Dying World

By Spunky0ne

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(Okay, this will have to be the last new story for a while, as I need to get some finished to make room for any more. My muse is going into hibernation as far as new ones are concerned, but she had this latest offering that Spunky absolutely could not ignore. This one taking place in inner worlds, it does not depend on the arc in progress because with how swiftly thought occurs in the brain, the whole story could play out in Bya and Ren's minds in a matter of hours or a few days.

So, here's how it works...Bya and Ren go down in their battle with As Nodt and co. and while they are unconscious, they find their inner worlds have collided. They know they are going to be there until they wake up, or until they die, and they have no idea which will happen. So, they are left to ponder their direction in life and to hold on to each other as their fate is left resting in other hands...)

I hope you like!

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Chapter 1: That Last Moment When Our Eyes Met...

"Welcome Abarai-san," said the dark-eyed greeter, bowing briefly.

"Huh?" Renji replied, looking confused for a moment, "Eh, do we...know each other?"

The elegantly dressed man smiled cordially.

"We have not met in person," he explained, "but Kuchiki-sama did have word sent that you would be arriving shortly to meet him here, and we were to have a table waiting for you."

"But...?"

The greeter chuckled softly.

"He also gave us a general description, although it was hardly necessary, considering how well known you are hereabouts, Abarai-san."

"Ah...heh, right," Renji laughed, blushing slightly, "Sorry, I wasn't thinking. I was a little distracted. I've never been here before."

He looked around briefly, taking in the dark colors and rich decor.

"I apologize for being in my uniform. Kuchiki taichou didn't tell me that..."

"Oh, Abarai-san, not to worry," said the greeter, "Our owner and staff are very proud to serve our military forces. Your uniform is fine attire for our establishment. Now, I am Sato Miki and I will be showing you to the table that Kuchiki-sama has chosen for your meal."

"Eh, thanks," Renji said, still feeling an edge of discomfort at being surrounded by such extravagance.

But it's fucking amazing in here! When Taichou asked me to join him for lunch today, I had no idea that it would be like this. He just gave me the address. When I got here, I wasn't sure I wasn't mistaken. I mean...this place? You have to reserve way in advance. Well...I guess unless your last name happens to command the respect that Taichou's does.

Why did he choose this place?

And what is it that he wants to talk to me about?

Training has been going well...really well. But I hope he's not going to push at me about the taichou's exams again. After all, with the vizards back in the ranks, there aren't any open positions anyway, and...

His mind went suddenly blank as the greeter stopped and indicated one of the tables. Renji stared at the cozy little niche that overlooked an enchanting set of fountains and waterfalls that splashed into a huge koi pond.

"Wow..." he mused, feeling as though the breath had been knocked out of him, "This is..."

This isn't where you would sit with your fukutaichou to talk about troop placements, war strategies, training issues or to bug him to advance.

This...

Is he...?

Renji blinked and realized that the greeter was waiting patiently.

"Um, thanks," he managed, "This is...really great."

The greeter nodded.

"Kuchiki-sama has excellent taste. And high expectations. But then, his fukutaichou would know all about that, ne?"

"Y-yeah, right," Renji chuckled anxiously, sitting down and going silent again as several servers appeared with a variety of appetizers and two glasses of fine sake.

"A message just arrived from Kuchiki-sama," a female server said, setting down the tray she had been carrying and directing the hell butterfly towards Renji.

"Abarai," said Byakuya's deep, relaxed sounding voice, "I will arrive shortly. I am just finishing the meeting with the group in training that is going to be graduating to active duty. Please, make yourself comfortable and order. The staff already knows what to prepare for me. My apologies for keeping you waiting."

And that voice he is using...doesn't sound so much like a commanding officer speaking to his subordinate, but like a guy...a real classy guy apologizing to his date for keeping her waiting.

I've been wondering for a while if...well...if he might be interested in me.

Hoping would probably be the better word. At least, it would be the more honest word.

Yeah, I've been seeing little things that made me wonder...little glances, almost hidden smiles, careful words, small gestures. And when we spar, he has to look into my eyes. I wonder if he's noticed. Because I'm not the most subtle person. And I think I've been giving off some hints too.

What if it's that?

And what if it's not?

He tried the nearest of the appetizers and breathed a long, satisfied sigh at the compelling mix of savory and sweetness.

"Is everything to your liking, sir?" asked the female server who had brought the message, "If you need anything while you are waiting, just ask for Kia."

"Thanks," he said, nodding and taking a sip of sake that just about made his mind disappear into the flavor, "Everything is great."

Oh gods, this place is amazing! I am so damned wrecked. I'll never feel the same about that noodle shop again. Thanks, Taichou.

Oh...damn...really, thanks! he mused, biting into another melting appetizer, Whatever you want, Taichou...better footwork, attention to detail, being on time, taichou exams...fuck, having your baby, consider it done!

He was jolted out of his reverie as a warning rumble passed through the building, knocking over glasses, rattling china and making the surface of the koi pond shiver. Renji was out of his seat instantly, and moving for the exit, bursting out onto the street as blinding pillars of light erupted all around, sending more hard shock waves through the area.

"What th'fuck?" Renji breathed, his heart pounding, "This is...! They are attacking!"

He was already flash stepping towards the pillars as more rumbles went through the area and the Seireitei alarms finally sounded. Screams and worried voices rose up all around him as Renji flash stepped towards where he sensed Squad Six forces were being dispatched.

A short distance away, Byakuya paused in the midst of answering one young intern's question, inhaling sharply as a tremor shook the building.

But the enemy said they would attack in five days...

Still, they are enemies, and not bound to keep their word at that.

His hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword and he rose swiftly.

"Rikichi, show the interns to their quarters and then see to it that the troops stationed here protect those remaining."

"Yes sir!" cried Rikichi, leading the younger shinigamis away.

Byakuya left the sixth division headquarters and reached out with his senses to register Renji's location and heading, then flash stepped at top speed to join him.

Do not do anything rash before I get there. This is not an enemy like any we have seen before. Remember what I told you in the strategy meeting. Assess, protect our troops and hold them off until I arrive.

He heard the Seireitei alarms begin to howl and flash stepped faster.

Renji...

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"Don't run!" screamed a male voice in front of where Renji approached, "We aren't here to protect our own lives. We're here to protect Soul Society! STOP! DON'T RUN AWAY!"

"Holy mother of..." the redhead breathed, coming into horrific view of the battleground, where a lone quincy approached, and a number of sixth division officers hung grotesquely from a group of golden thorns that preceded the enemy.

He looked down at the lone young officer, who stood firm while the others ran, and his hand tightened around Zabimaru. He sent his weapon crashing down between the officer and the quincy.

"Well said," he complimented the young man in a calm voice, "Now fall back and leave this one to me."

"Abarai fukutaichou," the man sighed in relief, his heart in his throat as he backed slowly away, then joined the rest of the group in retreat.

He had only gone a few hundred yards when the sixth division taichou appeared in his path.

"Straight ahead, sir!" he called out, "He ordered us back and..."

"Hold that position," Byakuya said calmly, "And make sure that we are not ambushed while we fight."

"Yes sir!"

Byakuya flash stepped forward, loosing his shikai on the ground as he approached Renji. He sensed a second enemy attacking and shook his head disapprovingly.

"Not on my watch, you don't..."

He sent a flash of petals ahead of him, making a barrier between the second enemy and the dodging redhead.

"You need not try to read his intent, nor waste any pity on him, Renji," he said, frowning, "They came here to stain this place with our blood. They are clearly enemies. Let's crush them."

"Taichou!" Renji exclaimed in mingled dismay and relief.

"These are the enemies who cut down Sasakibe fukutaichou, and who have spilled shinigami blood upon the foundation of our own home, without giving us a hint of notice. There is no need to show them any mercy."

"I wasn't showing mercy..."

Byakuya let out an annoyed breath as one of the enemies advanced.

"Don't move," he warned the quincy, loosing a swirl of petals.

"Taichou, our swords don't seem to work with them," Renji explained.

"Our swords don't work?" Byakuya repeated, narrowing his eyes, "Not true."

Renji watched, wide-eyed as the petal blades slashed the odd quincy's hand and arm easily.

"Wh...?"

"As Nodt, what are you doing, letting yourself get cut by this shinigami trash?" exclaimed the second, huge quincy.

"You had best watch your step as well," Byakuya warned him, smirking as the ground collapsed under him.

The quincy disappeared in a thunder of falling stone and a cloud of dust.

"I crushed the ground there with Senbonzakura, so that any attack would make the ground collapse. Now, it is the two of us against him."

Why don't I feel all that reassured...?

"If my bankai is sealed," Byakuya went on, "defeat him with yours."

"Taichou..."

"According to our intelligence, they have a way to seal our bankai."

"So, we shouldn't use it!" Renji exclaimed.

"This is not the kind of enemy we can afford to hold back on," Byakuya said with a hint of sarcasm, "or haven't you realized? This is why I will use my bankai and we will observe how the seal is placed, then if it is sealed, we will fight together to find the way to break it."

"Right, Taichou," Renji agreed, his heart pounding as he stepped back slightly.

"Bankai," Byakuya breathed, releasing his sword's power, "Senbonzakura Kageyoshi."

The two men watched in surprise and horror as the quincy held up some kind of medallion and the rising power around the noble was stripped and sucked away into the device. Byakuya's jaw tightened, and his hands clenched, and Renji loosed a soft, surprised gasp.

This is not a seal, the noble's sharp mind registered, He stole it...

Behind the frozen taichou, Renji's body tensed.

"No way! Damn it!" he hissed softly.

He stared at Byakuya's back, frozen for a moment, until he saw the quincy take a step forward.

"Ban..."

"STOP!" Byakuya shouted, the unexpected sound of his raised voice shocking Renji into obedience, "You must not let them steal yours too!"

"But..." Renji panted, his body shaking with adrenaline, "then...how are we going to fight them?"

The question was lost as the quincy struck at the stunned noble with one of the golden thorns around him, releasing an explosion of blood and forcing Byakuya back.

"Taichou!" cried Renji, preparing to move forward in the noble's defense.

"Stay back!" Byakuya panted, his hand tightening around Senbonzakura, "It is foolish to attack together an enemy whose power we do not understand. Stand clear and watch my battle. And Renji, you must try to comprehend his ability! If I should..."

"Then, let me draw him out!" Renji insisted.

Byakuya gazed at him quietly for a moment, out of the corner of one dark, pained eye.

"I..." he began, then paused strangely, "do not think you will be able to draw out all of his abilities."

"Argh..." Renji groaned inwardly, "That's probably the truth, but..."

"I will draw him out," the noble went on, a weariness creeping into his tone, "Just stay there and watch carefully."

Damn it! Renji complained in his mind, where Byakuya couldn't hear and get pissed at him for it, I have a really bad feeling about this...

The feeling increased as Byakuya seemed to freeze, and the quincy moved closer.

What are you doing?

Taichou...Taichou is...afraid? How can that be? Those thorns...they cause the ones they pierce to go insane with fear.

But Taichou is strong.

He'll...

He will...!

"Taichou!" Renji screamed as Byakuya shook off the effect and attacked.

His sword isn't working now either!

Shit...shit...shit! He ordered me back, but I can't just stand here and watch him get torn up like that!

Taichou!

He watched in dismay as another thorn pierced the noble through the chest, and Byakuya's legs trembled warningly.

I can feel it now...that fear that's got him near frozen! He's not able to mount an attack or effectively defend!

But he's so damned strong! Surely, he'll...

Renji felt a bolt of pure terror pass through him as Byakuya loosed a scream unlike any he had ever heard from the man. He flash stepped forward, attacking again as the quincy dodged and moved clear. The hand holding the medallion rose, and a feeling of sickness gripped the redhead's body as a deadly ring of pink petal blades formed in the sky over them.

Oh my kami!

His shocked eyes rounded as the petals engulfed Byakuya's body and crashed down, breaking apart the very ground as they struck.

"TAICHOU!" howled Renji, flash stepping forward as the petals dissipated and he spotted the heavily bleeding taichou on his hands and knees on the ground in front of the quincy, "Damn you! How dare you! You aren't worthy of using Senbonzakura!"

He attacked, keeping his sword in shikai, but striking as quickly as he could. Pink petals exploded again from the medallion and Renji dodged several attacking thorns, but reeled as the incoming petals tore at the segments of his zanpakutou.

"Zabimaru!" he shouted.

Everything seemed to slow to an agonizing crawl as behind the quincy, Byakuya forced himself onto his feet. His shikai release of petals flew at the quincy, but was cut apart as As Nodt's head turned, and he glared at the injured noble.

Renji's mind went into a haze of disbelief as a fresh wave of petals closed on Byakuya and their eyes met one last time. Just beneath the raking pain was a small glimmer of relief that Renji was still there.

Go Renji!

Take back what you have learned of him. You cannot save me, but you can save yourself and others, using what you have learned.

Go now, before...!

He disappeared into a storm of petal blades that crashed down on him again. Then more flew at him, sweeping him off his feet and backwards to crash into the wall behind him.

"Stop!" Renji screamed, as Byakuya slowly disappeared, "STOP! STOP! BAN..."

He never saw the huge fist of the second quincy that blindsided him, crushing the bones on one side of his body as it sent him tumbling away to slam down onto a pile of broken wreckage.

"T-tai...chou..." he managed weakly as the darkness wrapped around him, "By...aku...ya!"

Please don't die!

Please don't die!

For kami's sake, it can't end like this for us!

Taichou...please...

Please don't...

...die...

(A/N** Next chapter...Renji's entrance into a crumbling inner world! I know most of this chapter was what happened in episodes 501 and 502, but I tried to give more of Renji's viewpoint and added more about what was taking place right before. All of that will play into what happens next. From here on out, the story will be focused on just the two of them, with some dream interactions and memories...maybe a bit on what's going on around them, here or there. But I want to keep this between the two as they contend with the fact that Byakuya is dying and his inner world is slowly coming apart.)