Chapter 9: Unremorseful

Aizen Sousuke gathered the references he had found in the King's library and pored over them carefully, noting in particular, all references to injury of the King's Vessel. He bent his head over the sources, frowning in concentration, all the while feeling the devilish eyes that watched him. He wondered why the demon did not attack him, but instead eyed him with curiosity and something that felt like amusement.

"You might as well come out," he said finally, "I know you are there, Doku. It makes me curious...but then, curiosity also seems to be emanating from you, ne?"

The demon stepped forward, out of the shadows and observed him for a moment as he continued to search the books and papers in front of him.

"Are you not going to attack me?" asked Aizen, without looking up.

"It is more fun to watch you, Aizen Sousuke," the demon replied smoothly, "You are an interesting shinigami. Just when I think I understand you, you go and surprise me."

"How so?"

The demon gave him a cryptic smile.

"You came to this place practically foaming at the mouth, spouting all about how you were going to kill the vessel and the king and take control."

"So I did," Aizen answered dryly, "And your point is?"

Doku's eyes shifted to the books in front of Aizen.

"Well," he answered, his smile widening, "I am in the unique position of being able to offer you some assistance."

"And you would do that because?"

"Because, it seems, I want something that belongs to you right now. And if you agree to give it to me, then I will tell you how to gain the control you desire."

Aizen lifted his eyes and fixed them on Doku.

"What is it that you want?" he asked softly.

The demon laughed.

"So...you are still interested in being king, ne?" Doku asked.

"Do not waste my time," Aizen said brusquely, "I have no time to trifle with you while you toy with me."

"You think I am kidding?"

"I think you want the throne, yourself," said Aizen.

"Perhaps," replied the demon, "but if I am allied with the new king, then it will not be so bad for me either."

"So you offer me the knowledge I need to make myself king and you will ally yourself with me to our mutual benefit, if I comply with your wishes and give you...?"

"The noble. Your soul bonded...well, once we shatter the bond between you, of course."

Aizen's brown eyes darkened and flicked upward.

"You want...Byakuya?" he asked, "Why? Beyond the obvious, I mean. I know you want to devour him."

He gave the creature a wry smile.

"Who wouldn't, ne? He is lovely and powerful. But it would be a short-lived enjoyment if you are merely going to drain and kill him."

The demon's eyes closed for a moment, then opened lazily.

"Oh, I think that would be a waste, don't you?" he said, meeting Aizen's gaze meaningfully, "I find him very physically and power-wise attractive. I mean to possess and corrupt him, then to take him as my mate...seeing as how you don't really want him for yourself. Or have you changed your mind? Has fucking him so enthusiastically made you fall for him? Have those pretty eyes ensnared you and made you forget the reasons why you so passionately fought to overthrow the king?"

"I assure you," Aizen said sternly, "I have not forgotten the reasons why I sought to overthrow the king, "So tell me then, how to accomplish it."

The demon's lips curled wickedly.

"Then you agree to give me Byakuya?" he asked

Aizen's eyes narrowed.

"No. Byakuya remains with me."

The demon laughed softly.

"Though he'll hate you after you betray him, yet again. How will you win him back?"

"That is my concern," said Aizen off-handedly, "Now, I will offer you an alliance and some other compensation, but Byakuya is mine."

The demon stopped laughing and met Aizen's eyes with full seriousness.

"You are a stubborn man, Aizen Sousuke," he said, his eyes glinting, "But you have caught me in a charitable mood. So...we have a deal?"

Doku slowly extended a clawed hand.

"We are partners in crime now, ne Aizen Sousuke?"

XXXXXXXXXX

"I have given him the final infusion," Tetsuya said, wiping the sweat from his forehead and leaning back against a rock, "I don't know what we'll do if Aizen does not return soon."

"He may have had to avoid the demon," said Akio, gazing at Tetsuya, who rested wearily against the rock, holding Byakuya close to him, "I sensed Doku in the area where Aizen was. I just hope he wasn't hurt or killed. Your cousin is dying, Tetsuya. His body is just not able to overcome the poison. You are better off than him, but just barely. You should try to sleep some more."

"I will be all right now," Tetsuya assured him, "Re-kuhime has told me that the worst is over. I think the only reason Byakuya is struggling is because of the burden of carrying the king's reiatsu."

"I agree," said Tetsuya, nodding, "But we have to hope that Aizen will have the answer. Otherwise..."

He trailed off and his hands tightened on his unconscious cousin. The two stopped talking and looked around uneasily as footsteps sounded nearby. Akio raised his zanpakutou and placed himself in front of Tetsuya and Byakuya. His body went taut for a moment, then he breathed a sigh of relief as Aizen Sousuke appeared and removed the barrier around the healing pool. Akio left the pool and watched quietly as Tetsuya lifted Byakuya and carried him out as well. Aizen took Byakuya from Tetsuya, then met the two youth's eyes sternly.

"You will need to return to the tunnels and remain within them until I have healed Byakuya."

"Then...you found a way?" Akio asked.

Tetsuya's eyes registered mistrust.

"We sensed that the demon followed you," he said, placing a hand on his weapon, "I am not leaving you alone with my cousin. He may trust you, but I do not."

Aizen shook his head firmly.

"This is not a matter of trust, young noble, but a simple necessity. You and Akio will not be able to withstand the forces that we will emit. The tunnels are well enough shielded that you will be protected. You must remain within them for your safety. Remember, you were not even supposed to be here at all. To ignore my warning invites death, Tetsuya."

Akio bit his lip gently.

"I'm afraid that he is right that we have to go into the tunnels, Tetsuya," he said, glancing warily at Aizen, "The only reason we were not destroyed before is because we were in there. I think that if they are going to reveal their spirit cores again, we must do as he says."

Tetsuya glared at Aizen, but removed his hand from his blade.

"Very well," he said reluctantly, "It seems that we must trust you for now. However, when we emerge again, I will stop at nothing to kill you, if I find that you have betrayed us!"

"Hurry then," Aizen urged the youths, "Byakuya is weakening by the moment. If he worsens much more, I will not be able to save him."

Akio took Tetsuya's hand and led him back to the tunnels. Tetsuya paused at the doorway, looking back worriedly.

"Byakuya-sama..." he whispered.

"Do not worry," Aizen said, looking into Tetsuya's anxious eyes, "I swear that he will not be harmed."

"And how do I know that you will keep your word?" Tetsuya asked warily.

"Remember that I am soul bonded to Byakuya," Aizen reminded the youth, "I will only harm myself too, if I allow harm to come to him. Byakuya is safe with me. Go now. You may return once our cores have been resealed."

Tetsuya paused for a moment, then nodded briefly and followed Akio into the tunnels. Aizen laid Byakuya down on the grass beside the healing pool, then opened the noble's yukata.

"It is a blessing that you are unconscious," he commented as he suspended the King's Prism over the noble's abdomen and invoked a kido spell to hold both in place, "Even if not for the pain, I think you would not understand my intent here, and you would likely end up fighting me and making things worse for yourself. You must trust me. This is the only thing that will keep you from dying...and I am not about to let you die."

He gazed for a moment at the King's Prism, then placed both hands on the prism. He slowly raised his reiatsu, swallowing hard and trying to ignore the quickened beating of his heart as well as his anxiousness at what he was about to do. He wasn't one to second guess himself, and despite his feelings for Byakuya, he knew there was neither time, nor another path than the one he had chosen.

He will hate me for this, of course, but there is no avoiding it.

He locked his eyes on Byakuya's troubled face and sent a thin stream of reiatsu through the prism and down into Byakuya's abdomen. A moment later, he reversed the flow, capturing the reiatsu cluster that resided inside of Byakuya and destabilizing it. His face paled at the sudden waves shock and fear that emanated from the cluster. He told himself that it was only a necessary, short term loss, and that he and Byakuya would be able to overcome it, but the sentience inside the cluster convulsed, then loosed a hard mental shriek. Byakuya's eyes flew open instantly, and he struggled against the kido that held him in place. His wide eyes enraged, he screamed defiantly and fought the kido, ignoring Aizen's pleas to stop.

"You damned bastard!" he cried, "What in kami's name are you doing? How dare you! Stop, Sousuke! You are killing him! STOP!"

"Listen to me," Aizen said, leaning over him and looking down into the noble's panicked eyes, "You were going to die, Byakuya. Your body was being overcome by the demon's poison. There was no way for your body to work against it, as long as it carried the king's reiatsu. It doesn't..."

The two men froze as another gripping shriek sounded in their minds. Byakuya gasped in surprise as his abdomen began to glow with golden light. Aizen stared, then leapt back as the kido holding Byakuya down shattered and the noble rolled to his feet. His legs shook and his eyes flared the same golden color as the transcendent light. His face twisted in unnatural fury and power flared around his hands.

"Betrayer!" hissed a commanding voice that was very obviously not Byakuya's.

Power exploded from the noble's extended hands, just missing Aizen as he flash stepped away.

"No, you are wrong!" Aizen insisted, flash stepping clear of another blast, "And you are wasting power we need for the birth of the new king. You must stop resisting and go back into the prism. Byakuya must have his full powers returned so that he can fight the poison. Scan his body if you doubt me. He is dying. And if Byakuya dies, there will be no new king!"

Byakuya took a staggering step back and his eyes closed for a moment. He panted harshly, his legs shaking harder beneath him. Finally, his eyes opened, then seemed to return to their natural gray color. Aizen stepped forward, frowning as Byakuya took a stumbling step back and started to collapse. He caught the noble mid-fall and held him tightly as the prism glowed, and continued to empty the reiatsu from the shocked man's abdomen. He groaned in agony at the swift and brutal departure of the king's reiatsu from his body, then screamed in terror as the reiatsu exiting his body swelled and went out of control. The last ragged end of the reiatsu cluster tore through his skin, and blood erupted from his opened belly.

Aizen's face went deathly pale and he grabbed the stunned noble and dragged him into the healing pool. Byakuya screamed again as redness blossomed around them in the water, and the noble tried to scramble away from Aizen's grasping hands.

"No, stop!" cried Aizen, "You'll bleed out, you fool!"

He sent a shock of kido through the noble's body, then dragged him back into his arms and held him tightly, one hand slipping down and sending healing reiatsu into his torn abdomen. Byakuya leaned heavily against his shoulder, breathing harshly and choking on the blood that welled up inside him and leaked from his mouth. Slowly, the water they rested in began to clear. Aizen cupped a hand and gathered a small amount of the water.

"Drink it," he commanded Byakuya, "You are still bleeding inside."

Byakuya managed a few sips, then leaned against Aizen again, closing his eyes and struggling to for breath. He shivered and glanced up in surprise as the other man's fingers brushed against the skin of his chest and stomach, pausing over his spirit centers and gently stimulating them with small pulses of reiatsu. A moment later, the noble sighed in relief as his own power began to flow through his body again.

"You should be able to fight off the poison now," Aizen said quietly in his ear.

The exhausted noble managed a short nod, then let his head drop onto Aizen's shoulder and closed his eyes.

"You," he said softly, "You...sent the king's reiatsu back into the prism?"

Aizen took Byakuya's hand and brought it to rest on the King's Prism. Byakuya's body tensed for a moment as he strained to feel the presence of the reiatsu within the prism, then released as he confirmed the presence within the artifact.

"You...could have destroyed it completely," said Byakuya, "You know that, don't you? You could have destroyed it and stolen its power. So...tell me why you did not."

Aizen met the noble's weary eyes and smiled at him.

"I don't have an answer to that," he said, shaking his head, "I admit that I knew. If I didn't know before, that demon appeared and offered me the information."

"That was neighborly of him," Byakuya said, his eyes narrowing, "And what did he demand in return for the information?"

"A swift death," replied Aizen.

Byakuya blinked.

"What?" he asked softly.

"He tried to convince me to trade you to him for the information. I refused...somewhat violently."

"So the demon is...?"

Aizen's lips tightened.

"I would like to say he was dead, however, being in a hurry to return to heal you, I merely struck at him and left. I did not remain to be certain that he perished. My apologies for my egregious lack of attention to detail."

Byakuya couldn't quite hold back an amused smile.

"I imagine I could overlook it, this once."

His expression grew serious.

"Sousuke, what do we do now? We had already completed the mating...and the reiatsu was sentient. To have to begin again..."

Aizen ran his fingers lightly through Byakuya's hair and graced his lips with a warm kiss.

"We will not do anything until you have fully healed, and are strong enough to attempt the ritual again."

"We may not have time," Byakuya said worriedly, "There was already instability in the three worlds. It will only get worse every moment we let pass. We have to..."

Aizen kissed him harder, silencing him.

"Leave it to me," he said calmly, "We will have time to complete the ritual, and in any case, rushing things would only threaten your life by putting too much strain on you. Don't worry, Byakuya. we will not fail in our mission. We will keep the three worlds safe, whatever it takes."

"Even if it costs us everything," Byakuya added, "Even if it costs us our lives..."

Aizen placed his hands on the noble's face and met his eyes warmly.

"My love," he said, shaking his head, "We really must do something about that death wish of yours. It begins to concern me to know how determined you are to die!"