Chapter 13: Pulse

I finished what I set out to do. When I felt that Renji's life was threatened, I went to him and gave him what he needed, so that he would survive. The consequences lived only in the back of my mind, something to be understood, but not something that would stop what I intended to do. I wanted to save him.

I might not have cared about the consequences before, but they grip me now. I am caught in a mad tug-of-war…between death and Renji Abarai. As the eagle soars toward Karakura Town, he holds me tightly in his arms, his voice shaking almost as much as his exhausted body.

"You're not leaving me," he hisses in my ear, "I'm not letting you go!"

He is not the only one refusing to let me go. Senbonzakura seethes in the sheath at his hip, calling for me again and again. But whatever caused me to be drawn into the zanpakuto before, has given way. I am suspended somewhere in between life and death, waiting for the balance to be tipped.

I am still connected to my body, still close enough to feel the faint pulse of blood in my veins, to feel my chest move in fast shallow catches of breath. I have to make my body move. I push against the darkness, but cannot break through. He must have felt the attempt, because he leans closer and speaks into my ear.

"Stay with me. I can tell you haven't left yet. Just hang on a little longer for me. Orihime can save you. I know she can."

I strain to move my fingers. He gasps softly, so I know I must have moved, but it took so much just to give him that tiny sign.

"I felt you move," he says, his voice shaking harder.

I push harder against the blackness. My eyes open slightly.

"R-ren…"

His breath catches and I hear tears in his voice.

"I'm here, Byakuya."

"You're…safe…?" I manage to ask.

"You're worried about me? Of course I'm safe. You are too," he says, squeezing my hand.

"You're not…hurt?" I gasp.

"No, stop worrying about me. I'm fine."

Now I manage a shaky sigh of relief and my barely opened eyes blink shut.

"No…no, open your eyes, Byakuya. Come on…we're almost there. Please, stay with me," he pleads softly.

I cannot answer. My tenuous grip on life is slipping. Senbonzkura screams in my mind and Renji's hands tighten their grip. He tenses. I feel the eagle descending, then a sharp impact as it lands. I am lifted down into waiting arms and carried for a short time, before being set down somewhere soft and warm.

I feel golden light rising up around me, then everything becomes hazy and fades away.

XXXXXXXXXX

Renji dropped down onto his knees next to Orihime as she activated the healing field over Byakuya. He knew he was in a frightening state, covered in dried blood and fresher blood from the cuts and slashes on his skin. His hair hung limp and matted and his clothes were shredded. But he had to stay. He couldn't leave Byakuya's side, not even for a moment while his life hung in the balance.

Orihime furrowed her brow in concentration.

Forced to wait, Renji tried to calm the frantic racing of his heart and the shaking from the adrenaline that still rushed through him. Taking slow deep breaths, he focused on the face of his lover and willed with all of his heart for Byakuya to live.

Someone slipped a warm blanket around him. He looked up and met Yoruichi's golden eyes. She sat down next to him, taking his bloodstained hand and squeezing it gently.

"I sent Rikichi to bring Rukia, she said softly.

Renji nodded.

"Thanks," he replied, his voice still trembling slightly.

"He'll be okay, now, Renji," she assured him, "I know it was really close, but he was still alive when she started…there was still a pulse. She won't lose him now."

"I guess you're right…but I can't leave him…not until I'm sure, you know?"

Yoruichi leaned against him.

"I understand," she said, smiling at him.

They watched Orihime in silence for a moment.

"Renji," Yoruichi said finally, "Do you feel like talking about it?"

Renji sighed.

"I don't know. Maybe. I don't know what I feel right now. It might help."

He gazed down at Byakuya.

"The wolves showed up at the outpost and they killed the guards, then busted down my door. I don't know how they made me go with them. They had some way of affecting my mind. I followed them out to the cave where you found us. We waited for Byakuya to come. He came in with Yuudai Kuchiki and…he was so beautiful…but my mind, Yoruichi…I was really going to kill him. He put his arms around me even though he knew I was going to kill him. He kissed me…and then he forced that liquid into my mouth. I started to regain my senses. But Yuudai figured out what he'd done and he stabbed Byakuya with his zanpakuto."

"Oh Renji…"

"I can't forget his eyes…One second, they looked so happy and relieved because I was with him again, then…there was shock, pain…and then he was dying in my arms. He only went there because he wanted to save me…and he did. But I didn't want this, Yoruichi. I hate this," he said, his eyes filling with tears, "I just want him to be okay."

Yoruichi wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly.

"He's going to be all right, Renji. You have to believe that," she told him firmly.

"I want to. I have to…because, you know, he and I have a lot to look forward to."

Yoruichi released him and smiled.

"He told you?" she asked softly.

"He knew he might die. So he told me that I should take Senbonzakura and fight my way free, so that one of us would live to tell our child about the other. He didn't come right out and say it, but I knew what he was telling me. So it's true, then?"

Yoruichi nodded, her smile warm and comforting.

"It's true. You and Byakuya are going to be parents."

Now Renji managed a smile.

"Thank you, Yoruichi," he said gratefully, "this wouldn't have been possible without you."

"Hey," she said, taking his face in her hands and kissing him gently on the cheek, "we did this together. All of us."

She giggled softly.

"I do think it was funny the lengths you and I had to go to, though…"

Renji blushed.

"Shh!" he hissed, "Stop that! Are you trying to get me in trouble? What if he hears?"

Her eyes twinkled playfully.

"Don't worry, he won't. He's still unconscious. Don't look like that, Renji. He'll be okay now."

"She's right," Orihime said suddenly, looking up at them, "He is going to be all right now. He's out of danger. In fact, he should wake up soon."

Renji reached out and pulled Orihime into his arms. She giggled and blushed.

"Thank you so much!" he said, "Thanks for saving him!"

"It was no problem!" she said happily.

"Renji…"

Renji froze at the sound of Byakuya's voice. He released Orihime so quickly she almost fell over and was at Byakuya's side in an instant.

"Byakuya!" he said, unable to hold back his smile or the happy tears.

Byakuya's dark eyes looked tired and he was still awfully pale, but his lips curved upward as he took in the sight of Renji smiling and barely able to contain his emotions.

"You look pleased to see me awake," he said softly.

"Hell, Byakuya, I'm happy to just see you alive. Dammit, you almost died! Don't do that to me again!"

Yoruichi and Orihime backed out of the room and closed the door.

"Renji…I'm sorry I worried you," he said, reaching up to brush away a tear that had begun to trickle down Renji's face.

"Well, it's not like you did it on purpose, but kami, you sure know how to give a guy a heart attack! What were you thinking, coming after me like that!"

"I was thinking that I love you, Renji. I was thinking that I had to make sure you came back alive. I couldn't leave you there," he replied, taking Renji's hand and bringing it to his face.

"Yeah?" Renji said, "Well, I love you too, Byakuya…and I couldn't leave you there either. I don't know what I would have done if you didn't come back."

Byakuya's eyes softened and he pulled Renji close, kissing him gently. He pulled away after a moment, studying Renji carefully.

"What?" Renji asked.

"Renji…you look awful. Go shower and change. I wish I could do the same, but I can't get up yet."

Now Renji smiled widely. Byakuya stared uncertainly.

"You don't have to get up, Byakuya. I can help you. Kisuke has this huge jetted tub…"

"But I…"

Renji lifted him gently and carried him towards the door. Byakuya tried to object, but eventually he fell silent and let Renji carry him down the hallway to the bathroom. In no time at all, he was resting in Renji's arms and contentedly soaking in the hot water. As tired as he was, the water felt wonderful and it felt so good to be clean again. He leaned back against Renji with a deep sigh.

"Ah…" he hissed softly, "Kami, I never thought I'd be this clean again."

"You?" Renji said, amused, "I was the one who ended up taking the bigger blood bath! I must have killed something like a hundred wolves!"

Byakuya's eyes widened in mock amazement.

"A hundred wolves?" he repeated.

"Yeah, at least," he insisted.

"You must be exhausted."

"Byakuya, are you mocking me?" Renji asked with narrowed eyes.

"I?" said Byakuya innocently.

XXXXXXXXXX

Late that night, Renji slipped into the darkened room where Byakuya laid sleeping and climbed carefully into bed with him, cautious not to disturb him. His lover shifted, moaned softly and settled onto Renji's shoulder with a contented sigh. Renji drifted toward sleep, happier than he could remember being…pretty much ever.

"Renji?" Byakuya said quietly.

"Hmm?" Renji muttered.

"How do you really feel about being a father?" he asked.

Renji smiled.

"I feel pretty damned lucky. I'm a little scared, but I'm really very happy."

Byakuya smiled.

"I feel the same. It's going to be quite an adventure…" he yawned, drifting toward sleep.

Renji was almost asleep when Byakuya spoke again.

"Renji?"

"Hmm?"

"Earlier…just before I woke all of the way, I heard Yoruichi refer to the lengths you had to go to…for us to become parents. What lengths were you talking about?"

"Ah…" Renji said, clearing his throat nervously, "It was nothing…just joking around.

"I see…" said Byakuya cryptically.

Renji gulped silently and was not able to fall asleep for a very long time. Byakuya, on the other hand, fell into a contented sleep in Renji's arms, a decidedly amused smirk on his usually stoic face.