In a slightly belated celebration of Abarai Renji's birthday, the two of us have collaborated on yet another fic-and-pic work - again, Silver did the art and Harmony wrote the fic - and it's a Bya/Ren, this time. ♥
Please forgive the rushed quality of the art and the braindead quality of the fic >_< many apologies for the lateness!
Hope you enjoy:
Title: Inks and Stains, Unintentionally Claimed
Author: Harmony (Silver Harmony)
Artist: Silver (Silver Harmony)
Word Count: Approximately 3,293.
Disclaimer: Not ours. If it was, goodness knows what we would’ve done to all the characters in it.
Notes: Cross-posted to bya_ren, bleach_yaoi and kurosaki_clinic. Also, Shirogane Mihane, who appears very briefly in this story, is not an original character; she’s actually Kubo Tite’s creation.
Feedback: Very much appreciated by both of us :)
Summary: Having everyone stare at him as if he’d grown another head wasn’t Renji’s ideal way to spend the morning of his birthday.
‘Psst. Hey. Wake up, Abarai-kun.’
Renji scrunched his closed eyes tightly; his head felt heavy, and the surface underneath his cheek felt uncomfortably hard. Who on earth would disturb him while he was this sleepy, anyway? He felt a finger prodding him in the shoulder, and he shook it off in aggravation. Well, as much aggravation as he could muster while he was practically asleep, anyway.
But the invading finger prevailed, flicking persistently at his forehead.
‘Come on, Abarai-kun,’ the same gentle voice said, and Renji could practically hear the playful smile in the tone, even in his half-asleep state. He groaned.
‘…I’m awake. I’m awake, Kira. Gimme a break,’ he grumbled drowsily, lifting his head from the desk. He reluctantly opened his eyes, and the cold, grey space of his office swam into view. It took him a few seconds to realize that a piece of paper was stuck to his face; he peeled it off, and sloppily wiped some overnight drool off his mouth.
He remembered now. Captain Kuchiki had ordered him to complete about several days' worth of dreadfully boring documents the night before, and he’d fallen asleep from boredom halfway through the pile. The papers had been due to be back on the captain’s desk by morning. And – judging from the bright sunlight streaming into his office – it was morning. Fuck.
He turned his eyes to the window next to his desk, and blinked sleepily. Kira and Hisagi leaned casually there, looking at him through the frame; the former’s eyes were twinkling warmly, and the latter’s eyebrow was raised.
‘You look pretty dead, Abarai,’ Hisagi commented in what sounded like a mock-scolding tone. ‘Better not mean drinking’s off tonight.’
‘C’mon, drinking’s never off,’ Kira said in amusement, nudging the dark-haired vice-captain with his elbow. ‘Don’t mind him, Abarai-kun, he’s just playing with you. Here, we came to drop this off... this is from both of us. Happy birthday.’
The blond lifted a small parcel through the window, and Renji reached out vaguely and took hold of it. Oh, yeah. He had almost forgotten that it was his birthday. He had only been complaining to his captain the previous night about how he deserved the day off from his duties; he remembered the response, too – his plea had fallen on deaf ears.
Which meant that he had a full day of work ahead of him. Even more fuck.
He put the parcel down on his desk, and turned back to the two at his window, who were gazing at him with interest.
‘Oh – thanks,’ the redhead said quickly. While he was so busy dreading the day to come, he realized he’d forgotten his manners.
But the two didn’t even seem to notice. Hisagi made some kind of weird swatting gesture near his own chin, and turned his head a little. ‘Oi, Abarai. Turn – look at Kira for a second.’
Renji gazed at him confusedly, not knowing what he was talking about. But he complied, anyway; he turned his head slightly to stare Kira full in the face. Almost immediately, Kira and Hisagi turned to look at each other, wordless, but the corners of their mouths twitching upwards. Renji stared at this exchange in puzzlement.
‘What?’ he asked, frowning.
Hisagi shrugged. He didn’t seem to want to answer. Kira, who was looking over at him, had just opened his mouth to do it for him when they were interrupted by a loud knocking on the office door.
‘Just a minute, Kira,’ Renji uttered to the blond. And then, he turned to the door and, in a louder voice, called out: ‘Come in.’
The door swept open and in strolled Shirogane Mihane, her dirty blonde hair bouncing and her eyeglasses gleaming. The Sixth Division Ninth Seat bowed briefly to Renji, and straightened up again, also ducking her head in momentary respect towards the general direction of the window.
‘Kira-fukutaicho, Hisagi-fukutaicho,’ she said, acknowledging them. And then, she wasted no time in turning back to Renji, frowning. ‘Abarai-fukutaicho, Kuchiki-Taicho has been waiting for you for hours. He wants you in his office now.’
Renji cursed under his breath. ‘Shit. And I haven’t even finished.’
‘That’s no excuse as far as Kuchiki-Taicho is concerned, I’m afraid,’ Shirogane responded, looking at him with some degree of sympathy. ‘He mentioned that he had given you all night to complete the papers, and—’
She suddenly came to a halt. She leaned closer towards him, adjusting her eyeglasses. Renji leaned back; the way she was peering at him through them with narrowed eyes made him feel uneasy.
‘…Abarai-fukutaicho,’ she said, slowly. ‘Would you mind turning… would you mind looking at Hisagi-fukutaicho for a second?’
Renji wrinkled his forehead suspiciously. ‘What’s this about?’
But Shirogane only stared at him, without any answer.
The redhead couldn’t contain his curiosity, however, so he turned his face to the direction of the window as he had been requested to do. Hisagi had moved so that he was hiding his face behind Kira's head, and there was a slight tremor rippling through his body. Kira had covered his own mouth with his hand in a failed attempt to conceal the fact that he was trying not to laugh; the blond vice-captain looked over at the Sixth Division Ninth Seat and shrugged, his eyes gleaming with amusement.
‘Alright, what is it?’ Renji demanded, backing away self-consciously from Shirogane, who he noticed was regarding him with interest. ‘What’s the joke? What am I missing out on?’
Kira’s hand slid away from his face, and the redhead was stunned to see him grinning. ‘Abarai-kun, you—’
‘No, no. Abarai got a summons from his captain, Kira. It’d be wrong of us to delay him,’ interrupted Hisagi, who had retrieved himself from behind the blond's head, looking calm and composed and very, very serious. ‘C’mon, let’s go. We’ll see you tonight, Abarai.’
The dark-haired vice-captain walked away before Renji could say anything, pulling on Kira’s arm. Kira turned back to wave at Renji, still grinning warmly. The redhead looked at them in bewilderment; he was just scratching his head in confusion when a light cough interrupted his thoughts.
‘Abarai-fukutaicho,’ Shirogane cleared her throat. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, before she continued: ‘Your summons.’
‘Oh. Right,’ he answered, feeling slightly uncomfortable. He stood up and quickly gathered the incomplete documents together. They were scattered all over his desk, and it painfully caused Renji to take more time to pick them all up; he didn’t like the way the Ninth Seat kept staring at him the entire time. He felt somewhat relieved once he was finished, at which point Shirogane nodded and made her way over to the door. He followed.
‘By the way, happy birthday, Abarai-fukutaicho,’ she bowed her head, and walked off, the corners of her mouth also twitching.
Renji stared after her, watching her retreating back. Everyone was acting weird today. He furrowed his eyebrows, but he knew that there wasn’t any time to think about it; he would get another uncomfortable lecture from Captain Kuchiki if he didn’t answer to his summons immediately. So he got rid of those thoughts and walked down the corridor of the Sixth Division main office building, towards the captain’s office.
However, he passed some of the division’s seated officers on the way, and none of them did anything to sate his curiosity and suspicion. All of them wished him a happy birthday, and Renji thanked all of them in turn – but he couldn’t help noticing the way they stared at him as if he had two heads.
By the time he found himself at Captain Kuchiki’s door, he felt so incredibly self-conscious that he almost considered turning around and ignoring the summons. The only thing that stopped him was the thought of the inevitable death that would befall him if he did. He couldn’t help his train of thought from flooding back: he wondered if Kira and Hisagi were laughing at him because he was disheveled from his sleep? He quickly ran his hands through his hair. After all, he wasn’t keen on getting a lecture about neatness, either.
‘Come in, Renji,’ an even voice said behind the door.
Renji stopped. He hadn’t even knocked; the captain must have sensed he was there from his reiatsu. The redhead cursed, brushed his hands nervously over his slightly creased uniform, and opened the door and stepped in.
Captain Kuchiki, seated behind his desk, watched him silently as he entered. The scrutiny made Renji's discomfort grow tenfold; he swept over to the desk hastily and placed the messy pile of documents down in front of the captain.
‘Forgive me, Kuchiki-Taicho,’ he said, feeling his face warm up. He was expecting the worst already - something already told him that this meeting wasn't going to end well. ‘To be honest, I actually haven’t finished all the documents.’
The captain stared at him.
‘I’m sorry for my inadequacy. I fell asleep. I was exhausted,’ – and bored as hell – ‘and I swear I’ll get to finishing them once I have the time.’
For a moment, Captain Kuchiki didn’t say anything. He just stared. He just sat there wordlessly, in his seat, looking straight into Renji's face. The redhead found his eyes slowly sliding to the floor, feeling complete unease washing over him. His hands ran self-consciously over the faint creases in his uniform again. He wondered if Captain Kuchiki was going to end up saying anything at all, from the perpetuality that the current silence already felt like.
Finally, however, the captain spoke up.
‘Is that a new tattoo?’
Renji looked up at him in puzzlement. Captain Kuchiki gazed back. What new tattoo?
Oh, wait. He suddenly remembered something. He had gone to the real world two days ago, to deliver a birthday celebration invitation to Ichigo; afterwards, not wanting to go back to his Seireitei duties immediately, he had taken a nap on the floor in Ichigo’s bedroom. When he had woken up, he had found the flag of real-world Japan stamped on his body. He discovered later on that Ichigo had decided to mess around with some of his younger sisters’ stick-on tattoos and that he had become the test subject; he wondered fleetingly if that was what Captain Kuchiki was talking about.
But then he stopped. No, hang on. It’s under my uniform.
‘You… you can see it, Kuchiki-Taicho?’
The captain’s expression didn’t change. ‘Of course I can.’
Renji was stunned by this answer. He wondered perversely, for a brief moment, if Captain Kuchiki had some kind of special power that enabled him to see through his clothes. In curiosity, he pulled down one side of his shihakusho, exposing one red nipple on a rectangular white background. He pointed his finger at it.
‘…You mean this tattoo, right?’
‘No,’ the captain answered surprisingly quickly; something that resembled horror briefly crossed his features, before his face became stony again. ‘Pull up your shihakusho. And never assault me like that without warning ever again.’
‘Sorry,’ Renji flushed, pulling up his uniform and bowing his head.
Captain Kuchiki stood up, and slowly made his way around the desk, a faint trace of curiosity etched in his expression.
‘Turn – look at the bookshelf, Renji.’
‘Okay, wait,’ Renji answered fast, backing away slightly, feeling both exposed and frustrated. ‘That’s the third time today that someone’s asked me to turn to look somewhere. And on the way here, all the officers were staring at me. Just what the hell is going on? And what tattoo are you talking about, Taicho?’
But Captain Kuchiki wasn’t even listening. He walked towards Renji and – to the redhead’s surprise – reached up and took hold of his chin, and brought his face right up to the vice-captain's.
Renji’s heart almost stopped beating. His face felt hot; he knew he was blushing from his captain’s sheer gaze. He felt almost naked from it. He felt himself sweating, and he didn’t dare breathe. Captain Kuchiki had never touched him in this way before. He helplessly complied as the captain turned his face sideways slightly, to inspect his cheek.
And then, suddenly, a vague memory returned to him. Feeling Kira’s fingers lightly flicking at him. Lifting his head from the desk, opening his eyes, seeing the office swim into his vision. Peeling a piece of document away from his cheek…
Dread suddenly filled him.
‘There’s – there’s something printed on my face, isn’t there?’ he asked, disheartened.
Captain Kuchiki let go of him; his face was impassive and calm as ever, but there was something in his furrowed eyebrows and in his eyes that showed a vague hint of disbelief. He took a step back, away from Renji. The vice-captain took this as his cue and immediately walked over to the steaming cup of tea on the desk, the only thing in the whole office that would serve as a reflective surface.
He looked down at the tea, and turned his face slightly. His eyes widened.
‘Oh,’ he said, slowly. He closed his eyes and bit down on his lip. ‘Oh, man.’
He opened his eyes and stared into the tea again, to make sure that he hadn’t been imagining what he had seen. But his hope was dashed to pieces.
On his cheek, in huge script, was the word BYAKUYA.
He didn’t think he could have felt more humiliated. The heat lingered on his face. No wonder Kira and Hisagi were laughing. No wonder Shirogane and all those other Sixth Division officers looked at him oddly. He was going to kill Hisagi for stopping Kira from warning him. But then again, he wondered why the hell no one else bothered to warn him, either.
He had just begun to wipe at his face vigorously with his sleeve, when light footsteps approached him and a handkerchief was slowly thrust in front of him.
‘Don’t do that to your uniform,’ Captain Kuchiki said stoically.
There was no insult, no lecturing about the tattoo. The captain was expressionless as always - his face showed no sign of it at all, but there was something about this gesture that Renji thought was surprisingly compassionate. The handkerchief must have been expensive; it had been embroidered along the edges with gold-colored thread, and the Sixth Division flower symbol had been sewn into it. He took it in gratitude and embarrassment, and began wiping his cheek with it.
‘Thanks,’ he uttered.
Captain Kuchiki didn’t answer.
When he had rubbed at his cheek to the point where it felt raw, he looked down at the handkerchief and noted how its expensive look had been pitifully degraded. There were smudges of black ink smeared all over the white and gold. His hand twitched; he wasn’t sure whether it was more disrespectful to give it back, or not give it back.
‘Don’t bother,’ the captain’s voice suddenly startled him; it was as if he had known what the redhead had been thinking. ‘Keep it. It can be washed. Consider it your birthday present.’
Renji was still embarrassed, but a little relief filled him to hear this. He should have remembered from the start that Captain Kuchiki wasn’t the kind of person who would pay him out for something like the humiliating tattoo on his face. He slid the handkerchief into his pocket; he was mildly amused that the captain had offered for him to keep it. Renji knew that it was because he didn’t want to have to deal with getting a dirty handkerchief back, even though it was obviously valuable and expensive, but still, as a birthday present, it was kind of lame.
He didn’t say anything of those thoughts, though. Not just because he didn’t want to be cut down by Senbonzakura, but because he knew the gift was nonetheless very Kuchiki Byakuya. And he felt grateful for it.
‘Thank you, Taicho. That’s very generous of you,’ he said. And he meant it.
‘Think nothing of it,’ Captain Kuchiki answered. And then, without skipping a beat, he went on: ‘I summoned you here to give you permission to take a break from duty, as per your distasteful complaints yesterday.’
Whatever Renji had been expecting, that wasn’t it. He hardly even heard the insult - he was genuinely surprised. He felt a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth; Captain Kuchiki, being generous? The world must be ending.
His thoughts must have been somehow illustrated upon his face, because the captain immediately added, ‘But only for this evening. I know that you had already been scheduled for time off for then, but your inability to complete your work on time should have annulled it. I'll consider this an exception, just this once. You are required to finish all these documents before then; and if not, that time off will be revoked. Is that clear?’
The redhead nodded, feeling that faint appreciation well up in him again. An evening might not have been much, but it was enough; enough to have his birthday celebrations, to spend his time with his friends, with Kira and Hisagi and Ichigo and the others. He wouldn’t have expected more from Captain Kuchiki; he had never even expected this to begin with. He honestly felt thankful for it. On impulse, he shoved his hand into his pocket again, reaching for the spare crumpled piece of paper that he knew he’d stored there earlier.
When he had found it, he took it out and handed it over to his captain, who simply stared at him.
‘An invitation,’ Renji said, feeling suddenly a little shy, ‘to my birthday party tonight. I'd been holding off giving it to you because I wasn't sure you'd want to come. But – I mean, you still gave me the evening off despite my incompletion of my work and everything, so – I thought I may as well try.’
The captain looked at him, and then down at the invitation in his hands.
‘Uh – sorry, I know it’s a little creased and pathetic-looking,’ the redhead added, feeling that heat spread over his face again.
Captain Kuchiki turned his gaze back to Renji in response to this, and slowly tucked the sloppy invitation into his pocket.
‘Inconsequential,’ he replied. ‘Thank you.’
Renji smiled at him in relief, before bowing to him in respect and picking up his papers from the desk again. He distantly noticed, in mild amusement, that one of them - bearing the captain’s name in large print - had been smudged. He had just turned to make his way to the door when Captain Kuchiki’s stony voice interrupted him.
‘But I won’t drink. If everyone gets intoxicated, I will leave.’
Renji stopped in his tracks. He turned around, furrowing his eyebrows.
‘But Ichigo won't drink either. You'll have him to talk to,’ he answered.
‘I will never be in the mood for idle chats with Kurosaki, Renji.’
‘Why not? Are you just going to stand there with your hands by your sides?’
‘Don’t mock me. And make sure you wash your face before then. I can still see my name there.’
‘You talk to me as if I’m someone who never washes my face.’
‘Okay, okay,’ Renji nodded in surrender, rolling his eyes. ‘I get the point.’
He made his way over to the door. It was so very Kuchiki Byakuya. The captain had never failed to adhere to his own personality and character. Always stony, always composed, always with a stick up his ass; always the same. And the redhead was surprised to think that maybe, in spite of everything, he still wouldn’t have his captain any other way.
He was already out in the corridor when the even voice filled his ears again.
‘Happy birthday, Renji.’
The vice-captain paused for a moment, faintly surprised. Kuchiki Byakuya, indeed.
He smiled, and closed the door behind him.
Art: Byakuya inspecting Renji's face up close. :)