One Day to Say I Love You

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Chapter 1: Prayer for the Lost

The entry guards at the gates to Kuchiki Manor nodded briefly in greeting as Renji Abarai approached them, then was waved through without hesitation. He smiled as Tetsuya Kuchiki stepped onto the walkway ahead of him, and moved forward, extending a hand in greeting.

"Captain Abarai," the noble said solemnly, "Welcome."

Renji smiled, albeit a bit sadly at Tetsuya, unable to miss the newly crafted serpentine kenseiken that decorated the young man's wavy black hair, the sadness beneath the usually lively blue eyes and the newly crafted pale blue silken scarf that graced his friend's slender shoulders.

It seemed strange for Tetsuya to be so formal with him, but then, as the recently elected leader of the Kuchiki Clan, the young man had, Renji thought, some very large shoes to fill.

"How is Rukia?" Renji asked, as Tetsuya turned back and led him towards the gardens.

Tetsuya considered the question for a moment, breathing in the sweet scents of the flowers as they made their way down the wooden walkway.

"As well as can be expected, I suppose," he answered finally, "She goes to visit them every day. She tries to bury herself in her work at the thirteenth, but it is very difficult for her...losing her brother as she did."

Renji paused as they reached the end of the walkway.

"And how about you?" the redhead asked, "You handling those stuffy old men okay? If they're annoying you, I can go and kick them around a little."

Tetsuya managed a soft chuckle and his eyes cheered slightly.

"I am fine, Renji. Byakuya prepared me well for this. It is a fact that many of the heads of our clan died young. It is only that Byakuya was the most powerful leader in our history that made it strange. But then, everything about that day was strange."

"Yeah," agreed the redhead, "Everything."

Tetsuya took a soft breath and nodded in the direction of the back gate.

"Go on, then," he said quietly, "I will have tea with you, here in the gardens when you return."

"Sure thing," Renji agreed, stepping down off of the walkway and leaving the young clan leader behind.

He walked slowly through the gardens, still hearing the echoes of his late captain's voice in his mind, replaying the numerous times he had stood in these same gardens, surrounded by blooming flowers, large koi ponds and sakura and plum trees, breathing in the sweet air and feeling the same warmth of the sun.

But somehow the sun just couldn't fill him with the same warmth as it had before.

It's never going to be the same again. I'll never hear that voice again, just echoes in my memory. I'll never see his beautiful face, looking so intent as he works just across the room from me. I won't feel that strong reiatsu, that felt like it could eat me alive. And I'll never feel those pretty pink blades cut into my flesh while we spar. All of that is gone.

If I say that to myself enough times, will it finally begin to sink in that it's real?

He came to a fork in the trail and turned left towards the barn and the family cemetery. A few steps later, he heard the sound of equine hooves on the path and felt a touch on his shoulder. It felt good to be able to yield a smile to the tall, black Arabian stallion as he turned.

"Hey there, Fleabag," he greeted Tetsuya's horse, "What're you doing sneaking up on people? Up to no good, eh?"

Arashi let out a huff of sweet, hay-scented breath and nipped the hair tie out of his hair and watching in amusement as the redhead's long mane tumbled down in a crimson heap onto his shoulders and back.

"Baka!" he said reproachfully, reaching out to take it back.

Arashi snorted and raised his head high in the air, holding the hair tie out of Renji's reach.

"Hey, quit that, will you?" Renji complained, "I'm not in the mood to play right now."

The stallion made a sound of annoyance and tossed his head, releasing the hair tie and watching as it flew upward, then fluttered down and snagged up in the high branches of a sakura tree.

"Nice move, dumbass," Renji muttered, shaking his head, "Get outta here, okay? I'm just here to see Byakuya."

He paused a moment, biting at his lips.

"I'm here to visit Byakuya," he corrected himself, "Go and pick on your master."

Arashi's sapphire eyes softened and he let out a more sympathetic nicker. Renji sank the fingers of one hand into the horse's silken mane and couldn't help but feel a bit better as the stallion brushed his soft muzzle against the redhead's cheek.

"Oh no, kissing up to me won't get you anywhere," he said half-heartedly, "Scram, you. I've got stuff to do."

Arashi nodded and nudged him, then turned and trotted back in the direction of the barn. Renji chuckled to himself, glad for the brief respite from the dark feelings, and then continued on his way.

The trail wound through several groves of sakura, peach and plum before coming to an end at the verdant expanse of the family cemetery. Renji opened the gate and passed through, closing it behind him. He walked slowly across the grass to a freshly erected, black granite headstone that bore his late captain's name, and the dates of his birth and death. He whispered the elegantly styled inscription, instantly liking the words that Tetsuya had chosen.

"Even if I scatter, never to bloom again, I scatter like a flame. Beautifully."

He bowed his head and closed his eyes.

"Hi Captain," he began, then he paused as the wind caught his haori, making it billow softly in the breeze, "Well, maybe you're not technically my captain anymore, but that's how I'll always think of you. Things are going okay, over at the sixth. We lost a lot of guys in the war, but there are some new recruits coming in that are looking real good. Rikichi came through things very well. He's my vice captain."

Renji chuckled softly.

"He still can't manage the hell butterflies for shit, but he's good in a fight. He does a lot of stuff I remember you teaching the guys at the division. He really looked up to you. I mean, I may have been his idol, and maybe I still am, but you were the one who actually taught the kid something. And what you taught the guys helped a lot of them to survive. So don't feel bad about what happened that last day. We were really screwed over. We went into that fight with As Nodt with bad information that was just bad enough to get you killed. But...ah...I got him. Thanks to the Royal Guard, I got some help and fixed my bankai After we figured out the medallions, I took him on."

He smiled as he heard Byakuya's voice sound in his mind.

"Yeah, yeah, I took Rikichi as backup. Rukia assisted too, but don't worry. I watched out for her. I wasn't going to let her get hurt. Death wouldn't be enough to keep you from killing me if I let anything happen to her, right?"

He felt tears rise in his eyes and sniffed softly.

"Captain, there's...something I need to tell you. It's something that I wanted to tell you for a long time, but I couldn't. It seems stupid now, but I didn't want to make waves, you know? You wanted to avoid breaking the rules of your clan again, and I didn't have the heart to put you between me and them. But, I guess it's safe to say the words now."

He paused and brushed several tears off of his cheeks.

"I...I wanted to tell you that...I love you, Captain," he said, the last words ending in a soft sob, "I should have said something sooner, maybe, but...I didn't think it was right. Now, I don't know what to think. It feels awful, thinking of what we missed because I was too scared to tell you. And...if I had just one more day, I would do things so different! It might not save your life, but it would have given us that time together. I mean, if you could have loved me back, it would have been so beautiful to love you, even if we had to keep that love a secret. I can't take it back now. I would if I could. And even if it was just for one more day, I would fill that day with everything we missed. And I couldn't have regrets after that. I love you. I really do love you. And I wish with all of my heart that you could hear me say that, just this once."

He went on, barely aware of what words he said next, only registering the last words of parting and a final confession of love.

Renji sucked in a surprised breath and stared as a warm hand touched his shoulder and turned him slowly around.

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"What are you doing?" the soul king asked, his strange eyes sending a chill through Byakuya as he leaned forward and turned off the viewing screen he had been watching.

"I am sorry," the noble said, bowing his head and closing his eyes, "I know it is wrong, but he was...special to me."

The king smiled, sliding onto the large bed and coaxing Byakuya into his arms. The raven-haired man tried not to flinch as they wrapped around him and the king's cool lips touched his throat.

"I am...trying to adjust, but it is difficult."

"I know," said the king, "I did not expect that your transition would be easy, and I am pleased at your heartfelt attempt to move forward. But you should not feel guilt over missing what you had to leave behind. Although, I must admit that I find it odd that you seem to miss your vice captain as much as you miss your own sister."

"You know that Renji was more than a vice captain to me. I loved him."

"But you never told him that," whispered the king.

"It would have been wrong," Byakuya said softly, "I promised to obey the rules of my family and to yield to the will of my king. That is my duty, however difficult it may be."

"Yes," said the king, claiming Byakuya's lips for a long, gentle kiss, "You are a very dedicated servant."

He slid a hand down the open front of Byakuya's white, silken yukata, caressing his privates for a moment, then seeking his recently plundered entrance.

"And soon, you will give your king the greatest of gifts. But...as you have been so gracious and obedient, despite having to give up everything to serve me, perhaps I can offer you something in return. What would you ask of me, Byakuya?"

Unexpectedly, the viewing screen flicked on behind the noble and Renji's voice issued softly from the speaker, the words making his former captain's fill with tears.

"I...I wanted to tell you that...I love you, Captain," he said, the last words ending in a soft sob, "I should have said something sooner, maybe, but...I didn't think it was right. Now, I don't know what to think. It feels awful, thinking of what we missed because I was too scared to tell you. And...if I had just one more day, I would do things so different! It might not save your life, but it would have given us that time together. I mean, if you could have loved me back, it would have been so beautiful to love you, even if we had to keep that love a secret. I can't take it back now. I would if I could. And even if it was just for one more day, I would fill that day with everything we missed. And I couldn't have regrets after that. I love you. I really do love you. And I wish with all of my heart that you could hear me say that, just this once."

The soul king smiled, sending a jolt of surprise through the noble.

"What a lovely sentiment," the monarch said kindly.

"My apologies," Byakuya said quickly, "I...wasn't aware that Renji returned my feelings."

He turned to look where Renji's image had frozen upon the screen.

"He is right about one thing," the noble went on, "We wasted an opportunity, worrying about what now seem like trivial things. In the face of true love, minor rule breaking no longer seems like the right reason to abstain from it."

"I agree," said the king, surprising Byakuya again, "But do not despair, Byakuya. I have tremendous powers, and I am in your debt for the gift you will give me."

The king's fingers stroked one damp, pale cheek as he considered.

"Go then," he said softly, the words sending an odd shiver down the noble's spine.

"Gomen nasai?" Byakuya said uncertainly.

"I want you to return to the man you love," said the king, "Spend twenty-four hours with him, however you will, and then return to me."

"M-my lord?"

"Yes, I meant that you may do anything, Byakuya. You have my permission. Go on."

"But..."

"You wonder at my generosity in allowing you to be unfaithful, now that we are wed? It is not so hard to understand. I required you to give up everything to come here and serve me. But...in doing so, I did not give you time for proper closure. So, I will give you that time now. Go, my love. Go to Renji Abarai and make things right...so that both he and you will then move on."

Byakuya stared at the monarch for a moment longer, then felt things go strangely hazy around him. He felt the sensation of falling, and closed his eyes tightly, quivering inwardly at the frightening feeling. The motion stopped suddenly, and he found himself standing on the trail, just outside the Kuchiki family cemetery. His heart skipped painfully as his eyes found Renji standing at his graveside, tears streaming down his face.

Listen carefully, the king's voice said in his mind, You have but twenty-four hours to spend with that man. Use the time wisely. Do not tell him where you have been, or how you came to return. Only speak your love for him and let things take their course. No one but Renji Abarai will be able to see or sense you. You will exist only to that man. And when the given time ends, you will be brought back to me, and you will let this be the end of your reflections on the past.

Byakuya shivered as a breath of sakura touched his senses, and as a few stray petals tickled his skin. He swallowed hard and moved forward, slowly opening the cemetery gate and stepping inside. He closed the gate quietly and proceeded slowly across the grass, his eyes on Renji's back, and his long, unbound hair that flowed beautifully on the breezes.

I don't know what to say.

So, he listened, instead, hanging on every word as the redhead continued.

"I'm gonna take care of the people that mattered to you...Rukia, Tetsuya, the guys at the division. I'll watch out for them, the way you would. It's no burden to me. I love them too. Look, I don't know if I'll be able to come back here again. This is...really hard, and I know that you wouldn't want me to dwell on things too much. I have to let go. But don't forget...never forget...how much...I love you!"

Unable to stop himself, Byakuya reached out with one slender hand and brought it to rest on Renji's shoulder.

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"Well," said Gin, smiling at the soul king, "That worked out well for you, didn't it? Just as you thought, Byakuya revealed him to you."

"I never had a doubt that he would," said the monarch, "Byakuya is devoted to his king. That man will do anything for me, even die."

"Only as long as he doesn't see through the illusions. As long as Renji Abarai doesn't."

"Neither of them will 'see through' anything, until it is too late."

"Oh, you're not going to kill them, are you? After all they are doing for you, Sousuke? That's not very nice."

"Be careful of your words, Gin," the king warned him, "I revived you when you were about to die. I saved you. I can undo that at any time."

"Yes, but you so enjoy my humor."

"I do," agreed Aizen, "Levity is a good thing. Otherwise, things become too dreary."

"Hmmm," muttered Gin, "So, what happens now? Byakuya revealed the hidden heir, so..."

"So, now they will make a child together. And Byakuya will bring that child back to me. When he is born, I will devour him, and once I do, the line of kings will become a part of me. I will be able to use all of the royal powers. I won't need illusion anymore. It will all be a reality!"

"But what if Renji Abarai gets wise to what you have done? What then? He could find out who he is and..."

"No," said Aizen, his eyes glinting softly, "Renji isn't going to be a problem...because as soon as Byakuya leaves Soul Society to return to me, Renji Abarai is going to die. He will never even know what killed him."