Chapter 18: Pretty Things

"Are you awake, Tama?" Sai Dal's voice said quietly, breaking into the deep silence that had surrounded Byakuya's drug-hazed mind.

The sound echoed strangely in the noble's ears, and he moaned incoherently, struggling to surface. He felt the bed he had been placed on move as Dal sat down next to him, and he tried to move, but found that a containment field of some kind had been placed upon him, so that he was frozen still, even while the hollow's hand brushed his cheek and played idly with the loose strands of his hair.

"Or perhaps, I should call you...Byakuya."

Byakuya's breath caught and his heart began to race.

"H-how...?" he managed weakly.

"How did I find out?" Dal finished for him, smiling in a way that made the noble's skin crawl, "Well, after your antics last night, I suspected that all was not as you said. I did some checking...ran your photo, samples of reiatsu and blood through the central system that Sousuke Aizen provided us. You see, he wanted a way to monitor the activity of Gotei 13 and other operatives more easily, so he provided and central database to which samples can be compared."

Byakuya's eyes closed against the words he suspected would come next.

"Of course...when the database makes a 'hit,' then Sousuke Aizen is notified. He will be here by tonight, Byakuya. It seems that he is especially interested in acquiring you. He must be, if he is coming all of this way just to collect you personally. I regret that I will not be the one to enjoy you. But one look at you, as you are now, then Sousuke Aizen...or whoever he gives you to, will be unable to resist you."

"S-ai Dal...!"

"Shh," the hollow said, leaning forward and kissing Byakuya's lips lightly, "There is still some time...and, perhaps an opportunity for you to avoid capture."

"What do y-you want?" the noble asked softly.

Sai Dal's feral eyes glinted as they met his again.

"I want what you promised. I want my Tomio. If that boy returns with the girl who can heal him, and you keep to your promise, I will release you."

"They will come. I give you my word," Byakuya promised.

Dal's eyes narrowed.

"I do not know that your word can be believed, Byakuya Kuchiki. You have done nothing but lie to me since we met. And I asked myself why. Why would such a man go to all of this trouble, take so many chances, even risk dying? A little more investigation yielded a surprising result."

Byakuya stiffened.

"Yes," Dal hissed softly in his ear, "You were brought to such recklessness by the same thing that has tormented me for so long...love, Byakuya. That red haired man..."

"Dal!"

"Renji Abarai...your vice captain, no?" Dal asked, looking as though he had no doubts about the answer, "But he is more than that, right?"

Byakuya stared back at the hollow wordlessly.

"You don't have to answer," Dal sighed, "The answer is in the risks that you took...to find him, to get close to him, to try to rescue him. But...although I will give you a chance to escape, penance must be done for lying to me...for using me and attempting to deceive me so that you could steal my son!"

"No!" Byakuya objected, "As part of getting Renji freed, we agreed to help Ryota and Shira to get back their son! And when Tomio had been healed, I was going to make the request that you return the boy to them and free your brother. That is all!"

"Pretty words from pretty lips, Byakuya," said Dal, touching the noble's lips gently, then kissing them again, "But these lips have told so many lies, I cannot believe anything you say. And you will pay the penalty for your lies."

"What do you mean? What are you going to do? I thought you said that...!"

"I said that you would have a chance to be freed," said Dal, "And you will. But...my generosity does not extend to your lover."

"Renji? You are going to do something to Renji?" Byakuya asked, his eyes rounding.

"Your Renji is at the arena, preparing to enter the Grudge Match to fight against my Ryota," Dal explained, "However, I have altered the circumstances of that battle."

"How?" Byakuya demanded breathlessly.

"I have ordered the grounds beneath the arena filled with vicious, feral hollows. And as Ryota and Renji take the field for the Grudge Match, my guards will capture Shira and throw her down into the pit with them. Then, they will loose the hollows. As much as I appreciate your lover's fine capabilities, I do not think that the three of them, deprived of their powers and facing a pit filled with fully powered enemies, will emerge victorious."

Dal paused, surprised at the lack of response in Byakuya's gray eyes.

"What is this? You don't actually think they have a chance, do you?"

Byakuya gazed back at him silently.

Renji is strong. He won't go down easily. But, I have to find a way to get to him!

"Do not have hope of saving him," Dal warned the noble, "Your Renji is going to die."

He gazed down at Byakuya and smiled.

"Now then, to keep you somewhere where you will not interfere with events, and where Lord Aizen will be able to easily collect you if you have deceived me about reviving Tomio."

"Dal..."

"Don't worry, love. You aren't going to feel a thing."

"Stop!"

Byakuya reeled as a jolt of the hollow's reiatsu struck him. He struggled to remain conscious, but quickly felt the darkness close in around him.

Renji!

I have to help...

Renji!

XXXXXXXXXX

"It's this way!" Rikichi said urgently, "We have to hurry! The Grudge Match is going to start soon!"

"It's gonna be all right," Ichigo assured the youth, "We've got Orihime here now, and she'll have that guy healed in no time."

"I sure will!" Orihime promised.

"Just show us the way in," said Yoruichi.

"Okay," said Rikichi, "We have to watch until the two guards there are both looking away, then get to those bushes. Then, we should be able to scale the wall there without too much trouble."

"Why not just use a Getsuga Tenshou and blast our way in?" Ichigo suggested, "Yoruichi and I can hold them off while you and Orihime take care of the injured guy."

"That would work normally," Yoruichi agreed, "but we don't know where Byakuya and Renji are exactly. It would be dangerous to just blast our way in without knowing that. We could endanger them."

"Right," Ichigo sighed, "We need to find them."

"We will, as soon as Tomio has been healed," said Rikichi, "Captain Kuchiki thinks that once that guy, Sai Dal, sees Tomio, that Tomio can convince him to calm down and let everyone go."

"I sure hope he's right about that," mused Ichigo, frowning, "This could go really wrong if he doesn't!"

"Okay!" Rikichi said, pointing, "They're facing away. Go!"

The four dashed forward and dove under the cover of the bushes, just as the guards turned back to face them.

"There are some guards that patrol the inside of the house," Rikichi warned them, "Let me go first. They will at least recognize me if I'm seen, and they might not attack."

"Good thinking," Yoruichi said, smiling, "Go on."

Rikichi carefully climbed the stone wall and looked over, using the foliage clustered at the top as cover. He waited until he was sure there were no guards, then nodded down to the others.

"Come on over. It's clear."

He waited as the others climbed the wall, one by one, then slid down to join him. They gathered in the courtyard, near the pool and made their way cautiously to the entry door. Rikichi tried the door and frowned.

"It's been locked!" he complained.

"I can handle that," Yoruichi offered.

The others watched in surprise as she sent a tiny sliver of kido into the lock, and it clicked softly. She turned the door handle and opened the door.

"All right," said Ichigo, "We're in. Now what?"

Rikichi looked around and sighed in relief.

"No guards," he whispered, "This way!"

He led them inside and through along hallway, through several bedrooms, then into an open area, near the front of the house. Rikichi sucked in a scared breath and motioned for them to conceal themselves as a pair of guards appeared in the distance and walked by them.

"Whew!" he muttered, wiping his brow, as he started to come out from behind a statue he had used as cover.

He frowned and looked at it more closely, then made a sound of surprise.

"Hey," Ichigo hissed softly, covering the other youth's mouth, "You almost gave us away. What's...?"

He broke off as he realized what had affected Rikichi.

"Yoruichi, look!"

Yoruichi's eyes widened as she studied the lovely new statue.

"Byakuya!" she whispered worriedly.

Rikichi's eyes filled with sudden tears.

"Oh no!" he said, pointing to where a new painting hung at the head of the line of others, "If his painting is there, that means...!"

"What?" Ichigo asked quickly.

"Oh my kami! I got back too late!" Rikichi sobbed, trying to muffle the sound with an arm, "If his painting is there, it means that Sai Dal already killed him!"

Yoruichi and Ichigo exchanged helpless glances as Orihime slipped an arm around the devastated young shinigami.

"C-captain Kuchiki!" Rikichi cried softly, "I should have been faster. It was all my fault!"

"Don't say that," said Orihime, "You don't know for sure. And I promise, even if it's true, my power can heal him. We just have to find him. Do you...know where that hollow would take him?"

"H-he would probably b-be with the others," Rikichi said, swallowing hard.

"Let's go and find them," Ichigo said, placing a hand on Rikichi's shoulder.

Rikichi nodded silently and wiped his tears away. He led the others to the secret door and the four slipped inside, and made their way into the chamber that held Tomio. Rikichi pointed out the injured hollow, then cast anxiously around the room.

"He's not here!" the youth exclaimed, "Captain Kuchiki! Where did they take him?"

"Don't worry about it, we'll find him," Ichigo said firmly, "And when we find him, he's gonna be fine. C'mon, you know how tough Byakuya is! He's not gonna die that easily."

"Orihime," said Yoruichi, motioning for the girl to join her, "Can you heal this hollow?"

"Sure thing!" Orihime said, raising her hands to the pins in her hair and releasing her power.

A golden oval opened up over Tomio's suspended body. Slowly, as they watched, the damage to the hollow's body mended itself. The dark gashes faded, and his skin became pale and unblemished again. As the last of the cuts disappeared, Tomio stirred and his lovely dark eyes opened.

"S-sai?" he moaned softly, turning his head to look at the ones gathered around him, "Where is...Lord Dal?"

"Don't move too much before I'm finished healing you," said Orihime, "We will help you find Lord Dal as soon as you are fully healed.

Tomio looked down at his swollen belly and inhaled sharply.

"My baby?" he queried worriedly.

"Your baby is fine," Orihime said, reassuringly, "You are both going to be all right. Just rest quietly now."

Yoruichi extended a hand over the hollow's abdomen, studying the reiatsu around the area carefully.

"It looks like this baby could come at any time," she commented, "You must be very anxious."

Tomio's pretty eyes filled with tears.

"I thought I was going to die!" he exclaimed softly, "I was sure that we would both die. But you...! Thank you! Thank you for saving us! Anything you want, just ask it!"

"We need your help," Rikichi said urgently, "Lord Dal has been...acting oddly since your injury. He abducted his half-brother's baby son and is raising him as his own child. And...he has been finding young men who resemble you. He finds them and brings them here. But when they find out about what's really going on and try to leave, he kills them! My captain went undercover to try to stop him, but now he has disappeared. Tomio, you have to help him! He isn't just my captain, he's the head of the Kuchiki clan! He is your cousin, Byakuya!"

"What?" gasped Tomio, stiffening, "But...Byakuya was just a boy when I...oh, he has grown up and leads the clan now, ne? Does he favor Soujun? He was always such a kind person!"

"Byakuya's a good person too," said Ichigo, "He was here in Hueco Mundo trying to protect his lover, and he ended up in the middle of this. He needs our help, Tomio. We were hoping that you could help us out. We need you to talk to Sai Dal. You have have to get him to let our friends go before someone gets killed!"

"I must hurry then!" exclaimed the hollow, sitting up with Yoruichi's help, "Please, help me find Lord Dal. I will stop him!"

Yoruichi and Ichigo took up position on either side of Tomio, supporting him gently as they followed Rikichi out of the hidden room. They slipped outside and turned towards the front of the house.

"I am so sorry to hear of the things he has been doing," Tomio said sadly, "He must have been driven half mad when those beasts attacked us. And thinking that he lost both of us...I know it is no excuse. Still, he was very much in love with me. He must have been beside himself."

"I can imagine," Yoruichi said gently, "Byakuya passed on to Rikichi that it is clear that he still mourns you. I am sure that once he sees that you have returned, he will calm and be more sensible."

"But are you sure you want to go back to him, knowing how crazy he can get?" asked Ichigo, "What if he hurts you or your baby?"

"Sai would never hurt me," Tomio said with certainty, "And I know that he has only been acting out because of the misery it caused him when he thought I was lost. I will return to him, and I will convince him to free your friends."

"Thank you so much!" Rikichi exclaimed, "We are really worried about Captain Kuchiki and Renji."

They came to a stop in front of the paintings of the men Sai Dal had made his lovers.

"You see how they all favor you," commented Yoruichi.

She looked up at the painting and statue of Byakuya.

"And he looks the most like you."

"Master Dal was very taken with him," said Rikichi, "He was planning to marry him. But he must have found out what was going on, because now we can't find the captain!"

Tomio looked more closely at the statue, frowning thoughtfully, then he gasped.

"There!" he cried, pointing.