Chapter 16: Nobility

Aizen Sousuke sighed softly and opened his eyes. Gin still slept quietly on his bare chest, his lips smiling. He had to wonder at the willingness of the enigmatic shinigami to accept that he might never get over Byakuya. His body, though so recently pleasured, still ached for the lovely noble, still remembered how it felt to slip his favorite dark red yukata off his shoulders, to pull Byakuya onto his lap as he knelt and to look into that sweet, quiet expression as that wonderful tightness wrapped around him and Byakuya's soft, incoherent moans filled the air. He wasn't one who usually fell into melancholy. If there was a problem…or if there was something he wanted, Aizen Sousuke was a man of action. But he had taken all of the action he could…and now Byakuya was poised on the verge of binding himself to Abarai Renji. And the earlier flare of the moon charm could only have meant that Byakuya had allowed himself to be taken by Renji. It wasn't yet the end of things, but it was the beginning of the end, to be sure.

He wished fervently that he had made surer of killing the tattooed redhead while he had the chance. The thought of anyone touching his Byakuya made him furious…

"Not able to sleep?" Gin asked softly.

Aizen shook his head.

"I imagine that I don't need to ask why," the silver haired shinigami said in a sympathetic voice, "but as you need to sleep if you are to be useful…why don't you just use your zanpakutou to make you see him while you fuck me? I don't actually mind…on occasion."

The thought of Aizen looking into his eyes as he had with Byakuya made him hard again in an instant.

Aizen frowned and sighed.

"But that is just a temporary fix," he complained softly, "You know that I would give just about anything to be able to forget him entirely."

"I know that," Gin said, kissing him warmly, "but you won't be able to do that until the moon charm has completed its fading and Byakuya is either Abarai's, yours…or he is dead."

Aizen furrowed his brow and looked more closely at his silver-haired lover.

"Gin…" he said, his voice calm, but curious, "would you kindly explain to me again, exactly how that last charm works?"

Gin lifted himself and straddled Aizen's slender body, sinking down on his hardened member.

"Let's make an agreement," Gin said, smiling widely, "You give me something I like and I will tell you anything you want to know…just try to pay closer attention this time…if you can!"

XXXXXXXXXX

Byakuya woke before Renji and found himself warmly encircled by the redhead's arms. It was, he decided, a very pleasant place to be. He couldn't help but enjoy the sweet smile that Renji wore, even in his sleep…and it felt good to be embraced in such a way after being alone for such a long time. It had taken more than a few joinings to sate his long-submerged passions. But Renji certainly hadn't complained. And it hadn't seemed to matter who was dominant and who submitted. In the end, they had fallen into a state of balance…both content to lead or follow, depending on which way they felt moved. It was so wonderfully different from the other aspects of his life. Always, the burden of leadership had seemed to fall on him. Not that he minded being called to lead clan and division, but some part of him wanted to be taken and forcefully held…brought down in his tracks and lovingly dominated. And Renji had briefly abandoned his role as subordinate several times during the night to offer him that. And now, his body was practically glowing with contentedness.

The one concern dampening that emotion was their concern over the bands and charms. Although one band had shattered, the band holding the slowly fading moon charm was still in place. And as much as they had their ideas about what it could mean, they still did not have answers…and answers were necessary if they were going to find a way to free him. Because he knew that it couldn't be as simple as waiting for the moon charm to fade all of the way. That it was disappearing slowly, suggested that something either was happening or needed to happen within a set amount of time. And the clock was ticking. Having exhausted the bulk of their theories, they had agreed to return to Karakura Town to present their concerns to Urahara Kisuke.

Byakuya flinched even thinking of the name. He knew it was somewhat childish, but he didn't think he was ever going to be able to completely forgive the outcast taichou for stealing Yoruichi away from him. Because despite how he had acted as a teen, Yoruichi had been a shelter of sorts as the demands of nobility had begun to settle over him, gradually stealing away his innocence and his freedom. She had seemed to understand that weight all too well, being heir to the Shihoin clan…but then, just like that, she had abandoned her clan and everything else to disappear with Kisuke. And while he reasoned that she must have had sufficient cause, he was annoyed that Kisuke had not managed to keep himself out of trouble.

He realized, of course, that such a view was decidedly hypocritical, considering his scandalous affair with Aizen Sousuke and the current unpleasantness, but even so…he had been carefully manipulated into his current position…Kisuke seemed to seek trouble! Byakuya shook his head, trying to stop himself from thinking about it. As uncomfortable as he felt around Kisuke, the man was a gifted scientist and strategist. If anyone could figure out the mystery of the moon charm, he could. So bearing his annoying goads was something Byakuya was willing to make peace with…as long as Kisuke didn't push him too far…

The noble turned and planted a gentle kiss on the sleeping redhead's lips, then gradually worked his way free of Renji's body. Shivering with cold, he moved to the cooled stone and heated it again with his kido, then set water over it for making tea. Renji was still sleeping deeply when the tea was ready, so the noble sat quietly near him, sipping the tea and studying his lover's handsome and very contented face as the cave warmed.

When he had finished the tea, Byakuya dressed beside the hot stone and put on his cloak before venturing out of the cave. He was more wary this time and was careful to reach out with his senses from time to time to make certain no one approached. But all seemed quiet this morning and that gave Byakuya time to think.

He looked down at the moon charm, noting the very slow rate of its fading. If, as he suspected, there was something that would happen over time or something he must do…then whatever that was seemed to be something that required a certain amount of time. But the other charms had had physical effects that went along with the other effects, so probably this one did as well…and that thought disturbed the noble more than a little. He had asked Renji to carefully scan him and document everything notable they could think of…physically, mentally, emotionally and power-wise. If there were changes, he hoped they would be able to sense them. Whatever symptoms arose could lead them to the elusive answers. At least, he hoped that they would…

"Are you wandering off again, Taichou?" Renji said from somewhere behind him, "You're going to find trouble if you keep running off."

"I dare say I'm in quite enough 'trouble' as it is, Abarai. Town ruffians hardly seem noteworthy compared to the threats of Aizen Sousuke…or of being captured by the secret mobile corps."

"Yeah," Renji said, slipping an arm around him and capturing his lips warmly, "but in the present situation, they are the ones you are most likely to meet."

"Not to worry," said Byakuya, "I am using greater caution."

"Good to know," Renji chuckled, "I've already had to save you from being sexually assaulted twice…three times if you count Aizen Sousuke holding you in Las Noches, cause you and I both know where it would have gone if we hadn't gotten you out of there."

"Yes…then you managed to find reason to indulge in me, yourself, didn't you. Sweet repayment for the heroic rescues, ne?"

Renji squeezed him affectionately.

"Taichou, I could rescue you a hundred times and still not feel worthy of indulging like that! I feel like doing Ikkaku's 'lucky dance,' you know?"

Byakuya had to fight to keep himself from smiling.

"Well…as 'lucky' as you may feel, we are still tasked with figuring out what this last charm does. We need to focus on that. I want you to do another scan on me and tell me if you see any differences, no matter how small, in any of the areas we noted last night."

Renji nodded and released him. Byakuya knelt and Renji knelt in front of him, placing his hands on the noble's face and gazing down into his eyes as his reiatsu rose and wrapped around the two of them. The reiatsu field glowed softly around them as the redhead focused on each zone of his body.

"Everything seems pretty much the same as last night," Renji concluded, "except there was a small, but detectable fluctuation in your power level. It's a very small lowering of power, but you said to mention anything I found, however small."

Byakuya's brow furrowed.

"So…it looks as though I might be losing my powers?" he mused softly, "Renji, I need to know if this is true. I will need to summon Senbonzakura."

"But that could bring the secret mobile corps down on us. Look, why don't we wait on that? Let's go back and have some breakfast, then we can pack up and start back on our way to Kisuke's shop."

Byakuya nodded silently and followed Renji back to the cave.

He remained quiet and pensive as the two ate and despite feeling more than a little inclined to accept the redhead's invitation for 'one more round' before leaving, he was too involved in his worries to be distracted, and starting to fall into melancholy. Even Renji's cheerfulness couldn't seem to lift his mood. Renji sensed his discomfort and grew quiet in response. He quickly cleaned up the cave and readied their packs, then followed silently as Byakuya left the cave and started back towards town.

"You okay?" he asked as they walked along the dusty and deserted road, "You seem to be pretty out of sorts. I was wondering if that was an effect of the moon charm or if it was just you processing things."

"The latter, I think," Byakuya said, "There are so many questions to consider. I don't know where to begin…and all of the questions just seem to lead in circles."

"Hmm," said Renji, nodding, "I'm feeling that way too. But…uh…maybe I can distract you for a moment. I have to ask you something…something personal."

Byakuya's eyes met his questioningly.

Renji gathered himself.

"Okay, I get that I'm the master in this little game with Aizen's bands and charms and that what we did last night was necessary…but…I was wondering…if it hadn't been for that, then would you have ever…you know, liked me?"

Byakuya caught his breath in surprise.

"Abarai…you think that I would have spent the entire night making love with you, simply to gain answers to the questions we had about my bonds? And before you answer, think about the number of times we were intimate and that we did alternate roles. Do you honestly…"

"Shit…sorry, Taichou, I wasn't trying to suggest that," Renji said, taking a step back from him, "I only meant…"

"I understand," Byakuya said quietly, "but I am a little surprised at the question. Perhaps you didn't hear me when I spoke in your ear as you were falling asleep?"

"Y-you…while I w-was falling asleep? What? I don't remember! Taichou, what did you say?"

A sly smile crept onto the noble's lips and he said nothing in answer to Renji's question.

"Aww, c'mon Taichou, that's not fair! What did you say?"

"Come now, Renji," he said calmly, "You know how I hate to repeat myself."

"You have to tell me, please, Taichou!"

"Perhaps tonight…maybe you'll listen more closely this time…"

Byakuya bit back a laugh as the redhead continued to fume about his unfairness.

They had reached the end of town, when they came upon a small, rundown cottage. They heard small sounds of whispers as they started to pass, then a young boy appeared on the trail ahead of them. He was small and thin, with wide blue eyes and tangled shoulder length black hair. He stood his ground as they approached, but had a shy, half-wild look in his eyes.

"Is one of you a healer?" he asked, "My sister is ill. She has a bad fever and she keeps having nightmares. I tried to keep her cool, but the fever she has is very bad."

Renji glanced at Byakuya and the noble nodded at the boy.

"Take us to her," he said gently, "If we cannot heal her, we will take her to the doctor in town."

The boy nodded, his eyes grateful. He led them into the cottage and to a cot in the bedroom. A slightly younger looking girl tossed and turned in the bed.

"Renji," Byakuya said quietly, "Your healing skills are better."

They knelt beside the bed and Renji slowly scanned the girl's sweat soaked body. Byakuya found a small pail of clean water and wet a cool sponge he used to gently wash her face.

"What do you sense?" he asked quietly.

"A small, parasitic hollow…nasty little bugger, but pretty common around here. Most of the folk have enough shielding to prevent them from getting in, but these little ones…"

"Can you heal her?"

Renji nodded.

"I ran into a lot of this, growing up here…"

"You grew up here?" the boy asked suddenly.

"Yeah," Renji said, smiling at the boy, "I lived here until I joined the shinigami academy."

The boy's dark eyes lit up hopefully.

"What was it like? Did you have strong powers? Can I see your zanpakutou?"

Renji laughed softly.

"Easy kid, I'm a little occupied healing your sister right now. We can tell stories later…"

"Did you go to the academy too?" the boy asked Byakuya, "Did you grow up here? How did you meet him? Which division are you guys in?"

"You seem to have a great deal of curiosity about the shinigamis…" Byakuya observed.

"Of course I do!" the child exclaimed, "My sister and I have wanted to be shinigamis all of our lives! Look, I've been practicing!"

The boy focused on his cupped hands and formed a round, glowing kido ball. Byakuya smiled and nodded in approval.

"With your reiatsu, you would be a good candidate, but you would have to be willing to work very hard."

"I know. I talk to the shinigamis who come to help the town sometimes…the nice ones, anyway. Sometimes they tell us cool stories."

"Do they?" said Byakuya.

"Uh-huh. Do you guys have any cool battle stories? Can you tell them to me?

"I suggest this," Byakuya offered, "Renji will finish healing your sister, then we will take you two to a safer place. After that, I will be happy to share some stories with you. My family in the Seireitei is the guardian of one of the largest libraries of history in the three worlds. I have read nearly every book there…and I would be happy to share some of them with you."

The boy's eyes widened.

"Y-you…you're not just a shinigami. You're a noble!"

He dropped to his knees and bowed.

"Sorry for not respecting you, sir!" he said loudly.

Byakuya laughed softly.

"Get up. You needn't do that. Just continue to help with your sister and I will consider that respect enough. Now then, give me your names."

The boy flushed.

"Um…I would, sir, but…we don't have any. I call her sister and she calls me brother. Everyone else just calls us 'girl' or 'boy.'

"Where are your parents?" Byakuya asked.

"I don't know," the boy said sadly, "We just woke up one day and they were gone. They never came back."

"Taichou," Renji said softly, meeting the noble's eyes, "You know that we can't stay here much longer. We can't take the chance on being found."

The boy gazed up at him with wide eyes and an open mouth.

"Are you and the noble lord running away?" he cried, "Then you must be the criminals that the scary shinigamis wanted! You should leave. They have been here two times and searched our house. They're hanging around the town."

"That doesn't sound good," muttered Renji.

"Did you really commit a bad crime? Did someone frame you and that's why you're running away? Can I help you?"

"I'll tell you what," said Byakuya, his voice still warm, but betraying a hint of concern, "You and I will gather whatever you wish to bring and we will move to that safer place as soon as your sister is stabilized."

He met Renji's eyes worriedly, the two exchanging glances as the boy ran through the house, gathering the few things they owned and preparing to leave.