Rating: Hard R
Disclaimer: Kubo owns. I only play. You do not sue.
Warning: Spoilers for the current arc (up to and including chapter 517)
Summary: There is one thing Byakuya must do before he returns to Seireitei, but it does not go as he planned.
Note: Written for Short Precarious Anecdote Month.
"Captain Kuchiki." Renji kneels at the entrance to Byakuya's office and bows low to the floor.
"You are unexpectedly formal today. Requesting a special meeting, performing dogeza, even. If you mean to ask for leave to go and check on Kurosaki Ichigo again, you may not have it. There is too much that we must do. Besides, he cannot see you as he is now, so I do not understand your persistence."
"I haven't come to ask for leave."
"In that case I shall hear you out. Raise your head."
Renji shakes his bowed head slightly. "I can't. Please hear me out this way, Captain."
Byakuya is taken aback. They have grown so close in the last year, since Kurosaki Ichigo sacrificed his Shinigami powers to help rid Soul Society of Aizen Sousuke. They have sparred countless times; Byakuya has even been teaching him kidou. As he thought, removing the Kuchiki regalia made him more approachable and brought him closer to his subordinates. For Renji to behave as though things were back to how they were in the past -- what sort of grievous wrong has he committed?
"Very well," he says, stepping out from behind his desk and approaching Renji with a bittersweet ache in his middle. It's a case of history repeating: once again he has looked beneath his station and found a perch for his foolish heart.
He knew he loved Renji on the day Renji accidentally set him on fire with a badly aimed shakka-hou; he regained consciousness in Renji's arms, mid-flash-step on the way to the Fourth Division. Most of Byakuya's shihakushou burned away in the accident, and the sensation of Renji's hands, so very warm against his naked skin, made so much forgotten passion flood back into Byakuya's body that he passed out again.
Every day, Byakuya wishes he could tell Renji, could hold Renji, could take Renji, but he made promises when he married Hisana, promises he cannot break on the pain of losing all honour. He must never again express desire for anyone below his rank. The clan council was not cruel enough to forbid him to feel, but it is close enough. That brings him back to reality, and he realises that he is woolgathering while Renji waits for leave to speak. Please forgive me.
"You have my leave to say what you have come to say."
"I love you, Captain Kuchiki. I have loved you for a long time. I feel like I lie to you every time we spar, every time we talk; it shames me to know that you address me without knowing that every time you say my name, I lose my train of thought and think of you calling my name with a passionate voice. I couldn't go another day without telling you. Captain. I will do anything, be anything -- your dog, your footstool, your servant -- for I know we can never come together as equals would. I am willing to go as low as I must, so please let me be by your side.
Byakuya wants to fall to the floor and drag Renji out of his shameful kowtow, to look upon his beautiful face and kiss his anguished eyes. But he cannot. He made promises. He must endure their weight. Renji's right: they cannot be together as equals would, and treating Renji as an object would be the only way around Byakuya's promise, but Byakuya will never debase Renji by making him a pet. His love is not a passing physical fancy. He wants Renji terribly, but not on such terms.
"You may withdraw," he says, turning his back.
"Yes, sir." Renji's voice is hollow.
Byakuya's eyes flutter open in a world full of pain. Every part of his body is aching with a rhythm of its own, and now that he dreamt this dream again, his heart is aching also -- it is a slow burn of poison in a festering wound.
He never did give Renji an answer. The dream is a stark, vivid recollection of Renji's confession: the dream is the only way his mind can make peace between his broken heart and unwavering pride.
Then he remembers dying. He remembers speaking to Kurosaki Ichigo with the last of his strength. After that, he didn't have enough breath left to even whisper Renji's name, one last time before the end.
But he didn't die.
From where he lies, the emblem on the wall is quite real: the emblem of the King of Soul Society, engraved upon the north wall of every room in the Palace. The softest bed beneath his broken body, the whitest curtain drawn aside to his right. He is in the Healing Chamber of the Royal Palace, and he knows why he is here. His sword shattered; he remembers that final agony that severed his link with reality. He would never recover in Seireitei, where the reishi are not dense enough for his spirit body to repair itself normally. So he has been brought here.
Still, he must be sure. After a few moments, he makes himself move -- sit up, haul his stiff legs over the side of the bed, plant his bare feet on the cool wood-panelled floor. Bandages cover every part of him except his face, his hands, his feet, and his private parts. Someone put a paper-thin yukata on him, the hospital sort with ties only on the inside. He fumbles them closed and takes a step, two, three. He notes the exit -- not that he would use it unless commanded -- and finds the window. His final confirmation of his whereabouts comes with what's beyond the window: a dense white fog.
Byakuya walks to it, as fast as he can go without starting to hobble, and presses his ear to the delicate glass to hear the singing. The singing fog that shrouds the Soul King's dwelling above Seireitei, the fog that can only be seen and heard from within itself and from inside the palace; it is the place with the loveliest music in all the universes. Some say that humans on the brink of death sometimes end up there by accident, and the fog reinvigorates their souls, lending them longer lives. Some remember the fog and speak of hearing angels.
There is no mistake, then: he has not been deceived by some unknown enemy, who might have known of the emblem carvings and put one on the wall to lull Byakuya into compliance. No power in this world could replicate that sweet, barely audible sound: Byakuya has only heard it once before but how could he ever forget it?
"Grandfather, what is this lovely sound, pray tell?"
"It is the singing of the eternal fog, child, and it means you are near the King." They stood -- the head of the Kuchiki family and the one who would succeed him -- in a minor audience chamber of the Palace, waiting for the King's message regarding the succession. "Remember, Byakuya: in this place, we are nothing. We are not nobles, we are not leaders, I am not a Shinigami captain, and you are not a Kuchiki. We are but vassals to the King, dung beetles, floorboards beneath his feet. So do not address me so formally in this place, for that shames us both."
Byakuya wishes his grandfather were here again with him, to hear the sound that soothes his heart and eases even some of his physical pain. He turns back from the window to head back to the bed and wait for someone to discover that he has awakened when he spots a gash of scarlet against a pillow on a bed across the room from his.
Could it be--?
Byakuya takes a few hesitant steps before he knows it's really Renji on the other bed -- heavily bandaged chest, his arms stretched flat above a pure white coverlet, a washcloth across his forehead. He would run if he could, but he can't, so he hobbles, all pride abandoned, the song of the fog but a memory: this far from the window, one must strain to hear it.
A bandage lies flat across the bridge of Renji's nose; his eyes are closed, his breathing deep and beyond danger. Byakuya stands at the bedside and gazes down at him, thunderstruck, unable to believe that he would have such an opportunity in his lifetime. We are but vassals to the King.
A metal basin half-filled with water sits on the cabinet by Renji's head; Byakuya removes the dry washcloth from his forehead, dips it in the basin, wrings it out, smoothes the wet cloth along the side of Renji's face. To have the privilege to do this -- he could never lower himself so in Seireitei; a captain bathing the skin of his injured subordinate was unthinkable -- ignites his heart anew, soothes the vague ache that has lingered since the dream.
Renji opens his eyes wide, all at once -- he never hesitates before doing anything, and awakening is no exception. Byakuya presses the damp cloth to Renji's other cheek.
"Captain?" Renji's voice is hoarse, alarmed. "What are you--?"
"Please don't Captain me here, Renji; we are in the King's Palace. I hope you remember what you were taught about this place."
Renji's shock at Byakuya's casual tone, at his please is clear in widened eyes and pale parted lips, but his face clears quickly. "In the Palace of the King, there is no rank or status but that of the King; all others are nothing," he recites like a schoolboy. "Why are we in a place like this?"
"I do not know why we are here or how long we will stay, but as long as we are here, we may speak frankly, as equals." Byakuya drapes the washcloth on the side of the basin and touches Renji's cheek with his fingertips. "I have never thought we would have the chance."
"Cap--, ah, what do you mean?"
"I never gave you an answer. I should have, I should have refused you clearly, but I selfishly did not want you to give up, to find another. I am sorry, Renji. My heart is yours. It was already yours on the day you asked for it and it will be yours as long as you wish."
"Cap-- um. K-Kuchiki...san?" Renji stammered. He turns his head to the side, and Byakuya's fingers brush against his lips.
"Byakuya. You may call me that." He lets his fingers rest there for a moment, and Renji's eyes fall shut.
Byakuya withdraws his hand, sits sideways on the edge of the bed, cradles Renji's face in both palms. Renji's breathing has become quite shallow.
"I-- I can be by your side?" Renji asks, opening his eyes again.
"In this place, yes."
"And when we go back?"
Byakuya looks away. He can't say no, he can't bring himself to, but he must. "I have promises to keep, Renji. I do not want you for a footstool or a dog."
"Then why bother telling me?" Renji's eyes flash with pain, and his voice edges close to anger. "Do you think I'll be able to just forget this? You should have kept it to yourself. I was better off not knowing. It was better to have hope. Now you're telling me you feel the same way but we still can't be together? That's like putting taiyaki in front of me and telling me I can only eat it with my ass."
The words slice across Byakuya's heart like poorly sharpened steel. I have been selfish. I have spent so long thinking of what I wanted. Why did I assume that Renji would be happy merely to know he was loved? Do I think so little of him? "I am sorry," he murmurs, drawing his hand away from Renji's perfect skin. "I spoke out of--"
Renji grabs Byakuya's hand with his own bandaged one and looks into his eyes.
"Since I can speak frankly, then I will," Renji says. "And frankly, it's bullshit. All of it -- nobility and rank -- who cares? Look at Ichigo. He's a human, for fuck's sake, and he's been wiping the floor with everyone, you included. If as you like to say, spiritual power is pre-dick-ted on the purity and nobility of a soul, that would make Ichigo's soul the purest and noblest, now that the Captain Commander is dead--"
"Predicated," Byakuya murmurs, beginning to smile, and then it hits him. "The Captain Commander is... you are certain?"
"Sure as sunshine."
Byakuya tries to think, but even the enormity of the Commander's passing is eclipsed by what is happening between them. He behaved like a child, snatching up the sweet bun in front of him without a care in the world, simply because he wanted it. By taking advantage of being in the King's Palace in this way, he has offended Renji grievously.
Renji's hand still clutches his, the bandages rough and dry against Byakuya's skin, but the heat of the touch, the emotion in Renji's eyes make it difficult to seek cool reason. He knows this searing passion clouding his judgement will one day fade -- such is the nature of a soul, to grow accustomed and to take for granted and to seek for thrills that don't come easy -- but though it will fade, in its place will be a bond. He wants that bond, and he wants it with Renji.
He looks into Renji's eyes and tries to speak, but Renji releases his grip on Byakuya's hand and lifts his arm to touch his face, then threads his fingers through Byakuya's hair, tugs his head down and presses his lips against Byakuya's. His lips are dry yet soft, and his skin smells of the disinfectant in the basin water. Renji's kisses are slow and languid, but his heartbeat is frenetic through the bandages on both their chests, now pressed close together as Renji holds him close with his other arm. Byakuya's arms are trapped in the embrace but he wouldn't move them even if he could.
Renji moans softly as his tongue enters Byakuya's mouth, sliding against Byakuya's tongue, his teeth, his palate; he tastes faintly of blood that's long been washed away. Byakuya's eyes close as he lets himself be tasted; his heartbeat is all that he feels; the full-body ache he'd woken with feels distant and strange, like a childhood nightmare.
Renji lets go of Byakuya's hair, frees one of Byakuya's hands and moves it down; even through the thick cover, Renji's erection is obvious. Byakuya's fingers tug at the cover, bunch it down, down until Renji's body is exposed and his cock is hotter than a firebrand against Byakuya's palm. Renji breaks the kiss with a gasp, hides his face in Byakuya's hair, tongues his ear and bites it gently. "I want you," he whispers. "Even if it's just this once."
"We're nothing here. If we're nothing, then anything we do is nothing, right?"
"I had not thought of it that way, but I suppose you are correct." Byakuya doesn't believe the King would approve of his vassals using the medical wing for such pursuits, but who is he to know the King's mind? Nothing. "To presume the expectations of the King would be unwise."
Renji isn't listening; he's moving aside, making room for him on the narrow bed. In his wince, Byakuya sees a mirror of his own pain, which has not gone, despite everything. "You are injured."
"So are you." Renji pulls Byakuya in. "We'll figure something out. Just lie down with me."
First, Byakuya rises from the bed and pulls the white curtain, hiding the bed from view. It's not much, but at least they will have time to move apart should they hear someone walk through the door.
Then he lies down next to Renji, turns on his side with some effort as Renji does the same. Byakuya manoeuvres his right leg over Renji's hip; their erections press together. The sensation is so exquisite that Byakuya gasps and leans in without thought as Renji circles them both with a large warm hand and begins to stroke. The pleasure unfurling in Byakuya's groin is sudden and sharp; he lifts his head from Renji's chest, seeking out Renji's mouth blindly, groping with one hand for Renji's hair. His other hand is pressed against the left side of Renji's chest, Renji's heart bouncing beneath it like a frightened bird.
Byakuya's arms hurt and so does his lower back, but the pain is once again distant; nothing can touch him but Renji's desire for him. The press of Renji's cock against his, the hunger in Renji's kisses -- Byakuya's lost, and he can't last, so he digs his fingertips into Renji's chest, around the place where his heart beats, and gasps, "We shouldn't-- I'm going to-- It'll get all over you, oh, Renji." As Renji's name spills from his lips so does his release spill over Renji's hand; Renji drinks Byakuya's surprised groan and cries out his own pleasure into his slackening mouth.
Most of the come ends up on the bandage on Renji's hand; some gets on Byakuya's stomach, but not much. Byakuya manages to mop much of it up with the washcloth, which he places back over the lip of the water basin. With a little luck, no one will notice it. When Byakuya is finished, he finds Renji asleep again, on his back, strands of his hair fanned out on the thin pillow like sprays of new blood on early spring snow.
Before returning to his own bed, Byakuya sits back down next to Renji and breathes in the clean scent of Renji's hair, runs his tongue along the inside of his own mouth for that old-blood aftertaste of Renji's kisses. How foolish he was to think that he could stand to experience this only once. How foolish to believe that he would acquiesce to just this much when he longs to crawl in beside Renji and sleep with him, wake up with him, make love to him again.
He would repeat history many times over for this.
No, not would.