Chapter 10: White Soul

Tetsuya rested quietly, his body warmed by Arashi's and the stallion's gentle presence soothing him as he slept. Arashi rested as well, but more lightly, his equine senses watchful as the night progressed around them. The breeze moved the leaves and tree branches softly, and the buzz and hum of insects only added to the calm.

Arashi lifted his head and looked around for a moment, thinking he might have felt something odd touch his piqued senses, but he could sense nothing definite. He glanced at his sleeping master, his heart aching softly at the tension in Tetsuya's face, even as he slept.

He tries to honor his commitment to serve his majesty, Hiromi-sama, but his nightmares terrify him. And I can feel that there is something telling in them...something that keeps him from being able to just brush them off. I know my master well, and he is not a cowardly man. But something has invaded his heart and made him fearful.

He rested his face against Tetsuya, nuzzling him very gently to soothe him as Tetsuya shivered as though cold, and moaned softly in his sleep.

He never saw nor sensed the one who approached and incapacitated him with a mere touch. The red-golden eyes of the creature studied Tetsuya carefully, taking in his beauty, and the strength of his reiatsu. He knelt beside the young man and touched his forehead lightly, sensing the emotions surrounding his dreams. A slow smile rose on the creature's wickedly handsome face.

"Lovely," he breathed.

He paused as Tetsuya shifted uncomfortably and moaned in distress. Sweat broke out on the young man's forehead and his hands clenched.

"H-hiromi-sama," he whispered, his voice shaky and soft, "Hiromi-sama, what are you...?"

"Poor innocent thing," the creature whispered, touching Tetsuya's fine hair and caressing his cheek.

Tetsuya came awake suddenly, unnerved to find Arashi unresponsive and a beautiful, but frightening creature kneeling beside him. He swallowed hard, studying the leonine look to the other's body, the glowing red skin, comely face and powerful red-golden eyes.

"Who are you?" he asked, tensing, "Who are you that you could approach Arashi without us sensing you? Are you a spirit demon?"

"Demon is a vulgar word, ne Tetsuya?" the creature said, his odd eyes freezing the young noble in place, "I am simply another type of soul."

"Why can we not sense you?" Tetsuya repeated.

The creature smiled.

"You remain a shinigami. I am a transcendent being. I am at a level such that your senses cannot comprehend my presence."

"Why are you here?" the noble asked, "What do you want with me? You obviously could have easily claimed my life as I slept, but you chose not to. Why?"

"I was curious," the creature answered, "You seem plagued by nightmares...troubled thoughts that revolve around the king you serve so faithfully."

"And why would such a thing concern you?" Tetsuya inquired, "Who are you that you concern yourself with the welfare of, not the king, but a simple protector, and an inexperienced one at that?"

The creature paused to consider the words, then his pretty smile widened.

"You fear him."

"I trust Hiromi-sama."

"You trust him blindly," whispered the creature, "like a young, innocent child. And that is what you are, Tetsuya...a young lamb he leads to his execution."

Tetsuya caught his breath softly, and his eyes widened.

"Who are you?" he demanded, "How do you know of me? How do you know my name?"

The creature's eyes fastened on Tetsuya's, and the young noble felt his body freeze in place. The dark one came closer and cupped Tetsuya's lovely face in his hands. Tetsuya stared up into his deep, red-golden eyes, unable to move, and feeling the close presence of death.

Wait! This is what I felt when Hiromi-sama kissed me in my dream. But why? Why would I fear Hiromi-sama's kiss? I remember now that it made me feel as though I was dying...

"Lies, Tetsuya," the creature hissed softly, "He looks upon you with affection, but cannot wait to steal the life out of your young, beautiful body."

"What are you saying?" Tetsuya gasped, trying to pull free, "Let go of me!"

Tetsuya barely held back a terrified scream as the creature's lips caressed his, ever so lightly. He felt that same awful, body-numbing dread that Hiromi's kiss had given him, and felt life beginning to leave his body. The creature stroked his cheek gently and kissed him again, as Tetsuya shivered and tried to break through the heavy, blinding fear that had enveloped him.

"Let go!" he managed, struggling, "Hi-hiromi-sama!"

"Do you really want him to come for you, Tetsuya?" the creature asked, tracing his lips with a gentle fingertip, "Do you really want to die so young, to be swallowed up by him like that?"

"N-no!" whispered Tetsuya, "No, you are lying! Hiromi-sama is gentle...kind! He...he made me. He...cares for me!"

"Of course he does," the creature said softly, kissing the noble again, "He needs a young, powerful source to feed his reiatsu. And once he takes you, he can drain you endlessly."

"Once he...?" Tetsuya began, an odd feeling of weakness seeping into him.

The creature's lips touched his again, and Tetsuya felt a strange, tugging sensation inside.

Wh-what is this thing doing to me?

I feel so...

Tetsuya's body went limp in the creature's arms, and it lowered him onto his back, leaving his widened eyes open and staring into the calm, night sky. Everything went terrifyingly silent and still. He could see in short, odd flashes, but couldn't make sense of the images. He thought for a moment that he saw Prince Katsu, and heard him speaking to the creature. Then flashes of power entered his consciousness and left it just as quickly. He struggled to turn onto his stomach and crawled towards Arashi's fallen form, but was stopped short by staying hands. He clawed at the other hands and loosed sharp, frenzied bursts of power. He heard someone curse, and a jolt of reiatsu sent him plunging into blackness.

As frightening as it was to lie in the chill darkness, it wasn't an unfamiliar feeling to Tetsuya. He had lain for many nights, nearly naked and freezing, pressed close against the bars of his cell to share warmth with Naoki.

"You came back to me," whispered Naoki, "I wondered if you had died, and my heart was nearly broken, Tetsuya."

The other boy's hands caressed his face, drawing him little by little, back from the edges of some great precipice. Noaki's lips touched his, and Tetsuya felt something familiar. He shivered and frowned, holding on to Naoki's arms and trying to remember.


Tetsuya looked more closely at Naoki, an odd feeling passing over him.

"It" he whispered.

"Tetsuya, Tetsuya, you're not making sense. It must be the fever. I will go and call the guards. They will take you to the infirmary."

"N-no! Naoki, don't leave me!" Tetsuya cried, "Naoki!"

He felt Naoki's arms reach through the cell bars to embrace him.

"You are never alone, Tetsuya, watashi no koi! I am always with you!"

Naoki's chilled lips touched his, and Tetsuya shook harder as, before his stunned eyes, Naoki's face changed to Hiromi's, and the king leaned forward to kiss him.

"No!" he screamed, "Don't touch me! Please, don't touch me!"


"Stop! Please stop! I can feel it! You are killing are...!"

A familiar hand touched his face, and a new voice reached so longed for that tears ran down Tetsuya's face at hearing it.

"I am with you, watashi no itoko," the voice said softly, "You are very ill. The demon that attacked you poisoned you with his touch. He drained you of your reiatsu. But the prince found you in time. You are safe in the palace now. Rest, Tetsuya. Sleep."

Tetsuya curled tightly into Byakuya's arms and drifted off, bits of conversation reaching him as consciousness came and went.

"Thank goodness that Katsu found him when he did. As it was, he nearly died."

A wet cloth cooled his flushed face, making him sigh in relief.

"Why was he screaming like that?" Renji's shaken voice asked.

"The poison causes intense hallucinations as it corrupts the soul."

"Is he going to be all right, your majesty?"

Hiromi's hand touched Tetsuya's face, and the young noble shivered uncontrollably.

"He is going to live. But..."

He strained to hear the words, but was drawn away into a gentler, more restorative sleep.

Everything went gray and quiet around Tetsuya again. He felt Byakuya's arms still holding him, and breathed in the gentle, familiar scent of sakura. A sudden thought chilled him, and he forced his eyes open.

"A-arashi?" he whispered.

"Shh," Byakuya said, brushing his eyes closed again, "He is recovering. Do not worry about him. He will be fine."

"You must disappointed in me."

"Why would I be disappointed?" Byakuya asked, running his fingers lightly through the long strands of Tetsuya's hair, "What is being asked of you would be difficult for anyone. Still, your heart is strong, Tetsuya. You will persevere. And you will conquer your fears and succeed in the end. I know you will. But, for now, let everything go. Focus on your healing."

Tetsuya nodded briefly and closed his eyes again, sinking into a deeper, dreamless sleep. When he woke again, he was alone in the bed, but Haru sat, silent and white-faced, at his bedside, ready with a hot cup of tea and a tray of food. Tetsuya managed a few sips of tea and a spoonful of soup, then succumbed to another long bout of sleep.

He sensed Prince Katsu's presence in his room once, and heard the soft echo of the man's words, and Haru's trembling response, but couldn't make sense of the words. Hotaka too, visited the room and muttered a few words of encouragement before leaving him.

"Damned fool, running off like that," the horse master said, shaking his head, "And meeting him..."

"Hotaka-san," Katsu said warningly, "You know better than to speak of that in his presence."

"Apologies, your highness," Hotaka said, turning to go, "I was just worried for the boy. He was a mess. I hope he thanks you for saving his life. He could have died."

"It wasn't going to kill him," Katsu said softly, "It only toyed with him...this time. If anyone knows what it is like when it is serious..."

"It would be you."

Their voices faded and Tetsuya slept again.

When he woke the next time, he found Hiromi sitting quietly at his bedside, gazing at him silently with an unusually sad look in his eyes.

"Hiromi-sama?" Tetsuya said, sitting up, then putting a hand to his head as the room spun around him for a moment.

He was very aware that although the king gave him a look of concern, Hiromi did not touch him.

"Are you feeling better, Tetsuya?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, my lord," Tetsuya said, breathing slowly as his clouded eyes cleared and the room grew bright again, "I was just dizzy for a moment."

He paused, avoiding the king's lovely, sad eyes, and remembering.

"He looks upon you with affection, but cannot wait to steal the life out of your young, beautiful body."

"What are you saying?" Tetsuya gasped, trying to pull free, "Let go of me!"


Tetsuya's eyes closed and his head bowed as another strong memory broke across his mind.

"Do you really want him to come for you, Tetsuya?" the creature asked, tracing his lips with a gentle fingertip, "Do you really want to die so young, to be swallowed up by him like that?"

"N-no!" whispered Tetsuya, "No, you are lying! Hiromi-sama is gentle...kind! He...he made me. He...cares for me!"

"Of course he does," the creature said softly, kissing the noble again, "He needs a young, powerful source to feed his reiatsu. And once he takes you, he can drain you endlessly."

"Once he...?"

"Tetsuya, we need to talk about this. I want to understand why I feel fear in you whenever I touch you or try to speak to you. Did I do something that hurt you?"

"No," Tetsuya said quickly, looking up and trying to keep from shaking as he met the king's eyes, "You have done nothing but show me your love and support, my lord. It is just that...I..."

He paused, searching for words, tears coming to his eyes as Hiromi's hand touched his shoulder, and he couldn't help but quiver under the man's hand.

"What is this? What is happening to you?" Hiromi asked, capturing his chin and bringing Tetsuya's eyes to his, "Tetsuya, if I have done something to instill this fear in you, please tell me what it is!"

"It is not anything you did," Tetsuya said, shaking his head, then immediately regretting it as spots danced before his eyes, "I told you before. I had an awful dream about you and me, but I didn't remember it then."

"And you remember now?" asked Hiromi, his golden eyes entrancing the young noble.

Tetsuya hesitated, biting at his lip nervously, then nodded.

"Will you tell me what it was that you dreamed?" the king asked, still looking into his wide, wet sapphire eyes.

Tetsuya took a steadying breath.

"I dreamed that...Hiromi-sama...kissed me. And when he kissed me, I began to die."

Tetsuya's heart pounded and his eyes blinked closed at the admission. He didn't dare look at the king, and missed the look of understanding that washed over the king's handsome visage.

"Tetsuya," he said softly, slipping a hand into the distraught noble's.

"The...creature...found me while I was encountering that same dream," explained Tetsuya, "and he told me that Hiromi-sama would claim me, and then drain me endlessly."

"He is very good at playing on one's fears, yes," agreed the king, "But what he said is not true."

"Then...what is the truth?" asked Tetsuya, "Why did you really call me to the spirit dimension, Hiromi-sama? Please tell me. Because, it is more than obvious to me that I am beneath the lowest guardsman in ability here. And if I was no more than a simple guardsman, then that thing would have killed me outright."

"You are correct that you are no simple guardsman, Tetsuya," Hiromi affirmed, "I told you that part from the beginning. have to transition gradually into your new place here. Having too much thrown at you at once could be even more overwhelming than what you are experiencing now. But I must do something to relieve your fears. They are fast becoming a danger to us both. And the best way to extinguish this fear, I think, is through trust and through truth. I will explain what it was you were dreaming about, and I will ask you to trust that I will not harm you, Tetsuya."

"It was just a dream, was it not?" asked Tetsuya, "Hiromi-sama doesn't plan to...?"

"To kill you, Tetsuya? To drain you? Not at all," the king promised.

"But then, what was the...that creature talking about? Why did he say those things to me? And why didn't he kill me?"

The king's eyes closed for a moment, and he took a soft breath, then opened them again.

"The creature who approached a transcendent demon," Hiromi explained, "He is terribly powerful...a danger to everyone here, myself included. Tetsuya, he is the one who killed Katsu's and my parents. And he knows that a king's greatest vulnerability lies with the king's this case, you, Tetsuya."

Tetsuya's face paled.

"Me? You...called me here to...?"

"You remember that I told you that I made your soul under the guidance of my father?" asked the king.

"Yes," answered Tetsuya, a numbness stealing over him.

"Your soul is a special of a kind. An heir to the throne only makes one of that kind of soul, then looses it into the three worlds to mature as it chooses."

"Why?" asked Tetsuya, his voice shaking slightly, "Why let it go at all, if it is so vulnerable?"

Hiromi's palm touched his face gently, and the king smiled.

"Free will, Tetsuya. Choice. You had to be free to develop in your own come into your powers as a shinigami and to reach the point of transition on your own. How would it have felt to have been raised from birth knowing that you must live your life a certain way?"

Hiromi caught a curious look from the younger man and smiled.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Well, it is just...I wondered why."


"Why? Why was I made a half-blood? Why did I spend much of my childhood in a prison? If I was so special to you, did you not watch over me? And if you knew that I was in torment for all those years, why did you allow me to suffer that way, and offer me no comfort?"

Hiromi smiled and shook his head gently, slipping an arm around Tetsuya, and bringing their faces close together. And strangely, the gesture brought no fear this time...only warmth and reassurance.

"Tetsuya, I placed your soul with all of the others in the cycle of birth and rebirth. I did not choose your path. And I did watch over you. And I did comfort you. It is just that...when I did, I had to wear a different face."

Tetsuya's eyes widened and his breath caught in surprise. He met Hiromi's gaze and his eyes widened more as Hiromi's face became Naoki's.

"I was not allowed as heir to interfere. So, I clothed myself in a shinigami body and joined you in the prison. I held you through the coldest nights. I warmed your lips with kisses to see you through. And when Byakuya arrived to free you, I left you again, to continue to grow in beauty and power."

"But why did you torment me by dying as you did?" Tetsuya asked, "I have mourned Naoki's death ever since it happened. Not a day goes by that I do not think about the sacrifice he made for me. But...that was not...real?"

Hiromi's eyes lowered.

"It was real," he said softly, "I was a shinigami at the time, and I was in love with you. When I saw you were threatened, I feared that you would die. And even though you would simply have been reborn into the living world, I could not let you die. I intervened and 'Naoki,' my shinigami form, was killed. Of course, being a transcendent soul, I returned here to wait for you to be ready. I would have liked to have given you more time, but my parents were killed, and I was forced to assume the throne earlier than expected. At that point, it became dangerous for you to remain outside the palace. That demon you encountered is a formidable adversary, whose intent is to bring about the fall of the monarchy. If he seduces you away from me, he will steal away that part of me that lives in you, Tetsuya. He will claim you instead, and he will kill me and take control of the spirit dimension."

"But why didn't you tell me before?" asked Tetsuya, "Did you think that I...?"

"I knew that I was already hurting you by separating you from Byakuya. And I feared that too much information at once would be too much for you to bear. With all that you have to manage, raising your power level and learning to cope with your new environment, for me to push you farther by marrying you then would have been too much. Don't you see?"

"I think so," Tetsuya answered softly, "But then...the assignment to special forces was a farce? It was to cover up what I really was to you?"

"Not at all," Hiromi assured him, "The king's consort is a very unique individual, Tetsuya. He or she is closest to the king, and therefore, must be his strongest protector. That is why the consort is always first inducted as a member of the special forces. But you must be brought carefully to the limits of your shinigami body. Once you have reached transition, we will be married, and during the ceremony, I will strip away your shinigami form and you will begin your transcendence. That dream you had was a foresight of the transition ceremony. I wasn't killing you. I was only removing the outer shell so that you could transform. It is delivered with a kiss to seal the bond between our souls. And after your shinigami form has been shed, you will lie in the healing pool for seven days before emerging in your fully transcended form. I am sorry that your misunderstanding of that caused you such distress. Truly, the passing over of a new consort is one of the most beautiful ceremonies we engage in. And the bond we will create that night will lead to the exchange of power we will engage in when we make love. You will yield up your reiatsu, and it will enter my body and bind together with mine. And when I return it to you through our sexual completion, you will receive our child, Tetsuya. Perhaps that is a frightening thing for you, but...I have thought of it fondly for many years. I have loved you from a distance and longed for your arrival for so long! I apologize for overwhelming you. I truly didn't mean to."

"It's...all right," Tetsuya said softly, "I understand now."

Hiromi's eyes met his searchingly.

"And what do you feel now about becoming my consort, Tetsuya?" he asked quietly.

A thousand possible answers came into the young noble's stunned mind, but he pushed them all aside. Instead, he turned his head slightly so that their lips were touching, and yielded his answer in a slow, heartbreakingly sweet kiss.