Chapter 19: Last Wish

Renji woke to find himself still sitting up in bed and suffering from a stiff neck from the position he'd been sleeping in. Byakuya still slept against his shoulder, and when he shifted, he was surprised to find evidence of tears on the shoulder of his uniform. He turned the noble's head slightly and found streams of tears had leaked onto his face, and although his eyes were closed, there was an awful tension in his body. He tried using the relaxing touches he had used to make the noble fall asleep before, but at the feel of them, Byakuya's eyes opened and, although they remained hazed, they tried to focus on him.

"Renji…" Byakuya moaned, tearfully, "I can't stand being away from you like this."

"I'm right here," Renji whispered in his ear, "I'm still with you."

"But you're just a shadow," Byakuya sobbed softly, "You aren't real. And I need for you to be real, right now."

"I am real. And soon you'll know that. It won't be long until you're in the Seireitei and when we get to the Repentance Center, Aizen's illusions will fade, okay? Hang on."

"Renji…you know I'm dying."

"What?" Renji whispered in shock.

"I can't live without you. I love you too much…and our link is too strong. I can feel that I'm dying, even if no one else knows."

"Just be calm and try to sleep, okay? I'll have Kisuke check you out again."

Byakuya moved so that his fevered cheek pressed against the redhead's.

"I know I said I wouldn't mention it until our first anniversary, but since we never reached it, you should know…I was looking forward to having children with you. And Kisuke's notes said that one of us would have to carry the child. The elders, of course, thought it would be scandalous for a clan leader to bear a child, so they insisted that I should convince you. But the time we spent together in Karakura Town gave me time to think…and I was going to go back to them and insist that it was too much to ask for you to carry our child. I could see that you were uncomfortable with the idea, and I didn't want the bearing of our child to be a burden to you. I wanted the coming of our child to be a time of great joy for both of us, so I was prepared to go back and defy the council so that I would carry our child instead. Then…things began to happen too quickly…and then you were lost."

Renji took the noble's face in both hands and met his tormented eyes, kissing him until he went silent.

"Don't talk to me like you're dying," he said, hoding Byakuya tightly, "I'm not going to let anything happen to you. I promise."

The door opened and Kisuke stepped into the room.

"How is he feeling?" the shopkeeper asked.

"Not good," Renji answered, "Kisuke, could you check him again? His reiatsu seems really weak, even considering how badly he was wounded."

"Sure thing," the shopkeeper said, flash stepping to the bed.

Renji moved to allow him to examine the noble.

"So?" he asked, after a few tense minutes, "What's happening? Is he all right?"

Kisuke frowned and shook his head.

"His reiatsu is in decline."

"What?" Renji asked, shocked, "Kisuke, when you examined him before, you said he would be okay!"

"I know," acknowledged the shopkeeper, "but what I just found was that when Aizen had the hollows heal him, he apparently didn't give a shit if Byakuya lived, just so long as he lived long enough to raise the dragons. They used an infusion of unstable reiatsu. It bolstered his power and helped keep him alive this long, but now the instability is causing his reiatsu to break down."

"What?" Renji asked, his heart pounding, "Can you stop it? Can you save him?"

Kisuke frowned more deeply and bit his lips.

"I don't know. I'll try. But I have to work quickly. We have to get him out of here and to the Repentance Center, for his own protection. You don't know this yet, but while you guys were sleeping, Aizen locked down all gargantas and he attacked the Seireitei. Naturally, during the attack, Soutaichou ordered the closure of our senkaimons here. Aizen has sent hollows here several times, and each time, the attacks are stronger. Pretty soon, the bastard will come after Byakuya, himself. So we have to stabilize him quickly and get him to the Repentance Center, where Aizen can't get at him."

"Can't Yoruichi open a family senkaimon?"

"She's in the Seireitei, helping defend it. We'd use Byakuya's, but he's too out of it to open the thing. So, we have to wait."

Renji let out a frustrated breath and looked down at Byakuya's ghostly, pale face. He watched as Kisuke worked feverishly to try to stabilize the noble, and could see, after a time, the desperation in the shopkeeper's expression, the frustration as he tried repeatedly to bring the noble's condition back under control. Finally, he sat back, shaking his head and sighing.

"I did all I could," he said defeatedly, "He's more stable than he was, but Renji, anything can tip that balance. He might not be able to survive being in the Repentance Center. That place suppresses reiatsu. It will free his mind from Aizen's grasp, and will stop the effects of the unstable reiatsu they infused him with. But it will also cause strain on his systems that could cause everything to give way. I'll be honest with you. I think that it's really dangerous to move him."

"But he can't stay here, because sooner or later, Aizen, himself, will come after him, ne?" Renji added.

"Yeah."

"Kisuke, thank you for trying."

"Sure," the shopkeeper said in a lost sounding voice, as he turned away.

"Wait, I need to ask you something," the redhead continued.

The shopkeeper gazed back at him, his eyes widening as Renji's words settled over him. He listened quietly, then looked from the redhead to Byakuya and back again.

"Are you sure?" he asked, "You're not just doing this because…"

"Byakuya isn't going to die," said Renji, his eyes flaring, "and even if he does, he won't be alone. Just…tell me if it's possible? Can you…?"

"Yeah. There should be time before the 'all clear' is sounded and the senkaimon opens so the secret mobile corps can reach us."

"Maybe it's kinda crazy," Renji said, running his fingers through the semiconscious noble's hair, "but…"

"But that's the kind of thing you do for someone you love," the shopkeeper finished, "Okay…I'll go get things ready and I'll be back in few minutes."

XXXXXXXXXX

Renji rested quietly, holding Byakuya against him and running his fingers lightly through the silken black hair and over the exposed, soft, pale skin.

"Not long now. We'll get you back to the Seireitei. Once we're in the Repentance Center, you'll be able to think clearly again. And all of this will be like a bad dream."

"I miss you, Renji," Byakuya whispered, "I still hear your voice."

"That's right," the redhead said, kissing him, "That's because I'm still here. Still here, and not going anywhere. I promise."

"I'm glad you came back," the noble went on, "even if it's only in my mind."

He winced and moaned softly. Feeling an odd shift in the reiatsu, Renji lifted his head and looked down at Byakuya. To his surprise, the dragon tattoo on his chest was pulsing softly, the pink light making the skin around it glow.

"Byakuya?" he whispered, "What's happening?"

The noble moaned again and his fingers strayed to the dragon tattoo. He rubbed it gently and shifted uncomfortably.

"Bya?"

"He's calling…" Byakuya whispered.

"What?"

"It will be time soon to raise the dragon horde."

Renji frowned and shook his head.

"No way. We're going to get you to the Seireitei, and then that guy will have no way to reach you."

The door opened, and Kisuke and Tessai entered the room. Tessai pushed a small cart through the door and brought it to the edge of the bed. Kisuke began to rustle about the items on the table as Tessai set Byakuya in soft restraints.

"We'll need to restrain you as well for the procedure," he said.

"Why?" asked the redhead worriedly, "It's not gonna hurt real bad or anything, right?"

Kisuke chuckled.

"No, it won't hurt badly, but I will knock you both out so you won't be uncomfortable while it's going on. You'll just feel a little pinch as we put you guys under."

"Ah…uh…hey," Renji said, swallowing and starting to climb out of the bed, "On second thought, uh, maybe we should wait. I mean, Byakuya said we shouldn't do this until later, like after our first anniversary."

"Aw, don't chicken out now, Renji. I told you that it won't hurt," Kisuke assured him, "Now, hold still while…"

He broke off as the redhead pulled away from him and began to back away.

"Now, Renji," Kisuke said, "as I recall, you were the one who wanted to do this. Isn't that right?"

He backed Renji into a corner and smiled at him.

"Weren't you the one who convinced me with your teary-eyed story to attempt this? Am I wrong? Wasn't that you? What's the matter? I told you that except for the shot to put you out, you won't feel a thing."

He raised the syringe and Renji blanched.

"Y-yeah…uh, about that…"

"Aw, you're not scared of a little needle, eh, Renji?"

"Damn it!" Renji flared, "I think you like picking on me! Kissing toads with virus's and sticking me with needles? What are you? Are you some kinda sadist or something? You like scaring the shit out of me?"

"Are you scared, Renji?" Kisuke asked, smirking, "Scared of this little needle?"

Tessai took hold of the redhead and held him still as Kisuke closed the distance between them and the needle bit into him.

"Oh…oh, hell," Renji muttered, his legs collapsing.

Tessai and Kisuke exchanged amused glances and shook their heads as Tessai caught the fainting man.

"Really, Renji?" Kisuke chuckled, "The guy gets cut up by swords and doesn't bat an eye, but show him a needle and he faints like a flower!"

He gazed down at the unconscious redhead as Tessai placed him in the bed next to Byakuya and set him in soft restraints.

"Better get used to that, Abarai-san…"

"So Boss," asked Tessai, "Why the restraints? The reiatsu extraction is easy and painless, ne? Does the rest of the procedure get invasive?"

"Not so much for Byakuya as for Renji," said Kisuke, "but it might be a little embarrassing for them if they were awake…and Byakuya's so out of it, he couldn't really cooperate anyway. So, to get the physical essence requires stimulation of the sexual response cycle. I just give them a little mental nudge and they will provide what we need pretty readily. The tricky part is the placement of the reiatsu chamber in Renji's body. It has to be placed precisely or it will interfere with his spirit centers as the reiatsu grows stronger."

"Ah, I see."

The two fell silent as Kisuke leaned over Byakuya first, then Renji, collecting the reiatsu samples.

"Boss," Tessai said softly as the shopkeeper returned to Byakuya, "Do you really think Kuchiki taichou will die?"

Kisuke gazed down at the noble's pale face.

"I don't think he will. I think he's too damned stubborn," he answered quietly, "but we need to be sure that we do our best to make them comfortable, so they can handle the shit they have to. And if this gives the two of them more to fight for, then it's worth it, ne?"

He sighed softly.

"Besides, they're friends. And let's be honest. I think they both really want this. Renji just needed a nudge to help him get there. He's crazy about Byakuya. I think he was just intimidated about the idea of carrying a child. What guy wouldn't be, ne? But Byakuya being hurt so bad put things in perspective for him. Yeah…this is the right thing to do, no doubt. Now, watch him and make sure he doesn't seem to get uncomfortable."

XXXXXXXXXX

Renji opened his eyes and found himself sleeping, comfortably curled in Byakuya's arms. Except for a slight headache and a light ache in his belly, he felt perfectly normal.

"How are you doing?" asked Kisuke, smiling, "You feeling all right?"

"Huh," chuckled Renji, "I'm fine, I guess. I feel kinda embarrassed about before, though."

"Don't worry about it," Kisuke laughed softly, "Tessai and I will keep it to ourselves. We promise. You just take care of yourself and your taichou, eh?"

"I will," Renji said, nodding, "Have you heard any word from the Seireitei?"

"The senkaimon should be open now, and the secret mobile corps was already at the gate, waiting for it. They should get here any minute."

"It's funny," Renji mused, "Usually those second division guys scare the hell out of me, but this time, I'm really glad to see them."

"Heh," chuckled Kisuke, "I guess there's a first for everything, ne?"

They broke off as the door opened and Soi fon entered the room. She gazed down at Byakuya and ordered her group to bring a stretcher. Renji climbed out of bed and dressed in his shihakushou as the secret mobile corps carefully prepared Byakuya for the trip home. He moved out of the room to join them as they opened the senkaimon and stood back to let them through.

"Now, remember," said Kisuke, touching the redhead on the arm, "You are just at the beginning and you won't have any real noticeable symptoms right off, but you'll need to take care of yourself. Eat right, get plenty of sleep when you can, and avoid the worst of the fighting."

"I'll do what I can," Renji promised, "And…thanks, Kisuke. Byakuya is going to be really happy when I tell him."

"Yeah," said Kisuke, smiling widely, "I'm sure he will be. Take care, and stay out of trouble."

"Sure," Renji said, following the second division group into the precipice world.

Their protectors formed a tight circle around them as they passed through the long, dark tunnels, their footsteps echoing in the darkened passageways. Several times, Renji sensed eyes watching them, but no one challenged them as they made their way back into the Seireitei. They passed out of the gate, and Renji frowned as the damage Aizen's hollow attack had caused came into view. Crews scrambled to repair damage to their defenses and healers were carrying away the last of the injured. They passed through the entry gates and made the long walk back to the Repentance Center. Renji stayed beside the stretcher that held Byakuya, only leaving his side as the noble was carried into a cell inside the center and left there, with the cell door open.

Unohana taichou stepped inside and spent nearly an hour carefully examining and treating Byakuya, then turned to Renji.

"Abarai fukutaichou," she said, smiling, "He seems to have improved, despite this place putting some strain on his systems. I think he already senses the lifting if the illusions."

"Is he going to be okay?" Renji asked worriedly.

"I believe so," the healer told him, "I will be back soon to check on him again. In the meantime, you should eat and rest. I am certain that you have spent so much time worrying about him that you will have forgotten to take care of yourself. I will have food and tea brought."

"Thanks," said Renji, taking a seat next to the noble.

He watched as the healer left and the guards settled into place at their posts.

"You're safe, now," he told Byakuya, "Aizen can't get to you in here. Now, just wake up, so you can see I'm still here."

As if in answer to his words, Byakuya's eyes opened and gazed questioningly up at him. He blinked several times and tears formed in the corners of his eyes.

"Renji?" he whispered, reaching out to touch the redhead's face, "Is that really you?"

Renji grinned.

"Yeah, it's me. You're home now. We're here in the Repentance Center, so Aizen's illusions can't fool you anymore."

"His illusions…" the noble repeated, swallowing hard at the memory, "Renji…I thought that you were dead. I really thought that you…and Karakura Town…almost everyone I knew…was gone."

"It was a lie," Renji said, wrapping his arms around Byakuya and holding him tightly, "It was all a big lie, but now you know. And you know I'm here…and I'm not letting him get his hands on you again!"

Renji was nearly made breathless as Byakuya's arms returned his tight embrace and the noble began kissing him almost frantically.

"Renji…" he whispered between kisses, "I don't know how you got me out of there and back here, but…I will never forget it! Aishiteru yo, Renji."

"Aishiteru yo, Byakuya."

Renji paused and looked into the noble's relieved eyes and found himself wanting more than anything to make Byakuya smile again. He took his lover's face in his hands and kissed him, then pulled away, smiling.

"There's something I want to tell you," he said, taking Byakuya's hands in his, "I did something a little reckless while you were out of it. I hope you're not mad."

"Something more reckless than bursting into Las Noches and stealing me from the very teeth of the enemy?"

"I thought you were unconscious!" objected Renji, "How do you know I broke you out of Las Noches?"

Byakuya chuckled softly.

"I wasn't unconscious the whole time. I was conscious long enough to know I was being taken to Las Noches. It was only after that, that Aizen used his powers to confuse me. So…what did you do that was so reckless?"

"I, uh…kind of made a decision about our future."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. I know we agreed not to talk about it until our first anniversary, but…"

Byakuya's eyes registered understanding.

"You…thought I was dying, didn't you?" Byakuya said softly, "You went through with it because you thought I was dying and you…Renji, what an unbelievingly insane and…heedless thing to do! Now? In the middle of all of this chaos? You couldn't wait five seconds and think this through? Abarai…?"

"What? You're mad at me?" the redhead said, his face falling.

Byakuya laughed softly and pulled him close.

"No, baka, I'm not mad at you. I just…can't believe you did this! Are you sure you're ready for this? It's quite a big change."

Renji smiled and nuzzled closer to the noble, guiding his lover's hand down to his warm abdomen.

"It may be a big change, but it's going to give us something to fight for."

"No," said Byakuya, gazing deeply into his lover's red-brown eyes, "We already had something to fight for. Now we have even more to protect."

"And we will. I promise, we will!"