The icy numbness enclosed Renji's being, every pore in his body filled with burning ice as Renji sat in his dank cell shivering despite the humid summer morning. A slice of moldy bread, and a jug of water remained untouched throughout the night as Renji sat on his hard bed, his hands wrapped around his knees, rocking back and forth slowly. After being thrown into his cell, Renji screamed, begging to be let out, kicking the guards, and receiving a bloody nose in return. His screams of terror went unheard throughout the night, until his voice became hoarse, and Renji slumped on to the bed, unable to feel anything. He wasn't sure how Byakuya would sort out this mess, but after convincing himself that this was a ridiculous misunderstanding Renji was able to calm himself down, until the numbness overtook his consciousness and there was nothing left to feel.
The clank of keys on metal startled Renji as he looked up blearily at the guard opening his cell. "Umm vice captain Abarai," said the man hesitantly, "You haven't touched your food." Renji gave him a blank stare, his lifeless brown eyes gazing at the guard with indifference. The guard slowly entered the room to replenish a fresh jug of water, and bring him a piece of stale bread. Once he had locked the door, and the jangling of keys faded away, Renji bolted towards the floor, and wolfed down the piece of hard bread, taking large gulps from the jug, until neither a single drop nor a crumb was left. He was famished even after his morning breakfast, and while his eyelids begged for relief, Renji was not able to sleep no matter how long he closed his eyes for. Renji was treated like a criminal, given bread and water twice a day, and allowed to use the bathroom three times a day while two guards escorted him.
This is what I get for falling in love...For falling in love, I'm thrown in jail and beaten to a bloody pulp, my honour as vice captain tarnished, nobody here to turn to. Time crawled as Renji shielded himself from the thin stream of sunlight pouring through the bars in his windows. He refused to get up from off the floor, and curled himself into a ball, watching a black spider spinning a web in a corner of the ceiling. Eventually he dozed off to sleep, only to be plagued with haunting nightmares of Byakuya's death, and waking up silently screaming, his body shivering violently as the droplets of sweat trickled down his body. He wanted to weep in Byakuya's arms, yet the tears had shriveled up, the droplets evaporating from his heart once he had let the numbness inside, letting it envelop him in a blanket of nothingness.
After what seemed like hours Renji once again heard the jangling of key, yet he refused to turn around, not wanting to see his own squad members shifting their pity filled eyes away from him. "Vice captain Abarai, you have a visitor," said the guard. Renji's heart leapt to his throat, "Bya," he whispered, his eyes shimmering with hope as he turned around. He gaped in horror, as reality crashed, knocking the wind out of him as he gazed into the malicious eyes Kuchiki Ginrei.
"Abarai Renji...You are looking quite well," said Ginrei smirking slightly. Renji gulped, the rage bubbling in his veins as he glared stonily at Ginrei. "Are they feeding you well?" he asked, his eyes glinting with amusement. Renji remained silent, unwilling to give Ginrei the satisfaction that he wanted. "Tell me, why did you try to kill my grandson? Are you jealous of his wealth? His strength? His power? All three perhaps? Or...is it because he stole the only family you ever had?" asked Ginrei whispering the last sentence spitefully.
"You...You," croaked Renji, trembling with fury.
"Me? I'm sorry, me what? I don't understand you illiterate people from Rukongai. Speak coherently will you? I can't possibly for the life of me fathom how my grandson accepted you as his vice captain," replied Ginrei, flecking an invisible speck of dust from his immaculate clothes.
"You!" shrieked Renji, as he ran towards Ginrei, rattling the bars, his eyes burning with rage. "You framed me! You tried to kill me, and then framed me!"
"I don't understand, nobody tried to kill you. It was you who tried to kill my grandson," replied Ginrei coldly. "Listen to me very carefully Abarai Renji," he spat. "If you quietly admit that you tried to kill your captain, then I will make sure that you receive a lighter sentence than what will originally occur. I will make sure to have your title stripped, and you will be banished to the real world where you can continue living your measly worthless life amongst the humans."
"Never. Never will I agree to those false pretenses!" Renji snarled. "Byakuya...Byakuya will find a way to stop you! He will unearth the truth and you will be the one who rots in jail."
"Ho...so familiar with him that you are on a first name basis I see. Listen you piece of filth, my grandson will not be caught fornicating with another man. Do you understand me? He is the head of the greatest noble house in all of Seireitei, and his duty is to lead our house, and eventually produce an heir for the Kuchiki clan. You," said Ginrei prodding Renji's chest through the thick bars, "Are in the way. I have already warned Byakuya to end this revolting relationship. I gave him nearly two weeks to sort out his affairs, and yet one of my spies caught you two laughing and playfully punching each other on your evening stroll."
"It wasn't his fault!" cried Renji desperately. "He did come to me, the morning after he spoke with you, and insisted that we stop seeing each other. It...it was my fault, I was persistent," he finished quietly.
"And that is exactly why I need to erase your existence," whispered Ginrei leaning in till Renji could feel the heat of his breath. "I didn't intend to kill you, only to scare you so that you would stay away from my grandson. My spy was to make sure that your vital spots were not hit, yet my idiot of a grandson decided that you were worth protecting," he whispered softly. "I thought that after Byakuya was hospitalized, you would end this madness. Yet...a little bird told me that they saw you two, doing unspeakable things in the fourth division barracks."
Renji's eyes widened in bewilderment, his lips hanging apart unable to fathom how someone could have seen them, "We...we were saying goodbye. We agreed that after that night...we wouldn't see each other. I...I didn't want him to put his life at risk because of my selfishness," Renji finished quietly.
"It's too late...You should have listened to Byakuya, and ended it when he told you to. You should have requested to be transferred to another division, and then you wouldn't be here, and he wouldn't have gotten injured. He could have died, because of you. Do you think you could live with yourself if he died? Your lover dying because of your selfishness?" asked Ginrei, his eyes glinting.
Renji was struck dumb unable to retort back, and lowered his eyes to the floor. "That's what I thought," said Ginrei. "Your trial is in a week, and you will be brought in front of Central 46 where you will be judged in the eyes of the law as a criminal should be. If you admit that you were the one who attacked captain Kuchiki, then I will make sure that you are not held in the underground prisons, but will continue to live in the real world amongst the humans after having your title stripped."
"You have no say in how the members of central 46 judge me," replied Renji in a hard voice, squaring his jaw.
"You mongrel, what do you know about the inner workings of the law? A good for nothing street dog who wormed his way into Seireitei cannot be expected to know how such things work. I have lived a very long time boy, and due to my noble lineage I have some connections with a few members of central 46. Do as you're told and you will be released. Disobey my orders, and I will not hesitate to have you imprisoned for life or executed."
"Executed!" snorted Renji, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. "I highly doubt you have the ability to sway their decision that the majority of them decide to execute me."
"You know nothing Abarai Renji," whispered Ginrei threateningly. "I have wasted enough time in this filthy place. You have one week to decide whether you will agree to my terms. If by the end of the week you decide to go along with your warped version of the truth, I will make sure that you are sorry Abarai Renji," finished Ginrei, his grey eyes gleaming cruelly.
"One more thing, before you leave. Tell me how, how did you present enough evidence to warrant for my arrest?"
"Why it was fairly simple Abarai. Your fingerprints were found all over the murder weapon. And what did I tell you before, I have connections all over Seiretei. It wasn't hard for me to get you arrested."
"Byakuya will stop this madness. He knows what you're up to, and everybody knows that I wouldn't dare hurt the captain!"
"Ohh, so you really think that everybody is on your side do you? Soul society is in a state of unrest now that you have been arrested as a primary suspect in the attack against Kuchiki Byakuya. There are some that are convinced it was you all along, and they knew from the beginning but were too afraid to voice the truth. You made it no secret that you wanted to surpass Byakuya."
"That doesn't mean I wanted him killed!" cried Renji, disbelief washing over him as Ginrei's words echoed painfully in his ears.
"Byakuya can't do anything. There were no witnesses present at the time of the attack, and your prints were found on the weapon. Just yours. I will have a little chat with my grandson today. If he tries to get you out of this prison by trying to prove your innocence, mark my words I will have you executed. My pathetic grandson wouldn't do anything to put your life at risk and will go along with whatever I tell him to. And that means that he will agree to my terms, the terms that I laid out to you previously; After Rukia was taken away from you, you were driven by a thirst for vengeance and made it your life's ambition to get closer to captain Kuchiki in order to have him killed."
"I will never agree to such false pretenses. I already made myself clear," glared Renji.
"Then...you have a few more days left of your life," sneered Ginrei.
"I don't believe I will be executed. I may be kept in the underground prison for a few decades or maybe even a few centuries, but I would rather go to jail for a thousand years rather than lie, and be banished to the human world! I would never do anything to hurt the captain, and I have faith in him. I know that he will find a way to prove my innocence," said Renji stubbornly, his eyes boring into Ginrei's.
"We shall see about that Abarai Renji," threatened Ginrei. "A good day to you." He turned around and briskly walked towards the entrance, his two guards towering next to him.
Renji's legs gave away, and he slumped onto the floor burying his face in his hands, unable to stop the trembling. The numbness in his body had vanished replaced by sheer terror, as Ginrei's words echoed in his mind, his voice sending waves of chills down Renji's spine.
I...don't want to die. Why am I being punished so cruelly for loving another human being? Renji pondered the two choices Ginrei had laid out for him; truth meant death and lying meant living. He knew that he would never be able to live with himself if he lied. To continue a life in the real world, leaving Byakuya, Rukia, the sixth division squad, and all his friends behind, while some of them thought him a criminal was unthinkable. Even if most of them thought he was a criminal, as long as Byakuya and Rukia knew the truth Renji would rather leave this world knowing that his heart did not waver and he had lived his life as honestly as possible. Renji desperately wished he could see his captain, or even Rukia, a welcoming face from the Kuchiki clan to put his troubled mind at ease. He prayed that Byakuya would find some way to prove his innocence, and clear this horrendous misunderstanding. Renji didn't like the mounting feeling of anxiety that burrowed itself in his heart, eating away at the hope he had been harbouring deep down inside. He spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the night tossing, and turning unable to close his eyes. A thin sliver of moonlight streamed through his bared window casting gloomy dark shadows, making Renji feel more lonesome than he had every felt growing up in the streets of Rukongai. Squeezing his eyes shut, he pictured Byakuya's beautiful lips whispering soothing words and kissing him tenderly while Renji lay in the comfort of his arms under the moonlight.
Meanwhile outside the prison walls, Seireitei was unsettled by vice captain Abarai's arrest. Whenever Rukia or Byakuya walked by hushed voices followed them, and curious eyes looked away quickly. Byakuya clenched his fists as he walked towards his office in the sixth division barracks, glaring at anybody who dared look him the eye. The outrageous rumours that were circulating left a nasty taste in his mouth as Byakuya caught snatches of conversations when he passed by a huddle of people. Most of the members of the sixth division as well as the other divisions were highly suspicious of Renji, unsure of what to believe. Word had gotten out that his fingerprints were the only prints apart from Byakuya's that were found on the knife. In addition many remember that Renji's lifelong ambition was to become as strong as Kuchiki Byakuya so he would be able to stand on equal footing and be worthy enough to resume his friendship with Rukia. According to the snippets that Byakuya eavesdropped on, some weren't surprised that Renji harboured such resentment towards the Kuchiki clan and would do anything to "even the score" so to speak. Byakuya was livid at his grandfather for having Renji arrested due to his personal vendetta and wanted to get Renji out of that foul place and clear his name as quickly as possible.
That evening instead of staying at the sixth division barracks, Byakuya made his way to the Kuchiki estate to have a word with his grandfather. He was greeted at the entrance by one of the Kuchiki servants, and as usual barely glanced at them as he made his way over to his grandfather's chambers. With every step he took, he became more irritable as he thought of having to iron out the details of Renji's trail with his grandfather. Byakuya knocked sharply on the door, and entered without waiting for a response.
"Good evening Byakuya. I was expecting you," said Ginrei. He was seated on an elegantly embodied maroon cushion, reading the paper. "It seems Abarai Renji has made the front page. He looks positively ghastly in this photograph. I can't for the life of me figure out why you are so obsessed with his man." Ginrei threw the paper across the table, and Byakuya caught a glimpse of a haggard looking man with dull red hair pulled into a messy ponytail. He gritted his teeth, the anger blazing in his silver eyes as he glared down at Ginrei silently cursing the man who had caused Renji to suffer so much.
"Ginrei," started Byakuya. "What is the meaning of having an innocent man thrown in jail?"
"You insolent child, you will address me by my appropriate title," remarked Ginrei rising from his cushion.
"Grandfather," corrected Byakuya stiffly. "You have arrested an innocent man without sufficient evidence."
"There is enough evidence to warrant his arrest Byakuya. At the time of your attack he has no alibi to account for. In addition, he was with you at the time of the attack, and no other witnesses were present. Most importantly his fingerprints were found on the weapon in addition to yours. Unless you are saying that you drove that knife through your own heart, I believe that all the evidence points to Abarai Renji."
"You are fully aware that it was one of your minions who tried to attack Renji," retorted Byakuya his grey eyes burning into Ginrei's.
"I warned you, yet you chose to ignore me. Had you obeyed me and ended your revolting 'relationship', you wouldn't have ended up in the hospital and Abarai Renji wouldn't be in prison," Ginrei replied tersely.
"We ended our relationship the night he was arrested."
"Ohh really? It didn't look like that to me, the way you two were wrapped around each other on that hospital bed."
Byakuya's eyes widened lightly, "How?...We were...we were saying goodbye," finished Byakuya regaining his composure.
"It's too late by now. I gave you fair warning ahead of time to end this. It all could have been avoided had you not succumbed to his whims," said Ginrei briskly.
"Look, I already told you that we ended it. I need his name to be cleared."
"That's impossible. How can his name be cleared if he is the only suspect in this case?"
"Well, you got him into this mess, and now that you have my word that I will not see him anymore, I need you to have him released."
"There's nothing that I can do. Don't make me repeat myself Byakuya. I already mentioned that he has no alibi to account for and that his fingerprints were on the weapon."
"This is absurd! Are you willing to condemn an innocent man to jail? The sixth division squad is known for upholding the law. This is a serious breach of protocol. Do you understand that if the truth comes out, you will either end up in prison or be banished to the real world after having your powers stripped?"
"Byakuya...that will never happen. How on earth do you intend to prove that I was the one who was in charge of giving out the order to have Abarai attacked? His fingerprints are all the proof that they need."
"I will find a way to have his name cleared," said Byakuya in a deadly soft whisper, his eyes glimmering with fury.
"I had a little chat with Abarai today. He seemed to be doing quite well," said Ginrei smirking.
Byakuya's eyes widened, "You...you saw him? I thought he wasn't allowed any visitors?"
"Oh, he's allowed visitors alright. I just requested that you wouldn't be allowed to see him since you are the one he was targeting. It would be way too dangerous now, wouldn't it?" Ginrei's eyes were glinting with amusement as he surveyed his grandson, who stood fuming, unable to retort back.
Swallowing the foul words that were about to spill from Byakuya's mouth, he inhaled deeply, closing his eyes briefly. "I didn't ask for much. I just want him to be released, that's all."
"I have told you time and again, that it is impossible for him to be released, unless new evidence presents itself, which points to another suspect," replied Ginrei in an exasperated tone, frowning at his grandson as if he were explaining something to a child. "As I was saying before you interrupted. I was able to speak to Abarai and proposed some interesting terms to him."
Byakuya's eyes narrowed as he coldly stared at Ginrei. "I'm assuming these so called terms won't get him released."
"He will be judged by central 46 in a few days time. He can either admit to attacking you, have his powers taken away from him and banished to the real world. Or he can try and defend himself, and I'll make sure that he is either imprisoned for life or executed," finished Ginrei, his eyes boring into Byakuya's daring him to defy him.
Byakuya gazed at his grandfather in horror, the blood draining from his face as he tried to find the find the words that he wanted to say. "This...this is madness. Do you realize what you are saying? You can't sway central 46 to your liking."
"I have my ways Byakuya. If Abarai Renji isn't thrown out of Seireitei, he will be imprisoned or executed. To attempt to murder a captain is treason, especially the head of the most powerful family in all of Seireitei," said Ginrei briskly as if he were talking about something as unimportant as the weather.
"You have your ways?" Byakuya scoffed. "I'd like to see you try and get the results you want. You are overconfident in your power to persuade the authorities."
"We will indeed see whether things turn out the way I want them to. The Kuchiki family does have considerable influence in Seiretei, and do not forget that I have a few friends who will be sitting in on Abarai's trial."
"Such rubbish. I will hear no more of this. If you won't have him released, then I will conduct my own investigation." Without waiting to be dismissed Byakuya turned on his heel, storming out of Ginrei's bedchambers. Once Byakuya had returned to his own room, a feeling of uneasiness settled in his chest, making his hear sink. What left him feeling shocked and confused was that Ginrei chose to take the law so lightly. He had violated numerous decrees by condemning an innocent man to such harsh punishment, framing an innocent man for a crime he did not commit, as well as attempting to attack a vice captain. Byakuya gazed out the window watching the skies changing colour, and was overcome with a terrible sense of dread as he pondered the grave situation Renji was in. Despite sounding confident in front of Ginrei, Byakuya had no way of proving Renji's innocence.
If what Ginrei said was true...I don't know what to do. How can I wake up every morning and face the day, when I, the captain of the sixth division let an innocent man die? The overpowering feeling of guilt swallowed him whole as Byakuya took in deep breaths to calm his pouding heart. The situation was looking terribly grim, yet Byakuya refused to accept the terms that Ginrei had proposed. There had to be a way to prove Renji's innocence, and as the sixth division captain it was his duty to uphold the law. Byakuya clenched his fists, the anger bubbling in his veins as he imagined Renji being held captive in one of the filthier prisons as requested by Ginrei. He had never known such anger as he had now, thinking of the abuse and mistreatment that Renji was to suffer at the expense of the Kuchiki family. It saddened him as well, for Byakuya's heart was weighed down with blame and guilt, knowing that Renji would be living a peaceful life had he not decided to become Kuchiki Byakuya's lover. He chewed his lip, lost in thought, racking his brain for a way to find evidence that would sway suspicion away from Renji. He considered his options, and to his dismay realized that there weren't many. He would either have to seek the second division captain and allow her to grant him access to speak to the Omitsukido, or seek advice from captain Kurotsuchi regarding evidence. The latter option being something that Byakuya would like to avoid. If only he had access to the murder weapon, for Byakuya was certain that the knife was probably a finely crafted one that Renji would not have been able to afford. He closed his eyes, picturing the attack vividly, trying to remember any detail that would help discover the identity. From what he remembered the attacker was well built, taller than Byakuya and broad like Renji, however apart from those details Byakuya remembered nothing else. The face was obscured by a thick purple hood, and the eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses. Sighing in frustration Byakuya finally decided to head towards the second division barracks on his way to work tomorrow morning, hoping that some answers awaited him. He slumped onto his futon and gazed at the ceiling until exhaustion weighed his eyelids down and he finally succumbed to sleep. That night Byakkuya tossed and turned in his sleep, haunted by nightmares of the dead and dying, of the life that was no more, and the memories of the peaceful moonlit nights fading away.