Chapter 20: Unmasked

Renji paused at the open door to Byakuya's hospital room and smiled at the very attractive sight of his lovely, noble captain, relieved of his uniform and noble accessories, dressed in only a white, standard hospital issue yukata, and his hair let down and somewhat tumbled. He tapped lightly on the door frame, meeting the noble's dark eyes, and unable to hold back a light blush at the look of welcome that appeared there at seeing him.

"Abarai," Byakuya said quietly, lowering his eyes again as Renji entered the room and approached him, "Why don't you sit down and have some tea? There is extra."

"You're drinking lousy hospital tea instead of mine?" Renji asked, frowning, "Are you sure that you aren't really Aizen in disguise? Because my captain is very selective about his tea..."

Byakuya sighed.

"Actually, I had my personal attendant bring some that he made at the manor, as you were not available," he explained.

"Ah, right, I was knee deep in a second division inquiry, a report to the head captain and doing a writeup on everything that happened before I forgot half of the details. Just 'crossing t's and dotting i's, sir," chuckled the redhead, "So, why didn't you have Torio also bring you one of your own yukatas and some nice fuzzy slippers?"

"Fuzzy slippers" Byakuya repeated, blinking.

"I was kidding," Renji laughed.

"You seem even more jovial than usual," commented the noble, "That is odd, considering that only a short time ago, we were being threatened by the Seireitei's most dangerous criminal."

"Yeah, well, things worked out okay. We're all safe and Aizen's gone. And as soon as Captain Unohana clears you to leave here, we can go back to the division and you and I are going to talk about those gifts you sent me."

The beginnings of a smile touched the edges of Byakuya's lips.

"I look forward to that as well," he said, looking up as another shinigami entered the room.

"Lord Byakuya," Head Councilor Nori greeted him, "It is good to see you, alive and well."

He turned to Renji and nodded in approval.

"I understand that we have you to thank for that, Vice Captain Abarai," he added, extending a hand, "We are in your debt."

"Yeah?" chuckled Renji, accepting Nori's hand, "Well, you may not be so eager to shake my hand once I tell you...I am love with your head of household...and I'm not going to hide that anymore...not that I ever really could have, but..."

"Abarai," Byakuya said warningly.

"Hey," said the redhead, "I held back before because I respected that Captain and I were of different classes. I thought that he would never think that I was good enough for him. But nearly losing him made me understand that if you're not willing to fight for the people you love, then you will eventually lose them...one way or another. So I'm going to do what I have to, to protect what we have together."

His eyes met Byakuya's warmly and the noble froze, staring back at him raptly.

"I'm not wasting chances anymore," Renji said firmly, "Byakuya is in love with me, and I'm in love with him. And whatever we have to do to...be together..."

He paused as Captain Unohana entered the room, carrying Byakuya's medical chart. She looked from Byakuya's bowed head to Nori's look of discomfort and Renji's determined face and paused by the door.

"Am I interrupting?" she asked, "Should I come back later?"

"N-no," Byakuya said quickly, looking somewhat relieved, "You...have information for me? Did you find something?"

"You will happy to know that there were no signs of any dangerous alterations to your body, foreign listening devices or other...what did you call it, Vice Captain?"

"Creepy shit?" supplied Renji, smirking.

"Yes, I believe that is how you described it. I found nothing like that in my examination."

Byakuya spotted an oddity in her expression and took a worried breath.

"But...you found something?" he asked.

"I did," said the healer, "But let me assure you, it is nothing to be overly concerned about. It is not a harmful condition, although it may prove to be an inconvenience for you."

"An inconvenience?" queried Nori, "What is his condition?"

"Let me say first that Sousuke Aizen obviously did not wish for Captain Kuchiki to be harmed. He was not physically harmed in any way, although it appears that he was subjected to a medical procedure."

"A surgery!" Renji repeated, looking alarmed, "What did that freak do to him? I'll kill him!"

"Do not be so hasty, Abarai," Byakuya said, frowning, "She did say that it was not dangerous."

"I did," affirmed Unohana, "Now, you told us in your debriefing before, that Aizen planned to impregnate you with the hougyoku once he became king, ne?"

"That is correct," said Byakuya, his heart beginning to race, "But you are saying that he...did something? He did not impregnate me with the hougyoku already, did he?"

"Oh...no, no, not at all," The healer assured the shaken noble, "But it appears that he did begin to prepare your body for the process. "

"Gomen nasai, what do you mean?" the noble asked, still looking alarmed.

"Well, it appears that he was going to impregnate you, using a special chamber, in which he would have placed the hougyoku, along with some reiatsu and genetic material to provide the 'code' for the developing body. It seems that he had the chamber placed in you and perhaps meant to test it before his ascension."

Renji's reiatsu spiked suddenly, and the redhead's eyes darkened in fury.

"Y-you mean...?"

"During my examination, I found the chamber. I tested it and found that it already contained a developing reiatsu."

Byakuya's eyes went wide, and Nori gasped in surprise.

"Th-that son of a BITCH!" snarled Renji, furiously, "You mean he raped Captain? I'll really kill him now!"

He reached for his sword and turned towards the door, but was stopped by a gentle hand the came to rest on his arm, and lovely eyes that stopped him in his tracks.

"C-captain Unohana?" he said, unsteadily.

"You need to remain calm and listen to the rest of what I have to say," she said in a voice that was still light and sweet, but somehow still made the redhead quiver inside and drop into the chair she directed him to.

"Sousuke Aizen is not the one who activated the reiatsu chamber," she said firmly.

"What?" said Renji, staring, "Then...who? Gin? Tousen? Oh gods, he wasn't raped by the Espadas, was he?"

"Abarai," Byakuya objected, "I think that I would have been able to tell if I was sexually assaulted, and I assure you that I was not!"

"How would you really know?" Renji asked in an unsettled tone, "Aizen wields illusion!"

"Captain Kuchiki showed no signs of sexual assault," Unohana assured them.

"But Vice Captain Abarai does have a point," said Nori, shaking his head, "If he decided to assault our leader and then hid it."

"I assure you, that is not what happened," the healer said with certainty, "So, let me ease your minds. I have altered my methods in my examinations since Sousuke Aizen's departure from the Seireitei to counter his illusions, so that I can see through them when I examine patients here. I can say three things with complete certainty. First, Captain Kuchiki is with child. Secondly, that child is not Sousuke Aizen's. And finally, the child was fathered by Vice Captain Abarai."

"Wh-what?" Renji said, going very pale.

He was suddenly extremely pleased that he had sat down prior to the announcement.

"Captain Unohana, how can this be? I was never with Captain Kuchiki! I didn't even know where he was! I was looking everywhere for him! Oh my kami! Do you mean that Aizen hypnotized me and I assaulted Captain?"

"Abarai, don't be ridiculous!" Byakuya chided him, frowning, "You did no such thing. When we were together, it was completely consensual."

"Wha...? Huh?" Renji asked, his eyes nearly crossing and a feeling of breathlessness passing over him, "But Captain! You and I were never together like that! I mean, I did have a really, really wonderful dream about us."

The redhead stopped and blushed deeply, sudden realization spreading over his handsome face.

"Y-you mean that...that night...in my quarters? That was real?" he stammered, going so white that his tattoos stood out starkly against his skin.

It was Byakuya's turn to blush.

"Honestly, Abarai, are you really going to make me have to explain? I told you that Aizen sent me back to the Seireitei, cloaked in illusions and he instructed me to try to get you to 'see' me. He allowed me one night to be with you, but then afterwards, he used his powers to convince you that what you experienced was a dream."

The noble went quiet, shaking his head and thinking deeply.

"Well," Captain Unohana said bracingly, "I have a suspicion that Aizen's 'generosity in allowing the two of you that night together was really just a way for him to both tease Captain Kuchiki with the possibility of release, and to secretly conduct a test of the chamber."

"You mean...that freak wanted me to impregnate my captain?"

"He discovered that...I was...attracted to you," Byakuya explained, and he probably realized that it would be difficult to control me for the period of time it would take for him to take control in the spirit dimension. M-maybe he reasoned that if he allowed me to have your child, he could then use the child to force me to go along with him in his plans."

"Do you really think that was his plan?" asked Nori, "It seems..."

"It seems just like Sousuke Aizen to think the matter through and act well ahead of time," said Unohana with certainty, "Think of the complicated nature of what he did here in the Seireitei...a plan that took over a hundred years to set in place before he revealed himself and broke away from us."

"She's got a point there," Renji agreed, still looking pale and shocked.

"Yes," agreed Nori, frowning deeply.

"Well," said Byakuya, "Whatever his plans truly were, thanks to Renji, and the others who helped him, that man has been stopped for now."

"But what do we do to keep him away?" asked Renji, "He can just use his illusions to get to Captain again, can't he?"

"I think he will have a much harder time doing that now, because we are on our guard. We will be watching Captain Kuchiki and the people around him, carefully...and remember that, under sharp scrutiny by people who know the person, the small details can be detected. If Sousuke Aizen tries to recapture Captain Kuchiki, we will stop him."

"Actually," Byakuya suggested, "I have a suspicion that Aizen will not feel a need to try to abduct me again for now. He succeeded in using Renji to impregnate me as a test of the chamber he placed in me, and he can as easily watch me from there to monitor the developments. I think he will wait to recapture me once I have successfully delivered the child and shown that the chamber is fully functional."

Renji shook his head and bit at his lips, an odd shiver going through him.

"Well, I hope you're right, Captain," he said, sounding less than convinced, "But I am not going to leave that bastard any openings. I am sticking to you like glue from now on!"

"That is hardly necessary, Renji..."

"I think that Vice Captain Abarai is right," Nori said, raising a fine eyebrow and regarding the two for a moment, "Sousuke Aizen is a dastardly fellow, and it is nearly impossible to anticipate what the man will do next. It is imperative that our leader have the best possible protection...and I don't know that anyone has proven themselves to be as diligent and capable...or as persistant as you in protecting our head of household."

"Head Councilor...?" Byakuya queried, meeting the elder's proud eyes.

"Hmmm," Nori went on, "We have a tricky situation anyway, Lord Byakuya. You know very well that having a pregnant and unmarried leader will be likely to bring a scandal, and we cannot have that!"

"Ah," Byakuya sighed uncomfortably, noting the scared look that came into Renji's eyes.

"So..." Renji said, frowning, "You're going to make him marry somebody? Just to avoid a scandal? I mean, I guess I understand. But...he'll have to marry a noblewoman, right? Then what? Will she pretend to be pregnant or something?"

"I do not wish to have to engage in telling lies," Byakuya insisted, "They have a dastardly tendency to come back to haunt a person."

"I was not suggesting that we lie," said Nori, a slight smirk touching his lips, "If Aizen was holding you prisoner and used his illusions to get the young man to sleep with you to make you pregnant, then you and Abarai are both faultless."

"Which means that he can...?" Renji began.

"Which means that, because the situation was out of either of your hands that what happens next should be up to the two of you. Our clan does tend to frown on our leader marrying a commoner, however Aizen's interference muddies the water a bit and certainly makes an argument for allowing the two of you to be married...if that is your wish."

"But I thought that it was a big deal to the council that I'm not a noble," objected Renji.

"It was before," agreed Nori, "However, your valiant defense of our leader and the odd matter of his pregnancy has created an opportunity for the two of you."

Byakuya studied Renji's face for a moment, then sighed softly and shook his head.

"I do not want Renji to be made to feel that he has to marry me," he said quietly, "In fact, we really have not even 'had our first real date.'"

"Except for making the baby," Renji chuckled, regaining a bit of poise.

His handsome red-brown eyes met Byakuya's affectionately.

"I'll be honest with you," he said, gazing at Byakuya's curious expression, "I don't know if I am ready to just jump into marrying...anybody. But...I think it's amazing that we're going to have a baby...and...having grown up without a family, I don't want my kid to grow up away from me. I may not feel perfectly ready? But...I think that having all of us living under one roof and taking care of each other is the right thing to do."

"But two people shouldn't just get married because of a child," Byakuya said, a sad look invading his eyes.

Renji slipped a hand into the noble's and captured his chin with the other, making their eyes meet again.

"And you know, there is way more between us than this kid," he said, smiling, "You and I have been...circling around each other, and we've been trying to tell each other that we both wanted more. And maybe we aren't completely ready to have our dreams come true so quickly. But that doesn't mean that we should back off of them. You sent me those gifts. You opened your heart to me, letting me get closer to you...including me in that bathing ritual you showed me. And you did all of that, because you were trying to tell me that you have fallen in love with me. Isn't that so?"

Byakuya stared back at him wordlessly, but with eyes that answered with a resounding YES!

"Well, I'm telling you that I've given this a lot of thought while you were Aizen's prisoner, and I had already decided that...I am in love with you too. So, whatever you want from me, I'll do it...happily! You want me to marry you, then just say the words. I will. You feel like you need to wait...then we'll wait. So...how do you want to do this?"

The room was quiet as Byakuya breathed in and out, his mind working and his heart racing fast enough to leave him lightheaded.

"I too, grew up without my parents," he said finally, "Unlike you, I had other family, but...I missed the closeness that parents have with their children. My father was with me for part of the time, and when he was gone, my heart ached badly, missing that presence in my life. I think that...I want our child to have the experience of having two parents...not just two parents, but two parents who love and protect each other. So...if it meets with your approval, Renji, I would like to marry you...if you will have me?"

Renji suddenly found himself wearing a smile large enough to make his face hurt. Forgetting about the other people in the room, he grabbed the surprised noble and captured his lips in a knee-weakening, heart-melting kiss. Byakuya caught his breath in surprise and stiffened for a moment, then found himself unable to resist and sank deeply into Renji's warm, mouth and forgetting all else.

"Ah, yes," Nori said, clearing his throat softly and fighting a blush, "Well, I had best go and inform the council. We'll have much to do to prepare for our leader's nuptials."

"Very well," said Unohana, "I will walk you out. I think that Captain Kuchiki needs some time alone with his vice captain to...sort out the details of their situation."

The two quietly exited the room, Unohana reaching back to place a kido lock on the door and to invoke a privacy shield.

"Oh my...you think they will...here?" Nori asked, the blush finally getting the best of the old man.

Unohana giggled.

"It is hard to contain youthful spirits, ne?" she laughed.

"I imagine so," Nori agreed, shaking his head and smirking.

Back in the hospital room, Renji paused and looked up at the door. Noting the kido lock and privacy shield, he grinned and started to kiss Byakuya again. The noble's slender hand tugged gently at the tie at the redhead's waist, and Renji looked down at him questioningly.

"You don't want to wait until we go back to your quarters...or your estate?" he asked.

Byakuya sighed and let his fingers trace the bold tattoos on Renji's forehead and throat.

"Renji, if there is one thing that this situation has taught me, it is that we do not know how many moments we have. So...we should not waste any opportunity to express our love for each other. It is a private place, and I do not want to wait anymore."

Renji's eyes narrowed.

"What about that stuff you told me...when you thought I was asleep? he asked, "You know, about your dad, and how you thought that love was too dangerous and all..."

Byakuya blushed.

"You...heard that?"

"Yeah...sorry."

"That's all right," the noble assured him, "I don't know that I would have had the courage to say it if I had known you were awake. But, yes, love is a dangerous thing. Still, I think it is also something that we cannot live without. So we have no choice, but to let it come to life and protect it as best we can."

"I'm with you," Renji agreed, letting his clothes fall away and sliding into bed next to the noble.

He turned his upper body and met Byakuya for a long, indulgent kiss that left the two panting and very aroused, and ended with the noble being as naked as his handsome subordinate. Renji gazed into Byakuya's eyes questioningly, and the noble smirked and answered by lying back on the pillow and parting his pretty, white thighs. Renji blushed brightly, chuckling self consciously as he turned and sank down between those wickedly soft thighs, and felt the gentle scent of sakura wrap around him and pull him in helplessly. He stifled a contented groan and closed his eyes as he felt his piqued member brush against one just as hot, swollen and damp as his own. He sank into Byakuya's hungry mouth again, moving his hips and feeling his hot, erect member twinge at the contact. Byakuya's eyes closed, and his soft lips opened in a light, sweet moan that seemed to go right straight to Renji's already inflamed erection. He groaned and rubbed harder against the noble's thickened member, loving the way Byakuya's slender, graceful fingers danced along his sweating skin, tracing the black lines on his throat, shoulders and chest appreciatively, then hesitating and trembling for a moment, before sliding down his lean torso to play over the markings on his belly.

"Oh, gods, I love it when you do that!" the redhead panted, seeking the noble's mouth again, and letting his own hands slide down Byakuya's soft skin, following the more delicate curves of his body and moving down to tease their members where they continued to rub together.

Byakuya's head turned, leaving the sweet, pale flesh of his throat exposed, which Renji pounced on immediately, nipping and sucking languidly, almost growling with delight and making his noble lover quiver softly beneath him.

"R-renji!" Byakuya sighed wantonly, "I have thought about this...wanted this...f-for so long!"

"No more holding back?" Renji asked, smiling at him and bending his head to caress an erect, pink nipple with his tongue, "No more worrying about what could happen?"

"I'm going to believe that we are strong enough to manage whatever comes," Byakuya whispered, losing his breath again as Renji's tongue invaded his navel, then slid down over the path of fine hairs that led downward, "Oh! Ah, R-ren...ji!"

"Does it feel good?" the redhead breathed in his ear, making a lovely, hard shiver rake his body.

"It feels...exquisite," Byakuya managed, closing his eyes and descending into softer, nearly incoherent utterances as Renji's seething mouth wrapped around him, his tongue sliding upward and teasing him until the usually placid noble came undone.

He gasped out Renji's name as his defenses crumbled and he came violently. Renji closed his eyes and swallowed repeatedly, moaning happily as his lover's warm, savory essence filled him, bringing a wonderful feeling of intense heat to his insides.

While the noble was still reeling, Renji released his spent member and attacked the man's tight entrance, wetting the area carefully. Byakuya moaned fitfully, writhing under the firm grip of Renji's hand on his hip as the redhead's fingers invaded and prepared his body for their joining. The redhead coaxed the noble onto his belly, then spread his legs wide and commenced a maddeningly slow entry, working his way inside in small, measured thrusts then laying himself warmly across Byakuya's warm, sweaty back. He laced their fingers together, keeping the pace slow, and the contact intense as they moved together, exchanging hard, wet kisses over a trembling, pale shoulder.

Byakuya groaned in delight as Renji's thrusting member found the pleasure center inside him and the redhead's hand wrapped around him, caressing and stroking him into a pretty frenzy as the two continued to move together. Renji's breath shortened suddenly, and he clamped down on a soft, white earlobe, hissing with pleasure as the coil in his belly snapped, and he released in hard, scathing pulses and collapsed onto the noble's back, bringing them down onto the bed in a breathless tangle.

They went still for a time, their bodies still joined and their minds spinning pleasantly. Then, Renji's hand found Byakuya's and laced their fingers together again, and he made a line of warm kisses along the back of the noble's neck, making Byakuya loose a keening sigh and shiver happily.

"So...we're really going to get married?" he asked, squeezing Byakuya's hand.

"Yes," answered the noble contentedly, "Unless you don't want to. We do not have to. I was just under the impression that it was what we both desired. Was I wrong, Renji?"

"No, you weren't wrong. I love you. I'm glad that you got up the nerve to send those gifts and tell me. I never would have thought before that my gorgeous, powerful, noble captain could fall in love with me. I'm really glad he did."

"I had no choice," Byakuya whispered, meeting the redhead for a lingering kiss, "Though I could pass others by and abandon loving them without care, you were the one...the only exception. Whatever the cost of that, I love you too.

(Thanks so much for reading The Only Exception! And there is likely to be a sequel. The story kind of begs for one, so I'll try to come up with a good plot. The mpreg suggested at the end of this story will play out in the next, but I'm still thinking on what else will happen. As always, if you have a suggestion, just PM me and let me know! Thanks again for reading and reviewing! Love, Spunky)