Chapter 10: Seeing Through

Byakuya woke to find himself in darkness and shivering with cold. His bound hands had been fastened to some sort of fixture on the floor of the cave, and he had been left lying in what looked to be a nest of field grasses. But there was nothing there to help him maintain his body warmth as the chill of night wrapped around him. He moaned softly and peered into the blackness, looking for some sign of Renji, but found that he had been left alone. And suddenly considering that Renji might not be the only demon in the area, he felt deeply vulnerable. He heard a soft, scraping sound that left him with a feeling of dread that made even the deep coldness disappear as something approached the cave.

He felt a quiver of relief at it being Renji who, even though turned demonic and certainly working at a plan that would involve him dying at some point, had reason of some kind not to kill him at the moment, and in fact, wanted him to live to serve his purposes. He avoided the dreaded pitfall of considering what those purposes could be, and instead focused on trying to make some connection with his possessed lover.

Renji remained crouched near the cave entrance for a time, watching the area below with malevolent eyes. Then, he loosed a soft growl and set some kind of kido in place at the opening, which Byakuya reasoned might either hide their presence or simply warn off other aggressors. He moved to the back of the cave, where Byakuya laid bound and glared down at him.

"R-renji?" Byakuya whispered, looking back at him cautiously.

The demon bared his teeth warningly.

"Shut up," he growled, reaching down to check the binding on the noble's slender wrists.

Byakuya went silent and just looked up into the dangerous red-golden eyes and fierce expression as the demon finished checking his bonds, then laid down and curled his naked, leathery body around Byakuya's. And to the noble's surprise, the demon's body was not cold, but instead, radiated intense heat, making the uncomfortable chill in his own body disappear almost instantly.

He shivered, not from cold, but from uncertainty as the beast breathed in the sakura scent of his hair and flesh, then bared his teeth and brushed his fangs against Byakuya's pale throat.

"Why are you doing this?" Byakuya asked, making the demon snarl warningly and curl his clawed fingers tightly into the noble's hair.

Byakuya winced and sucked in a pained breath.

"I told you to shut up," the beast said shortly, continuing to run his teeth along the noble's vulnerable flesh.

Byakuya flinched as the demon's tongue followed the path his tongue had taken, and he whined softly, ending in a wanton growl.

"Renji...Renji, can you...?" Byakuya whispered.

He let out a pained cry as the demon grabbed him, letting its nails dig into his skin as he turned the noble onto his back and laid his body on top of Byakuya's. Byakuya stared, wide-eyed into the demon's red-golden orbs, searching for any sign of Renji's presence there. One of the demon's clawed hands wrapped around his throat, and the beast bared his fangs. He let out a snarling hiss and struck the noble on one cheek, making it redden and forcing a sharp gasp from his captive. Then, he tightened the hand that was wrapped around Byakuya's slender throat until the noble made a choked sound of distress.

"I have possessed your lover's body," the demon said in a low, malevolent voice, "He will not answer you. So give it up and just lie there quietly. I'm not going to kill you yet."

Byakuya shivered, but took a steadying breath and forced himself to relax. With his sign of submission, the hand around his throat loosened, and he found that he could breathe easier.

"Will you not at least tell me why it is that I will die?" Byakuya asked, "And while I accept that you have chosen this fate for me, what is to be my husband's fate?"

He flinched at the scathing glare the words earned him. But to his surprise, the demon's body relaxed a moment later, and his hand slid down Byakuya's soft, slender back and curled lightly around his bottom.

"You are one of the nobles, no?" he said quietly, "You know about debts of honor, matters of duty?"

"I do."

"Well, would it surprise you to know that there is honor among demons as well? That, like you and your lover, we form powerful alliances, make bonds to strengthen ourselves so that we become formidable? It was this kind of bond that your bastard noble ancestor shattered when he dispatched my mate."

Byakuya caught his breath softly.

"The demon that Kazuki killed..."

"That was my mate," the demon confirmed, "That noble wretch murdered him and I am going to kill that man for that. But killing him wouldn't be enough to erase the sting of what he did...the insult to our honor. So...Kazuki Kuchiki will lose more than his own life! His samurai mate, His son and son-in-law, and you, he will lose entirely. And...I will keep the demonized body of this samurai, and then when the king has lost his protective samurai line...I will kill him as well. Only then will my bloodlust be satisfied!"

Byakuya paused and considered his words carefully.

"You must have loved your mate very deeply to feel the need for such devastating vengeance," he commented finally.

The demon gave him an odd look.

"Love?" he repeated loathingly, "I think you forget who we are, young transcendent. It is you who relies on that weakening of self that is required for love to exist. As demons, we will not lower ourselves...sacrifice power to feed such a silly thing as emotion. Do you understand? Emotion is why we demons continue to flourish. You, the shinigamis, the humans, and even the hollows...all have their root in the growing, controlling, exchange and release of emotions. We demons crave something different. We crave power. And it is power that is at the center of our binding. My mate and I combined our abilities, and together, we became horribly powerful. When your ancestor murdered my mate, he not only took that soul, but the power that soul added to mine. It wasn't just an assault on my mate, but it was an attack on me as well...one aimed at weakening me. But...Kazuki Kuchiki is about to learn the difference between a demon soul and his own transcendent one. Were I to kill his mate, that man would search me out and make me pay for my transgression with my life, based on his emotions. But because this man has stolen my mate's life, and thus denied my mate and me power that belonged to us...and further, that he stole the power of the ones we would bear...his debt is much greater than just the taking of one life. Honor demands that he pay for that greater debt. So, this is how I will make him pay."

"So...demon lovers do not bind themselves together based on love?" Byakuya asked, "But there is love between you, ne? You...make love with each other for pleasure, no? You create a family?"

"We bind our bodies with others to increase our power and status among our kin," explained the demon, "We join our bodies and make children that are meant to be stronger than we are, so that they will bind with partners that will make them stronger still. And someday, we will be strong enough to overthrow that ridiculous king and empty this place of the transcendents! And when we are, you can be sure that, even then, we will resist the lure of emotion that will have caused your downfall."

"I see," said Byakuya, lowering his eyes, "You are very different from us. Despite the circumstances, it is good to have some understanding of you."

The demon looked at him questioningly.

"This will ease your emotions as you die?" he asked, sliding a claw down the noble's pretty, white cheek, "This will make you more accepting of your unavoidable fate?"

Byakuya's heart began to race as an idea came into his mind.

"I am not afraid to die as such, but I am concerned that my husband is to be alive, but in torment. It makes me curious. Why did you choose Renji? Why did you not merely possess Kazuki and force him to harm all of us, himself?"

The demon's eyes darkened.

"Because your mate killed me. He killed me, and as I began to die, I sent my reiatsu into his body so that I might live. I gained control..."

"But even then, you could have used him to then attack and possess Kazuki, could you not?"

"No."

"You could not possess Kazuki Kuchiki?" Byakuya asked, "Why not?"

The demon scowled.

"Enough talk!" he said coarsely, "You will not be useful if you are weak from lack of sleep. Go to sleep. You have my assurance that I will not kill you, just yet. And you have your lover's body to comfort you so that you needn't be overly emotional."

"I need to feel Renji's soul," Byakuya requested, "Please, I will not ask for anything else and will sleep after..."

He fully expected a punishment for the request, a seething reply delivered with some inflicting of pain. But he stared in surprise as some of the malevolence went out of the demon's dark face, and more familiar looking eyes looked back at him.

"Renji!" he mouthed breathlessly.

He felt the change in the manner in which he was held...more cautious hands that were wary of harming him with the sharp claws. And the lips that kissed his matched the tragically longing eyes.

"Byakuya..." Renji said softly, "Byakuya, I am...sorry."

The noble's eyes dampened, but he held the tears back and offered his devastated husband a tender kiss of greeting.

"You have done nothing to be sorry for," Byakuya assured him, "I am...glad that you are still alive, Renji."

"I may be alive," said the redhead, "but that damned thing is wrapped around my soul now. I've tried, but I have so little control! I don't know how to force it out of my body!"

Byakuya bit at his lip, knowing better to reveal to Renji any part of their plans.

"Do not worry, watashi no koi," he whispered, curling more firmly into Renji's arms, "We will find a way."

"How can you say that?" the redhead said, sadly, "You can't know..."

"My heart tells me we will find a way," Byakuya assured him, "And now, while we are together, I...I want to be with my lover."

"What?" Renji asked, frowning, "Byakuya...I have a demon fused with my soul! I'm not even..."

"You are still the one I love," the noble insisted, capturing his lips and feeding him several hungry kisses, "Please, Renji...I have ached for you ever since you disappeared. I feel like I have been slowly dying inside. Come into me, Renji. Let me feel that I am not alone..."

He opened his yukata so that his slender, lovely body was exposed. Renji swallowed hard, feeling the furious swell of the demon's presence.

"But...he could take control while we...while we are...!"

"I don't care," said Byakuya, "I just...need to be with you, Renji...please."

Renji looked back at him with tormented eyes.

"I won't let him hurt you," he insisted, "And opening yourself to him that way...he could..."

"He said that he was not going to kill me yet," Byakuya reasoned, "And he gave us this time together. Let us not waste it, Renji. It...may be all we have left..."

Renji's eyes closed for a moment, and his lips quivered as he struggled with his emotions. Byakuya used his distraction to pull Renji into a long, penetrating kiss that made Renji's heart pound harder and caused an instant reaction in his body.

Yes..., thought the noble, This demon claims to only concern himself with matters of power. They think of power the way that we think of love. Still, he has invaded a body that is still at least part shinigami transcendent. That could make him vulnerable to emotion...

"Renji!" he moaned, moving his body against the one on top of it, "Renji, make love to me..."

He felt the heated swell of his possessed lover's arousal, where it pressed against his, telling him that even under the power of the demon, Renji's body still reacted to him. And his suspicion was confirmed as Renji's body went taut on top of him, and the demon took control again, glaring down at Byakuya with pure hatred.

"Enough," he said darkly, "Sleep."

A heavy jolt of power shot through the noble's body, sending him crashing into senselessness.

But even under the demon's control, Renji's body remained aroused, and the flickering emotions teased the demon into tasting the noble's soft, unresisting lips and running his hands slowly over the lovely, perfect, white flesh.

"You think I am the demon," he whispered into the unconscious noble's ear, "Byakuya Kuchiki, you put a devil like me to shame with your deceptions."

An unbidden smile touched his lips.

"No wonder he is so completely enchanted..."

XXXXXXXXXX

"We've lost the trail again," Katsuro said darkly, "And this makes the second successful abduction."

He glanced back at Tetsuya, who had laid down on Arashi's warm back to rest.

"It is a torment to the heart," he went on, "and it makes me wonder if we weren't better off when he was only trying to kill us."

"I agree that the abductions have changed the nature of things," added Akabuke, meeting Kazuki's eyes for a moment, then looking back at his son and the younger samurai's weary mate, "and I think that we must watch over each other carefully. But...I do not think that the trail here is necessarily lost. I intend to continue searching."

Katsuro's eyes rested on Tetsuya again, and his hand trembled softly where it held on to his blade.

"I will go with you."

He turned to Kazuki.

"Will you take him back to the palace and watch over him for me?"

Kazuki met Katsuro's eyes warmly.

"Of course, Segare," he answered, nodding, "I will not let him out of my sight. Not for a moment."

"Thank you, Father," Katsuro said gratefully.

He and Akabuke watched quietly as Kazuki joined Tetsuya on Arashi's back, and the two started back towards the distant palace.

"Thank you," Akabuke said solemnly.

"For what?" asked Katsuro, sheathing his blade, "For parting the two of you, yet again?"

"Do not be ridiculous," Akabuke answered, shaking his head, "The reason I was thanking you was...because it becomes even more dangerous for them to accompany us. Segare, have you not yet realized?"

Katsuro frowned.

"Realized?" he repeated softly, glancing again in the direction their mates had gone.

A moment later, he made the connection, and his red-brown eyes widened with intense happiness.

"Tetsuya," he whispered in a low, sweetly reverent voice.

"The almost unquenchable desire you have felt for him lately...though indeed, you hungered amply for him before...the weariness about him that is more than just his recovery from recent injury, and I am sure there are a hundred other small things."

"Yes," Katsuro mused, his eyes softening and his lips smiling beautifully, "I see it now."

"And it means that we have even more to protect, ne?"

"We? You mean that...?"

"Yes. Kazuki, too, is with child. And it means that we must make our moves very, very carefully."

"We will," Katsuro said, his eyes closing for a moment, and then opening bearing an even deeper resolve, "We are going to find Renji and stop this demon. And by kami, we are going to bring everyone home safely."

"Yes," said Akabuke, taking his blade in hand and drawing it carefully across his palm, "We are."

Katsuro watched in silence, then repeated the action with his own weapon and palm. He extended his cut hand and Akabuke clasped it together with his.

"The blood oath of the King's Samurai is taken," Akabuke said, his reiatsu swelling around the two and making Katsuro's come to life in response, "As is the way of his majesty's samurai, you and I will succeed in this."

"And not even death, itself, will stop us," Katsuro finished, watching the reiatsu around them flare brightly and then die.

"Come, segare," Akabuke said, turning away.

Two blistering flash steps sounded, and a moment later, the clearing they had occupied stood empty.

XXXXXXXXXX

"I am sorry to be such a burden," Tetsuya said softly, a curtain of wavy black tresses hiding much of his pale, drawn face, "I should be stronger."

"You should be stronger?" Kazuki repeated, sounding amused, "Why, Tetsuya, what you have already endured more than makes your strength evident. But always your strong fighting spirit aches to move forward, ne? Do not torment yourself. I needed to return to the palace anyway. This is for my protection, as much as it is for yours."

Tetsuya turned his head to look at his elder curiously.

"Gomen nasai? Why did you need to return? Were you injured somehow? Are you ill? I am a healer. I can..."

"I am not ill," said Kazuki, shaking his head gently, "I believe that I 'suffer from' the same thing that slows your recovery and makes you more weary than you would normally be, considering your injuries."

Tetsuya couldn't hold back the sweet, quaking smile that touched his lips.

"But," said Kazuki, "I think that you have not confided this in Katsuro. Why?"

Tetsuya's smile faded slightly.

"He is already too focused on me. Byakuya is in danger and Renji has been possessed by that thing. I don't want him worrying about my every step as he tries to manage all of that. As soon as he knows, he will insist I be locked up with the royal children."

"But you sense that you are meant to have a greater role in what happens," Kazuki said calmly.

"I do not know," Tetsuya admitted, "But my heart tells me that there is an answer that is within my reach. So...once we return, I will go back to the king's library and will not leave it again until I find that answer!"

Kazuki smiled and nodded, slipping a warm hand into his.

"Then...if you are so determined, we will undertake that task together."

Tetsuya laughed softly.

"You aren't going to tell me that I should go to bed and rest, like he would?" he asked.

"What good would that do?" Kazuki asked, smirking, "You are a Kuchiki. And no one stands in our way, when we are thus determined, ne Tetsuya?"