A Thousand Shards of Crimson

Chapter 3

Having gone to the Kuchiki estate after work, Byakuya now sat under a cherry blossom tree watching the soft pink petals fall to the ground. He gazed at his fingertips, remembering the sensation of Renji's hand as their skin made contact. Renji's flushed face swam before his eyes, as Byakuya tried to grasp a hold of something he did not wish to understand. Renji's obsession with his sixth division captain started shortly after Rukia was adopted into the Kuchiki clan. However, Byakuya noticed that Renji's eyes always lingered on him whenever the sixth division squad was gathered. He would often blush and quickly avert his gaze when their eyes met. Even when he addressed his captain he would blurt incoherently or stammer like an illiterate man. It seemed unusual that a vice captain of his caliber would fall to pieces in the presence of his captain. Byakuya had always thought of him as a brainless buffoon, an eyesore who was afraid to tread on his captain's shadow. However, after watching Renji train with Zabimaru, Byakuya realized that there was something beautiful in the fierceness, and rawness of Renji's physical power. Standing at 6 foot 2, Renji had a powerful physique, that was emphasized by his intricate tribal tattoos. They slithered all across his body, snaking their way to places that weren't visible. He flushed slightly as he remembered Renji untying his hakama that night in the woods. Byakuya's eyes widened, as his heart started hammering in his chest. A burning sensation left his skin tingling as Byakuya started to imagine what he would have seen had he lingered a little longer in the woods. This is wrong, he thought. Having these feelings, especially toward another man was forbidden. As the head of the Kuchiki clan it was Byakuya's duty to uphold the family name and honor. He had already sullied the Kuchiki name once, dragging it through the ground when he married Hisana. Byakuya clenched his teeth, feeling ashamed at the repulsive thoughts he was having. He didn't even want to think about looking Renji in the eye tomorrow when their paths cross in the sixth division hallway. Slowly getting up Byakuya decided to retire to his chambers. A night time walk would only lead to wandering thoughts that he did not wish to dwell on.

The next morning dawned, bringing grey skies as Byakuya headed towards the first division headquarters for the captain's meeting. He was feeling restless, and a sense of unease settled in his chest, making his heart feel heavy. Thunder rumbled nearby as Byakuya slid the doors open. Making his way to his designated spot, he gave a curt nod to both captain Unohana and captain Kyoraku. Byakuya noted that both Zaraki Kenpachi and Kurotsuchi Mayuri were late as usual. Byakuya's expressionless face showed a hint of disdain as he pictured Kenpachi amusing himself with futile battles, or getting lost on his way due to his terrible sense of direction. Just as Yamamoto Genryusai took his place at the head of the room, Kurotsuchi Mayuri entered the room, followed by Zaraki Kenpachi. Byakuya watched as they stood in their respective places and glanced at the empty spots of the 3rd, 5th and 9th division captains. The issue of replacing the missing captains had not been addressed yet, and he couldn't think of anybody qualified enough to take their positions. What about Renji? said a little voice in his head. No, thought Byakuya. He couldn't imagine Renji standing across from him, with that smug look on his face wearing a captain's haori. He was 100 years too young to even dream of becoming captain. Ohh, teased the little voice. Or is it because you want to keep him by your side? Bykauya clenched his teeth, and gave a little shake of his head.

Captain Unohana glanced over, "Captain Kuchiki, is everything okay?" she asked in her breathy voice.

" Yes," replied Byakuya stiffly.

Silence fell upon the headquarters as the captain commander cleared his throat, "There have been an usual number of hollows that have been found in Japan. These are not simple hollows that can be easily slain by a lower ranking shinigami. "

"What do you mean?" asked Ukitake, his eyes widening in surprise.

"There have been a few sightings of Menos Grande near the Karakura region where Kurosaki Ichigo lives, " said the captain commander gravely.

Gasps, and murmurs filled the hall as anxious faces looked at one another. "Menos Grande in the real world," said Unohana calmly. "How unusual."

"Their numbers have steadily been increasing since Aizen has settled himself in Hueco Mundo. It would be best for the vice captains of a few divisions to deal with this inconvenience."

"That Aizen! What is he plotting," growled Komamura.

"I would like the 6th, 9th, and 10th division vice captains to be assigned the role of exterminating the Menos Grande," said the captain commander.

Byakuya slowly opened his eyes, and looked up. Defeating a Menos Grande wouldn't be a difficult task for three vice captains.

"That is all I wanted to discuss for today. You are dismissed."

It was a fairly short meeting that lasted not even fifteen minutes. That suited Byakuya just fine since there had been an increase in the amount of paperwork. Byakuya quickened his pace as he made his way to the sixth division headquarters. To his dismay he found that it was louder than usual, though he couldn't complain since some of the members were training, including Renji.

Byakuya made his way over to his lieutenant, and cleared his throat. "Renji, a word in my office."

Renji turned around, meeting his captains eyes. "Yes captain Kuchiki," he replied dutifully.

Renji didn't dare match Byakuya's strides as they made their way to his office. He walked a few steps behind, wondering whether he should make polite conversation. Renji quickly started brainstorming topics in order to fill the suffocating silence. He could always mention the weather, training, or paperwork.

Nervously clearing his throat he said, "Umm Captain Kuchiki, do you have a lot of paperwork to deal with? Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No. There's nothing you can help me with," replied Byakuya coolly.

"Oh," said Renji frowning slightly. The way Byakuya shot him down so abruptly stung a little.

"Thank you, for offering," said Byakuya a little more gently.

Renji's head snapped up as he stared at the back of his captains silky black hair. A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. He could feel his heartbeat quicken, and felt an immense amount of pride swelling inside of him. His captain seemed to be warming up to him, acknowledging his strength, and the effort that he has been putting into his work since he became vice captain. Once they entered Byakuya's office, Byakuya made his way behind his desk.

Fixing his steely grey eyes on Renji he said, "You, Matsumoto Rangiku, and Hisagi Shuhei will be deployed to the real world in order to destroy a few Menos Grande that have been located in the town of Karakura.

"Menos Grande?" asked Renji in disbelief. "What are they doing in the real world?"

"The captain commander noticed that they have been drawn to that region since Aizen has settled in Hueco Mundo. In addition due to the greater amount of spiritual pressure in that town it's unsurprising that the number of hollows have increased as well," said Byakuya.

"When will we be deployed?" asked Renji.

"Tomorrow morning," answered Byakuya. "That's all I wanted to discuss with you. You are dismissed."

After giving a low bow, Renji slid the door open and left Byakuya's office. Watching the red-head leave Byakuya couldn't help but wish that Renji wasn't the one that had to be sent to the real world. For some reason an ominous sensation had taken a hold of him as he watched the young man walking away. Somehow Byakuya felt that Renji wouldn't be coming back.

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