Chapter 7: Hold Me Tight
Byakuya heard a soft tap on the bedroom door and hastily brushed away the tears that had formed in his eyes as he slept, unable to stop the recurring nightmares about Renji's death.
I know it is wrong. How often have I been told that we should not cry? But I can't make the visions go away. They are there whenever I close my eyes. I handled the deaths of my parents, Hisana and so many others without shedding tears.
Why is it that losing Renji like that feels like losing a part of myself?
We felt something for each other. It may have even been the beginnings of love. But I was a fool and let my fears keep me from acting on those emotions. Why? How could I be so stupid? I keep going over this repeatedly in my mind and still cannot make sense of it. I just wish that I had listened to him that night. If I had, then Tsutomu would not have been able to reach me, and Renji wouldn't have been executed because of me.
"Byakuya-sama?" said Tetsuya from the doorway, "I have brought your tea."
Byakuya nodded briefly, then watched in silence as his cousin entered the room and set the tea on his nightstand. Tetsuya gazed at him quietly for a moment, then sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
He sighed softly.
"But how could you be? I know you are still blaming yourself for Renji-san's death. But you should not. There is no way that you could have known. Some fateful choices we make are blind ones. We don't know how fate will turn or spin out of control while we struggle with them."
"That is true," Byakuya said softly, "But...my refusal to face what I was feeling for Renji...to trust him enough to tell him what I felt. Tetsuya, I drove Renji away. And because I did, Tsutomu was able to reach me easily. And look at the result."
Byakuya gazed at where his image was reflected in a mirror on a small desk on the other side of the room. He took in the sight of his starkly white face and hands, the hollow look in his eyes and the ragged ends of his hair where his rapist had cut it off.
"Renji is dead. And...there is so little left of me, that I might as well be too."
Tetsuya's expression grew tormented and he captured his cousin's hands in his, shaking his head fervently.
"Byakuya-sama, don't say such things! It is not your fault that that man attacked you or that Renji-san was blamed for the crime. How can you think that?" the younger man argued.
"You must admit that if I had not alienated Renji on that night, he would have been at my side that night. Tsutomu wouldn't have been able to..."
"It is equally possible," Tetsuya interrupted, "that even had he been there, Tsutomu would only have killed him getting to you. And Renji-san would still have died."
"But...to be accused of raping me, of trying to kill me...to have his honor and reputation publicly shattered in that way, then to die as though it was all true, when Renji would never have done such a thing to me. Tetsuya, it is unbearable!"
Tetsuya bit his lip gently, trying to think of something more to say, but unable to come up with anything. Byakuya closed his eyes against the returning pain and swallowed hard to hold off his tears.
"But," the clan leader went on finally, "I will be all right, Tetsuya. Despite the hurt, I am committed to finding out who is really behind all of this. Who sent Tsutomu to do this to me? Who killed Tsutomu in front of everyone, without showing himself? And why? Why did this man set Renji and me up to die? I must find the answers to these questions. And I must make sure that whoever did this will pay for it. Right now, that is all I live for."
"And I will be here," Tetsuya promised, "I will take every step with you."
"I will too," said Ichigo's voice from the doorway.
"Ichigo-san!" Tetsuya said breathlessly, blushing as the shinigami substitute stepped into the room and approached Byakuya.
The noble gazed at him in silence for a moment, taking in the sleeping yukata he wore that he remembered being one of Tetsuya's, and the rising flush on his cousin's cheeks and throat as he read the comprehension in Byakuya's eyes. To Tetsuya's surprise, the clan leader evinced no anger at the realization. Instead, he looked from one to the other and back again, then sighed softly.
"Arigatou, Kurosaki Ichigo," Byakuya said, surprising his cousin and the human youth, "Your assistance is appreciated. As a close friend of Renji's, I know you must hate me for causing his death."
Ichigo's lips tightened and his eyes glinted with stubbornness and anger.
"You didn't cause Renji's death," he said firmly, "so stop blaming yourself. We're going to get to the bottom of this and find the creep who did all of this. And when we do, we'll make sure that he pays."
He paused for a moment, glaring at the Kuchiki clan leader meaningfully.
"But what we are doing will be for nothing if we allow you to lose yourself over this. Renji told me that he was in love with you. That being said, just as he was my friend and I protected him, I will protect the person who my friend was in love with...because that is what Renji would want me to do for him. So, whatever guilt you might be feeling, you need to put it out of your head. Get some rest and build up your strength. Kisuke will be here tomorrow and we're going to get moving on finding the bastard who did all of this. We need you to help us do that. If you really think that you were the cause of his death, then you should put all of your energy into making his killer pay!"
The room went silent for a long moment, with Byakuya and Ichigo's eyes locked in understanding, and Tetsuya's respectfully lowered.
"Again, you have my gratitude," Byakuya said, breaking eye contact, "And you have my leave to see my cousin if you wish."
"Byakuya-sama!" Tetsuya gasped, staring.
Byakuya squeezed his cousin's hand gently.
"Love is something precious that needs to be acknowledged and protected carefully," the clan leader went on, "I have now learned twice that it leaves great damage when it is lost. Do not let that happen to the two of you."
A tear slid down from one of Tetsuya's wide, sapphire eyes, and he surprised his cousin with a warm, shaking embrace.
"I won't, Byakuya-sama," he swore, "I promise I won't!"
Renji stepped out of the garganta that Aizen Sousuke had opened for him, then paused for a moment, thinking carefully.
My first instinct, of course, is to run to Kuchiki Manor. But I think it's pretty clear that I have to make my moves carefully. I don't want to believe that Taichou is dead, but whether he is or not, the guy would tell me to slow down and think before I do something stupid that could really screw things up.
He glanced in the direction of Kuchiki Manor, his heart aching furiously at the thought of the preparations that were going on there for Byakuya's memorial service.
Knowing Rukia, she won't be there crying and carrying on. She loved her brother enough to accept her own death at his command. She's going to stop at nothing to find out who did this to him. She'll be at the fourth, or out doing something about that. She won't miss his memorial, but she also will make sure that his killer won't get away!
He flash stepped to the fourth and burst inside, still somewhat unnerved by the fact that no one could see him. Renji looked around and didn't see Rukia, so he walked the hallways quietly, first locating the destroyed room where Byakuya's life was said to have ended. He listened to the bits of hushed conversation around him.
It was horrid how they died. There was nearly nothing left of them. We weren't even able to recover identifiable remains. We only know it was them because of the hospital records of them being there, and reiatsu traces left in the debris.
"Huh..." the redhead mused, stepping into the room.
He stopped in the doorway, seeing again in his mind how it had been the night he had spent with the noble. Renji's hand drifted down to his abdomen and his eyes burned with threatening tears.
This is where it happened. One of the most beautiful things in all of my life. Byakuya admitted to loving me, and we made this kid together.
This baby can't be all that's left of him!
He studied the room carefully, and made several mental notes about the debris pattern and reiatsu traces. Then, he left the room and headed down the hallway, heading for the lobby. He stopped a moment later, spotting Rukia entering Unohana taichou's office. He slid in the door just behind her, almost getting slammed in it for his efforts.
"Kuchiki Rukia," the healer said in greeting, pausing to set a privacy shield in place around the room, "How are you faring?"
Rukia sighed shakily.
"I'm doing all right," she said, biting at her lips, "I'm really scared, though. I don't dare make any contact, but it's killing me, not being able to even talk to them."
"I understand," said Unohana compassionately, "And in addition to all of this, you have had a very difficult loss."
What's going on? Renji wondered, What are they talking about? Taichou? Me?
"Renji was like my own brother," Rukia said, tears leaking out of her eyes and running down her face, "We were the only kind of family that existed for us street kids in that place. I can't believe that he's gone. It doesn't feel real to me."
"You are in shock," the healer said, leaning forward to rest a hand on the distraught girl's shoulder, "And the ones who would have been a comfort to you cannot be here to comfort you."
"N-no," Rukia agreed, sniffing miserably, "but at least they are safe...at least, I think they are."
"You haven't heard from Urahara Kisuke?" Unohana asked.
"Just condolences," Rukia said, shaking her head, "We really can't risk any more than that. My brother has almost died twice already. I won't be responsible for putting him in harm's way again. He is in good hands with Tetsuya-san. My cousin is completely devoted to Byakuya's safety. He will keep my brother safe in hiding until we figure out who is responsible for all of this."
"Rukia-chan," the healer went on, "I admire your dedication to your brother, but I know that Kuchiki taichou would not want you to be left alone at a time like this."
"Oh, I am not alone," Rukia assured her, "Head Councilor Nori has been really supportive. And Ukitake taichou has insisted that I stay in the thirteenth division barracks under guard until this person is arrested."
"But neither of them know the particulars of what is going on?" asked Unohana.
"No," admitted Rukia, "It's too dangerous. We have to be very careful. So, only you, Kisuke, Ichigo and I know what's really going on. Everyone else thinks that Byakuya and Tetsuya are dead."
Oh, thank kami! Renji thought, closing his eyes and feeling the burn of relieved tears behind his eyelids, I don't know what I would have done if this was real! Okay...but even though he's still alive, I have to be careful or I will let on to Aizen what I know. I have to go to that memorial and then go back to that bastard in Hueco Mundo.
But, before the memorial, I will find Byakuya and I'll see for myself that he's okay!
He thought back to Rukia's words.
So, only you, Kisuke, Ichigo and I know what's really going on.
"Huh, so Kisuke and Ichigo know," the redhead mused, "And if Kisuke and Ichigo know, then that means that, sooner or later, one or the other will go to where Taichou is hidden. And I'm gonna bet it'll be Ichigo, since he and Tetsuya have been seeing each other secretly and Kisuke will be putting on a show of accepting Taichou's death. Ichigo would be less conspicuous, because most people don't realize how much Taichou actually respects him. That's an advantage they'll bank on. I'm sure of it."
He waited quietly in Unohana taichou's office as the healer and Rukia finished talking, his heart aching at his friend's obvious pain.
But I can't do anything for her right now. At least she has that councilor and Ukitake taichou. They'll take care of her until things are resolved. I can't help her, except by getting to Taichou. He saw me before. Maybe he will still be able to. I have to find him.
After Unohana taichou removed the privacy shield, Renji left the office and headed for the central senkaimon. He wondered at how easily he was able to slip undetected into the senkaimon and pass through to the living world.
Aizen's got hold of a lot of scary technology, that's for sure. I'm going to have to be really cautious. I don't want him to figure out what I'm doing.
Renji walked quickly through the precipice world, then dropped down into a park near Urahara Kisuke's shop. He flash stepped to the shop and slipped in while Ururu was entering the place. Then, he followed Urahara's voice down to the scientist's lab.
"Has there been any word from Ichigo?" Kisuke was asking Tessai.
"One of your coded hell butterflies arrived a few minutes ago," reported Tessai, "They arrived safely, and Ichigo-san is staying with them to assist with guard duty."
"Good thinking," said the shopkeeper, "They need the protection. I have a bad feeling about this, Tessai. The fact that someone extremely powerful was behind that Tsutomu guy attacking Byakuya-san and the fact that Renji was so neatly set up to take the fall...it's unnerving."
"And that the person was able to attack Byakuya-san and his attacker in front of everyone without being seen..." Tessai mused, "Boss, have you considered the possibility of Aizen Sousuke being the one?"
"Yeah," sighed Kisuke, "It's crossed my mind. But what I can't pull together in my head is what would make Aizen do all of this when he's already on a course to invade the spirit dimension. There are some pieces of the puzzle that are missing. Until we answer those questions, there's no way to know for sure."
Renji left the shop and walked slowly back to the park, thinking carefully through everything he had learned.
They suspect Aizen is involved, but there's nothing to prove it. I would just tell them, but they can't even sense me. Byakuya might be able to, but he's in hiding. I have to find him. But even if I do find him, he's convinced he saw me die. I don't know how I'll get him to believe I'm real. There's no way to really substantiate it. But I'll worry about that later. For now, I'll just focus on reaching Taichou. That's going to be critical.
He sighed softly in frustration.
Now I wish I didn't suck so badly at kido. I could sense him more easily. But I have to try, even if I suck at it. And it has to work this time.
He closed his eyes and focused on an image in his mind of the noble as he had last seen him. He couldn't help but flinch uncomfortably at the memory of how pale and thin Byakuya had looked, how emotional he had been and how devastated.
And as much as it wasn't the worst of the damage, it was horrible what that creep did to his hair...how he marked up Byakuya's body with those awful words.
Sweat broke out on his forehead and he shivered uncomfortably as he strained to sense the noble's spirit ribbon. For several frustrating minutes, he couldn't sense anything. His head began to ache and a dull throbbing rose up in his ears from the effort.
I have to do this. I have to find him.
He thought back to their lovemaking...the way it felt to be held by the noble...tightly, protectively, and heartbreakingly desperately. The return of the emotions that he had felt, resonated deeply inside him as he continued to reach out for Byakuya's presence.
He's weak from all of his injuries. That makes him harder to sense. But there's a connection between us.
His hand came to rest on his abdomen, and he smiled sadly as he contemplated that little part of them that had come together to make that tiny new life that resided within him.
Renji inhaled sharply as a thought struck him.
Our baby carries both our reiatsu!
He focused on the child's reiatsu, reaching deeply for the strands that had come from Byakuya, then imagined the innate connection between the noble and the child. He let out a soft cry of triumph as the spirit ribbon he had sought was slowly revealed.
"Thanks kid," he said tearfully, rubbing his belly gently, "You may just save our lives before ever being born."
He flash stepped wildly, following the course of Byakuya's winding spirit ribbon until he reached a small gray house near the river. A smile touched his lips as he sensed Ichigo's presence within the house, confirming that it was the right place. He ran to the house and burst inside, unfazed by the fact that neither Ichigo nor Tetsuya reacted to his arrival, and ran down the hallway to where he sensed Byakuya's weak, but very riled reiatsu. He opened the door and stepped into the room, stopping at the sight that met his eyes.
Byakuya slept on his side, facing the door, his expression troubled even though he wasn't awake, and his face nearly white. As he moved closer, Renji could see the still wet tears that had escaped his eyes and coursed down his cheeks as nightmares tormented him.
I never saw him cry before all of this happened.
The redhead felt a strong jolt of guilt as more tears ran from Byakuya's tormented eyes, and the noble's hands grasped at him desperately.
"Renji, are you really here?"
He can see me...
"I'm here," he answered, sliding into the bed and wrapping his arms tightly around the noble.
"I know it is just a dream," Byakuya whispered, "But I am glad you're here with me. I miss you, Renji."
"Well, there's no need for you to miss me anymore. Please believe me. I really am with you."
"But how can that be?" the noble asked softly, "I saw you die."
"It wasn't real. C'mon, Taichou, think! Who do you know who can make you see things that aren't real?"
Byakuya sighed heavily and let his fingers sink into Renji's thick hair. The redhead captured his hand and brought it down to his abdomen.
"Can't you feel this?" Renji asked desperately, "Can't you feel the presence of the baby we made when we made love? Taichou, please! I am really here. You can see me! I don't know why you can see me and the others can't, but, you have to help me!"
"Renji, I really want you to be here. But...you look so ghostly. And even you admit that others can't see you. Isn't it true that it is because you have died and haven't passed over because your killer hasn't been found? Is that why you torment me? I know that I deserve it for letting all of this happen, but..."
"Byakuya!" Renji yelled, grabbing the noble's face and glaring into his reddened eyes, "Stop it! I am really with you. I was set up by Aizen Sousuke! Think about it. He can make things seem other than the way they are. He sent Tsutomu to attack you and to set me up to be blamed! He went to Soukyoku Hill to make sure that people believed it was me who died."
"But why?" Byakuya asked, staring into his eyes, "What reason would he have to set you up to be killed, but then kidnap you instead?"
"He said that he found evidence that I was secretly related to the royal family," Renji explained, "I don't know if it's true or not, but he seems to believe it. He tried to trick me into making a baby with him, but when I saw through the lies he was telling, he let me get pregnant by you, then took me back."
"But you...escaped?" the noble queried, looking confused.
"Not exactly," Renji went on, "He heard that you and Tetsuya were killed, and he put this band on my wrist to hide me, then he sent me back here to prove to me that you were really gone. I was scared shitless that he was right, but I heard Rukia talking to Unohana taichou about you, and was able to connect the dots and follow you here. I came because you seem to be the only one who can see through this band's power. You're the only one I can turn to."
Byakuya considered his words quietly, picking up a cool, wet washcloth that Tetsuya had left for him and washing his face. Renji sat up next to him, watching closely as he struggled with what was happening.
"It is hard to know what to do," the noble admitted finally, "Realize that everything you have said could mean one of two things."
"Either...you are really here and Aizen Sousuke is responsible for setting you up and kidnapping you, or...I am losing my mind and grasping at any straw to find a way to legitimize believing you are still alive. And...I am that desperate. I am driven to the brink, wanting so badly to take all of this back. But how do I know which one is the reality, Renji? No one else can see or sense you! No one but you can tell me whether you are here, or I have simply been overwhelmed by my grief and gone mad!"
"Then," said Renji, kissing him and laying him down again, "let me make you understand. I can't stay long. If I'm not at your memorial, Aizen will know that something is up. But, before I have to go, let me hold you for awhile. Maybe if we do that, we can figure out how to stop Aizen's plans. Whether you believe me or not, you're smart enough to think of a way around this. Just...let's not question the reality right now. Let me hold you for awhile, and let's try to think of something...anything that we can do! Will you do that for me, Taichou?"
"Renji," whispered Byakuya, blinking away fresh tears, "If there is any chance that you will come back to me, I would do anything!"
"I know you would, Taichou," Renji answered, capturing his lips in another deep, penetrating kiss, "And I love you for that."
Byakuya's eyes widened and he touched Renji's face with tentative fingers.
"Then, you forgive me?"
Renji smiled and loosed the ties at their waists, allowing their warm skin to touch.
"You didn't do anything wrong."
"I wouldn't tell you the truth about what I was feeling."
"You weren't ready. That kind of thing, you can't force."
"But, if I had told you that night, then you would have stayed with me. I sent you away. If what you say about Aizen is true, then I played right into his hands!"
"Which would put you in the same boat as a lot of other people. That guy fooled us all before. You shouldn't blame yourself for missing what everyone else has too."
"You weren't fooled," Byakuya said pointedly.
"Yeah," Renji laughed sadly, "Ironic, isn't it? It doesn't matter. All that does is that we don't lose each other...and that we protect the baby we made together."
"I'm pregnant, Taichou. I told you. That's how I found you today. I found you using the connection that we share with our baby."
He took Byakuya's hand and placed it on his abdomen.
"You can feel it, right?" Renji asked.
Byakuya froze, the breath leaving him as the gentle throb of life pulsed warmly beneath his hand.
"Our...baby..." he mused, "Renji, it feels so real!"
"It is real. I am real," Renji insisted, "And what's happening between us is very, very real."
He continued kissing the stunned noble, and slowly slid wetted fingers down to prepare him. Byakuya stared raptly into the redhead's affectionate eyes, reeling as he felt the gentle invasion and possession of his body. Renji's hot mouth devoured his, and his loving brown eyes held his captive, making his thoughts go into a hard spin. It was nothing at all like what Tsutomu had done, but a slow and loving partaking that resonated enough to bring tears to his eyes again. He moved with the body on top of his, afraid to close his eyes, for fear that it would turn out to have been just another vivid dream.
But Renji's body felt warm and strong and alive. His kisses were hard and passionate. And the hands that caressed the noble's bared skin felt far too real to be his imagination. Renji's body shifted, and his thrusting member found a place inside Byakuya that made the pleasure explode all through him. He moaned into Renji's possessive mouth, his hands clenching the redhead hard enough to leave marks. The redhead's heat filled him suddenly, driving his own body into release. He could have melted in the heat that overtook him then, but Renji's hands touched him more soothingly, and a gentle swell of healing power seeped into his recovering body. Renji's kisses grew softer and Byakuya felt exhaustion slowly overtaking him.
"Renji," he whispered, "I love you."
Renji kissed him again, biting at his lips and feeling tears in his eyes as he ran his fingers down the rough, uneven lengths of the noble's hair. Then, he laid down beside him, holding him close, swearing to himself that no one would ever hurt Byakuya like that again.
"I love you too, Taichou."
"Don't call me that," the noble said sleepily, "If you are really here and we have become lovers, then it isn't proper."
"Fuck proper," Renji laughed, "Just because we're lovers doesn't make you any less my Taichou. That's who I fell in love with. Why shouldn't I call you that?"
"As you wish then," Byakuya sighed.
"Aww, hell, Taichou, what are we going to do?"
Byakuya bit his lip gently, his eye coming to rest on the band on Renji's wrist.
"I am not sure," he answered, "But I am not letting you go back to him."
"What?" Renji objected, "Taichou, I have this band on my wrist that's going to force me to return to him! How are you going to get it off?"
"Urahara Kisuke," Byakuya answered.
"Kisuke?" Renji repeated, "But...the guy can't see me! How are you gonna convince him...?
"I don't have to convince him," Byakuya said, shaking his head, "I just have to get him to tell me how to remove that."
"That sounds dangerous," the redhead observed, watching as Byakuya climbed out of the bed and reached for his clothes.
He stopped and stared as some of Renji's seed exited his body and trickled down his inner thigh. His eyes widened as a thought occurred to him.
"Renji, you said that you became pregnant by me, ne?" he asked.
"You also said that the child's reiatsu led you to me."
"No one but me can see you or sense you," Byakuya said, his fingers drifting down to touch Renji's seed, "And even this would be beyond them. But...if you have been impregnated by me, the reiatsu from you that bound to mine would form the child's reiatsu. And...it would be detectable that the child was yours, as that is a passive evidence of your presence, rather than a direct one."
"So, even if he can't sense me, he might be able to sense the child, ne?"
"Yes," Byakuya affirmed, "But I have to approach this carefully. If I say the wrong thing, then he is going to think I'm mentally unbalanced and he'll ignore whatever else I say. But if I...!"
He left the sentence hanging and began to dress hurriedly. Renji grabbed his clothes and dressed as well. They started towards the door and were almost there when Tetsuya appeared in the hallway in front of them. The blue-eyed noble stopped and stared at Byakuya questioningly.
"Byakuya-sama...where are you going?"
Shit, mused Renji, What do we do now?