Blood Red Fang

Chapter 1: Within the Shadows

Rikichi had always found the soul reaper base in Hueco Mundo to be…well…creepy. He wasn't a coward. He had faced down lots of threatening things, especially since Vice Captain Abarai had taken over his training, but there were still some things that unnerved him. It would be better, he thought, if the vice captain was there with him, but Renji and the captain had been ordered back to Soul Society to report on the situation at the base. Rikichi had to wonder why the head captain wanted the report from the highest ranking officers. It left defense of the base to lower ranked officers like himself, which made Rikichi feel worried.

"It's not like the hollows know," he assured himself softly, "and there hasn't been an attack in weeks."

He spoke the words and they hung in his mind, reassuring him. He looked over to the next checkpoint. Kenta stood looking out over the dark sands, watching where the alert lines and barrier glowed softly in the distance. He seemed to sense Rikichi's gaze and turned slightly to study the 4th seat's face in the darkness. Rikichi smiled and gave his muscular friend a short wave. Kenta smiled and waved back. At least Kenta was out here with him. The large, big boned soul reaper had been his friend for nearly the whole time they had been members of the 6th division. Kenta looked out for him. They were like brothers.

"Hey kid, what happened to your eye? You okay?" Kenta asked, studying the huddled form in the corner of the barracks.

Rikichi looked up, still holding his hand over his swollen eye, hastily brushing the tears away.

"It's nothing…I'm fine," Rikichi said, his voice trembling.

Kenta narrowed his eyes.

"What's your name, kid?" he asked softly.

"Rikichi."

"Rikichi…okay, why don't you tell me who did this and we'll go kick the shit out of them?"

Rikichi had to laugh at that. That made Kenta smile too.

"I'm Kenta," he said, extending his hand, "Nice to meet you, Rikichi."

Rikichi accepted the bigger boy's hand and shook it gently.

"Nice to meet you."

No one had bothered Rikichi any more after that. Kenta made certain everyone knew that if they messed with his friend, the punishment would be painful. He was a big strong kid with a soft heart, just the kind of friend Rikichi really needed. He wasn't sure why Kenta wanted his friendship so much, but he counted himself lucky.

"Rikichi," Kenta called softly, gesturing toward the alert lines.

Rikichi followed the gesture and carefully studied the alert lines he was indicating. They glowed pale yellow as expected, but as he watched, the lines pulsed softly. Something was out there. They couldn't see what it was, but they could see that it was cautiously testing the base's defenses. That was troubling, because if they judged the defenses weak enough, they could launch an attack soon. And although the 6th division was a powerful fighting force, much of its power rested in the hands of its two highest ranking officers, who wouldn't return to the base for a day or two more.

"Stay here," mouthed Kenta, climbing down from the lookout tower and stealing across the rock-strewn sand.

Rikichi watched him closely, one hand on his zanpakuto. Kenta might be a big person, but he moved with unexpected grace and speed. It was one of the things that made him such a good soul reaper. His surprising speed and agility made opponents underestimate them, a mistake which usually led to their undoing.

Kenta peered out from behind a rock and studied the affected alert lines cautiously. He couldn't see what had disturbed them, but the fact that they had been touched was clear. He reached out with his senses and found an odd reiatsu issuing from a spot just a few yards beyond the alert lines. He squinted his eyes, looking for any sign of the creature, but it looked as though nothing was there. There was something there, though. Kenta knew it for certain. There was only one way to draw the creature out. Kenta slipped out from behind the rock and walked along the edge of the alert lines, pretending to be interested only in checking them and not the plains beyond. He felt the reiatsu closing in. He moved his hand to his zanpakuto, hiding the motion from whatever approached. It was practically on top of him and just beyond the barrier. The feel of the reiatsu was frighteningly strong. Kenta stared where the creature should be and still saw only a thin mist hanging in the air. It slowly resolved itself into something. Kenta drew his zanpakuto and went into a fighting stance. No one was more surprised than he when the shadowy form slashed through the alert lines and barriers and took hold of the big soul reaper, dragging him into the darkness beyond.

"Kenta!" cried Rikichi as the alarms sounded.

He leapt down from the tower and raced across the rocky sand to the place where his friend had been. Rikichi's heart rose into his throat. On the ground at his feet laid Kenta's zanpakuto. He bent to pick it up. He didn't see the slashing claws that sought to grab him, but he felt the attack coming and turned to run. The claws raked his side and back, sending a spray of blood outward. Rikichi released his zanpakuto and a dark colored eagle shot out and attacked the beast. The hollow snarled and turned away as Rikichi continued his long, slow fall to the ground. Footsteps pounded toward him and hands took hold of him.

"Kenta," he moaned fitfully, fading into the darkness.

XXXXXXXXXX

Renji wasn't sure how long before Byakuya had slipped out of bed and walked out into the gardens. The noble enjoyed walking late at night, sitting under the stars and studying the moon. Renji knew he liked to sit and think alone, but he always seemed pleased when Renji joined him, then they would sit under the stars together, drinking hot green tea, talking softly and exchanging passionate kisses under the beautifully lit sky.

Renji felt incredibly lucky. He had never imagined sharing such an intense and passionate relationship with anyone. Falling in love with Byakuya had been a surprise…and Byakuya returning his love was the most pleasant surprise ever. It hadn't been an easy road for them. They had actually gotten involved while Byakuya was recovering after he was injured saving Rukia from Ichimaru Gin's attack. The early days of their relationship had been plagued with dangers and with interference from the Kuchiki elders. But when the dust settled, they found they had only fallen more deeply in love. Renji felt thankful every morning he woke in the noble's arms. And he knew Byakuya felt just the same.

He rolled out of bed and stepped out of the open doors into the garden. Reaching out, he sensed the noble's reiatsu not in the garden, but farther away up the forest trail near the waterfall. Renji smiled and started along the path. The hum of insects and the soft scrape of his feet as he walked were the only sounds. Cherry blossoms floated around him on the breeze.

As he approached the waterfall, he spotted Byakuya kneeling silently under the trees at the top of the waterfall. Renji approached slowly, stopping just short of him. The noble turned and smiled up at Renji.

"Come, Renji, sit with me," he said softly.

Renji didn't need to be told twice. He moved over next to Byakuya and sat. Byakuya shifted so he was sitting as well and leaned back against the tree. Renji positioned himself so that he sat between the noble's legs, leaned back onto Byakuya's shoulder. The noble slipped his arms around his lover, sliding his hands down Renji's arms and lacing their fingers together. Byakuya tilted his head and brought his cheek to rest on the side of Renji's head.

"Did I wake you when I left?" Byakuya asked quietly.

"Nah," Renji replied, shifting slightly, "I hardly ever wake up when you leave…just when you come back and want some affection."

Byakuya chuckled softly.

"Then what woke you?" he asked.

"I don't know…Just woke up. Saw you were gone and thought it would be fun to join you."

Byakuya smiled.

"So is it fun, Renji?" he asked, his voice low and seductive.

"I'll get back to you on that," Renji laughed, turning his head to capture Byakuya's lips in a slow indulgent kiss.

When he finally released the noble's lips, Renji relaxed against Byakuya and breathed in the sweet air. They sat in silence for a while, then Renji turned slightly.

"Tell me about another constellation,' he requested softly.

Byakuya pondered the request for a moment.

"Lupus," Byakuya said softly, "It lies near Scorpio and Centaura. One myth claims it is named after Lycaon, a king of Arcadia in the living world. This king was said to have continued the practice of human sacrifice long after it was abandoned by all the others in that region. It is said that Zeus became angered at him for this and turned him into a wolf. Then he killed Lycaon's fifty sons with his lightning."

Renji grimaced.

"I don't know what's worse about that myth, Byakuya, the human sacrifice or the having fifty kids! Yikes!"

Byakuya laughed softly.

"Mythology is rife with such things, Renji. It's all part of the intrigue of folklore."

"Hmm," Renji mumbled, leaning back and closing his eyes.

They sat in silence for a moment.

"So we go back to the base in Hueco Mundo tomorrow," Renji said finally.

"Mhmm," Byakuya replied, "We cannot keep them waiting much longer. We are already overstaying by a few days to accommodate the head captain's request."

"Byakuya, why did the head captain call us back? Why is he having us delay going back?" Renji asked.

Byakuya sighed.

"There was some talk of unusual reiatsu in the area of the base. He needed for me to search the family histories to see if there was any related information."

"So that's why you've been reading until your eyes were ready to fall out. But why have me come back, too?"

Byakuya laughed softly.

"You were ordered to return to serve my needs," Byakuya said in a silken whisper, "and you've done a commendable job."

"No…really, why?"

"The head captain didn't order it. I did," Byakuya admitted.

"And you did that because…" Renji prompted him.

"I did that," Byakuya said, smiling, "because you said that you wanted to spend some quality time with me. You said we were barely seeing each other, because of our posting in Hueco Mundo. And you were right, Renji. So, I did something to fix it."

Renji's face lit with a satisfied grin.

"You did this for me?"

Byakuya shook his head.

"I did this for us," he said, catching Renji's face and bringing it to his own for another lingering kiss.

They rested under the stars in silence for a time, exchanging kisses and gentle touches under the stars. Finally, too tired to remain, they walked back down the forest trail and to the manor, where they fell into bed together and sank into a comfortable, deeply satisfying slumber.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Captain Kuchiki?"

Byakuya sat up slowly, his eyes finding his personal attendant in the early morning darkness.

"What is it?" he asked softly.

"An urgent message from Hueco Mundo, sir. The messenger is in your office."

"Thank you," he said softly, moving to slip a robe around his shoulders.

As he rose, Renji opened his eyes and looked up at Byakuya in askance.

"There is a messenger from the base. He says the message is urgent," explained Byakuya.

Renji sat up and grabbed a robe. He slipped it around his shoulders and joined Byakuya in a swift walk down to the captain's home office. Walking inside, they were greeted by the 6th seat.

"What has happened?" Byakuya asked the young man.

"Sir, there was an attack at the base."

"How large an attack?" Byakuya said quickly.

"It only involved two officers, sir, but it is the nature of the attack that is disturbing. Some kind of creature tore a hole in the barrier and took one of our men and seriously injured another," explained the messenger.

"I see," said Byakuya, "Who was involved?"

"Kenta was dragged away by the thing…and Rikichi was badly hurt."

"Rikichi?" Renji repeated, "Is he going to be all right?"

"Rikichi will be fine. Kenta is missing. We have sent several search parties. They found signs he was dragged off to the southeast, but then the tracks disappeared."

"It is disturbing that someone as agile and strong as Kenta was overpowered," Byakuya observed.

He thought for a moment.

"Return to the base," he told the messenger, "Inform them that we are on our way."

"Hai, Captain," the messenger said, turning and racing out the door.

Byakuya watched as the messenger disappeared, then turned back to Renji. The vice captain stared blankly ahead, an uncharacteristically troubled look on his face. Byakuya didn't need to ask why.

"Renji," he said gently, "the messenger did say that he would be fine."

"I know," Renji replied in a quiet voice, "I just…feel bad for the kid. He's injured and Kenta is his best friend."

"I know," Byakuya replied, "but we'll be there soon. We'll do what we can to find Kenta."

Renji nodded, but Byakuya could see that Renji didn't believe for a moment that Kenta would still be alive if and when they found him. Sadly, he suspected Renji was right.