Pride with a Vengeance
Chapter 1: To Begin the Game
"Didn't you say that you needed to wake up early?" Byakuya breathed seductively into Renji's ear, startling him into wakefulness.
If Renji had any issue with how his life partner chose to wake him, it was lost as Byakuya caught his lips in a very sweet kiss, that threatened to become far more than that if Renji delayed getting out of bed any longer.
"Ah…Byakuya…" he yawned, "Don't tease like that when I first wake up. I'll never make it on time!"
Byakuya chuckled softly, nipping the ear he had teased with his breath.
"I woke you early enough so we could greet each other properly," he added quietly.
The temptation proved too much for Renji, who turned suddenly, catching Byakuya off guard and forced the noble down onto the bed, fastening his mouth on Byakuya's and forcing his way in. Although taken a bit by surprise, Byakuya recovered quickly and wrapped his legs tightly around his lover, pressing his hips forward and earning a moan of pleasure from Renji. The noble's mouth broke away from his and moved on to explore his throat and chest, soft lips and searching tongue alternating with enticing nips and the warm touches of his fingertips.
"B-Bya…how long until…I have to…go?" he asked breathlessly.
He didn't want to keep Yoruichi waiting, but it was getting extremely hard for him to think about that now.
Byakuya responded by wrapping his arms tightly around Renji and rolling him onto his back and gently trapping him there.
"There is time for whatever manner of greeting you like," the noble assured him, "don't worry, I won't let you oversleep."
Renji chuckled softly into a warm shoulder, then found Byakuya's mouth again and reclaimed it for a moment, before tracing his way down the soft skin of a pale cheek to his even softer and more sensitive throat. Now Byakuya moaned lightly and moved his hips restlessly, gently teasing Renji's thighs until his legs parted and Byakuya sank down between them. Still with that same enticing slowness, he teased his way in, until his full length was buried inside Renji and he dropped down, panting into a softly trembling shoulder. He rested there for a moment, his breath warming Renji's throat, enjoying the feel of the hands that slid slowly down his back and silently begged him to move again. With a sigh, he moved, keeping the motion slow, deep and intense as Renji's hands worked their way back up to his shoulders and tightened, his hips rising to meet each heavy thrust. Renji sank his teeth methodically into the noble's throat, eliciting a hungry, sensuous moan. Byakuya's motions became faster and more urgent. He thrust more deeply, striking a place deep inside Renji that brought his hips bucking up sharply and forced a cry of pleasure from his throat. Then another and another until neither could hold back anymore and they were gripped with wave after wave of intense pleasure. Renji felt the warm weight of Byakuya's body come down to rest against his and reached up to run his fingers through the noble's soft hair as Byakuya's face landed gently on his chest. They lay there, sated and content until it was time for them to get up and sink into the hot depths of the large jetted tub, relaxing and sharing light playful kisses as they bathed unhurriedly.
All too soon, it was time for them to dress and for Renji to take his leave of Byakuya, but as he did, he pulled Byakuya into a warm embrace.
"Thank you for making sure I woke up on time," he said softly.
"Any time, Renji," Byakuya replied, touching his cheek lightly and giving him a final kiss.
He released Renji and stepped back, still smiling.
"I'll send word back when I get there," Renji said, "to let you know how things are going. And I'll call if you need to come and join us."
"That probably won't happen just yet. And in just a few more weeks, she'll be moving in here with us."
"That will be much better than all of this running back and forth."
With a last wave, Renji flash stepped away. Byakuya and the Kuchiki manor fell quickly behind him as he sped across the Sereitei, eager to reach the living world. As he went, he thought he could still feel Byakuya's touch on his skin, warm lips tasting his. His life partner was a deeply passionate man beneath the calm, quiet exterior everyone else saw. Renji was the only one he entrusted with the true depths of his emotion. Seeing Byakuya shed that cold and indifferent manner in the solitude of their home each night only served to repeatedly ignite the heat between them.
So by day, they were simply a captain and his vice captain, writing reports, training squad members, planning and executing deployment of soul reapers. When they stepped through the doors at the end of the day, they usually ended up in bed, walking in the garden together, or soaking in the tub before dinner. The household staff were very discreet about what they knew…and they treated Renji with the same respect they gave Byakuya. The Kuchiki clan leader had changed profoundly since the beginning of his relationship with Renji. It was change that the staff appreciated deeply, and they never failed to show Renji their gratitude. Although certain formalities were required in the noble household, there was in general, a relaxing of boundaries, a more comfortable and easy atmosphere for all.
Renji loved living in such a beautiful home, but more than that, he loved sharing any home with Byakuya. His life partner was so many things to him, that Renji couldn't even name them all. Byakuya was beautiful to look at whether dressed in full regalia, his eyes cool and distant, or naked and panting beneath Renji, his hair disheveled and his dark eyes wanting. He also continued to mentor Renji, both on the battlefield, and through the gentle sharing of his knowledge of history, astrology, and folklore on calm nights under the stars. He was very much the captain in the office, but at home, he was quiet and decidedly playful. He enjoyed toying gently with Renji, which usually resulted in flustered responses and frenzied bouts of lovemaking. In bed, Byakuya seemed to vacillate between being the one in control and falling under the wanton caresses of Renji's skilled hands and mouth.
Renji brought much to their union as well. He acted as a balance to Byakuya's calm nature with his open, buoyant personality. He relished crossing swords with Byakuya, challenging him on the battlefield, helping both of them to grow as swordsmen. He reacted with Byakuya's passionate side, often triggering intense desire in the noble with little more than a smile or a soft phrase breathed into his ear beneath the stars. And Renji was Byakuya's most capable protector. He protected the captain's body on the battlefield with his zanpakuto and even with his own strong body. He also protected the noble's heart, acting as a moral compass when circumstances left him warring within himself. All in all, Renji felt that theirs was a deeply satisfying union.
He knew that soon things would change greatly in some ways. Very soon now, they would welcome their first child into the household. He wondered what it would be like. He was very much looking forward to it, but he knew they would both be forced to make some adjustments when their child was born.
Our child…It's a miracle, what Kisuke Urahara managed to do. Byakuya and I are going to be parents. I just can't thank him or Yoruichi enough. If Urahara hadn't discovered how…and Yoruichi hadn't volunteered to be their donor/surrogate, we wouldn't be preparing to welcome our child into the world. It means everything that I am as genetically connected to this child as Byakuya is. It's amazing to think about that…this child, the tie that connects me forever to this beautiful noble man.
Renji was smiling widely as he approached Urahara's shop. It was still a bit early and Kisuke, Tessai, and the children had gone camping, which was why Renji had come to stay with Yoruichi for a few days. It wasn't that she needed tending, but she got bored with everyone away and Renji was good company.
He went around to the back entrance and opened the door with the key she had given him, entering quietly and reaching out with his reiatsu to try to locate her, so he wouldn't risk death by startling her. He sensed something in her room, but it seemed like there was some disturbance in it. He made his way through the house, down the dark hallway, and into her room. The light was off and Renji could barely make out her form on the bed.
"Yoruichi?" he said softly.
Suddenly, frighteningly strong arms gripped him from behind and a cold, chilling voice sounded in his ears.
"You have very poor timing, vice captain Abarai. I'm afraid you'll pay dearly for that."
Renji turned sharply, stomping with his foot, elbowing and tearing free of the arms, then reaching for Zabimaru. A sword slashed at him and Zabimaru barely deflected it. They squared off in the darkness. Renji tried to get a sense of who the man might be, but he wore a hooded cloak that obscured his face. He was a master swordsman, though. He challenged Renji, forcing him out into the hallway.
"Roar Zabimaru!" Renji yelled, releasing the sword's spirit.
The other grunted and pressed forward, attacking madly and meeting Renji's zanpakuto stroke for stroke. Renji was silently thankful for all of the time he and Byakuya had spent on swordplay. Renji was an exceptional swordsman now, but this guy was talented as well, and he seemed to anticipate Renji's moves far too quickly. Renji was forced to give ground.
And he doesn't even have a zanpakuto! Just that sword. What is that symbol? I've seen that…
The man spun suddenly and Renji moved to counter. Too late, he realized that a second attacker had appeared behind him. He felt a stabbing pain shoot through him as a sword sheathed itself in his body, then tore free, sending blood exploding outward, staining the walls and floor around him. Gasping, Renji shot forward, still attempting to attack the hooded man. As he turned to slash at Renji again, the edge of Zabimaru caught the hood and pulled it slightly askew. Renji caught a momentary glimpse of a chiseled jaw and black hair, then a sword buried itself in his shoulder, throwing him off his feet. He struck the floor and tumbled forward, slamming into the wall. Stars exploded in his head and he found himself unable to move. The hooded man moved close. He grabbed Renji by the hair and yanked his head back.
"I told you that you would pay for your bad timing," the voice hissed softly.
Renji held his breath. There was a momentary pause. Then a heavy blow to his head sent Renji plunging into the blackness.
Renji's attacker turned back to his companion.
"Did you seal away her spirit energy?" he asked.
"Yeah, it was a bitch to do it, though. Pregnant or not, she is feisty!"
"Bring her and come."
"Shall we finish him off?" the other asked, glaring down at Renji.
"No," said the hooded man, "He is nothing. Leave him."
Byakuya made his way to the 6th division office. Rikichi was already there, sitting at Renji's desk and working intently. He looked up as Byakuya entered and smiled.
"Good morning, Captain Kuchiki," the 3rd seat greeted him.
"Good morning, Rikichi," Byakuya replied, taking his place at his desk.
Rikichi rose and disappeared into the next room before returning with a cup of hot green tea that he placed carefully on the captain's desk, before returning to Renji's desk with his own cup.
"Arigato, Rikichi," Byakuya said softly, his eyes lifting briefly from the papers in front of him.
He lifted the cup to his lips and took a sip, then glanced back at the 3rd seat for a moment. Rikichi looked up, smiling at the surprised look on his captain's face.
"It was Renji," he said, answering Byakuya's unspoken question, "He showed me how to make it the way you like it. I did well, then?"
"Yes, Rikichi," Byakuya said, pleasantly surprised, "You did well. It is exactly as Renji prepares it for me. Thank you."
They turned back to the mountain of pages on their respective desks and worked quietly for the next two hours. Finally, Byakuya pushed back his chair and stood, sliding Senbonzakura into his belt and motioning for Rikichi to join him. They walked to the training grounds together, then Rikichi ran groups through the morning drills, while Byakuya observed them, making small corrections and noting advances in each soul reaper's ability. A few years before, he would have simply left all of the training in the hands of his vice captain and higher seats, but because of Renji, his entire approach to leadership in the squad had changed. He was still feared and deeply respected, but he had a special place in the hearts of his fighters now. When they defended him on the battlefield, it came from the heart. It had made a world of difference, not only in how the men of the division felt, but in how the division performed. The 6th division was fast becoming one of the strongest in the 13 Court Guard Squads. Byakuya and Renji were extremely proud of that distinction.
As Byakuya crossed the training ground observing, he wondered briefly if Renji ever regretted choosing to forgo becoming a captain. Repeatedly, Byakuya had offered Renji a recommendation, one they both knew would have been eagerly supported by the other captains, but time and again, Renji had gently refused, saying he was too happy working alongside Byakuya. Advancement was of secondary importance to him. Although he felt somewhat guilty, Byakuya was secretly happy Renji refused to leave, although he was aware that Rikichi would make a very fine vice captain at this point. But Rikichi, like Renji, was far too content where he was in the division.
"Sir?" Rikichi said quietly, "We're ready."
Byakuya handed Rikichi the list of living world deployments and special assignments. When Rikichi was finished reading off the assignments, he dismissed the squad and returned to the 6th division office alongside Byakuya. He returned to Renji's desk to check for messages, then made Byakuya another cup of tea before excusing himself to meet his friends for lunch. Byakuya had just returned his attention to the paperwork on his desk when a hell butterfly appeared.
"Byakuya," Rukia's voice said, "There has been some trouble here in Karakura town."
Byakuya caught his breath.
"This morning, we found that Kisuke Urahara's shop was attacked. We don't know by whom."
His heart was in his throat now.
"Kisuke, Tessai and the kids were not there at the time, but Renji and Yoruichi were here. Byakuya, Renji was unconscious…very badly injured…and Yoruichi is missing! Squad 4 has come to bring Renji back to the Sereitei for emergency surgery. Brother, he is in very serious condition. I know you will have grave concerns about both Yoruichi and Renji, so Ichigo and I are going to investigate matters here while you see to Renji. I promise you that as soon as we know anything, we will report it to you immediately."
Byakuya quickly prepared and sent a reply. As he prepared to leave, he noticed an envelope on his desk that hadn't been there before he left for morning training. He picked it up and opened it. Inside, was a slip of paper. He unfolded it and read.
You have enjoyed the top for far too long. You are not worthy of that position and the time has come for you to relinquish it. Prepare yourself…you are about to lose everything. But don't worry. I won't take it all without giving you a chance to protect what you claim is yours. We're going to play a game, Byakuya. You are very good at games of strategy. Why don't you try to guess what my next move will be. I have taken the mother of your unborn child and I struck down your vice captain. What will I do next? Have fun thinking about it…and don't worry, Yoruichi is fine. I'm saving her for later in the game. She will be kept comfortable until the end of this, at which time you will have rescued her…or she and your unborn child will die. Good luck.
Byakuya called a second hell butterfly.
Ichigo Kurosaki, I am unable to come to the living world presently, but I need you to stay close to Rukia. There is an enemy who is likely to try to abduct or attack her. You must not let that happen. I will join you in the living world as soon as possible.
He sent the hell butterfly on its way, then hurried to the healing center. As he entered, he caught sight of several healers carrying Renji in and taking him into one of the rooms. Captain Unohana waited within the room and immediately began a quick examination. Hanatarou came out of the room after a moment and rushed to meet him.
"Renji's condition is very serious. He was hit by a barrage of kido and attacked with a sword. Captain Unohana is conducting the surgery. I am going back in to assist her. We will come out and let you know how things go as soon as there is any word."
"Thank you, Hanatarou," Byakuya said, sitting down to wait.
Hanatarou disappeared back into Renji's room. Byakuya was just preparing to send a hell butterfly to Rikichi, when the boy ran into the healing center, his eyes sweeping the room and quickly finding Byakuya.
"They told me Renji has been injured!" he exclaimed.
Byakuya motioned for Rikichi to join him.
"Rikichi, Renji was in the living world and was attacked. We don't know by whom. I have reason to believe that others in the squad may be in danger, especially seated members like yourself. You must go back to the division office and inform the rest of the squad. Tell all members to proceed with caution. All assignees will, as of now, be deployed in groups of two or more…no exceptions. If there are assignees currently deployed alone, send a second to each location. Warn everyone to proceed with great caution."
Rikichi started for the door, then turned back briefly.
"Renji is strong," he said, his voice trembling slightly, "he'll be okay, sir."
Byakuya nodded, but couldn't speak. Rikichi turned and flash stepped away. Byakuya sat quietly, trying to recapture how the day had started. It had been so peaceful, waking up in Renji's arms, making love to him, and sharing those last moments before he left. He couldn't believe that everything had changed so suddenly. Someone was out to destroy his life. An unknown enemy. It was someone who knew who was important to Byakuya, someone who knew how Byakuya would react and respond to things. That set off a red flag in his mind. He thought about Rikichi for a moment…and then about how much the enemy seemed to know.
He knew about the Kuchiki heir, and only the council and a few close friends were told. I know that telling the council means that the family knows, but they wouldn't tend to spread it around.
Whoever this is, attacked Yoruichi, Renji, and our unborn child all at once. I protected Rukia, but Ichigo had best be careful. This enemy may expect me to have Kurosaki protect her, but that doesn't mean she will be vulnerable. Kurosaki won't let harm come to her.
The other places I am vulnerable are at home and at the office. I can increase security at home. Rikichi will take care of…Wait! He wanted me to figure out his next move. He could mean Rukia, the household, or the 6th division members. Strategy would lead him to attack Rukia, but if he judged that Rukia was too well guarded…And the household is always under guard, but the 6th Division, no one would be crazy enough to…
"Kami! Rikichi!" he hissed, jumping to his feet and flash stepping away.
He was almost in time. It was so close that he ended up having to dive to the ground as the office of the 6th division suddenly exploded and burst into flames.
"Rikichi!" he called, leaping to his feet.
He ran through the broken door, burying his face in his scarf for protection from the smoke. Rikichi laid unmoving on the floor near Renji's desk. Several other squad members were moaning and writhing on the ground, while others burst into the room and dragged them to safety. Byakuya gathered Rikichi into his arms and flash stepped back to the healing center. He placed Rikichi in the hands of the waiting healers then flash stepped back to the manor to put the entire house on alert. Sets of guards were placed at all entrances and roving guards patrolled the grounds. Having set that in place, he returned to the healing center to ask for updates on Renji and Rikichi. Renji was still in surgery, but Hanatarou waved him towards Rikichi's room.
"He'll be okay," Hanatarou said, but he was very worried about you. He said that when he walked into the squad room, he found this note on Renji's desk."
Byakuya took the note from the healer's hand.
You are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm sorry you have to pay for his arrogance.
Byakuya folded the slip of paper and placed it in his pocket. He stepped into the room and moved quickly to the injured boy's side. Rikichi looked up at him with dazed eyes. His young face was scratched and bruised, and covered in soot, his uniform torn and singed from the blast. Byakuya stared at him.
"Rikichi," he said softly.
"I'll be fine," the boy assured him, "When I saw the note, I knew something was about to happen, so I dropped to the floor just as the bomb exploded. It destroyed a lot of the office, but I don't think anyone was badly hurt."
"I'm going to find out who is doing this, Rikichi," Byakuya promised him, "I will find the one responsible for this, and I will make him pay!"
"Then I'm going with you!" the boy insisted, rolling out of bed. As he gained his feet, Byakuya held out a staying hand.
"No, Rikichi," he said softly, "You need to stay here and finish with the healers."
"I can't do that, sir," Rikichi said, his eyes intense, "The vice captain is still in surgery. Until he returns to duty, I am duty-bound to act in his place. You can't order me away from your side, sir. Renji would never forgive me if I left you alone in the midst of all of this!"
Byakuya stared at the boy in surprise for a moment, then nodded in acceptance. He stepped closer and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Very well, then. You will act in Renji's place for now, but stop fretting, Rikichi. I don't wish to leave here until Renji's condition is known."
Rikichi nodded and climbed back into bed leaning against the pillows, closing his eyes. Byakuya sat down nearby, his eyes straying to look out the door and across the way to the door behind which Renji lay. He trembled softly and tried to think of who could hate him this much, and what wrong he might have done them. He had done many wrong things in the past. It could be any of them coming back to haunt him. Sighing in frustration, he reached into his pocket and took out the message Rikichi had found on Renji's desk. He pondered it for a moment, then slipped it into his pocket again. Looking up again at the door between Renji and him, Byakuya hissed with rising discontent and forced himself to wait patiently at Rikichi's side for news. He didn't see the eyes that watched him from the larger room outside Rikichi's door.