The Lost Prince
You said that my pride was the reason that you walked away, so I counted you among the many sacrifices I made out of necessity. But my heart would not let go. And slowly, I broke apart…until nothing was left, not even that pride. Now, walking among the lost, I myself, have been forgotten.
Prologue: The Royal Wedding
Byakuya stood silently on the balcony outside his room at the Spirit King's Palace. His eyes fixed on the enchanting gardens below, he tried to focus on the beauty of this place that was to be his new home and to forget everything that he was leaving behind. He knew that in another nearby room, Princess Eri was being carefully prepared, as he had been for their impending nuptials. There were only minutes left before he would be led into the gardens, where thousands were gathered, and bonded to the Spirit King's daughter, and heir to the throne.
He tried not to let himself dwell on his losses, but one in particular assaulted his mind forcefully, blotting out the daylight, making the gardens disappear and bringing a tear to the corner of one gray eye. He wouldn't let it fall, of course, but neither did he deny it it's place.
"I don't give a damn what that order says!" Renji snapped, his red-brown eyes flashing, "I love you! I want to be with you. You said that you wanted the same things. How can you just sit back and accept this without a fight?"
The heat of his lover's anger burned uncomfortably against his skin. He took a pained breath and continued.
"You don't understand, Renji. I don't have a choice. I cannot disobey a direct order from the Spirit King. You know that."
"No," Renji said furiously, "What I know is that you're giving up without a second thought. You won't even question this. You haven't told anyone about us. I mean, I understood when we got together that we had to keep things private. I respected that. I knew you had to be careful so that you wouldn't dishonor your family. But Byakuya, I always thought that eventually we would find a way to tell them…a way to bring things out into the open. I didn't think you were just using me, and that you would dump me as soon as his royal highness snapped his fingers!"
"It isn't like that. You know it isn't," Byakuya said, his chest constricting uncomfortably, "I feel the same as you. I want to be with you as much as you want to be with me! Why won't you believe that?"
"Because you're just giving up without even trying! Why? Why won't you fight for us? I mean, if you love me, why not just be honest with the king and tell him that you already promised yourself to me! If you just told him…"
Byakuya sighed and lowered his eyes.
"I cannot do that, Renji."
"Why not? Give me one good reason!"
He raised his eyes and felt the heavy burn of the redhead's fury again.
"Renji, you may not be aware of this, but every noble child, as they come of age, is taken before the king and swears an oath of fealty to his service. It is an unbreakable oath and it means that whatever he asks of me, I must surrender without hesitation. In return, I am given a noble name and an opportunity to be an example to others. It is not just some useless thing to be thrown aside."
"You mean…not like me?"
Byakuya caught his breath and turned his face away to conceal the pain Renji's words caused.
"How can you say that to me?" he whispered in a wounded voice.
"How can you leave me like this?" Renji whispered back.
He could hear the tears in the redhead's voice and didn't dare look at him. He fell silent, waiting for the last painful words.
"I guess that's it then. If you won't do anything. If you're determined to go through with this, then there's nothing for me to fight for."
"And what would I win by fighting," he said, surprising himself by speaking, "You know that if I disobey the king's order, I will lose everything."
There was a moment of breathless silence.
"Yeah, you would have to give up your mansion, your noble name and clan leadership. That is a hell of a lot for you to lose, Byakuya. I know that. But in return, you and I would have each other. Maybe it's not so glamorous and we wouldn't have much…"
"Especially because, having defied the king, we would also be removed from captaincy."
He turned and moved closer, touching the fine fabric of the haori around Renji's shoulders.
"I only just placed this haori on your shoulders. Renji, being a captain is something that you worked hard to achieve. I won't let you throw that away just to be with me."
Renji touched his face gently, then kissed him lingeringly.
"I don't give a damn about being a captain if it means losing you. I will fight to the ends of the three worlds to be with you. And we would be fine. We don't need riches or titles or haoris, Byakuya. We just need each other."
"And what about my clan? Am I supposed to dishonor our name before the king? And then leave them? Renji, you don't have family, so maybe you don't understand…"
"The hell I don't understand!" Renji fired back, "I just think that in the long run they'll make peace with it. Byakuya, if you want to be with me, then yes, you will have to make sacrifices. I know that will be painful. But I will repay that sacrifice every day of the rest of my life. I swear to you. Just…don't go. Don't do this. At least tell the king about us and see if there is any way he will release you from this. Please…"
"I am…sorry. It is my duty."
"Then, I guess there's nothing left to say."
A tear rolled down one pale cheek and he placed a hand on his abdomen, trying to quell the awful ache inside. He didn't want to think about Renji, about how happy they had been together, or how proud he had been being the one to set Renji's haori on his shoulders. That was all in the past, a past that he had to let go of, and one he would pay for in silence for the rest of his life. But it had been his choice. He had chosen to accept the order. He could have tried, as Renji said. But he couldn't stomach the thought, not of his own dishonor, but that he would dishonor his father's name…his grandfather, and all of the ones who had raised him to lead his clan. To be made part of the royal family was the greatest marker of success a noble could achieve. To then, refuse it would bring the king's anger. And even though Renji steadfastly refused to believe that the king would punish the entire house, Byakuya knew he would. His only course of action was to quietly accept marriage to Eri. Then when she was made Spirit Queen, to act as her consort in seeing to the care and well being of the three worlds. It was important work that he had been chosen to do. And so it seemed he was required to sacrifice his own happiness because of that. He knew that the others among the nobles were envious of the honor he had been given. It would be a slap in the king's face and in the face of his clan if he dishonored himself by turning his back on his duty.
And yet, his heart ached so badly at losing Renji, he wondered why no one had yet guessed…
"Lord Byakuya, it is time."
He followed his servant silently out of the room, through the twisting hallways and out into the gardens. He was taken to the front of the crowd and to the top of a large platform. He stood quietly as the princess was brought out, as she reached him and smiled shyly at him through her veil. He did everything he was supposed to, until…
"Lord Byakuya?" the king said questioningly.
All that is left is to say is 'I will.'
He swallowed hard and tried to force the words out, but they refused to sound.
"I," he managed, his heart pounding strangely and his head spinning as the king's reiatsu began to flare.
The king's blazing eyes met his and Byakuya felt as though he could no longer breathe. There was a flare of power around him and everything went ominously still. He looked around and realized that every guest, servant, lord and lady stood or sat frozen. The only two left mobile were the king and he, himself. He couldn't look into the king's eyes anymore, but lowered them and dropped slowly to his knees.
"Lord Byakuya," the king said in a low, stern voice, "Is something wrong? Why did you hesitate? Did you not accept the honor of our invitation to become a part of the royal family?"
"I did, my lord."
"And yet, you did not answer me when I asked you if you would honor your vows to my daughter."
"I meant to speak," Byakuya said softly, "but I could not make myself say the words. Gomen nasai, my lord. I did not mean to disobey you. Truly, I am honored you asked me to wed your daughter."
"But," said the king, "even though you are obedient in mind and body, your heart refuses to obey."
"My lord," said Byakuya, trying to keep his voice calm, "what am I to do? I know I must obey you, but even as I try, my heart is somewhere else…with someone else. It grieves me to disappoint you, and to dishonor my clan, but it is the truth. Perhaps Renji was right. Perhaps I should have told you."
"No," said the king, "You never had to tell me that you were in love with Renji Abarai. I knew that, as I know all things. I knew it when I chose you. I need your powers, the powers I granted you, to look after the three worlds. You were given those powers and your place in the Kuchiki family for that reason."
He looked down at the noble's bowed head and thought for a moment.
"Byakuya," he said finally, "do you truly love Renji? Enough that you would sacrifice your powers and your name for a chance to be with him?"
Byakuya lifted his eyes and met the king's gaze directly.
"I love Renji with all that I am. And if I was not bound by the powers and place you gave me, if it would not dishonor my family or my king, then I would choose to be with Renji."
The king gazed deeply into his eyes.
"But if you had not your powers or your name. If you were poor and powerless, do you think that Renji Abarai would still love you?"
A small, unbidden smile came to Byakuya's lips and a tear formed in the corner of one eye.
"Renji loves the person beneath the power and the Kuchiki family name. He is the only person who ever loved me in such a way."
"Are you certain?" the king asked solemnly, "Would you stake your future on it? Your life?"
Byakuya's smile widened and he met the king's eyes with more confidence.
"Renji's love is the one thing that I am most certain of."
"And he would love you, despite the fact that you left him?"
Byakuya's smile faded.
"I do not know. He was terribly hurt by my leaving."
"And yet, you cannot actually go through with leaving him and marrying my daughter. Your obedience, it appears, is incomplete. So you leave me with no choice."
"M-my lord?" Byakuya said uncertainly.
"You say that Renji Abarai's love is the one thing you are certain of. And you say that if not for your powers and your responsibilities, you would be with him now."
"Yes, my lord, but…"
"If this is what you truly believe, I will give you the chance to prove it."
"How?" Byakuya asked warily.
"I will send you back. I will remove your powers and your name, as well as your memories. I will make it so that no one who looks at you will recognize you as Byakuya Kuchiki. I will leave you in the place where your beloved Renji grew up. If you and Renji are truly meant to be together, then Renji will find you. If his love is as true as you say it is, then it will allow him to see through to who you really are. And if he does, I will forgive you for this disobedience. I will give you back all that was taken, and I will release you from your obligation to my daughter. But if, in one year's time, you and Renji have not found and recognized each other, then you will permanently lose everything…powers…name…even the face you wear. You will live and die a poor man on the streets of Inuzuri."
He stopped speaking for a moment and studied the noble's strained expression.
"Are you so certain of your love now?" the king asked, "Are you certain enough to let your fate rest in the hands of that love? Will you accept the consequences if you fail?"
Byakuya closed his eyes and braced himself against the fear that rose up in him, even considering the king's challenge. He nearly couldn't answer, but then something came back to him.
"Why are you staring at me?" he asked, looking up into Renji's red-brown eyes and feeling the redhead's heat still circling inside him.
"I'm looking at you," Renji whispered, kissing him, "but for the first time, I'm really seeing you."
Renji's fingers ran lightly down his face and touched the skin of his throat.
"I see your heart. I see who you really are. And now that I've seen that, I will never forget you."
"But will you remember me if I have even forgotten myself?" Byakuya whispered.
"It is a great risk, the king warned him, "Think carefully."
Tears rose up in his eyes and his heart raced painfully, but he knew what he had to do. Renji had been furious with him for being unwilling to fight. What the king offered was horribly dangerous, but it was a way to win the right to love Renji openly without dishonor coming to the ones he loved.
"But…how will we find each other?" he asked breathlessly.
The king's eyes softened unexpectedly and he slipped a hand beneath the noble's pale chin.
"You do not have to do this," the monarch told him, "but if you wish me to free you to be with Renji, then you must prove first that you are perfectly devoted to, and trusting of, that love. You must be willing to risk everything to find it. And once it is yours, you must never let it go as you did. Do not worry. If you fail, I will spare both of you ever remembering each other. You will simply live out the rest of your life as a poor man of Inuzuri…a hard life, perhaps, but then, you are resourceful. You will cope well, I am sure."
Byakuya knelt at the king's feet, considering carefully. He felt the king's expectant eyes on him and looked up.
"You have made a decision then?"
"Then…do I marry you to my daughter or do I send you on this journey to find your true love?"
"I will accept your terms," Byakuya whispered, "I will sacrifice my memories, my powers and my name for a chance to have a future with Renji."
"Are you sure?" the king asked softly.
"I am sure."
The king's eyes flared with power and white light rose around Byakuya, making the gardens and all of the people around him disappear. His eyes remained open, but all he could see was depthless white. A weariness stole over him, then he seemed to go numb inside. He tried to remember then, where he had been, or what had happened before. He tried to remember what it was that had been causing him such pain, but found that the pain and the cause had disappeared. His mind spun and he closed his eyes against the motion. He heard whispers of voices and felt his body being lifted, touches of healing, and an admonition to sleep. His eyes opened for only a moment, and met an old man's gentle gaze.
"You're lucky you were found quickly enough," the old man said, "On a night like tonight, you would have frozen to death out there all alone like that. Now sleep. A good night's rest, and you will be all right."
"B-but…who are you?"
The old man smiled.
"I am Michio, the town healer, and this lovely girl is my wife, Noa. Might I have your name, fortunate stranger?"
Byakuya said the first name that entered his mind.
"B-bya. My name is Bya."