Chapter 17: The Fate We Make

The spirit king and the elder Hajime sat quietly at their son's side, Akemi's hand held warmly in theirs. Hajime leaned against the king, his dark blue eyes focused on their son's face, his body in a state of forced calm as they waited. On the bed, the young Hajime knelt next to his grandfather and focused his healing power on the man. Very slowly, Akemi's eyes blinked and focused on the spirit king and the noble at his side.

"Wh-where am I?" he asked softly, "Did I…die? Is this place…?"

"You are home, Akemi," Hajime told him quietly, "You are no longer in that dark place."

"H-home?" Akemi repeated, "But…this is not Inuzuri…"

"You were told by your father that you are not his son," Hajime the elder continued, "You were told never to speak of it until your parents revealed themselves to you. It is all right now. You have come home, and it is time for you to know yourself. You are Akemi, son of the spirit king and Hajime Kuchiki. I am Hajime."

Akemi didn't need to ask who the man at Hajime's side was. He sat up slowly, gazing at the two in stunned silence.

"B-but…my father," the man said finally, "He told me nothing of my parentage, but he told me of his friend, the noble Hajime Kuchiki, who was killed defending his king. How is it that you are here? And how am I here? The last thing I remember was being eaten by that hollow!"

Hajime smiled.

"It is a long story. However, the truth of it is that the ancient sakura, the natural mother of the Kuchiki clan, prevented me from passing over into death. I was preserved in another dimension and brought back through the efforts of Byakuya Kuchiki to protect his son, the young Hajime, who is also your grandson."

Young Hajime smiled and let his power fade. Akemi stared at the boy, then at the king and elder Hajime.

"I see I have a great deal of catching up to do," he mused, "But…if the younger Hajime is my grandson, then that means…my Renji…is alive?"

The king nodded.

"Your brave act saved him. He grew up into a powerful shinigami and now leads the fifth division of the Gotei 13. He is married to Byakuya Kuchiki and the two have six children, including Hajime."

"Are they here as well?" Akemi asked, looking around, "I would like very much to see them!"

"All in good time," the elder Hajime said, squeezing his hand, "You need to rest. You were trapped inside that hollow for many years before we were able to rescue you. Your reiatsu and physical form will require several weeks of treatments before you will be up and around."

"I want to see Renji," said Akemi, "I need to know he is all right."

"Renji is in the Seireitei, recovering from injuries he sustained during your and young Hajime's rescue," said the elder Hajime, "but the king assures me that he will be all right. Rest easy, Akemi. You need to focus on getting well. Everything else can wait."

"In the meantime," the king said, smiling, you can certainly get to know us, and your young grandson. I would introduce more of Byakuya and Renji's children, but Takeshi and Chisaki are on their way back to the Seireitei to check on the others who were involved in the rescue. Do not worry, Akemi. We will all be together soon."

"I want that very much," Akemi said, settling back against the pillows and sighing, "I missed seeing my son grow up. I know there is no bringing back that time. We can only go on from here."

Hajime's eyes met Akemi's with deep sadness and understanding.

"His majesty and I missed seeing you grow up, Akemi. But it has been a joy to know your son, our grandson. He favors you…and my lord."

Akemi smiled.

"My father was not able to tell me of the king…I see now, for my own protection. But he spoke often of you," he said, taking Hajime's hand, "He said he never met a man of such humility…loyalty…courage. He told me not to believe what was said about you, that lies surrounded your death, but the truth would someday be told. I am so glad to have reached those days, and I look forward to knowing you…both of you…and this wonderful family built in my absence."

My son," the king said softly, taking Akemi's hand and then Hajime's, "you may have been gone from our presence, but you were always in our hearts. And Hajime and I are also glad to have reached the day of your return. It is a time for healing…and a time to be thankful. Every new day we have together is a gift. We are so happy you have come home."

"I am happy to be home," Akemi sighed, wrapping an arm around each of them and holding them close.

XXXXXXXXXX

Captain Unohana entered the waiting room and smiled at Takeshi, Chisaki and Shoji. The young shinigamis gazed back at her worriedly, waiting.

"Well," said the healer, "I am pleased to report that despite Takeo's questionable decision to leave the healing center when he did and to undertake more battle, he is going to make a full recovery. Captain Kuchiki also, though he sustained moderate injuries, managed to escape his confrontation with Sousuke Aizen with no serious injuries."

"Wh-what about Renji?" asked Chisaki, her voice shaking.

The healer nodded bracingly.

"I will be honest with you. Captain Abarai's injuries are quite serious. But he is enduring his treatments well and he is resting comfortably. He will require a longer stay in the fourth division, but he will also recover fully."

"Can we see them?" asked Takeshi, glancing down the hallway behind her.

"You are welcome to see Takeo right away. He has regained consciousness following his treatment and he should be able to fill you in on what happened after you parted ways. Your fathers are together and Captain Kuchiki is conscious. Obviously, he is obsessively focused on Captain Abarai's condition, but I assured him that all of you were all right. He was asking about Hajime, though."

"When you see him, please tell him that Hajime is fine. And also, Akemi and the elder Hajime are recovering as well."

"That is good news," said the healer, "I will make sure that Captain Kuchiki is informed. If you will excuse me, I will see to that right away."

She turned away and headed down the hallway. A moment later, an attendant met the three and led them to Takeo's room. Their brother was heavily bandaged and looked horridly pale, but smiled when he saw them and lifted himself to rest with his back against the pillows.

"You're back," he said in a deeply relieved tone.

Takeshi and Chisaki nodded wordlessly.

"And our Hajime and the others?" he asked.

"Our little brother is fine," Chisaki told him, blinking away happy tears, "We would have brought him home with us, but the healers in the spirit dimension needed his powers to help speed Akemi's healing. The elder Hajime is well, too, and has finally been reunited with the king. They all sent their greetings…and their congratulations."

Takeshi nodded.

"The rise of your ban kai was sensed in the spirit dimension and Shoji described it to us. It sounds…amazing."

Chisaki stepped forward and wrapped her arms around their brother.

"Thank you for protecting them," she said, tears leaking onto her face, "We were so worried!"

"Have you heard anything about how they're doing?" asked Takeo.

"They're both going to be okay," explained Takeshi, "Byakuya is already awake. Renji was hurt more seriously, but is expected to make a full recovery. He is still unconscious."

Takeo's lips tightened.

"He looked really bad when we got here…and Byakuya wouldn't allow them to be separated," he said softly, "He was afraid Renji was going to die, I think."

"Well, he'll be okay," Shoji said reassuringly, "He just needs time to heal. He'll be fine."

"Yeah, I know," Takeo sighed, shifting and wincing, "My head knows that, but…"

"It was really scary seeing him get hit like that," Chisaki finished, wiping her eyes, "He was very brave."

She slipped a hand into Takeo's and kissed his cheek.

"You were really brave too," she added, "Our dads wouldn't have made it home if it weren't for you."

"It took all of us to take back what was ours and to get out of there alive," Takeo said softly, "We were lucky."

"Yeah," agreed Takeshi, smiling, "but Aizen and Gin weren't. Las Noches has been oddly silent since the battle. I'd like to think that meant they were gone for good, but…"

"You know Sousuke Aizen…" sighed Chisaki.

"Yeah," said Takeshi, shaking his head, "I think we all know that guy way too well."

"Well, Byakuya really stood up to him," said Takeo, "I think he was surprised…and I think he'll think twice before coming after us again!"

"I hope so," said Chisaki worriedly, "He is such an evil man…and he hates us."

Takeshi slipped an arm around his twin sister's shoulders.

"It doesn't matter," he assured her, "It's like Byakuya always tells us. Together we are strong enough to come through any danger. We'll just stick together and we'll be all right."

Chisaki gave her brothers a relieved smile and rested her head on Takeshi's shoulder.

"I'm sure you're right," she said softly.

XXXXXXXXXX

Sousuke Aizen laid in his bed next to a barely conscious Gin, flinching as his healer addressed the slashes left on his body from Byakuya's attacks. He fumed silently, hating that he had to admit to himself that Byakuya had, indeed, grown much stronger. Strangely, despite the burning anger it caused, there remained a touch of nostalgia. He thought back to the soft, submissive creature he had been during his captivity in Las Noches and a part of him longed to be with that incarnation of the noble again. But Byakuya as he was now did not seem likely to revert to that older, weaker and more docile version. He remained a challenge, however. And therefore, he would eventually need to be dealt with.

A flash image of the elder Hajime Kuchiki interrupted his thoughts about Byakuya and the leader of the hollows encountered a whole new reason to be enraged. He realized now what Hajime had referred to as 'the price he would pay.' The king's lover appeared nearly every time he slept, his beautiful moonlit form as enticing and lovely as he remembered it, but he was always tantalizingly beyond Aizen's reach. And he was well aware that the disturbance he had felt even during some waking moments, the times when he sensed the joining of Hajime's body with the king's was another facet of that price. He considered it a reminder of his goals not yet achieved. And when he broke into the spirit realm and finally killed the king, he would have an eternity of bliss, buried in Hajime's body. Maybe, he thought, he would have the entire Kuchiki line brought to the spirit dimension and reclassify their clan as a line of royal whores to lie in the beds of all of his offspring. It was right, he thought, that the clan that most supported his enemy should be made to serve him in as humiliating a way as possible. After all, it was because of numerous members of that damned clan that he and Gin laid injured.

He wasn't going to forget that…

And someday…

"Someday you will all pay…"

XXXXXXXXXX

Byakuya opened his eyes and turned his head, slowly focusing on the red-haired man in the bed next to his. Renji's eyes were closed and his only movement consisted of the slow rise and fall of his breathing. The noble ignored the immediate discomfort of moving and left his bed to move closer to his soul bonded. Standing made his ears ring loudly and his legs threatened to collapse beneath him, so he crawled in next to the redhead, careful not to jostle him, then carefully moved Renji's broken arm to elevate it slightly by letting it rest on his side. The movement caused a sluggish reaction in the redhead and his brown eyes opened and struggled to focus on Byakuya.

"It's…over?" he asked in a barely audible voice.

Byakuya's dark eyes fixed on his.

"Yes," he assured the redhead, "We are home, now…well, at the healing center, anyway."

"K-kids?"

"The children are all fine. Takeo is resting here at the healing center. He's going to be fine."

"Kid's…r-realy…s-something, ne?" Renji managed.

"He is," agreed the noble, "His ban kai was amazing, wasn't it?"

Renji gave his hand a trembling squeeze and managed a short nod.

"Th' twins?"

"Captain Unohana said that Takeshi and Chisaki have returned from the spirit dimension and they are in with Takeo now. Word came from Karakura Town that although hollows attacked and destroyed Urahara's shop while we were gone, he, Ichigo, Rukia and Yoruichi got Akiko and Akane to safety. They will be coming home after I am released from the healing center. They are fine, Renji. Our Hajime is still in the spirit dimension. The healers there needed his help in treating your father. The elder Hajime will be escorting him back as soon as that is done."

"M-my father is…?"

"Your father is going to be fine also. He needs to be carefully monitored for a while as he readjusts to being in his own body, but he is making good progress."

Renji's fingers moved slightly, stroking his.

"And you?"

Byakuya rested his head on Renji's shoulder.

"I am all right…a bit beat up perhaps, but not terribly damaged."

"Y'look beautiful…strong."

Byakuya tightened an arm around him and buried his face in the redhead's shoulder to hide a soft, unbidden sob.

"Not as strong as you looked, defending all of us like that. You were stunning, Renji Abarai. Once again, you reminded me why I am never letting go of you!" the noble whispered in the redhead's ear.

He shifted his pain-wracked body and found Renji's lips. Renji lifted his broken arm and tried to touch the noble's hair, but made a sound of surprise as the cast struck Byakuya's head, making his soul bonded, gasp softly and wince. He focused on the offending hand and it registered that the cast was there.

"S-sorry," he laughed, then winced again, "Bastard g-got m'sword arm, ne?"

Byakuya managed a pained chuckle.

"He got more than that, Abarai," he said, reprovingly, "There's this whole thing called dodging that you seemed to forget all about…"

"But if I had dodged…he mighta hit you…or th'kids."

Byakuya smiled sadly and nodded.

"Yes, he might have. But we might have been fine dodging on our own."

"I wasn't takin' chances."

"No, you were ready to sacrifice everything to protect us. And as much as I hate that you had to get hurt like this, I love you so much for doing that, Renji."

The two exchanged several kisses, then Renji's uninjured hand curved around Byakuya's face.

"I want you."

Byakuya's eyes widened.

"What?"

"You heard me, Kuchiki. I s-said…I want you."

The noble glared at him.

"No! Certainly not with you in this condition. You're hurt badly and barely even conscious! I think you need to have your head examined…" the noble said, stiffly.

Renji gave him a pained smile.

"You want t'do that for me?" he breathed in the noble's ear.

He laughed at the flustered look Byakuya gave him and the blush on the noble's face and throat. The flush deepened as he shifted slightly and his hardened member rubbed against the noble's leg.

"Renji…please," Byakuya whispered, "I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't hurt me," Renji assured him, "Now come here. I want to be with you."

Byakuya gave him a tormented look and Renji frowned.

"Don't look at me like that, Bya. I'm not broken, just a little banged up."

"A little?" Byakuya said breathlessly as the redhead opened his yukata and started to nudge him with his uninjured hand.

The noble gave him a look of reproach, but lifted himself and carefully straddled his lover's body. He held himself away, only allowing his length and inner thighs to make contact.

"Fine," he hissed defeatedly, "but when you die from internal bleeding, don't blame me!"

Renji groaned softly and wrapped a hand around Byakuya's white bottom.

"Okay, I won't blame you," he said, lifting his head slightly to capture the noble's frowning lips.

Byakuya shifted, raising his hips, then settled slowly onto the redhead's swollen member, biting his lips and feeling twinges of guilt as Renji winced and caught his breath. He waited until his lover seemed relatively comfortable again, then gazed down into the redhead's affectionate eyes and began to move slowly up and down on his length. Renji sighed happily, his breath shortening and his eyelids fluttering softly.

"I love being inside you," he whispered, almost incoherently, "You're so hot inside…and your body holds mine so tightly…Bya. I don't care if it hurts. Even if it kills me, I want to feel that. Now get that worried look off your face and make love to me," he whispered.

"You really are crazy, Renji," Byakuya panted softly, "I can't believe I'm actually going along with this…"

Renji's stroked and caressed until the noble gasped and the arms that held his upper body away from Renji's trembled. The noble gave a soft, surprised cry as Renji's hips pushed upward and the redhead grabbed his hip and held him in place, filling him with the hot pulses of his release. Byakuya's lips parted and Renji stared as soft, beautiful sounds of completion left him and hot seed erupted from his still undulating form.

"I love watching that," Renji whispered, touching the noble's trembling lips and coaxing him in for several deep, wet kisses, "Seeing you surrender to pleasure I'm giving you…it's the best thing about making love with you."

"Will you please rest now?" the noble pleaded softly, "I want you to come home soon."

Renji grinned, nodded and closed his eyes.

Byakuya lifted himself away gingerly and carefully cleaned away the remains of their lovemaking, then crawled back in next to Renji, working his way into the deeply sleeping redhead's arms and resting a weary head on his shoulder.

"Seeing your face while you sleep after we make love," he whispered, "is the thing that I enjoy most about making love with you, Renji…because I can see how happy it makes you. And that is what I want more than anything. I want to make you happy."

He caught his breath softly as Renji's fingers laced together with his and tightened.

"You do," he whispered back, "Every day we're together…you make me the happiest man alive, Bya."

"Shut up and sleep," the noble reprimanded him gently.

But he couldn't hide the smile that found itself on his lips.

XXXXXXXXXX

Epilogue: Generations

(Six Weeks Later)

The house guards stood at attention and opened the manor gates to admit two large, white horses, one bearing the two Hajimes and the other carrying Renji's father, Akemi. They proceeded into the courtyard, where they were met by Byakuya and the full contingent of his and Renji's children.

"Renji is waiting in the gardens," Byakuya told them, "Standing and walking are still quite painful for him, but he is making good progress."

The elder Hajime helped his young namesake down and watched him scamper away, then he lifted himself and dismounted, waiting as Akemi followed and moved to join him.

"I'm so anxious to see Renji," Akemi said softly, "I don't even what to expect. I've heard so many amazing things…"

Byakuya met Akemi's eyes warmly.

"And I assure you, Renji is everything you have heard and more. Come, let's not keep the two of you waiting anymore."

They left the courtyard and followed the walkway into the gardens. They slowed as they approached the garden patio, and Akemi stepped forward, his eyes widening as they took in the sight of the red-haired, tattooed captain of the fifth division.

Renji's eyes met his and he started to rise, but Akemi shook his head and moved to sit down in the chair in front of him. The others watched quietly for a moment, then moved away to give the two time to talk alone.

Akemi stared at Renji silently for several long minutes before reaching out and taking his hand.

"Renji…" he breathed almost soundlessly.

Renji stared back as though hypnotized, taking in the notes of himself, Hajime and the king that were reflected in the man sitting in front of him and searching for what he should say.

"Even had I not been told, I think I would have recognized you instantly," Akemi went on.

"Dad," Renji said, trying the name out in a near whisper.

"I am sorry," Akemi said softly, squeezing the redhead's hand, "I am sorry that it had to be so long before we could be together. I understand your childhood was quite difficult."

"That wasn't your fault," Renji assured him, "You couldn't help what happened…and what you did, saved my life."

He sighed softly.

"I think I did okay. I had friends. I grew up and went to the shinigami…and I fell in love. I just feel sad that you weren't there. I don't blame you. If not for what you did, I would have died that day. I just wish that we could have been together."

"Well," said Akemi, "We are together now. Because of things related to my being held inside the hollow for so long, I still must remain for the most part, in the spirit dimension. But I will come to see you and Byakuya and your children when I can. And my fathers and I hope that you will join us in the spirit dimension on occasion as well."

"Of course we will," Renji promised.

"It's odd," Akemi went on, "It seems like no time passed while I was gone…as though I only turned my back and my little red-haired baby grew up and became a captain. I almost don't know what to feel. But what I feel most…is proud. I knew you would be strong. And I see I was right."

"Yeah," said Renji, leaning forward and wrapping his arms around his father, "Well, I got that from you."

XXXXXXXXXX

Hajime stood by the back gate, next to Byakuya, looking across the garden to where Akemi and Renji sat with their arms around each other.

"It's good to see them together like this," he said quietly, "Akemi carries a great weight on his heart from having been separated from his son for so long."

"And if anyone would understand such a thing, it would be you," Byakuya added.

Hajime yielded a grateful smile and nodded.

"Byakuya," he went on, "I haven't yet properly thanked you for helping to bring me back. I lived for so long in darkness and emptiness. I missed being with his majesty…and I missed seeing our child grow up. We cannot bring those things back, but we are all moving forward. Thank you for giving me the chance to do that."

He took a soft breath.

"His majesty has asked me to become his royal consort and I have accepted. I hope that you and Renji, and all of your children will come to celebrate with us. We are so happy to have been given this second chance. Despite what we had to go through, there is great beauty in our lives now…and we intend to make the most of it."

"We will as well," Byakuya agreed, nodding, "Though we still must concern ourselves with Sousuke Aizen."

"Yes…him," Hajime said, narrowing his eyes, "His majesty assures me that Sousuke Aizen is concerned only with his own recovery for now. In addition, he suffers a great deal of discomfort as punishment for attempting to molest me. It won't completely halt his attempts to undo us, but it will slow him. In any case, now that we are together, we are strong enough to oppose him. And as repayment for you helping me to return, you need only call my name and I will appear to raise my sword in your defense. Don't worry about Aizen. He cannot defeat both of us and he knows it. And knowing that I will appear when you are in need will make him wary."

"Arigato, Hajime," Byakuya said gratefully, "You put my mind at ease."

"We are at peace for now and we are healing," the king's lover said softly, "but when the time for battle comes again, we will be ready. And we will not fail. Not ever."