Marks of Time
Renji collapsed into his desk chair with a groan. “Who knew I’d ever appreciate paperwork?” he muttered, slumping over. Paperwork, at least, didn’t explode or kill anyone or change into weird, unpredictable hybrids. It was peaceful and unassuming and just sat there, not making any trouble or even (directly) demanding anything.
A tentative tap came at the door, and he glared at it. He knew he should have taken the time to barricade it. “What now?” he growled. His vice-captain stuck his head, with exaggerated caution, around the frame.
“The eighth squad is back,” Tsumura reported quickly. “They’re all in good shape.”
Renji felt a bit of tension unwind from his shoulders. Of all the good and bad aspects to his new job, the one he hated worst was having to wait, so often, to hear back about the people he sent out. Especially hunting Hollows that made it here, into Soul Society. It didn’t help at all that Rikichi, the little idiot, was in eighth squad.
If he had ever doubted that Kuchiki would find a way to punish him for his rampant insubordination during the craziness over Rukia, he didn’t doubt it any longer.
“Is that everyone?” he asked, frowning.
Reassured that his captain was too exhausted to do any yelling today, Tsumura came into the offices and shut the door behind him. “Yes, that’s everyone back and accounted for. I have their reports,” he waved a fresh sheaf of papers, and then eyed the stack already on Renji’s desk. “Shall I see to them?”
“No, give ‘em here. You can take care of the damn requisitions.” Renji traded off paper piles with a toothy if tired grin at Tsumura’s woeful look. Material requisitions was the most boring and most never-ending paper stack of the whole lot.
Sorting out what could be filed straight off and what needed to be passed on to other divisions, on the other hand, was soothing. Monotonous but soothing. The steady scratch and shuffle from the other desk helped. In fact, it helped so much Renji found himself rubbing his eyes.
“Taichou,” Tsumura said at last, quietly, “I can take care of the rest of this. You should get some rest.”
“I’ll just have to read them later anyway.” Renji clenched his teeth on a yawn. “And if I get behind on them I’ll never catch up; there are more every day.”
Tsumura frowned, dark and sudden. That was unusual enough, in his sunny vice-captain, that Renji paused with brows raised.
“There are,” Tsumura said slowly. “Abarai-taichou… does it seem to you that Fifth is getting more assignments than the other divisions?”
Renji leaned back in his chair, considering. He’d been putting the frantic pace down to his nervousness about his new position, but looking at it objectively there were more than he’d been used to seeing with Sixth Division. “Could be,” he agreed, thoughtfully. “Kind of hard on you and me, but it does keep everyone else busy and distracted. That might even be why.”
“Oh.” Tsumura relaxed and brightened again. “Of course; I should have thought of that. The Captain-General is very thoughtful.”
Someone was thoughtful, Renji decided, as Tsumura bent over his papers again. As for who it was and what they were thinking… he’d find that out.
The Captain-General blinked at Renji benignly. “Yes, of course. I thought you knew. But perhaps Byakuya-kun didn’t want his protégé influenced by expectations.”
“Protégé?” Renji stared with his jaw hanging open. He hadn’t just heard that. Really, he hadn’t.
But why the hell would Kuchiki be doing this? What did he gain by pushing Renji to do more than any other newly promoted captain was expected to? To do…
Renji’s eyes narrowed, glaring at air that he fondly imagined filled by his ex-captain.
“Excuse me, Captain-General,” he gritted between his teeth.
“Of course.” The glint of amusement in the old man’s eyes didn’t help Renji’s temper in the least as he stalked out. By the time he left the inner courts he was running, and by the time he slammed open the door of the Sixth’s practice floor he was ready to breathe fire.
Kuchiki-taichou paused in his solitary practice, glancing aside at the intruder with every bit of his usual chill disinterest. “Abarai-taichou.”
“Just who the hell appointed you my career manager?” Renji bit out.
Kuchiki’s eyes narrowed. “Are you ready to challenge me again, then, Renji?”
Renji jerked back, stung. It was completely unfair to turn his own determination, his own promise to himself, around on him like that, especially after forcing him to compromise it. He fumed. “Son of a bitch,” he muttered at last, with deep conviction.
“Come back when you are, then.” Kuchiki-taichou turned his gaze back ahead and took the next gliding step in his form.
Renji growled low in his throat. “I will.” He strode back out, vibrating with thwarted frustration.
“… and last, the Divisions extend their recognition and thanks to Abarai for bringing the Fifth back up to full strength and more. That’s all. You are dismissed.”
Renji spared a fulminating look for the Captain-General before he had to turn away to deal with Kurotschi’s needling and Kyouraku’s knowing grin.
“You’ve got no idea how glad I am it’s you, now, instead of me,” Hitsugaya muttered in passing. If Renji had been able to spare the time and attention he could have explained at length that he had a very damn good idea. The shreds of his dignity barely kept him from grabbing Ikkaku-san, who was tiptoeing out the door, by the back of his coat and hauling him back into the hall to face his fair share of the successful-new-captain attention.
On the other hand, Ikkaku-san didn’t have Kuchiki Byakuya driving him on. Renji slipped an evil look at his ex-captain only to stop dead, blinking, as Kuchiki… smiled? Yes. He was smiling. Not much but enough for anyone who’d spent a lot of time around him to see it.
Renji shook himself and turned away with a snort. Protégé. What a load of crap.
At this rate, he’d start believing Rukia when she said the icicle-bastard really did have a heart.
He firmly ignored the tiny warmth in his chest that answered Kuchiki-taichou’s faint smile of approval.