Chapter 19: Finding the Fire
"You sent for me?" Orochi Kuchiki said, his coal black eyes fixing on Tsuyoshi's.
"Yes," said the clan leader, looking out the open garden doors, "I have a job for you."
He looked down at the papers in front of him, then back up at his step-brother.
"I know that you and I have some common interests, that we...see things in a similar light."
"Yes, Brother," Orochi said quietly.
Tsuyoshi smirked knowingly.
"I am aware that you have more than a passing interest in someone who is close to our former leader."
Orochi frowned at him questioningly.
"That person left the manor through unseen means after the wedding, as did the commoner who helped him to elude me when I sought to capture him in Imuzuri."
"I see," said Orochi, "You wish for me to..."
"Find him," said Tsuyoshi, "I want him brought back and I want him confined in whatever manner you deem appropriate. It should not be a difficult task. In fact, I believe that when you catch up with him, you will find him to be powerless."
"Powerless?" Orochi mused, "How do you know he will be powerless?"
"Think about it, Tsuyoshi said mockingly, his eye studying his step-brother appraisingly for a moment, "Who else would have recklessly taken the risk of sacrificing his own core power to restore that of that peasant loving blood traitor? He already allowed himself to be banished. And that banishment was never actually rescinded, but he dared to show his face here anyway. And now, he has again broken our laws, engaging in the removal of a live shinigami's power for the purpose of placing it within another."
Orochi's black eyes widened and he took a soft breath.
"Do you really think that it was him, Brother? You think that he...?"
He paused and shook his head in resignation.
"You are right," he said, his eyes darkening, "It seems that he would go to any length to serve and protect Byakuya, but...but this! To be so reckless!"
"Yes," Tsuyoshi agreed, "You see how Byakuya's offenses have led to even larger crimes?"
"I do," said Orochi, "But Brother, do you plan to do Kiyoshi any real harm? After all, to lose one's power might already be considered a harsh punishment."
Tsuyoshi gave him an amused look.
"Why? Are you sympathetic? Have those lovely blue eyes of his hypnotized you?"
"No," Orochi assured him, "I am committed to obeying our clan leader and carrying out his orders. But I do hope that you do not mean to..."
"Hurt him?" queried Tsuyoshi, "Well, that will depend on how well our cousin behaves himself once you locate him. Why don't you just try reasoning with him? He doesn't need to be dragged down with Byakuya. He could get out of this with just some time served in the family prison. And with you as his jailor there, I am sure that his incarceration need not be too unpleasant, ne?"
"Yes, well, do you have any idea where he might have gone?"
"I am not sure," Tsuyoshi said, shrugging, "but as that lower Rukon rat and his vermin daughter have also dropped out of sight, you might begin your investigation there."
"Of course," said Orochi, nodding briefly, "I will leave at once and have a report for you soon."
"I know I am leaving this search in good hands, Brother. You have never failed me."
"And I will not this time either," Orochi said, bowing and leaving the room.
Tsuyoshi sighed softly and gazed out into the gardens, bristling as he sensed the rising strength of Byakuya's returning reiatsu
"It doesn't matter," he whispered, "Even if you do become strong enough to challenge me, I know exactly what to do to make you weak all over again. You care too much for the fates of these insignificant ones. And if they are endangered, you will give everything to save them...even your life."
Kiyoshi's blue eyes opened and found Tsuneo's welcoming smile. A warm swell of emotion resonated inside in a way that was wholly unfamiliar to the young man, but that he instinctively recognized.
I am...attracted to this man?
Is that right?
It felt right to look into those gentle brown eyes and it made him unable to resist smiling back at the man. Sweet flutters tickled his insides and a soft shiver of expectation passed through him as Tsuneo leaned towards him. He didn't want to close his eyes, but they closed reflexively as the other man's hungry lips found his and teased them playfully.
"Ah," the young noble gasped, sitting up and touching his fingertips to his breast, where underneath his heart raced fitfully, "Oh...I am...I..."
"What is it?" Tsuneo asked calmly, "Did I act too hastily? You...have someone already?"
"Eh...hah, no, actually," Kiyoshi managed, blushing as he realized that his yukata had fallen open as he slept and his body was fully exposed, "I...ah..."
He closed his yukata and tied it at his waist, swallowing hard and searching for the right words. Tsuneo captured a softly trembling hand and squeezed it gently.
"I am sorry," he said, still smiling, "I didn't mean to fluster you. It is just that you are very beautiful. It was enchanting, being allowed to comfort you through the night."
Kiyoshi cleared his throat softly and forced his shaky body to relax.
"I am grateful for being offered such comfort. It would have been exceedingly difficult to face the silence after losing my connection with Sorateiou. Thank you for filling that void."
"You are welcome," Tsuneo assured him, sitting up beside him, "But I must admit that you are not the only one who was comforted in his loneliness. I lost my wife some time ago, and I too have endured an emptiness. To hold you close, to embrace you while we slept, it was very pleasant, Kiyoshi."
The noble's blush deepened and Tsuneo chuckled softly.
"Come, we will go and have something to eat before we travel to Karkura Town to assist with your cousin's training."
"I don't understand," he said, shaking his head in confusion, "How can I...?"
"Well," said the vendor, "though you may be without powers, Master Kiyoshi, you are still armed with a sword and possessing a swift flash step, ne?"
Kiyoshi couldn't fend off a smile.
"You are right," he said, slipping out of bed and turning towards the closet to find fresh clothes.
Tsuneo watched appreciatively as the young noble loosed his yukata and let it fall away, then dressed in a clean shihakushou. Afterwards, the two left the room, talking softly about the plans for Byakuya's training as they headed for the kitchen.
"O-oh!" sighed Byakuya, his eyelids fluttering contentedly as he woke to find himself naked and splayed out prettily across Renji's hot, bare, and handsomely tattooed chest, "I am definitely getting spoiled. I am reaching the point where I do not know what I would do if I woke anywhere but in these arms, Renji."
"Heh," chuckled the redhead, making him loose another hungry moan as he teased the noble's much plundered entrance and claimed his mouth voraciously, "That's okay. You're never gonna know what that's like again. I promise."
"I hope that you are able to keep that promise," the noble replied, smiling, "but right now, if we want to survive to have time to contemplate it, we must do what we can to reawaken my long sleeping powers."
"Yeah," Renji mumbled, "We'll get to that. But first, I want to spend a little more time reconnecting, ne? As I recall, you fell asleep before finishing a very thorough investigation of my tattoos."
"Yeah," said the redhead, smirking, "You sure did. What're you gonna do about that?"
"Hmmm," mumbled Byakuya, "I think I have no choice but to finish what I started, ne?"
"Yeah, you are a pretty thorough kind of person...you know, never leaves a job half done."
"You are correct about that," Byakuya said, moving to address the tattoos on the redhead's tanned throat, "I do not remember where I left off, so I think I shall have to begin again."
"Aw," chuckled Renji, what a shame..."
"Isn't it?" mused the noble, sending sweet shivers through the redhead as he nibbled his way down Renji's neck and began tracing the bold markings that decorated his lover's broad chest.
Renji groaned as he felt himself harden again. He peeked down at his leaking erection and smiled.
"Damn, I thought we took care of that, but every time you start touching me, it comes right back."
"Well," said the noble, running a scorching tongue along one of the black markings on Renji's soft belly, "I shall have to do my best to rid you of that problem...no matter how long it takes."
Renji smiled helplessly and surged upward, rolling his husband onto his back and nudging between his willing thighs.
"I think it might take a while," the redhead laughed, "Ten years is a long time..."
"Hmmm," sighed the noble, gasping softly as their bodies joined, "Yes, it is."
"Gods!" panted Renji, closing his eyes as his strong hips moved and Byakuya held on to him tightly, moving with him, "It's like I can't stop. I make love to you until we pass out and when we wake up again, all I can think of is wanting to make love to you again!"
"Then, do not hold back," Byakuya whispered breathlessly, "I am strong enough now to bear the full intensity of your passions, Renji."
"God, I hope so," the redhead managed dazedly, "It's like a fever that keeps coming over me. I can't help it!"
"Then take what you need from me. I am with you, watashi no koi!"
They had no breath left for words as their straining bodies climaxed together, and they fell into a sweet barrage of finishing kisses. Renji's eyes filled with tears for what seemed like the thousandth time and his hands couldn't stop enjoying the softness of the other man's bare skin. His senses couldn't get enough of that lovely sakura scent, and his mouth couldn't devour the other man's quickly enough. But Byakuya too seemed caught up in and made helpless by the intensity of their connection.
I feel it now, so strongly...that binding together of our souls. To have been alone makes it even more overwhelming to finally feel that other soul resonating with mine! To feel another heart beating together with mine...to know that there is another person sharing the beauty of this with me. Whatever I lost before, it has come back to me tenfold.
Do you have any idea how much this means to me? How much I love you? How happy I am to know that I carry yet another profound expression of this love within my body? Is this why we can't stop ourselves? Why no matter how many times we make love, we yearn for more? Is this why I don't take a breath without feeling you breathe with me anymore?
They disappeared into the beauty of that wonderful sensation of oneness, drifting off and restoring their energy gradually as they slept.
"Good morning, Master Ronin," Akio said softly, stirring the heir out of a deep sleep, "It is time for us to prepare for the trip to Karakura town."
"Mmmm," Ronin mumbled, wondering how anyone could be up so early in the morning.
Anyone besides Dad, that is, he reminded himself.
Chuckling to himself, he scrambled out of bed and tried to stand still in the dressing area of his room, while his attendant bared him, then dressed him in clothing comfortable for sparring. Then, Akio led him to his fathers' room, where he then assisted Byakuya and Renji. The four then proceeded into the gardens, where the manor staff had laid out their breakfast and settled down at the table.
Ronin tried to eat slowly and not too much, but found himself overwhelmed with choices and wanting to try everything. Renji felt a sad twinge, knowing how the boy had grown up, having nearly nothing, but then looked at Byakuya and registered that he had had something more important. There was deep affection in the elder Kuchiki's eyes when they regarded the boy. And even though there was still a hint of sadness in Byakuya's eyes, there was also love, pride and returning strength.
They finished their breakfast and left the manor, proceeding through the senkaimon and into Karkura Town.
"It still feels strange not to have to worry about that man following us," Ronin commented.
"For me as well," Byakuya agreed, "But Tsuyoshi can neither touch us, nor allow harm to come to us until our battle. The one who needs to continue to proceed with caution is Kiyoshi. He will remain in hiding, and will travel by the Shihoin senkaimon when he comes to join us."
"I wonder how he's doing," Renji said, shaking his head, "He looked pretty shaky last night before they left."
"Well, he has had a good night's sleep by now and will probably just rest today," Byakuya surmised.
"And Tsuneo and Kiko and the others are keeping him company so he won't be lonely," added Ronin, "I hope Kiko can come to visit us sometimes in Karakura Town."
"I am sure she will," Byakuya said, turning onto the walkway that led into Urahara's shop.
Their conversation let off as they reached the shop and walked inside, then made their way down to the hidden training room. Akio led Ronin off a short distance to begin their training, while Byakuya took his leave of Renji with a long kiss.
"Now Kisuke," said Renji, "Don't forget that the idea here is not to kill my husband. We want to make him stronger."
"Right," chuckled the shopkeeper, "What gave you the idea that I would try to kill him?"
"Oh," Renji said sarcastically, "maybe the fact you've nearly killed both Ichigo and me, more than a few times with your training. You don't mess him up too bad or I'll come over and mess you up."
"Gotcha," Kisuke laughed, "But you know, we can't afford to go too easy, because we do want our Byakuya to beat the ever loving hell out of his wicked cousin, so I brought in a flash step and hakudo expert to start him off. He's all ready. Just step out there into the training area."
Byakuya exchanged questioning glances with Renji, then walked out, away from the others, his hand drifting down to touch Senbonzakura. His lips smiled as he felt the closeness of the samurai's spirit, and the faintest whisper of that familiar voice telling him, "Soon..."
He was so involved in his thoughts that he was nearly taken off his feet as a wicked flash step sounded and he felt the approach of a light, fast and achingly familiar body. He turned and blocked the incoming strike, his eyes meeting Kiyoshi's questioningly.
"What are you doing?" he asked, fending off several more swiftly placed blows, "Aren't you...?"
"I rested well through the night, thanks to Tsuneo's company," Kiyoshi assured him, "And I will only be starting you out with hakudo and swordplay. I will leave it to the others to work with you in kido and free fighting. Do not worry. Kisuke thought it was a good idea to start with someone you trained with a lot before, and he wants to have you work up gradually to fighting Renji and Ichigo."
Byakuya nodded, still uneasy at seeing his cousin fighting so soon after yielding his core power, but after several minutes, he was far too involved in their exchange to think about anything else.
Kiyoshi had always been fast, and although Byakuya had still retained and practiced his hakudo abilitites, he had been without his flash step for years, giving the younger Kuchiki an advantage. He used that advantage to the fullest, instantly putting the recovering Byakuya on the defensive, forcing him to give ground and scoring several glancing blows. But eventually, the lack of sustaining reiatsu began to slow the younger shinigami. He barely sidestepped several fast strikes, then was forced to draw his blade, to take the two into the next phase of the training.
Already tiring, Kiyoshi still managed to hold his cousin off for a time. Byakuya wondered at Kisuke for allowing the younger man to fight for so long, considering the state of his body, but understanding flickered as he and Kiyoshi exchanged several slashes and parries, until the first blood appeared on their skin. Then, just as he was about to halt things himself, he was surprised with a second swift sword.
"Rikichi," Byakuya said, smiling.
"Welcome back, Captain."
"I told you not to..."
"And I told you that you are still my captain," said Rikichi, slashing at him, then fending off several vicious cuts, "And whatever it takes, I am going to do what I can to see that you get your place back in the Gotei 13!"
Kiyoshi sheathed his blade and exited the fighting area, moving to join Tsuneo and Kiko, where they sat watching the fighting.
"Not to insult you, but are you all right?" asked Tsuneo, "That was quite some intense fighting so soon."
"I am fine," Kiyoshi assured him, "I am just glad that I could do something to get him started."
"Get him started? You were going all out, and you gave him quite a run for his money there."
"Oh, that was nothing," Kiyoshi said softly, watching as Torio and Koji leapt out from among the rocks and attacked Byakuya together, "He must be trained at captain level. This is going to get a whole lot more intense!"