deep shock and a long rumbling...then silence returned.
He wondered if he had been left alone...if perhaps, seeing Byakuya had just been wishful thinking, and he was really still lying where he had fallen. His eyes filled with unbidden tears at the thought.
"T-taichou?" he whispered.
A cool, wet cloth cleaned away the dried sweat and blood from his face, and Renji gave a ragged sigh of relief.
"What...w-was that sound?" he asked softly.
"Nothing," said Byakuya, "Go back to sleep, Renji."
Even being half dead didn't spare him from the soft, annoyed ruffling of Byakuya's reiatsu as his taichou touched him and made everything disappear again. He lost awareness and descended into a soft haze that was broken intermittently, when he started to surface, and Byakuya's calm voice sounded in his mind, his cool hands touched Renji's face and the soft glow of his reiatsu seemed to permeate Renji's entire body, sending him off to sleep again.
Finally, his mind began to clear. He slept again, but this time he slept soundly, unmoving. He scented sakura when he inhaled, and felt a warm body resting against his, shivering softly from time to time. Byakuya made a very soft sound of surprise as Renji's body wrapped around his, making the shivering stop instantly.
See, Taichou, I am good for something, despite having fucked up and gotten myself damn near killed.
I still don't know why I didn't die.
And I don't know why you came for me. Why would you do that? There was a time when you would have just called me a fool for getting injured, and left me lying in the sand. But this time, things were different...why, Taichou?
He tried to think of when he had noticed the change in Byakuya's behavior, but couldn't pinpoint it exactly.
It happened so slowly that I didn't see it. But now that I think of it...especially since the war with Aizen ended, he's been different. I think I've know all along. But only now do I really know it. And now, he came into enemy territory alone to find me, to save my life. But...I wonder why we're still here. I remember him saying that...this area was being sealed off. But...then...why would he come here, knowing that he would be sealed in here with me?
He tried opening his eyes, and found that he finally could. And doing so revealed a sight that was as lovely as it was unexpected. Byakuya lay beside him, dressed in only the simple yukata he wore beneath his uniform. He took a startled breath at finding himself naked.
But then, my uniform was probably shredded and covered with blood.
He caught sight of it hanging near where they slept, drying after being cleaned up somewhat and mended. Byakuya's uniform and haori were spread out on top of them to keep them warm. He glanced at where Byakuya's head rested on his shoulder, and suddenly realized...
Oh my god...they're gone!
He sat up, waking Byakuya and making him sit up next to him as he stared in shock, down at his naked body.
"What happened to me?" he asked in a quivering voice, "What happened to Zabimaru's markings?"
He looked around and caught his breath as he spotted the broken pieces of Zabimaru lying on top of the ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu. He started to move towards the pile of shards, but stopped and doubled over, grabbing his midsection. Instantly, Byakuya was at his side, coaxing him back to where they had rested on the floor.
"H-how long...has...has he been like that?" Renji panted, wincing at the shocks of pain that radiated through his body.
"You had lost your markings already when I found you," Byakuya said softly, "I gathered the pieces of your weapon and brought them here with us, but I have not sensed any reiatsu flow."
He isn't saying it. He has to know. If there's no reiatsu that he can sense...and the pieces haven't mended...
"How...how long have we been here, Taichou?"
Byakuya held his gaze for a moment, then sighed soflty.
"We have been here for a month."
Renji's eyes widened.
"A month?" he asked, unable to fathom the words, "We've been here for a month and Zabimaru is still...? I am still...?"
"I will be honest with you," said the noble solemnly, "Your zanpakutou may have perished..."
"No," said Renji, shaking his head, "That can't be right."
"I don't know," Byakuya went on, "It may be because of the strain on my spirit centers, trying to heal you and not being able to eat or drink to restore myself. But, I haven't..."
"No, Taichou!" Renji said, more loudly, "Zabimaru can't be gone! He can't be!"
"I told you. I don't know if he is or if he isn't. But, a month is a long time for him to remain like this. Still, it may be that we have been stranded here and lacked the reiatsu to..."
"He'll come back," Renji tried to reassure himself, "He has to. Those two pains in the ass always come back!"
He looked down and realized how hard he was shaking. Byakuya let out a breath and moved to cover him again. He captured the noble's slim wrist as Byakuya started to pull away.
"Why did you come here, Taichou?" he asked, "Why did you risk yourself? Get yourself trapped here? A year or so ago, you wouldn't have batted an eye at letting me drown in my own blood on the sand out there. You would have just called me a fool for letting myself be taken down, and you would have..."
"Things are not as they were," Byakuya answered, pulling his hand free and moving to sit with his back against the rock wall.
His gray eyes watched Renji as the redhead looked around at the rock walls, tumbled boulders, kido lights and the reiatsu cage around them.
"What happened?" the redhead asked, "It looks like there's no way out, even if you destroy the cage."
"Destroying the cage would only bring everything down on top of us," he said calmly, "I had to collapse the rock around us to protect us from being found."
"But then, the rescue tea..."
Renji broke off, remembering.
"The area was sealed off because it was deemed too hazardous," Byakuya explained.
"There was no rescue team," Renji mused, "Not even for two taichou class shinigamis..."
"No one knows I came here," Byakuya said in a voice barely above a whisper, "The team that came back said that you were dead. I didn't believe them. So...I came to either confirm that...and, living or dead, to bring you home."
"What?" asked Renji, paling, "Taichou..."
"The bond between taichou and fukutaichou is a sacred one," the noble went on, "I heard the order not to enter the area, but I could not obey it...because honor dictated that I should know your fate...even if that meant sharing it."
"That's crazy..." mused Renji, "I would have just died, Taichou. And I would never have blamed you leaving me there. You told me time and time again..."
"I spoke the words that doomed you," said Byakuya, his eyes meeting Renji's quietly, "I personally handed you the faulty information that led to our group being put in harm's way. You did the impossible getting everyone out alive. There is not one man among them who would not have returned to see you back safely. But Soutaichou refused to let them go."
"So...you waited until his back was turned and you came here...unprepared...alone...not even sure I was still alive. Taichou..."
"I found you, and you were near death," Byakuya went on, "I found this cave and brought you and Zabimaru inside...and when I heard the hollows approaching, I set the reiatsu cage in place, and I made the rock come down to entomb us. The hollows cannot reach us."
"And no one's coming to rescue us," said Renji, shaking his head, "We're stuck here. That's what you're saying."
"Having no provisions and being focused on healing you, I used vast outlays of power. And now...although I can shatter the cage, I don't know if I could hold back the rock that would fall in on us."
"And I have no powers at all," breathed Renji, "Shit. What are we going to do, Taichou?"
"I don't know," the noble said softly, "I don't know that there is anything we can do."
"So...what?" Renji asked, his voice shaking, "We just...sit here? For a year? Ten years? A Thousand? We just sit here and wait to die? What about our squad? Our friends and family? Kami, Taichou! What about Rukia? She's going to lose us both? What were you thinking, coming here?"
Byakuya paused, searching for words.
"I wasn't thinking," he admitted finally, "I was feeling."
"What?" asked Renji, looking confused.
"I was feeling what it was like to have another person I care about disappear...to have him there one moment, and gone the next...to not even have time to say goodbye. I found the thought unbearable."
"But isn't the thought of dying here...leaving everyone...your squad, your clan...everyone, without you...doesn't it make you see how stupid that is?"
"If it was one of your friends, wouldn't you have done the same?" Byakuya asked softly.
"But we're not friends!" Renji said, frowning, "I mean...we're just a taichou and fukutaichou. We work together, that's all. You didn't have to do this."
"That is where you are wrong," Byakuya countered, "We may be 'just a taichou and fukutaichou,' but that relationship should be more meaningful than we have let it be, up until recently. The lives of our hundreds of squad members, and the lives of the civilians we protect, rest in our hands, day after day. The hands that protect them have to be strong, Renji. And we are strongest when we work in harmony with each other. But to do that requires the maintaining of balances between us. Where one excels, he leads. Where one needs, he is supported. Taichou and fukutaichou are meant to work as parts of one whole. We have failed to do that at times."
"Like, when I was learning from you, only to overcome you."
"And when I ignored the training and advancement of the man whose sword was meant to protect me..."
"But instead, tried to stab you in the back," said Renji, shaking his head, "You're right. We've messed up...a lot. But...what are we supposed to do about it now? We're stuck in here. I have no powers, and you have depleted yours, and have no food. I think there are more problems to fix than how we work together."
He stole a glance down at his naked, tanned, but curiously blank looking flesh.
"And even if we do get out of here, you won't have to worry about how well we work together. Because the Gotei 13 doesn't want a shinigami with no powers. I'll be dropped from the military..."
"Don't say that," Byakuya said, frowning, "You don't know that Zabimaru is gone."
"It's been a month already," Renji objected.
"But you have unconscious for most of that time. Now that you are awake, maybe he will respond to you. Try..."
Renji sighed unhappily, but leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. He focused carefully and tried to connect with the zanpakutou. He sensed nothing, but tried repeatedly...only to obtain the same result.
"Damn..." he said, shaking his head and panting uncomfortably, "I can't do it. I can't reach him. I can't even feel if he is alive or not!"
"Lie down and rest," Byakuya said, touching his shoulder, "You can try again later."
"Okay," the redhead said, swallowing his doubts, "But you should rest too. You may not have food and drink to help you recharge, but rest can help you hold on to what is left of your powers, so that we can get out of here."
"And then what?" asked Byakuya, "We are still in the sealed off area. And I cannot break the seal."
"Then, we have to keep each other alive until they break it from the other side. They have to know you came here, Taichou. They have to know by now. So when it's safe enough..."
"Perhaps," Byakuya said softly, looking unconvinced.
Renji laid down and Byakuya set the haori over him, then laid down close, but not touching him. He wrapped his shihakushou top around himself and rested his head on his arms.
"Taichou," Renji said quietly, "thanks for coming for me...even if it was a really stupid thing to do."
Byakuya opened one gray eye and gazed at him for a moment, before closing it again.
"You are welcome."