Chapter 16: Light of Dawn
Byakuya felt warm, rough fingers tease his hair and even warmer lips press against his. He loosed a soft, half-coherent moan and opened his eyes to the very welcome sight of Renji Abarai, leaning over him and smiling almost helplessly.
"A-abarai?" he queried sleepily, "What happened? Did I...?"
"You passed out," Renji said, "Scared the shit out of me. I called the house healer and he told me that..."
He broke off, his smile widening sweetly.
"Renji," Byakuya said, frowning, sitting up and rubbing his eyes, "What is wrong with you? Are you giddy?"
"Yeah, probably," the redhead laughed softly, "I can't help it. I'm just...unbelievably happy, Byakuya!"
Byakuya's eyes fluttered impatiently.
"What are you going on about?" he asked, looking confused.
Renji's grin somehow managed to grow even more, and his hands found Byakuya's and squeezed them gently.
"Renji," Byakuya said, looking concerned, "You're trembling. Will you please tell me what is going on? I know you're happy about the wedding, but what is this...?"
"We're gonna have a baby," Renji said proudly, his red-brown eyes twinkling, "We're giving our Ronin a little brother or sister!"
Byakuya's eyes widened and he caught his breath in surprise.
"I..." he stammered, "I am...?"
"The healer said you're pregnant!" Renji announced happily.
"I...cannot believe it," the noble said breathlessly, "The is...truly...wonderful news. But, Renji, I...had a very difficult time bearing Ronin. And Michio and Noa seemed convinced that I would not be able to have any others."
Renji's smile faded and his eyes darkened with concern.
"What?" he asked worriedly, "You didn't tell me that before. You say that you had a hard time with Ronin?"
"Yes," Byakuya explained, "You see, when I was drained by Tenrai Keibatsu, I essentially lost my shinigami status, and became a simple soul. But because Ronin was a powerful shinigami child, his reiatsu placed a great deal of stress on my body."
He shook his head firmly, heading off the redhead's discomfort.
"Renji, don't worry. I managed having Ronin, and I will be fine having this child as well."
Renji bit at his lip and let out a less than convinced sounding breath.
"All right," he said, frowning, "I'll hope for the best, but I want you to have the healer here monitor you every step of the way. Bya, I don't want anything to happen to you, now that we are back together."
"Nothing will happen to me," Byakuya assured him, "I will be fine. This baby and I will be fine."
Renji nodded and seemed to brighten, but then paused and began to look worried again.
"What is it?" Byakuya asked, "I told you, Renji. The baby and I will be fine."
"Yeah," the redhead agreed, "But...Byakuya, there is...something else. I hate asking, but I think I really need to."
"What, Renji?" asked the noble.
Renji shifted uncomfortably.
"Well, before...you admitted to me that you were with Tsuneo...recently. Doesn't that mean that he could be the father of..."
Byakuya stopped him with a firm shake of his head.
"Have you forgotten?" the noble asked softly, "I told you when we attempted to establish soul resonance. For me to have become pregnant with Ronin, there had to be a true resonance. Once that is established, there is no possibility that there would be a second resonance. We made Ronin together, and that means that I could not have been impregnated by Tsuneo."
"Right," said Renji, looking down to hide the hint of lingering doubt, "I had forgotten."
"That is why we were taking such a chance in attempting to establish soul resonance," explained the noble, "It is not a common thing. And there has never been a case of a true resonant matching perfectly with more than one partner."
"Ah," Renji said, nodding, "But...does that mean that it's a certainty that this baby is mine, or does it just mean that there is a very slim chance that..."
"Renji," Byakuya said, a hurt look coming into his eyes, "Do you honestly think that I would deceive you about such a thing? This child is yours. I assure you."
"I know," said the redhead, lowering his eyes, "I'm...sorry for making it sound like I didn't trust you."
"It is all right," Byakuya said quietly, "I understand."
"Look," said Renji, taking the noble's hands in his, "Even if there was a chance that the baby wasn't mine, it's not like I would leave you. After all of the shit that you and I have been through just to be together, I figure that I'm not about to let anything separate us now. So, however difficult it would be to know that the kid wasn't mine...I would still stay with you."
"Well, thank you for that, but as I told you, soul resonance is so rare that once one has been established, the two can only reproduce with each other. Please do not worry about that anymore, Renji. This child is yours."
"And hey, we have other, more important things to worry about."
"We do," Byakuya agreed, "I have yet to have my powers restored, and after our wedding today, I must begin to prepare myself for my confrontation with Tsuyoshi."
"But, Byakuya," Renji objected, "Shouldn't the clan allow you to put off that battle until you have delivered the baby? I mean..."
"If I was still the clan leader, then the battle would be postponed, as the child would be considered an heir, being first or second born. The onus is on the challenger, in this case. to prove his worthiness."
"Nice," Renji sighed, sarcastically, "I just hope that Kisuke is able to come up with something soon, because you are going to need to have sufficient time to adjust to using your powers again, even once your reiatsu has been restored. So the longer it takes to find a way to restore your powers, the less time we'll have to train you up."
"We shall just have to deal with one problem at a time, I suppose," Byakuya said, leaning forward to capture his lips warmly, "For now, all I am going to think about is what a blessing it is to be marrying you today and carrying our child. We have time enough to worry about the rest."
"Right," chuckled Renji, regaining his more relaxed expression, "Speaking of which...I have to go and get ready. I will see you out in the gardens."
"Yes," the noble agreed.
Renji looked around.
"So, where's Torio?"
"I am not sure," said Byakuya, smirking, "But you know, Renji, I actually became quite accustomed to changing my own clothes, whilst living the peasant life in Inuzuri..."
Renji laughed softly.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it," he said, shaking his head, "I don't want you pulling another disappearing act while I'm out there waiting for you to show up to marry me. You're not getting out of it this time."
"As though I was attempting to do so before..." Byakuya mused, shaking his head, "I am not missing this for the world, Renji. I am marrying the man who I love today."
Renji captured his lips again, lingeringly.
"Dad? Renji?" Ronin said from the doorway, "It's almost time for the wedding to start."
"Ronin," Byakuya said, smiling, "I am glad you're here. Renji and I have something that we want to share with you."
"What?" the boy asked curiously.
"Well," said Renji, "The clan healer was here a while ago, and he told us...that Byakuya is going to have another baby!"
Ronin caught his breath in surprise and broke into a huge smile.
"Really? A little brother or sister? Really?" he asked excitedly, "I mean, I've always kind of thought of Kiko like a sister, but you mean...I'm really going to have my own brother or sister?"
"That's right," affirmed Renji.
I'm so glad!" the boy said, hugging Byakuya, then turning and hugging Renji, "I can't wait to tell Akio and Kiko!"
"Yeah, well, that will have to wait," Renji said, "Because right now, I have to go out there and get ready to marry Byakuya. And I want you to personally make sure that Byakuya arrives in the gardens, okay?"
"Okay, Dad," the boy said, nodding, "I won't let him out of my sight."
"And I promise I will not stray," Byakuya added.
"All right, then," Renji said, a nervous edge to his voice, "Let's get to it."
Renji turned and exited the room, leaving Ronin and Byakuya alone. A moment later, Torio arrived and hustled the noble out of bed and into the dressing area. Ronin stood near the garden doors, looking out and admiring the colorful flowers and lovely decorations all around the gardens. He frowned at seeing Tsuyoshi and stepped further into the bedroom, seeking to avoid his nasty glare.
"Ronin," said Kisuke, appearing just outside the doorway, with Tsuneo and Kiyoshi at his side, "Is Byakuya in there?"
"Hai," said the boy, "He is getting dressed."
"I am ready," said the noble, appearing behind his son and gazing at the shopkeeper curiously, "Is there something you need?"
"Ah, yeah, actually," Kisuke said hesitantly, "And it's pretty important. Can I...speak to you alone for a moment?"
"Of course," said the noble, "Ronin, will you see that Tsuneo and Kiyoshi are seated for the wedding, then come back for me?"
"O-kay," the boy said, "But Renji told me not to leave you alone..."
"Don't worry, kid," said Kisuke, "I will have your dad out there and getting married in two shakes. Go on. I won't leave him alone."
"All right," Ronin said, turning to Tsuneo and Kiyoshi.
He paused, frowning.
"Are you all right?" he asked Kiyoshi, "You look like you don't feel so well."
"He is right," Byakuya agreed, "You are paler than usual, Cousin."
"I am fine," Kiyoshi assured him, "Come, Ronin."
He turned away quickly and left Byakuya staring after him.
"What is going on?" Byakuya asked, frowning, "What is wrong with Kiyoshi?"
"Nothing is wrong," Kisuke assured the noble, "But...he did do something...something kinda drastic. But what he did, means that I can give you your powers back right now."
Byakuya stared for a moment, then comprehension and alarm rose on his handsome face.
"Kiyoshi!" he hissed, "He...?"
"Yeah," Kisuke confirmed, removing a small device from within his cloak, "Don't say it out loud and don't argue. It's too late for that. Just...accept the gift he gave you...and be grateful."
Byakuya's eyes flared.
"How could you do this, Kisuke Urahara!" he asked, dismay in his voice, "How could you take such a chance with my cousin's life? How dare you!"
"Hey, it's not like the guy gave me any amount of choice," the shopkeeper explained hastily, "He threatened to go find some jerk for hire if I didn't do it! You want to tell me what the hell I was supposed to do? I couldn't stop him, even though I wanted to. Understand, I did what I could. And all I could do was to make sure that the sacrifice wasn't in vain."
Byakuya gave him a tormented look.
"I could kill you for this!" he said, shaking his head, "Kiyoshi...he is...barely more than a boy! He is..."
"He is a ban kai level shinigami," Kisuke said solemnly, "And he is the reason that you have a real shot at beating that son of a bitch, Tsuyoshi! Now...you may not agree with what he did, or what I did, but we are beyond the point of no return, here. So, you need to just accept what he did, and make the most of it."
Byakuya swallowed hard and stared at the device in Kisuke's hand, tears threatening as he thought of Kiyoshi, and how pale and vulnerable he had looked. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a steadying breath, then opened them again.
"If anything happens to my cousin because of this, I will destroy you!" he said furiously.
"He'll be fine," Kisuke assured him, "I powered him up a little with a special mod soul, and Tsuneo said that he won't leave the guy alone for a second."
"But you know that Tsuyoshi will be looking for anything that he can use to distract me away from my training..."
"Right," agreed Kisuke, "But the mod soul should throw him off. And if it doesn't, then I will personally babysit him myself, okay? But enough talk. Let's do this."
Byakuya stared a moment longer at the device in the shopkeeper's hand, then nodded briefly.
"Very well," he said softly, "I am ready."
Renji smiled wryly as Rukia took his arm and led him past the guests, and up the aisle, past the glowering Tsuyoshi, and the rest of the Kuchiki council of elders, as well as a large gathering of family and friends.
"Looks like everybody in the Seireitei is here!" Renji whispered to Rukia, "But why the hell is that bastard here? Everyone knows he'd as soon kill us as look at us, ne?"
"Yes," agreed Rukia, "But he is bound by the rules of the clan, and he is sticking to them very carefully. In case you haven't noticed, he is not so friendly with the council. They are well aware of what he's really like now. Despite the fact that he's the underdog, being the challenger, I think that they are hoping that my brother will find a way to win back his place in the clan."
"I think you're right," chuckled Renji, "Too bad that doesn't offer us any real advantage. What we really need is for Kisuke to come through with a way for Byakuya to regain his powers now."
He broke off as they reached the raised platform in front of the guests, and Renji stopped just short of the steps. Rukia kissed him on the cheek and left him waiting as the guests rose and the wedding march began.
Renji stared raptly as Byakuya appeared at the end of the aisle and Ronin walked to him and took his father by the arm. He led Byakuya past their gathered friends and family, past the council and the scowling clan leader, to the base of the steps, where Renji waited. Ronin smiled and kissed each of his fathers on the cheek, then set Byakuya's hand in Renji's and went to his seat. Byakuya and Renji turned and ascended the steps together. They stopped on top of the raised platform and partially turned. Gray haired Head Councilor Nori called the gathering to order.
"Lord Tsuyoshi and the council of elders welcome you, family and friends, to celebrate the union of family member, Byakuya Kuchiki, and his demonstrated true resonant, Captain Renji Abarai. Byakuya and Renji, do you both affirm that you seek this marriage of your own free will, and know of no reason why the two of you might not be legally wed?"
"We do," said the two men together.
"Very well. Marriage is the binding of two souls together, a solemn commitment to melding of two lives into one. It is both a joyous occasion, and also a very profound responsibility. And before the two of you embark upon this journey together, speak your promises unto each other and let us witness the vows that you make."
Renji nodded and captured Byakuya's sloghtly trembling hands in his.
"Byakuya, I hardly know where to begin," he said, looking into the noble's depthless eyes, "I think I have loved you from the minute I saw you...that very first day...even though you passed by and I felt the strength inside you. I looked up to you, and I fought like crazy to become as strong as you were. Things were tough at first, but...you became my mentor...and then my friend and my lover. I thought that I lost you when you disappeared...and I couldn't have been more surprised when I found you, and we were given a second chance. I just...want you to know that, powers or no, you are still the strongest person I know. I look up to you as much as I ever did...and I love you with everything that's in me. I offer you my hand and my heart in marriage, and I promise you that I will never...ever let you go again!"
Byakuya blinked several times, then took a breath and began to speak.
"Renji Abarai," he said softly, "I think you are right...that our love began that first day. We have struggled greatly, but now we stand on the verge of having all that we ever desired. We will be married today and today, you, Ronin and I will become what we were always meant to be. I am sorry that I let myself be weakened. And I promise you with all of my heart that I will show you and our children, form this day forward...the true meaning of strength. I offer my hand and my heart to you in marriage, and I promise you that I will never, ever let go of you again!"
Each of the two extended a hand, and Nori gently bound them together with a length of light, white silk.
"Renji Abarai," said the head councilor, "Do you take Byakuya Kuchiki to be your lawfully wedded husband...to have and to hold from this day forward? Will you commit yourself to him, forsaking all others and remain with him, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?"
"I do," Renji said, smiling widely.
"And do you, Byakuya Kuchiki, take Renji Abarai to be your lawfully wedded husband...to have and to hold from this day forward? Will you commit yourself to him, forsaking all others and remain with him, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?"
"I do," affirmed the noble.
"Then, having said your vows and made your pledges, here in the presence of our leader, our elders, your family and your friends, I now pronounce you partners in life, bonded in love and favored with the blessing of the elders. You may now exchange a kiss as a token of your affection."
Byakuya met Renji for a gentle, lingering kiss, and at the same time, let his restored reiatsu flow through his newly awakened spirit centers. Renji's eyes went wide with disbelief as the power flared around his new husband, riling their hair and making their kimonos flutter in the breeze that rose around them.
"Byakuya!" Renji breathed.
Byakuya smiled and met his husband for another long kiss, then turned with Renji and met Tsuyoshi's startled and enraged eyes meaningfully as the newly married couple proceeded back down the aisle and into the tranquil gardens.
Tsuyoshi's lips curled in fury and his own reiatsu flared around him.
"It doesn't matter, Cousin," he hissed softly, "No matter that you have somehow regained some powers. They will be nowhere near enough to beat Tenrai Keibatsu this time either! You are as good as dead!"