Chapter 12: Misunderstanding

(Thanks so much to everyone reading and reviewing! Thanks to 'Guest' (LOL, yes, I admit I do have that annoying habit. Unfortunately, with the exception of some top contenders like Learnng to Love Without Sake, some still very good stories don't get as many responses. And although I want to say that it doesn't matter, reviews as well as chapter requests are very motivating to me. So, if there's a chapter you want, request in a PM or if you don't have an account, just leave an anonymous review telling me that you're waiting for a chapter on that story. I will finish all stories. Thanks so much for your review and comments. I think a lot of people are thinking the same things! :) Take care!), IssaHORROR (Here you go!), Toshirofanforever (You've got it, kiddo!), WinterStorm01 (These boys are so silly sometimes, aren't they?), Aria6 (I think Byakuya needs a lesson or two in SUBTLETY and TIMING!), TomyAllen (Yeah, Bya needs to slow down and not scare poor Renji. Heck, these two don't need Aizen to mess things up right now. They are doing quite well at that on their own...Maybe someone should step in and help. I wonder who?), and Renji-Bya-Lover (What will I do with them, you ask? This from the master of keeping them circling...By the way folks, if you haven't already, check out this writer's story The Monkey that Reaches the Moon. I did, and am enjoying it thoroughly!). Enjoy the new chapter!)

Byakuya's heart sank as Renji disappeared out the door at flash step speed. And disappointment warred with self-reproach as he tried to come to terms with what had happened. He had been so sure this time that Renji was the one. For several long moments, he had convinced himself that once he made himself say the words, everything would be all right.

He felt like the worst kind of fool…

He had given Renji too much of the truth at once and had driven him away. He hadn't been astute enough to realize that whatever he might feel for Renji, it wasn't necessarily returned. To Renji, he was just the somber, demanding taichou who told him what to do and had him making tea and chasing hollows all of the time. Renji didn't see him in a romantic way.

"I really should have known," he whispered softly.

He decided suddenly that he couldn't bear it anymore…the lonely white walls, the smell of disinfectants, the sounds of people in pain. He wanted to be at home…in his own bed, curled up and watching the rain fall. He didn't want to think about how stupid he had been to think that the beautiful, fiery young redhead would ever look at him in a loving way. Renji had only seen him as an obstacle from the very beginning. And he had nearly killed Renji. No wonder Renji ran from him.

Renji would die for Rukia or Ichigo or any of his friends, but he didn't have a place like that in his heart for Byakuya…

He put a hand over his healing chest and bit his lips to keep from moaning at how much he was hurting, inside and out. He pushed himself to his feet and stood, then waited for his head to clear before moving on to the closet to find his clothing. He exchanged the yukata he was wearing for a clean shihakushou Rukia had left for him and slipped into the hallway, quietly avoiding the healers as he worked his way to the exit. He turned into the darkened office section and left by way of the back door, then walked slowly along the street towards Kuchiki Manor. He went as far as the sixth division office and felt his heart pounding too hard and his body shaking ominously. Figuring that he could always return to the manor after resting, he entered the empty office and went straight to his quarters without even stopping to make tea. He dropped onto his bed, his healing heart aching with every beat.

He lay for a long time, looking through the window at the rain that poured down in sheets. Eventually, he drifted off into a fitful sleep.

XXXXXXXXXX

Renji was nearly to the entrance to the Rukongai when he realized what he had just done and slid to a stop. He stood, panting softly in the falling rain, hearing Byakuya's voice in his mind.

"The council of elders told me that day…that I had met my soul mate, Renji. My soul mate is the only one who can trigger what is known as the Seirei-Joumae…a linking of spirits that can never be broken, not even by death."

"Fuck…" he breathed, "What's wrong with me?"

The strongest and most beautiful taichou in the Gotei 13, and the man Renji had sought to surpass wanted him…romantically…

He tried to wrap his mind around the idea and couldn't. He tried to picture himself wrapping his arms around Byakuya's slender body…sinking his face into long strands of sakura scented, black hair and feeling the light, beautiful silk of the ginpaku kazahana no uzuginu against his skin…of kissing those sensuous lips that loved teasing him with a sarcastic smirk when he did something stupid…to dip his tongue into the noble's mouth and curl his tongue around the one that issued orders, that used words laced with sarcasm, that sometimes tormented him when Byakuya was drinking tea and used it to brush the excess drops from his lips.

Okay, so maybe he could imagine a few things. But the thing about that, he told himself, was that it was all in his mind, and it usually ended with him saying to himself, "Get your mind out of the gutter, Abarai. He would never consent to do those things with you!"

But all of a sudden, that barrier had disappeared. All of a sudden, those things that he could only imagine before were looming up in front of him and taunting him with their closeness. So it wasn't that being with Byakuya sexually frightened him, it was that even though the words had come from the noble himself, Renji had been terrified to believe them.

Byakuya, beautiful, powerful, untouchable Byakuya ,wanted him. It had to be some kind of joke, some kind of cruel mistake.

The words from their battle were still fresh in his head…how he would always reach for Byakuya, but would never do anything more than to touch his reflection. But now the moon had fallen straight from the sky and into his hands. And being the idiot he was, he had reflexively thrown it down onto the ground and run from it.

Because the moon wasn't supposed to come to him. It was supposed to be out of his reach. It wasn't supposed to reach back for him. It was unexpected, but not, he decided, unwelcome.

He took a few deep breaths and let his heart calm. He shivered as the rain ran in thin trails down his body and realized that he was soaked to the skin and probably looked stupid, standing in the rain and staring into the distance.

But he didn't know what to do…

He thought that his best bet would be to start by apologizing. Because Byakuya had to have been hurt by his reaction. He would probably be angry and want to punish Renji somehow, but after being nearly killed by the noble, he didn't think there was much else that could be that painful. What came after, he didn't know. They would have to figure that out as they went.

"Renji?" said Rukia's voice from behind him, "What are you doing?"

"Ah…Rukia," he stammered, trying to think of something to say.

"Where did you come from? You're as wet as I am?"

"I was returning from Karakura Town. I went to see Urahara-san and the rain started while I was coming back. What about you?"

"I ah…ah…never mind. It's not important. Come on. Let's get out of the rain. The sixth division's close. We can shower and dry off our things there."

Rukia shook her head knowingly, but sighed and followed the redhead back to the sixth division. He was surprised to find the door unlocked and the lights on and made a mental note to kick Rikichi's butt later. He opened the door to his quarters and followed Rukia inside, then shut the door behind them.

"Here," he said, handing her one of his yukatas, "You can wear this until your things are dry."

"Thanks," Rukia said, laughing, "but I think it's going to drag on the ground. You're too tall, baka!"

She disappeared into the bathroom, then opened the door and handed him her wet clothes. Renji accepted them and set them aside, stripping his own wet clothes away and slipping into a dry yukata. He took the wet clothes down to the laundry room and tossed them in the dryer, then flash stepped back to his room. Rukia was done with the shower and laid on his bed, reading.

"What's that?" Renji asked, "What're you reading?"

"Oh…just some things I picked up in the living world. I find it interesting."

"Oh," he said, dropping into a chair.

"So," Rukia said, sitting up, "Why don't you tell me now why you were standing in the rain out near the Rukongai? It isn't the time when we usually go to honor our friends in Inuzuri…"

"No," Renji said, thinking, "It wasn't that. Rukia…something happened…between Taichou and me."

"Hmm?" she said, looking up, "What do you mean 'something happened?' What happened? Did you have a fight?"

"Ah…not exactly."

"Look, I know that Nii-sama didn't help me until the end, but Renji, I don't want you to hold that against him."

"I'm not."

"He was there when it counted and I know things will be different now."

"I said I'm not holding that against him," Renji insisted.

"You're not? Then is it about your battle with him?"

"No…no, it's not."

"Renji, I don't want you to hate him. I know he's made mistakes, but…"

"Rukia, stop, that isn't it!"

"Okay, fine!" she said, exasperated, "Then why don't you stop messing around and just tell me what it is?"

Renji sighed heavily.

"I ah…when I was at the healing center today, Taichou told me something. He told me something…and I didn't believe it. And I kinda lost it and ran out of there. I ran as far as the spot where you found me…and then I stopped and was thinking things through. That's all. I was just thinking about what he said."

"Are you going to keep it to yourself?" Rukia asked sarcastically, "Or are you planning on telling me?"

Renji shook his head.

"It's…really kinda private. I don't know if he would like it if I told you."

"But I can tell you need to talk about it. Renji, we have been friends all our lives. I won't tell Nii-sama whatever you tell me. I promise."

Renji bit his lip, considering.

"Hey," said Rukia, "just go take a hot shower and calm yourself down and when you're done, we can talk, okay?"

Renji hesitated, then let out a long breath.

"Okay."

He turned and retreated into the bathroom. He groaned softly as the hot water chased away the chill inside him and felt the anxiety easing. Breathing in deeply, he let his body relax underneath the hot spray. He thought again about Byakuya's words and felt a soft jolt go through him. He thought about what would happen if he and the noble got past his stupid reaction and actually started to pursue a romantic relationship. He had, of course, seen Byakuya naked before at the hot springs. He knew exactly what the noble's body looked like without any clothes. He knew from healing the noble that his skin was petal soft and he smelled like cherry blossoms. The thought of touching him wasn't unpleasant at all. In fact, it sent another soft jolt through his abdomen and made his cock harden. He smiled to himself, thinking about laying all of that white skin bare and kissing every inch of it. No, that was not unpleasant at all…

What was unpleasant was the fact that he had probably hurt Byakuya by running. He needed to go back to the healing center and apologize. He decided he would go as soon as his clothes were dry. He finished his shower and dried off, then put on his yukata and left the bathroom.

"Took you long enough," Rukia chuckled.

"I was relaxing," he said, snapping his towel at her, "You should try it sometime."

"I relax plenty," she said, "but you won't stay relaxed if you don't talk about this. C'mon, spill. What's up between you and Nii-sama?"

"I'll tell you when I get back from getting our clothes from the laundry room," Renji promised.

"Better yet, I'll go with you," Rukia said, climbing to her feet.

She followed him out the door and into the hallway.

"Look, we'll figure this out," she said, looking up at him, "and don't worry, Nii-sama won't hear about it from me, I promise."

Renji didn't answer. His face had gone white and he was staring across the hall to where Byakuya stood, just outside his quarters, staring at them with an unreadable look in his dark eyes. He took in the words and the sight of the two wearing Renji's yukatas and blinked slowly.

"Nii-sama," Rukia said, looking down at the too large yukata she wore, then back at her brother's face.

He was there one moment, his eyes glinting like chips of ice, then he disappeared in a flash step and they were alone in the hallway.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Oh, my kami," gasped Renji, "Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit! Rukia…tell me that didn't just happen?"

Rukia shivered, remembering what she had seen in her brother's eyes.

"You mean…you and…and Nii-sama…?" she gasped, wide-eyed, "And now he thinks we…?"

Rukia's face went as white as his and her hand flew to her wide open mouth. Renji stood, rooted to the spot and having no idea what to do next.

"I'm dead," he whispered in shock, "He's going to take Senbonzakura and he's going to fucking KILL me this time!"

"You and me both, I think," Rukia said, sounding sick to her stomach, "Even if he wasn't interested in you…to…to think we'd do this…and here of all places…Renji, he has to be furious!"

Renji released a shaky breath.

"Well…you just stay here. I'll find him and talk to him. I don't want you involved in this. If he's pissed, let him take it out on me, okay?"

"Renji!"

"Just…just stay here…please!" Renji said, sensing the noble's direction and flash stepping after him.

Rukia turned to follow, but thought better of it and headed for the laundry room to get her clothes. She was sure she'd face her brother's anger soon enough.

XXXXXXXXXX

Byakuya flash stepped blindly through the rain, forgetting everything but the sight of Rukia and Renji dressed in Renji's nightclothes and coming out of the redhead's quarters. And what Rukia had said!

"Look, we'll figure this out," she said, looking up at him, "and don't worry, Nii-sama won't hear about it from me, I promise."

He knew well enough what she must have been talking about. Renji had been willing to die for her…so it made sense that he would want her. He had probably wanted her all along, but hadn't had the courage to approach her while she was at Byakuya's side. But now that he was fukutaichou level and Rukia had been cleared, the obstacles had been cleared from his path and Renji was free to pursue her.

He couldn't be angry at Renji for wanting to be with Rukia…

It actually made sense…

What didn't make sense was the feeling tearing through him and causing him more pain than having his heart shredded by Gin's blade. He couldn't breathe or speak or even see. He moved without thought, flash stepping to the main senkaimon and breaking into the precipice world. He slowed for a moment, sensible thought invading and stood, wondering what he should do. The sound of a footstep on stone, startled him, and he turned, sensing the approach of a familiar reiatsu.

Of course. I rarely make a move without this person knowing about it.

"Byakuya-sama, you look as though you need a quiet place to go for some privacy."

He looked up at the speaker, a slightly younger noble, with features similar to his own, wide sapphire blue eyes and seated astride a tall, black Arabian stallion with like colored eyes.

"Will you allow me to accompany you?" the young man asked.

Byakuya continued to look up at him quietly for a moment, thinking, then he nodded briefly.

"Thank you, Tetsuya."

"No thanks are necessary, Cousin," said Tetsuya, extending a hand.

He steadied Byakuya as he mounted, then turned the stallion in the direction of Karakura Town. Byakuya slid his arms around his cousin's waist, closing his eyes and trusting the other man to lead them correctly. They emerged from the precipice world, and the stallion delivered them to the steps of a small, private cottage overlooking a pretty, tranquil lake.

They dismounted and went inside, where Byakuya slid into a comfortable chair and watched as Tetsuya lit a fire in the fireplace, then adjourned to the kitchen to make tea. Byakuya looked quietly into the flames, reliving what had happened at the sixth division.

What will happen to us now? he wondered, There is no one else who could have activated the Seirei-Joumae. And if we do not complete our joining, we will become enemies and Aizen Sousuke will bring about the fall of our house.

But what am I to do?

I cannot make Renji love me if his heart is with Rukia.

"Byakuya-sama," said Tetsuya, setting the tea at his cousin's side, "Is there...something that I can do to assist you? You look very troubled."

"Yes, I am," Byakuya admitted softly, "Tetsuya, there is something you can do, something quite important."

Tetsuya looked back at him expectantly.

"You know that the Seirei-Joumae was triggered some time ago and the elders made the assumption that it was triggered by the arrival of Rukia into the family?"

"Yes."

"It was not triggered by Rukia..."

"But by your subordinate, Renji?" Tetsuya queried, "I had been wondering. I wasn't listening to your conversations in the hospital, but that man did seem to have your attention. I thought that it might be that."

"Then, you know that Renji needs to be protected."

"So do you," Tetsuya said solemnly, "If you are asking me to leave you and to go look after him..."

"Leave Arashi to stand guard here, please," Byakuya interrupted, coaxing a look of surprise from the younger man, "You were about to refuse to leave me alone, ne?"

"I was," Tetsuya admitted, loosing a small smile, "But as your request is so sensible, I will go as you have asked. Only tell Arashi if you need me and I will return."

"Very well," Byakuya said gratefully, "Thank you again, Tetsuya."

He watched in silence as Tetsuya left the cottage, then moved to the large, comfortable seat in the small bay window, where he gazed at the moon's reflection in the lake until he fell asleep there. As he slept, the stallion stood in the shadows outside, his eyes that were like his shinigami master's focused steadily on the area around them.