The Fading Sakura
(Another intriguing storyline suggested by Walkure Leuad - Warning...mpreg...but not typical mpreg, just a binding of reiatsu during lovemaking. Reiatsu emerges on its own and doesn't require a typical birth...so stop now if it bothers you, and if not, then read on! )
Prologue: The Betrayal
Aizen Sousuke sat quietly within Central 46…secreted in a secluded office. He withdrew several sheets of paper from the desk and dipped his brush in a fresh pot of ink. Taking a breath, he gathered his thoughts and began to write.
My Dear Byakuya,
When you read this letter, many things will have changed and you may be tempted to rethink all that has passed between us. I don't have long to make sense of things, but I want you to know the truth, so that you can make the decision I will ask you to make based on the facts. Perhaps, when you hear what I have discovered, you will understand why it is both necessary and unavoidable for me to act as I am now.
I know you were but a child, but perhaps you remember when Kirio Hikifune resigned her position as taichou of Squad 12 and left for the Spirit Dimension. What no one knew, but what she managed to secret out of the spirit dimension, is that she left due to a royal summons, one that required that she report to the Spirit King and offer herself as the King's Consort. She was neither honored nor pleased by her mission. She discovered upon her arrival that the King's Consort is forced to undergo difficult changes that rob him or her of all power, connection with the zanpakutou…everything that makes our lives meaningful. Naturally, she did not embrace being chosen for this, but she knew that she could not escape it. So she wrote a missive and managed to have it carried out of the spirit dimension and delivered to me.
The contents were shocking. I dare not tell you everything in this letter, because merely having the knowledge is a crime…and I know why they want to keep it a secret. After reading what she sent, I became convinced that the Spirit King has somehow become corrupted and must be removed from power. Obviously, this is a crime that would result in my being given the Sokyoku. So I am left with little choice.
My explorations over the years have been directed at finding a way to overthrow the king. I endeavored to find something to prove my assertions about the king, but there is nothing I can use to prove my claim. Failing at finding the proof I need, I must instead focus on destroying the king and creating a new hierarchy for our worlds. Balance must, of course, be maintained, but what has happened is that the king seized limitless power, upsetting the balance and so needed a consort with no spiritual pressure and no power to balance him. The difficulty is that the very presence of the king slowly drains the consort of life. The consort fades and must be replaced. The king may choose his consort from the Royal Guard or from among the taichous of the Gotei 13. The chosen has no choice, but must give up everything to balance the limitless power of the corrupted king…to slowly fade into nothing. I cannot allow this to continue.
I found out that Urahara Kisuke created a device called the Hougyoku, one that may enable a balanced king and consort to be made…meaning the two chosen would rule together, their power balanced so that neither drains the other. Unfortunately, he hid the device within your sister. I have sought a way to remove it from her and will do so, but a complication has arisen and it may cause confusion.
Ichimaru Gin has been close to me as I have researched all of this. Pretending to support my work, he convinced me to take him into my confidence. I recently discovered that Gin is an agent of the current corrupted king. Somehow…I do not know how, the king discovered that I was contacted by his consort. Recommended to him by Soutaichou, Gin's task was to get close to me and to determine if my plans posed a threat to the king. When he realized what I intended to do and that my plan was viable, instead of returning to Soutaichou and reporting what he knew, he decided instead to use the information to force me to help him overthrow the king so that he can assume the throne…purportedly with me as the other half of the balance. All he has to do is to whisper one word to Soutaichou or the king and my plans will be annihilated. I cannot afford to let that happen. So, I am forced to work with Gin until such time as I can kill him. I would have done so already, but he has left me no openings.
You are going to hear about awful things I have done alongside Gin. I cannot explain the reasons in this letter, but if you heed my request, I promise to explain everything.
I want to apologize to you for your sister being caught up in all of this. Gin is enjoying toying with her and seems to have some sort of grudge against you that explains his vehemence. He wants that when we reveal ourselves, that we should kill her. I have a plan in place to make it look like we have killed her, but it will be an illusion meant to fool him.
In any case, once all is revealed, I must go along with Gin to Hueco Mundo and begin to build an army of hollows, affected by the Hougyoku to overthrow the king. I would try to kill Gin, but I must have his assistance in building the army of hollows. At some point, he will turn on me to grab power for himself, and perhaps by then, I will have found a way to stop him.
Byakuya, you and I have been in each other's orbit for many years, and I now confess that I longed to be even closer. I admit now that, in defiance of the rules of the Gotei 13 that forbids taichous to fall in love with each other, I have fallen in love with you. I think you sensed this…and that is why you have become distant with me. I want to bridge that distance…so I offer you this. I leave you this soul communicator. I have enabled it to reach me from anywhere. If you return my affections and you decide that you would be willing to help me in my mission to balance the power of king and consort, simply use this communicator and I will bring you here to join me.
I will understand, of course, if you decide not to return my affections, or if you feel you cannot leave your clan leadership and position in the Gotei 13. But I had to tell you what was happening, had to offer you the chance to come with me to balance the king's power and to end this bleeding of life that continues even now…
Whatever you decide, know that I love you and I will always treasure the time we spent together, even never having had the chance to express my true feelings. You are beautiful, so very beautiful, Byakuya. I hope with all of my heart that you will come to me in Hueco Mundo.
He sat back and studied the letter carefully, making sure he had said everything in the way he wanted and that he left nothing out. He sighed and placed the letter and soul communicator in an envelope, then rose and flash stepped to the door. He slipped out of Central 46 and invoked his power to make himself invisible to others. It wouldn't, he thought, be prudent for him to reveal that he was alive…not yet. He wondered how Byakuya would react to his letter. He didn't hold out great hopes that the noble would leave his home and family, but perhaps he would open a dialogue…there could be something, some kind of connection that would keep them from falling apart entirely. There had to be a way…
He realized suddenly that he had reached the manor. He walked through the entry unseen and made his way down the outer walkway, stopping for a moment as he realized that Byakuya knelt less than ten feet from where he stood, studying a picture of his late wife. He sighed longingly, wishing he could speak to the noble one more time before leaving. He stepped closer, breathing in the sweet sakura scent that hung in the air around him.
He looked so sad…
And Aizen Sousuke understood why. He hadn't meant for Rukia to actually be executed. That had been Gin's idea. Even now that they had found another way, he still wanted to kill Rukia, to hurt Byakuya. Aizen Sousuke wondered for a long moment, just why the other was so set on destroying the girl. What was this anger, this fury, that seemed to be directed at Byakuya? Was Byakuya just a rival Gin wanted to squash? Or was there more to it than that? He shook his head in frustration and forced himself to move on. As he passed out of the room, the floor creaked.
Byakuya turned and looked directly at him…
There was a long moment of silence, then the noble sighed and turned back to the picture of his late wife. Aizen continued along the corridor to Byakuya's bedroom and set the letter carefully in the pocket of one of his shihakushous. He turned out of the room and flash stepped away, not daring to return to the room where Byakuya knelt, not even to look at the noble one last time. It was better, he thought, to just move on…to let it go. Byakuya would read the letter and make his decision…and what happened would happen. There was no use in agonizing over it.
He made his way back to Central 46 and slipped back inside to wait. He was quite relieved, however, that his waiting was almost at an end.
Chapter 1: The Summons
"Make way for the Royal Courier!" announced a voice from outside the taichou's meeting room.
Soutaichou's eyes rose sternly and the taichous' heads turned to look as the door was thrown open and a white clad messenger entered the room.
"I bear a message for Soutaichou and all of the taichous," the messenger said, removing a scroll from the pack at his waist, "By order of the king…It has been determined that the King's Consort has begun to fade and the time has come for his highness to select a new consort. As you know, consorts may be male or female and are chosen from the ranks of the Royal Guard or the taichous of the Gotei 13. To be chosen as consort is an extreme honor. After much deliberation, his highness chooses Kuchiki Byakuya to act as consort to the king. The consort will have seven days in which to see to the organization of his affairs, after which he will be escorted to the spirit dimension by a special detachment of the Royal Guard."
He turned and bowed before a pale and stunned looking Byakuya.
"Kuchiki Byakuya, you are to be congratulated."
Byakuya left the first division and walked slowly back to the sixth. In his hand, he carried a sealed envelope and in his pocket, he carried a copy of the order from the king. His mind still kept replaying the words the courier had said. He couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that he, of all shinigamis had been chosen to be King's consort. He had known, of course, upon taking his post, that the king had the right to order such a thing, but the issue had never arisen…
And now he would have to give up everything…
After the taichou's meeting, the messenger had handed him a personal message from the king, outlining his orders. The words still echoed in his mind.
My Dear Byakuya,
I have watched you for a very long time and have waited many years, not knowing if I would ever have the chance to be anything more than the distant king you served as leader of a noble clan and as a taichou of the Gotei 13. Though it is a sad thing that my current consort's life is fading, it finally gives me the opportunity to invite you to join me in the spirit dimension. I have longed for this, and I hope we shall have many happy years together, ruling the three worlds. I know that your wisdom, your strength of character, your beauty and your obedience will make this a very fulfilling union.
You will have seven days to put your affairs in order. I know that you will need to choose a taichou to succeed you in the sixth division…and as you have no heir as of yet, sadly, the line of your clan that has served as taichou of the sixth division for so long will, unfortunately, end with you. You will also need to select an heir to succeed you as the head of the Kuchiki clan, as you will not be allowed to leave the spirit dimension after you are brought here. I know it will be difficult for you to say a final good bye to your loved ones, knowing you will not return to them, but your service to me is of utmost importance to the balance of power that protects the three worlds. The ones you are leaving will surely understand this.
You need not bring anything with you…and in fact you are discouraged from bringing anything. Your new place in the spirit dimension requires that you sever all connections with your former life in service to the king. When the time comes for your leave taking, a Royal Escort will provide you with clothes to wear for your journey, and will guide you into the spirit dimension.
I look forward to your arrival.
His highness, Yoshiaki, Spirit King
His heart pounded strangely and his eyelids fluttered, but he forced down the emotions that raged beneath the surface. He surrounded himself in false calm and forced his feet to continue to move in the direction of his division…or the division that would only be his for seven more days. He reached the door and paused for a moment, calming himself again before opening the door and entering.
Renji sat, working at his desk…as nearly always was the scene he met after his taichou's meetings. The redhead looked up at him and smiled.
"Taichou, how was your meeting?" he asked casually.
Byakuya swallowed hard and everything he had planned to say or do flew out of his mind. He stared for a moment, then noticed the concerned look on Renji's face and tried to recover himself.
"Oh…my apologies, Renji. The meeting went fine."
"You want me to make some tea for you Taichou?" Renji asked, eyeing him, "You look a bit unsettled. It must have been some meeting. Soutaichou yelling at everyone again…or was it Kurotsuchi taichou…"
"It was nothing especially," Byakuya said, relieved to have regained the calm in his voice, "but I would like for you to make us some tea…then I must speak to you."
He sighed in frustration as the look of concern on Renji's face only grew. But the redhead hurried off to make the tea and Byakuya sat down in his chair to wait. He knew he should busy himself with the tasks that waited on his desk…but why work on training schedules and living world placements that he wouldn't be there to see carried out. Why write reports that would become meaningless to him the minute they were signed and sent…
"Here you go, Taichou."
He took the tea from Renji's hand and felt a small sense of warmth and comfort in the familiar exchange…but that would be going away as well. And in seven days, Renji, Rukia, everyone he knew would disappear from his life forever.
And the worst part was, he wasn't allowed to explain…
He picked up the sealed envelope and handed it to Renji as the redhead sat down next to him. Looking unnerved, Renji opened the envelope and pulled out the announce ment inside, freezing and dropping letter and envelope as he realized what it was. Byakuya gathered himself and tried to make it as quick and painless for both of them as possible.
"Congratulations, Renji. You have been promoted to taichou of the sixth division. You will unofficially begin your duties now and will officially assume command in one month. I offer my regrets that I will not be able to attend your promotion ceremony."
"T-taichoiu? Taichou, what has happened? What's happening to you? Where are you going?"
"I am sorry," he said, his voice low and sincerely apologetic, "I am forbidden to explain. But Renji, I want to thank you for your loyalty…for all you have done for me since Aizen Sousuke's betrayal. You deserve this promotion."
"But Taichou…you'll still…I mean, we'll still see each other, right? You're…you're still going to be here, right?"
Byakuya stared at him, not daring to tell him the truth, but knowing he deserved more than silence.
"I need to ask you to look out for Rukia. I want your word that you will watch over her and keep her from harm as I would."
"Th-then…you are leaving. Are you coming back? You will come back, right Taichou?"
"I'm not your Taichou anymore, Renji," he said softly, "Now give me your word that you will protect Rukia."
He stood and Renji stood with him.
"Taichou…" Renji said in a frightened voice, "Please…please tell me what's happening. If you're in some kind of trouble…"
Byakuya broke all of his stiff barriers, closed the distance between them and embraced the redhead tightly, then released him. He held Renji's eyes for a moment longer, then flash stepped away.
Byakuya stood in front of his dressing area mirror, watching as the King's Escort tied the formal white kimono in place, then stepped back to study his work. He met Byakuya's eyes in the mirror and smiled.
"Come…the king awaits you."
Byakuya nodded and moved to follow as the man started across the room. He felt a pang of intense emotion as he reached his bed and stopped. The escort turned and looked back at him, an expression of understanding in his eyes.
"Tell you what. I will wait outside for a few minutes. Join me there when you are ready," the man said quietly.
He walked out, leaving Byakuya staring after him.
He wasn't sure what had made him stop…perhaps that it was the last time he would ever stand in his room, ever look out into his garden, ever set foot in Kuchiki Manor. And he couldn't take anything…nothing.
But he needed something, he thought desperately, but what? He was told to set everything aside, to leave everything behind…but he needed to take something. Something small that would go unnoticed. He looked around his room, but everything seemed to big or noticeable. He searched his dresser and closet. He searched his nightstand and as his fingers reached in towards the back, a small envelope touched his fingers. He swallowed hard and pulled it out.
He had put it there several years before…unopened. After seeing Rukia nearly killed by his former friend and colleague, he hadn't wanted to read the words. But being that he was going to be taken away…to lose everything…he thought maybe that he needed to know.
"Kuchiki Byakuya?" the escort said from outside the door, "I'm sorry, but we cannot delay any longer."
Not Kuchiki-sama, Kuchiki taichou…or anything else honorable…
He was no one now…
His name was meaningless…
His life as he knew it was over…
In a last bit of rebelliousness, he secreted Aizen's letter inside the folds of his kimono and stepped toward the garden doors. He opened them and walked out into the garden, where his escort waited. His heart nearly broke and he blinked back tears as he saw the servants lined up on either side of the walkway and Rukia and Renji standing near the end with their arms wrapped around each other. He looked into the kind, sad eyes of his staff and said a silent farewell as he passed by them. As he reached Rukia and Renji, he heard his sister sob and his feet stopped. The escort stopped as well, waiting.
He stepped away, ignoring the escort's words and walked to Rukia. Renji released her and she flew into his arms, sobbing harder. He held her for several moments, stroking her back and resting his face against her hair, then kissed her on the forehead and nodded to Renji, who pulled her away from him.
"Nii-sama, please, don't go! Will I see you again? Please, Nii-sama! Nii-sama!"
He stepped back to the escort's side and with calm, measured steps, left everything behind.