(Yes, this is the promised sequel to Prince of Petals! Hope you enjoy it! Love Spunky)
Chapter 1: Recovery is a Process
"That looks lovely, Prince Tohma," said Hiromi, his intelligent gray eyes studying the painting on the easel that stood in front of the seated prince.
His eyes scanned the valley below them, then drifted back to the prince's work in progress.
"I see you continue to favor sakura trees in your representations," he went on, "They look so enchanting. I think perhaps we should plant some on this hill. They would go well here."
"I agree," the prince said, his lips smiling as he studied the picture, then added several more fluttering petals, "I have loved the trees since living at Kuchiki Manor. Despite how things ended between Byakuya and me, I don't think I will ever lose my appreciation for them."
"Or for Byakuya," added the counselor, "It is all right to admit that you still have feelings for him. How could you not, ne? And you have found a positive outlet for your feelings...one that allows you to express them freely, yet brings no danger of igniting the negative patterns of your past."
Tohma sighed softly.
"Yes," he said, turning his head to meet his counselor's eyes, "I feel much more peaceful inside. But I think that is as much from being away from the palace as from painting. And I have to say that your calm presence in my life has made a tremendous difference, Hiromi. I am very grateful to you for that."
A soft blush rose on the councilor's cheeks.
"Prince Tohma, I am only following my heart and doing the work I am meant to. And besides," he said, turning away, "I am aware that part of the reason you respond so readily to me is because I resemble him. That is why you requested to have me replace the counselor Haru originally selected for you."
"But if the facility head thought for a moment that such a thing would get in the way of my treatment, then he would not have approved the change. You are an attractive man, Hiromi. I would have to be blind not to notice."
He rose from his chair and picked several colorful wildflowers, then moved to where Hiromi stood, looking out over the quiet valley. The counselor kept his eyes carefully averted, following the flight of an eagle across the valley. Tohma bit his lip and moved closer yet, making Hiromi's head turn and his gray eyes meet the prince's again. Tohma handed him the flowers.
"For your office," he said softly, "so you may escape that drab place in your mind when it makes your heart-weary."
"Thank you," said Hiromi, looking down at the flowers, "I appreciate the gesture, but Prince Tohma, if you continue to approach me this way, I shall have to request to be removed as your counselor. You know this is not right."
"What?" asked Tohma, "That I find you attractive? That I wish to show you my respect and gratitude. I have asked for nothing untoward."
"While that is true," admitted Hiromi, "every day, you and I come closer and closer to the edges of propriety. And...the truth is...we both stand to lose something if this continues."
"Does that mean that you do not find me equally attractive?" asked the prince.
"I did not say that," said Hiromi, shaking his head, "Please do not misinterpret me. I cannot look at you through that lens, because to do so, even for a moment, could be destructive to both of us."
He froze as the prince turned and captured him in strong arms, and brought their lips crashing together. Hiromi resisted the first seething kiss, but made the mistake of meeting the prince's golden eyes and felt the world outside the two disappear. He met the second kiss tentatively and the third, warmly. But as the prince released him and followed his eyes out over the valley, Hiromi's expression grew sad.
"I am worried for you," he said softly, "I know I cannot continue to counsel you. This cannot go on. But...I..."
"You care about me," said the prince, returning his troubled smile, "I understand. But you still think that I am only interested in you because of your resemblance to my former spouse. Hiromi, if that was all it was, why would I have offered you your favorite wildflowers? Why would I leave the sakura trees out of the paintings I make for you? I can differentiate between you in my mind. And...it is you that I am attracted to now. It has been nearly a year since my marriage was annulled. Am I to never know love again? Can you never return my affections?"
Hiromi's head bowed and he brought the wildflowers to his nose and breathed in their sweet scent.
"As long as I am a member of the staff here, and you are a patient...especially my patient, I can do nothing that violates the trust placed in me to help heal you."
Tohma felt a shiver pass through him and met the counselor's eyes warily.
"Are you going to have yourself reassigned...because of what I did?" he asked, an edge of worry in his voice.
Hiromi bit his lip and considered the question, then let out a breath and shook his head gently.
"As long as it does not happen again, I will overlook it...this once. I truly hope that we can complete your course of treatment together, Prince Tohma. We have come so far, and crossed so many bridges together. I want to see what happens in the end."
He looked out over the valley, the smile returning to his lips.
"I want to see you released from this place and freed to resume your life. After that, whatever roads you wish to pursue with me...I will consider."
The counselor felt a sudden disturbance in the reiatsu around them and started to turn. But before he could register what was happening, something struck him in the back of the head, sending him tumbling into blackness, the wildflowers falling from his hand as he collapsed.
"Okay," said Renji in a confrontational tone, "You can't fucking tell me that I'm still growing that much! This kid is about to pop out of me. Any bigger and he's going to be fully grown when he's born!"
"Not to worry, Renji-sama," said Koji, adjusting the tie on his formal kimono, "There is plenty of give in this kimono. I just need to adjust it slightly. Please hold still."
"Hey, first of all, quit with the honorifics. I hate that kind of bullshit. And secondly, I have been holding still the whole time, while you trussed me up in this stiff, itchy straitjacket. I am about to jump out of my skin! Can we do this later? I really need to...well, I don't know if I'll throw up this time or just pee, but I'm full of something that wants to get outta me, like right now!"
"Oh..." fussed the attendant, releasing him from the lovely, but restrictive kimono and helping him into a comfortable yukata, "Very well, sir. We'll finish later, if you prefer."
"Why don't you let me see what I can do with him?" asked a second youth, stepping into the room.
Koji met Kuchiki Torio's eyes gratefully.
"Thank you, Torio-san," he sighed, "Renji-sama seems very flustered."
"Argh! Stop calling me that!" complained the redhead.
"Who is disturbing the peace in here?" Byakuya said, giving Renji a look of mock reproach, "I thought that Koji was conducting the final fitting before the wedding. I just saw Tetsuya, and he looked very well turned out."
"Yeah?" said Renji, giving the noble an uncharacteristic scowl, "Well, "Tetsuya isn't about to pop out a kid any day. His body doesn't look like he swallowed an inflated balloon!"
"Nonsense," said the noble, shaking his head, "Women get much bigger than you are, Renji. I think I was larger than you when I bore Koichi."
"Where is the little rugrat, anyway?" asked the redhead, changing the subject.
"He is having his final fitting for the wedding as well. And after that, we have the rehearsal and dinner."
"Oh, gods..." Renji groaned, "Honestly? I am really happy for Tetsuya and Haru, but...look at me! I'm huge. I'm always either throwing up, pissing or feeling like I have to do one or the other. I have mood swings like a teenage girl. I cry for no reason...or any reason. And when I'm not crying, throwing up or peeing, I'm eating. Anything! Everything! I even ate half your dinner last night. And I hate spicy food. I had a stomach ache all night!"
Byakuya gave him a tolerant smile.
"I did try to relieve it for you," the noble reminded him.
"Yeah, I appreciated the peppermints and belly rub," Renji said, sighing discontentedly, "I don't suppose you'd be willing to give me another one?"
Byakuya slipped his arms around the redhead and met Torio and Koji's eyes.
"Will you excuse us?"
The two youths glanced at each other and left the room, closing the door behind them. Renji sighed and closed his eyes, leaning into Byakuya's embrace as the noble brushed light kisses along the side of his neck.
"Oh, that's a good start," he mumbled, rubbing his cheek against Byakuya's, and slipping his hands underneath the folds of his clothes.
Byakuya's slender hands peeled back the redhead's yukata and Renji climbed onto the bed and sat with his back against the pillows. He looked down at his swollen abdomen, watching as Byakuya slipped out of his clothes and followed him onto the bed, then knelt between his parted legs, placing his hands on the redhead's abdomen. His reiatsu glowed softly around his opened hands as they gently spread themselves over Renji's belly, caressing him slowly as the noble leaned forward to offer his spouse a kiss. Byakuya's lips left his and he bent to kiss Renji's belly. A helpless smile crawled across the redhead's face at the sight of his usually reserved spouse offering him such a tender expression of his affection. He stroked Byakuya's face with extended fingertips as the noble rested the side of his head on Renji's stomach and gazed up at him quietly, as his hands continued to offer Renji relief from his discomfort.
"Is that better?" Byakuya asked, looking up at him with a tranquil expression.
Renji smiled and tickled his cheek.
"It's great," he said, smiling, "but it would be even better if you would..."
Byakuya caught the smoldering look Renji gave him, and returned it.
"Are you sure?" he asked softly, "I thought that you weren't feeling well. And with the muscles and reiatsu in the area in disarray..."
"But...I have a craving," Renji whispered, sliding his fingers under Byakuya's chin and bringing the noble's dark eyes to his, "I have a very intense craving."
"A...craving?" repeated the noble, giving him a soft glare, "What exactly do you want me to do?"
"Oh," groaned Renji, "You know if I say it, I won't last for five seconds, Bya. I'm sensitive to everything! C'mon, just, be a little merciful, here! Help a guy out, ne?"
"Of course," Byakuya said, giving him a gracious nod, "I would never leave a loved one in distress."
"Oh, thank kami!" sighed the redhead.
"As long as he stops harassing his attendant and cooperates completely after this, until after my cousin's wedding."
"Ugh," grunted Renji, "I knew there would be conditions..."
"Well," said Byakuya, "you could pull rank on me, seeing as you are Abarai Renji, Prince of the three worlds and I am a mere noble servant."
"Will you quit that? I hate it when you act like you're..."
"I was toying with you," Byakuya said, smirking and kissing his belly again, "I only tried to coerce you into behaving because you were distressing Koji. He is a newer attendant. Torio is working with him to instruct him, but he is a bit nervous and unsure of himself."
"Okay," said the redhead, regaining his more good natured personality, "Yeah, he's a good kid. I'll try not to drive him crazy."
He let out another discontented sigh.
"I just feel so damned restless all of the time. I am really ready for this to be over already and this kid to be born. I'm looking forward to having my normal body back and being able to walk, eat, sleep and have sex normally!"
"Oh?" said Byakuya, moving forward and giving his beloved a teasing lick, "You haven't enjoyed employing bits of creativity here and there to...ease your discomfort?"
"Huh..." mused Renji, "Well, now that you mention it, I have. But...I really like looking into your eyes when we're making love. And it's been forever since I could do that. Don't get me wrong. I'm really happy to be having our baby, but..."
"I understand," said Byakuya, effectively silencing the redhead as he began a warm seduction.
"Mmmmmmm," moaned Renji, longing to close his eyes, but loathe to miss the beautiful sight of Byakuya, naked and spread out on his stomach, wearing a happy, peaceful expression.
"Oh...!" Renji moaned more loudly, "Kami, I want more...really...like...not this way, but...oh...fuck, that feels good, but, you know what I'm saying, ne, B-bya?"
Byakuya paused and smiled at his flustered lover.
"Say no more..." Byakuya said, lifting himself and moving into position.
He knelt atop Renji, with his legs spread wide, leaning back and balancing carefully on his hands, so that the redhead's protruding belly would not interfere. Renji smiled gratefully, groaning with arousal as Byakuya slowly brought them together. He meant to be more patient, but faced with the beauty of their joining, he couldn't help but move faster, nearly throwing Byakuya off balance. The noble gave him an amused look and moved gracefully with him.
"Oh...hah, I almost...d-don't feel...p-pathetic and...ah...fat anymore," he moaned.
"You are not fat," Byakuya chided him, panting softly with exertion as they continued their lovemaking.
"You look radiant," said Byakuya.
"Oh kami, I want to kiss you for that," Renji chuckled, "But I can't make love to you and kiss you at the same time...N-not possible right...now!"
"Then, we will kiss when your other needs have been met," Byakuya assured him.
Renji moved suddenly, nearly unseating him again, then gasped hard and released. Byakuya's eyes closed and he let the swirl of Renji's heat inside him take him over the edges of arousal and into bliss. He waited until the heavy throbs of orgasm had faded, then crawled off of the redhead and slowly cleaned away the wet evidence of their joining. Renji watched with happy, glazed over eyes, then nearly purred with contentment as the noble returned to his mouth for a warm flurry of Byakuya-flavored kisses.
"Damn...okay," Renji sighed sleepily, "I surrender. I'll be good until after the wedding...and then some. How's that?"
Byakuya smiled and curled into his arms.
"That would be a relief," he said, resting his face against Renji's.
They had nearly drifted off, when a hell butterfly floated into the room and hovered above Renji. The redhead groaned and swatted at the annoying insect, but finally let it land on his fingertip.
"Okay, fine. Have it your way," he grunted, "What's going on?"
"Renji," said the spirit king's solemn voice, "Word has come to us that there has been an incident at the facility where Prince Tohma has been receiving treatment. A counselor was injured, and Tohma has been accused of being involved. We would go to him, but there have been several incidents involving demons near the palace and we are focused on bringing the situation under control. I feel bad tasking you with this, especially considering your history with your brother, but they have asked that a family member come to deal with the situation."
"Fuck..." muttered Renji, his reiatsu flaring, "I don't need this right now."
Byakuya met his eyes calmly.
"I could see to it for you," he offered.
"No way," Renji said, shaking his head, "There's no way in hell. I'll take care of it. You just...concentrate on Tetsuya's wedding. I'll be back after I see what the hell that bastard has gotten himself into."
Byakuya looked as though he wanted to argue, but sighed and nodded briefly, then rose and turned towards the shower.
"I'll be there in a sec," Renji said, sitting up more slowly.
He climbed to his feet and followed Byakuya into the bathroom continuing to mutter unhappily all of the way.