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Shuuhei: Eyes wide open

ann89103 in yaoi_challenge

Instinct/Illusion (Bleach, Renji/Shuuhei, Other, R)

Title: Instinct/Illusion
Author: ann89103
Fandom: Bleach
Paring: Renji/Shuuhei & a second, unnamed pairing
Rating: R
Warnings: Dub-con (open to interpretation), mention of character deaths
Word Count: 7,360
Prompt: Well, I didn’t use the actual prompt given, though some elements of the request and the characters given were. I hope this is to your liking, prompter!
Summary: Snapshots of two lives over the years
Notes: Alternate Reality, though using much of the canon storyline through the current manga chapter. Bolded italics are quotes from The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Posted just before the midnight deadline, woo-hoo!

***

“What you did two months ago - disobeying a direct order, placing your life at risk - means you’re an idiot!” Hisagi snapped. Then he continued, voice softening and the smallest hint of a smile appearing on his face, “Why you did it is what makes you a hero.”

Renji looked up at his sempai, both surprised and warmed by the unexpected praise. “Thank you, Hisagi-sempai,” he said.

“Don’t thank me, Abarai-san, for speaking the truth. However, you - and Kira and Hinamori - still have a lot to learn. Use your time at the Academy well, and continue to improve. I will expect to see all three of you among the Gotei’s seated officers one day.”

Renji flushed at the words before confidently asserting, “Yes, sir! Count on it!”

Shuuhei laughed at the younger man’s enthusiasm. “Good. Because when you do reach that point, I want a match with you. Don’t keep me waiting too long, Abarai-san.” With those parting words Hisagi headed towards his scheduled interview at the Ninth Division offices.

Renji watched the other man walk off into the distance, and silently vowed to meet his challenge.

***

More than once during their now-monthly spars, they’ve noticed their captains observing their efforts from a distance. Under that scrutiny their already-impressive skills showed even more improvement. Abarai’s power and Hisagi’s speed increasing at astonishing rates.

Renji was still more of a brute force fighter, in the heat of battle forgetting the tactics Shuuhei suggested to increase his effectiveness and stubbornly persisting with attacks that have already proven a failure. Shuuhei remained a strategic fighter, combining kidou spells and sword fighting to maximum effect, but strangely reluctant to unsheathe his shikai.

After another hour of fighting they decided to call it a day. As they left the training field that evening they passed their respective taichou Both men bowed deeply to their leaders, rising to face a serene Aizen Sousuke and a faintly smiling Tousen Kaname.

“Come by my office tomorrow morning, Hisagi,” Tousen ordered, his soft voice pleasant and low. “I believe I have to increase the difficulty of your training exercises at our division if you do so well on your own.”

Hisagi’s face flushed pleasantly as he respectfully answered, “Hai, taichou,” and bowed once more.

Renji glanced expectantly at his own captain, awaiting his comments, only to be summarily ignored as Aizen walked by without a word.

Taking in Renji’s expression of combined dismay and anger, Shuuhei put his hands on Renji‘s shoulders and gave them a brief, comforting squeeze. “Have you considered requesting a transfer?” he asked. “There are other divisions you could consider.”

Renji nodded at the question. “I’ve already started the paperwork, but I haven’t decided between the Eleventh and the Sixth.”

Shuuhei wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Please tell me you’re not going to the Eleventh: those barbarians are only good at one thing, brawling.”

Renji laughed at Shuuhei, amused by his comments. “You know that’s not true: they also out-drink every other division. Besides, I want to fight, and I want to improve. I can do that with Zaraki’s division, since it’s obvious my training is not a priority to Captain Aizen.”

Shuuhei stopped walking before turning around to look at the two captains walking in the opposite direction, their white haori shifting slightly with each movement.

“I am very lucky, Renji,” he stated, his tone wistful and contemplative, “with my placement in the Ninth. Tousen-taichou wasn’t the commander I expected to serve under upon graduating from the academy, but he‘s been exactly the type of teacher and mentor I needed. I can only wish you find a similar happiness in the division you choose.”

“Bah!” Renji exclaimed, grabbing Shuuhei’s sleeve and dragging him along. “I’m glad Tousen-taichou isn’t my captain: he’d bore me to death within a month. C’mon, I’m sure Kira’s waiting for us!”

Shuuhei allowed his companion to pull him towards the baths, sullenly complaining about Renji’s comments over his comrade’s brash laughter.

***

It was a beautiful, peaceful autumn night in Seireitei. The day had been unseasonably warm, and that heat continued into the evening hours. A light breeze drifted through the garden of the ninth division’s courtyard, offering a slight respite from the warmth while sending a few golden-red leaves that have escaped their trees on a merry dance through the air before their eventual, graceful descent to the ground.

Abarai Renji felt so very, very cold.

Renji walked with a purpose, heading straight for the living quarters of the Ninth’s fukutaichou. He did not notice the breeze or the leaves - it was questionable if he even noticed the greetings of the few shinigami he passed on his way - his full attention was on the confusion and heartache he felt, and the search for the one person who has helped him through difficult times during the past few years.

He found Hisagi Shuuhei standing at the entrance to his small private residence, issuing some last instructions to his division’s fourth seat before retiring for the night. Upon catching sight of his friend Hisagi quirked a small, honest smile - one that vanished quickly as he took in Renji’s expression and the irregular fluctuations of Renji’s reiatsu. Hisagi dismissed his subordinate politely before turning his full attention to Renji, and carefully considered his next words.

“Sake, tonight,” Hisagi finally announced. “We’ll save the tea for tomorrow.”

It was a long-standing joke between the two men, that all their troubles that don’t involve a battlefield can be solved over tea or sake. Tonight Renji doesn’t find the joke funny, but he desperately hoped the words still hold true.

By the time the earliest rays of sunlight lighten the sky, when Renji has spoken of and lamented over years of wanting, the pain of rejection and the misery of finally letting Rukia go, he realized through his drunken haze that the sake didn’t solve anything. It never did. But Shuuhei was there for him, as he’d been a half-dozen times before, always listening (calm, patient, nonjudgmental) to every word Renji does and doesn’t say.

After a few hours of sleep, a dose of Shuuhei’s disgusting-but-effective hangover remedy and three cups of tea, they had another, much more coherent discussion. Renji felt so much better - the hurt was still there, but the raw agony was gone, reduced to a more manageable ache that will eventually heal.

For Renji, that was more than enough.

***

Hisagi worked himself into a state of exhaustion, trying to hold his division together after Tousen’s treachery was exposed. The small, furrowed lines that marred his serious expression these days were just as much a part of him now as his scars and tattoos.

His guitar lay unused in a closet, gathering a fine layer of dust; joining his comrades for a meal or a night of drinking was a pastime long abandoned. With both Abarai and Matsumoto gone for long periods of time on Earth-based assignments, there was no-one left in Seireitei that could cajole him away from his duties for more than an hour or two.

Iba tried to reach him, to his credit, and even Ukitake-taichou went out of his way to be understanding and concerned on his behalf. Hisagi listened to them courteously, thanked them for their efforts and carried on as usual.

Most of his superiors, comrades and subordinates thought he was handling the ongoing stress well, especially in comparison to Hinamori’s mental breakdown and Kira’s increased alcohol consumption. Only one soul recognized the truth of the matter and dared to fight Hisagi tooth and nail on a daily basis, his screams as fierce and heated as swirling desert winds, scratching and stinging his wielder‘s mind with every outburst.

Locking your emotions and fears away will only break you into pieces! Stop denying your instincts and SET US FREE!!

Of course, it had to be the one being Hisagi tried to ignore whenever possible.

***

“You look like shit, Shuuhei,” Renji announced upon catching sight of his fellow lieutenant for the first time in months.

Hisagi raised tired eyes up to the visitor who dared to enter his office unannounced. “Welcome back, Abarai. I see Urahara-san has finally managed to instill some proper manners into you. Was there something you needed?”

Renji paused, startled at the words for a moment before deliberately stepping up to Hisagi’s desk. With a grin and one sweeping motion of his arm he sent Shuuhei’s meticulously managed paperwork flying off the table and then planted both hands firmly on the surface.

“Yep,” Renji amiably answered as Shuuhei shot up to his feet, the movement sending his chair flying backwards with enough force to shatter into pieces when it hit the back wall. “I need to knock some sense into you, according to Tetsuzaemon. Luckily I’m pretty good at that kind of shit. Think you can stop me?”

Maybe it was the pent up frustration finally getting the better of him, or maybe he just missed the brazen, aggressive idiot that much: either way, it led to Hisagi baring his teeth in a defiant, feral manner rarely seen, a snarled, “Try me,” and a quick shunpo to the nearest training field.

***

“You know, bruised-and-beaten is a good look on you, Renji.” Shuuhei commented as he sipped at his second serving of tea.

“Shut up. I gave as good as I got, and you know it,” Renji argued as he stared into his own teacup. “So why the hell is it tea this time?”

Shuuhei replied, “Because we drank too much after that first fight you picked when you returned to Soul Society and the reprimand we got from Yamamoto-taichou for our unauthorized battle while dealing with a massive hangover is something I never want to experience again in my life.”

Renji laughed heartily at the reminder. “Yeah, we really tore up that field, didn’t we? I thought my taichou was going to kill me when he saw the destruction.”

Shuuhei let loose a few chuckles of his own as he added, “The field, the adjoining field, the cafeteria for the Eighth division…”

“Hey, Kyouraku-taichou told me afterwards that we’d done him a favor,” Renji complained good-naturedly, leaning back against the comfortable cushion Shuuhei had provided his guest.

“Yeah,” Shuuhei responded with a smile, “but I see Nanao-san hasn’t caught up with you yet about the matter. Trust me on this one: avoid her for the next month. She says she’s going to collect the damages from us personally.”

“Yeah, right,” Renji snorted, “we’d have to have money for her to take. Hey! Is that why it’s tea tonight?”

“No,” Shuuhei said after finishing his tea and pushing the cup aside, “I wanted to thank you properly, and that meant staying sober. This way you can make fun of me for it later.”

Renji sat up abruptly at those words. “Thank me?” he asked, puzzlement clear in his tone. “Thank me for what?”

“For knocking some sense into me,” Shuuhei dryly replied, his words turning serious as he continued. “For pulling me out of my self-imposed misery. For being my friend. Thank you, Renji.”

It took Renji a minute to realize he was doing a superb imitation of a fish with the way his mouth was gaping open, because he was so surprised and pleased by Shuuhei’s words. Shuuhei had been his confidant and supporter more than a few times over the years, and it amazed Renji how incredible it felt to return the favor.

He had always retained a certain image of his sempai ever since their first meeting, reinforced over time: caring, but reticent; an outward composure belied by moments of startling intensity; attractive, yet unattainable.

Renji suddenly wondered if that last one still applied, and before he could change his mind, impulsively leaned over the table and pressed his mouth against Shuuhei’s own.

Shuuhei remained unmoving as Renji explored the texture of warm, slightly chapped lips, eagerly sending his tongue out to trace moist designs on them. Rising desire warred briefly with common sense as Renji recognized Shuuhei’s stillness, so he moved back a short distance.

Renji watched Shuuhei dart his own tongue out to where Renji‘s had lingered, as if trying to convince himself of what just happened. Dark eyes bored into Renji’s with an unsettling fierceness.

“Was that a joke, Abarai?” Shuuhei asked in a rough, low-pitched voice. “Because if you weren’t serious, you have two minutes to leave and we’ll forget this ever took place.”

Now it was Renji that couldn’t move if his life depended on it. He took a long, ragged breath, never looking away from Shuuhei’s gaze. “And if I am serious, Shuuhei: what are you going to do about it?”

“Everything,” Shuuhei growled, shoving the low table aside with one hand while grabbing a fistful of Renji’s haori with the other. He pulled them both easily to their feet and dragged Renji the short distance to the bedroom.

***

“Second thoughts?” Shuuhei asked as he relaxed into the futon, his hands massaging Renji’s temples when not playing with strands of thick red hair.

Renji turned his head from where it rested on Shuuhei’s chest enough so he could look at him. “Shouldn’t you have asked me that about three hours and five fucks ago?” he asked in a sleepy, content manner.

“Probably,” Shuuhei ruefully admitted. “I got distracted.”

“You think too much, when you should just trust your instincts,” Renji groused, then moved in for another slow, languid kiss. “I want to be here: no second thoughts,” he continued after settling into a comfortable sleeping position, “so shut up and get some rest.”

That night, for the first time in months, it was remarkably easy for Shuuhei to do so.

***

The day before Renji left for Hueco Mundo, the two men traveled to parts of Rukongai they hadn’t seen - in fact, had tried to forget - for decades. They started in the 78th district, with Renji pointing out the streets he and Rukia had lived on during their early years as orphans. From there they visited the 69th district, where Shuuhei showed his companion the clearing where he nearly died as a youth, saved from a hollow by the intervention of then-Captain Muguruma Kensei of the Ninth division.

Most of the day was spent on memories of the past, while the early evening were devoted to the present. They joined Rukia, Ichigo, Chad and Uryuu for dinner before meeting with their usual companions - Iba, Matsumoto, Kira, even Hinamori - at their favorite bar.

It felt right to remember where they came from and to rejoice in the friends and comrades that stood at their side as they prepared to fight for the security and safety of Seireitei. But on this night they left the bar well before their usual time, foregoing the usual inebriation for a mild, pleasant euphoria.

They wanted to savor and commit to memory every moment of this day, since it could be their last.

The rest of the night was spent in the privacy of Shuuhei’s quarters, desire and need fervently expressed in fervent kisses, touches both gentle and rough and hot, sweat-covered bodies moving together in pleasure, with trust and affection affirmed not in words, but through each ardent moan and languid sigh.

***

When Hisagi released his shikai in Tousan’s head, defeating his hollowfied taichou in the process, even Aizen had paused in the midst of battle to observe. It was unnerving, having those assessing, speculative eyes focused on him, and Hisagi did not want to know the thoughts behind that cool, contemplative gaze.

He turned instead to his fallen mentor, hoping to find the man beneath the enduring bitterness and anger. He was there, regret and tears mixed together on his visage. Tousen gestured to Hisagi with one outstretched hand, spoke to him through the throat Hisagi had torn open, and the young fukutaichou strained to hear every heartfelt word from his faint, quavering voice.

I want to look upon your face while I still can.

Then Tousen died in an massive explosion of reiatsu, the released power and his blood drenching Hisagi’s battered, exhausted body. He barely managed a strangled, horrified, “Taicho!” before falling unconscious beside Tousen’s remains.

***

When Renji burst through Mayuri’s garganta just behind his taichou, he saw three captains and a Vizard falling from the skies. He pushed aside his shock and apprehension, moving in to intercept Ichimaru’s blindside attack on Byakuya, who had joined Ichigo in his fight with Aizen.

While trading blows with his ever-smiling adversary, he surveyed the battlefield. Far too many allies lay motionless on the ground, their reiatsu thready and fading. One blast from Ichimaru sent him flying backwards, the power of the strike pushing him almost a mile away. Once he righted himself he noticed the young woman on a nearly rooftop that lay cut in two, Unohana-taichou sadly placing her hand on the Vizard’s face to gently close unseeing eyes.

“That one was mine: cut her clean through. Hope you’ll be a bit more fun, Abarai,” Gin called out as he attacked once more.

Renji dodged the assault easily, then surprised Ichimaru with a kidou blast that sent him crashing through a nearby building. It was then that he noticed Shuuhei’s body splayed on the roof of that swaying structure - Renji had never seen him this quiet and unmoving, not even in slumber - the amount of sticky red and black liquid splattered across his form unnatural, horrifying and rage-inducing.

It was if a heavy crimson curtain dropped before his eyes, obscuring his sight. Renji felt like he was boiling, the heat and power building within him and radiating out in waves of pulsating energy. He didn’t need to see Ichimaru to find him - his senses were heightened, alive - and with a roar that rivaled Zabimaru’s in ferocity and his newly-found strength he whipped his zanpakuto around with deadly accuracy, the sharp teeth biting into his adversary hungrily, savagely, tearing Ichimaru apart.

Renji ignored the pieces of flesh that was once his foe and immediately rushed towards the instigator of this day’s carnage and untold misery. With another furious cry he threw himself into the assault against Aizen, determined to strike down his former captain once and for all or die trying.

***

One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.

-Agatha Christie, Autobiography (1977)

***

Hisagi had read the authoritative report on the entire climactic battle more than a dozen times, had spoken to many of the participants individually after the fact about the portions he missed while fighting or knocked out. The three traitorous captains were dead, their arrancar army completely defeated: Hisagi naturally felt relief the fighting was over, but he couldn’t help wondering about the many unanswered questions, the troubling inconsistencies in the official records and his comrades recollections.

All warfare is based on deception.

Hisagi swears by Sun Tzu’s military treatise The Art of War: he studied the tenets for decades and continues to instill the philosophical and military applications of the text into the soldiers under his command. His initial, idealized concept of the work had taken on a more serious, practical appreciation when the enormity of Tousen’s treachery was exposed.

Kyouka Suigetsu was a masterful weapon; combined with Aizen’s immense spiritual pressure, kidou and sword-fighting skills and genius for military strategy it was no surprise it took a combined assault from captains, vizard, and wildcards like the crafty Urahara Kisuke and the indomitable Kurosaki Ichigo to finally defeat the power-mad traitor.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The Gotei thirteen won the battle due to sheer luck, the sudden appearance of much-needed allies and Aizen’s overconfident nature, Hisagi concluded. Aizen may be gone, but the weaknesses in Seireitei’s offensive and defensive capabilities in dealing with such an enemy remained, and it troubled him immensely.

He met with Ukitake-taichou, who had taken command of the Gotei 13 after Supreme Captain Yamamoto’s death during the battle. Some of his unease was alleviate by Ukitake’s calm, composed nature and serious consideration of his concerns. Hisagi was also optimistic over Kyorauki-taichou and Unohana-taichou working so closely with Ukitake now, forming more of a triumvirate than the usual inflexible command structure.

Thus encouraged, he concentrated his immediate attention upon his own division’s performance - especially his own - and worked on building a closer bond with the bloodthirsty, instinctual zanpakuto he could now release without any disabling remnants of fear or doubt.

***

Hisagi carefully made his way into the room, since the party had started more than three hours ago and he expected to find at least a few smashed bottles and even more smashed comrades on the floor. Today’s meeting with Ukitake-taichou and Shunshi-taichou had lasted much longer than expected, but on the plus side he had missed the drunken karaoke session any party thrown by Yumichika inevitably included.

It had only taken one episode of awakening hung over and nearly naked in the Fourth Division accompanied by a similarly-suffering Kira Izuru years ago to thoroughly convince Hisagi not to repeat that mistake. The strain on his vocal cords had only lasted a week, but the teasing about his enthusiastic singing had gone on for months. Tousen had been furious with him: Hisagi still has nightmares about the whole thing.

Renji liked to remind him of that incident once or twice a year, the jerk.

He smiled as the newly-appointed Captain of the Fifth Division weaved his way towards him some thirty minutes later, a bottle of sake in one hand and two cups in the other.

“Come drink with me, Hisagi-taichou,” Abarai said, cheerfully throwing the arm holding the bottle over Hisagi’s left shoulder and maneuvering them both towards the door. “You’re nicer than these other bastards I deal with daily.”

That last comment got him some choice expletives from Ikkaku and Iba, an exaggerated snort from Kira and shrill laughter from Yumichicka and Matsumoto. Captain Hitsugaya wore his usual look of annoyance, while Captain Byakuya simply appeared pained.

“I’ll get him back to his quarters in one piece,” Hisagi promised the two captains. When both men acknowledged his offer with sighs of relief, he cruelly added, “That leaves the rest of them to you.”

Both Hisagi and Abarai smirked at Hitsugaya-taichou’s heartfelt groan as they left the party.

“I’m not a captain yet, Abarai-taichou,” Hisagi teased as he steered his friend towards the Fifth Division barracks, “and you must be extremely drunk if you think I’m the nice one in this lot.”

“Your promotion, Shuuhei, is official tomorrow… wait, is it already after midnight?” Renji asked, before continuing, “Yeah, it is, Hisagi-taichou. Another reason to celebrate, and I’m not that drunk… well, not yet. Want to help with that?”

Hisagi grinned at his companion, “You never need help getting drunk, Renji. But you do deserve your celebration, so I’ll join you for one drink. One.”

Abarai handed his friend the bottle and cups so he could concentrate on opening the door to his new residence. His new rooms were much larger than his former space at the Sixth Division, and furnished far more comfortably.

Hisagi let loose an appreciative whistle as he entered the residence, admiring the clean, elegant lines of the furnishings. “Abarai, did you blackmail Byakuya-taichou into decorating for you?”

“Insulting me in my own home now, Hisagi?” Renji asked. “That’s not very polite. Sit, and pour.”

Hisagi laughed as he lowered himself onto one of the many padded mats decorating the main room. While preparing their drinks, he commented, “Judging from how easily you give out orders now, you should have no problems with your soldiers, taichou.”

Renji chuckled at Hisagi’s words, then lifted his cup for a toast. “To overbearing taichou: the ones we learned from, and the ones we will become.”

“I’m not drinking to that,” Hisagi scoffed as Abarai drained his cup.

“Sometimes you remind me of Byakuya, and not in a good way,” Renji good-naturedly complained. “Let’s try this one, then: To learning from past mistakes, and success in every endeavor.”

“Better,” Hisagi admitted, and drank his sake before continuing, “but it’s unrealistic to expect to succeed in every goal you set.”

“There’s nothing wrong with confidence and aiming high,” Renji argued while pouring another round for both men. “Besides, my goals are completely within reach.”

Shuuhei eyed the second drink for a moment before raising one eyebrow at his companion. “Do I dare ask what your goals are? And I really should be going: I have my own celebration party to endure tomorrow… I mean, later today.”

“Shuuhei, your party will be more shogi and tea than karaoke and alcohol - I think you can handle that on only a few hours of sleep,” Renji commented. “The only difficulty will be staying awake through one of Captain Komamura’s heartfelt, but very long-winded speeches.”

Hisagi couldn’t find it within himself to refute such an accurate - if somewhat impolite - statement, so he stayed silent, instead relenting and indulging in his second cup of sake.

“You asked about my goals?” Renji said, moving closer to his companion as he spoke. “Three come to mind, and the first one is already accomplished: convincing you to have another drink.”

Hisagi flushed at the comment and scowled at his now-empty cup.

“My second goal will take much longer to achieve, and is far more serious: I want to become Supreme Commander one day.”

“Abarai!”

“Hisagi?”

“That is -- you are --”

“Inspirational?”

“Insane!”

“Why? Because I’m willing to say that Captain Yamamoto and Central Command made far too many mistakes? Their policies hurt innocent people - shinigami, humans and vizard alike!”

Shuuhei flinched at the mention of the vizard, honorable shinigami-turned-hollow in experiments over a hundred years ago. No one had ever been punished properly for that atrocity, and whenever Hisagi thought of his savior and inspiration Muguruma Kensei - the man that had saved him as a child, and fought so fiercely only to perish during the Winter War - such an injustice both revolted and infuriated him.

“Shuuhei… look at me.” Renji said, the tone of his voice just short of a command.

Hisagi tore his thoughts away from betrayal and experiments and masks of bone, and shook his head slightly before turning to his friend.

Renji stared at him, eyes lit with an focused intensity Shuuhei rarely saw in the younger man outside of battle.

“You and I - we represent the future of the Gotei thirteen. You have always made it perfectly clear that you battle for justice, attempting to do so with the least amount of bloodshed possible. I admire your objective and your determination to succeed on that path. And I agree with you, Shuuhei.”

Renji paused for a moment, carefully choosing his words, before continuing, “The only thing we’ve ever disagreed on is how to reach our goals. You are more willing to work within the system, a practical, if slow, method. Me, I’ve always been the rebel, willing to take on anyone in my way.”

Hisagi took a long, deep breath before replying, “A lot of what you say makes sense, Renji. And I’m not upset by your ambition, just worried about your rashness. You don’t always have to fight to win: Ukitake-san is a far more approachable and reasonable leader than Captain Yamamoto ever was. Besides, even as Captains we still have much to learn before seeking additional responsibilities.”

“Well, I’m not in a hurry to lord it over you, Shuuhei,” Renji said, pointedly ignoring the raucous laughter that comment pulled from his friend. “I said it was a long-term goal. I can be patient when I have to be.”

“Oh, heavens, I need more sake,” Hisagi choked out once he was able to speak without laughing. “I haven’t been a captain a full day yet, and you’re driving me to drink. You work fast, Renji.”

“That brings me to my third goal,” Renji casually mentioned as he poured more alcohol into his companion’s cup. He waited until Hisagi had taken a generous sip before adding, “You.”

Captains do not spit out their drinks in response to outrageous comments, Hisagi told himself while forcing himself to swallow his mouthful of sake. He idly wondered if his tolerance level for alcohol has been weakening over the years, or just his tolerance for Renji.

“What about me?” Hisagi asked, watching his friend closely beneath heavy-lidded eyes.

“Don’t pretend you don’t understand, Shuuhei,” Renji snarled as he moved out of his seat to lean over his friend, hastily pushing one half-empty bottle of sake out of the way in the process and uncaring of the resulting spill on the floor. “I’ve always admired your straightforward approach to everything: it makes this so much easier.”

“I want you,” Renji continued, his breath hot and heavy against Shuuhei’s lips. “And you want me too.”

“Arrogant bastard, aren’t you?” Shuuhei responded as he threaded his hands into Renji’s thick red locks and pulled him even closer.

“Always have been,” Renji managed before sealing his lips over Shuuhei’s in a hard, demanding kiss, breaking away only long enough to add, “always will be.”

***

“I didn’t expect you to be so submissive tonight, Shuuhei,” Renji leered, running his hands over Shuuhei’s chest while the other man lay naked and supine beneath him, “but I like it.”

“Submissive?” Shuuhei snorted derisively. “Your memory must have been damaged during the war, Renji, because that has never been the case. Do I need to provide examples? There was that one time in Byakuya-taichou‘s office, and let‘s not forget how much you like being tied up in my zanpakuto’s chains…”

Renji waited until he had his fingers over both tightened nipples, pinching at the nubs before interrupting, “I call them as I see them, and you appear rather compliant right now.”

Shuuhei let out a small gasp before defiantly answering, “I’ve always been open-minded when it comes to sex, you know that. Besides, I’m comfortable with my masculinity and don’t have to over-compensate for any shortcomings, unlike some individuals I could name.”

Renji grabbed Shuuhei’s left hand, placing it against his fully erect penis. “Does that feel like a shortcoming to you?” he asked, shuddering as Shuuhei evilly wrapped his fingers around Renji’s cock, strong strokes delivered at an unhurried, maddening pace.

“It‘s been a while since we‘ve fucked, Renji; I hope you haven‘t forgotten how.” Shuuhei grinned at him, his smile all insolence and challenge. “And I won’t know until you do something useful with it.” Shuuhei then raised his head slightly, using those teeth to bite roughly at Renji’s neck before laving the sweat-slicked skin with this tongue.

“I can do that, and more,” Renji growled in response, and proceeded to fully deliver on his promise.

***

Each incident on its own was a tragic occurrence; taken together they were a disaster for Seireitei and her allies.

It started with a simple accident at the end of a reconnaissance mission to Hueco Mundo: a garganta collapsed as a small group of shinigami moved through the tunnel towards Seireitei, killing both third seats from Ukitake’s former division in the process.

Three months later a new type of arrancar appeared in Karakura town, and in their initial attack three more vizard - half their group already killed during the Winter War - were slain, leaving only Ushouda Hachigan and Hirako Shinji as the sole surviving members.

The next year started with a more unusual situation: the forced hospitalization of Hitsugaya Toshirou after his mental state deteriorated as he suffered from frequent delusional sightings of Hinamori Momo, the comrade he accidentally killed during the war while under Aizen Sousuke’s hypnotic illusions. After a few months under the care of the Fourth division, it was a pale, much quieter Hitsugaya that returned to active command.

***

Hisagi was usually a calm, levelheaded person, but at times of extreme stress - like now, with the spate of accidents, attacks and other incidents thinning out the ranks of Seireitei’s senior officers and uniquely powered residents of Karakura Town - he was prone to bouts of insomnia. He remained unmoving on his side of the bed, watched the slow, almost hypnotic spin of the blades on the battery-powered ceiling fan above their bodies, and tried not to ruminate over past betrayals and who could be responsible for Soul Society’s current difficulties.

When Hisagi thought about not thinking, sometimes Renji mumbled something in his sleep - pieces of a dream, surprisingly urbane commentary about the latest person to irritate him, an unexpected endearment - turned over, draped an arm over Shuuhei’s chest and somehow lulled the older man into a restful slumber. At other times Renji awakened, opened one eye and just looked at him - serene, considering - before he silently climbed out of bed and headed for the kitchen to make them some tea.

***

He had never cared for the smell of tobacco, and Renji’s distaste only increased as he grew to associate the burning, harsh aroma with Hisagi’s uncouth friend Akon from the Twelfth division. He suspected that the scientist was well aware of his feelings, even going so far as to deliberately offend him in small, annoying ways.

Renji hated walking into the Ninth division offices and detecting traces of cigarette smoke: Akon was the only person Shuuhei would allow to pollute his office with those noxious fumes. Renji didn’t like the easy familiarity the two men shared, and he certainly didn’t like the way Akon smirked at him when Shuuhei’s back was turned.

But if there was one thing Renji had learned about Hisagi long ago was that the man was loyal to his friends, and would not countenance any attacks on their character. So he refrained from making biting comments when Akon provoked him in any way, only allowing himself to raise one eyebrow in mocking acknowledgement of the other man’s efforts.

Renji could afford to be confident: Hisagi was loyal to his friends, but devoted to his lover, sensual and giving in the privacy of their quarters, faithful and trusting at all times. Shuuhei was his, and always would be.

He would make sure of that.

***

“It has to be a traitor from within Soul Society,” Hisagi snapped, “and more than just one.”

“Anyone in particular you’d like to accuse, Hisagi-taichou?” Kurotsuchi Mayuri sneered, his high-pitched voice grating to Hisagi’s ears. “Because I have too much work to do and can’t be bothered to sit in another meeting devoted to useless speculation.”

“It was your third seat that was murdered two days ago,” the Ninth division captain said in a calm voice, the icy contempt in his words clear to everyone in the room.

“And that means my workload has increased,” an annoyed Mayuri responded, oblivious to the looks of shock and contempt his callous words inspired in most of the captains present. “So spare me the lecture and get to the point.”

Unohana Retsu rose from her seat, regaling the scientist with a pleasant smile that sent chills down the spines of everyone present. “If you have nothing useful to add to this conversation, Mayuri-taichou, feel free to leave.”

After the scientist made no effort to respond, she calmly continued, “While I appreciate your concern, Hisagi-taichou, such comments can only lead to further distrust and suspicion amongst ourselves. There would be no benefit to an investigation.”

Hisagi rarely raised objections to Unohana’s decisions, but in this matter he was willing to do so. He turned to Supreme Commander Ukitake, hoping to persuade their leader. “Ukitake-san,” he stated in a composed manner, “Akon’s death was the third suspicious incident in the last six months. Kyouraku-taichou’s disappearance and Byakuya-taichou’s murder cannot be overlooked.”

Hisagi’s words were met by the same awful choked coughs and rasps for breath that had marred Ukitake’s already-weakened health for the past year: the absence of his close friend Kyouraku Shunsui had only acerbated the decline. It took a few minutes for their leader to respond, simply asking for a vote on Hisagi’s request.

It did not surprise Hisagi in the slightest that his appeal was denied by a large margin. His shock - and complete dismay - came from noting only Komamura and Soi Fon stood with him, with Renji siding with the majority.

***

There would be no tea or sake served tonight.

It was a brutal, vicious fight, for all that it was fought with sharp words and cutting moments of silence. Even worse, no compromise emerged after they took turns attacking one another with the same ferocity they would inflict upon an enemy.

It was a rare turn of events: Shuuhei on fire, making a passionate, plainspoken argument for the pursuit of justice and warning of betrayal; Renji cool and collected, every comment carefully, precisely chosen to slice Shuuhei’s line of reasoning to shreds.

Realizing that further argument was useless, Shuuhei turned his back on his lover, heading to the door without another word. He had barely taken three strides before his left shoulder was grabbed in a firm grip and he was pulled back across the main room and through to their bedroom.

It took far more effort than it should have for Shuuhei to break Renji’s hold and push him away. When did he reach that level of power?

“If you want to keep that hand intact, Abarai, I suggest you remain out of reach,” he growled, trying to reach his usual cool tone of voice and failing miserably.

“Oh, no,” Renji disagreed, his words nearly a purr, “I’ve wanted to see you like this for a very long time, Hisagi.” With that he stepped forward faster than Shuuhei could track, taking hold of the other man and twisting their bodies to land forcefully on the bed.

Shuuhei caught his breath and started to speak, only to have a questing, determined mouth press hungrily against his own, the kiss more biting and possessive than any he had ever known. He fought back with the same, his teeth scoring a small gash against Renji’s lower lip, before he could reach up and pull Renji’s head back with a sharp pull of one hand holding a fistful of thick red hair.

“This isn’t like you, Renji,” Shuuhei ground out while trying to move out from under the body covering his own.

“It’s more like me than you know,” his lover growled as he licked at the droplets of blood welling from his wound, smiling as he enjoyed the taste and texture of the thick, salty liquid. “I’ll show you everything in due time, Shuuhei, starting tonight,” he continued, the words a command rather than a statement of fact, “and you’ll do the same in return.”

***

Hisagi couldn’t take his eyes off Renji as he slept peacefully, not the slightest trace of anger or regret on his lover’s relaxed face. He eyed the vivid bites and bruises Renji now sported on his body, more than aware of the matching set he bore on his own. The ferocity and pure fury of the sex - not lovemaking, that brutal carnality was far from the relationship that started as friendship and matured into something more valuable and enduring over the years - startled him immensely, confusion and remorse and even a shamed measure of pleasure all fighting for attention in his thoughts.

It’s more like me than you know. Renji’s comment haunted him the rest of the night and well into the next day, echoing in his mind over and over, with Shuuhei trying to reconcile the blunt honesty of the remark with the utter lie they represented… until, alone in his office, he recalled the words the Renji he knew inside and out told him the first night they made love.

You think too much, when you should just trust your instincts.

That was when all the pieces finally fell into place.

***

Hisagi did not falter. He had experienced this before - maybe even subconsciously expected it to happen again, though not like this - and there was no time for weakness. He spent the next hour considering multiple scenarios, developing and discarding various strategies, firming his resolve and gathering his strength.

A hell butterfly was dispatched to Karakura town to report his conclusions and intended movements to Urahara Kisuke. More hell butterflies with the same information was sent to every remaining Captain and Vice-Captain in Seireitei except for four. It didn’t take long for him to track that familiar reiatsu to the deepest recesses of the Twelfth division, as it was only one of two places he expected to find the traitor. Finally, he summoned Kazeshini, his grip on both scythes solid and unyielding as he disappeared into the night. If Hisagi survived this fight, he would have plenty of time for recriminations and grieving later. And if not, there would not be time for anything at all.

***

The Captain of the Ninth division was not surprised to find a trail of dead bodies as he entered the Twelfth division grounds. The only sounds heard as he traveled towards his destination were the high-pitched beeps and hums from monitors, recording the results of experiments that will never reach a conclusion and the soft slap of his sandals as they stepped over the smooth white tiles now liberally splattered with bloodstains and strewn with torn flesh and crushed bone.

Minions who have outlived their usefulness for this traitor rarely manage to survive the experience.

Vice-Captain Kurotsuchi Nemu’s remains lie near the stairs leading to the larger rooms in the basement where Kurotsuchi-taichou kept his more unstable, classified experiments. Hisagi paused for a moment to mutter a brief, heartfelt prayer for the kind, brave young woman who died far too soon but was finally free of her father’s cruelty and disregard.

As he descended the staircase, Hisagi was not worried about being attacked before he arrived at his objective. The person he sought no doubt already knew of Hisagi‘s approach - probably identified his reiatsu the very moment he entered the division gates - and wouldn‘t see him as a serious threat in any event. Besides, this shinigami had always thrived on an audience, ever-ready to proclaim his own genius and omniscience to anyone within reach.

A few steps from the basement floor it becomes far too easy to determine which room to search. The door on the last room to the left was partially open, and had a Kurotsuchi-sized dent in it: when Hisagi stepped through the entrance, the dried husk that was once the Captain of the Twelfth division was jarred loose and slid to the floor.

Hisagi considered the remains carefully: no trail of green liquid oozed from the corpse, so there was no threat from that direction. He spared a moment to wonder if Unohana-taichou was already dead, but quickly decided was she still of use to the villain who had managed to adroitly manipulate the Gotei thirteen once again - he could only hope his warning of her treachery to the rest of the shinigami reached them in time.

As he expected, every electrifying sensation of power and menace in the room emanated from the tall, brown-haired man elegantly attired in pristine white clothing that nonchalantly leaned against the wall directly across from where Hisagi stood.

“You are a remarkable young man, Hisagi Shuuhei: I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me,” Hisagi’s nightmare brought to life noted, the cultured, confident tone of his words missing the roughness of Renji’s Rukongai accent, his smile cruel and knowing and the blatant possessiveness he observed in those curved, sensual lips chilled Hisagi to the bone.

“Aizen Sousuke,” Hisagi said dryly, with no small sense of irony as he prepared to attack, “long time no see.”
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