A Thousand Shards of Crimson

Chapter 9

His silver eyes narrowed as he read the newspaper while sipping on a cup of green tea. Aizen's betrayal had left a nasty taste in his mouth, and while Seireitei was recuperating from the tragic events, he still felt uneasy knowing that the Gotei 13 had someone so conniving amongst their ranks. A sharp rap on the door startled him as he neatly folded the newspaper and placed his empty cup on the small table top.

"Enter," he said coolly. One of the higher ups from the Kuchiki mansion walked in. He was considerably old, with wispy silver hair, and a hunched back, bent over from age. His beady eyes were hidden by round shaped glasses, and his skin was covered with dark age spots.

"Ginrei-sama," said the man bowing, hunching down even further. "I would like to discuss something of grave importance with you." Ginrei beckoned the older man, and pointed at the cushion in front of him, indicating him to be seated.

"What is it?" asked Ginrei briskly. He was only a few years younger than the man in front of him, yet he had aged well. His long, silky white hair was neatly parted, held together with a beautiful ivory clasp. It fell across his broad shoulders, and framed his slightly wrinkled face. Ginrei was in considerable shape even after retiring from the Gotei 13, and handing over his title to his grandson. His deep-set silver eyes were glinting as he surveyed the older man in front of him.

"It has come to my attention that Byakuya-sama has found himself a...er..a lover I suppose."

Ginrei stiffened, his eyes narrowing dangerously, "I hope it's not some common woman from Rukongai."

"It's much more worse than that I'm afraid. It is said that he's...in a supposedly romantic relationship with his vice captain."

"His vice captain?" asked Ginrei, his usually stoic, expressionless face contorted with amusement. "That's impossible. As I recall his vice captain is that man with the red hair, Abarai Renji, I believe is his name." The man sitting in front of Ginrei didn't say a word as he waited for the truth to dawn on the previous head of the Kuchiki clan. Ginrei's eyes narrowed to silver slits as he watched in silence, allowing the news to sink in. "Impossible," he finally said in a deadly whisper. "Why? Why are people spreading around disgusting rumours about my family? Don't they realize that we are the most powerful of the four great noble houses?" he thundered, slamming his fist on the table, rattling the empty cup and knocking it across the table.

"Ginrei-sama, nobody is spreading rumours about the Kuchiki clan. One of our guards came to me late last night. He claimed that he was taking a night time stroll and happened to stumble across a certain...ahh..meeting between Abarai Renji and Kuchiki Byakuya-sama."

"I refuse to believe such trash. I can't believe that he would dare suggest that my own blood and flesh would be caught bedding another man! It's absurd and I will see to it that he is punished. If he was walking through the woods late at night, then he could have easily mistaken my grandson for someone else."

"Ahh...that's the problem Ginrei-sama," said the feeble man, as he pulled out something from the many folds of his robes. "Our guard has proof." He slid the photograph across the desk, and waited for Ginrei's reaction. Ginrei's eyes widened in astonishment, as he took the photo in his trembling hands. There was no doubt about it, the jet black flowing hair decorated with kensaiken pieces, the captain's haori with the sixth division symbol, it most definitely was Byakuya, his pale lips locked around another man's.

Ginrei was shaking with rage, his silver eyes shimmering with fury. "This...this is an abomination! First he gets married to that whore from Rukongai and now...now this..." He threw the photograph on the table, clenching his fists until his knuckles turned white. "When my grandson gets home, tell him that I would like to speak to him immediately," said Ginrei his nostrils flaring. "He has already disgraced this family by marrying that woman and then adopting her sister into this family. I will not allow him to shame us anymore," he finished, his voice quivering with rage.

"As you wish Ginrei-sama," the older man squeaked, as he bowed and took leave. Ginrei was usually a reasonable man who didn't anger easily. Yet, today was the first time he had seen the previous head of the Kuchiki clan so enraged. The man shivered as he thought of Ginrei's merciless eyes, those were the eyes of someone who would do anything in their power to protect the Kuchiki clan, even if it included taking someone else's life.

That evening Byakuya came home a little later than usual after surprising Renji with a traditional Japanese dinner in his office. He carried the warmth of that evening in his heart, remembering the way Renji's face had lit up when he told his vice-captain that he had made the taiyaki himself. As Byakuya walked across the little bridge above the koi pond, little did he know that his happiness would be short lived.

"Good evening Byakuya-sama," greeted the bespectacled, wizened man as Byakuya reached the entrance. Byakuya gave him a curt nod in response, barely glancing at him as he made his way to his chambers. "One moment Byakuya-sama, Ginrei-sama would like a word with you." Byakuya looked down at the small man standing before him, and without so much as a word to him, made his way to his grandfather's chambers. He couldn't possibly fathom why his grandfather wanted to speak to him urgently instead of waiting until tomorrow morning. For the past fifty years, his relationship with his grandfather had been rather rocky, the rift widening after he adopted Rukia into the family. Byakuya rapped sharply on the door and waited until he was told to enter, sliding the door shut firmly behind. His grandfather's back was towards him, gazing at a picture of a younger version of himself hugging a smiling boy with raven hair.

"Everything I have ever done in my life was for this family, for you Byakuya," he replied turning around, his grey eyes boring into his grandson. "I was the one who raised you when your parents died, trained you so that you could become a suitable head for the Kuchiki clan. You have made me proud by becoming a strong captain and a good leader for our house, despite certain incidents in the past. You were young, and infatuated with that woman whom you took as your bride against my wishes, and then adopted her sister into this family even though I refused. I can overlook those incidents, and have come to forgive you eventually."

"Why have you summoned me at this hour?" asked Byakuya in a flat voice.

"It has come to my attention that you are supposedly in love with somebody else. Is this true?" asked Ginrei, his eyes narrowing, sending icy chills down Byakuya's spine.

"I don't know what you are talking about. The only person I have ever loved is Hisana," replied Byakuya apathetically.

Ginrei walked over and stood so close to his grandson that Byakuya could feel the heat of his breath. "Don't lie to me Byakuya." he whispered threateningly.

He fixed his eyes on his grandfather's pale one, staring at him defiantly, "I don't understand what you are asking me." Without taking his eyes off of Byakuya's, his grandfather slowly put his hands in his pockets and retrieved the photograph shoving it in his grandson's face.

"Explain this disgusting photograph," he said coldly. Byakuya grabbed the photograph and his eyes nearly widened in fear. How? Who? The muscles in his mouth twitched as he racked his brain for a suitable excuse. There probably wasn't any excuse that would convince Ginrei otherwise, but he would never allow himself to admit the truth.

"It's obviously a sick joke. I'm assuming it was conducted by someone who despises me, and wants to spread nasty false rumours," said Byakuya coolly. "I wouldn't be surprised if they enlisted in the help of someone who was excellent at photography. How have you come by this photograph?"

Ginrei's eyes glistened with rage, as he raised his hand and cuffed his grandson across the face. Byakuya reeled back from the blow, his face stinging where his grandfather had struck him. "A guard," he spat. "One of our guards took this photograph of you! Why are you doing this to our family?" Without waiting for an answer his grandfather raged on, "I want you to end this sinful relationship, do you understand? I think it's time we find you a suitable wife, someone of noble birth who can become the mother of the 29th head of the Kuchiki family."

"I'm young, and in no rush to get married," he replied, glaring as he fingered the spot where his grandfather had struck him.

"I'm warning you, end this relationship before it's too late."

"Is that all you wished to tell me?" asked Byakuya coldly.

"Byakuya, you are behaving like a child! I'm trying to protect the reputation of this family, the reputation that you tarnished when you married that woman. But this! This is something that I cannot accept," said his grandfather seething with rage.

"Is that all?" asked Byakuya in a deadpan voice.

"You will regret it, if you don't heed my warnings Byakuya," said his grandfather softly. "I'm trying to do my duty as the previous head of the Kuchiki family, something you should be doing.''

Byakuya continued to remain motionless, his grey eyes betraying no emotion as he surveyed his grandfather. Giving him a disgusted look, Ginrei turned his back towards his grandson, dismissing him. Turning on his heel Byakuya marched out of his grandfather's chamber, slamming the door shut behind him. He was trembling, his palms clammy as he staggered to his bed chamber. The terror that had gripped Byakuya rattled him to the core, as his grandfather's cruel eyes swam before him, threatening and unforgiving. He was stunned that someone had found out about their relationship, even though they went through painstaking lengths to hide it. Byakuya didn't think anybody would bother walking deep into the woods so late at night, and had assumed that his meeting spot with Renji would remain undiscovered. He clenched his fists, forcing himself to take in deep breaths to calm the pounding in his heart. Just when he had found happiness once more, it was shattered, all because he was the head of the Kuchiki family. Byakuya slid open the door to his bedroom, and slumped on the futon, burying himself between the sheets. There were a multitude of emotions swimming inside him, as he pondered the gravity of the situation, wondering what would happen if he chose to ignore Kuchiki Ginrei's words. He closed his eyes, placing a slender finger on his temples, rubbing at the throbbing ache that was growing larger by the minute. Ginrei was a man who was not to be toyed with, especially when it comes to matters of the Kuchiki name. Byakuya knew that in order to protect Renji there was no other option but to end their relationship. As long as Byakuya knew that Renji would be out of harm's way that was all the strength he needed to tell Renji that they could no longer be together. He gulped, thinking of their first night under the moonlight, remembering the hunger in Renji's eyes, and the touch of his hands on Byakuya's skin. Just thinking about the way Renji had so tenderly caressed his body, and whispered the words that he yearned to hear, was enough to slightly soften Byakuya's resolve. He squeezed his eyes tightly, willing the image of Renji out of his head and eventually fell into a restless stupor that night, his mind filled with thoughts of his vice captain and Ginrei's threats ringing in his ears.

Byakuya woke up the next morning, his face haggard and drawn. He stared at himself in the mirror, and grimaced at the reflection that gazed back at him. He washed his face with cool water, hoping the redness and swelling in his eyes would go away by the time he had to leave for work. He took longer than usual to get dressed, his hands were trembling as he combed his hair, struggling to put the kenseikan pieces on. After wrapping his scarf around him and throwing on his haori Byakuya resumed his emotionless mask and left for the sixth division headquarters. After turning it over in his mind last night, he had finally come to the painful decision that it would be best to end his relationship with Renji. Once he had arrived in the sixth division barracks, he quickly scanned the crowd, and spotted the flaming red-head laughing with some of the seated officers. A pang of guilt, flashed through Byakuya as he watched Renji smiling without a care in the world, oblivious of the events that were to follow shortly.

"Renji, I would like a word in my office."

"Of course captain Kuchiki," replied Renji cheerfully. They walked in silence, Byakuya distracted by thoughts of how he should start the conversation.

Renji glanced over, concern in his eyes, "Is everything okay?" he asked. Byakuya ignored him, yet Renji could tell that something was wrong. Byakuya's grey eyes were tinged with red, his face unusually pale and tense.

Sliding the door open Byakuya let Renji enter first and firmly shut the door behind him. "Renji," he said, his back facing Renji. "Let's end our relationship."

Renji's heart lurched as he felt his breath leave his chest. "What...what are you talking about Byakuya?" he stammered.

Byakuya turned around, his grey eyes clouded with pain. "I...I should never have agreed to this. It was a terrible mistake on my part. I don't....I don't love you. I never have. I just used you for sex, because you are so vulnerable."

Renji gaped at Byakuya, "What are you talking about? Do you expect me to believe that garbage? What's going on? Byakuya..." Renji's eyes widened with apprehension as he met Byakuya's sorrowful grey one.

"I can't...we can't," Byakuya said, his voice taking on a hard edge, as he continued to gaze at Renji.

"What's going on? We were fine these few weeks, and now you march me in to your office and say you want to end our relationship!" growled Renji, his voice growing louder with every word.

Byakuya scowled, "Don't take that tone with me Renji. This is for your own good." He contemplated telling Renji the truth, wondering what the young man's reaction would be if he knew that some of the elders of the Kuchiki manor had discovered their dark secret.

Renji clenched his fists, his brown eyes wounded and confused as he waited for an explanation. "Won't you tell me? I know that something is wrong! I have the right to know Byakuya. I'm not a child that needs to be sheltered and protected from the truth. Unlike you, I've suffered ever since I was a kid, struggling to survive in Rukongai."

Byakuya flinched, his mouth set in a hard line as he held Renji's eyes. It pained Byakuya when Renji talked about his life in Rukongai, living day by day, with no gurantee of waking up alive the next day. The suffering of his childhood was something that Byakuya wished he could erase from his lover's life, so that Renji wouldn't be haunted by his past.

"My grandfather...," he started slowly. "One of my guards, saw us a few nights ago. He took a picture of us as proof and showed it to my grandfather. You don't know my grandfather...he threatened you. He said that if I didn't end this "sinful" relationship that he would make sure we were sorry. I think he wants me to get married as quickly as possible. I just...don't know what to do," Byakuya, finished quietly.

"I'm not afraid of Ginrei," snorted Renji folding his arms across his chest and staring at Byakuya defiantly. "If it makes him happy, you can tell him that we are no longer seeing each other, and that you are willing to marry whomever he wants you to marry."

"He isn't stupid Renji. He will either know I'm lying, or he will set up spies to make sure that we aren't meeting in secret."

"He can't very well set up spies in your office can he?" asked Renji smirking slightly.

"This isn't a matter that should be joked about Renji," replied Byakuya, anger flashing in his eyes.

Renji slowly walked towards Byakuya, and wrapped his arms around his waist. "We'll figure something out okay," he said gently. "Besides we still need to be around each other, you are my captain after all."

"He will probably find a way to have you transferred to another division," replied Byakuya flatly, untangling himself from Renji's embrace.

"He doesn't have the authority to do that Byakuya," said Renji.

"He'll find a way," replied Byakuya, his answer leaving no room for argument.

Heaving a sigh Renji took Byakuya's cool fingers in his hands, "You worry too much. Like I said, what can Ginrei do to me? I'm strong, you know that don't you? I can protect myself, so don't worry about me. I don't want to throw away something this good. What you and I have is the real deal, and I am prepared to take down all of Seiretei for you." Byakuya watched Renji, his words rang hollow in his ears, even though Renji genuinely meant them. Nobody knew Kuchiki Ginrei better than his grandson himself, and Byakuya was certain that his happiness with Renji was quickly going to come to an end.

"You know that I didn't want anybody finding out about our relationship," said Byakuya quietly.

"Yeah, except now a few people know and so what?"

"These aren't just a few people in Seiretei! These are members of my family!" cried Byakuya exasperated.

"You can still perform your duty to the Kuchiki family, but I still want to be a part of your life as your lover.

"Renji, you don't understand. By continuing to be with me, you are putting your life at risk, and as your captain and lover I can't have you doing that for me."

"You are the one that I will gladly lay down my life for," whispered Renji softly, brushing a lock of Byakuya's hair.

Byakuya flushed slightly, gazing into Renji's eyes, the warmth coursing through his body as he let himself be lulled by Renji's words. He so desperately wanted to believe Renji and to live out the rest of his days waking up to the man that he had fallen in love with.

"Renji...we need to stop meeting at our usual place, and make them think we aren't seeing one another. From now on we have to maintain a distant and profesional relationship as captain and vice captain."

"It's awfully hard to stay away from you if you keep summoning me to your office," murmured Renji leaning in.

"Renji," Byakuya warned, pushing him firmly.

Heaving a sigh Renji stepped back from his captain, "I'll try my hardest, but I'm not making any promises," he replied grinning broadly.

Byakuya frowned, "You're taking this too lightly."

"I think you are too cautious captain. You need to loosen up and enjoy the moment for what its worth."

"It's hard to do that, being the head of the Kuchiki house. I have to adhere to certain rules and uphold my honour. I wish you would be more understanding of that."

"I'm sorry, I'll try my hardest Byakuya," Renji said in a more serious tone, his eyes losing the playful glint that was present a few minutes ago.

Byakuya nodded in response, "You should get back to your office Renji."

"Yes captain!" replied Renji enthusiastically saluting Byakuya. Byakuya laughed softly as he watched Renji stand tall and proud.

"You look really silly Renji."

"Yeah I figured," said Renji grinning broadly. "Hey... just...don't think too much on what Ginrei said okay?"

"I'll try not to," replied Byakuya as Renji turned around and let himself out. The sense of discomfort that had previously entered Byakuya's chest had now left, making his heart feel lighter as he watched Renji walking away.

For the next several days, Byakuya refused to spend more than a minute alone with his vice captain. Their nightly meetings were abandoned and Byakuya never summoned Renji to his office, unless it was specific to work. He refused to kiss him in their office, or embrace him or even speak to him about his feelings. In fact, Byakuya went back to treating Renji like he was just a subordinate and nothing more. Renji was growing increasingly frustrated by Byakuya's abrupt shift in mood and started wondering whether he would ever get to kiss his captain again. One evening however, Byakuya summoned Renji to his office, which instilled hope in the vice captain as he eagerly made his way to Byakuya's office.

"Enter," replied Byakuya as Renji stepped inside and bowed. "Renji, captain Ukitake requires that we go to his office. There is something that he wishes to discuss with us."

"Byakuya," said Renji softly.

"You will address me by my rightful title Renji," he said coldly.

"This is absurd! We are in your office, and I doubt your granddaddy's spies are hiding in your cabinet!" Byakuya rose from his chair and walked towards Renji, his steely grey eyes narrowing as he stood an inch away from his vice captain. He leaned in and kissed Renji hard on the mouth.

"There, are you happy now?" he asked curtly. Renji grinned, as he wrapped his arms around Byakuya's waist and captured Byakuya's soft lips in a passionate kiss. It had been nearly a week since Renji had kissed his captain, and working in such close quarters without being able to express his affections was excruciating. Byakuya felt his knees go weak as Renji bit his lip, sending waves of pleasure, that rippled through his body. "Renji," murmured Byakuya against his lips. "Please, let's stop, we have to..." Renji silenced Byakuya's protests, and soon all was forgotten as Byakuya lost himself in Renji's embrace, his passionate kiss setting his blood on fire.

Renji and Byakuya eventually broke off their kiss, panting slightly and as Renji straightened his captain's silver-white scarf a flood of warmth rushed through Byakuya as he watched his vice captain, a soft smile touching his lips. "Shall we go Byakuya?" asked Renji. Byakuya nodded in response and the two men left the sixth division barracks, and headed towards the thirteenth division. It was a warm summer evening, the orange-red sun was making its daily detour across the sky, settling itself on the horizon. Their long shadows painted the dirt road black as they strolled towards Ukitake's office, enjoying the breeze that rustled through the trees. A soft smile touched Byakuya's lips as Renji told him an amusing joke in his animated voice, gesturing wildly as he burst out in laughter at the punch line. A member of another division gawked at Byakuya when he saw him smiling, and Byakuya quickly resumed his stoic expression. It was the first time since the incident with his grandfather that Byakuya had felt at ease.

All of a sudden, through his peripheral vision Byakuya saw a dark shadow flash across the trees. He stopped walking abruptly, his head snapping up, as he peered through the green leaves. "Captain? What's wrong?" asked Renji turning around to face Byakuya.

"Nothing," Byakuya finally replied as he slowly lowered his eyes. "I'm just tired and thought I saw something."

"Oh. It was probably just a squirrel or a bird. Don't be so paranoid," said Renji playfully punching him.

"You are acting too casual with me, even though we are in public Renji," Byakuya warned.

"Ahh, sorry about that captain," replied Renji, his boisterous laughter filling the evening air. Byakuya couldn't help but laugh softly as he watched Renji's brown eyes crinkle with amusement.

That was when he saw it again, another flash of darkness in the bushes and a glint of silver, as a blur rushed towards them. "Renjiiii! Watch out!!" screamed Byakuya as he shoved his vice captain aside. Before Byakuya had time to turn to his attacker, the silver blade pierced his chest, and a cry of pain escaped Byakuya's lips as he dropped to his knees. Meanwhile, Renji had crashed on the pavement, his face making contact with the dirt floor. He groaned, confused as to what just happened, and rubbed his sore head as he slowly rolled over. His eyes widened in terror as he saw Byakuya's raven hair spilling across his shoulders, his kenseikan pieces littered on the ground. The blood was seeping through his white haori, as he clutched a blade wedged in his chest, his breath coming out in ragged gasps.

"Byakuya!" shouted Renji as he ran towards his captain, just as Byakuya fell in his arms. Sheer terror grappled Renji as he tried to remove the blade that was lodged in his captain's chest. Byakuya gazed at Renji with his glassy eyes, helplessly moving his lips unable to make a sound. "Please...please don't speak," Renji whispered, his brown eyes filling with horror as he held Byakuya in his arms, watching the blood paint the dirt road. "I'm...I'm going to get help okay," he said his voice trembling as he softly laid Byakuya on the ground. "I won't forgive you, if you die on me," he said shakily as he ran towards the thirteenth division headquarters screaming for help. Byakuya's eyes were starting to blur as he saw a man with long silky white hair come out from the thirteenth division barracks.

So much blood. It's everywhere. Even more than that time that I had saved Rukia. Byakuya could feel himself at death's door, the warmth escaping from his body for the last time as he closed his eyes, Renji's voice drifting off into the summer sky.

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