Chapter 2: Submerged

I asked myself five years ago what I would hope for, once it became clear that Kuchiki Byakuya was gone, after our attempts at finding him failed and it seemed that he was not coming back. Of course, when someone you love disappears like that and you feel the empty days pile up one after another, there's nothing you wouldn't do to have that person back…but you always, in those situations, dream of the person coming home the same as when you saw him last. And that is the way I always dreamed of Byakuya's return. Inside, I knew the truth. I knew that the man who disappeared was gone…at least for a very long time…and we might never see him again. But even given the wreckage he would be when found, I just wanted him back alive. I would have given anything. Now, looking down at the reality of his being there, I can't bear to think of what he went through in those five years and what he'll be like when he wakes…if he wakes. Nothing is certain, but the soft, light pulse of the heart that beats inside him. I feel it under my fingertips and I wonder if it's a blessing or a curse to be so strong…like him…as he was…

Is he still?

Who is Kuchiki Byakuya now?

XXXXXXXXXX

"Hanatarou, how is he? Why isn't he waking?" asked Rukia, kneeling at her brother's side and holding one pale hand in hers.

Hanatarou frowned and moved his hands carefully over the still and silent form, sending his reiatsu inside and letting it return, so he could read the noble's condition.

"He was placed under a deep, hypnotic seal. Not only was his power sealed away, it seems that this hypnosis has been used to make him sleep when they wanted him to. I can't break the hypnosis. Only someone taichou level is going to be able to wake him."

"Well, how is he, other than being asleep?" asked Renji, taking his place next to Rukia, "Are there any injuries?"

Hanatarou's frown deepened and his eyes misted slightly.

"It appears that he has markings from old battle wounds on his chest and abdomen…and there are signs that surgery was performed to reduce his mobility."

"Damn!" Renji said, closing his eyes in disgust and running a hand over his face.

"It is reversible," Hanatarou assured them, "but he will have to undergo additional surgery to repair the damage."

"So…he'll be all right?" Ichigo asked, placing a warm hand on Rukia's shoulder.

"Well…physically, everything I see can be healed…but…Kuchiki taichou was their prisoner for a very long time…"

He trailed off and continued to monitor the unconscious man's condition. Renji remained next to Rukia, his eyes on his taichou's pale, drawn face. He didn't want to deal with what Byakuya might be like when he woke. He forced that out of his head and focused on the encouraging fact that he would wake…and that his physical wounds could be healed. The rest they would just have to take a day at a time. He looked around for a moment, letting his eyes fall briefly on Rikichi, Yoruichi, Ichigo, Rukia and the others, and Abarai Renji knew that all of them would do whatever they could to help with the rest.

If the rest could be helped…

XXXXXXXXXX

Byakuya floated dazedly somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, picking up distant, half-remembered voices and waiting. Usually, when his mind returned enough to sense things around him, he was dragged to his feet and led down the stairway to Aizen Sousuke's bed. What happened there was dimmed by the drugs pumped into his veins and the illusions Aizen always kept spinning around him. He felt the restraints…touches on his body…occasional pain, but he hadn't the energy, the dexterity or the presence of mind left to object or resist. His existence was what it was…which was nothing…

Kuchiki taichou, I am going to examine you. I need to know what kind of help you need. You will feel some tingling in different parts of your body as I examine them.

So now he was dreaming of home…

He remembered it vaguely…flashes of images and touches on the senses…pink petals falling…blue waters and sky…papers shifting between his fingers…

Would you like me to make some tea, Kuchiki taichou?

He knew he was dreaming or being deluded when he heard that. Aizen didn't know about Renji and him…didn't know Renji never called him that, and that they had become lovers. And as long as he didn't know, there was still one small connection to something that used to be called reality.

He felt tingling on his skin…

His body was beginning to tremble…

And he realized that the comforting numbness that held everything away was beginning to recede. He must have done something to irk Aizen, then. That was the only time the numbness faded and they allowed his body to react to the lack of comforts…

He moaned and blinked, his eyes opening and squinting as he realized, with a shock, that light was reaching them again. It was blurry and the shapes seemed half-drawn, but it wasn't so dark anymore. His lips moved and he tried his voice. He was surprised when he heard actual words leave his lips.

"Let…me…die…"

Not yet, Byakuya. You have something yet to do for me. When that is done, I promise an end to your suffering. Sleep now. I will return to you soon.

"Sousuke…wait. Don't go…Your promise…you promised I would be allowed to see her…"

The effort left him panting and shaky. Fortunately, he had given up the luxury of embarrassment a long time ago.

"Sousuke…"

Shh…you fret too much. Let me quiet your mind…come with me, Byakuya. I will ease your pain and make everything calm again.

He felt hands on his face and waited for Aizen's mouth to bite down on his, for that damned voice to fill his mind, to take control…for the hands to invade his body in dark rushes of pleasure and pain…for the deeper torment of penetration…and the betrayal of his body as it responded against his own will. Yes…his will still existed, but it had no power to control anything. He knew that his mind had been affected by hypnosis, that his body responded to Aizen's wishes and not his own. But Aizen didn't want Byakuya to submit completely. He wanted the body's cooperation in the torment of both body and mind.

But, Byakuya noted with a small degree of pride, that approach had left the noble a small place in which to secret the greater part of his strength away…to tolerate what should have destroyed him…to survive and wait for rescue. He had no idea how long he had waited or how long he still might wait, but he waited stubbornly. He tried every time his mind rose out of the fog to see their faces and say their names in his mind. Over time, the memories of them had dulled, of course. But they were still there. He still remembered, and so remembering, he would wait patiently…unless of course Aizen Sousuke ever made a mistake and gave him a chance to escape. But in all of the noble's long captivity, he never had…not for one moment…

But that didn't mean he never would…

So, he resigned himself to waiting, the names and voices and images of his loved ones spinning through his beleaguered mind. Yes, he could wait. He could wait for as long as it was necessary.

XXXXXXXXXX

Unohana taichou gave Rukia and Renji a weary smile as she welcomed them into her office and motioned for them to sit down. An attendant set out tea for them, then left quietly.

"Rukia," the healer said gently, "I asked you here in the capacity of Byakuya's next of kin…as the one he named to speak for him in the case that he should become unable to do so for himself."

"But…didn't you say that Byakuya was going to wake up?" Rukia asked worriedly, "You can wake him up…right?"

Unohana nodded.

"I can wake him, but I will not wake him fully yet. We are still repairing the damage that his captors caused. There were old, imperfectly healed battle wounds, damage done to his vision and to his central nervous system. We are addressing all of these first, before waking him. I did raise his consciousness somewhat during my examination and he was able to speak, so that has not been damaged. So far, we have restored his vision and healed the damage that affected his mobility. We have also scanned his body carefully, removing any impurities we found."

"What do you mean, impurities?" Rukia asked, frowning worriedly.

"His body had been subjected to a constant inflow of various mind altering drugs. He also showed signs of still responding to Kyoka Suigetsu's control. We believe we have broken the control of that weapon…and we are now attempting to clean his systems of the remains of any of the drugs. This part is, however, very difficult. We are keeping him in a state of semi-consciousness to allow his body to work its way free of the drugs. It is an extremely uncomfortable cleansing…and it must be done slowly."

"But he will be all right once you are finished? He won't be in pain?" Rukia asked.

"He will require some mediation to manage his withdrawal symptoms, but once that has passed, he won't be in pain. But Rukia, there is one more thing of a physical nature that you need to be aware of."

Rukia looked back at Unohana warily and nodded.

"You first need to understand the unique abilities of the noble males. The king, when he created his noble lords, wanted to be certain that their lines were well protected, so he sought a way to ensure their continuance. Because of this, all noble males are able to reproduce under certain circumstances. They do not do this in the normal way. They are capable of creating a spiritual chamber within themselves and using their reiatsu…or a blending of more than one…to create a unique reiatsu. The spirit chamber opens and the new reiatsu is released…and it forms itself into a shinigami, a noble child. In this way, even if a noble finds no suitable mate, the line continues. Aizen Sousuke sought a way to force Byakuya to use their combined reiatsu to create a child. He apparently tried several times over the years and failed. But it appears that he was able to accomplish this very recently. When we examined Byakuya, there was a viable spirit chamber inside him and it did hold a developing reiatsu. Under the laws of our society, we could not allow this to continue, so when he was cleansed of the impurities in his body, the spirit chamber and the reiatsu within were destroyed."

Rukia and Renji stared at her, silent and pale-faced.

"Byakuya will have known, both that he was creating this child…and that it was lost. Even given the fact that this was forced on him…it will affect his mental state…when he wakes."

"Wait," said Renji, "How do you figure that Aizen found out about this. I mean…it's not common knowledge…"

"No," Unohana agreed, "It isn't. The only reason I know this is because Kuchiki Nori, the head elder of the Kuchiki clan came to me and told me that the elders had sensed the birth of an heir…an heir that they say was born a little less than four years ago."

"What?" Rukia and Renji whispered together.

"The Kuchiki elders can sense when an heir is born. They sensed it, and realized that Byakuya must be alive. They went to Soutaichou at that point and though they did not say how they knew…they did tell him that the search for Byakuya must continue."

"Which explains why they were so supportive of Rukia and me while we were looking for him all of that time," said Renji, nodding.

"I do not know if the heir lives, but there is something you should know. The elders are also able to read the lineage of the heir, when one is born. The child born to Byakuya during his captivity was not Aizen Sousuke's. Renji…the child was yours."

"Mine?" Renji whispered, his eyes wide, "Are you….sure?"

"The elders say that there is no mistaking this. The child born was yours. I believe that when the child was born, Aizen decided to use the process to make a child of his own. He somehow manipulated Byakuya into cooperating. My suspicion, knowing Aizen Sousuke as I do…is that he used the child Byakuya bore to coerce him into this."

"Does that mean that…he kept the heir alive? Our kid could be alive?" Renji whispered.

"It is difficult to say," Unohana replied, "Aizen is dead and Las Noches is gone. We have no way of knowing for certain. But it was important to tell you about this because it will affect his recovery."

"Poor Nii-sama," whispered Rukia, wiping tears from her eyes.

"Yeah," Renji sighed, "as if it wasn't hard enough being Aizen's prisoner for all of that time…add to it…this. Kami…he's going to be a mess…"

"So as you see," Unohana continued, "it is not his physical state that is of the greatest concern now. Kuchiki taichou was held as Aizen Sousuke's prisoner for an extended period of time. Such periods of captivity place great strain, not just on a person's body, but on the mind as well. Add to this, the added strain of the situation with his child…and Aizen forcing him to agree to bear another…Many things will wear on his mind once he wakes. I want you two to be prepared. It will be difficult for everyone involved. I have met with the Kuchiki elders and they have assigned a counselor to aid Byakuya in his recovery. His name is Hiromi."

Rukia frowned.

"It doesn't sound familiar. I know most of the house medical staff…and I don't know him."

"He used to be a member of Squad Two…until he was captured and detained by Aizen's forces. He was eventually able to escape. He went through a difficult recovery and afterward, left Squad Two and joined my counseling staff. Most recently, he was stationed at our base in Hueco Mundo. The clan recalled him to serve as Byakuya's counselor."

"So he was once held by Aizen as well," Rukia said, closing her eyes for a moment, "I suppose that will give him good insight into Byakuya's mind. He will need someone like that."

"He will also need his family," the healer added, "As much as a good counselor can do, it is also necessary for his loved ones to gather around him and help him to regain his bearings here. I believe that if the two of you work with Hiromi, you can help Byakuya to adjust. So I have asked him here to meet you."

She left the room for a moment, then returned with a youthful, gentle looking shinigami of medium build. Wide brown eyes peeked out from beneath a fall of brown hair that he seemed unable to keep from falling down over the right side of his face. He wore a calm, friendly expression and greeted the two warmly.

"Welcome back, Hiromi," Unohana said, smiling, "This is Byakuya's sister, Rukia…and his fukutaichou, Abarai Renji."

The counselor bowed and shook their hands.

"I am pleased to meet the both of you," Hiromi said pleasantly, "I know the circumstances are difficult, but I believe that we will be able to help your brother settle back in and become comfortable with his life here again."

"I am so glad you are here," sighed Rukia, "I am very worried about Nii-sama. He has so much to deal with."

"Well," Hiromi said, smiling at her, "I will help your brother to the best of my ability. And given my past history, I believe that no one will understand Byakuya's state of mind as I do."

He turned to Unohana.

"When will you be waking him?" he asked.

"I was just informed by my staff that they are ready to wake him now," the healer told him, "I just wanted you to have a chance to meet first and to discuss how to handle his waking."

"Ah, very well."

He turned to Rukia and Renji.

"When he wakes, he will likely be disoriented. He may recognize this place and our faces, but remembering that Aizen will have tormented him with illusions, he may not believe what he sees. It will just take him time to look closely…until he sees the small details…the things that even Aizen Sousuke could not reproduce with illusion. Now…while he does that, you must show no surprise or dismay at his responses. However he responds to you, remain calm. If you feel your control slipping, leave the room and let me deal with it…understand?"

Rukia and Renji nodded.

"Okay…then, I believe we are ready, Unohana taichou. Please, will you show us to Byakuya?"

"Come this way," she said, leading them out of the room.