Renji spent the next week incarcerated in that tiny cell that had now become his abode. Using a small piece of wood that he had found on the cement floor, he marked the days on the wall whenever the sun started to set. He was unsure what day of the week it was, nor did he care. He was counting down the days to his trial, when he would stand in front of central 46, and defend himself for the crime that he was accused for. A few days after the dreadful conversation with Ginrei, Renji had pondered the gravity of his situation and had come to accept that things were meant to end this way. After fighting Kurosaki Ichigo, Renji had learned to live his life as an honourable man, defending the truth and protecting those that needed to be protected. He refused to let Ginrei tempt him into admitting something that he was wrongly accused for, just to save his life. Renji was no coward, and doing as Ginrei pleased would only tarnish his pride as a shinigami.
This is how Rukia must have felt, thought Renji clenching his fists. This numbing feeling of acceptance, which comes when fate hands over a cruel card whose destiny cannot be overwritten. Renji knew that he was beyond saving now, whatever hope that he had carried in his heart, vanished altogether after he rationally examined the situation, trying to find a loophole in Ginrei's scheme. He didn't want to be saved anymore, he just wanted to die honourably, and leave this world without any regrets. Byakuya's face swam in his mind as Renji closed his eyes, and relived the memories that they had shared on those summer nights. The time they had spent was short, yet Renji knew that it was the happiest moments of his life as well as Byakuya's. Byakuya, who was nursing his aching heart, filled with grief and loss, was finally able to let go of the pain and find happiness with someone who loved and treasured him. Even though Renji had accepted his fate, he knew that Byakuya would want him to continue living his life even if he had to live amongst humans. Byakuya...would be crushed if he knew that I had chosen to die. I can't allow him to blame himself for this or to feel guilty. He has felt enough pain to last him a lifetime, so why must I be the one to go away peacefully? Renji mused over the possibility of lying to the authorities, just so he could put Byakuya's heart at ease. He couldn't leave this world, if Byakuya was consumed by grief and guilt, which Renji was certain he would be. But, Byakuya is a man of honour. I don't think he would want me to lie to the authorities, and confess to a crime that I did not commit, to have my powers taken away from me, my pride as a shinigami tarnished. Renji heaved a frustrated sigh, longing to speak to his captain, to see him one last time before the trial, for Byakuya's presence was all the reassurance that Renji needed to make the right decision.
Lost in thought Renji ignored the footsteps of the guard, his keys jangling on the loop of his belt. "Vice captain Abarai, you have a visitor."
Renji's turned his head slowly, expecting to see Ginrei, but instead was astounded to see a familiar face, her violet eyes gazing at him earnestly as she rushed towards the bars. "Rukia!" cried Renji, smiling for the first time in days.
"Renji...What is going on?" asked Rukia, her voice cracking. "Why have you been accused of attempting to murder nii-sama?"
"It's...it's a long and complicating situation Rukia. I don't know if I can tell you all the details. You're better off asking Byakuya, but I am innocent. I would never do anything to hurt him you know that, don't you?" replied Renji his eyes swimming with pain.
"You...you called him by his first name," said Rukia slowly.
"Rukia...There's something that I need to tell you. Your brother...and I," Renji started, "We...we...," he swallowed, his mouth turning dry as he tried to find a way to say the words that were on his mind. " I...I love..
Rukia's eyes widened, comprehension dawning on her face, "No wonder...no wonder nii-sama has been in such a good mood for the past few weeks."
"It's a secret, please don't tell anybody. Ginrei found out so now...he wants me out of Byakuya's life."
"But...I don't understand. Nii-sama loves my sister, even after all these years."
"Yeah, he did love her for all these years, until he realized...realized that he had feelings for me," finished Renji quietly, unable to meet Rukia's eyes. He felt uncomfortable speaking to Rukia about loving her brother, wondering whether she would accept their relationship or condemn it to the depths of hell as Ginrei had.
"So...nii-sama, moved on...with a man?"
"You must think I'm disgusting," whispered Renji in horror, his eyes widening as he recoiled from her.
"No! Renji I don't think that at all. It's surprising because I know how much he loved my sister, but ever since you came into his life he's been different. I've noticed it, and even the staff at the manor noticed it as well. That layer of hostility and iciness that always surrounded him was slowly melting. It was all thanks to you. He is happy because of you Renji."
Renji gulped, a lump rising in his throat as he blinked furiously forcing his eyes not to betray the swirl of tumultuous emotions that were crashing wave upon wave against his heart. "I'm glad," he finally managed to croak. "Byakuya deserves happiness. Yet because of me, because I am in this situation he is suffering!"
"Don't give up Renji! I know that there will be a way to get you out of this mess."
"I have been wrongly accused of a crime that I did not commit."
"I know...I was in the same situation recently Renji," said Rukia softly, her violet eyes glimmering with sadness.
"I have already accepted my fate. Ginrei has made it certain that I will not live to see sunlight if I tried to defend myself at the hearing tomorrow evening. I just wish that I could speak to Byakuya one last time," said Renji desperately.
"You...you are not the Abarai Renji that I know!" retored Rukia fiercely. Renji's eyes widened as he gazed down at Rukia, watching the fire dancing in her eyes. "The Renji I know would do anything in his power to survive. No matter how tough it got, the Renji I know would try his best, exhaust every option possible! The Renji I know would not get defeated so easily!"
Renji continued to gaze at her and burst out in laughter, the sound reverberating through the stone walls. He clutched at his stomach, his breathing coming out in ragged gasps as he struggled for air trying to stiffle the laughter. The muscles in his jaw were twitching, forgetting how they were meant to be moved, since Renji hadn't laughed in days. He couldn't help but think of the days in Rukongai when their sole purpose was survival. Watching Rukia scolding him reminded him of those days, and despite the struggle, they always had fun, and more importantly they had a family.
"It's not funny Renji! This is serious."
"Yeah I know it's serious but what more can I do. Break open the door and escape, living my life on the run as a convict. That's dishonourable and would hurt my pride as a shinigami."
"I meant, that nii-sama will get you out. So don't give up on him so easily."
"I'm not...This is all my fault. The reason I ended up here...the reason Byakuya is suffering is all my fault."
"Don't say that," retorted Rukia scowling.
"That's why I've decided on what to do. I can't torment him anymore. When I'm judged by central 46, I will tell them the truth. What I remember seeing through my eyes. If the consequnces are irreparable then so be it. I am a shinigami, and I will die a shinigami."
"He's a terrible man,"said Rukia bitterly. "But Renji...I doubt you will be executed. It's so unreasonable."
"But according to everybody I attacked the head of the Kuchiki clan, who also happens to be a member of the Gotei 13. The only thing I wish for now, is for me to be able to speak to Byakuya, somehow."
Rukia chewed on her lip, furrowing her brow in concentration as she tried to come up with a way to help Renji. "Perhaps...you can write him a letter."
"But...the guards are watching."
"Here," said Rukia handing him a pen, and retrieving a piece of paper from the fold of her robes. "You write, whatever it is that you need to, while I keep watch okay?"
"Thank you," said Renji relief sweeping over him as he was able to ink his final word to Byakuya onto paper.
When Renji was finally finished writing, he handed Rukia the letter, and grasped her hands tightly, "This will probably be the last time that I ever see you," he said quietly.
"Renji...There has to be a way to have you released. Don't give up so easily," said Rukia her violet eyes hardening with determination. "I'm sure nii-sama will find a way."
"No...I have already burdened him enough. The only thing left for me now is to leave this world with my honour and pride as a shinigami. As long as you, and Byakuya know that I am innocent then I can leave this world without any regrets."
"Renji..." whispered Rukia.
"Please, do one thing for me. Byakuya...has suffered too much on account of my behalf. He has known too much pain that comes with the loss of a loved one. So please, take care of him in my place. I know that he puts on this facade of indifference but he feels very deeply inside and needs all the support he can get from you. Even if he pushes you away, promise me that you will always be by his side," finished Renji.
"Yes...yes of course. I will be here for him...always," she said quietly. Renji bent down, kissing the top of her head, and turned away abruptly.
"Goodbye Rukia," he whispered.
"This isn't over Renji. I promise, things will work out," she replied, and in a flurry of black disappeared silently. Renji slumped on the bed, the swirl of emotions leaving a painful wake along the wounds he had hastily patched up. Renji gazed at the ceiling, a sudden sense of calmness had entered his heart as he truly accepted his fate, hoping that Byakuya would understand why he had decided to reject Ginrei's offer. After he had penned down the last words to Byakuya that were etched into his heart, Renji was finally able to close his eyes, and sleep a dreamless sleep.
That evening Rukia made her way to the Kuchiki estate, the weight of Renji's words making her heart feel heavy as she fingered his letter wondering about his final words to Byakuya. The Kuchiki estate was peaceful as always, the grass lush and fertile, the cherry blossom trees swaying softly in the evening breeze. She walked across the small bridge gazing into the clear water filled with large koi, watching them swim, without a care in the world. As she walked through the large gated entrance, the servants greeted her, and Rukia politely returned the greeting as she made her way to Byakuya's chamber.
She knocked on his door, waiting for him to let her in. "Enter," said a cool voice from the other side of the door.
Rukia slowly slid the door open and let herself in. Firmly shutting it behind her to make sure they would be undisturbed she said, "Nii-sama, there is something I wish to discuss with you."
"What is it?" asked Byakuya indifferently as he continued to scan the paper, without so much as a glance towards his sister.
"I...I went to see Renji today," she replied hesitantly.
Byakuya slowly looked up, fixing his steady eyes on Rukia. "He...I know...about you two," she whispered. "I'm...I'm okay with that nii-sama!" she blurted. "I'm glad that you found someone to love. Renji....Renji is a really amazing person. I would know, we have been friends for over 50 years,"
"Why have you come here Rukia? You should be in the thirteenth division headquarters."
"I...Renji...wanted me to give you something," she replied shyly, retrieving the letter and handing it to her brother.
Byakuya's eyes widened slightly as he surveyed the letter unblinkingly. "This...this letter...Did Renji write it?" asked Byakuya slowly.
"Yes...his last words to you," she choked.
"You may leave," said Byakuya abruptly dismissing her. Rukia bowed and let herself out, shutting the door firmly behind her. Once Rukia had left, Byakuya carefully unfolded the letter, his hands trembling as he started reading.
I have made my decision after turning it over in my mind countless times. I have decided to reject Ginrei's offer to have my life spared. I couldn't bear it if I were to have my powers stripped and banished to the real world despite my innocence. You, as the sixth division captain have taught me that above all we hold the law as the utmost of importance. To lie to the authorities in order to continue living is cowardly and dishonourable as a shinigami. I hope you are able to accept my decision since I stand firmly on my beliefs. Please don't feel guilty, about the fate that awaits me. These past few months have been the best moments of my life, and not a day has passed by where I haven't relived those memories with you. You are the man that I have fallen in love with and will do anything in my power to protect you and your honour. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me for all the pain that I have caused you, and your family. I despise the fact that I have caused you such anguish and I only wish that I could see you once more, to shower you with a thousand kisses, and embrace you before I descend into the world of darkness. Byakuya, I want you to continue living your life even after I'm gone. I know I'm asking too much from you, due to my selfish ways, but please find the strength to move on. You didn't think that you would ever find love again, especially with a man, yet you found me. It is my dying wish for you to be able to share your sorrows with Rukia and open your heart to her, so that she may comfort you as a sister would. Don't push away those that offer love and kindness for it is a hard thing to come by. Lastly, I want you to know that I have never loved anybody the way I have loved you. You are the man that has inspired me to grow stronger, and to stand in the face of adversity, never wavering in the eyes of the truth. I have admired you, from a distance, and have grown to love you once you opened up your heart to me. I now leave this world without any regrets, and only hope that you will continue to live without being burdened by my decision. I will always love you Byakuya, and I pray that in our next life we shall find happiness with one another, in a world where our love isn't judged in the eyes of others.
For the first time in over 50 years the tears poured freely from Byakuya's face, spilling on the corners of Renji's letter as Byakuya buried his face in his hands and wept for the man that he loved. He had tired himself out fifty years ago, the tears freezing in his heart once he had cried them out at Hisana's funeral. Now, melted by Renji's blazing love for him, the tears came pouring out, cascading down his pale cheeks. The grief and sorrow was splitting him apart, shattering his heart into a thousand shards of crimson as Byakuya's racking sobs echoed throughout his large chamber. He wanted nothing more than to end his life, to unsheathe Senbonzakura and let the pink blades of death embrace him until he was turned to dust, leaving nothing but ashes behind. While he lay there, screaming silently, dying slowly in his own pool of grief, he knew with certainty that for Renji's sake he could not end his life. It was his lover's last words, the only words that Byakuya would have left of Renji's to honour. He clutched the letter against his chest, and kissed the words softly, tracing the words with his fingers, as the tears silently cascaded down his cheeks throughout the night.