Renji watched in horror as the fourth division squad wheeled Byakuya into the emergency room. The blood had painted his white haori red, and his breathing was shallow, a painful rasp that escaped through his parched lips. His pale face was covered in droplets of sweat, and his silky black hair lay limp, sticking to his wet cheeks. Renji wanted nothing more than to grasp his hands, and brush the wet locks of hair from his face. His heart was thundering against his chest, the anxiety and terror threatening to consume him, burning him to cinders till there was nothing but blackness left. The guilt was gnawing at him, clawing through his heart as Renji slumped on a chair in the waiting room, his face buried in his hands. I should have listened to him, and been more careful. Instead I acted like everything was okay. If anything happens to Byakuya...I will never forgive myself. A lump started forming in his throat as the tears threatened to spill from his almond coloured eyes. He wanted to curl himself into a ball and weep for the man that would have died for his lover's carelessness, yet he knew that he couldn't fall apart in the fourth division barracks.
"Renji," said a soft voice, placing a sturdy hand on his shoulders. Renji lifted his head, and met Ukitake's concerned eyes. "I'm sure Byakuya will pull through. Don't worry about him."
"Rukia...Rukia must know," Renji said hoarsely.
"Yeah, someone went to notify her. She'll be here soon." Renji nodded in response, and gazed listlessly outside the window.
"Unohana is the one that will be treating him, so don't look so glum Renji. Everything will be okay." Renji nodded mutely, the words unable to form in his mouth. He spent the next hour wandering restlessly around the waiting room, his stomach twisted in knots as he waited for Unohana to bring him news of Byakuya. Every time he closed his eyes, he pictured Byakuya's limp body on the stretcher, the blood gushing from his open wound. Renji felt the bile rising in his throat, and nearly hurled as he started imagining the funeral, Byakuya's beautiful body buried beneath mounds of dirt, rotting away for all of eternity.
"Renji!" an anxious voice called out, thankfully interrupting him. "Nii-sama? What happened to him?" Rukia's large round eyes were filled with fear as she rushed towards Renji, looking for answers. "What happened?!" she demanded, frustrated by Renji's lack of response as he continued to stare down at her lifelessly. "Renji!!"
"Your brother was stabbed by somebody when he and Abarai Renji were on their way to my division," replied Ukitake, swooping in to save Renji from having to answer.
"Stabbed?" Rukia asked in disbelief. "By who? Why?"
"Nobody knows the details. He was with Abarai at the time, and when I heard shouts I came out and saw Abarai yelling for help."
"Renji, who was it? Did you see?" asked Rukia earnestly, shaking Renji's arm.
"Uhh..no...I just saw...I saw nothing," gulped Renji.
"What do you mean? You were there weren't you? Right next to nii-sama?"
"Yeah...but it all happened so fast...I...couldn't see the attacker's face," he croaked.
"Byakuya might have seen something," said Ukitake reassuringly.
"But what if...what if it's serious?" asked Rukia, her voice trembling.
This is all my fault. If Rukia loses the only family she has...it's because of me. Renji clenched his fists, repulsed at the idea that he could bring such pain to his childhood friend. His chest tightened, and his eyes started burning from the unshed tears as Byakuya's smiling face swam before his eyes.
"I...I need air," Renji said hoarsely as he staggered outside the fourth division barracks. Once he was outside he sprinted towards the forest, the tears falling from his face. Byakuya was right. We should have ended this. In the end we aren't meant to be together. I'll just end up causing too much pain for him and Rukia. Renji dashed through the forest, ignoring the branches that whipped his face, and snagged at his clothes until finally he collapsed near the trunk of the cherry blossom tree where they first realized their feelings. He was panting heavily, his face damp with tears and sweat, as he clutched his chest and slumped against the trunk of the tree, the tears flowing freely from his eyes. He didn't know how long he stayed in the same position for, but eventually the tears had dried on his face, leaving him with nothing but hollow emptiness inside. Stretching his cramped legs, Renji slowly made his way back to the fourth division barracks, praying that Unohana would be able to save Byakuya. When Renji finally made his way to the visitor's room, he saw Rukia seated near the window sipping on a cup of tea.
"Rukia, have you heard anything yet?"
"Nii-sama's injuries aren't life threatening, but his conditions haven't stabilized yet." A gush of relief swept through Renji as he exhaled the breath of air he was holding in.
"Well that's good right? Will he be okay?" asked Renji anxiously.
"It looks like he will be okay, but I still don't want to leave, not until his conditions have stabilized."
"Okay, I'll stay here with you."
"That's okay Renji, you should get some sleep."
"No, it's fine," said Renji, dismissing Rukia's suggestion. If it weren't for me Byakuya wouldn't even be here.
Rukia was studying him carefully, her violet coloured eyes gazing at him over the rim of her teacup. "Renji, is there something that you aren't telling me?"
Renji looked up startled, "Uh..no...there's nothing," he replied uncertainly. "It's just...I don't understand why anybody would attack the captain," he lied, unable to meet her eyes.
"I don't understand it either," said Rukia, giving him a puzzled look. "I guess we'll find out more, once nii-sama wakes up."
I'm scum...I can't even be truthful towards her. He wanted to scream, "It's my fault that Byakuya could have died. It's because he tried to protect me!" There were so many words that were screaming to be let out, yet Renji sat in stony silence, the words he wanted to say remained unsaid.
Just before dawn broke through the sky, Unohana walked out of the emergency room, a soft smile on her face. "Captain Kuchiki's conditions have stabilized. We will have to keep him for a few more days in order to run some tests, and to make sure that he rests well."
Renji and Rukia both heaved sighs of relief once Unohana had told them the words that they wanted to hear. "Thank you captain Unohana," said Rukia gratefully. "When will we be able to see him?"
"You can see him tomorrow afternoon. Please go home and rest. I know the both of you had a long and anxious day." Bidding her farewell and thanking her once more, Renji and Rukia left the fourth division headquarters and headed off to their separate divisions. The sun had almost risen above the horizon, tinting the sky with lilac and gold as Renji trudged to the sixth division barracks. His red rimmed eyes were burning with exhaustion and Renji had to force himself to stay awake as he stumbled into the kitchen to grab a quick breakfast. He had spent most of the night feeling anxious over Byakuya's condition that he didn't notice how tired he was until he was reassured on Byakuya's state of health.
He was hesitant to reveal any information to the other members of the division regarding the attack, unsure of what he was supposed to say. However, Renji need not have worried about what to say, for rumors started to spread like wildfire, and whispers followed him whenever he walked in the hallway, only to be silenced when he glanced over. While some of the members mustered up their courage and asked him about yesterday's occurrences, most of the members avoided him and continued to whisper amongst themselves. The rumors that were circulating in the sixth division were bound to spread even further, to the other division as well, and Renji dreaded how farfetched they were. "The captain was attacked by a wild ferocious animal that moved with such swiftness that it was impossible to see." "Aizen's minions are attacking one captain at a time." Another rumour which left a foul taste in his mouth was, "The captain was attacked by an envious member of their own squad." Who this "envious" member could be, nobody dared say. Suspicious eyes surveyed him as Renji made his way back to the office carrying a stack Byakuya's paperwork that had to be completed. After all he was the only one that was with Byakuya during the time of the attack, and while he and Byakuya reconciled with one another, everyone else remembered the overly zealous red-head from Rukongai, who had his best friend taken away from him and held such resentment towards the Kuchiki clan. Nobody was likely to forget that detail, not to mention the number of times that Renji had declared that one day he will be strong enough to defeat the captain. Frustrated by the false rumours that were circulating throughout the sixth division, Renji called a short meeting outside to brief the squad on the unfortunate events of yesterday evening.
Clearing his throat nervously in front of the curious crowd Renji unfolded a small slip of paper and started to read, "Captain Kuchiki is currently recovering in the fourth division headquarters and will be back in the office by next week. Unfortunately, we currently have no information on the attacker, and authorities are looking into it." He folded the piece of paper and slipped it into his sleeves, scanning the crowd.
"Didn't you see who attacked him vice captain Abarai," piped a voice from the crowd. "You were right next to him weren't you?"
Renji had prepared himself for this question, knowing that somebody would ask. "I was not able to see the attacker's face as it was hidden. The attacker rushed towards us and by the time we figured out what was going on the captain was stabbed."
"Was anybody else in the vicinity?
"Are there any witnesses apart from yourself and the captain?"
"Why would anybody attack the captain?"
Renji raised his hands signalling for everybody to calm down. Once the murmurs had died down and all eyes were directed at him he spoke, "There were no witnesses apart from us. The captain and I were heading towards the thirteenth division barracks when a figure wearing a hood rushed towards him," Renji lied smoothly. "I understand that everyone is on edge, but please stop spreading false rumours about what happened that evening. As I mentioned previously the authorities are currently investigating the situation. In addition, thanks to captain Unohana, captain Kuchiki is on his way to recovery and will be discharged within a few days." The crowd stirred, as Renji finished his speech, several voices floating into the afternoon sky.
"We won't forgive anybody who dares to mock the sixth division!"
"We need to find out who would attack captain Kuchiki!"
Shouts and cries of encouragement echoed through the sixth division headquarters as the squad was renewed with determination, their shadows of doubt cast aside. Renji sighed mentally, grateful that he didn't have to deal with the accusatory stares, and awkward questions that were surely to follow had he not held this meeting. The rest of the afternoon sailed smoothly, the squad resuming their daily activities as if their captain were present, and the cloud of suspicion that hung around Renji had vanished altogether. He spent most of the day indoors, wanting to finish up on his own paperwork as quickly as possible, and doing whatever he could for Byakuya's pile. The hours crawled by as Renji checked the clock every fifteen minutes, mentally willing time to pass by faster. Despite the massive amount of paperwork he had to deal with, Renji was easily distracted, his mind clouded with thoughts of Byakuya. He wanted nothing more than to rush into his arms, and shower him with kisses, to hold him close and apologize a thousand times over for all the pain he had caused him.
Several hours later, Renji threw down his quill, and stretched his cramped legs. Rising from his desk, he quickly gathered the stack of papers that belonged to his captain and made his way over to Byakuya's office to drop them off. He hurriedly locked the office, and left the sixth division headquarters, walking at a brisk pace towards the fourth division.
His hands were trembling slightly as he burst through the front door and stopped a fourth squad member, "What are captain Kuchiki's conditions? What room is he in? Can I see him?" he demanded.
Hanatarou looked up at Renji smiling nervously, "We ran a few tests, and the results are good. He has been making good progress in the last 24 hours. I'll show you to his room." Renji followed Hanatarou through a long stretch of hallway, his anxiety mounting as he drew closer to Byakuya's room. "Here you go vice captain Abarai," he said as he knocked on the door.
"Excuse me, captain Kuchiki, vice captain Abarai is here to see you," squeaked the young man as he opened the door, allowing Renji to catch his first glimpse of Byakuya since the accident.
Byakuya was propped against a pillow, a soft smile touched his lips as Renji entered the room and plopped himself on Byakuya's bed once he heard the door close behind him. "Renji," said Byakuya, his eyes twinkling with joy as he grasped Renji's hands. "I have missed you."
"I'm so glad you're okay," said Renji, softly kissing Byakuya's fingertips. Byakuya was wearing a pale blue hospital gown, his bandaged torso peeking through the folds of his robes. Renji glanced at Byakuya's chest, his eyes shifting away quickly and looked into Byakuya's vibrant eyes.
"I hope they have been feeding you well."
"Actually, I'm not used to mediocre hospital food," replied Byakuya frowning slightly.
A small smile tugged at the corner of Renji's mouth as he watched the disapproving look on his captain's face. "Has Rukia been here to see you yet?"
"She came earlier today, and even brought some treats," replied Byakuya reaching over to grab a box that was sitting on top of his drawer. "It actually tastes really good, here try one," Byakuya pulled out a strange looking cookie from the box and handed it to Renji who stared at it with amusement.
"Ahhh....this is in the shape of that seaweed ambassador isn't it?"
"Not only that, but it's actually banana flavoured," said Byakuya happily, taking a bite out of the chunky cookie, making sure that the crumbs didn't get on his hospital gown. Renji bit the head of the cookie and to his surprise, his mouth exploded with rich flavours of cinammon, and banana.
"This is really good!"
"Don't sound so surprised Renji," said Byakuya scowling.
"It just...the shape kind of made me a little skeptical," said Renji meekly as Byakuya's scowled deepened.
"Ahhh! But it's delicious!" said Renji nervously wolfing down the last bite of the cookie as Byakuya continued to scowl.
"You look...good...healthy," Renji finished hesitantly.
"I thought you would say that more enthusiastically Renji. What's the matter?"
"It's...it's all my fault," said Renji quietly.
"That's not true. It was my grandfather's fault."
"How do you know that for sure?"
"I saw the Kuchiki emblazon on the sleeve," replied Byakuya sighing heavily.
"Your grandfather is a terrifying man. To want to have someone killed that desperately," said Renji shuddering slightly.
"I just can't believe that Ginrei would go to such lenghts to have us apart. Attacking a vice captain is treason and something that the sixth division squad does not tolerate," finished Byakuya angrily.
"It's because of me...that you are in this state. I was the one that was supposed to have been attacked. Not you! You could have died!"
"But I didn't, and that's what matters," said Byakuya firmly. "It could just as easily been you who died," he added quietly.
"Byakuya...I've been doing some thinking," started Renji slowly. "You were right, we should have ended our relationship that day when you told me your grandfather had found out. I couldn't bear if something happened to you because of my recklessness," he said solemnly.
"So...no pretending...You actually want to end our relationship?" asked Byakuya slowly.
"I think...it would be best, don't you think? If you had died while trying to protect me, I don't know what I would have done. I couldn't live with myself, knowing that you risked your life because of my stubborness"
"Ginrei warned me, and I chose to ignore it. I put you at risk, and I can't have that happening again." said Byakuya quietly tightening his grip on Renji's hands.
Renji gulped, trying to rid the painful lump that was rising in his throat, "I was acting too casual with you. Laughing and punching, telling you jokes which made you laugh too. Before we started seeing each other we never would have acted that way."
Byakuya shook his head, "Don't blame yourself for everything Renji. It was my fault too."
"No...if only I had listened to you from the beginning, then this wouldn't have happened."
Byakuya heaved a frustrated sigh, and ran his fingers through his tangled black hair. "Being born into the Kuchiki clan...is like a curse. Not being able to love whomever I chose to is painful," he said bitterly.
"I'll always be a part of your life as your vice captain Byakuya," said Renji tenderly.
"It's not the same. I want to spend the rest of my life with you openly, without having to hide, and steal kisses under the moonlight."
"But we can't do that Byakuya...We just can't. Not in this lifetime," he replied sadly. Byakuya placed his hand on Renji's cheek, gazing longingly into his eyes.
"I'm so sorry...I should have never agreed to be with you in the first place."
Renji clenched his jaws letting his captain's heartbreaking words sink in. "I...I don't want to be a burden to you, or your family, yet I know that I am. I was the one that came onto you so strongly that first night we trained." He gulped, the muscles in his throat tightening, making it impossible to swallow.
"Renji," said Byakuya huskily, interrupting Renji's thoughts. "You are the first person I have truly ever loved. Before you entered my life, I was aimlessly wandering around unable to feel anything but grief for over 50 years. I have never known a love like yours, a love that burned all my frozen tears, and melted the icy walls I have built inside. You have shown me what true love is, and the memories that I have shared with you under those moonlit nights will be etched into my heart. I will never stop loving you, for as long as I live," Byakuya finished softly his eyes swimming with pain and sorrow as he leaned in and gently kissed Renji on the mouth. Renji cupped Byakuya's face, pouring all his love and tenderness into that one last kiss, allowing himself to get lost one last time in the swirls of passion that embraced them.
"I love you Byakuya," murmured Renji against Byakuya's lips.
"I love you too Renji," he whispered softly, running his fingers against the black patterns on Renji's neck for the last time. Renji and Byakuya leaned in, their foreheads touching one another's, as they interlocked fingers, and continued to hold each other, whispering tender words for the last time.
By the time Renji left the fourth division headquarters, the sun had disappeared behind the horizon, replaced by the dark blanket of night. Gloomy, dark clouds covered the moon, and flashes of lightning lit up the pavement as Renji caught a glimpse of his hunched shadow trudging towards the sixth division. The loneliness he felt was a fresh wound, throbbing with every step that he took, an ache that would eventually dull with time. The fat droplets of rain fell on his face, and Renji welcomed the coolness as it washed away the painful memories of the night. Renji contemplated being transferred to another division, afraid that the pain would be torturous if he had to work in such close proximity with Byakuya. He gently touched his lips, remembering little details about Byakuya; the way his soft raven hair tumbled down his back contrasting beautifully with his pale face, the way his kisses tasted like cherry blossoms, and winter, setting Renji's body on fire, the way his grey eyes would soften when they gazed into Renji's, probing into his soul. Renji felt the muscles in his throat tightening as his eyes started burning with tears. He allowed himself to cry, letting the rain wash away the tears, praying that time would heal the pain. It was a burning pain that ripped at his insides, an open wound swimming with acid, eroding his heart to black dust.
Renji finally stumbled into the sixth division barracks, his eyes glazed over with exhaustion from the emotionally harrowing events of the day. He wearily made his way to his bed chambers, wanting the gentle tendrils of slumber to rock him to sleep, so that for a short few hours he could be free of the throbbing ache in his chest. However, as Renji approached his room he could hear nervous voices in the hallway, and someone pounding on a door. He frowned wondering why there was such a racket at his hour of the night, and turning the corner he realized why. Several members of the sixth division were awakened by the loud hammering noise as they loitered in the hallway rubbing the sleep from their eyes. But what Renji noticed later, made his heart leap in his throat, every in fibre in his body quivering with anxiety, harmonizing perfectly with one another, telling him to RUN. But, it was too late and a pair of cold grey eyes landed on his, the blood in Renji's veins turning to ice as Ginrei slowly sauntered towards him. Two massive guards followed on either side, towering over the previous sixth division captain as they glared menacingly at Renji.
Clearing his throat one of them retrieved a slip of paper from his pocket, and started reading, "Abarai Renji, you are under arrest for the attempted murder of the sixth division captain and head of the Kuchiki clan; Kuchiki Byakuya-sama. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." A pair of thick, muscular hands grabbed Renji's wrists and cuffed them while the onlookers gaped in horror, watching their vice captain get arrested. Renji was struck dumb, the words unable to form on his lips, as his eyes widened in astonishment. The guard shoved him roughly, forcing Renji to walk in front of him, while Renji silently screamed in terror, praying that this was a nightmare or a cruel joke. Yet, as Renji struggled to place one foot in front of the other, his eyes met those of Kuchiki Ginrei's, and Renji knew in an instant that this was no joke. For Ginrei's eyes were narrowed to slits, cruel and cold as they bored into Renji's, promising him that mercy was not his forte.