Echoes of Memory
For Seeing Sasha (Thanks for being such an enthusiastic supporter of my work! And double thanks for the lovely Bya/Ren/Tetsuya oneshot gift story. I'm so happy to fulfill a request for you! :) Enjoy!)
Chapter 1: Nightmare
"Thank you for doing this, Renji," Byakuya said, closing the door to the Kuchiki family archive behind them and leading the redhead back out onto the wooden walkway that ran alongside the main wing of Kuchiki Manor, "It would have taken an insufferable amount of time for me to finish all of that research, had you not lent me your assistance. Soutaichou is very concerned about the threat of coming war, and we need every advantage, so time is of the essence."
"Well, it was no problem, Taichou," Renji assured him.
His hand fell to his abdomen and he patted it as he went on.
"Especially after that dinner your staff served us. Seriously, how do you stay so slim with people cooking you gourmet meals and waiting on you, hand and foot all of the time?"
Renji felt an odd little jolt inside as the noble gave him an amused smirk.
He's been loosening up with me a lot, the redhead noted, Ever since we got back from Hueco Mundo, he's been doing stuff like this...ordering dinner for us at the division when we have to work late, going to the officers' hot springs with the rest of the taichous and fukutaichous...and now, asking me to come here and help him out. I mean, it was work, but dinner was great. And we spent a good bit of time talking too. If this was anyone but Kuchiki taichou, I might think that the guy was interested in me...but, Taichou? I don't know...
"It must be all of the bankai training with my fukutaichou," Byakuya commented, leading him down the walkway.
"Right," Renji chuckled, smiling at how much he enjoyed their vigorous training sessions.
Byakuya stopped on the walkway as two attendants approached.
"Torio," Byakuya said, acknowledging them, "Koji."
"Good evening, Byakuya-sama," Torio said, bowing, "We have your evening tea ready, sir."
Byakuya looked up at Renji.
"Will you stay for tea, Renji?" he asked.
"Ah," sighed the redhead, "It's pretty late, Taichou. And I don't know about you, but I am really beat. I can't wait to get home and collapse already."
He flinched at the sudden flash of disappointment in the noble's expression that disappeared as swiftly as it had appeared.
Did I miss something?
"It being so late, why don't you just stay here at the manor tonight? That way, we can have tea and a hot soak to help us wind down."
"Wow, that sounds great, but I don't want to impose. I'll just...see you at work tomorrow. And, thanks, Taichou. Dinner was great."
Byakuya lowered his eyes and nodded.
"I appreciate your help with the research," the noble said again, "Good night, Renji."
"Good night, Taichou."
"Koji, will you see Renji out?"
"Yes, sir," answered the second attendant.
Byakuya watched silently as Koji led Renji back towards the manor entrance, then sighed softly.
"Are you ready for your tea, sir?" he asked.
"Hmmm," Byakuya murmured, non-committally, "In a moment."
He turned away and walked out into the gardens, his eyes straying up to the full moon.
Renji had almost reached the manor gates, when a swift flash step sounded and Rukia appeared suddenly in front of Koji and him.
"Idiot!" she hissed, "What do you think you're doing? Get back there and have tea with my brother!"
"Wha...? Why? What the hell is wrong with you, Rukia?" Renji stammered, "What're you so pissed about? I've just spent the whole day and half the night doing research for the guy. Don't you think he's getting a little tired of me hanging around here?"
"Are you stupid?" Rukia asked, rolling her eyes, "Renji, don't you understand anything?"
"Huh?" the redhead said, scratching his head, "What are you going on about?"
"Oh my kami, you are totally clueless, aren't you?" Rukia asked, looking exasperated, "Don't you get that Byakuya is interested in you?"
Renji's eyes blinked, then widened.
"Wha...? Huh? Really? Taichou is...interested...in me? Really?" the redhead asked, looking flustered, "But..."
"Why do you think he asked you to stay for tea, dummy?" Rukia asked, "And he offered to give you a guest room for the night."
"Hey!" Renji objected, "What the hell are you doing, eavesdropping on us? What's that all about?"
"I was just trying to make sure that my stupid best friend didn't do something dumb and not notice that his taichou was trying to get his attention! Now, get back there and have tea with him before you ruin everything!" Rukia insisted.
"Just get back there!" Rukia said, more loudly.
Rukia went still, her head tilting and her expression going rather suddenly from angry to perplexed.
"Renji," she said softly, "Do you mean that...you aren't interested in Byakuya?"
Renji felt a blush roar across his face and was struck dumb for a moment.
She's right. Taichou has been doing a lot of things lately that should have made me think of such a thing. And the way he looked at me earlier...
"Well...no," he managed, his head spinning oddly at the thought of Byakuya sitting at the table alone under the stars and pretty, full moon, "I didn't say that. But, I mean, Taichou said before that he promised not to break any more clan rules. And you and I both know that him seeing me romantically would be even more of a scandal than Hisana and him, because I'm a peasant and a guy! I don't want to..."
"And I don't want to see my brother spend the rest of his life alone, Renji. I know he loved my sister, and she'll always be in his thoughts. But that doesn't mean that Byakuya shouldn't try to find someone else...or that if someone else is interested in him, that the person should walk away, just because it violates a few rules. I know my brother. He was trying to see what your feelings for him are."
"Great," Renji groaned, "And I just blew him off. Shit...that was stupid."
"Ahem," said Koji, jolting them back to an awareness of his presence, "Abarai-san, please, sir, pardon me for intruding, but..."
"Shoot," said Renji, blushing brightly, "Kinda forgot you were there. You're not going to..."
"Oh," said Koji, "No sir, of course not. It is not my place to interfere. I only meant to tell you that if you wished it, I could escort you back to Byakuya-sama. I am sure that if you have changed your mind about his invitation, he will certainly welcome your company."
Renji took a steadying breath, nervous knots rising in his stomach.
"S-so, you think that Taichou likes me too?" he asked Koji, "I mean, you're around him a lot, so if anyone would know something like that, you would."
"Well, Byakuya-sama is a very private person, and as his attendant, I do not wish to speak out of turn, but I will say that Byakuya-sama's mood does seem to lighten whenever Abarai-san is to visit us."
Renji couldn't quite bite back the smile that found its way onto his lips.
"So you guys both think that Taichou is interested in me, huh? You think that if I go back and accept his invitation, what? He's going to fall into my arms and say, 'I'm yours, Renji!' Because, really, I don't see that happening. I mean, maybe he is interested, but that doesn't mean that he's going to make a move or anything."
"So what if he doesn't," Rukia said, coyly, "That just means that he might be waiting for someone else to make a move, ne?"
Renji held on to his objections for a moment longer, then let out a soft breath of capitulation.
"Oh...fine. You want me to go and make a fool of myself, I guess I'll just go and make a fool of myself. As much as I hate looking like an idiot, I think I'd hate myself even more if he was interested and I didn't at least try to let him know I am too. All right, Koji-san. How about you take me back to Taichou?"
"Well, finally!" Rukia sighed, rolling her eyes again, "I was beginning to wonder if you were going to let him get away."
"Yeah, well, I'd better not just get made a fool of here, because if that happens, I'm coming back to kick your ass all over the place, Kuchiki."
"I don't think that's going to be a problem," Rukia said, winking at him, "Now, get going, before Nii-sama goes to bed and you miss your chance."
"Huh..." Renji huffed, turning back and falling in with Koji, "All right, kid. Take me back...and uh, don't tell him what we talked about, okay?"
"Oh, I won't, Abarai-san!" Koji said enthusiastically, "I think it's wonderful that Byakuya-sama won't be so lonely anymore! And you are much more interesting than those boring girls that the elders are always trying to interest him in."
"Great," laughed Renji, his mind imagining poor Byakuya surrounded by scores of vapid, fainting women, "I'll just try to hold up my end of that..."
He shook his head and chuckled again as Koji led him back down the walkway and out to the garden table. To their surprise, Byakuya was not at the table.
"Torio," Koji called to his brother, as the elder youth came out of one of the bedrooms, "Where is Byakuya-sama? Abarai-san has changed his mind and decided to have tea and stay with us tonight."
"He has?" Torio said, looking pleased, "Very well, Abarai-san, I will have tea made and a room prepared for you, right away. Byakuya-sama will be pleased."
"Hey," said the redhead, "What is this? Does everyone around here know something I don't? How come I'm the last one here to know that Taichou has a crush on me? I mean, I'm with him every day too. What are you guys seeing that I'm not, here?"
"Come, Abarai-san," said Torio, "Byakuya-sama has walked out to his favorite sakura tree to look at the moon. I am sure he will enjoy your company."
"Well, I don't want to intrude if he's..."
"Come, it's fine," Torio laughed, "This way, Abarai-san."
Renji fell in with the youth and proceeded out the back gate of the manor and onto a quiet forest trail. The trail wound through a thick growth of trees and opened up at the top of a low cliff, beside a rushing waterfall. Torio stopped short of the end of the trail and nodded briefly.
"He's over there."
"Thanks, Torio-san," Renji said, nodding.
He took a steadying breath and left the cover of the trees, his heart suddenly pounding and sweat breaking out on his skin.
What am I gonna say to him? Hi, Taichou, I'm in love with you? I don't think so. How do I tell him without looking like a complete idiot? He's this rich, beautiful clan leader and Taichou, and I'm...well...me.
He moved closer, surprised that Byakuya remained turned away from him, his handsome form glowing with moonlight.
I'm surprised he hasn't sensed me. I think my heart's about to bust outta my chest. Kami...I wish I'd had some of that soothing tea now...
He was so close now, that it seemed impossible that Byakuya didn't know he was there. And in fact, the redhead felt a glimmer of uncertainty touch the noble's powerful reiatsu. He stood solemnly with his back to Renji...proud...imposing...
So damned beautiful.
What do I say to you? Because words don't seem enough, you know? I should do something. I should...
Before he quite realized what he was doing, he moved forward. His body alive with shivers of uncertainty, he approached Byakuya from behind, and was almost undone by the lovely scent of sakura that drifted lazily in the air around him. He slid his arms around the noble, praying that the man wouldn't just get mad at him and tell him to keep his dirty, peasant hands to himself.
His knees went weak as Byakuya not only didn't do anything painful to him, nor did he pull away, but he stiffened for just a moment, then relaxed into Renji's arms as the redhead's chin came to rest on his shoulder. Neither said anything at first. Then, finally, when it seemed neither would, Byakuya cleared his throat softly.
"I...thought that you were leaving," he said softly.
"Yeah," said Renji, "Well, I changed my mind."
"You weren't so weary as you thought?" Byakuya mused.
"No," said Renji, "I'm pretty tired, like I said. But...I thought that some moonlight would be a good way to wind down."
"Ah," said the noble, unable to fend off a smile, "So...Renji, why?"
Byakuya's smile widened.
"Why didn't you tell me that you were interested in me?" he asked.
"Why didn't you tell me that you were interested in me?" Renji countered.
Byakuya was quiet for a moment, and Renji admired the way the moonlight reflected in the noble's dark eyes as he turned his head to look at the redhead, resulting in their lips being in close proximity to each other.
"I...wasn't sure what to say," he confessed, "I wasn't sure that you would return my feelings that way."
"So, what about you? Why didn't you say anything?"
"I guess I'm not so good with words. I'm more a man of action."
"Are you?" Byakuya asked, his lips coming achingly close to the redhead's, making Renji's heart skip in his chest.
For a moment, neither man moved. Then, gradually, so slowly that it might have been unintentional, they brought their lips together and kissed, gently, lingeringly, over the noble's shoulder. Byakuya turned in Renji's arms, looking even more lovely as the moonlight lit him from behind. Renji's fingers sank into his hair, and the redhead felt a heady twinge in his loins at being in contact with something so soft and pleasant smelling. They fell into a deeper, open-mouthed kiss, that left both men lightheaded.
"Damn," whispered Renji, looking down into Byakuya's starlit eyes, "What happens now, Taichou?"
His fingers traced the smile on the noble's lips.
Byakuya started to answer, but went quiet as a flash step sounded, and a young man dressed only in a thin, blue sleeping yukata blazed past them, an odd, desperate look in his hazed sapphire eyes. Renji only got a quick glance as the man flash stepped by them and launched himself off the cliff.
"Tetsuya!" Byakuya said in a worried tone.
He let go of Renji and followed the younger man, down off of the low cliff, over the lake below them, and out into the meadow beyond it. The young man continued to move in swift flash steps, racing across the meadow and running headlong into the forested area beyond.
"Tetsuya!" Byakuya cried, "Tetsuya, stop!"
Renji followed on Byakuya's heels, uncertain what was going on, or who the younger man was, but sensing that something was really not right, and wanting to help. They followed the young man through the trees and into the rough country beyond, moving at a dangerously fast pace for such a place.
Renji saw some kind of building loom up in front of them, and was about to ask Byakuya what it was, when the younger man's voice sounded.
"Naoki!" he called desperately, "Naoki, where are you? Naoki!"
Solemn crows that had gathered in the courtyard of the building, squawked in protest as Tetsuya ran through them, his eyes sweeping the courtyard, and his voice sounding again.
"Naoki!" he screamed.
Byakuya reached him and wrapped his arms around the young man, bringing him to his knees on the half-dead grass in the central courtyard.
"What are you doing?" Tetsuya cried, struggling in Byakuya's arms and ignoring his cousin's pleas for him to wake, "Naoki! Naoki! Please!"
A shock of kido jolted Tetsuya's stiffened form, making him collapse into Byakuya's arms. The noble looked down at the now unconscious man's face, his own deeply troubled as he ran his fingers down the slender braid on the left side of his cousin's face and touched a small blue, white and silver clip at the end.
"Tetsuya..." he whispered, seemingly unaware that Renji was still there.
"Is, uh...is he okay, Taichou?" asked the redhead, "Why did he do that?"
Byakuya looked back at Renji, as though just realizing he was there, then looked back at his unconscious cousin.
"He will be all right," the noble said, his tone leaving Renji unconvinced, "I just need to take him home."
He started to lift the young man to carry him back to the manor, but caught his breath softly as Renji took Tetsuya up in his own arms.
"Let me, okay?" he offered.
Byakuya gazed at him quietly for a moment, then nodded.
"Thank you, Renji."
"Sure," said the redhead, starting to walk, "But, do you know why he did that?"
"I am not sure. Tetsuya was once imprisoned in that place. It was...an illegal prison, for those who broke the rules of the clan...especially half-bloods. Tetsuya was born in the prison. His father was my father's first cousin, and his mother was Rukon born. They were both killed, but Tetsuya grew up there. He shared a cell with a boy named Naoki, whom he grew close to. When I discovered the prison and we freed the prisoners, Tetsuya and Naoki were pursued by guards and cornered on a cliff. The guards struck the ledge with kido spells, and Tetsuya and Naoki fell into the river below the cliff. They had no powers...no flash step. Tetsuya's zanpakutou protected him, so he survived, but Naoki was swept away and his reiatsu diminished. I don't think that Tetsuya has ever gotten over the boy's death."
"Shit...so now he dreams about it? He...sleepwalks?"
Byakuya shook his head.
He mourned Naoki and we made a grave here for him. And Tetsuya seemed fairly accepting of his death. But...recently, he has begun to have dreams of Naoki being in pain...of him calling Tetsuya's name. I am...beginning to be very concerned for him. He seems tormented, and I do not know how to help him. In fact...Renji, I am very worried that Tetsuya could be becoming emotionally unbalanced!"