torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
December 2011

Disclaimer: I really don't know anything about where the Kuchiki clan owns property. Relentless encouragement by Mary Crawford and Dorinda. Do not archive without permission.

some other shack

He probably didn't want to know, but he had to ask. "Where are we?"

"Don't know, captain." Renji was crouched next to a small cast-iron stove, trying to get a fire going. "Dammit."

Byakuya sat up and tried to clear his head through sheer will-power. He wasn't completely successful, but at least he could make out their surroundings a bit better: small, not to say cramped, and quite cold. He was sitting on a pile of rugs and blankets that had probably never been washed. "Somewhere in Rukongai, it would seem."

"Uh. No." Renji finally managed to get the fire going. He sat back on his heels and looked at Byakuya over his shoulder. Everything looked grey and dim in here, except for Renji's hair. "We're somewhere in the living world. Your grandfather kind of... threw us out. Way out." He closed the stove with a bit of unnecessary clatter. "You hit your head when we landed. I didn't know that your summer house had a private world-gate."

"My grandfather," Byakuya said blankly. He was aware that he was not behaving as he ought, either as a captain of the Gotei 13 or as the head of the Kuchiki clan. All he wanted was to lie down on the revolting blankets again, rather than take charge of the situation. His head was throbbing. He didn't understand the situation.

"He said he and your grandmother went here on their honeymoon," Renji said in a rush. "But they can't have. I mean, look at this place."

"That would explain why nothing here appears to have been touched in centuries." Byakuya tried to stand up, and instead fell down in the same uncomfortable sprawl as before. "We must go back."

"Yes, captain," Renji said, with a world of no, captain in his voice. "You can't even stand up. Maybe we should wait a while." He reached out and tugged on the pile of rugs and blankets, and pulled them, and Byakuya, closer to the stove, then sat down himself just as Byakuya once more managed to sit up.

"This is absurd." Byakuya tilted sideways again and found himself leaning heavily against Renji, a most undignified position. Particularly when Renji put an arm around him. "Vice-captain. Unhand me."

"It's really cold here," Renji said. "I don't know what your grandfather was thinking." He scratched his nose with his free hand. "Probably didn't mean for you to hit your head, though."

The cramped room looked less grey now. Renji's hair glowed. Byakuya thought about self-possession and a straight spine, and then his head throbbed viciously and his neck drooped until his forehead was resting against Renji's shoulder. "We can't stay here," he said, trying to infuse his voice with conviction.

"Why don't you lie down and get some sleep, captain," Renji suggested. "I'll keep watch." He shifted gently, and Byakuya slithered down until he was lying with his head pillowed on Renji's thigh.

The coarse fabric of Renji's hakama smelled better than the blankets, not that that was saying much. Renji brushed Byakuya's hair back, and Byakuya wanted to say that this was all quite irregular and most ineligible, and whatever his grandfather's reasons for sending them to the living world, this unsuitable cuddling by a small fire in a cold shack could not have been among them. He could feel the sword calluses on Renji's fingers.

Byakuya closed his eyes.

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