Chapter 18: Love that Makes Me Fearless

(This one has one more chapter to go, then will move into the sequel The Woman in Me Part 2: White Blossom...After the birth of the heir, Byakuya and Renji prepare to for their wedding. There's just one small hitch that flares up when Byakuya offers Renji a special gift on the night of their engagement announcement. Enjoy! Love, Spunky)

Renji laid still and kept his eyes closed, feeling a shiver of anxiety inside at the close presence of the being impersonating Byakuya.

I wonder what this is. The Dangai is where Central 46 and the twelfth imprison some of the most creepy things. I don't think I wanna know what this thing actually looks like. And I've got no doubts about what it eats. And it's intelligent enough to use a little strategy to get more food than just me too. I'm in real trouble here, having nothing to use against the damned thing but my good looks and personal fucking charm!

I know what's going to happen.

Yeah, I know.

Because it became clear to me when we were together that Captain really does love me. And I knew already what happens when he loves someone. He gives all of himself. That's what he gave to Hisana for the short time they were together. That's what he gave Tetsuya when he rescued him from that prison. It doesn't matter if the love that Byakuya gives you is romantic or brotherly, it's that heart of his that just can't stop giving, but will keep on giving until it breaks apart...all for love.

And I took that heart and broke it last night.

I should let this thing eat me right now.

But that wouldn't be an answer, would it? It wouldn't stop him from coming, from crashing through the barriers between us and destroying whatever threatens. Here I've treated this guy like he was a cookie cutter of Masato, when the truth is that Masato isn't worthy of breathing the same air as that man. As much as he can be hard-nosed, stubborn as hell and crushingly powerful, he doesn't really think we stand on different levels. For Masato, being noble means being above everyone else. For Captain, being noble means leading others to be better people...He follows the rules so that others will, fights to the ends of his strength and he doesn't think you have to be noble to stand with him. You only have to have a noble heart.

Someone like that has given his pure heart to a mongrel like me.

"Why are you crying, Ryuu?" his captor said, touching his face gently, "Don't you know that you are surrounded by people who care about you? You are going to be all right. Just sleep for a while."

"No way," Renji hissed in a low, deadly voice, his eyes lighting up from within, "If I'm going down, I'm not going to be taken without a fight. I may not have my powers, but even in this state, I can bring enough from inside me to do what needs to be done."

"What are you talking about?" the being asked, letting the vision of Byakuya Renji was seeing flicker slightly, "You are not making sense. Be calm now. You will re-injure yourself."

Renji ignored him and closed his eyes, focusing on the part of him that had been Wren.

Hey, I need you with me, okay? I think you're the part of me that best understands we can't let Byakuya or any of our other friends enter here. Whatever this thing is, it's god-awful and there's a good reason it's locked up in this dimension. So, let's give everything. I know it means we'll die, and that this kid Byakuya gave us will have to come with us. It will break his heart all over again, but at least he'll still be alive. I can't let him die for me.

I can't.

Renji could almost see Wren's disapproving face and feel the impact of her hand striking his head.

You're such an idiot!

First, you hated him for giving your friend a good home and you tried to stab him in the back. Then, you ran from him when all he wanted to do was to love you. He made himself completely vulnerable to you and you left him. And after that, he forgot the hurt of it and came to help us be put back together and asked for nothing in return, even though it broke his heart. And now, you know that all that man wants to do is to protect you. So, what does poor little pathetic used Renji want to do? He wants to sacrifice himself and the child Byakuya gave him, instead of letting himself be protected by the person who loves him! You are unbelievable...

You know the answer, stupid!

You know what you have to do.

Let go of what happened before.

Trust him.

Call him to you.

Renji felt his captor's finger dry away his tears and heard him say something in a voice that sounded less like Byakuya's and more threatening.

"What are you doing Ryuu?" he asked in a deep, rumbling voice.

All right, then. No sacrifice. But I'd better make my next move count. A tiny bit of life force...just enough for that flash step he tried so hard to teach me. I couldn't do it before, but I'd sure as hell better be able to now.

I feel Byakuya's reiatsu...the real Byakuya.

But he needs to fix on exactly where I am. I only have to break free for long enough to call him here.

"Ryuu?"

"I'M NOT FUCKING RYUU, YOU SON OF A BITCH!" Renji howled, letting a small amount of his life force escape through his spirit centers and engaging his flash step, "I'M RENJI ABARAI, VICE CAPTAIN OF SQUAD SIX."

The image of Byakuya that his captor had been wearing broke apart as Renji moved, and the sight of the misshapen, tentacled horror sent chills through the escaping redhead. It roared and opened its huge mouth, then chomped down on the afterimage that Renji had left behind and roared loud enough to shake the ground all around them.

Renji touched down in a small stand of trees near the beast, panting after the unnatural use of his life force.

It'll take a while for my life force to be fully restored. So, let's make this count.

He looked up at the sky, smiling as he remembered the first time he had ever felt Byakuya's approaching reiatsu.

That time, standing in that room and having him just walk by me, I could barely breathe. But right now, even though my powers are shut down, I'm still way stronger than I was that day. And he's the reason. He's done everything to make me stronger and all I've given him is grief. Well, those days are gone now. No more looking back. No more being stupid. No more blinding myself to the truth.

Well, it's about time, Wren's sarcastic voice whispered in his head.

Byakuya, I'm sorry I hurt you.

I'll make it up to you right now.

Renji's arm rose and pointed into the sky, and he called Zabimaru to his hand. He borrowed one more time from his life force, sending it through the weapon and aiming it at the sky, where he had sensed his captain approaching.

A shaft of red light lanced out of the tip of his blade, soaring up into the sky and striking the doorway that led back into the precipice world, lighting it up brightly.

Unfortunately, I also just gave my position away.

Renji broke into a run as he heard the crashing sound of the beast behind him breaking heedlessly through the trees.

"COME BACK HERE!" the creature boomed.

"Not in this lifetime!" Renji yelled, running faster.

The beast chasing him started to answer, but went silent again, staring in surprise as the dimension's doorway glowed a sudden bright white, then shattered.

"CAPTAIN!" Renji screamed, firing another shaft of red light into the sky, "I'M HERE!"

Be careful, Captain.

All at once, Renji realized that he had come to a steep drop-off, and he skidded to a stop, turning back to face the horror that was approaching him. He looked into its monstrous face, but strangely felt no fear at all.

"You're about to get trashed, you stupid bastard!" he shouted belligerently.

The beast turned its head, sensing someone powerful approaching.

Something pure white and blinding burst through the doorway and fired itself at the monster. Renji felt his knees go weak as the white blur he saw resolved into the heartbreakingly beautiful, angelic form of Byakuya's released Shuukei Hakuteiken.

His final form.

He didn't even bother holding back at all.

Renji inhaled in surprise as he realized that something else was happening around Byakuya's approaching release. Ahead of Byakuya's strike several volleys of ice blades, a storm of freezing snow, a fiery red blast and a huge Getsuga Tenshou pounded down on the surprised creature, making it roar and flare with power.

Tetsuya.

Rukia.

Rikichi.

Ichigo.

They all came to save me.

And...

He watched in awe as Byakuya's haloed final form crashed down, cracking the rock around them, shattering more trees and leaving a gaping hole splattered with wicked looking greenish sludge that could only be the remains of the destroyed monster.

Renji smiled and lowered Zabimaru as a flash step sounded and Byakuya appeared in front of him, looking unhurt, but more than a little concerned.

"Are you all right, Renji?" he asked quickly.

Renji gazed for a moment at the lovely spectacle in front of him and felt his heart flutter helplessly in his chest.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Thank you for coming for me."

Byakuya paused, studying him quietly for a moment.

"Tetsuya and the others will see you back to Karakura Town," he said solemnly, cleaning the muck from his blade, then sliding it back into the sheath as he turned to leave, "I am glad you are safe."

"Hey uh, Captain?"

Byakuya went still, facing away from him and saying nothing.

"You don't have to go. I...want to talk to you alone, if that's okay."

"As you wish," the noble said softly, "Tetsuya?"

Byakuya's cousin appeared before them, seated on Arashi's back. He slid down and laid a hand on the stallion's neck, steadying him as Byakuya nodded in Renji's direction and Tetsuya extended a hand to help him mount.

"Just don't toss me off, okay Fleabag?" Renji said, smirking, "I'm carrying an extra."

Arashi gave an equine snicker and flicked his tail at the redhead as he climbed on, but went still and quiet as Byakuya mounted behind him.

A feeling of warmth and another flutter went through Renji as Byakuya's arms wrapped around his waist and Arashi flash stepped back towards the precipice world.

"Are you sure you're all right? That thing didn't hurt you at all?" the noble asked.

"No. It was pretending to be you...actually, pretty damned badly too. I think it was trying to lure more people here to eat. But I don't think it was counting on facing down that much power. You guys didn't pull any punches."

"No," Byakuya agreed, letting one hand spread out over the redhead's lower abdomen, "Too much was at risk."

Renji gave a little sigh and leaned back into the noble's chest, breathing in his warm sakura scent and smiling.

"Thanks again for coming for me, Captain."

"I will never fail to be there when you need me, Renji."

"I know that, and I am really, really grateful."

Byakuya sighed.

"But...?"

"No buts," Renji said, closing his eyes and relaxing in Byakuya's embrace, "I'm grateful, that's all."

"Hmmm, well, no thanks are necessary."

"I know that too."

The two stopped talking and held onto each other quietly as Arashi carried them through the precipice world, then out an unfamiliar exit. Renji made a soft exclamation of surprise and appreciation as they landed in a beautiful, tree-lined courtyard, amidst flurries of sakura and plum blossoms. The house ahead of them, although not exceedingly large, was finely made and gave the redhead an instant feeling of being at home.

"What is this place?" he whispered, "This is...amazing!"

"Sakura no Kaiyou," Byakuya said softly in Renji's ear, making a blush rise on the redhead's flesh, "This is my true home, Renji. It is where I was born."

"Well, it's really beautiful," Renji said appreciatively, "just like you."

Byakuya looked back at him questioningly, but said nothing in reply. His arms released the redhead and he slid down, then helped Renji down from Arashi's back.

"Go on, now," Byakuya said, giving the horse a pat on the shoulder and sending him trotting away, "Are you hungry, Renji?"

"Y-yeah," the redhead confessed, looking somewhat sheepish, "I didn't think it was safe accepting food from that thing, so..."

"Very well. Come."

Renji followed the noble into the house, which proved to be as lovely and homey on the inside as outside.

"Lord Byakuya," an old woman greeted him, "Welcome home, sir."

"Thank you, Matsuko. We will have lunch in the garden room."

"Of course, sir," the old woman answered, bowing and turning away.

Byakuya led Renji out of the entry and down one of the long hallways, to a room decorated in warm earthen tones and having a low table with a number of pillows around it. The double doors that led into the peaceful gardens had been left open, and a few blossoms fluttered in from outside.

"Would you please sit down?" Byakuya invited him, watching as Renji knelt on one of the pillows, then kneeling alongside him.

"Thanks."

Byakuya waited as tea was served and the meal laid out, then excused his attendants and began to address the meal in front of him. Famished after his encounter with danger, Renji dove into his food, unable to hold back as his stomach growled noisily and ached with impatience.

"S-sorry," he apologized, "I can't help it..."

"I understand," Byakuya assured him, "Kisuke said that you would require more food to support the baby's growth. We can talk when we are finished eating."

Renji felt a sense of relief at not having to talk things out right away. He mind turned over the pieces of his scattered thoughts, organizing themselves slowly as he and the noble consumed their respective meals. As he finished, Renji sighed in contentment and leaned back against the pile of pillows behind him.

Without meaning to, he drifted off to sleep.

When he woke again, he found himself curled up alone in the pile of tumbled pillows with a cloak touched with Byakuya's pleasant scent laid over him. He sat up and looked around, smiling and scratching the back of his neck as a male attendant entered the room.

"Hey Torio," Renji greeted the young man, "I guess I drifted off after eating. Sorry."

"It's fine," Torio assured him, "Lord Byakuya only asked us to look after you while he took his evening walk in the gardens."

"Oh. Well, can you take me to where he is?" Renji inquired.

"Of course, Master Abarai," Torio said, joining him and leading him out the garden doors.

Renji found himself enchanted all over again by the way the courtyard looked at night, with the falling blossoms gently lit with moonlight. Torio led him off past the stable, then onto a small trail that led up to the top of a small cliff, overlooking a moonlit lake and darkened forest. Byakuya reclined beneath one of the trees, looking up at the moon with a gentle, peaceful expression.

"Abarai," he greeted the redhead as Renji joined him and Torio turned back in the direction of the house.

"Hi Captain. Sorry I fell asleep."

"It's fine. You were likely exhausted by your ordeal in the precipice world."

"Yeah, but I'm fed and rested now. I'm ready to talk if you are."

Byakuya kept his eyes focused up into the sky and gave no answer.

"You know, you didn't have to leave after helping me get myself back together in Karakura Town."

"I didn't want to put any pressure on you."

"I know, and I'm grateful," the redhead went on, "But the truth is that once I was all in one piece again, I started to put things together. And then, when I fell into that weird dimension and that thing captured me, it finally hit me how stupid I was being."

"I don't think you were being stupid," Byakuya suggested, "You were confused."

"You don't need to make excuses for me, okay? I know I was a real asshole and I hurt you, not just when we were in the Rukon, but all over the place and in a hundred ways."

"Renji..."

"You'd have every right to tell me to go to hell at this point. I wouldn't blame you if you did. I was as much of an idiot as Rukia and Wren both told me I was being. And I'm sorry for that. Really sorry."

"You don't need to apologize."

"Yeah, I do," Renji insisted, "It's true I was hurt and it took me a long time to get over it, but that wasn't your fault and it was wrong of me to make you pay for what Masato did to me. You're not anything like that guy. And the truth is, he couldn't hold a candle to you."

He smiled at the blush that rose on the noble's face and throat as he continued.

"Sure, you and I got off to a rough start, and it took a long time to figure things out, but I know now what you were trying so hard to tell me, and I agree. We're good together, and if you can find it in your heart to forgive me for being such a pain in the ass, I'd really like for us to raise this baby together."

Byakuya's eyes widened, and he looked back at the redhead with a cautious expression.

"Are you sure? You seemed so unsettled at the idea before. And I couldn't promise you that the elders wouldn't try to interfere."

"Bring'em on," Renji chuckled, "I'm sure you won't let them walk all over you. You're their leader, right? If they interfere, they're going to be borrowing trouble. Yeah, I'm sure."

Byakuya stared back at him, lost for words as Renji laughed and pulled him into a long, hard, open-mouthed kiss.

"I love you, Captain," he sighed, "I think I've loved you forever. And I'm not afraid to say it anymore."

Byakuya's flushed lips spread into a warm smile.

"Well, it is good to see that you have finally come to your senses. I was beginning to be worried I might actually have to wed that horrid man who broke your heart. I could have borne it just to see he never did such a thing again, but I much prefer this."

"Me too!" Renji laughed, as the noble brought him down onto his back in the fallen blossoms for a more amorous bout of kissing that ended with their clothes in disarray.

"Are you sure you are all right with this?" Byakuya asked, teasing his entrance lightly and earning a decidedly wanton response from the aroused redhead.

He joined their bodies in slow, measured thrusts, then paused, looking down into Renji's affectionate eyes.

"I love you too," he confessed, admiring the way the moon reflected in Renji's dark brown orbs, then interrupting the redhead's reply as his hips began to move.

Renji groaned in absolute bliss, spreading his legs wider and welcoming the deep penetration and the tickle of the other man's quickened breaths on his flushed skin. He moved with the noble, moaning and panting heedlessly as the pleasure in his body mounted until it seemed to claim him completely.

Byakuya's body shuddered against his, and melting heat filled the redhead inside, drawing a howl of pleasure that made Byakuya look down at him disapprovingly.

"C-captain!"

"Don't call me that when we are making love," the noble chided him.

"Byakuya!" Renji corrected himself breathlessly, wrapping his legs tightly around the other man to keep their bodies joined.

They laid still for a long time afterwards, exchanging slower kisses and enjoying the bright moonlight and the feeling of falling blossoms tickling their skin.

Thank you, Wren.

If it hadn't been for that side of me coming out and smacking me in the head, I don't know if I ever would have known this much happiness again.

He could almost hear his female counterpart's amused response.

Don't mention it.

Just don't fuck things up and make me have to come out and kick your ass for it.