Eyes of a Traitor
No one can help but see how far I have fallen. They look away to spare me the humiliation. Among them all, only your eyes still look into mine fearlessly. But by standing at my side, you become tainted with my sins. My heart could bear the pain of their accusation. I deserve the sting of punishment. But watching your innocent and loyal blood be spilled is a weight greater than any punishment they could set upon me.
Renji, why couldn't you hate me?
Chapter 1: Wanted
(This one's been in my head ever since I saw Episode 254 in Japanese, but I wanted to see the English version to gain a sharper perspective, so I held onto it until now with the release of the English anime episode. Hope you enjoy! Love Spunky)
Renji felt the heavy weight that had been over his heart begin to fall away as he quietly watched his captain express his gratitude to Ichigo for the younger man's assistance in the elimination of Kouga Kuchiki and the rogue zanpakutou, Muramasa. He knew better than to think that the end of the battle would be the end of difficulty for Byakuya, but it was a huge relief not to have to face that deep ache of betrayal, the haunting question of why his captain, a man devoted to the law, would abandon his post and take up with the enemy.
After Sousuke Aizen's betrayal, he had hoped to never feel such pain again. And it had felt crushing to have his own captain turn on him and cut him down, yet again. But even then, as he had crashed to the ground, he had known that Byakuya's heart wasn't in the battle, and that he applied only enough force to stop his subordinate from arresting him. He had clearly not been aiming to kill.
I was right all along to believe in him, despite everything. I felt that there was more to this than we all knew. It feels good to know that he never intended to betray us. Still, I wonder what will happen now. He may have been obligated by his clan to do this, but because Central 46 branded him a traitor, the Kuchiki clan cannot protect him if the Central 46 councilors vote to charge him with treason.
He watched Byakuya carefully, sensing that the noble had pushed himself dangerously close to his limits. And when Byakuya finished speaking to Ichigo and flash stepped away, Renji moved with him, locking on to his captain's reiatsu and following a step behind until Byakuya slid to a stop in a wooded area, his face betraying pain and his body shaking softly from overexertion. Renji stopped a short distance away, making sure that the noble understood that he was there to protect his captain, but as a sign of respect, he would take no action unless Byakuya either asked for help or became incapacitated. He was so used to neither one happening that he could have been knocked over by a feather at seeing his captain collapse and lose consciousness completely.
But even stunned by what he witnessed, Renji acted immediately, flash stepping forward to catch the noble before he hit the ground. He leaned over Byakuya, quickly examining him and concluding that the heavy outpouring of his reiatsu had overwhelmed his body, causing his collapse. It wasn't something that he could treat, but he knew where to find help quickly...and quietly.
Yes, because as soon as he sets foot in the Seireitei, he will probably be arrested. And if he's going to face that, he needs to catch his breath and take a moment to prepare himself. It's my duty as his vice captain to see that he has that time.
He lifted Byakuya into his arms, marveling at how light his body was. The lovely, familiar scent of sakura drifted over his senses and the silken brush of the ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu made his heart skip. Renji smiled at knowing how his stern and unfailingly independent captain would feel, first about fainting and secondly about being carried, bridal style in his vice captain's strong arms. The thought made him chuckle softly, riling the ends of Byakuya's raven black hair and making it tickle his skin.
"Don't worry, Captain. I won't let anyone see you like this."
He headed out of the secluded wooded area and made his way quickly to Kisuke's shop, where the shopkeeper had already prepared several rooms to receive the injured. Kisuke stared in surprise at seeing who he held, and Yoruichi appeared suddenly, wearing a concerned expression.
"What happened?" she asked quickly, "I know there was some serious fighting going on."
"Captain Kuchiki was injured fighting the zanpakutou, Muramasa's master, Kouga. Apparently, Kouga used to be a member of the Kuchiki clan. But he went nuts for some reason years ago and started killing people. Head Captain Yamamotou and Captain's grandfather sealed Kouga away, but Ginrei Kuchiki later told Captain that it was the duty of the Kuchiki clan leader to kill Kouga if he ever got free. He knew that Muramasa would seek to free Kouga, so he acted as though he had betrayed us and stayed close to Muramasa so that he could carry out his duty to kill Kouga."
"And who told you all of this?" asked Kisuke.
"Rukia," answered the redhead, "She heard it directly from Senbonzakura."
"I suspected things weren't as they seemed," said Yoruichi, "But I don't know that everyone will feel the same."
"Well," said Kisuke, "The ones you have to worry about are the councilors of Central 46. Duty or no, Byakuya abandoned his squad in a time of war, and while I am sure that the head captain understands, Central 46 has the final word on what happens to him."
"I know that," said Renji, "And that's why I need you to give us a safe place to go. Not to run away. I know he won't do that...but just someplace he can heal and gather up a little strength before going back to face the music."
Kisuke exchanged glances with Yoruichi, then bit his lip and nodded.
"Okay, Yoruichi will take you to a safe house and you two can stay there until he's recovered enough. But you know that as soon as he's conscious again, he'll be demanding to return to the Seireitei. He's pretty rigid about following the rules, and about accepting punishment when he breaks them."
"Yeah," agreed Renji, "But...given that Central 46 could sentence him to death, he needs to give this some real thought before going back. He needs to have some kind of plan. I'm going to do what I can to make sure he has the time to think it through."
"All right, then," said Kisuke, "I can't go because if they come here looking for him, it will cause suspicion, but Yoruichi will take you to a safe place where Byakuya can heal up some and figure out how he wants to handle this. Just, you be careful, Renji. Right now, you are just 'seeing to your captain's healing.' But if you are too blatant, you could be accused of being an accessory and harboring a fugitive. He is, after all, wanted on suspicion of committing treason."
"I'll be careful," Renji promised, "But can we go now? Staying here too long is going to give the authorities time to issue orders for me to arrest him. And once I get the direct order, I have only three days to appear in the Seireitei with him in my custody. I want to have as much time as possible to prepare for that."
"All right," said Yoruichi, smiling at Renji's concern for his injured captain.
Renji followed her out of the shop and several miles through town to a house near the river that stood, secluded in a stand of trees. They went inside and Renji removed all of Byakuya's clothes, then (blushing furiously and trying not to look) dressed him in a fresh yukata. Yoruichi leaned over the noble, making Renji blush again as she opened Byakuya's yukata to treat his injuries.
"He took some serious hits in the battle with Kouga, but he will be all right," she said, looking relieved, "My main concern is that he taxed his spirit centers by forcing so much power through them all at once. I am restoring his reiatsu, but it has to be done slowly so as not to add damage to his spirit centers. And once that is done, he will need a lot of rest. He won't be up and around for a few days at least. You'll have to watch him carefully to see that he eats and rests well. I have to go back and help with cleanup and healing, but I will make sure that Rukia and Ichigo know where you two are."
"Thanks," said Renji, "Rukia's probably pretty worried about him right now."
"She's probably worried about you, too," Yoruichi chided him, "But I'll make sure that she is reassured. You just take care of our little Byakuya and let us deal with the rest."
"Hey, you know he hates it when you call him that," Renji chuckled, smirking.
"Of course I do," the cat woman said blithely.
He watched her go, then walked the perimeter of the house, carefully setting a privacy shield in place to ward off hell butterflies and to throw off anyone looking for them. Then, he moved on to the kitchen to make tea before returning to the bedroom to sit at his captain's side. Byakuya slept peacefully, a serene look on his face. Renji gazed at him silently, his mind replaying their reunion on the battlefield.
Zabimaru's jagged blade impaled one of the menos surrounding Byakuya and Senbonzakura, then raked the others with its sharp teeth, forcing them away. Renji met Byakuya's eyes, and a smile came to his lips.
"You all right, Captain?" he asked, almost smirking, "The injuries you had were minor. You're not going to tell me you're finished, are you?"
He might have expected an indignant reply, but Byakuya only gazed back at him with guarded eyes.
"Karakura Town has been placed in an area freeze," the redhead went on casually, "We're now able to use our full power."
"Whaddya' mean full power?" asked Chimpette, haughtily, "If you get carried away and make things a mess, we're not going to clean up after you."
"I don't think you want someone with a big butt cleaning up after you, do you, Renji?" asked Snakey, crossing his arms.
"Why do you always have to act like your dumb master!" exclaimed Chimpette, bringing her fist down on top of the snake boy's head.
"Because the fact is, he's a dummy. I can't help it!" Snakey yelled, kicking Chimpette hard in the padded rear.
"Dammit, cut that out already!" complained Renji, "Uh...Captain...There is...something you should know," he went on haltingly, his heart starting to pound oddly as he held Byakuya's still guarded, but more curious gray eyes, "There are a lot of people that...still won't be able to accept your actions. But Captain...to me...you're still my..."
"Renji," Byakuya said, gently interrupting, "Let's go."
He flash stepped away, leaving Renji and his two zanpakutou spirits staring after him.
"That's what you get for trying to play it cool," commented Chimpette.
"You suck!" announced Snakey.
"Just SHUT UP!" Renji snapped, "Come on, now. Let's go!"
He thought back further, to when Byakuya had been in the hospital after being impaled by Gin's blade after Aizen's betrayal.
It just seems like when I really try to share my feelings with him, something always happens. I don't know. Maybe he just isn't interested in connecting that way. I mean...he's my captain, but I keep feeling like I want there to be more. I don't know exactly what it is that I want to have happen. But I know that it hurt inside when he took off like that. I don't even get why I tried to say those things to him. I guess I wanted to smooth things over and to let him know I still trust him, despite everything. I know he must be feeling pretty isolated, knowing that there will be a lot of people who are really angry about what he did. And I just wanted to reassure him that I never stopped believing in him. I never really believed that the captain that I know and love...
Renji's mind slammed on the brakes, screeching furiously and leaving mental skid marks.
What was that?
What did I just say?
I mean, it was a simple figure of speech. I know that. But...when I said that word...love...I felt something inside...hell butterflies...a storm of them inside my stomach. I felt a shiver go through me.
Could I be...attracted to my captain?
Renji gazed down at Byakuya's sleeping face.
I've never had a problem acknowledging that he is a beautiful man. But I have never been stupid enough to kid myself that he would be interested in someone like me. He's...and I'm...but...
His thoughts were interrupted as Byakuya stirred in his sleep, and he made a sound of discomfort.
"Captain?" he queried softly, "You okay?"
Byakuya stood on the shore of a lake that had been frozen, but broken again by the forces of his and Kouga's collision. He walked in very slow steps to the edge of the water, and looked down into the riled, ice dotted surface.
"I must be completely sure," he whispered, looking down.
He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw the shadow of Kouga's body still sinking downward. He knelt at the edge of the water and looked more closely. As he did, he felt a thin blade of fear cut through him.
"Have you forgotten my power already?" Kouga's voice said, suddenly, from out of thin air.
Byakuya came to his feet and looked around in alarm.
"Where are you?" he demanded, "Show yourself!"
"Why would I do that?" Kouga asked calmly, "I can just remain unseen to you and take you down from whichever direction I want. But...maybe I have already hit you with the final blow and I am only keeping you from seeing and feeling it!"
Byakuya stared in horror as the scene in front of his eyes cleared and he found himself looking down at a deep, devastating wound in his chest. He staggered back as Kouga laughed and grabbed him from behind, holding him tightly and talking in an insanely calm voice into his ear.
"Which is the falsehood and which is the truth? Are you alive and I am dead, or did you fail to kill me, and now you are paying the ultimate price? Do you want to know, Kuchiki clan leader? Do you?" he taunted Byakuya.
"Let go of me!" Byakuya hissed, struggling.
"Oh, now look," Kouga admonished him, "You are making yourself bleed out all the faster. I would stop that struggling if I was you. Of course, it only means you would die quietly. And I like to hear the people I kill scream as they die."
"This is not real!" Byakuya gasped, struggling harder, "I know that the battle ended with your death...and Ichigo killed Muramasa!"
"Did he?" asked Kouga, skeptically, "How sure of that are you? And even if you are right about that, it raises another possibility that I wonder if you are ready to face, Byakuya Kuchiki. But I'll leave you with this, for now. I'll save the other torment for later!"
"K-kouga!" Byakuya panted, dropping to his knees as the other man released him.
"I told you that my power was greater than yours, even if your silly zanpakutou did help you to fight. Well, I'm done with you! You can just die together!"
Something struck him forcefully in the back and he fell forward and tumbled, head-first into the icy water. His hands grabbed for the edge, but the ice only broke, and Kouga's hands reached up from below and dragged him down. He watched in disbelief as he sank downward, releasing bubbles of air and feeling the invasion of water into his lungs.
"No!" he cried, his eyes flying open and taking in the sight of Renji sitting next to the bed, staring at him with frightened eyes.
And of their own accord, his arms grabbed the stunned redhead and held him tightly.
"C-captain! Captain, are you all right?" he cried, trying to move so that he could see the noble's pale face.
But Byakuya only buried his face in Renji's shoulder and shivered as reality began to return. He relaxed slowly, swallowing hard as it settled over him that he had, in fact, been dreaming.
But is that really all it was?
Kouga made it sound like he could come back.
But how is that possible?
"Captain...Kuchiki?" Renji said in a trembling voice.
He realized suddenly that he was holding on to Renji and that Renji was holding him as well...with arms that quivered softly with uncertainty.
Byakuya shook his head dismissively and pulled away.
"I am fine," he said shortly.
"Here," said the redhead, "Have a cup of tea, okay?"
Byakuya accepted the tea and looked briefly around the room.
"Where are we?" he asked solemnly.
"A safe house," Renji said, watching as the tea rippled in Byakuya's cup, "Kisuke and I thought it would be best if you heal up a little before going home."
Byakuya regarded Renji with a stern expression.
"You do realize that I am still a fugitive?" he asked softly.
"Y-yeah," said Renji, "But I have probable cause to believe those charges are false, so I am awaiting confirmation of those orders and seeing that you are healed and ready to go back and face the charges against you."
"I see," said the noble, "Renji?"