Chapter 7: No Love Like Ours

(REDSTRAVAGANZA is off and running! Lovely red Renji-ness for two whole weeks...but don't worry, other faves won't be forgotten! Thanks to Naoko Satori for the review that put the bug in my head to continue this! Enjoy the chapter! Love, Spunky)

Master, Arashi whispered into Tetsuya's mind, sticking his head in Tetsuya's open window and nuzzling the resting noble impatiently, How long are you going to lie there feeling miserable? It is not like you to indulge in self-pity. You have never been so unwise as to look for fairness in your circumstances, and always we showed our gratitude to Byakuya-sama by putting the unfair things aside. What is this deeper melancholy that seems to afflict you?

Tetsuya turned his head on the pillow, letting his large, sapphire eyes meet Arashi's. The black stallion's eyes widened at reading the pain there and he nuzzled Tetsuya's cheek more gently.

I am sorry, Master, he went on, Perhaps I was too harsh.

"I do not know what to do anymore, Arashi," Tetsuya said, tears filling his eyes, "I had thought before that I was in love with Naoki in the prison. And indeed, it was a kind of innocent love. But, Arashi, this feeling that Renji-san gives me just with me knowing that he was the one in my dreams is overwhelming. Add to that, the beauty of having him so close...so I can watch his red hair move like fire when he walks, look into his eyes and feel him reach down into my heart and set it pounding. I just hear his voice and my body feels light enough to float. Loving this man as I do seems akin to breathing! And fearing the loss of that makes me feel breathless with agony."

But you have only just met.

"But it doesn't feel that way, Arashi! I feel like I have known him all of my life...known him and waited for him to arrive. And if I do not do something, then he will leave me. And all that I dreamed love was will disappear as he walks away! But what am I to do?"

A tear slid down his face and Tetsuya brushed it away. He noticed a flicker of movement near the door and turned his head to find Renji standing just inside the opened door, staring at him through widened, sad eyes.

"Oh!" he gasped miserably, turning his head away, "Renji-san, please...just..."

"Don't tell me to go," the redhead said, moving forward and sitting down on the edge of the bed, "I know that's what you're expecting, because we're still getting to know each other...and, I don't know, maybe you're used to people leaving, but...I'm not the kind of guy who walks out on someone just because things get difficult."

Tetsuya shook his head dismissively.

"I wasn't calling you a coward, Renji-san," he said solemnly, "but we are not talking about simple differences of the kind that lovers...or potential lovers have. I am broken inside...made that way by hatred and intolerance. I am not to be allowed full expression of my heart...not ever. That is the rule of the clan...and it is underscored by the pain I feel now, whether my attraction to you flares or not. Pain of love or pain of loss. It is the same, no matter what I do. No matter what we do."

"Then...for now, just think of me as a friend."

"How am I supposed to...?"

He went silent as Renji settled on the bed and pulled the surprised noble into his arms. Tetsuya stiffened in anticipation, but made a sound of surprise as Renji merely brought his head to rest against the redhead's shoulder, his body leaning all along Renji's warm side, and filling Tetsuya with a kind of comfort that he had nearly forgotten existed.

"You see," Renji said softly in his ear, "There is a kind of love that you can't be denied, Tetsuya-san. One that isn't about sexual attraction, but about friendship and affection...the simple comfort of sharing space. You know what I mean, ne? It seems like you and Byakuya share that kind of ease with each other. So, I think you know what I'm talking about."

Tetsuya thought again of the gentle, brown haired, brown-eyed boy, Naoki and nodded briefly.

"I learned about it too," Renji went on, "but in a different way."

Tetsuya gave a happy, relieved sigh and closed his eyes as Renji's hand slid down his clothed back and found his, lacing their fingers together. The redhead's hand tightened on his, and Tetsuya's eyes opened and looked back at him curiously.

"I was born in the Rukongai, and although us street kids weren't locked up in cages, we lived in another kind of prison. We were unwanted, unloved, uncared for. Few people gave a shit about whether we lived or died, let alone whether we ate our vegetables, learned to tie our shoes or stayed away from strangers. It's funny, though, because even not knowing what a family was, we made one. Rukia and I found each other and fell in together, and we built a family of our own from those other discarded kids like us. And the things that families do...staying together, looking out for each other, working together to get the things we needed to survive...it's like even not having a family, that stuff was hardwired into us."

"That is...beautiful, Renji-san," Tetsuya whispered, "And it does seem true that in absence of family, we still reach for those things that a family offers us..."

"Yeah," agreed the redhead, "Rukia and I kind of acted like a mother and father to the group. We both protected them as best we could. Rukia found an old woman who taught her to read so that she could teach the younger ones. I taught them the survival skills, how find and steal food, how to fight, and how to get away from things that we couldn't defeat. And we did things that families do together. We took walks, went swimming, built forts and treehouses...although sometimes they were our actual homes. We slept together at night, too. I got so used to Rukia sleeping pressed up against my back or side that when we left Inuzuri and moved on the academy, it felt weird as hell sleeping alone in a bed. We didn't have sex, because that wasn't the important thing to us. We focused on the simple things."

"It was much the same for Naoki and me," Tetsuya said, closing his eyes again as he remembered.

"Naoki?"

"Naoki was another boy in the prison. He had the cell next to mine. He was slightly older, so he guided me in how to avoid attracting the attention of the guards, how to avoid the beatings they gave us. We comforted each other when one or the other of us felt afraid. And at night, we slept pressed up against the bars and holding hands. We sometimes kissed and touched each other, but all of that stopped one night when...when I was taken from my cell and...something happened. I don't remember."

"And even if you did," Renji finished, "You couldn't speak of it. Damn..."

"It was after that when we discovered...when we kissed or touched each other..."

"Stop, it's okay. I understand," said Renji, touching Tetsuya's lips gently, "Don't push yourself and make yourself hurt like that again. Just try to be patient and let Kisuke figure this out. He's really smart. He can help you. I know he can. And while he's trying to do that, you and I can just focus on the simple things...being close to each other, smiling and enjoying ourselves. I think you and I can get into plenty of trouble, even just being friends, Tetsuya."

Tetsuya blushed at the more intimate use of his name, and chuckled softly, remembering their flight into the living world.

Even amidst the danger, it felt wonderful riding Arashi at full speed, reiatsu blazing all around us, and Renji-san's arms around me like that. He is right. Even such simple closeness is...beautiful. We should be embracing that.

"What are you thinking?" Renji asked, brushing several errant black strands of Tetsuya's hair away from his eyes.

The two laughed as the hairs stubbornly fell back exactly as they had been.

"I was...just thinking that you are right, Renji-san. There might be things that we must avoid at present, but there is also much we might explore."

"Such as?"

"I want to go to Inuzuri with you," suggested the noble.

"Huh?" Renji mused, blinking, "Why would you want to go there? It's a hellhole. I spent years trying to get out of that place."

"Well," said Tetsuya, "we are about to go to Itamigiri, so you are likely to learn more about me. I want to do the same with you. I want to go where you have been and hear your stories. We may have dreamed about each other, Renji-san, but we are only beginning to get to know each other."

"Right," the redhead agreed, rubbing his cheek against Tetsuya's softer one, "Okay, we can go to Inuzuri. Hell, maybe it will throw off your stupid relatives who want to kill you."

"Probably," Tetsuya said, smiling in amusement, "I cannot see most of them imagining I would go there. Still, we will take Arashi with us for additional protection."

"Great. When do you want to go?" asked Renji.

"Now," said the noble, sitting up, "I've spent long enough lying around and feeling miserable."

"Sounds good," said Renji, glancing up at Arashi, who was reaching his head in through the window and nibbling absently at Tetsuya's hair, "You in, Fleabag?"

The stallion snorted derisively and glared at him.

"Blah...!" Renji said, turning his head away, "Don't get your damned horse snot on me."

"I think you offended him," said Tetsuya, smirking, "You might want to mend fences before we leave. If you do not...well, he tends to be, erm, a bit vengeful."

Renji did a doubletake as the stallion loosed what sounded suspiciously like wicked equine laughter.

"Okay, fine," the redhead said, raising his hands defensively, "Sorry for the horse snot comment, Fleabag. Didn't mean to get your tail in a knot."

Call me Fleabag one more time. I dare you.., said a wispy male voice in Renji's mind.

"What the hell?" Renji squawked, jumping back and staring at the black horse, who suddenly looked to be wearing a smug expression.

A moment later, he lost his balance and fell onto the floor. Arashi loosed a horse laugh as Tetsuya gave the redhead an apologetic look and offered him a hand. Renji climbed back onto the bed, staring at Arashi in wonder.

"Did he just...talk into my head?" Renji asked, "I didn't know he could do that."

Tetsuya looked back at Renji with a cute, mystified expression.

"He never has spoken that way to anyone but me. He must like you."

"Um...I don't know..." Renji said, looking back at the stallion, who had gone back to glaring at him, "He looks a little like he is just keeping me close in case he sees an opportunity to kill me or something."

"Nonsense," laughed the noble, rubbing Arashi's face, "Arashi is a part of me, and I would never want to hurt you...after all, you could turn out to be my tr..."

He broke off as the door opened and Tessai entered the room carrying a tray with two plates of food and two cups of tea on it.

"I thought that Tetsuya-san might be hungry," he explained, "You haven't eaten much since you arrived and you look a bit pale. Urahara-san asked me to make sure that you take care of yourself. Your preliminary test results are in and Unohana taichou is here to confer with him about them. They will be in shortly to talk to you."

"Ah," said Tetsuya, accepting the tray and setting it in his lap, "Arigatou, Tessai-san."

"And I did not forget you, Arashi-san," Tessai said, offering the stallion a large carrot.

Arashi nickered gratefully and nipped the carrot from Tessai's extended hand.

"What lovely manners. Perhaps you can teach a few to our resident Moocher."

"Wha...? Hey!" objected Renji, scowling.

Tessai laughed heartily and exited the room.

"Pain in the ass..." Renji muttered.

He sighed and started into his meal, his eyes fixing on Tetsuya, who had gone quiet again.

"What's wrong?" he asked the young noble, "You worried about what they'll find?"

"Perhaps," admitted Tetsuya, swatting Arashi's nose away as the stallion tried to steal half of the sandwich from his tray.

"Heh...lovely manners, ne?" the redhead said, smirking and drawing a look of disdain from the horse, "Thief."

Speak for yourself, shinigami, Arashi's voice whispered in Renji's head, You think I don't know what you plan for my naive young master as soon as the way is clear? I know what you are about...and if you hurt Tetsuya, then you will feel my wrath...

"I'm not going to hurt Tetsuya!" Renji objected, "Jeez, I just think he's beautiful, and I want to go out with the guy! What's wrong with that?"

Then he realized that he had spoken aloud...and that Tetsuya was smiling helplessly and blushing. A flash of heat roared across the redhead's face, and he cleared his throat nervously.

"Um, Tetsuya, do you...hear everything that he says?" Renji asked, shooting a glare at the snickering horse.

"Only when he is speaking to me, or when he wants me to hear. Why?"

"Uh, you didn't...I mean he didn't..."

"I did not hear what he said to you...no," Tetsuya said, giving Arashi a gentle shove and sending him trotting away, "And as for what you said...thank you."

"Well, I didn't really mean to blurt it out like that and embarrass you. Sorry."

"Oh, no harm done," Tetsuya assured him, "I think that we are both quite aware of what is happening."

"Well, it's a little hard to hide," Renji said, picking disinterestedly at his food. "I've heard people talk about having good chemistry and love at first sight, but I never really took it seriously. I didn't think something like that was possible, where you just meet someone and it's like fireworks going off in your head. You feel like you've known this person forever, but you just hadn't met them yet. Ichigo's always saying that he felt like he and Rukia had to have been friends to each other in former lives. I never took that seriously either. But meeting you has really changed things. I don't know anyone like you, Tetsuya."

"Nor do I know anyone like you, Renji," Tetsuya replied, making Renji's heart catch as he abandoned the usual honorific, "We are both in uncharted territory, making things up as we go. I just hope that..."

"Me too," Renji agreed, "And I think that we're going to find the answers we need. I don't think that the gods...fate...the universe...or whatever would have gone to the trouble of throwing us together if it wasn't for a reason."

"I think so too," Tetsuya said, setting the food tray aside and seeking Renji's warm embrace, "I don't know what will happen, but I don't fear that unknown as long as you are here."

Renji smiled and placed a gentle kiss on Tetsuya's forehead, then the two settled down on the bed and went quiet. Several minutes later, the door opened and Kisuke walked into the room, followed by Unohana taichou. Tetsuya sat up, his blue eyes widening and his face going even more unnaturally pale at seeing their serious expressions.

"What is it?" he asked softly, "You've found something serious...haven't you?"

"Urahara-san's tests and scans came back mostly normal," said Unohana, "However...the deeper scan of your spirit centers revealed something that we could not see before."

"What is it?" asked Renji, slipping a protective arm around the noble, "What's wrong?"

"No one has ever really known what exactly was done to those prisoners in Itamigiri," said Kisuke, "And checking into what happened after the liberation of the half-bloods, I found something disturbing...a pattern of unexplained deaths...deaths that our current machinery and tests couldn't explain. "

"What happened?" asked Tetsuya, swallowing hard.

"Not all of the cases were properly documented," the shopkeeper went on, "because remember, the clans didn't want to take responsibility for what was done to the prisoners. They sealed the prison away in an inter-dimensional cell so that no one could enter to find evidence of what they'd done. For a while, no one really paid too much attention to that. Then, the deaths began. It was...some years later, so people weren't really thinking to connect what appeared to be very sudden, but seemingly natural deaths...sudden reiatsu imbalances causing intense pain, nausea, vomiting, seizures, coma and death. And the tests that they ran showed nothing that could explain why. They seemed fine...healthy...normal. A little digging revealed that things weren't always so sudden...that many of the affected half-bloods suffered odd symptoms for some time before the more catastrophic event."

"Shit," breathed Renji, "So the pains that Tetsuya is having..."

"They are part of the 'controls' that were used within the prison to control the inmates' behavior," said Unohana, "however...when we examined the deep scan, we noticed something that we never even knew to look for. You see, all of the prior explorations of this phenomena have focused on the specific areas of pain or other symptoms. We simply didn't realize that it was something other than a failure of those organs that was at the root of the deaths."

"You said that the people who took you from your cell, did something to you," Kisuke went on, "But you didn't know what it was."

"Yes," said Tetsuya.

"Well, we detected a microscopic device that was carefully positioned on you core spirit center...the one that acts as the 'command center,' altering the flow of reiatsu through the other centers in your body. We think this device is what was used to control your behavior. And we are also convinced that it is activated when you are aroused or when you violate the prescribed order not to speak of what was done to you."

"Okay," said Renji, "But you can remove it, right? You can take it out?"

"The device is bonded with Tetsuya-san's core spirit center," explained Unohana taichou, "It would be too dangerous without knowing exactly how the device operates, to go in and try to remove it."

"Unfortunately," said Kisuke, "there's another problem too. You see, the device has begun to fail. We think this is what caused those other deaths. As the device fails, it will begin to cause erratic pains and other symptoms...dizziness, nausea, losses of consciousness. They will grow progressively worse. And at some point, if nothing is done, then catastrophic failure will occur, and Tetsuya's core spirit center will be destroyed. A shinigami can lose a few of the other spirit centers and still function...but the shock of losing the core spirit center is too devastating. It's not survivable."

"And that means, that we must seek information about the device, and attempt to remove it before it fails completely, said Unohana taichou, "I recommend that Tetsuya-san be hospitalized immediately so that everything may be done to keep him stable while we seek the information about the device."

"But," said Tetsuya, "if you are going to try to break into the prison, then you really need someone who has been inside and knows the layout of the place, the possible dangers..."

Kisuke sighed uncomfortably.

"No way," Renji said, shaking his head firmly, "Tetsuya, you need to listen to Unohana taichou. Let them take care of you. I'll go with Kisuke. We'll take Fleabag with us..."

"Arashi wasn't with me in the prison," Tetsuya explained, "He won't know it any better than you. And if time matters...then...I should go."

"I hate to admit it, but he's got a point," said Kisuke, "We really do need to get in there are work quickly. And we have to be careful. The ones who locked the prison away don't want people knowing what happened there. We could run into trouble...a lot of trouble."

"I understand," said Unohana, "but I must insist that if you are taking Tetsuya-san with you, you must also take a healer who might keep him stabilized."

"I was thinking about that. And I think Orihime's our girl. She can stay close to him and use her powers to keep him stable."

"But you know if Orihime goes, then Ichigo will insist on going too, ne?" asked Renji.

"Yeah," said the shopkeeper, "But I don't mind so much because we don't know what we're in for when we get inside. For all we know, it could be packed with nasty things that will want to kill us. So we'll be going in armed and prepared to fight...Me, you, Ichigo, Orihime and Tetsuya-san...a small group meant to infiltrate, but strong enough to fight if we get into trouble."

"Which I expect we will," said Tetsuya.

"I have sent word to Kuchiki taichou of your condition," said Unohana, "but we have not heard back yet."

"But we can't wait," said Kisuke, "I'm going to run a few more tests to make sure I have everything I need. And we'll leave tomorrow morning. Any questions?"

Renji and Tetsuya shook their heads silently.

"Okay...you two rest up. I'll run those tests and contact Orihime and Ichigo."

The two watched quietly as Unohana taichou and Kisuke left the room.

As the door closed behind them, Tetsuya settled back into Renji's arms and rested his head on the redhead's shoulder. Renji was quiet for a time, then couldn't help but ask softly.

"Are you okay?"

"Am I okay?" Tetsuya repeated, "Apparently not. However...I am not afraid...if that is what you were asking me, Renji."

"Is that right?" Renji mused, "because I'm scared shitless. But you're the one who matters here. Just take it easy and I'll be here for you."

"I know that, Renji," Tetsuya said, turning his sapphire eyes on the redhead and gently stunning him, "That...is why I am not afraid."