(This story is the brainchild of the lively and enchanting Liv2luv, who also suggested the love triangle in Love Not in Vain, and continues to bring forth fresh and interesting ideas for me to play with. Thanks! :) Spunky is happy when tempted into new and different plotlines. This story has two pairings, both central to the story...Byakuya/Renji and The Spirit King/Tetsuya. Hope you enjoy it! Love Spunky)
Chapter 1: Brotherhood
Out of the corner of an eye, Renji saw his taichou look up from his work, and a moment later, the squad room door opened to admit Byakuya's somewhat younger, blue-eyed cousin, Tetsuya. A smile tugged at the corner of Renji's lips at seeing the immediate changes in his taichou's demeanor. They were, perhaps, things that other people might miss, but someone like Renji, who spent much of his time in the presence of the Kuchiki clan leader, would notice the small things...the spark of warmth in the usually placid, gray eyes, the near smile that came to his lips. There was, he sensed, a great deal of affection between the two.
They are more like brothers than cousins, I think, thought Renji, I wish that Taichou would react like that when I walk into the room.
He felt a soft burn on his cheeks imagining that.
"Tetsuya," Byakuya said in greeting, word and tone gently underscoring everything that Renji had been thinking about the two.
"Byakuya-sama," the younger man said quietly, his lovely, sapphire blue eyes nearly closing and his head bowing slightly as he said the name.
"I will be another few minutes," Byakuya said, turning back to his work, "Why don't you visit with Renji while you wait?"
"Arigato," Tetsuya answered, turning towards the redhead, and giving Renji a friendly, and, Renji thought, unKuchiki-like smile.
But then, Tetsuya was different, so different rules applied.
"Hey Tetsuya-san," Renji said, grinning as the blue-eyed noble sat down near him, "You bring your fleabag horse with you today?"
"Arashi is getting new shoes today," he answered, "He, of course, sends his regrets."
"Yeah, I'll miss having the hair tie nipped out of my hair and my uniform undone so my pants fall down," he said, rolling his eyes, "Why does he do that shit to me, anyway? You don't see him making Taichou's pants fall down."
Tetsuya blinked and blushed at the thought.
"Goodness, I should hope not!" he exclaimed, glancing over at his still working cousin, "I think that he might be the first Kuchiki sentenced to execution by the family if he dared. No, Arashi is high-spirited, but he knows how to correctly apply his unique wit."
"I think what my cousin is trying to say is that he teases you because he likes you and he knows just how much you will tolerate. That, and he senses that you enjoy being teased. After all, teasing can be a form of attention and affection," said Byakuya, not looking up from the papers he was reading.
"Yeah, but showing off my ass in public is a little too affectionate for me," Renji said, shaking his head, "But you wait until the next time he tries it. I have a little something planned for him. Don't tell him, okay, Tetsuya-san?"
"Of course not, Abarai-san," Tetsuya answered amiably.
Renji lifted an eyebrow.
"What did I tell you about calling me that?" he inquired, in an amused tone.
"My apologies, Renji-san," Tetsuya said, good naturedly, "I will try to remember."
They fell into a quiet, comfortable exchange that lasted until Byakuya set the last of the reports aside and stood. Tetsuya noticed and stood, inclining his head towards Renji.
"It was nice talking with you, Renji-san," he said, smiling.
"Yeah, nice talking to you too," Renji answered, watching as they left.
I wonder sometimes if those two have something a little stronger than brotherhood between them. I kinda hope not. But if there had to be someone else, I'd be okay with it being someone like Tetsuya...someone who makes him happy...like I want to.
"Was Arashi giving Makoto any trouble?" asked Byakuya, his lips curving upward slightly as he spoke.
"Ah, no," Tetsuya said, shaking his head and smiling, "He doesn't trifle too much with that man. But then, Makoto is a natural...with beasts of all sorts."
"Yes, he is talented," Byakuya replied, "But then, you are Arashi's master, and the two of you have learned to work together quite seamlessly."
"Arigato, Cousin," Tetsuya said, blushing, "I am pleased you have noticed, but we still have much room for improvement."
"There will always be room for improvement, Tetsuya. However, you and Arashi have become so capable that I feel it is a disservice to continue to have you serve only as head of house security and my personal bodyguard. Your talents would be extremely useful to the Gotei 13."
"Byakuya-sama, I am honored that you think of me so highly. And if not for the clan rules that prohibit me from doing so, I would accept your recommendation readily...especially as I know there has been talk of Abarai-san being promoted."
"I have been thinking about that," Byakuya said, stopping just short of the gates that opened into Kuchiki Manor, "And I hope you will reconsider what I said before, about me approaching the council to request permission for you to be allowed to manifest your zanpakutou for..."
Tetsuya smiled and shook his head gently.
"I would not have Byakuya-sama violate the codes of our clan for such a thing. I am more than content to focus my efforts on your safety. That alone means everything to me."
Byakuya sighed and touched Tetsuya's face gently, making the younger man blush and look down.
"You are meant for more than this," he said softly, "I know it...and, Tetsuya, I think you know it too. As committed as you are to my safety, you are meant to do greater things. Everything inside me tells me that you are."
"Ah, but as you have told me so many times, Byakuya-sama, 'You needn't rush the hands of fate. They are going to find you in their own time.' I am happy as I am for now. I have work that I love, and I have Arashi and you. That is all I need, right now. I am content."
Byakuya gave him the subtlest of smiles.
"As you will, then," he said, nodding, "Come, let us let down a bit."
They passed through the gates and into the gardens, then followed the outer walkway to the patio table.
"Have you eaten?" Byakuya asked.
"And I'll need to check in with the guard posts anyway. I will see to that, then meet you here for dessert."
"Very well," Byakuya said, nodding and sitting down at the table.
Tetsuya turned away, greeting Rukia as she arrived at the table, then flash stepping away to the central manor guard post.
"Byakuya-sama has returned to the manor," he informed the watch captain, "Is there anything to report?"
"No disturbances, Tetsuya-san, but there is advance notice that we shall be receiving a royal messenger."
"We are not certain of the exact timing of the visit. Only that Byakuya-sama and you will be required in attendance as soon as they arrive."
"Very well, then," Tetsuya said, frowning, "Although it makes things more difficult not knowing when to expect the messenger, one can understand that keeping such information to themselves may be a matter of protection for everyone involved."
"Then, inform me as soon as the messenger arrives. I will be with Byakuya-sama."
Tetsuya left the main guard post and traveled to each of the other stations, greeting and checking in with each guard before returning to join Byakuya, just as the clan leader and his sister were preparing to choose their dessert.
"Hello Tetsuya," Rukia said, smiling.
"Good evening, Rukia-chan," he replied, smiling.
They made their choices, then watched as the attendant flash stepped back to the main wing.
"All is quiet?" Byakuya asked, as he always did.
"Things are peaceful," Tetsuya answered, "But Akio did report that word had come from the spirit dimension."
Byakuya's eyebrow lifted curiously.
"Yes, a king's messenger is en route to the manor. We do not know when the messenger will arrive, but you and I have been requested to be in attendance."
"You were mentioned personally?" he asked softly.
The two looked up and broke off their conversation as the dessert arrived. They waited as they were served, then thanked the attendant and sent him on his way. The two ate several bites in silence before returning to their conversation.
"So," Byakuya continued, "You were requested personally?"
"And no explanation given?"
Tetsuya felt a soft shiver pass through him.
"No, Byakuya-sama, none," he answered, "Is something wrong?"
Byakuya thought for a moment, then shook his head.
"No. Do not concern yourself."
They finished their dessert and adjourned from the table, wishing Rukia a good evening, then crossing the gardens and entering the large, opulent bathing house. Their attendants were already waiting inside as they walked in and proceeded to the changing area.
"Good evening, Byakuya-sama, Tetsuya-san," said Torio and Koji, as the two arrived.
Torio moved to undress Byakuya, while Koji approached Tetsuya.
"The staff has been put on alert about the king's messenger," Torio reported to Byakuya, "We have everything prepared."
"Very well," said the clan leader, "You will inform us immediately as soon as the messenger arrives."
Byakuya stood quietly as he was disrobed, then waded out into the huge heated bathing pool and waded across to where several waterfalls cascaded down from a lovely sandstone overhang. He cast his eye around the room, taking in the sweet scent of the flowers and grass that covered the parts of the room that were not dominated by the bathing pool. Koji removed Tetsuya's dark blue house security uniform and the blue-eyed noble waded out to join his cousin underneath the waterfalls.
Tetsuya sighed softly, closing his eyes and letting the water run down through the long, layers of raven black hair and down his pale, slender back. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Byakuya's body losing some of its stiff formality as the warmth of the water soothed away the day's stresses. Torio and Koji appeared at their sides and treated the two men's bodies to a gentle and thorough cleansing, then left the two and waded back to the edge of the pool to wait in the dressing area.
"So, what do you think the messenger could be about?" Tetsuya asked, when they were alone again.
"I am not certain," Byakuya admitted, "But it is not surprising in that a new king has recently been seated. It likely has something to do with that."
"But it is odd that I was requested to be with you, ne?"
"Yes," Byakuya said, glancing at his cousin with a veiled look of concern, "It is odd. But it is likely because there is an upcoming ceremony or celebration related to the new king's crowning, and you will be attending me when we go."
"Ah, that must be it," agreed Tetsuya, relaxing at the suggestion.
Byakuya stole another quiet glance at his younger cousin, enjoying the shine of his blue eyes and the loveliness of his pale, softly glowing form. Tetsuya felt Byakuya's eyes touch him, and kept his eyes respectfully averted as he continued to bathe.
He stole glances at his elder cousin as they finished bathing and waded back across the pool, emerging still dripping wet, and waiting as their attendants dried and dressed them in comfortable, yet still formal kimonos. They left the gardens as the stars began to appear, and walked quietly out the back gate and up the forest pathway to a more natural waterfall. Byakuya sat down carefully beneath his favorite sakura tree, and Tetsuya took his place beside the clan leader, leaning against Byakuya's shoulder in a familiar gesture he only used at the end of the day, after all of his house duties had been seen to.
"The moon is lovely tonight, don't you think?" Byakuya intoned softly as his cousin settled against him.
"It is," Tetsuya agreed, "The clouds around it are enchanting, lit up as they are."
"Mhmmm," Byakuya sighed.
They listened to the calm night sounds, enjoying the peace and warmth of each other's company and the closeness they shared after shedding their more formal postures of the daytime. At night, they were simply a pair of cousins and kindred spirits, enjoying the sweetness of a spring night under the moon and stars. If not for the necessity for formal attire, Tetsuya might have simply drifted off right there.
Byakuya's head turned slightly, so that his chin rested on top of Tetsuya's head. The two quickly lost themselves in the tranquility of their surroundings, lulled by the sounds of splashing water and cicadas, the scents of flowers and the softer light of moon and stars.
"Byakuya-sama?" Tetsuya said quietly, loathe to disrupt the loveliness of the moment, but feeling an overwhelming gratefulness he simply had to express, "Thank you...for everything...for rescuing me from that place, for taking me in, for helping me to become strong...for showing me such kindness."
He said it every night that they shared under the stars that way. He had sworn to himself upon being freed from the half-bloods prison, to make it a heartfelt duty to do so. And he had kept that promise to himself ever since. Byakuya, for his part, understood the reasons for his cousin's steadfast, yet simple show of gratitude and did not question it. He did, however, use it as a means of expressing his own gratitude.
"You are welcome, Tetsuya," he replied, slipping a hand into his cousin's and squeezing for a moment, before releasing it, "Your presence is a blessing."
Neither said anymore, but they settled against each other, looking up into the sky and enjoying the full, blue tinted moon, bright stars and moonlit clouds. They might have been there for more than an hour when a flash step sounded and Torio appeared on the path near them.
"Torio?" Byakuya queried.
"The king's messenger has arrived, Byakuya-sama, but...sir, it is not just a messenger. They have sent an envoy. They said that they will explain when you arrive."
Tetsuya stood quickly and offered Byakuya a hand, which was quickly accepted. Torio gave the two a quick once-over to remove any stray grass, petals or twigs, then fell in behind them as they returned to the manor. Tetsuya felt a a soft quiver of uncertainty as he realized that it was not just an envoy of king's men, but that the entire council of elders was present and waiting for them as well. He remained a step behind Byakuya as the clan leader reached the waiting shinigamis. The king's messenger bowed, then straightened.
"Byakuya-sama, his majesty, King Hiromi, sends the following message," he said cordially, "We are pleased to summon Kuchiki clan member, Kuchiki Tetsuya, to the royal palace to be installed in His Royal Majesty's Special Forces."
Tetsuya felt his breath leave him and his legs weakened beneath him.
What? Did he say...?
The gardens went perfectly silent for a moment, then the head elder stepped forward.
"There must be some mistake," he said, frowning, "Did you say, Kuchiki Tetsuya?"
"Sir, that is the name that I was given by the king, himself."
"But...Kuchiki Tetsuya? Installed into the king's special forces? Is he aware that Kuchiki Tetsuya is a half-blood? And that, although powerful in reiatsu, he wields no zanpakutou?"
"His lordship is aware of those things, but regardless, summons Kuchiki Tetsuya, just the same," said another man in the envoy, stepping forward.
The elders, along with Byakuya, Tetsuya and all of the others in attendance lowered themselves onto one knee.
"Prince Katsu," Byakuya said in a deeply respectful tone, "We were not told that you would be present within the king's envoy. In fact, we were told only that a messenger was coming. This is hardly proper procedure for a royal visit."
Tetsuya felt a tightness in his chest as Katsu stepped forward, his long black hair fluttering in the evening breeze. His golden eyes fixed on Tetsuya and the younger man felt a chill at the way they regarded him...respectfully, yet betraying an edge of coldness.
"You must allow us to show you to our guest rooms. We will make you comfortable for the night and convene again in the morning."
Katsu shook his head briefly.
"My brother, the king requires that Tetsuya report to him immediately. His belongings can be sent along later, but I am to accompany him back to the palace tonight."
"Of course we will comply with his majesty's order," Byakuya said, his voice betraying a hint of reluctance that made Tetsuya's heart ache, "But, I must ask, is there a reason that there is such haste being made about this appointment?"
"There was an attempt made on my brother's life today, and several among his special forces were killed. It is important that his majesty not be left with inadequate protection."
"Of course...of course," Byakuya answered, nodding in agreement.
He swallowed hard and turned to face his cousin. His face remained composed, but Tetsuya felt the heartbreak beneath the intense calm.
"Tetsuya, you are to be congratulated. It is an honor to accept the king's appointment."
"Are you sure that's such a good idea?" asked Kuchiki Orochi, giving his younger cousin a dismissive look, "There are others in the clan more suitable to guard the king than this...this half-blood."
"The king will decide what is required," Katsu said, glaring at Orochi, "I happen to agree with you that this is an odd choice, but it is Hiromi-sama's choice to make."
He gave Tetsuya a non-committal look and nodded.
"Kuchiki Tetsuya, come. His Royal Majesty awaits your arrival."
"Of course, my lord," Tetsuya said, bowing respectfully.
He gave a low, soft whistle, then watched as a tall black stallion leapt over the gate into the garden and trotted to him. He turned back to Byakuya, wishing desperately to feel his cousin's warm embrace, to go back to his room and settle down in his bed for the night, to know that he would rise in the morning to the routine that had been the core of his life for more than a few years. But all protocol would allow the two was for Tetsuya to bow low before Byakuya and to wish him a short farewell, then for Byakuya to respond with wishes for a safe journey and an admonition to mind how he represented the clan. Then, Tetsuya climbed onto Arashi's back and found himself at the center of the envoy, surrounded by men on pure white horses.
Katsu positioned himself on Tetsuya's left side, with his bodyguard at Tetsuya's right and the rest of the guards and the messenger spread out around them. They rode at a slow gallop towards the crossover point in the dimension wall.
Tetsuya sat quietly astride Arashi, who knew from Tetsuya's demeanor and the powerful nature of the men around them that it was no time for silly antics. Horseman and mount held their heads high and Arashi stepped as gracefully as the white horse's around him, ignoring completely how they looked at him oddly out of the corners of their eyes and said nothing to him.
I don't understand this, thought Tetsuya, his stomach clenching inside him, Arashi and I so obviously don't belong among these well bred men and beasts. And how will I be a proper king's guardsman when I wield no zanpakutou? Certainly, there were many among the clansmen who were powerful enough and were full blooded, and in possession of a zanpakutou...
He felt the eyes of the others in the group, but tried to do as Byakuya had always instructed him and ignore them completely. But doing so while nagged by his huge doubts was difficult at best. And when they reached the dimension wall and he found himself passing the Gotei 13's Soutaichou and entering the spirit dimension, the truth of what was happening struck him with stunning force.
"You look troubled, Kuchiki Tetsuya," Katsu said softly as the palace came into view, "You wonder why you were chosen, and you know that the ones around you wonder as well."
"Yes, my lord," he answered, deciding that honesty was the best policy.
They came abreast of the king's greeting party, waiting in the courtyard. Tetsuya's blue eyes met the king's golden-eyed gaze, and his heart froze inside him. He sensed sudden movement to his left...that the guards had moved away and something was happening. He sensed danger, and felt Arashi tense beneath him. Time slowed to a crawl as he saw the prince's sword sweeping down to strike at him, and he raised his hands and summoned his strongest kido defense.
Katsu's sword crashed down into his glowing hands, and Tetsuya gasped as the invisible bonds holding back his full power suddenly abated. His reiatsu exploded around him and Arashi reared, squealing in warning.
Tetsuya felt tears in his eyes as the restrictive forces around him fell away, and he felt the hilt of a sword form in his hand. He found himself staring down at a blue steel sword with a sapphire blue hilt that matched his eyes.
"Brother," Katsu said, bowing his head respectfully, "I give you your new guardsman!"
Tetsuya's stricken eyes found the king's again, and he sensed an unusual warmth in them.
"Welcome, Kuchiki Tetsuya," Hiromi said pleasantly, "I am pleased to meet you."
Tetsuya stared in silence for a moment, then sheathed the blade and slid down off Arashi's back, approaching the king on shaky legs. He knelt at the king's feet and bowed his head respectfully, glad that in that position, he could hide the tears that threatened.
"Arigato, your majesty," he said, forcing calm into his voice, "I am...deeply honored."
Byakuya, his confused mind wondered, Why is this happening?