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Skin of Stone/Heart of Glass

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It was one of those things they should probably talk about—the no touching rule—but Renji couldn’t just stand there with his arms at his sides while Byakuya clung to him. He had to return the hug. Burying his nose in the smell of Byakuya’s hair, Renji slipped his arms around powerful, slender waist and pulled their bodies together roughly. He squeezed Byakuya tightly, like he might never let go.

Into Renji’s ear, Byakuya sighed contentedly. Whispering, Byakuya said, “I apologize.”

Renji wanted to ask ‘for what,’ but putting it that way would only start another fight.

Besides, he figured he knew what the apology was for and it was for the wrong thing, anyways. “You know I don’t give a shit about you raising your hand,” Renji murmured. When Byakuya stiffened under his touch, Renji loosened his grip, but he didn’t let go. He stroked Byakuya’s back lightly as he spoke. “People been hitting me my whole life. So much so, my skin has turned to stone. That isn’t what hurts. What stings is that you mean to slap me down to some place beneath you.”

“Yes,” Byakuya breathed. “That’s why I’m sorry.”

Renji nuzzled his nose into the tip of Byakuya’s ear, satisfied. Maybe it wasn’t much of an apology, but this was Byakuya. He wouldn’t get much else out of him, and at least Renji had made it clear what he wanted sorrys for.

“You understand that I don’t truly wish for that—for you, subservient at my feet and under my control,” Byakuya continued in a hushed, halting voice. Renji held his breath as Byakuya continued, “It’s only my grandfather speaking through me; me acting angrily, or unthinkingly repeating all the… as you would say, ‘bullshit’ of my training, my upbringing. I say such things because they come the easiest, and because I know they hurt you the most.”

“Yeah,” Renji laughed a little, darkly, “I guess that’s what fighting is, trying to hurt each other.”

“Yes, but you know, do you not, that I don’t mean what I say?”

Renji tried to pull them apart a little so he could look Byakuya in the eye, but Byakuya clung harder, pressing his face into Renji’s shoulder. “You saying that all that monkey and moon crap was just trash talking?”

“Yes,” Byakuya said, lifting his head. “That’s precisely what I’m saying. Do you think I could have married Hisana, fought my family over every single moment we had together, if I truly believed that Rukongai souls were lesser than my own?”

Renji had to admit he’d never really considered that fact. In truth, he kind of tried not to think of the woman that came before him. When he did, uncharitably, Renji had sometimes figured Byakuya picked Inuzuri strays to love because they were grateful for any scrap tossed their way. Worse, maybe they figured that was all they deserved. Taking a breath, Renji closed his eyes so he could say, “Yeah, but… see, I guess the thing is, I believe it. Heard it enough every damn where I went, didn’t I?”

Byakuya’s fingers dug deeply into Renji’s shoulder blades. “Fool,” he whispered lovingly, yet admonishingly. But, then added, “Yet, this is why it makes such a powerful and easy weapon for me; one I should no longer use. It poisons us both whenever I do. It reinforces the lies we’ve been told. We… I must resist giving that nonsense any more strength over us. The power it gives me is false; just as it falsely weakens you.”

This was some real talk from Byakuya. Profound, even. Renji blinked, and then laughed, “Damn, Byakuya. What’s Ukitake been saying to you?”

When Byakuya pulled away, Renji released him. Byakuya surprised Renji once again by not entirely leaving their embrace, only stepping back enough to look him in the eye and putting his hands on Renji’s hips. When Renji realized Byakuya was going no further, he did the same. They stood there, wrapped around each other, stomachs touching, arms tangled.

“I should have you know that it is my own thinking in this matter,” Byakuya said, with a touch of his pride showing in his stony face. Then, his eyes slipped away and he admitted, “The truth is… I realized that, drunk, I sound just like Aunt Masama. I… don’t wish to ever… Frankly, I hate her. She’s a horrible woman. I should rather die than parrot the things she says.”

And there was that brief mention of the grandpa. Renji’d long figured that guy had some serious answering to do for the ways in which Byakuya was hurting. Probably, though, that was too messy, too complicated by blood and birth. A relative that close was not someone Byakuya likely could admit to hating. Probably. Renji had no idea about birth and blood. He’d never felt compelled to love anyone he didn’t. There wasn’t any loyalty in Renji’s heart for beatings and abuse. He’d been something else before he was an Abarai, and when that didn’t work out so well, he’d left it.

Byakuya’s fingertips on his cheek brought Renji back from his reverie. “You have your thinking face on. Should I be worried?” Byakuya asked him.

“I was just trying to understand the way your family works,” Renji said. “I’ve never been trapped by blood. If I picked the wrong people to watch out for me, I owed them nothing. Sure, maybe they fed me sometimes, but no rickety Inuzuri roof was better than any other.”

Byakuya watched Renji’s eyes as he spoke. “Are you telling me you had… parents?”

“Anybody comes through little is supposed to be assigned a family,” Renji said. “I came through little.”

“You did? I had no idea you were ever small. Somehow I imagined you arrived in Inuzuri fully-grown,” Byakuya said, sounding a little astonished.

“What? Tattoos and all?” Renji laughed, glancing down at Byakuya.

“Just so,” Byakuya said, fingers absently smoothing Renji’s sideburn.

“Well, that would’ve been easier,” Renji chuckled. “No, time was, Rukia and I were about the same size.”

“No,” Byakuya breathed. Both hands suddenly rested on the expanse of Renji’s chest as though trying to imagine. “You? So tiny? What did you even look like?”

“Like myself, I guess,” Renji smiled. “You’d have to ask Rukia.”

Byakuya nodded seriously. His hands smoothed the fabric along the length of Renji’s chest to his shoulders. “I will. These people you left, were they Rukia’s parents, too?”

“No,” Renji said with a vigorous shake of his head. He was surprised Byakuya didn’t know. “Rukia never told you she was raised by traveling monks?”

“No,” Byakuya said. “Though it makes sense. I long wondered how it was Hisana couldn’t recover Rukia from Inuzuri. It is a large district, but not impossible to scout completely in a matter of months. Even one woman, alone.”

Renji nodded. His thumbs absently stroked the silk at Byakuya’s sides. “Yeah, those monks were good onii-chan from what Rukia said. They were always on the road, but took good care of her, raising her up from being an infant and all. Kept her warm and clothed. Taught her a bit of fight and reading. She’d have never ended up back in Inuzuri, except for bad luck and bandits.”

They stood for a while, thinking about this, still wrapped around each other. Byakuya glanced up at Renji and sighed. “We’re rather expert at talking about everything except ourselves, are we not?”

Renji shrugged. Any talk seemed like good talk to him. Maybe it wasn’t direct, but stuff like this brought them closer. “Wanna snuggle in bed?”

“If you’re sure?”

Renji leaned down and kissed Byakuya on the nose. He was going to leave it like that, but then Byakuya’s smooth alabaster forehead seemed to be begging for a little smooch, so he let his lips alight there, too. “I told you what matters to me in all this. Sounds to me like you mean what you say about trying not to buy into all that stuff that’s been coming between us. I can’t ask for much more than that. And it ain’t like that stuff is anything we can shake off overnight. It’s going to take some working, I imagine. So, it’s a good thing we’re planning being together a long time.”

“You haven’t changed your mind about the elopement?” Byakuya asked with a hopeful, tiny smile.

Catching up Byakuya’s mouth in his own, Renji let his body answer.

They kissed a long time. As usual, Renji kept part of his mind on stilling his hands. His fingers tightly gripped Byakuya’s hips as his tongue explored familiar contours and tasted strong, sobering tea. He pressed as deep as he dared, constantly alert for any shift in reiatsu or body language.

Byakuya seemed loose and receptive. His hands reached for Renji’s hair. Finding it bound up, they curled and uncurled against neck and shoulders, stroking and coaxing.

Renji could feel Byakuya’s heart beating against his own, a gently rising tick-tock of desire.

Finally, breaking for some air, Renji smiled, “C’mon. Let’s go.”


Byakuya held Renji’s hand tightly the whole way upstairs, afraid Renji might still leave him. Byakuya had noticed, during their kiss, how careful Renji had been. But, whom did he have to blame if Renji never lost himself to passion any more?

Only himself, of course.

At the door to the master suite, Byakuya paused. Renji pulled up short, surprised, but he waited patiently as Byakuya tried to find words. Nothing simple or concise came, so Byakuya just shook his head mutely and ducked inside. The sitting room still smelled pleasantly of sweet grass, the only remaining evidence of the birthday gift. However, Byakuya wasn’t sure he’d ever be able walk into this room and not see the image of Renji hanging there, trembling… available. Tattoos and ropes… and….

Renji seemed to know what Byakuya was thinking about because he let out a low chuckle. He kissed the top of Byakuya’s head in passing and muttered, “Good times.” After pulling Zabimaru from his obi and setting the zanpakutō at the door as though to stand guard over it, Renji started stripping out of his uniform.

It never ceased to impress Byakuya how casual and relaxed Renji was in his sexuality. He had no shame as his hakama dropped to the floor. He just kicked them to the side and kept walking, undoing the ties in his shitagi as he went. In no time, all his clothing was shucked like some unwanted, unnecessary burden. Byakuya stood spellbound, watching muscles shift and ripple tattoos as Renji reached to untie his hair. Crimson hair spilled down to fall at shoulders—a perfect vision of wild beauty.

“I’m jealous, in part, because you’re so captivating,” Byakuya said. He followed in Renji’s wake, like a lovestruck puppy. “It’s difficult for me to imagine that there is a soul who does not desire you.”

Renji turned around. Tugging his hair from his face, he grimace-smiled, his expression wolfish. He shifted his hips in a way that made it impossible for Byakuya to focus on Renji’s face any more. Instead his eyes followed tattoos ever downward along taut muscles to unashamed nakedness. “Yeah? You can’t keep your hands off all this awesome, huh?”

“No, I really can not,” Byakuya admitted. Giving in to temptation, he closed the distance between them and began his favorite game of tracing the lines of the ink with his fingertips.

Renji shivered beneath his gentle touch. His breathing shallowed immediately at their closeness. Even after all this time, it was clear that just being near Byakuya profoundly thrilled Renji. Carefully, cautiously, Renji lifted a hand to brush the hair away from Byakuya’s face. His fingers stayed to trail down cheekbone to jaw line.

Byakuya closed his eyes to enjoy the sensation of calloused, rough hands so carefully tracing along his skin. At that moment, he made a decision. Undoing his obi, he let his kimono open. Before he could change his mind, he quickly undid the ties that held the sides together. He cleared his throat and announced, “Take me.”


Renji had been leaning in for a kiss, but stopped and choked out a sound of surprise. He wanted to stammer a ‘what?’, but he knew how much Byakuya hated repeating himself. But, even so, he had to be sure about something like this. “You mean, like, take take you?”

Byakuya let out an exasperated sigh and then, shifting his shoulders, let the kimono drop so that he was standing in only his underwear. “Yes. I had suggested such an activity earlier, though you were far too angry to take me seriously then.”

Renji tried to think back, but it had all become a blur after the Ninth arrived. He almost asked, ‘was this before or after the leash comment,’ but decided that wasn’t productive. Anyway, he wasn’t going to waste an opportunity. Hooking his finger into the edge Byakuya’s fundoshi, he jerked Byakuya in close for a bruising kiss.

He let his tongue plunder Byakuya’s mouth passionately. When he pulled away, Byakuya’s lips were swollen and his cheeks flushed pink.

“You better be serious,” Renji whispered, kissing those lips again, gently. “No changing your mind halfway through.”

“Have I ever?”

Renji tried to think. He didn’t figure the last night at the Hanami counted. Byakuya had gotten what he wanted that night, all rough and hard up against the wall. What he hadn’t wanted was all the talk of love, after. There had been a few other times, either furtive or, like in the temple of the wild dog, almost like a dream. But, Byakuya had never backed out. There’d never been any reprisals of any kind. Renji nodded to himself, and then, stooping down, picked Byakuya up in his arms.

Byakuya made a muffled noise of surprise and grabbed Renji’s neck. It wasn’t far to the bed, but Byakuya hardly had a moment to compose himself before Renji tossed him down on the mattress.

Renji stood over Byakuya for only a moment before joining him on the bed. He worked at divesting Byakuya of his ridiculous underwear, while kissing any bit of exposed flesh that struck his fancy. Elbow, thigh, belly button… that last one made Byakuya have to stifle a giggle.

When Renji glanced up at him, Byakuya had a hand in front of his mouth, as if wary or curious. Their eyes met and Byakuya asked, “Would you take me as you would some other man? As you would have before we met?”

What was this? Renji sat up. He’d been leaning in between Byakuya’s spread legs, kissing upraised knees. Having finally removed the last of the fundoshi, he tossed it to the floor. “You want to pretend you’re just some guy I picked up? Like we don’t know each other?”

“Yes,” Byakuya said seriously. Sitting up a little, he caught Renji’s gaze and held it. “If you treat me this way, I no longer have to imagine what you would be like with someone else.”

Absently rubbing Byakuya’s leg, Renji frowned. This was kind of an odd way to deal with jealousy, but maybe it could work.

“You know it’s different with everyone, right? Besides, there’s really no scenario where I just randomly picked up a noble,” Renji teased, poking Byakuya’s knee. “I’d be terrified right about now if I found myself in some castle like this with a guy as amazing looking as you.”

“Could you not just humor me?” Byakuya sighed, letting his head fall back.

Byakuya’s inky hair spilled over the white pillows. He lay sprawled on his back, on top of the blankets, just as Renji had tossed him--arms splayed and legs open. A deceptively thin and slender body belied unmatched strength and speed. Renji’s fingers itched with a desire to stroke and caress the contours of every muscle.

Treat him like I don’t know any better, huh? Like it’s okay to touch? Like I could just play with him for hours?

Renji let his hands move of their own accord. Fingers traced the lines of ribcage and stomach, down the length of leg and then back up again. Leaning in closer, he let his hands move across quivering chest. Wide eyes watched Renji’s progress. Byakuya’s breath quickened and hitched. His body quivered and shivered under Renji’s touch. Renji smiled. He wanted to say ‘see, my hands on you ain’t so awful,’ but he was supposed to be pretending he didn’t know Byakuya, so instead he said, “You like this, eh?”

“Actually, it’s rather maddening.” Byakuya sucked in a breath as Renji’s hands swept over stiffening rosebud nipples. His face struggled to maintain its usual empty composure. Heat blushed his high cheekbones and his eyelashes fluttered down to hide dilating pupils.

If Byakuya were a stranger, that would be an invitation. So, Renji leaned all the way over and nipped Byakuya’s ear and growled into it, “So what do you want instead?” He licked the inside of Byakuya’s ear just enough so that his next words were sure to tickle, “Ask for it.”

Byakuya’s whole body twitched and he breathed, “Oh. My.” He frowned a bit, clearly trying to concentrate as Renji continued to nip and nuzzle at ear and throat. “Uh… lips, mouth… teeth…? Yes, all of that on my skin.”

Even if he didn’t know Byakuya as well as he did, Renji’s next thought would’ve been the same: Flustered is cute on him. Though honestly, at this point, Renji would be wondering if this guy was just going to lie there and make him do all the work. Ah, Renji thought, as he climbed on top of Byakuya and started to kiss and lick his way down, he’d had guys like that before. The ones who just squirmed under him, moaning, and not even grabbing for hair or shoulders or anything, just clutching the sheets and begging.

Heh, well, Renji used to have a game he’d play with guys like that.

People always assumed Renji was the sort who’d be over in a minute—all wham, bam, thank you, man. But, he could always hold out much, much longer than anyone expected. In fact, he used to perversely love to drive crazy the ones in a hurry or who wanted just to be taken with no effort on their part….

So, he spent a long time kissing and blowing air into that hollow between the collarbones that he loved so well. Then, he played a game to see how long he could tease nipples until pale pink turned bright with need and Byakuya’s fingers left the bed to clutch and scratch at his back. Byakuya’s legs wrapped around Renji’s waist, and he thrust his aroused cock desperately into Renji’s stomach.

Now we’re getting somewhere, Renji thought with a growling pleasure, finally consenting to moved downward. He still didn’t hurry, though. He licked at stomach, just above the bobbing, anxious cock.

Blindly, he groped for the lube. When his fingers closed around the tube, he worked the top off one handed. Shifting to the side, Renji used one hand to lift up Byakuya so that he could take his cock into his mouth, while his now lubed fingers probed at Byakuya’s backside.

Byakuya gasped and moaned “Oh, Renji. Oh, gods.” Fingers that had been clutching at his back now dug deep into his hair.

Renji had been so focused on not doing too much to make Byakuya come that he missed the chance to see his face. With a silent curse, he determined to watch every moment now.

Byakuya fought his passion. His face was nearly completely flushed red. Breath was forced in strangled sniffs, as he clenched his jaw to keep from making any noise. It was hot on Byakuya, but Renji tried to imagine how he’d feel if this was someone new in his life. Probably he’d see it as a challenge… no, he definitely would.

Without warning, he pushed his fingers in deeper, as far as they could go. Renji had big hands. He was pretty sure he could catch that particular spot just right, if he used enough ‘oomph.’ If not, he’d come tantalizingly close.

Byakuya’s eyes flew open and his mouth made the most amazing little ‘o.’ His hands flailed momentarily before coming back to tug at Renji’s hair.

Renji recalled his previous policy towards hair pullers: double down. So, he did. In fact, he stopped worrying if Byakuya came too soon. He took as much of Byakuya into his mouth as he could. He could taste Byakuya’s rising arousal, as his fingers probed deeper and harder.

Byakuya couldn’t hold back the noises now. His legs squeezed the sides of Renji’s head, fingers digging deeply into Renji’s hair. Gasping, he made the most arousing little grunty-moans Renji had ever heard in his life. Doubly so, coming from Byakuya, especially when Renji recognized his own name among the strangled noises—his name, and, apparently, every god, ever.

The litany of gods made Renji laugh a little, a rumble and huff against the sensitiveness of Byakuya’s cock. Byakuya must have seen Renji’s expression because his back arched spasmodically, and he let out a moaning, “Fuck me.”

It was a command rather than a beg, but the words were still very sweet to Renji’s ear. Gently, he slipped his fingers out. Even so, Byakuya let out a little sob when Renji’s mouth left him as well. Renji squeezed Byakuya’s leg in reassurance and then used his hand to guide Byakuya’s leg into position.

Crawling up the length of Byakuya’s body, Renji kissed his way back to Byakuya’s lips. Byakuya’s arms wrapped around Renji’s shoulders, fingers dug into flesh, and urged him to move faster. Remembering their scenario, Renji said what he’d say to a random pick-up: “I know you’re anxious, but I’m not willing to hurt you.”

Something in Byakuya seemed to sober and still, despite the heat of his passion. “I see. I’m being taught a lesson.”

“What!? No,” Renji said. He took a moment to capture those thinning lips and coax them back open for a kiss. At the same time, he nudged himself into position. Byakuya’s legs curled up around his ribs. “Remember? We just met. I’m not supposed to know you. Besides, I do know you, and I know you ain’t done things this way in a long time. Now shut up and let me fuck you like you asked me to.”

Byakuya’s fingers found a bit of Renji’s hair and tugged. “You know I like it rough.”

“Actually, I’m not supposed to know that,” Renji smiled, easing himself inside Byakuya as he kissed his neck. “So why don’t you rephrase that? Tell me how you want it.”

Renji was pleased that Byakuya couldn’t say much of anything for a while as Renji stretched deeper inside him. Instead he gasped and bit his lip, hands clutching at shoulders, and toes curling. Renji’d never seen Byakuya like this, his face was flushed so red and his hair damp with sweat. He looked almost wrung out by passion, and he was losing the ability to hold back flickers of emotions that roiled through him. Even his reiatsu shuddered with every gasping breath.

And they hadn’t even really started.

Byakuya was tight in the way that felt amazing to be inside, but Renji started slowly. Nearly pulling out, and then pushing back in—yeah, even going slowly had Byakuya biting back a noise. Renji loved the way Byakuya seemed to lose the ability to keep his hands still, it was like each thrust made him flail a little before he remembered to grab hold of something, anything. It was almost like, in order to keep his face free from emotions, he had to give up controlling some other part of his body.

Also, it was kind of dorky and adorable.

And knowing this new thing about Byakuya made Renji fall a little deeper in love. “Look at you, you’re so cute.”

“Cute?” Byakuya managed to stutter as Renji pushed back into him again. “Ah! Oh…” A little hand slapping, and a grab. Catching his breath he managed, “Should I be offended?”

Renji just shook his head and licked the sweat off Byakuya’s shoulder. He’d been increasing the pace incrementally and, frankly, speaking of control, his own mounting pleasure was making it hard to hold back. Byakuya’s ass was so sweet. His little uncontrolled hand movements seemed to accompany a deep clench that was driving Renji insane. “Uh, I hope you’re serious about rough…” he managed to grunt as he shifted so he could get more thrusting power.

“Yes,” Byakuya gasped. “Hurry, Renji. I’m so close.”

Renji didn’t need any more encouragement. He lost himself in the rhythm of their bodies. Byakuya’s reiatsu pounded in time with his thrusts and his own mounting passion. The walls thrummed and shook. Byakuya’s mask finally dropped and he clutched at Renji with tears in his eyes. His face—flushed, open, so… vulnerable—made Renji come harder than anything their bodies were doing.

When Byakuya came it was so explosive, so out of control that he let out a cry of passion and his reiatsu wave knocked pictures from the walls and books from the shelves. Even Renji felt like he’d been punched in the solar plexus by the wave of it.

Collapsing, Renji breathed, “Holy shit.”

“Mmm,” Byakuya managed, struggling to catch his breath. “Good?”

Renji snorted a laugh. Untangling himself to roll off, he muttered. “Fuck, that was… fucking wow.”

“I think,” Byakuya said between heaving breaths, “I’m more jealous, not less.”

Glancing over at Byakuya, Renji poked his arm. “But it wouldn’t be like that with anyone else. Don’t be a moron.”

Byakuya clasped his hands on his chest and closed his eyes, clearly exhausted…. or maybe brooding.

Renji rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow, so he could study Byakuya, figure him out. “You’re not seriously mad, are you?’

“I’m sleeping,” Byakuya announced.

In that mess? Fastidious Byakuya? No way.

Even though he was bone tired, Renji pulled himself out of bed. Byakuya cracked open an eye, but before he could make any kind of comment, Renji scooped him up into his arms. “Actually, I’m taking you to the bath.”

Byakuya protested, albeit feebly. “I can walk.”

“If you can, I ain’t done my job properly,” Renji smiled down at him.

Byakuya made a tisking noise, and then wrapped his arms around Renji’s neck. “Very well. But not the sento. It’s too far. There’s the small bath down the hall.”

“You got it, Taicho,” Renji nodded. Testing Byakuya’s weight in his arms, Renji shifted him a bit so he was sure he could bear the load the distance. Before leaving the suite, he asked, “You think the servants are going to take care of the bed? You don’t want me to ring them, do you?”

“Believe me,” Byakuya said dryly, “I’m fairly certain the whole Seireitei knows we had sex tonight.”

Renji hugged Byakuya’s body tightly as he walked down the hall in the direction Byakuya indicated. Renji almost made some snarky comment, but instead he kissed Byakuya’s shoulder, remembering the story Byakuya told about how he’d killed a lover by losing control of his reiatsu. “You don’t have to worry about me, you know. Getsuga Tensho never even marked me. I’ve taken my own wobbly Hado 31 at point-blank. I managed to not be a pile of meat after your bankai. You can’t hurt me.”

Byakuya tucked his head into the crook of Renji’s neck and whispered, “You know that’s not true.”

“I meant with your reiatsu, you dope,” Renji grumbled. “’Course you can break my heart.”

They reached the bath. Renji toed the door aside enough to get his shoulder into it to slide it open. The room was pleasantly steamy. Apparently, the Kuchiki staff made sure the bath was always hot and ready for their lord. Renji was about to let Byakuya go, but Byakuya’s arms tightened around his neck. “I have hurt you,” Byakuya whispered. “Physically and emotionally.”

Renji let Byakuya drop. But, somehow, Byakuya was prepared for it enough to land gracefully on his feet.

“I’m telling you,” Renji said. “Any fight I can stand back up from is a win.”

“And I’m attempting to apologize,” Byakuya said. Turning away from Renji, he slid the cover of the furo open. The soaking tub was large enough that it could potentially fit them both. It was square and stood high enough off the floor that there was a series of steps that led to its opening. Byakuya dipped a bucket into the water and poured it over himself.

Renji grabbed a washcloth and a small bar of soap from a nearby shelf. “Oi, let me,” he insisted. Byakuya let out a breath, but set the bucket down. Soaping up the washcloth, Renji scrubbed Byakuya’s back. “You stopped listening to me, and you’re ticking me off all over again. We’ve been over this. If you try apologizing for raising your hand one more time, I’m going to kick you in the shins.”

“Shins? Really, Renji?”

Renji heard the smile in Byakuya’s voice, but said, “You think I won’t? I’m being serious. It isn’t that you raise your hand that makes me cranky, it’s why. Push me around all you want, just don’t push me down. You get that?”

“I think you’re scrubbing my skin off.”

“Well, then, turn around,” Renji commanded. When Byakuya did, Renji started on the front. “I know you’ve got history with your grandfather that makes this hard to understand, but my history is different from yours. Yeah, you’re stronger than me. You could hurt me physically, and you have. I’ll give you that, though my pride doesn’t like to. Thing is, I sincerely don’t give two shits about that. It’s my heart that’s easily injured. It’s as prickly as yours,” Renji smiled, his hand stopping to rest over Byakuya’s heart for a moment. Then, going back to his soapy work, he added, “I hate being treated like a dog, so when you go to smack my nose to bring me to heel… well, fuck, that breaks me… more than a little. But, it’s here that hurts,” Renji said touching his own heart.

“I do understand that,” Byakuya said. “I meant what I said about trying to break out of that tendency. I can’t pretend it will be easy.” He picked the bucket up, filled it, and then rinsed himself off. Stepping up the stairs, he lowered himself into the hot water. “You’ve met my aunt. I’ve told you stories of my grandfather—“

“No, you really haven’t,” Renji cut him off, because really, he wanted to hear something concrete. He ran the soapy washcloth over himself and watched Byakuya. “I’ve guessed some, though.”

Byakuya’s eyes were closed, his arms resting on the fat lip of the deep tub. His face was all hard and empty again. It was hard to believe that only minutes ago he’d lost himself in so much passion he’d looked almost like a regular person. “It’s a boring tale of a strict grandfather and a rowdy teenager. I’m sure you suffered far worse in Inuzuri.”

Renji filled the bucket up and splashed it over his head. “I don’t know,” he said, shaking out his hair. “I took my share of beatings, sure, but mostly because someone wanted the shit I’d stolen from someone else. Sometimes I got smacked for my attitude. But no one told me how to feel or how to act. Well, not until Academy. But it was too late by then. They could beat me into a soldier shape, but I was going to be who I was. Kenpachi undid all their hard work, anyways.”

Byakuya glanced up as Renji lowered himself into the tub. Water sloshed over the rim, but there was just enough room. There was a little bench on his side of the tub and with some maneuvering they found a way to fit. Byakuya sipped his arms into the water, and Renji’s legs were half-looped over Byakuya, but, amazingly, he didn’t seem to mind.

“Indeed,” Byakuya said with a little smile once Renji was settled. “As you have already surmised, I was not allowed even the smallest imperfection. Emotion is a human thing; we were born above such lowly impulses.”

Renji nodded, though he thought it was kind of weird that Byakuya didn’t think of himself as ‘human.’ Of course, neither of them were technically, but, Byakuya was even less than Renji was, having never been born anything other than a pure soul. Renji reached out and tucked a bit of damp, stray hair behind Byakuya’s ear. “Yeah, but if that were true, you wouldn’t need it broken out of you.”

Byakuya’s mouth opened, but then closed suddenly. He turned his head away. Renji knew that meant that Byakuya was struggling with his emotions.

“That grandpa of yours was wrong about your kink, too,” Renji leaned in to turn Byakuya’s face towards him. He kissed Byakuya long and hard. “It might make you complicated, but it’s a good complication.”

Byakuya’s eyes stayed closed after their kiss. His lashes trembled slightly. It seemed he was still unable to speak.

So, Renji leaned back, “Plus, if you let me fuck you every so often like that, we’re good.”

“Indeed,” Byakuya said sounding solemn, but his mouth twitched mischievously. “Just like that?”

“Yeah, you know what would be fun?” Renji said, poking Byakuya’s ribs with his toe. “We should make a regular game of it—you know, where I pretend I don’t know you and pick you up. That was kind of fun.”

“Just my luck,” Byakuya said dryly. “You finally discover a role play you’re good at and it involves me on my back with my legs in the air.”

“Yeah,” Renji said with a toothy grin. “Bummer, huh?”

“Mmm,” Byakuya said with faux suspicion. “I believe I may have been ‘played.’”

“I ain’t that crafty,” Renji said, giving Byakuya another quick kiss. Water sloshed over the edge again. “I just might have had some practice topping before.”

“Yes, well, you were acceptable in that part.”

Renji snorted. “Careful, or I’ll show you ‘acceptable’ again.”

“Your threat sounds more like a promise,” Byakuya said. Fingers brushed the hair from Renji’s face.

Renji captured Byakuya’s hand and brought it to his lips. “It is. It’s a lifetime promise.”