Chapter 17: The Promise

(One Year Later…)

Renji stood in front of the mirror and looked himself over, making sure his formal kimono was perfectly positioned on his body. He took his time, combing out his long, red hair and twisted it into a long braid down his back. Once he was satisfied that he was in order, he left his bedroom and stepped out into the gardens where Kuchiki Tetsuya and Kuchiki Rukia sat, drinking tea and talking quietly. They looked up and nodded in greeting as Renji approached them.

"You look great," Rukia said softly, admiring his kimono.

"Yeah, well," the redhead replied, his brown eyes holding a sad shine, "It's an important day for us."

"Nii-sama will be so happy, Renji."

Renji gave a soft, gently sarcastic chuckle.

"When is he not happy? The guy just keeps reliving what was supposed to be the happiest day of our lives. I guess if you have to have your mind turned to mush and lose all of your marbles, that's the way to go, ne?" he said, unbidden tears rising in his eyes.

Rukia stood and embraced the redhead, as Tetsuya sat, quietly observing them with dark, troubled eyes.

"Well, today, you are going to make that day really happen for him," Rukia whispered, "And today, you are going to officially become my brother too."

"Yeah," Renji said softly, looking back at Tetsuya, "Thanks to you and the council of elders."

"Well," said Tetsuya, giving the redhead a sad smile, "We all know that Byakuya-sama intended to marry you that day. And his physician at the center seems to think that if anything might clear his mind and help him find his way back to us, bringing that day he dreams of to an end seems like the best direction to go."

Renji sighed softly and pulled free of Rukia.

"Okay, it's time for me to go and meet him. I'll see you guys later."

"We'll be there," Rukia promised.

Renji nodded, then turned and flash stepped away. He moved on swift feet, through the dark streets of the Seireitei, to the edge of town and into the small, private recovery center there. The night guard looked up and unlocked the door, letting him into the facility.

"Good evening, Abarai-san," he said, bowing, "They have him ready for you."

"Arigato," Renji said, smiling.

He went first to the nurse's station, where he signed in, then he was led through the hallways to a locked room, where a quiet, pale figure sat in the window seat, gazing out at the stars. The nurse unlocked the door.

"He's been looking forward to your visit all day, Abarai-san," she said, smiling wistfully, "Best of luck to you. I hope this works."

"Me too," Renji said, stepping quietly into the room.

He walked to the window seat and sat down next to the white clad noble, setting down a package he had brought with him. He moved closer to Byakuya and wrapped an arm around him, kissing him lightly on the cheek.

"You behaving yourself?" he asked softly.

Byakuya turned and met his eyes, looking surprised to see him and smiling.

"Renji!" he said, returning the redhead's embrace, "I wasn't expecting to see you yet. You know, they say it's bad luck to see the one you're about to marry before the ceremony. What brings you?"

Renji handed Byakuya the package, then watched as Byakuya opened it and removed the formal kimono inside it.

"This is beautiful, Renji!" the noble exclaimed softly, "You…mean for me to wear this to our wedding?"

Renji smiled and nodded, his eyes misting as he looked at the replica of the kimono his lover had been wearing the night he disappeared.

"Well, you don't have to, but…I had it made for you…for tonight."

Byakuya stood and let the white yukata he was wearing fall away. The redhead swallowed hard, his eyes gently tracing the beautiful lines of his lover's body, wistfully noting how much more slender he had become while Aizen's captive. Byakuya slipped into the lovely red and black creation and Renji combed the long strands of satiny black hair. Making sure all was in order, he took the noble's hand and led him to the bedroom door. Byakuya stopped at the door, a confused look crossing his face.

"Renji?" he queried softly.

"It's okay," the redhead said, squeezing his hand, "Tonight is the night we make this all happen."

"But…"

"Come with me, Byakuya. You've been in this place, dreaming about this day ever since you came back home to me. Everyone is going to be there. Rukia, the council, Yoruichi, Kisuke, Ichigo…and our kids…Kisho and Emiko. They're already there…and they're just waiting for us to get there. It's New Year's Eve, Byakuya. We need to go now so we don't miss the fireworks."

He took the noble's face in his hands and kissed the soft, pliant lips.

"You ready?" he asked softly.

Byakuya blinked in confusion, but managed a short nod. Renji smiled and lifted him into his arms, then opened a family senkaimon and carried him out of the center and into the precipice world.

"You know," the noble said, "You only have to carry me over the threshold after the ceremony. You don't need to carry me to the ceremony itself."

"I want to," Renji said, smiling, "That way, I can make sure you don't run off and get into trouble."

"Why would I do that?" the noble asked, "I wouldn't miss our wedding for anything, Renji."

"No," Renji agreed, "Neither would I."

He carried his lover through the dark passageway and emerged into the living world, passing through the dark streets until he came to the apartment building where they had originally planned to marry. He set Byakuya down and the two walked, hand in hand into the building. Byakuya paused, his brow furrowing, as they reached the penthouse apartment and walked inside. He stopped and stared at the gathering of people, the decorations and the door leading out onto the roof. Renji studied his expression for a moment and moved closer, squeezing his hand gently.

"Bya, are you okay?"

The noble blinked slowly, then looked up at Renji and smiled.

"I'm…fine," he said, turning towards the door that led out onto the roof.

They passed through the door together and Byakuya caught his breath softly as he spotted the black sofa near the door. He sat down and Renji set a glass of champagne in his hand. Byakuya studied the glass for a moment and tasted the golden liquid inside, then froze for a moment, he free hand sliding down to rest on his abdomen. He looked down at himself in confusion, then looked up at Renji.

Renji sat down next to him and took the champagne glass from his hand. He set it on the table beside the sofa and took Byakuya's hands in his.

"Okay, I'm going to just explain this…and I'm going to hope that it gets through to you. Byakuya, we came here a really long time ago to get married. Aizen Sousuke blew up this building and he took you away from us. For a long time, you couldn't come back. And even after I came for you and brought you home, you kept on reliving this day. And I thought that…maybe…maybe if we came back here. If we came back here with everyone we love. If we finish what we started that night…then maybe, just maybe, it will help you break free of this dream world you're living in…and really come home to us. I want you to get up with me and walk out onto the roof. Your cousin is going to marry us, and we are finally going to have everything that Aizen stole from us that night."

He stood and brought Byakuya to his feet. The noble stared at him, as though the rest of the world had disappeared entirely and followed him to where Tetsuya waited. Tetsuya smiled at the two of them, then began the ceremony.

"We are gathered today to right a horrid wrong, to join these two, who should have been joined years ago, and to bring to an end the plans of the one who took the beauty of this union and shattered it. This joining is the ultimate expression of the love that exists between these two souls…and their joining brings home the beautiful message that love, in the end, conquers all."

"Renji?" Byakuya whispered, "Renji, look…it's snowing."

And indeed, white flakes fell softly around them.

"Are you okay?" the redhead asked softly as Tetsuya continued, "Are you warm enough, Byakuya?"

Byakuya froze, the words repeating softly in his clouded mind. His eyes squinted and his brow furrowed in confusion.

"Bya?"

"Not much longer now," he whispered, "and I will officially be yours."

Tetsuya stopped speaking and their friends watched silently as Renji placed his hands on the noble's face and stared into the dark, confused gray eyes.

"You are mine, Bya," he said firmly, "You have been mine all along. And we don't need any damned piece of paper to prove it!"

He let his hand fall down to rest on the noble's chest, over his heart.

"It doesn't matter anymore that he took you away…that he kept you away from me…that he took Kisho from you. Because here…in here, where it really counts, we were always together. Even all that time when I was hiding in the desert, watching and waiting, you were with me. You are with me right now, and you will be forever. And I swear to you…that man will never touch you again. He will never take anything else from us. And we won't waste another day worrying about what plans he has for us. You are home, Byakuya. We have Kisho and our girl, Emiko. We have our family and friends, and we have each other. The last step…is for you to see that…and to come back from that place…and really be with us again. Please…look at me, Byakuya. Look at me and tell me that you understand! Tell me that you're here! I love you. I searched for you everywhere!"

The redhead's voice failed him for a moment and he wiped his eyes, then forced himself to continue.

"I found you and brought you home, but now you've gone somewhere where I can't follow. I can't save you. I can only reach you if you reach for me too. Hear me! Please!"

He felt a shock move through the noble's body and the dark eyes blinked and slowly began to clear. Renji's red-brown eyes flashed and he looked up at Tetsuya.

"Do it," he said tersely, "Finish it now!"

"Do you, Abarai Renji take Kuchiki Byakuya to be your lawfully wedded spouse? To have and to hold from this day forward? For better of for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health? Will you love, honor and cherish him for all of the days of your lives?"

"I will," Renji whispered, tears running down his face.

"And do you, Kuchiki Byakuya, take Abarai Renji to be your lawfully wedded spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward? For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health? Will you love, honor and cherish him, for all of the days of your lives?"

All eyes watched as Byakuya and Renji stared into each others' eyes and a long, breathless moment passed.

"Bya?" Renji whispered, squeezing the noble's hand, "Please…say you will."

Byakuya's eyes blinked slowly again, and the noble took a deep breath of the icy night air. He felt the cold snowflakes melting on his skin and gradually began to make sense of what was happening around him.

"I…" he breathed.

Renji held his breath, afraid to move or speak for fear of stopping whatever was moving his lover to return.

"I…I will," Byakuya said, shivering as Renji's arms wrapped tightly around him.

And the impetuous redhead didn't wait for an invitation, but fastened his mouth on the noble's, leaving Tetsuya smiling wryly as he finished the ceremony.

"Byakuya and Renji, having made your promises to one another, and with the blessing of the council of elders, I now pronounce you partners in life, bonded love, and joined in a union that shall endure for as long as you both shall live. As you have already exchanged a kiss as a token of your affections, as soon as said kiss is completed, we can begin the festivities."

He paused, watching in amusement as Renji and Byakuya continued to kiss.

"Or perhaps we will celebrate and you may join all of us when you are finished."

He lifted his eyes and smiled at their gathered friends and family.

"I now present for the first time, Abarai-Kuchiki Byakuya and Renji!"

"NO!" hissed a vicious voice, from out of the darkness, "I will not allow this!"

Everyone froze as Aizen Sousuke appeared on the rooftop near Byakuya and Renji. Renji placed himself between Aizen and the noble, summoning his blade and holding it defensively in front of him. A sea of other blades appeared and the reiatsu around the rooftop rose dangerously.

"That man is married to me," Aizen said calmly, "His name is Aizen Byakuya."

"Like HELL it is!" Renji shouted, his blade glowing red and shifting into shikai form, "You never had any right to him. He and I chose each other! We were supposed to be married that night, and we would have been if you hadn't…"

A kido blast sent Renji crashing onto the rooftop, stunned. He stared at Byakuya in disbelief as the noble stepped past his fallen form and began to move towards Aizen.

"Bya! Bya, what are you doing? Why did you…attack me?" Renji gasped.

"Don't you understand?" said Aizen, holding out a welcoming hand in the noble's direction, "Aizen Byakuya knows where he belongs. He wouldn't lower himself to be with a Rukon mongrel like you. Come, Byakuya…it is time to return home."

Byakuya moved forward in slow steps, stopping in front of Aizen and looking up into his eyes.

"Aizen Sousuke," the noble said in an icy voice, "Leave this place now and never return!"

Aizen's smile faded and his eyes glinted dangerously.

"I see," he said solemnly, "You want to challenge me. Are you sure, Byakuya? With all of these innocent people here? Where they could be hurt? You wish to challenge me?"

"Yes," said Byakuya, summoning his weapon, "I challenge you!"

"Fool!" hissed Aizen, "You and that dog…and your bastard children will all die, Byakuya! Prepare to pay the price for crossing me!"

Petals exploded around the two, forcing Aizen back as he drew Kyouka Suigetsu. Byakuya flash stepped forward, striking again and stopping him from loosing his shikai. Aizen's hands came up and fended off a wave of incoming attacks. He deflected all of the attacks and closed in on Byakuya again. The noble froze as Aizen disappeared, then reappeared closer and slashed at him. He loosed a barrage of kido as Renji rose up behind him and sent Zabimaru in the traitor's direction. Byakuya focused deeply and formed the sea of petals into pliable, sakura ropes that snaked around Aizen's wrists and ankles. Renji's skeletal snake rose up and swept towards him. But at the last moment, Aizen broke free and flash stepped clear. He used his shikai to hide himself and shot towards Byakuya, his blade extended and aiming to kill. His eyes widened in shock as the noble's eyes seemed to find him at the last moment, and a pale hand captured his blade.

"Hikoutsu Taihou!" yelled Renji.

The blast descended on Aizen, where Byakuya held him in place until the last moment, then glared into his eyes and flash stepped away. The snake crashed down and light exploded all around them, blinding everyone for a moment as the light faded and the dust cleared.

"Is he gone?" Renji whispered, standing and moving forward to take Byakuya's hand.

"I don't see him," said the noble.

The two shinigamis and their guests looked around, but still saw nothing. Finally Renji took a relieved breath.

"I guess he backed off."

He turned to Byakuya, smiling.

"You had me fooled. I thought you were going to leave with him."

"Never," Byakuya said, smiling, "I am yours, Renji."

The guests watched with smiling lips as the newlyweds returned to kissing. Kisho grinned and looked around, his smile fading as he saw something heading for his two fathers. He realized suddenly, that Aizen's power had made the attack invisible to the eyes of the others, but somehow, the youth could still see it. His blade was in his hands in an instant and he shot towards his fathers, the sound of the wolf's cry ringing out all around him. Time seemed to slow as the silver moon wolf shot towards a frozen Aizen and Kisho crashed into his fathers, pushing them out of the path of the incoming blast. He shielded instinctively as the blast struck him dead on. He heard Aizen roar in pain and fury, then everything went mercifully dark.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Kisho," called a soft, familiar voice, "Kisho. Son, wake up…"

He groaned and slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on his back, staring up into a sky that was filled with fireworks. He gasped softly at the lovely sight, distracted from the aches and pain in his body.

"How do you feel, son?" Byakuya asked, looking down into his eyes with concern.

"He should be dead," Renji mused furiously, "Pulling a stunt like that! You took a direct kido blast from that bastard. What the hell were you thinking?"

"I would say, Like father, like son," said Byakuya, smiling, "Do not yell at him Renji. He was only following your fine example. He was protecting the people he loves. He was willing to do anything to achieve that. I think that he was very courageous."

"Yeah?" said Renji, angrily, "Well, if his shielding had been even a bit less and the second division hadn't shown up to keep Aizen…"

"Goodness, you're making a fuss, Abarai," Byakuya said, shaking his head, "You're going to miss all of the fireworks. Come. We are safe from him, now. And I think he has gotten the message that the Abarai-Kuchiki family is not to be trifled with."

"If you say so," the redhead sighed, helping Kisho to his feet, "But kid, so help me, if you EVER do anything like that again…"

"Renji…"

"I just wanted to be like you two."

Byakuya and Renji froze, staring down at their son's proud eyes.

"I wanted to be like my fathers…brave, strong…and not afraid anymore."

Tetsuya stepped forward and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Kisho-kun," he said, smiling, "I think there is no doubt in anyone's mind here that you are all of those things…and more."

He turned the boy back in the direction of the fireworks as Renji wrapped his arms around Byakuya and gazed into the noble's now-clear gray eyes.

"So…you're really with me now, ne?" he asked, anxiously.

"I'm really with you," Byakuya assured him, "Arigato, Renji. Despite everything, Aizen…the walls he put up around me…my own madness…you never gave up on me."

"Yeah, well…you never gave up either. All that time, stuck there with him and you never gave up."

"Renji…I fell apart."

"No…no you held yourself together until I could come for you."

"But I lost my mind."

"For a while, yeah, while you worked things out. But you're here now. Neither of us gave up. And now we're married and we have two beautiful kids. And we won't let anything take that away from us…not ever again!"

Byakuya smiled and melted into the redhead's arms.

"Not ever again," he agreed softly.