(This story was requested by the fabulous Walkure, whose great mind also concocted the plots for Bearers of the New King, Who I am Inside and Two Ends of the Spectrum. Thanks, Walkure, for all of your support! Thanks also to everyone reading and reviewing. And anyone else with an idea for a Bleach fic you're aching to read can feel free to PM. I am always willing to consider your ideas! Just a note about the story…This one is AU and takes place just after Byakuya becomes clan leader and sixth division taichou. Also, in this AU, Byakuya never met Hisana. Instead, in this story, his heart is captured by a distantly related, lovely and blue-eyed half-breed cousin. If you loved Tetsuya in Bearers of the New King and its sequels, you will enjoy him here as he and Byakuya struggle against the prejudices of the noble class.)
Chapter 1: Moonless Madness
"Tetsuya-san," said Torio, flash stepping to his cousin's side, "Word just arrived from the sixth division that Byakuya-sama will be late arriving home tonight. He says he regretfully was given extra preparations for security during the upcoming royal visit and he has to meet with Soutaichou and several council members."
"Arigato, Torio-kun," the head of manor security said, nodding, "I am not surprised it's taking longer than expected. Royal visits are always dicey matters security-wise."
He sighed softly.
"I think we all shall be working overtime as the time for the royal visit draws near."
"Hai," agreed Torio, "We always are."
He handed his cousin a cup of hot tea, then bowed respectfully.
"Good night, Tetsuya-san."
"Good night, Torio-kun."
The youth flash stepped away again, leaving Tetsuya standing alone in the gardens. He walked the garden trails, enjoying the sweet smells of the flowers, the soft sound of koi splashing in the pond and the touches of mist preceding the rain that would arrive later. He was just turning back towards the main wing, when suddenly there was a rustling in the bushes and the coal black face of a spirit steed poked through and nudged him. He smiled as the horse emitted a low whicker of greeting.
"Ah, Arashi," he said, smiling and rubbing the beast behind the ears, "Restless tonight, are you?"
He looked up at the cloudy, moonless sky and patted his mount on the long black neck.
"Me too," he said softly, "Not one for being superstitious, but we rarely see such a night. It makes me glad the royal visit is still weeks away. Things are tense enough around here as it is. Not that a brute like you would need to worry, but there are those of us who traverse more tenuous footing than you, my friend."
Arashi snorted and rubbed his face against Tetsuya's affectionately.
"Very well," he said quietly, "I will go back to the barn with you. Byakuya-sama has been kept late at work and I am not likely to fall asleep any time soon."
He surged onto the horse's bare back and laughed softly as the powerful stallion snorted and broke into a trot, heading back for the stables. Once they arrived, he slipped down from the horse's back and offered him a leisurely rubdown before filling his feed box and watching as he drank from his watering trough.
"Will there be anything else, your majesty?" the noble joked, laughing again as the horse snorted and blew sweet hay-scented breath at him, "Good. Well then, I'm off. Good night, Arashi."
The horse tossed his head and neighed softly. Tetsuya left the barn and returned to the trail that led back to the gardens, not noticing the dark form that moved to the barn door and closed and locked the black stallion inside. He did, however, notice the odd reiatsu that rose around him as the wind and mist blew down the trail and lightning flashed, preceding the coming storm. He paused for a moment, his hand straying to his zanpakutou. His sharp senses scanned the area but found nothing, just that touch of disturbed reiatsu.
He started to walk on, but gasped in surprise as flash steps sounded around him and dark, cloaked forms blocked his path in all directions. Their faces were masked, but they were definitely shinigamis, not hollows. He drew his weapon and extended his senses, waiting for the first to step in and strike. But he discovered quickly that the men were well prepared and that his abduction had been meticulously planned. The group struck as one, firing binding spells from all directions and quickly immobilizing him. He was bound and gagged, then someone leaned close to him and he felt the pinprick of an injection. And as Tetsuya's mind sank into darkness, two words reached him through the sound of thunder and the feeling of the first raindrops on his skin.
Byakuya looked up sharply as the door to the sixth division office was thrown open and a young courier from the manor burst in.
"Kuchiki-sama!" he panted, "You must come quickly! There has been an attack at the manor. Sir, your cousin, Tetsuya-san has been terribly injured!"
Byakuya was on his feet and flash stepping instantly. The space between the sixth division and Kuchiki Manor disappeared in a blur as Byakuya's mind spun and his heart pounded furiously. He ran through the front gates of the manor and was met by his attendant.
"Torio-kun," he said, stridently, "Where is my cousin?"
"In his chambers, sir," Torio answered in a trembling voice, "Our healer is with him. But, Kuchiki-sama, he is hurt very badly…"
Byakuya flash stepped away and down the walkway, out of the main wing and into the building next to it. He stopped in the doorway, staring at the devastating sight within the room.
His cousin was lain face down on the bed, his slender body bared and eerily lit with the healing green light that flared around the healer's hands. His long, black hair had been raggedly cut away and even in the odd, greenish light, Byakuya could see the heavy bruising that seemed to cover the young man's entire body. The clan leader's breath caught sharply and his reiatsu flared as he noticed the long, thick markings indicative of a heavy, bladed whip. And illness swept over him in a hard, choking throb as he spotted the blood on the back of one bruised thigh that signified a much more personal assault.
"Kuchiki-sama," the healer said, motioning for a second healer to take his place, "Let us go out into the gardens to talk."
Byakuya bit at his lip and nodded tersely, then followed the healer out into the gardens. They stood under the eaves as the rain pounded down and thunder boomed softly in the distance.
"Tell me what happened," Byakuya said in a low voice, "Tell me everything."
"Seiji, of the manor guard found Tetsuya-san unconscious on the eastern boundary of the grounds about an hour ago, Kuchiki-sama. He was alive, but near death. He appears to have been viciously beaten and sexually assaulted, but sir, he was also subjected to something unspeakable that I have heard of, but have never seen before."
"What do you mean?"
The healer hesitated, his face going pale and his body trembling at his own words.
"He was subjected to an old, forbidden ritual…one banned hundreds of years ago after it was found to be too dangerous, both for its effects on the ones it was inflicted on and because it was reportedly being forced on some nobles to ensure pure bloodlines. It was called…"
"The Breeders' Rite," Byakuya whispered, his eyes wide with disbelief.
"Y-you know of it?" the healer asked, meeting his eyes warily.
Byakuya managed a short nod.
"I have seen mention of it in the archives here."
"Oh, of course, sir."
"But I do not know the details. What can you tell me about it?" Byakuya asked, his reiatsu beginning to flare hotly around him.
The healer cringed.
"S-sir, the procedure began as a way of ensuring that noble lines would not be forced into impurity, even in the absence of a noble female. It involves the opening of the soul core and placement of a reiatsu chamber inside the body. At the same time, the reproductive capabilities of the person are neutralized so that he is able to gather the reiatsu of a strong shinigami and to be impregnated. The person can bear a shinigami child of equal power to the shinigami father, but can no longer father children himself."
The healer shivered as the clan leader's reiatsu rose sharply. Byakuya noticed the man's discomfort and, with an effort, eased the pressure.
"Go on," he said, more calmly.
"Kuchiki-sama, your cousin is in a complicated situation, because he is only half noble blooded. The Breeders' Rite also has, as part of it, an incantation and kido that is meant to assure that the child is pure blooded, even if the breeder is not. But even among nobles, pregnancy of that kind caused many deaths. And with one of impure blood, the kido used in the rite works against the non-noble blood, causing a much higher risk of death."
"But that is only if he is used for that purpose, ne?" queried Byakuya.
"But what?" asked Byakuya, the feeling of illness returning.
"The ones who did this meant to ensure that Tetsuya-san died in this manner. The sexual assault was meant force reiatsu into the chamber."
"Are you saying…?"
"Your cousin would have become pregnant by the ones who assaulted him, and after the beating they gave him, he would not have survived the initial stages of impregnation. He would have died."
"Would have…then you have…?"
"I purged the reiatsu and tried to analyze it to find the culprits."
"The reiatsu was perfectly masked. Kuchiki-sama, we are dealing with high level shingamis…people of great power."
"And noble, if they were able to invoke the Breeders' Rite," Byakuya added.
He studied the healer for a moment, then nodded.
"Arigato…for taking care of him," he said softly.
The healer glanced over his shoulder and through the garden doors at the unconscious man in the bed.
"He is a good man, Kuchiki-sama, very kind and loyal. It saddens me the way they have treated him…not allowed a surname or a proper place in the family…"
"I thought to shield him by bringing him to the manor," Byakuya said, gazing in at his cousin, "but even that has failed. Still, you were able to save him. Can you reverse the rite?"
The healer shook his head.
"No one ever has, so there is no information on how such a thing could be done. But you have not heard the worst, Kuchiki-sama."
Byakuya's face paled, but he kept his gaze steady.
"What is it?"
"Sir, the damage to your cousin's systems because of the attack and because of him being only half noble is extreme. The kido used in the rite not only affected his own reproductive ability, but it severely damaged his spirit centers. I have tried to repair them, using every method I know, but nothing has worked. And your cousin is barely able to generate the reiatsu to be able to tolerate being in Soul Society. If it was any lower, we would be forced to fit him with a permanent gigai and send him to the living world."
"You have to find a way to heal him," Byakuya said, looking into the old healer's eyes, "Michio, you are the most capable shinigami healer in Soul Society. If you cannot…"
"Sir, I cannot even tell you if your cousin will ever open his eyes again. And even if he does, he can no longer be called a shinigami. He is powerless and hasn't the reiatsu of a shinigami. His zanpakutou has disappeared…"
"We have made him comfortable and we will, of course, do everything we can to restore him, but you understand what must be, if we fail."
Byakuya closed his eyes against the words.
"I understand," he said softly.
The healer put a hand on Byakuya's shoulder and gazed into his eyes.
"You must take care of yourself while you wait to learn his fate, Kuchiki-sama. I will have Noa bring you some tea and something to eat."
Byakuya nodded briefly as the healer released him and motioned for the assistant healer to leave Byakuya alone with Tetsuya. Byakuya walked slowly across the room, hearing the ghost of his cousin's pleasant voice and his easy laughter. He hadn't always been so lively. And now, it seemed, everything was about to come down around him. If he could not be healed, Tetsuya would no longer simply struggle because of his half-breed status. He couldn't even be considered a shinigami anymore.
It was as though the cousin he knew had died already.
When Tetsuya woke to learn his condition, there were no two ways about it. He would be dragged back down into the same darkness that Byakuya had found him in. The sad, sapphire blue eyes that had met his so long ago would return and the life would drain out of him. Byakuya sat down beside the bed, his heart a fiery blend of fury and desire for vengeance. He barely managed to hold the emotion down so that he wouldn't crush the vulnerable being lying in the bed in front of him, as the bits of memory fluttered through his spinning mind, replaying themselves.
He walked forward at his father's side, his eyes respectfully lowered as he approached the two black clad figures who waited to greet them. They were distant cousins, and the deceased mother was a peasant, so neither she nor the child who stood beside the grieving man ahead of him were even allowed to wear the family name. But in such a situation, at fourteen, and as future leader of the clan, Byakuya had been instructed by his father and his grandfather that it was right to go and offer condolences. Whatever the man had done, this was no time to burden him with criticism about his choices. So he moved forward and as they reached the two, he looked up and found himself instantly mesmerized by the boy's large, sad eyes.
Not the slate gray that marked his father and most of the Kuchiki nobles, but a bright sapphire blue. He must, Byakuya thought, have inherited them from his mother. His hair was like his father's. long and deep black, but with lovely soft waves instead of just being straight like his. He stood quietly at his father's side and greeted each of the guests as he was supposed to, but there was a distance in the gesture. He met Byakuya's eyes and his widened in recognition.
"Good morning, Kuchiki-sama," he said in a soft, tired voice, "We are honored."
"Good morning, Tetsuya-kun," Byakuya replied solemnly, "We were grieved to hear of your loss."
Tetsuya nodded briefly, but said no more. Byakuya and his father and grandfather took their places for the funeral and Byakuya couldn't help but notice how as soon as he fell beneath notice again, the boy's shoulders drooped and his eyes lowered. And as soon as the service ended, he suddenly disappeared. He didn't see the boy again until later, when he heard the sounds of several other young, male relatives talking, and caught sight of Tetsuya concealing himself in some bushes nearby.
"I don't know why we had to come here anyway…stinking peasants and half bloods!" one said in a bored tone.
"He should be hanged for marrying beneath him and that little mongrel son of theirs should just be put out of all of our misery, ne?" said another.
"Yes," agreed the first, "He might as well be buried with her, for all of the use he'll be."
Byakuya started forward, but froze for a moment at the sight of Tetsuya's clenched hands, the suddenly proud stature, the unusually strong reiatsu and the fury and pain in the boy's expression. Tetsuya's head turned suddenly and the large blue eyes came to rest on him. Instantly, his face took on a look of panic at having been seen. He shrank back, swallowing hard and brushing the angry tears from his face.
"It's okay," Byakuya mouthed, walking past him and blocking the view of him from the other boys.
He frowned at the other boys and raised his reiatsu, making them step back in surprise.
"B-byakuya-sama!" the oldest said.
The others bowed dutifully.
"Good day, Byakuya-sama."
"Hardly," said Byakuya in a low, angry tone, "How dare you come to this place and demean the occasion with your rudeness! You know that our rules require us to maintain strict discipline at all such ceremonies and receptions. Now, go and say your goodbyes and get out of here!"
"B-but Byakuya-sama, you know that they are…"
"They are shinigamis. They are people. Their needs today are to be respected. Now go!"
He smirked to himself as they fell over themselves, flash stepping away. He returned then to the boy still hidden in the bushes and watched as he stood and brushed himself off.
"You didn't have to do that, Kuchiki-sama," Tetsuya said quietly, "It is no secret how we are seen in their eyes. I am sorry to have let my emotions get the better of me in your presence."
"Tetsuya-kun, you have just lost your mother, and those boys had no right to come here and to say those things."
"It would not matter in whose house they stood," Tetsuya replied, his eyes growing sad again, "We would still be peasants and half breeds and they would still hate us. I thank you for confronting them, Kuchiki-sama. You likely saved me a beating at their hands. I will be fine now. Please excuse me."
He flash stepped away, leaving Byakuya shaking his head and staring after him.
Byakuya slipped his hand into his cousin's, shivering at the coldness of it. It was nothing like the slim, warm hand that had trembled in his when he grew curious about how Tetsuya was faring and convinced his father to allow him to be brought to Kuchiki Manor.
"G-good afternoon, Kuchiki-sama," the boy said, not looking up at him, but accepting his hand in greeting.
"Tetsuya-kun, is something wrong?" he asked, "Look at me."
The boy's chin rose, revealing bruises on the porcelain surface of his face. And then, Byakuya saw more bruises revealed in the opening in the front of his kimono.
"Tetsuya-kun, what happened?" he asked.
The boy's eyes met his squarely.
"You are not aware of what goes on in your own clan, are you Kuchiki-sama?" he asked quietly, "I know you aren't, because if you were, then you would know what caused my injuries. Tell me…why did you ask me here?"
"I wanted to know how you have been," Byakuya answered, blinking in surprise at the maturity in the younger boy's answer, in the pride behind the sad eyes, and in the soft swell of power around him, "And now that I know, I must ask you. How does one of your level of power get beaten up like that?"
"You don't want an answer to that, Kuchiki-sama," the boy said, holding his gaze steadily, "Now, if I have satisfied your curiosity, may I be excused? I have duties to attend to at home."
Byakuya placed a hand on Tetsuya's arm and the boy flinched, and pulled away, the blue eyes widening and becoming panicked as they had the day of his mother's funeral.
"Tetsuya-kun…" he said softly, "You do not need to fear me."
"I am not afraid of you."
"Then why are you afraid?"
The boy's lips tightened and he remained silent.
"Tetsuya-kun, answer me. Why are you frightened?"
The boy gave him a tormented look.
"Oh…very well," he said finally, "because you are the leader and you have required it of me. I am afraid that if you try to hurt me, I will lose control and fight back."
Byakuya's eyes narrowed.
"You…are afraid you will…fight back? You should fight back if you are attacked! Why would you not?"
"G-gomen nasai," said Tetsuya, looking deeply unnerved, "I am not allowed to strike my pure blooded cousins, much less, my leader. I would be severely punished."
"Even if they hit you first? That's ridiculous! Of course you should fight back!"
He thought for a moment as Tetsuya struggled for words.
"And you are going to," Byakuya said firmly, "Do you have a zanpakutou?"
Tetsuya's eyes went saucer wide, then flared and grew angry.
"I should have known," he said in a wounded voice, "I knew there was something wrong when you defended me! But Kuchiki-sama, this is just cruel! How could you…?"
Byakuya blinked in surprise.
"How could you think I'm so stupid as to fall into a trap like that!" the boy shouted accusingly, "You know if I appear armed in any noble house or public place, my zanpakutou would be taken and destroyed! You did this to take Re-kuhime away! You monster! How could you?"
He turned and started to run, but Byakuya grabbed him and held him tightly in place. Tetsuya froze and Byakuya's heart broke as he realized his cousin was waiting for his leader to begin striking him as punishment for his outburst. Instead, Byakuya wrapped his arms tightly around the boy, holding him close and refusing to let go, even as he began to cry hysterically.
"Let me go! Let me go!" sobbed Tetsuya, "I didn't do anything to you! Why are you doing this to me? At least the others never tried to take me in like this! They were cruel, but at least they were honest about it!"
His legs shook beneath him and finally collapsed altogether. Byakuya dropped onto his knees, holding his cousin like something fragile that he was afraid would be broken.
"Why?" sobbed Tetsuya, "Why won't you let me go? You never have to look at me. Just let me go. I'll make sure you never have to look at me again, I swear!"
He lifted the shaking, crying boy and flash stepped into the manor, carrying him through the gardens, out the back gate and down the forest trail. He stopped at the top of a cliff overlooking a deep blue lake and a waterfall. Tetsuya paused in his crying and looked up at his cousin in dismay.
"Wh-what are you doing?" he gasped, "Kuchiki-sama!"
Byakuya frowned at him.
"If you do not stop accusing me of trying to trick you, I will drop you into that lake!" he said, trying his best to sound stern.
"What? You are crazy, Kuchiki-sama!" exclaimed Tetsuya, "Stop!"
"You can swim, ne?"
"Now, the first rule is when we are together in my home. You are not to call me Kuchiki-sama like the servants do."
"But…Kuchiki-sama, I am not allowed…"
"You are here. Now say it."
"I will drop you if you don't say it!"
"This is your last warning."
Tetsuya gave him a horrified stare and went silent.
"Okay then, you defy me and you pay, Cousin," he said, holding the boy tightly and leaping over the edge.
Halfway down, he released Tetsuya, and the two crashed down into the lake. Byakuya sank down, then rose to the surface to see his cousin swimming away frantically. He caught Tetsuya at the water's edge and dragged him to the top of the cliff again.
"Now, then," he said, "What do you call me when we are here?"
"Kuchiki-sama, please, I will be beaten!" Tetsuya pleaded, "If anyone hears…"
"Wrong answer, Cousin," Byakuya said, leaping from the cliff again.
They crashed down into the water again, and again Tetsuya tried and failed to escape.
"I will ask you again," Byakuya said, carrying the soaked and panting boy back to the top of the waterfall.
"P-please, Byakuya-sama," Tetsuya said wearily, "I don't know what to do anymore. You are confusing me."
"It's not confusing," Byakuya said quietly, "I am going to help you get stronger, Tetsuya. So that when someone tries to hurt you, you will fight back, and you will win."
His cousin stared up at him in disbelief.
"I was right!" he exclaimed, shakily, "You are crazy…"
"How dare you!" said Byakuya, smirking, "How dare you talk back to me!"
Tetsuya was caught unprepared as they sailed over the edge of the cliff and back into the water. And that time, just before they crashed down, for the first time, Byakuya heard the light, beautiful sound of his cousin's laughter.
They dragged themselves onto the shore and laid in the long meadow grass, allowing their bodies and clothes to dry in the sunshine.
"It is good to see you look happy for a change," Byakuya said quietly, "Your eyes look sad too often, Tetsuya-kun."
"I know how people are and it makes me sad," said his cousin, shivering even under the warmth of the afternoon sun, "I still don't know if I can trust you, Byakuya-sama."
"No, of course not," Byakuya said, brushing the hair out of the younger boy's eyes, "Trust doesn't happen all at once. But I will prove to you that you can trust me. And I won't let them hurt you anymore, Tetsuya."
His cousin sighed softly and regarded him with wide blue eyes that still held disbelief. Byakuya shook his head disapprovingly and reached over to the edge of the water, filling one hand with mud.
"Now then," he said, narrowing his eyes, "You are going to start learning to fight back."
"B-byakuya-sama!" gasped Tetsuya, rolling away, "Byakuya-sama, you wouldn't!"
Byakuya laughed softly and released the handful of mud at Tetsuya. Minutes later, the two were rolling around in the mud, wrestling and heedlessly laughing. Afterward, they washed off in the lake and collapsed together at the edge, breathing in the lovely scents and watching the afternoon work its way on to evening.
"Will you train with me, then?" Byakuya asked softly, "I will teach you to be very strong, Tetsuya.
"Strong enough to protect my father? So he won't be killed as my mother was?" the boy asked.
Byakuya took a shocked breath.
"But I thought that your mother…"
"I know," said Tetsuya, "That is what they want everyone to think. And I don't have any proof, just that I feel it. And I don't want my father to die because of me. So I'll trust you, Byakuya-sama, but you must promise not to take Re-kuhime away! She is the only way I have of being strong enough to protect my father!"
Tears rose in Byakuya's eyes, remembering Kuchiki Takao's sudden death a few years later, the questions and suspicions, and Tetsuya's relapse into helplessness for a time. But he had been there for Byakuya when Kuchiki Soujun died, and had been his only true friend and confidante ever since. And over the years, the shyness and flightiness had given way to strength and stoutness of heart. But now, Tetsuya's life had come crashing down around him. His cousin stood to lose everything, and it seemed that there was nothing that his clan leader, cousin and very best friend could do about it…
"Tetsuya," he whispered softly, lifting his cousin's limp hand to his cheek, "I swear I will do everything I can to see you healed. And I will never stop until the ones who did this are found! I promise…"
He didn't have to think too hard to know where to start looking.
There was only one group that could have known how to employ the Breeders' Rite.
The Kuchiki Council of Elders…
But which were involved?
Were they all involved?
"I won't stop until I know everything and make them pay for this!" he promised his cousin.