Chapter 7: Friction
Renji groaned uncomfortably, still unable to tell with any certainty what day it was, what time it was, how many days had passed since he had become Aizen Sosuke's prisoner. He turned his head slightly so that he could see the stars that shined over the glass dome. But even they refused to answer his questions.
How long have I been here?
The answers not forthcoming, he sank back down into oblivion, disappearing into the quiet of his mind and trying not to think about being locked away deep in enemy territory, with two murderous bastards...
And with no one even fucking knowing that I'm alive...
He said that...Gin did. That no one would come after me. They all think I'm dead. Shit...I might as well be.
He stole a glance at Aizen's sleeping face and briefly considered trying to kill the man.
But the fucker's immortal, so what good would it do? And even if I could kill him, that leaves me with that silver-haired sadist...
He flinched at the unbidden return of Gin's voice in his tormented mind.
"You like to pretend you're tough. I don't know. Maybe you've gotten so good at feeding everyone that line that you forgot it wasn't true."
He made a guttural sound of pain, but refused to let himself be baited into answering, even as Gin's hips shifted and his brutal, leaking member touched his entrance warningly.
"Why are you doing this?" Renji said, hating himself for giving in and yielding the words, "I thought that you hated Aizen. I thought that you were secretly working to kill him! Gin, we were on the same side...even if you had to pretend we weren't. You even tried to kill that bastard! What happened to you?"
"What happened?" Gin repeated mockingly, "What do you mean, 'What happened?' Just because we both hated him does not necessarily make us allies. I admit, I did think that way before, but after the truth came out and the new council of Central 46 interrogated Rangiku about me, I could never forgive them. They hurt her...in a different way than the way Aizen hurt her...but they still hurt her, because she was close to me. And they could not forgive me, despite the fact I was witnessed revealing myself and trying to kill Aizen. But I don't have to tell you how useless and inept, how removed from reality those rich old men are. You know, don't you? Your own taicho is one of them, and you saw how quickly he abandoned his own sister when she was in trouble."
It took everything in him to hold back a scathing objection. Instead, he opted for reason.
"So...if I understand, then why torment me? What's this really about?" Renji asked.
"It is about who you are."
"I'm a kid from the Rukon, just like you!" Renji insisted.
"No," Gin said cryptically, "And I am disappointed that you don't even realize that."
Renji frowned and blinked in confusion.
"What do you mean?"
"Enough talk. I want to hear you scream."
He tried to say more, but his mind disappeared into a blinding shock of pain that seemed to register everywhere.
"Renji?" said Aizen's voice, bringing him out of his reverie.
Renji's eyes cleared, but registered Aizen's presence, and that the facts of his situation hadn't changed, and dulled again quickly.
"Was it a dream, or perhaps a flashback?"
"What the fuck do you care, you piece of shit?" Renji fumed, "You don't give a damn about me. So don't look at me and say you do. Leave me the hell alone!"
"If I truly did not care at all, then I would not be protecting you from Gin," Aizen said, matter-of-factly.
"That just means that while he's written me off as useless, you still think you can use me for something. And since you're protecting the kid in me, it's probably that you want him or her for some reason. And don't try to tell me you 'just like kids' or that you're just being protective. I'm not falling for any of that shit!"
"I will admit to you that you are useful to me," Aizen said sitting up and moving into position to begin the bonding, "Perhaps you would like to know how?"
"Like I could believe anything you'd tell me!" the redhead objected, "You and that silver-haired bastard are up to something. I know you are. I don't know why you decided you needed me, but..."
"Actually," Aizen admitted, uncertain as to why he employed honesty at that particular moment, "I do not know how you or this child will be useful. I only know that you are."
"Wh...what?" Renji asked, frowning in confusion, "What the hell? You expect me to believe you don't know what the hell you're doing? Right! Like I'm fucking going to believe that! You know, just forget the damned bonding and keep you goddamned hands off of me! I don't want either one of you perverted freaks touching me!"
"You are not going to help your child by being difficult. Calm yourself. I was telling you the truth, in any case. Gin is keeping the particulars of what we are doing to himself. Think, Renji. The man does not trust me. Yet he broke me out of prison. He needs something from me and you. So, if you feel you are being used, you have company."
"Give me a break," Renji snapped furiously, "I'm not going to buy for a minute that you're letting that snake have any kind of power over you..."
"I admit that, as long as I possess the hogyoku, even with it sealed, I cannot be killed, so I'll assume that Gin wishes to deprive me of it at some point. I hope to discover how in time to head him off. But that aside, you must understand that I could not have escaped Central 46 without Gin's intervention. He found and healed Kyoka Suigetsu and he freed me. He was careful in the doing of that in not unsealing the hogyoku and Kyoka Suigetsu told me that the plan was for my powers not to be unsealed until I agreed to his terms. Kyoka Suigetsu intervened and shattered the seal on my powers, but the seal on the hogyoku remains in place. I will not attempt to unseal it, because it could abandon me and leave me vulnerable. Gin will not unseal it, because he fears that even if it does not count me worthy of wielding it, the thing could use me for its own purposes...a distinct possibility, considering. So, whatever he is planning, involves either the trade or sacrifice of the hogyoku to gain sufficient power to destroy the king, and likely, me."
Renji sighed in frustration.
"I can understand him wanting to kill you. He had a reason for that. And he still has that reason. But he didn't have a reason to kill the king."
Renji paused for a moment, remembering...
...after the truth came out and the new council of Central 46 interrogated Rangiku about me, I could never forgive them. They hurt her...in a different way than the way Aizen hurt her...but they still hurt her, because she was close to me. And they could not forgive me, despite the fact I was witnessed revealing myself and trying to kill Aizen. But I don't have to tell you how useless and inept, how removed from reality those rich old men are. You know, don't you?
"Renji?" Aizen said questioningly, "What is it?"
The redhead shook his head and turned away.
"Nothing," he muttered, "Now, just leave me the hell alone, will you?"
Aizen didn't reply immediately, but only continued the warm reiatsu infusion. Renji's eyes glazed over and his mind continued to mull over the dread facts of the situation until he couldn't stand to contemplate then anymore.
When it comes right down to it, I know I am screwed. I'm stuck here alone with these two bastards. No one knows I'm not dead already and I have no powers so I can't escape. The only reason that I'm not still being raped and tortured is because Aizen is protecting me and the kid. But he's only doing that because he wants to use the kid himself. Still...it will be awhile before this kid is born. And I think that if Taicho was here, he would tell me that the best course of action would be to accept my situation while it cannot be changed by anything I do, and focus only on finding the moment when something I can do can make a difference. I don't know when that will be, but...I'm not being hurt now. Aizen's actually taking pretty good care of me. I can use that to grow stronger, so that whenever I get an opening to run for it, I'll be able to take advantage of it. Yeah...that's it, then. Accept and prepare. It's all I can do.
Aizen studied Renji intently for a moment as the redhead's body suddenly relaxed in his embrace. He smiled encouragingly.
"You have stopped to think and realized, ne?" he said quietly, "You know that the only option you have left is to strengthen yourself and to wait for an opportunity to break free. A wise decision. You have changed since Sokyoku Hill. You are not just talk that cannot be backed up. You have trained hard at Byakuya's side and are much stronger for it. He would be proud."
"He wouldn't be proud of me letting Gin fuck me up so bad and getting pregnant by him," Renji said, looking down at his belly.
The two men paused and stared in wonder as the flesh under Aizen's hands began to pulsate softly, and the two sensed the blossoming presence of a new, young soul. Renji's eyes rounded in surprise, then grew tormented.
This is really happening. It isn't just words anymore. I have a life inside me to protect.
And I will do anything to protect that.
It doesn't matter that Gin raped me and that's how it happened. This kid is a part of me and whatever happens, I am not going to let anything happen to him or her. I will stop at nothing.
"Renji?" Aizen said again, questioningly.
"Look," said the redhead, "I know that you are planning to use the kid too. But since you're not hurting us now, I will cooperate with you. You want to find out what that snake is doing and I want to get out of here alive with this kid still alive too. I will cooperate with you to try to stop him, but then, I'm warning you, I will do whatever it takes to escape you."
"You are offering to work with me?" he asked, amused.
"To a certain point," Renji agreed, "But not one fucking step beyond that, you get me?"
"I understand," Aizen said, looking down again at Renji's still glowing abdomen, "Relax then and let me care for you. I will strengthen you and we will work together against Gin."
He thought carefully for a moment, then broke the seal on the redhead's powers. Renji gave him a surprised look.
"Why did you do that?" he asked, frowning.
"If you are to assist me, then you will need your powers," Aizen explained, "Only remember not to leave the tower without me. Gin is very crafty and will have ways of finding and reaching you if you leave here...so leave here only with me...if you want to protect your child. Can you live with those terms, Renji?"
Renji ran his hands over the slight rounding on his abdomen and nodded. Aizen sighed approvingly and returned to the stabilizing bonding.
"As I said," he intoned quietly, "A wise decision."
Renji looked down at where Aizen's hands caressed his belly.
"So," he said, more calmly, "What do we do now?"
Aizen considered for a moment, then met Renji's eyes thoughtfully. The smile he gave the redhead was decidedly enigmatic.
"Hmmm, the unexpected, I think," Aizen postulated, "Renji, how would you like to see some of your friends again now?"
Byakuya looked from Rukia's pale, fearful face, to Tetsuya's blushing one, then turned his dark gaze on Ichigo, who swallowed hard and stiffened.
"Am I to understand," said Byakuya, his reiatsu rising ominously, "that yet again, Shiba Ichigo, you are overstepping clear boundaries with my cousin?"
"Look," said the substitute shinigami, "the guy just saved my life, Byakuya. Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have kissed him, but I couldn't help it. He's drop-dead gorgeous, just saved my life and I have nothing but the highest respect for him."
Tetsuya's eyes widened, and his already bright blush found a way to deepen even more.
"But you disrespect the fact that I already told you. My cousin is promised in marriage to someone else...a noble princess."
"But he doesn't want to be. You know that!" Ichigo argued.
"Ichigo-san," Tetsuya began, shaking his head, "I..."
"I am aware," Byakuya said, cutting him off, "However, he has agreed to the marriage because he knows how important it is to maintaining good clan relations."
"But you know that Tetsuya is gay! How can you do this to him? I thought that you cared about him!"
Byakuya's eyes flared.
"I do care about my cousin!" he fumed, "And not that I owe you any explanation at all, but I had no choice and Tetsuya knows it! It is extremely common for noble marriages to be arranged. It is, in fact, a means of keeping the peace and preserving important alliances. It has always been that way. I had hoped to spare Tetsuya that, but unfortunately, a rival clan leader began to take an unhealthy interest in him, and I received word that he is going to propose to take Tetsuya's hand, not out of love, but because he knows that Tetsuya is close to me. The only way out of the situation was to offer him to a clan of higher standing, which is what I did. I wasn't forcing Tetsuya into an unwanted marriage, so much as protecting him from a worse one. And the person I chose for him understands the situation as well. Is it what I really want for my cousin? No. But it is a far better fate than handing him over to a vile, boorish miscreant like the one who was pursuing him."
"Byakuya-sama is right," Tetsuya said, finding his voice again, "I did agree to this marriage. I am not..."
"Oh, come on," Ichigo said, shaking his head stubbornly, "You can't tell me that you, a gay guy is going to be happy being married to some princess. As nice as she is..."
"This isn't about how 'nice' she is," Byakuya said disdainfully, "It is about..."
"It is about your cousin," Ichigo said, meeting the noble's eyes squarely, "And if it was me, I'd say 'screw them.' He should be able to be happy, just like everyone else. After all he's been through, he deserves to be able to choose who he marries! That's all I'm saying."
"And Byakuya-sama is not disagreeing with you," Tetsuya said, trying desperately to diffuse the situation, "You have to understand that the noble families are bound by different rules. And as the leader of one of the greatest of the noble clans..."
"As the leader of one of the greatest of the noble clans," Ichigo repeated, crossing his arms, "I would think that Byakuya could do better than to stuff you into a marriage you don't want."
"Shut your insolent mouth, boy!" Byakuya snapped heatedly, "Or I will shut it for you!"
"Hey, didn't mean to touch a nerve," Ichigo said saucily, "but you are this high and mighty clan leader. A guy would think that if you were that powerful, it wouldn't be so hard to find a way out of forcing your favored cousin to get married to someone he isn't in love with! You know, if you really wanted to protect him from that, you could have offered to let him marry me. At least I'm a guy!"
"Would you SHUT UP?" yelled Rukia, "Do not insult my brother! Clan relations are really tricky"
"She is right," agreed Tetsuya, "It doesn't always matter how strong a leader is. There are times and situations in which..."
"Stop trying to explain it to him," Byakuya said, frowning, "It is clear that because he is one used to setting his own rules, the whole idea of following them is beyond his capacity to understand."
"HEY!" shouted Ichigo.
"Whoa!" said Yoruichi, stepping between the two, "As much as this is an important thing, we have something more important to focus on. So, Ichigo, you need to stop taunting Byakuya about things that you really don't understand. And you, Byakuya-bo, need to cool down and not let him get to you. In case you both have forgotten, Renji is out there somewhere and needs our help. We can't help him out if all we are doing is fighting."
Yoruichi paused as a hell butterfly floated into the room and came to a stop in front of Byakuya. The noble extended a finger and the insect landed on the tip, allowing him to read the reiatsu of the sender. Byakuya's face paled instantly and his eyes widened.
"What is it?" Ichigo asked quickly, "Who is it from?"
"It is from Renji," Byakuya said, staring.