Epilogue: A Little Inconvenience
Byakuya held Gia's hand and looked on as Rukia, Renji and the others in their group each drove a shovel into the ground and withdrew a large scoop of dirt and those gathered around erupted in applause. In the background, large machinery sat awaiting the beginning of the building of the new children's shelter. All around him, the faces of the folk of Inuzuri watched curiously as the celebratory group studied the site. And in numerous places around them, small, hopeful faces peeked around the corners of buildings and from behind the vendor carts. They had heard, but didn't know yet if they could really believe that something was going to happen that would change their lives forever.
Gia released Byakuya's hand and ran to Rukia and Renji chattering excitedly. Byakuya turned out of the plaza area and walked out into the hilly area at the edge of town where, twice now, difficult battles had changed the course of his life. And as dark and sad, as lonely a place as Inuzuri was, there were bright souls who lit it…souls that wouldn't need a handsome prince to come and rescue them anymore. They could dream of a better future and it wouldn't have to be desperate fantasy. Children like Hisana, Rukia, Renji, Gia and all those whose lives were lost here wouldn't have to be lost anymore. There was peace in that…the resolution of a promise he had never spoken aloud, but one felt as the life slipped away from someone he held dear. And he felt blessed to be there to see it.
Gia's hand slipped into his and he couldn't help but remember the first day he saw her…when he sat down to listen to Rukia's stories with the children of Inuzuri all around him and this small child had climbed into his lap, looking for the same things he had craved…that feeling of being close to someone, of being held and loved. There was no substitute for that…none.
"Daddy Bya, you look sad. Are you remembering the day the hollows came and killed my friends…the day you saved me?"
He turned and picked Gia up, holding her close.
"It wasn't the day I saved you," he corrected her, "It was the day we saved each other."
Gia looked confused.
"But it wasn't until…"
"Someday you will understand what that means," he said, turning back to join the others.
He set Gia down.
"Are you hungry?" he asked her.
"Then come and we'll get something."
They walked to the food carts and as they waited, he noticed children slipping out of the shadows, coming closer and staring oddly at Gia, as if they remembered her, but wondered if she was real.
"Do you know those children?" Byakuya asked.
"But they look like they're afraid to come and talk to me."
He felt the weight of class differences closing in around them again…as it always seemed to. But, he decided, it didn't have to be that way. Hadn't they proven already that class differences could be overcome…that lost, scattered hearts could come together to form a family regardless of where each one came from or what strictures bound them…or was it as Aizen Sousuke said and the noble class held everyone else down to protect their own power and position? He turned to the vendor who had helped them and did his best to use the power given to him in a positive way. A few minutes later, he and Gia sat on the grass near the vendors with a gathering of children all around them. Gia was at the center of the happy group, eating with them and telling them everything she had seen on her trip to the Seireitei. And he could see that even more than the food, they needed the hope she gave them…to know that life didn't have to always seem so hopeless, that there were people out there who knew they existed and wanted to help them…
"What in the heck are you doing?"
There was amusement in Renji's voice…laughter. He looked up and smiled.
"Don't think you're bringing all of these kids home, Kuchiki Byakuya!" he said sternly, "Kuchiki Manor is big, but it's not that big!"
Byakuya disentangled himself from Gia and left her chattering excitedly with the other children. He and Renji stood nearby, watching.
"The other children remembered her, but they were afraid to come close. It was like they didn't think they should talk to her. I understood why they felt that way, but I didn't want them to think that way anymore. This is where Gia was born…and if kids like these hadn't been there when her parents died…when her brother was killed, then Gia wouldn't have been here for me to find. She shouldn't forget what they did for her. They aren't handsome princes, but they did more than their share of the rescuing here, Renji."
He stared harder at the group of children, at the nicely dressed girl at the center, welcomed back and accepted by them once again, and felt an ache in his heart.
"I have to wonder, though, Renji. Is it as Aizen Sousuke said? Does the noble class use the rules and mores of our society as a way of holding these others down, of keeping them poor? Are we really so concerned with keeping the power and wealth we have in our own families that we would forget that we have an obligation to serve as an example to others? To take action when we see something wrong?"
Renji set his hands on Byakuya's shoulders and looked sternly into the troubled gray eyes.
"Hey," he said firmly, "Don't let Aizen Sousuke fuck with your mind like that. Sure, there are some among the nobles who are like that, but there are just as many who are not. There are some bastards who don't give a damn about the rest of the world around them, but you know that isn't everyone. And it especially isn't how you are. If it was, you wouldn't have married Hisana, or taken in her sister, or adopted Gia…or loved me."
"I know…it just…"
"Wears on the soul…" Renji finished, "and that's true no matter where you come from, because it has nothing to do with where you grew up. It has to do with what kind of person you are. You have a conscience and a heart, even though some of those other kind tried to beat it out of you. When you see that something is wrong, you do your damnedest to change it. That's what made you defy the rules and marry Hisana, what made you step in front of Gin's blade to save Rukia, what made you adopt Gia without even asking what anyone else thought of the idea. You saw something wrong and you did your best to change it…end of story."
He placed his hands on Byakuya's face and stared into the dark gray eyes appreciatively.
"I love that about you. You call me stubborn and impulsive, but I don't hold a candle to you, Kuchiki Byakuya. No one tells you what to think, what to feel or what to do. You do what you think is right and damned be anyone who stands in your way."
"That's not true, Renji. I let my family force me into following rules that almost got Rukia killed. I let Aizen Sousuke use me against her…"
"Were you listening to me a second ago? Bya, that was on the outside! That was never what you felt in here…where it matters, where you are no matter what you were forced to do. You couldn't fix those things back then, but when you had the ability, you did. And you are still fighting tooth and nail every day to protect what you think is important. You and I, and this family we are building are going to take shit sometimes for operating outside the norm, but it will be worth it because no matter what, we aren't letting anyone else tell us what's right. We know what's right. It's obvious when you just tune out all of the crap and listen to your heart."
Byakuya laughed softly.
"You really have a way with words, Abarai," Byakuya said quietly.
Renji laughed and brought his lips close to Byakuya's ear.
"Yeah? When we get home tonight, I'll have my way with you. How does that sound?"
"It sounds splendid, but don't forget, Kisuke wanted to talk to us about the side effects of the switching."
"Aw hell, forgot about that!" Renji muttered.
"But we have no other commitments after…" Byakuya whispered hotly in his ear.
"Thanks for stopping by again," Kisuke said, smiling, "Why don't you guys just take a seat and we'll get down to business."
"Does she really need to be here?" Byakuya asked, indicating Yoruichi.
"Of course. Yoruichi here has been crucial in helping me to research this stuff. She was especially helpful in communicating with the cats and managing the Neko-hineri…and that big lug hollow with him."
"What happened to those two?" asked Renji, looking around.
"Had to send them back to Hueco Mundo. Don't worry. He's not returning to the fortress. He and his 'kitty' are finding a nice cave somewhere and settling down. They'll be fine."
He stood and exchanged knowing glances with Yoruichi.
"Anyway, I'm sure you're aching to know about the side effects you've been experiencing. Let me see if I have this right. You are experiencing heightened sensitivity to each others' emotions, particularly sexual pleasure, you feel like you leave your bodies when you make love, you have unexplained increased libido and…erm…endurance, nausea, some vomiting and occasional dizzy spells…oh, and when you're not feeling sick to your stomachs, you're constantly hungry. Good news is, I have some answers for you. Bad news is…you may not like everything I have to say."
Byakuya and Renji exchanged wary glances.
"Go on," Byakuya prompted him.
He felt a sense of disquiet as Yoruichi reached up and covered her mouth.
"Well," said Kisuke, trying to hold back a smile, "You actually have some symptoms related to the switching and some related to what those crusty old elders did to Byakuya…and some caused by a meeting of the two…"
"Come again?" said Renji, "What the fuck did the elders do to him?"
"Easy there, Renji, I promise I'll get to that, but let's start with the switching. Our friends, the catnip loving cats shared with Yoruichi that they have had some symptoms like yours. Now, unlike you, they continued to get wild with each other while under the influence of the catnip, and in addition to increased attraction, sensation and emotive connection, these two have been continuing to switch back and forth. What this means is that if you and Renji ever have the need, just swallow a couple of those seeds you had before to loosen your reiatsu, hit the sheets to force the reiatsu out and there you have it…you can switch back and forth!"
"Um," said Renji unenthusiastically, "that's…interesting. I guess it is could be useful…though I don't know exactly how…"
"Go on," Byakuya said tersely.
"Now…what the elders did to Byakuya…I studied the blood and reiatsu samples and the…"
"Urahara, please…" Byakuya groaned.
"…other samples and came…ahem…to this solution."
He paused dramatically, not daring to look directly at Yoruichi.
"Now, you said that in exchange for the right to marry Renji with full approval, you put the question of how to birth your heir into their hands."
"Oh, don't be so nice about it, Kisuke," Yoruichi said, stifling a laugh, "He gave them carte blanche to screw with him!"
"Hey! Be nice," Kisuke said reprovingly, "It was all in the name of love. And as it turns out, what they did wasn't horribly bad. They were probably worried that, having married a man, Byakuya would simply never procreate…so they…gave him a little…ahem…'fertility boost.'"
"A…'fertility boost?'" queried Byakuya, sounding like he didn't really want to know.
"Yeah, lucky you," Kisuke chuckled, "After that, you could have made love with a rock and it would have sprouted pebbles!"
Two pairs of eyes widened and met.
"They made it so that I would…impregnate…Renji?" Byakuya asked, pale-faced.
"Yeah, kinda rude springing it on the two of you like that, wasn't it? And I guess you owe Renji here a bit of an apology for letting them…ahem…'mess' with him."
Renji was staring in dismay down at his abdomen.
"You mean that the reason I've been dizzy and throwing up…I'm going to…?"
"Yeah," grinned Kisuke, "Congratulations!"
"Renji…" said Byakuya, looking both apologetic and furious, "I had no idea they would…I assumed that when they said they would…I thought they would confine whatever they did to things that would affect me. I didn't even think…I didn't know they could…I'm sorry, Renji. I really am."
"Shit! Does this mean I'll…turn into a woman or get breasts or…"
"No, no, nothing like that. You're a guy, Renji. Your body is making room for the babies and will nourish them, but you don't have to worry about turning into a girl or breastfeeding. It appears that won't happen. A birth canal will form later on, but other than that, you're not going to be all that changed."
"Whoa…wait a minute…did you say…babies?" Renji said nervously, "as in, more than one?"
Yoruichi coughed hard to cover a burst of laughter.
"Yeah, I said babies," Kisuke went on, "Byakuya's heightened fertility will most likely yield a multiple birth…but we won't know how many for a few weeks, yet."
"I think I'm going to throw up," Renji said, paling even more.
"I'm with you," Byakuya said breathlessly, "I'm going to throw up…right after I go and kill those sons of bitches for doing this!"
"Hold on, Romeo!" Kisuke said sternly, "because I'm not done yet…"
Byakuya turned slowly, not wanting to hear, but trapped.
"I am…so sorry, Renji," he said again.
Renji sighed and moved closer to him, sliding a hand into his.
"Well…it could have been worse, right?" Renji said, trying to sound like he wasn't ready to simultaneously throw up and faint, "They could have done something to try and break us up."
"You mean…you don't want to kill me for letting them do this?" Byakuya said, cringing inside.
Renji forced a smile.
"I'll be okay. I'll just…I don't know. I'll deal with it."
Byakuya smiled gratefully and kissed him warmly.
"I'll make them pay for doing this to you, Renji," Byakuya promised, "I'll kill every damned one of them."
"Well…you don't have to kill them. It isn't so bad, I mean. At least this means we get to have a kid together."
Byakuya froze, staring.
"Well…I didn't figure we could. I didn't think there was a way," Renji said softly, "and I was okay with that, you know? But…it's kind of…well, nice to know we'll have a kid together, me and you."
Byakuya broke into a small smile and wrapped an arm around Renji. They kissed once, twice, then Kisuke cleared his throat.
"Hey! He's already knocked up. You've done enough there, Byakuya."
"You mean, what they did continues to affect me?"
"Naw, that was a one time thing. It won't happen again, which is a good thing, because you may not have room in your mansion for all of the kids you're going to have."
"Come now, Kisuke, there's a limit to what one shinigami can hold," said Byakuya reprovingly.
Yoruichi burst into uncontrolled giggles. Byakuya glared at her and she covered her mouth and forced herself to stop.
"True," said Kisuke, "but as I said before, I'm not done. Now we get to the truly odd stuff. This is where what they did to you collided with the effects of the attack of the Neko-hineri. You see, the effect the elders placed on you made you extremely fertile and extremely attractive and…um…energetic, all to enable you to reproduce. The effect of the Neko-hineri made the two of you connect and your loosened reiatsu became entwined while you were 'busy' on your wedding night. Emotions connected, bodies connected, reiatsu connected…and what they did to Byakuya…Byakuya passed through the entwined reiatsu…which means…"
"Shit!" said Renji.
"Kami, I really think I'm going to throw up," gasped Byakuya, turning and flash stepping away.
Renji looked helplessly from Kisuke to Yoruichi.
"I…uh…guess I should go and make sure he's okay."
They watched as Renji flash stepped out of the room. Kisuke grinned at Yoruichi.
"I think they took it pretty well, don't you?"
They looked at each other in silence for a moment longer, then descended into fits of laughter.
Byakuya fell back against the bathroom wall and rubbed his hands over his face, leaning forward as dizziness swept over him.
"I will kill them!" he hissed softly, "I will tear them apart with my bare hands, so help me…"
The rage made his head spin harder. He lowered his head, panting softly and trying to force down his anger.
"Hey…you okay?" Renji said from the doorway.
Byakuya laughed sarcastically.
"If it's possible for a man to be pregnant and okay, then I guess I'm fine," he managed in a biting tone.
Renji sat down next to him and slipped an arm around him.
"I fucking HATE my family!" Byakuya moaned, leaning into Renji's shoulder.
"Well," said Renji, "being that I'm part of that family now, I hope you don't mean Gia and me…and all these…however many there are…"
"You know what I mean."
He sighed heavily.
"You probably think I deserve this for letting them have control like that. It's just…I wanted to be with you. And I was so damned tired of fighting so hard every time those…those…every time they opposed me. I knew they would do something awful this time, but I had no idea…"
Renji brushed the hair away from his eyes.
"I don't think even they had any idea. Come on, they thought you would just get me pregnant. They didn't know that you would get pregnant too."
"But even so, what I did was wrong…and you're paying just as much as I am…and I'm sorry…I really am."
Renji nuzzled closer.
"Well, actually, I'm kind of getting used to the idea," he said softly, "you know, the glowing and the feeling inside when you feel it moving…and knowing these kids are going to be part you and part me…"
"It does sound much better when you say it like that," Byakuya admitted, looking up at him.
"That's the spirit!" Renji grinned, "now, let's get off this stupid bathroom floor, get Gia, go home and start enjoying ourselves. Those old farts think they got the best of us, but they only made things better for us. I like the idea of having a big family."
"Yes, well, we'd best try to go on that delayed honeymoon soon or we won't have time for one before these babies are born."
"And we'd better start picking out names."
"And having our uniforms let out."
"And requesting our leave."
"Soutaichou will be less than pleased at having us both out at the same time, but it cannot be helped."
"And we should think of what to tell Gia…before we start to show and freak her out."
"And we need to have the nursery expanded and interview attendants to help out when they are born."
"You look really cute when you're pregnant!"
"Shut up, Abarai, I do not!"
"Aren't you going to say I look cute, too?" Renji asked, looking offended.
"No," Byakuya said turning and wrapping his arms around the redhead, "I'm not going to say you look cute when you're pregnant, because to me you don't look cute…you look beautiful."
(AN**Thanks so much for reading! For those who wish to see this story continue (and aren't bothered by mpregs), I will be continuing this story in a sequel. I haven't got the name yet, but you will know it when you see it! Until then…keep reading…and reviewing! Luv, Spunky)