The King's Sacrifice
Your eyes were loathe to look upon me and your body shivered at my touch. You took my hand in the line of duty and stole my heart in the process. Now two paths lie before me…one leading to your destruction…and one leading to mine. Which one shall I choose?
Chapter 1: The Fading Crown
Kuchiki Ginrei stood within the King's Garden, at the top of a tree shaded hill, under a lovely slender sakura, watching the breeze capture and carry the pink petals off and over the meadows that ran below him. This place always made him think of the grandson he had left behind when he had given up everything to travel to the spirit dimension to take up the post of Royal Guard Taichou. It hadn't been an easy decision by any means. He loved Byakuya more than life itself, and after losing Soujun, the boy had been his only comfort. But the Kuchiki family was one that knew the importance of their duty to the king, so when King Yoshiaki's proclamation of his advancement had arrived, he had not hesitated, but had left his grandson to lead the Kuchiki Clan and sixth division, and had taken his place in the protective unit that guarded the king.
Still, there were times when that decision weighed on him.
I never thought to live to see such times as these. It seems to be the beginning of the end. Are our worlds truly meant to be shattered in this way? Is there no hand that can stop the vagaries of fate?
He sighed softly and gazed out over the beautiful sunlit fields.
What will save our worlds?
A hell butterfly fluttered over the hill behind him and floated lazily down to land upon his finger. As light as the creature was, the weight of its arrival was nearly unbearable. The message was short and direct. It did not surprise him. And though he had dreaded it, its arrival made him straighten in the way of his forefathers and take a breath, then turn to face his fate with a still strong heart.
Yes, even if the worlds are ending, we will not forget who we are. Even if we cannot be saved, our honor can be spared.
He walked back along the forest trail and into the empty throne room. A member of the hogosha, the king's elite personal guard, met him there and led him down the quiet hallways to the king's bedroom. They paused at the door and the hogosha knocked softly. The door was opened by a teary eyed female attendant. She waved them on silently and the two approached the man in the bed, offering a soft greeting to the healer at his side.
To Ginrei's eyes, he didn't look as though he could be dying. His face was still full and proud and the black eyes were as fierce as they had always been. There was calm and strength about him, a sense that he did not see the end coming. But Ginrei knew all too well that he was aware. He was aware and had given everything to finding a way to save the worlds that would die with him if something was not done.
But in all of the time since his condition was discovered, they had not found the way, and now the time for searching had nearly run out.
And yet, his eyes do not tell me that we are defeated…no…They tell me something altogether different. Could it be, then? Is there an answer? Are we saved?
"My Lord," he said, bowing.
"Kuchiki Ginrei," Yoshiaki said quietly, "it is good to see you. Thank you for coming to me so swiftly. I sense it will not be much longer and I must tell you…"
He paused for a moment, his face paling and a flash of pain crossing his fine features. Ginrei swallowed hard and tried not to react.
"I asked Fumio to pore over the ancient records with me one more time…to see if there was anything we had missed, and we found something. The reference is short and difficult to understand, but I believe it will lead us to the answer."
As the crown fades, light will reach the dark one beneath the seal…will take his hand and lead him on to the Valley of Whispers. There will he find the blade that will cut to the heart…that will be taken with him to the sacrificial stone to decide the fate of all men. There, the illusion will be shattered, and the noblest of hearts will be given freely to protect what we hold dear."
"I remember the reference, My Lord, but…"
"Ginrei-san, I believe I have identified the two to be bound for the renewal ritual," the king said softly, "No, I do not simply believe. I know it in my heart. I felt the rightness of it and feel we must act quickly. You must listen carefully to what I tell you and follow my orders exactly, no matter how you feel about them. I assure you that this is the only way."
He waved for the others to leave the room and the two were left alone. Ginrei listened quietly, his heart dying inside him as he heard the words. He wanted to object, to warn the king that such thoughts were not possible…that there was no way that it could be as he saw it.
But Kuchiki Ginrei was a noble who knew his duty and saw to it flawlessly, so though his voice trembled and his heart raged against it, he bowed in acceptance of the king's order.
"Arigato, old friend," Yoshiaki whispered, "Go now…and see that this thing is done…"
He leaned forward and kissed the stone on the king's ring, then set his hand softly back on the blanket. The powerful black eyes held his gratefully for a moment longer, then slowly closed.
So it begins…
The race to save our worlds…
Or will this be the end of them?
He seemed so certain, but…how can this be?
It seems I have no choice but to trust him…
What other answer is there?
"Is there anything else you need, Taichou?" asked Renji, handing the noble a cup of hot green tea.
"No Renji," Byakuya said, glancing up at his fukutaichou, "You may go. Enjoy your weekend."
"Arigatou, Taichou," Renji said, smiling warmly, "You enjoy yours too."
Byakuya watched, almost smiling as the redhead turned and flash stepped away.
Things have certainly changed, he thought, Before, we seemed to clash on nearly everything…but something happened when we were fighting for our lives in Hueco Mundo. And ever since…when I look at Renji, I see him more and more as a friend. We never say it aloud, but…
His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a hell butterfly. There was no indicator as to who sent it, but the king's seal left no question as to its importance.
Kuchiki Byakuya, an emergency has arisen. You are to go immediately to the coordinates given below to meet with the king's messenger. Details will be given at the meeting. This meeting is strictly confidential. Do not reveal the location or anything discussed to anyone, lest you fail in this mission before it is begun.
The noble rose quietly and left the sixth division, following the twisting streets until he came to the main gates of the Seireitei. He passed through and turned in the direction of the Rukon. Once there, he passed through the districts, making his way towards Inuzuri as darkness fell. His reiatsu was more than enough to warn off the ones that waited in the shadows. They drew back warily as he passed by them and continued on his way. He reached the town and located the building he had been directed to…an old crumbling cottage that barely had the strength to hold itself up. And as he passed inside, he felt heavy shielding rise around it. He moved forward through the darkness and then knelt in the center of the room, waiting. He heard slow footsteps behind him, then felt a warm, familiar hand come to rest on his shoulder.
"Byakuya," the man said softly.
The noble caught his breath at the familiar touch.
"Grandfather?" he whispered.
Kuchiki Ginrei moved around Byakuya and dropped to his knees in front of him.
"I bring grave news from the spirit dimension…news that I must give only to you."
Byakuya's eyes widened at the oddness of the situation…the secretiveness…their meeting in such a place…the gravity in Ginrei's voice, and his heart skipped painfully. A chill went through him as his grandfather continued.
"The king has faded away."
"I was with him in his last moments…and with his last breath, he gave me a message. It is one I am terrified to speak to you…one that I wish I did not have to deliver. He has warned me that this message must only be heard by your ears. You are to listen to me and to faithfully carry out the king's orders."
He reached into his waistband and removed a slender zanpakutou with a green wrapped hilt. Byakuya's hand shook as he accepted the blade, his pale face growing more pale as his grandfather's words struck him.
"Take him to his master…and when they are reunited…"
By the time Ginrei finished relaying the king's orders, Byakuya was numb to the core. He barely heard his grandfather's words of parting or felt the gentle touch on his face that preceded his leaving. As the senkaimon closed and he was left in the darkness of the abandoned cottage, Byakuya felt an irrational urge to take his own life, there and then. His hand even strayed to the hilt of his blade, but as it did, his fingers brushed against the second zanpakutou.
I have waited so long for this moment, Byakuya…so long in darkness and alone. All I have known is solitude and loss. But your touch promises me completion. Come. He waits.
Byakuya rose onto unsteady legs.
Wait. I will shield you from their eyes.
Byakuya felt a dark swirl of power around him. As it faded, he lowered the shielding around the cottage and stepped back out into the night. He made his way slowly back through the Rukongai and passed unseen through the gates and back into the Seireitei. His heart quivering at the thought of what he was about to do, he flash stepped towards his destination.
He was glad for the lack of others around. The less people, the less chance he would give himself away. The protection around him was strong, but it was far from invincible. And what he was about to do was enough to get him killed on the spot. He wondered wryly if that would be the better fate, all things considered. He was careful not to go too far in that direction lest he sabotage himself and thereby bring an end to the three worlds…
I wonder if they knew their fate rested with him…would they want to be saved?
The very fact of the secrecy necessary in carrying out his mission suggested a very cold answer…
He reached a large white building and moved quietly around to the brush covered side. Bounding up the side, he reached the roof and walked along the top until he reached the area over the commissary. Holding his breath and praying the illusion would hold, he used a small burst of kido to open a hole in the ceiling and dropped down inside. He broke into flash steps then, knowing that he wouldn't have long before someone was likely to break through the illusion and realize the building had been breached. Everything depended on him reaching his destination and completing the set of orders before that happened. He flash stepped madly, racing down the dark hallways and to the entrance to the prison levels.
He waited until the guard changed and the door into the prison opened, then slipped inside. He traversed the corridor swiftly and came to the second door, sliding through just as it closed. He continued on and passed through the next five prison levels without incident. It was the last that was the most precarious. But just as he began to despair that time would run out, the door opened, and he flash stepped through.
"What was that?" asked one of the guards.
Byakuya froze as the two guards looked around, then shook their heads and left the area. His heart in his throat, he made his way to the very end, to the cell that held Central 46's most reviled criminal. He stood for a moment at the door, peering through the small, square window. The prisoner sat bound and sealed within…having no idea what was about to happen.
Cloaked in the green hilted zanpakutou's power, he cautiously sent a throb of kido into the locks, breaking them one by one. He opened the door, surprised that the alarm had not been raised. He passed through the door, closing it behind him and approaching the prisoner with trembling steps. Pausing in front of the man, he wavered for a moment, his heart quaking at what was about to happen. With shaking hands, he removed the covering over the man's mouth.
"I have…a visitor?" asked a soft voice.
He knew better than to answer or to release the bindings yet. Instead, he reached into his shihakushou and removed an artifact that Ginrei had pressed into his hand before leaving him.
This will give you protection from him as you carry out the king's orders, but it is not foolproof. Be wary as you take each step, my grandson. You are the last hope of the three worlds. And if you fail, we will all be lost.
He gazed down at the silver chain and at the golden crests at each end. He placed one against his breast and whispered the words of activation, shivering as the power of the artifact flooded his body. He set the other crest against the prisoner's right hand.
"What? What are you doing?" the prisoner asked.
Byakuya activated the second crest, gasping as the power exploded around their two bodies. He loosed the prisoner's hand and brought it to rest over his heart. As the two crests touched, their power flared hotly around the two shinigamis. Both emitted shocked cries and Byakuya fell forward against the restrained prisoner. His chest heaved as he struggled to raise himself, to remove the binding over the other's eyes and to reveal himself.
"K-kuchiki Byakuya?" the prisoner whispered.
Inquisitive brown eyes watched in surprise as the noble unbound his lower body, moved their clothing aside and climbed onto his lap. A smile crept onto the other man's lips.
"Are you purposely trying to earn a death sentence? And for such a pittance?" he asked mockingly, "Not that I mind, really. I have been quite lonely here, but truly, I had no idea you were…"
"Shut up!" hissed Byakuya angrily.
He hesitated, hating the man with all of his being and wishing he could, instead kill him. But the king's orders were clear.
And this is my only protection from what he might do.
Slowly, he leaned forward, resting a hand on the prisoner's shoulder and bringing their lips together.
The man laughed softly.
"I see. You need to be protected from me. You need me for something, then?" he asked.
I'm sorry, Grandfather! It's too much to ask!
He started to pull away, but was stopped as the fingers touching his chest curled and the power of the crests held him fast. The prisoner's eyes met his, freezing him in place.
"I imagine that the circumstances are dire or I would not have the pleasure of being with you in such a way," he breathed in the noble's ear, "but you must realize the precariousness of your situation, Byakuya. I am partially unbound and if I am but able to touch my blade, which you have been so kind to bring to me, I could break free and disappear. So pray, be quick about what you are doing, or I will kill you and simply disappear."
Byakuya swallowed hard as he realized that given the close proximity of the blade, he could have been undone already.
"Why didn't you kill me when you had the chance?" he asked softly.
The man smiled.
"I told you, Kuchiki Byakuya. I have been alone for a very long time. And you have piqued my interest. Now, you must decide. Are you going to bind yourself to me or not? It must have been important, or you would not lower yourself, I know."
"It is important."
The dark brown eyes locked on his.
Shock flooded the noble as the reiatsu rose around them and the prisoner broke free. A moment later, he was lying on his back on the floor, the prisoner leaning over him…his hand still pressed to Byakuya's chest and the power of the sealing charm flaring. Byakuya waited breathlessly for the end to come, but felt another hard jolt strike him as his thighs were nudged apart and the man's hand moved down to prepare him with surprising gentleness.
"Why are you doing this? You could have just killed me and walked away." Byakuya said quietly.
"Why are you doing this? You needn't have risked life, limb and reputation to free me, Kuchiki Byakuya," the man whispered back.
"I am certainly not doing this for you," the noble said coldly.
"And I am not doing this for you," the man said, settling between Byakuya's parted thighs and slowly entering him, "We both have our reasons for doing this unexpected thing, Byakuya. We shall just have to see where it leads."
Byakuya caught his breath and released it in a hiss of pain as the other man's body claimed his. He felt the crest begin to pulsate, the light brightening and swirling around them as the prisoner's body moved atop his. The other's mouth came down on his and an eager tongue invaded.
"You're so soft…so wonderfully tight…" the man moaned between kisses, thrusting harder into the noble's trapped body, "You are virginal this way, ne? You have never been taken by a man?"
Murderous gray eyes answered more clearly than words could have. The noble's hands tightened threateningly as the other's motions became rough and breathless. His body shifted suddenly, then thrust in more deeply, striking the pleasure center inside Byakuya and tearing a hard cry from deep in his throat. His hips rose reflexively and his eyes closed against the powerful explosion of bliss. His lips were claimed again, roughly as the other man thrust into him one last time, holding him in place as heat flooded him inside. Still shaking from the impact, their eyes met again and the power of the crest engulfed them.
Both men reeled as their souls were laid bare…as glaring white light passed over them and revealed each to the other. And so revealed, the two felt rending pain as, with terrifying slowness, their souls were bound together. The crest flashed with fire, burning against their skin, placing the final seal and then slowly fading. They laid quietly in the darkness for some time after, their bodies still entwined and the pleasure still alive inside them. Byakuya finally found the strength to move again and tried to shove the other away. The man held him down and kissed him gently on the lips.
"Now, is that any way to treat the man you just bound your soul to, Kuchiki Byakuya?" he laughed.
"Get off of me!" the noble hissed furiously, "We have to get out of here!"
"My blade still protects us from discovery," the prisoner assured him, "and certainly, I would love another delicious taste of my soul bonded before we go dashing off to do whatever it is so important enough to do…"
Byakuya shoved him away and staggered to his feet, setting his clothes back in place.
"Let us get one thing straight, Aizen Sousuke," the noble snapped, "That was the first and last time you will ever touch me!"
Aizen's smile widened and his brown eyes sparkled.
"I see. Well then, Byakuya, let us be off. I am sure we have a great deal to talk about."
He picked up his blade and slipped it into his belt, then moved closer to Byakuya. The noble glared at him.
"What do you think you are doing?" he asked icily.
"Why…getting us out of here quickly, of course."
Byakuya bristled as the rogue shinigami's arm wrapped around him. Aizen's power flared around them and a kido blast cleared the way out of the prison. Byakuya closed his eyes and held on to Aizen as he was lifted and the two disappeared. Behind them, the prison alarms began to wail…