Mask of Illusion
(Just to be clear for anyone who didn't see the tag. This story includes an mpreg. Some people don't enjoy that, but others do. If you don't, you'll want to skip this story. If you don't mind, then enjoy…and be sure to review. I love hearing your thoughts and ideas. They really do make a difference!)
Chapter 1: The Twins' Mission
"Where are you two off to?" Renji called out flash stepping to catch up with Byakuya as he and Hajime headed for the garden gate.
Byakuya paused at the gate, watching as four-year-old Hajime stepped through and onto the pathway. He waited as Renji caught up, then slipped a hand into his and they followed the little boy through the forest, listening to the insect sounds and the soft scrape of their feet on the dirt trail.
"We're meeting Takeshi, Takeo and Chisaki at the waterfall," Byakuya said, watching Hajime run down the trail ahead of them, "It's our last chance to be together before the twins leave for Karakura Town."
"Their first field mission," he said, glancing at Byakuya, "hard to believe, huh?"
"Well, actually," said Byakuya, "I went on my first field mission at thirteen as well. Of course, I didn't have a twin sibling with me…"
"Well, as their captain, I couldn't hold them back. They're third and fouth seat. They need to be out gaining experience. And Karakura Town is a great place to do that. They'll stay with Kisuke, of course…and Ichigo and Yoruichi will be about if they need anything. I think they're going to enjoy getting out and doing something on their own."
"I think you're right, Renji," Byakuya said, nodding, "Their powers are strong, but they need to gain experience. A month in Karakura Town should be just the thing for that."
Hajime came running back toward them, squealing happily and leaping into Byakuya's arms. Byakuya lifted him onto his shoulders and continued walking.
"So I heard Squad Six is going to stand guard while they rebuild the Hueco Mundo base," Renji said curiously, "I thought the head captain had given up after the base was knocked down in that last raid, but he seems determined to get it up and running again."
"Yes, Takeo and Rikichi are actually leading that mission, so I will be able to spend some time with you and Hajime," Byakuya replied, squeezing Hajime's hands gently.
"Daddy Bya, can we have a picnic?" the boy asked, "I want a picnic by the water."
"Yes Hajime," Byakuya answered, "Renji and I will take you on a picnic while everyone else is gone."
"Can we pick flowers in the meadow?" he asked.
"Yeah kid," Renji said, reaching out to tousle his hair, "We can pick flowers in the meadow too."
"Can we play hide and seek in the long grass?" Hajime asked, "Or Tigers and Deer?"
"Oh, I don't know about that, Hajime," Renji said grinning, "Daddy Bya's too good at hiding and he is too good at chasing down deer when he's the tiger."
"Fine," said Byakuya resignedly, "I'll be the deer. You two can both be tigers."
"Daddy Ren looks like a tiger!" Hajime observed, "I like his stripes."
"I don't have stripes," Renji said good naturedly, "They're tattoos."
"I don't know," said Byakuya, giving Hajime a sly wink, "they look like stripes to me. Perhaps Renji is part tiger."
"You're a tiger, Daddy Ren?" he asked innocently.
"He's pulling your leg, kid," Renji said, tugging on Hajime's leg.
"No, he's not!" the boy objected, "You pulled my leg! You are a tiger!"
"Fine…" Renji said, pretending to pout, "then I'll be the tiger and the two of you can be deer. I'll catch and eat both of you!"
Hajime leaned over and whispered in Byakuya's ear.
"You can carry me and you can still run faster than him!"
"That is true," Byakuya replied, "but that would tire him out, don't you think? I don't know that it's quite fair, Hajime."
"What's not fair? Are you two plotting against me?"
"We made a secret plan! We won't tell you…not even if you tickle us to death!"
"Oh really?" Renji said, narrowing his eyes.
Hajime squealed and launched himself off of Byakuya's shoulders, bounding to the ground and flash stepping away.
"Damn, Byakuya," Renji muttered, "Is it just me or is he getting faster?"
"Hajime is increasing in power at an accelerated rate, Renji. He is developing more quickly than any soul reaper I've ever seen. It's been a concern of mine for some time."
"You think his zanpakuto will appear soon?" Renji asked.
"I'm not sure…but we need to be prepared when it does."
"But his strength is in healing. Didn't you say that he would be placed in the Fourth Division? If that's so, then it's fine that he's developing so quickly."
"Nothing is guaranteed," Byakuya said quietly, "and I've noticed another ability developing, Renji."
"Come down to the meadow with me and I will have him show you."
Byakuya flash stepped ahead. Shaking his head, Renji followed. They reached the top of the waterfall and bounded over the edge. Renji splashed down into the water, while Byakuya dropped in a more controlled motion and skimming the surface and sinking down more slowly. They swam to the edge and climbed out again, walking slowly through the long grasses of the meadow to where Hajime sat with Chisaki, weaving small flowers together. Chisaki lifted a completed circlet of flowers and set it carefully on the boy's head while Hajime continued working on the one he was crafting for Chisaki. The siblings looked up and smiled as their fathers approached.
"That looks like fun," commented Renji, sitting down next to them.
Hajime removed the flower circlet from his head and set it carefully on Renji's, then turned back to his work.
"Lovely," commented Byakuya, "Why, Hajime, you've made Renji look like royalty. How…appropriate."
Renji grinned at Byakuya, enjoying the reference to his secret connection to the spirit king.
Hajime finished a second circlet and set it gently on Byakuya's head.
"Thank you, Hajime," said Byakuya, reaching up to touch the soft petals.
"You are most welcome," he said, in a very polite, aristocratic tone that sounded suspiciously like Byakuya's.
"That's much nicer than that boring old kenseiken…I think so, anyway," said Renji, moving closer to the noble.
"Hajime," said Byakuya, "I'd like you to show Renji what you showed me this morning. Will you do that?"
Hajime nodded, smiling. He looked in a clump of flowers until he spotted a large bumblebee. He moved close as it hovered over the flowers. A calm, serene expression settled over the boy's face as he lowered himself until he was eye to eye with the insect. The spiritual pressure rose around him and they heard him emit a soft buzzing sound. The bumblebee hovered in the air in front of him for a moment, then moved forward and settled on his open palm. Still emitting the soft buzzing sound, the boy gently stroked the back of the huge bee. Renji stared in amazement.
"He can speak to bumblebees?" Renji asked, turning back to Byakuya.
"He can speak to any living creature in its own language, Renji. I think it is an extension of the inner connection that healers use when they connect with the one they are healing. I tested this theory earlier and he was able to make the same connection with deer, squirrels and birds as well. These creatures trusted him completely, even allowing me to touch them."
"Shit…that borders on being a little scary, Bya," Renji said, watching as Hajime released the bee and returned to his flower weaving.
"As with most powers we are given, it has light and dark uses. It underscores our need to proceed with great caution as Hajime is trained. We've taught him to respect all life and to be thoughtful in the use of his powers. We must carefully reinforce that as he ages and grows more powerful. Remember, one must have a strong heart to manage great amounts of power."
Renji nodded, catching the unspoken reference to Kouga Kuchiki.
"Well, if he's anything like you, that won't be a problem," Renji said, smiling warmly.
"Arigato…for the compliment, but you and I both know I wasn't nearly as calm as he is when I was his age."
"No," Renji chuckled, "but you are now…and I think it's rubbed off on him."
Byakuya shook his head.
"I think it's simply how he is. He was always very calm, even as an infant."
"Yeah, he was," Renji agreed.
He turned to look back at the water where Takeo and Takeshi were in the midst of a swimming race. He reached up and removed the flower circlet from his head and set it back on Hajime's.
"Hang on to this, will you? I'm going to go join in on the fun."
He flash stepped back to the water's edge and plunged in. Byakuya watched for a moment, then turned back to Hajime and Chisaki. He watched in silence for a moment as the two continued to carefully weave the flowers together.
"Are you ready for your posting in Karakura Town?" he asked the girl.
"Well, it won't be that much different from staying with them when you send us there, but we will have areas to inspect and guard during some of the time."
"Perhaps," Byakuya replied, "but I think it will feel different once you're there. Being on active duty means things may happen day or night and a day that begins peacefully may not end that way. But you and Takeshi have grown confident in the use of your skills. I know you will do well."
Their conversation was suddenly interrupted as Hajime gave a frightened whimper, abandoned the flower circlet he had been working on and leapt into Byakuya's arms. Byakuya and Chisaki stared, following his eyes to a nearby copse of trees.
"What is it, Hajime?" Byakuya asked softly, "What startled you?"
He could feel the panicked cadence of the boy's heart and the small fingers clung to him. His dark eyes had begun to turn golden.
"Hold Hajime for a moment," Byakuya said, handing the boy to Chisaki.
He rose and flash stepped into the trees. All was silent around him except for the echoes of laughter coming from the waterfall area. He extended his senses and stepped deeper into the trees. He felt another presence and the cloaking of reiatsu that told him it was not a friendly presence. He pretended not to notice and edged closer. As he moved, he intensified his spiritual pressure, trying to read the reiatsu pattern hidden beneath the false one that the other was giving off. He heard the sudden hiss of a flash step and the reiatsu faded. A cold feeling settled inside. Someone was watching them…someone who didn't want to be discovered. No longer sensing the presence, he returned to the children. Hajime had gone back to making flower circlets and Chisaki sat nearby, her eyes still on the trees.
"Did you find anything?" she asked as he reached them.
"I didn't see anyone," he said quietly, "but someone was there. Do not worry. I will inform security and have guards patrol here. If there is someone taking an interest in us, he or she will not remain concealed for long."
He turned to Hajime.
"Hajime, do you remember seeing the person or did you merely sense someone there?"
The boy's answer sent a chill down the noble's spine.
"He had white hair over his eyes and he was smiling. He was in that…place…before."
"Hajime…are you certain?" Byakuya asked, glancing back at the trees.
The boy nodded.
"Dad?" Chisaki said, looking suddenly frightened.
"It's fine," he said soothingly, "don't react strongly. He is gone now…and we know to be cautious."
"But why was he here? Why would he be watching us?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. But he has something more in mind than watching. I'm certain he was sent here for a reason beyond that. Watch Hajime. I will be back."
He rose and walked to the water's edge, motioning for Renji to join him. The redhead swam to the edge and climbed out, shaking the water from his hair.
"What is it?" he asked, sensing the noble's disturbed reiatsu.
"Hajime saw Gin…in the trees over there. I went to investigate and found signs of someone being there, but the reiatsu had been disguised. But Hajime said he saw a man with white hair over his eyes and he was smiling."
"Shit…that is Gin."
"Yes…and we know one such as him would not come here merely to watch. He has a mission…and we need to know what it is."
"What do you think he's here for?" Renji asked, his eyes returning to the trees in the distance.
"I don't know. But Aizen seemed very interested in the power of the twins before. He also took an interest in Hajime while we were held in Las Noches this last time. Gin could be waiting for an opportunity to abduct either the twins or Hajime…maybe all of them. I'm not sure."
"Or he could be looking for revenge on Aizen's behalf," Renji suggested.
"Possible," Byakuya replied, "but he would need to separate us…to isolate us."
"Byakuya, we're about to send the twins on their first field mission. Should we maybe wait on that?"
Byakuya shook his head.
"Renji…we cannot live in fear of Sosuke Aizen. We have trained the twins well, and they will be watched over by Yoruichi, Kisuke and Ichigo. We have a responsibility to see to their safety and we are doing that, but at the same time, they are officers of the 13 Court Guard Squads. They are strong. We have to let them grow up."
Renji released a troubled sigh, nodding in acquiescence.
"Maybe," he said softly, "but I can't help wishing that they'd stayed little for a bit longer."
"I feel the same," admitted Byakuya, "but that is the way of things. Still…we have Hajime, and I would not be opposed to having additional children with you, Renji."
"Only we're not in the spirit kingdom now. And I wonder if Yoruichi would be so quick to volunteer this time. Still…I'd have a million kids with you if you wanted to, Bya."
"I don't know about a million," Byakuya said softly, "but we do have room for a few more."
"What can we have more of?" Hajime asked suddenly from somewhere down near their feet.
"Hajime," Byakuya said, picking the boy up and frowning disapprovingly, "I do believe I've told you not to listen in on other people's conversations. It isn't polite."
"Aw, give him a break, Bya," Renji said, looking sympathetic, "He didn't do any harm. Besides, if we're going to give him a brother or sister we may want to know what he thinks about it."
He patted the boy on the head.
"So Hajime," he said, smiling, "would you like having a little brother or sister someday?"
The boy nodded.
"A sister," he announced matter-of-factly.
"You want a sister?" Byakuya asked, smiling.
"I want you to have a girl baby."
"Well," Byakuya said, looking down at the boy, "we'll see what we can do about that."
Hajime wrapped his arms tightly around the noble and rested his head on Byakuya's shoulder. The boy smiled and his eyes glowed golden for a moment. Byakuya felt a shift in the reiatsu around him and lifted the boy away, looking up at him curiously.
"What did you do, Hajime?" he asked.
The boy giggled.
"I gave Daddy Bya a magical hug."
"A magical hug?"
They were interrupted by a delighted howl that sounded as Takeshi leapt from the cliff and plunged into the water below. Hajime bolted from Byakuya's arms, running to the cliff and scaling its face quickly. Above him, Takeo leapt and did a graceful flip before splashing down into the water. Hajime reached the top and took several steps back, gathering himself. Running forward, he launched himself off the cliff edge and flipped in the air as Takeo had, then fell towards the water. As he neared it, his spiritual pressure increased and he slowed until he dropped into the water with a decidedly anticlimactic plop.
As they watched the children take turns jumping into the lake, Renji turned to Byakuya.
"About Gin being here," he said quietly, "what are we going to do?"
"We will be watchful," Byakuya said, his eyes on the children, "It's all we can do, Renji."
Renji stood in the gardens, looking around to check the position of the guards. There were enough that they should be safe, but he felt uneasy. He hated what Sosuke Aizen had done to Byakuya. Even though Byakuya seemed to have made a full recovery, he saw small differences that others missed. No one knew Byakuya the way Renji did…and he knew there were still wounds that were healing. He hated the idea that Sosuke Aizen still seemed to be taking such an interest in them, though it relieved him that his frightening obsession with the noble had ended when Byakuya was able to use his own zanpakuto against him.
"I just want this to be over," he muttered softly, "I want him to be gone."
He watched the sentries for a few minutes longer, then turned and opened the patio doors that led into the bedroom. The room was dark except for a shaft of moonlight that streamed through the door and came to rest on Byakuya's sleeping form. Renji found himself staring.
He had always thought of Byakuya as being beautiful…and right now, he felt the full force of that beauty. The light touched his pale skin, giving it a soft glow. It added faint bluish highlights to the raven black hair and brightened the relaxed lines of his face. He lay on one side, turned toward Renji, his face resting on the back of one soft, pale hand. Renji could see the soft rise and fall of his breathing.
He made his way across the room to the dressing area and slipped into his nightclothes, leaving the tie undone. He walked back to the bed and stood for a moment, silently admiring the slope of shoulder and back, the way the soft fabric hugged Byakuya's slender form. Taking a slow breath, he closed the distance between them and slipped into bed. He moved close to the noble and wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling the tie free. Byakuya shifted in his sleep, but did not wake. Renji leaned forward and planted a line of warm kisses down the noble's spine, enjoying the feel of silk against his lips. The kisses drew a soft moan from the waking noble and he turned to face Renji, the dark eyes still misted and half dreaming.
"Renji…" he breathed, still not fully awakened.
There was something about the dark, sleepy eyes and the dreamy expression that entranced the redhead. He leaned forward again and fastened his mouth on the noble's, teasing the full, warm lips apart, and slipping his tongue inside. Byakuya's tongue curled around his and the noble moaned lightly into his mouth, making the redhead's awakened member twitch softly. Byakuya's arms wrapped around him, one hand curling around the back of his neck to bring him more firmly into the kiss, while the other slid down his back and came to rest on his hip. Renji broke away from the noble's mouth and caught a soft, pale earlobe, and nipped and sucked it gently, before releasing it to work his way down the long, slender throat, alternating slow, wet strokes with his tongue and tender bites that sent soft shivers through the body that moved restlessly beneath him. His hands explored the muscular chest, stopping to pleasure the erect nipples before one hand moved down to stroke the softened abdomen, to gently tease the navel before reaching further down to take hold of the noble's hardened arousal. Byakuya moaned and his hips pushed up against the hand that pleasured him.
Renji's hand slid down further, then gently teased the noble's thighs, parting them as his body settled down in between them. He worked his way inside slowly, then paused to enjoy the sight of the tumbled black hair, the lightly flushed cheeks, the hazy moonlit eyes and the glowing white skin of the lover who laid beneath him, waiting for him to move.
He returned to the noble's mouth and bit down on the sensuous lips, thrusting into his warm, willing body and watching the dark eyes blacken with passion and the usually controlled features soften and change as his controls were relinquished and Byakuya gave himself over to the pleasure. His hands gripped Renji tightly and his body rose hungrily to meet each powerful thrust. The redhead shifted, changing the angle of his body, finding the center of pleasure there and sending the noble reeling. His body shuddered and he tightened around Renji, bringing him over the edge of the precipice. The redhead's body seized and shuddered, and he fell onto his lover's chest, panting and moaning in pleasure.
Byakuya turned and Renji curled around him, wrapping an arm around him and lacing their fingers together. He rested his face on the fall of black hair and nuzzled a soft earlobe.
"You're beautiful, Bya," he whispered, "I love you."
The noble's hand tightened on his and he returned the warm sentiments in calm, hushed tones. They drifted off to sleep together, still bathed in the soft moonlight.