Chapter 17: Art of Distraction

Byakuya waited until Rikichi and Mitsuru had finished eating dinner and Sai Dal had been called away to tend to details related to the Grudge Match to approach the youth and the boy where they were relaxing in the compound's hot tub. He sat down near them, watching absently as they talked and laughed, his eyes straying up to the starfield overhead, and to the crescent moon. After a time, Mitsuru's attendant arrived to send the lad off to bed, and Rikichi climbed out of the hot tub and sat down next to the noble at the side of the pool. Byakuya extended his senses carefully to make sure they were alone.

"Rikichi," he said quietly, "Renji and I are going to need you to undertake an important mission. You will leave tonight, and you must complete your mission quickly and return before the Grudge Match ends.

"Of course, Captain," Rikichi said, nodding, "What do you need me to do?"

"Renji will be arriving soon, and he will escort you out of the compound," Byakuya explained, "You are to return to the crossover point we used when we came to Hueco Mundo, and go to the living world. I want you to bring Orihime Inoue back here with you, as quickly as you can. Do not attempt to escort her back alone. You will need to ask Ichigo Kurosaki or perhaps Yoruichi Shihoin to accompany you. Renji will take you to the place where I told him that Gavet Dal is being held. You and Renji will wake Gavet Dal, and then you must have Orihime try to heal the other man you find there. It is critical that he does not die. I think he is the key to convincing Sai Dal to stop what he is doing."

He started to say more, but stopped as Renji slipped over the wall near the pool and dropped down onto the ground, then straightened and flash stepped to them.

"Renji," Byakuya greeted him, relief evident in his expression.

"Yeah," he said, giving the noble a hurried, but still sweetly sensuous kiss, "Sorry, but we have to go now. The guards are going to change and it'll throw me off if we have to get out after that."

"Go then," Byakuya urged the two.

"Hey," Renji said, meeting the noble's eyes, "I'll be back for you. I promise. We're going to get this taken care of and we'll be home again doing paperwork and making love in no time."

Byakuya let out an annoyed breath.

"Abarai, you needn't reassure me like I was a scared child. I have perfect confidence in my subordinates. Now, get out of here so that you can be back here and free me while I still have my honor intact!"

"Right, Captain," Renji said, grinning and nodding to Rikichi, "C'mon kid."

"Renji," the noble said reprovingly, "aren't you forgetting something?"

"Huh?"

"The anklet."

"Oh, sorry."

He slipped a small device out of his pocket and carefully removed the tracking anklet, then handed both to Byakuya. He gave the noble a kiss of farewell, then led Rikichi over the wall and away.

Byakuya slipped the anklet removal device into his pocket, then turned back into the house and quickly carried Rikichi's anklet tracker to the youth's bedroom, where he slipped it under the covers in the bed. He turned and walked out into the hallway, but stopped as he encountered a house guard.

"Tama, sir," the hollow said, inclining his head, "Shima has asked to have you escorted to the fitting room."

Byakuya's heart skipped fitfully and he caught his breath softly.

"Sh-shima?" he repeated softly.

"Yes, sir. He said that your uniform is finished and he will give you a final fitting before presenting you to Master Dal," the guard explained.

"Ah..." Byakuya managed, noting how the man positioned himself as they walked.

It is as though he was leading a prisoner to his execution. I think he has seen Sai Dal's cruelty. He is sympathetic, perhaps, but not stupid enough to draw the man's wrath upon himself.

"This way, sir."

Byakuya swallowed hard and followed the guard down the hallway and into the fitting chamber. Shima smiled as he entered, and Byakuya was chilled inside to see Dal sitting in a chair, near where they would be standing.

"Tama," the man said, nodding in appreciation, "Come, see what Shima has made for you."

He crossed the floor on unsteady legs and stood quietly while Shima started to remove his yukata.

"Wait," said Dal, stopping the man, and stepping forward, "I want to dress him myself."

Byakuya's racing mind registered Dal moving to stand in front of him, then slowly sliding the yukata down off of his shoulders and baring him. He paused to admire the beauty of the raven-haired man for a moment, leaning forward to offer Byakuya a gentle kiss as Shima handed him the light, loose-fitting uniform.

"Why, Tama," Dal said, slipping an arm around his shoulders, "You are trembling."

"Am I?" Byakuya asked breathlessly, "My apologies."

Dal smiled bracingly.

"Do not feel you have to hide your anxieties with me," Dal said, embracing him, "Tama, I know that it was not your plan to be here with me, to serve me, to marry me. But...I do hope that you will understand, I expect you will have reservations. I will be gentle in taking you."

"Thank you, Master Dal," Byakuya answered, keeping his eyes carefully lowered.

Dal's hand slipped under his chin, raising his eyes, and Byakuya felt another shudder inside at the obvious lust in the man's expression. Still staring deeply into Byakuya's eyes, he began to slowly dress the noble in the finely made white house uniform. Sweat broke out on Byakuya's skin and it paled even further as each piece of the lovely, clothing was set in place. And although still chilled by what was happening, Byakuya couldn't help but stare at the result.

Nothing...

No piece of clothing ever crafted, even by our own house tailors has ever made me look like this.

Never...

It was like being pulled into a fairy tale, seeing his body touched with such fine material, each line and curve perfectly defined and appreciated.

"Lovely," Dal whispered, admiring him, "You look truly celestial...like an angel, Tama."

"Thank you, Master Dal," he said thickly, his mind spinning as he realized that he was fully dressed.

"You have outdone yourself, Shima," Dal said approvingly, as he took Byakuya's hand lightly in his, "Come, Tama."

Byakuya tried to comply, but found his feet would not move. Dal looked back at him curiously, then smiled.

"Oh, it isn't time for that yet," he said reassuringly, "You must first be painted."

Byakuya managed to put his legs in motion and walked with Dal into another room, where an artist waited with his materials ready. The noble was quick to note that much of the portrait had already been completed, so that the artist only needed to 'add' him to the portrait. He cooperated quietly as Dal positioned him, but caught his breath in surprise as the man remained next to him, posing with his arms around Byakuya and looking down into the noble's widened eyes.

"Oh," said the artist, smiling in appreciation, "Perfect. Keep it just like that. I love his expression, Master Dal...just...so vulnerable!"

"Yes," agreed Dal, gazing down at Byakuya approvingly, "He often looks at me with those charming eyes."

"M-master Dal," Byakuya said, trying to hold still, as expected, "I noticed that in the other portraits..."

"My lovers appeared alone?" Dal finished, "Yes, well, you are quite...unique, Tama. I have confidence that we will be very happy together."

Byakuya couldn't think of an answer, so he stood quietly as the artist painted, rose to look from different angles, made slight alterations to their positioning, then painted some more. Several hours passed, and by the time the artist sat back and nodded to indicate he was finished, it was late at night.

Dal released Byakuya, who watched as the man walked over to look at the finished portrait. He sidled towards where his yukata laid and picked it up, slipping the small device that Renji had left with him, out of the pocket and into one of the small pockets of his uniform.

"Oh, don't worry about changing," said Dal, "We are to be married, then we can retire for our wedding night."

"B-but it is so late," Byakuya objected, "And...and shouldn't our children be here?"

"We can have them brought," Dal said, nodding to the guard.

"W-wait!" Byakuya exclaimed, "Please Master Dal. My son was not feeling well. He will be fine, but I would not have him be disturbed tonight. I know that you are anxious for us to be wed, but I..."

"Nonsense," said Dal, shaking his head, "I am sure that the boys will be so thrilled that your Koji will forget his illness, seeing his father looking so beautiful and happy! Now, why don't you go and collect Koji and I will meet you in the grand ballroom for the ceremony after I dress?"

He turned and left before Byakuya could answer, leaving the noble staring for a moment. Then, seeing that he had been left alone, Byakuya fled to Rikichi's room, where he used the device Renji had left with him and carefully removed the anklet, then headed for the only place that he thought that Dal might not look for him...the secret room where Tomio and Gavet Dal laid hidden.

I have to hope that he does not find me tonight. I cannot remove the reiatsu suppressing device he placed on me, so I am powerless and unable to defend myself against him if he finds me. I...

He froze as Dal's strident voice sounded out in the hallway.

"You fools! Where are they?" he demanded.

"Sir, we found the anklets, but we could find no sign of Tama or the boy, Koji," said the voice of the guard that had been Byakuya's escort earlier in the evening.

"Well, they can't have gotten far, so you find them! Find them now! No one leaves me. NO ONE!"

"Yes, M-master Dal!" the guard cried.

Byakuya listened to his feet as the guard ran off, then continued to listen breathlessly for some sign of where Dal had gone. His eyes widened in distress and he backed away from the entry as he heard footsteps approaching and someone coming into the secret room.

He raced on silent feet, back into the room that housed the two men and the shrines, and Byakuya kicked himself mentally for not realizing that his escape might prompt the unbalanced man to seek out his former lovers.

"Damn," he whispered, sliding into an alcove near the bed that Gavet Dal laid upon.

Byakuya bit at his lips, holding his breath as he peeked out and spotted Sai Dal coming into the room. The hollow turned on the lights and looked around the room, then took slow steps across until he reached the bed where Tomio laid. He sat down quietly and looked down at the comely face of his first lover, his eyes sad.

"It has been a while, Tomio," he said gently, reaching out to run his fingers through the lovely hollow's fine, black hair, "I am frustrated, because, you see...I thought that finally I had found someone who could make me happy like you did. I don't mean to cause jealousy, but you did say as you left me, that you wanted me to find love again. Sweet and unselfish, you always tried to think of others. I often wondered, my Tomio, how those people could have been so cruel to you. I wonder how they could have cornered you, beat you down and made you feel as though dying was your only option. Sweet, gentle, kind-hearted Tomio. You didn't deserve that. I offered to slay every member of the Kuchiki clan for hurting you, but angel that you are, you wouldn't hear of it, and you convinced me to focus on finding happiness."

He paused for a moment, then held up a photograph of Byakuya.

"I thought that I had found happiness. Tama is so lovely, and he has that same vulnerability you had. He even looks similar. And when he was dressed in his uniform, he shined like the most enchanting star in the sky. But after I saved him from being convicted of a crime that would have gotten him executed, after I brought him into my home and showed him love and affection...after I gave him everything, Tama ran away. He took his son and ran from me. And now...now I must hunt him and make sure that he dies."

A shiver went through Byakuya as the man rose and started slowly across the room.

"There are so many shrines now...barely room for another. Why, Tomio? Why can't they stay with me willingly, as you did? I give them every comfort...every comfort! I spoil them and make them look beautiful. I offer them a place of honor at my side, a house full of attendants to serve them, a home and that lovely boy of mine to know. But...they always leave me, Tomio. They always try to leave. And one by one, I have had to kill them all."

He sighed softly.

"Tama will be the hardest of all to kill. He is so beautiful, like you, that he brings tears to my eyes. He carries that lovely scent you always did, and his eyes, Tomio! They look right through me! I thought that I had found a soul mate in him. I can't believe that he would leave me like this! Will no one ever stay? Will I have to kill them all?"

Dal's steps moved closer, and Byakuya's jaw clenched. They continued unbearably slowly across the room, then paused by the bed beside which Byakuya laid hidden.

"Tama," Dal said quietly, in a dead-calm voice that sent a shiver down the concealed noble's spine, "Come out."

Byakuya froze.

Dal came around the far side of the bed and stood, looking down at Byakuya's kneeling form for a moment, then extended a hand. Byakuya accepted it silently, and allowed the hollow to help him onto his feet. He met the hollow's glaring eyes cautiously.

"You wonder why I didn't kill you immediately," Dal said, still in that icily calm voice, "don't you?"

"Master Dal," Byakuya began.

He stepped back as Dal raised a hand to strike him.

"Wait!" he cried, dodging the hollow as he attacked, "Master Dal! I can help to revive your Tomio!"

"LIAR!" screamed Dal, "No one can help him. You are lying to keep me from killing you! How did you even FIND this room? I'll kill you for setting foot in here! How DARE you!"

Byakuya dodged a metal urn the man yanked off one of the shrine tables, then chairs and other hard items from around the room. But slowly, the hollow backed him into a corner and trapped him against the wall. He wrapped his hand around the noble's slender throat and tightened to make him go still.

"You are going to die, Tama," Dal said solemnly, "That lovely portrait of us will only hang in our room tonight while I take you, then when I am done with you, I will devour you, and put it out in the entry with the rest of them. I am...so disappointed."

"M-master Dal," Byakuya managed, "My a-apologies for disappointing you. But...I...was n-not lying when I said...I know a girl who can heal Tomio."

Dal shook his head dismissively and tightened his hand. Byakuya struggled for breath, his head spinning as he tried to go on.

"K-koji...left to bring her. It w-was supposed to be a...a...gift...for you!"

Dal's eyes widened and seemed to lose some of their anger. The hollow watched dispassionately as Byakuya's legs began to weaken, then he loosened his hand slightly, so that the noble's eyes cleared.

"If this is a lie, then you will only wish I would kill you," Dal said darkly.

"It is no lie," Byakuya assured him, "I swear to you that Koji will return, and that he is bringing someone to heal Tomio. They should be here by tomorrow."

"Ah," said Dal, his eyes still aggressive, "A wedding gift...so, we still have tonight, ne?"

Byakuya swallowed hard.

"Master Dal," he said with forced calm, "Given that Tomio will be returning, would it not be wrong to lie with me tonight? It might hurt him to know that we were together when you knew he would be returning."

Byakuya felt a quiver inside at the lust that had crept back into the hollow's glowing eyes. They seemed to bore down inside him, slowly stealing the air from his lungs as Dal paused to consider his words.

"He said to find happiness..." Dal began.

"Because he thought he was dying. Master Dal, I would not want to do anything to hurt your Tomio, and I truly believe that he will be hurt badly if you lie with me tonight!"

There was a long silence as Dal continued to look thoughtfully into the noble's eyes. Their eyes were still locked and Byakuya's body tensed as the hollow seemed to reach a decision, then sent a shock through the noble, making him collapse instantly into Dal's waiting arms. He paused for a moment, looking down at Tomio's lovely sleeping face, then down at the unconscious man in his arms.

"I will be back, my love," he promised Tomio, "But I must see to Tama first."