Chapter 13: Clinging

Kisho stirred and opened his golden eyes, and he found himself lying on hard ground, but delightfully wrapped in Rikichi's arms and curled around the other youth's body. Blinking several times cleared his vision, and although his head still ached badly, he could see that they were in a small cave, within a forest, and a pounding rain was falling outside.

"Rikichi?" he whispered, seeking the other boy's lips, and smiling as the other youth's brown eyes opened and fixed on him, then went wide and filled with tears.

"Kisho!" he gasped, tightening his arms around the other boy until he grunted and struggled.

"Ow! Be careful, baka!" Kisho laughed, "That hurts!"

"S-sorry!" Rikichi said hastily, burying his face in Kisho's shoulder and trying to hide his tears of relief.

Kisho smiled gently and captured his face, then brushed his tears away.

"What is it?" he asked, "What happened that has made my Rikichi so tormented?"

"Well," said Rikichi, swallowing hard and rubbing his hands over his face, "You were hurt! And...the hollows, there were so many! We barely escaped and I was hurt. I have no powers, and we were alone...and you were still unconscious. I couldn't protect us, and I couldn't wake you up. I was scared to death, Kisho!"

His shaking eased as Kisho held him tightly and kissed him comfortingly.

"It's all right now," Kisho assured him, "I am awake and I can protect us now. But tell me, how were you hurt? What happened? I don't remember anything after that hollow slammed me into the ground."

Rikichi hesitated.

"There were...too many hollows. We were outnumbered and fighting really hard."

He paused, his mind reeling as he remembered his eagle bursting into flames and the horrific power it released after.

"My...spirit centers were burned," he explained, carefully neglecting to mention anything about his spontaneous use of bankai, "It really hurts to use any powers."

"Your spirit centers were burned!" exclaimed Kisho, touching his hands to the other youth's chest and abdomen and examining the damage quickly, "You are right. But...if you rest them for a while, then you should be all right. Just depend on me. I'll protect us."

Rikichi lowered his eyes.

"I wonder if anyone really can protect us," he said, tears returning to his eyes, "Whoever is after us...keeps finding us, no matter where we go, Kisho! Even at Urahara Kisuke's shop we were not safe. You got hurt...and I...I don't know how we got away! Kisho...!"

"Shh," the Shihoin prince said, kissing his lips to quiet him, "Be calm now. Your reiatsu is quiet now, and I am concealing mine. We are deep in the forest, hidden away. And no one will come here in this storm. It is dark anyway. We have to wait here until it is light and the storm has passed. It will be all right. I won't let anything happen to you. I'm sorry that I got hurt before and you were alone facing our enemies, Rikichi. But you were strong and you got to safety. And I'll be all right now. We're both going to be all right now. I promise!"

"You don't know that!" insisted Rikichi, pressing more tightly against him, "You can't know that!"

Kisho smiled and brushed away his tears again.

"You worry too much," he whispered, making Rikichi's words disappear into more amorous kisses, "We'll take care of each other, and whatever happens, we won't lose each other! I promise we won't!"

Kisho's hand slid down and released the ties on their yukatas, making them fall open, then pressing his warm, naked flesh to Rikichi's. Rikichi's mouth sought his desperately, and the Shihoin prince smiled and returned his kisses eagerly. He moved over Rikichi's bared skin, placing comforting kisses everywhere and whispering repeatedly his promise to keep them both safe.

"But they're gone!" Rikichi sobbed softly, "All of my friends that I grew up with were killed! Even Miki. I saw. There was...so much blood!"

"Shh." Kisho said, kissing him harder and running his fingers through the other boy's hair.

"I can't stand it!" cried Rikichi, "It feels like it's too much! There is...nothing we can do...nowhere we can go where he won't find us!"

"Shh...shh...be calm, my love," Kisho said soothingly, "I told you that we will be all right. And if you need a place where you can feel safe, then feel safe here, in my arms. My arms will keep you safe. I will die to keep you safe!"

"No! Don't talk about dying for me!" Rikichi sobbed, pushing him away, "I don't want you to die for me! Don't you see? It's all my fault! That guy was looking for me all along, Kisho! He killed them all because of me!"

"But...you don't know that you are..." Kisho began.

Rikichi shook his head and burst into tears again.

"Didn't it seem strange to you that I burned my spirit centers and lost my powers? Even in the worst conditions, didn't you realize that shouldn't have happened? Because...the only reason it would is if great power suddenly shocked my system. The only thing that could shock my system that way...is a bankai!"

Kisho's eyes widened.

"A...bankai?"

"Yes!" Rikichi managed, wiping his eyes, "We were going to be killed. A hollow fired a cero at us, Kisho, and I released my shikai. But...something strange happened, and I released a bankai that destroyed all of the hollows that were attacking us. Wh-when it was over, I couldn't think. I just took you and ran and ran, until I reached this place. Maybe I should have stayed there...I don't know..."

Kisho shook his head.

"It would have been too dangerous," he suggested, "If your reiatsu was high enough to make a bankai, then it would have been easy for them to find you."

"But won't they just follow me here?" asked Rikichi, "We would be facing them alone..."

"No," Kisho assured him, "Your reiatsu declined because of your injured spirit centers. It should be harder to find you. But...my cousin, Yoruichi should be able to track me, so that when we are found, it will be by someone who will help us. Don't worry, Rikichi. We will be all right. We will be fine. We just have to wait out this storm and then my cousin will find us."

Rikichi looked as though he wanted to argue, but swallowed hard and gave a shuddering sigh. He settled against the tawny-haired youth's bare body, calming as Kisho's mouth found his again.

"Kisho?" he whispered, between kisses, "Will you promise me something?"

"Hmmm?"

"If we do get out of this and we are okay, promise that you won't leave me."

Kisho paused, his lips tightening.

"Rikichi..."

"No," said the brown-eyed youth, shaking his head, "I don't care if I am their heir. I am not giving you up...not for anything!"

"B-but..."

"I don't care!" Rikichi yelled, pushing Kisho down and throwing himself down on top of the other boy, "I am going to stay with you, no matter what!"

Kisho's golden eyes stared into Rikichi's, and the Shihoin prince's heart raced as Rikichi shifted and positioned himself over his lover.

"Rikichi!" he objected, gasping as the other youth's mouth attacked his, and Rikichi's body sank down on his length, recoiling as their bodies joined, "Rikichi!, what are you...?"

Stop, you fool! Stop! Kisho's mind screamed, Don't be so reckless!

He tried to keep his eyes closed and pull away, but he heard Rikichi make a lovely, passionate sound that made his heart catch, and his eyes couldn't help but open. And when they did, they found Rikichi, perched on top of him, his slender hands tightly clenching Kisho's strong shoulders, his head lowered and his brown eyes beautifully hazed. His body shook with each lovely, grinding thrust, and his parted lips breathed Kisho's name like the word was sacred to him.

"R-rikichi..." Kisho said weakly, unable to stop himself from moving with the adorable, beloved person on top of him.

He closed his eyes, but then had to look again, so as not to miss a moment of receiving the other youth's professed love. He stopped trying to speak, giving himself over to their lovemaking, capturing Rikichi's slim, sweating hips and holding onto them as they moved. He bucked upward, striking that sweet, wonderful untouched place inside his lover, and making Rikichi gasp and quiver.

"It...feels good?" he panted, smiling up into Rikichi's dazed expression.

"Ah!" Rikichi moaned, closing his eyes, "It...feels...amazing!"

Two more powerful thrusts brought the two careening into pure, breathless bliss. Rikichi's moaning gasp of delight blended sweetly with Kisho's throaty howl of pleasure. Rikichi collapsed onto Kisho's damp chest, his seed spilling out onto their skin as the prince's blazing release filled him inside, burning hotter, he wagered, than the reiatsu that had singed his spirit centers. He groaned contentedly, seeking Kisho's hot, wet mouth again and exchanging a slower, more penetrating barrage of kisses as their piqued bodies gradually calmed.

"Do you have any idea how much you've complicated things?" Kisho asked reprovingly, "If you are the heir..."

"It doesn't matter," Rikichi insisted, resting his head on a tangle of tawny hair, "Kisho...hardly anyone even noticed I was alive before. You and Renji and Kuchiki taichou were really the only ones. I don't have to care what anyone else thinks. I grew up invisible, and I'm not going to forget the first person who really saw me...even if I suddenly become visible to everyone. You are all that matters to me."

"Idiot," Kisho said, running his fingers through Rikichi's riled hair, "You think you can just ignore that you might be..."

He paused, looking deeply into Rikichi's happier eyes and smiling roguishly.

"Naw...you're right," he said, more flippantly, "They weren't there while you were toughing it out, growing up. You shouldn't have to let them take over your life and tell you what to do...no matter who you turn out to be."

Rikichi smiled.

"That's why I love you, Kisho," he whispered, seeking the other youth's mouth again, "You really do understand."

They started to kiss again, but paused and turned to look out the entrance of the cave as the sharp crack of a twig breaking alerted them to the arrival of someone else.

XXXXXXXXXX

"Damn..." Renji muttered, walking over to where Byakuya stood, gazing out the window of the small room they had taken in a mid Rukon inn to get out of the rain, "I hope they're not out there in that. I mean...Rikichi grew up around here, so he's probably found them someplace."

"And Tetsuya may have found them. I did sense him briefly, and although he seemed agitated, he did not seem to be endangered himself."

"Well, I hope he's not out in this either. The wind alone would take a guy off his feet. It's really bad out there..."

He stopped talking for a moment, studying Byakuya's dark, worried eyes.

"Well, we're stuck here until this lets up enough to allow for a search, so...maybe we should talk, Taichou."

Byakuya blinked slowly, seeming to come back from wherever he had been while contemplating the rain. He met Renji's eyes stoically, but the redhead didn't miss the flash of uncertainty that appeared, then disappeared just as quickly.

"Where do we begin?" the noble said quietly, soft thunder punctuating his words.

Renji handed him one of the two cups of hot green tea he had made and nodded in the direction of the bed.

"Why don't we sit down and relax a little? Looks like we're going to be here for a while."

He sat down and crossed his legs, then watched as Byakuya slipped the haori off of his shoulders and unwound the scarf from around his white throat. He set them beside the bed and loosed his hair from the kenseiken, then set that on the night table with the other things. He joined Renji on the bed, kneeling, facing the redhead.

"So...first off, what happened that day?"

Byakuya shook his head, riling his released hair.

"I do not know. It was my eighteenth birthday and my official naming as heir. There was...a party at the manor. I remember leaving with Tetsuya to go to an old secret prison on the estate. Someone approached us while we were there, but...I cannot remember who, nor what happened, nor how I ended up in Inuzuri at that brothel. I was...with Tetsuya...and then, I was there...with you."

Renji bit his lip gently.

"You seemed kinda out of it," he said, glancing out the window at the rain again, "At the time, I thought that you were just there to...you know...to lose your virginity. I thought you might have taken something to keep you calm or to dull any pain. S-sorry...I didn't know you back then. Of course, I know now that you would never do anything like that."

He stopped and took a steadying breath.

"Do you...remember...you know, during?"

Byakuya looked down into his teacup, remembering.

"Do you think that if I had forgotten, I would have been affected enough to make such an inappropriately emotional decision in choosing you as my fukutaichou? Do I remember 'during?' Yes...although it is hazy, and there are gaps in my memory. And to answer your next question...yes, I was...affected by being with you. It was my first time as well as yours, Renji."

"Yeah," Renji said, a smile touching his lips, "If it hadn't been for either of us, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in."

Byakuya sighed, and his eyes closed for a moment, then opened and sought Renji's.

"Do you understand that...if I had not felt something immediately, not even the drug I was given could have made me act that way with you?"

"So...what, are you saying that it was love at first sight or something? Really, Taichou?"

Byakuya shook his head firmly, then sent a delighted chill through Renji with his next words.

"I'm sorry for staring, but I don't often see people like you around here. Not that it's a problem. You're…really beautiful." Byakuya repeated from memory.

"You remember what I first said to you..." Renji mused.

"Because I was thinking the same thing," said the noble, "I could barely think at all. But...I do remember thinking that you were one of the most exotic and beautiful people I had seen."

Renji felt a blush rise on his cheeks.

"So...I guess we can define what happened as 'unexpected,' 'manipulated,' but..."

"Not unpleasant," finished the noble, "In fact...memorable...even."

"Memorable enough so that you chose me to be your fukutaichou because I reminded you of that person, ne?" Renji said, his smile widening.

"Not entirely," the noble stated, frowning, "You were, in all honesty, the best applicant. Just...it was in my mind."

Renji sighed and chuckled softly.

"What made it like that for you?" he asked, "Was it really what I said first?"

"That...and what you said as you left me," Byakuya confessed softly, "Arigato. Because of you, our whole group of kids will have a warm place to stay and food for the winter. I'm very grateful. I know we'll never see each other again…but…I want you to know…it was…amazing being with you. I'll never feel anything like this again, I know. But it's worth it to have had just this small amount of time with you."

Byakuya paused, searching for the right words.

"I felt horrid, finding myself in that place unexpectedly, having done something so...wrong. But...with those few words, you took some of the weight off of my heart. Because whatever happened to bring me to that place and time...it also brought you. And you were not just some..."

"Prostitute?" Renji supplied.

Byakuya took a cleansing breath.

"You were in need...and I helped you. I didn't plan it that way, but I was glad that it happened that way. And when you said how you enjoyed being with me, how you would..."

"...never feel anything like that again," Renji finished.

"Yes. But your last words to me were haunting. They never left me. I...wondered if it was true of me as well...that I would never feel anything like what I felt when I was with you."

"Erm...it can't have been that great, you know," Renji said, somewhat sheepishly, "It was my first time too. I couldn't have been that great."

He caught his breath, not just at the soft blush on Byakuya's lovely face and throat, but at his sweetly flustered expression.

"I had nothing to compare it to," he said, his blush deepening, "but..."

He paused, searching for the right words.

"Forgive me," he said, lowering his eyes, "I have no desire to dishonor the woman who I married."

"Oh...of course not, Taichou," Renji said, smiling, "Hisana was a real sweet and pretty girl."

"Lovely...gentle...and very fragile," Byakuya admitted, "Always, I was exceedingly cautious not to hurt her. That makes it unfair to make comparisons as I could relax with you in a way I could not with her. But that isn't..."

"I understand," said Renji, "You want to tell me that it was good...without insinuating that there was anything wrong with your relationship with your wife. I get it."

"The two are different," the noble affirmed, "With Hisana, I loved and cared for her. But that day I was with you, I learned what it meant to love someone passionately...to indulge without holding anything back."

He paused, fighting with himself to force the words out.

"And honestly?" he said, not daring to look up at the redhead, "for me...it was the only time I felt that kind of unrestrained passion. Soon after, I began to shoulder more and more responsibility. My situation demanded it, and I was determined to honor my parents and my grandfather by pouring all of my effort into the proper leadership of the clan. Passionate love...strong emotions...recklessness...all were forced out of me as I became the person I was expected to be."

"But...and don't get pissed at me for saying this," Renji added, "People closer to you know that there's more to you than commitment to the clan and to your duties as a taichou. Rukia knows it..."

Byakuya met his eyes fleetingly.

"And you do as well, ne?" he said tentatively.

Renji smiled.

"I like to think so," he said, "I know that my intentions at the beginning were not the best, but they gave me a front row seat to just how much more there is to you than what's on the surface."

"I see," Byakuya said quietly, "And so...based on that...do you still hold the same opinion of me that you did that first day?"

Renji's smile widened sweetly.

"No."

Byakuya gazed at him questioningly.

"I know you're even more beautiful now that I know you on the outside and inside too."

The noble shifted uncomfortably as Renji moved closer and slipped a hand into his.

"Don't worry," he assured the Kuchiki clan leader, "I'm not going to overstep. But I will say that I'm not going to have a hard time with the fact that you and I made two great kids together. I wish that I could have watched them grow up. And now that we know Rikichi is ours, I can't wait to see what happens next. Sure, it's complicated, and they're in danger right now. But when this is all over and we can relax, I will enjoy seeing what happens next."

"With our sons?" Byakuya said in an even quieter tone, "But..."

Renji looked him squarely in the eyes.

"We are family because of the boys," he said firmly, "But...what we turn out to be to each other is something that I think will take a little more time, ne Taichou?"

"I agree," said Byakuya, "The elders will not dispute our being together if that is what we choose, but in all honesty, I do not think that we should be together solely because of this situation. If we are to...be together, it needs to be because we feel we have a future of our own together. As much as we might 'be together for their sake,' it will do them no good if they see us forcing ourselves if it isn't our choice and we feel trapped."

"I don't think I'd feel trapped," said Renji, "But I can't speak for you. That's something you'll have to think through."

"Hmmm," Byakuya sighed.

"So...what will happen as far as naming an heir?" Renji asked.

"Once they are out of danger," Byakuya answered, "they will need to be presented to the elders, and the heir determined."

"Isn't it whoever was born first?" asked the redhead.

"Not always," Byakuya explained, "If one is significantly more powerful, he may be chosen over the other."

"Damn...speaking of power, I hope that Rikichi's okay after having that bankai pop out of him unexpected like that."

"I feel the same," said the noble, "But...he likely has burned his spirit centers and may have reduced or no ability to manage reiatsu flow. It is very important that we find him soon."

"We will," Renji said, squeezing the noble's hand and turning to look out at the rain, "As soon as this lets up and we can, we'll find him...and Kisho and your cousin, too."

"Yes," agreed Byakuya, his mind still partially immersed in memory, "We will."

And then what?

What will happen then?