(To all of my readers, happily, Byakuya has escaped death in the manga and is on his way to healing in the spirit dimension. I am continuing this story because the storyline is actually very beautiful and uplifting, and...I have a wonderful, wonderful surprise ending in store for you! The story is a mix of Ren/Tetsuya, Bya/Ren, Bya/Tetsuya and Bya/Ren/Tetsuya. Also, I am going to go with my earlier attempt to make this a sequel to Blue Eyes, Silent Tears. I have gone back and fixed any inconsistencies I could find between the two stories. I may stick in a story covering the Bya/Tet affair during Byakuya's marriage to Hisana, but have to iron out the plot a bit more. I will also be writing the end to Blue Eyes, Silent Tears. I hope you love this story! It is angsty, but has a fascinating resolution, I promise! Enjoy!)
Chapter 1: In the Aftermath
"It is not easy to bear the weight of the kenseiken, nor the expectations that go with it, but we who are chosen to fill that position must do so with pride and utmost dedication."
The words seem cold and lonely, little comfort now as I sit in the chair in the Kuchiki family archive that he used to occupy, making the first entry in my own clan leader journal. I never expected to walk this path, to live a day beyond the passing of my leader, my cousin, and my secret lover of the past forty years.
But I will continue to move forward for him.
The repairs to the manor have begun, now that the fighting is done and we have been able to take down the battlements. The one thing that will not be as it was are the gardens, which, by tradition, I must invoke my powers to recreate with some piece of myself given to making them unique. I would rather make them as they had been...not change a thing. My heart is desperate to recapture any piece of him, though nothing can replace him or bring him back. I have cried all of the tears I had in me, all of them unseen as Byakuya would have wished it, and Re-kuhime's rain has fallen, off and on, about the manor for months on behalf of Senbonzakura. The ceremony today will, I hope, begin to help us move beyond the tears and to rebuild the honor, dignity and power that is synonymous with our clan's great name.
It will also be my chance to personally thank the one who gave everything to destroying the one who brought my cousin down. I have long known of Abarai Renji, but have never met the man in person. I have heard the stories of how they met, how they clashed and how they came to respect, even love each other as comrades in arms. I am curious to finally lay eyes on him. My cousin had great respect for him, as a fighter and a loyal friend. And I alone know that he also, at the end, began to feel something more for Abarai. He only held back out of respect for me...a guilt I shall carry to the grave with me.
He should have embraced that kind of love. We were cousins, and bonded because he did rescue me from that dark cell in Itamigiri. And he guided me to find my core power, to grow strong and to earn the respect of those around me. Because of that, I withheld nothing he desired and never asked him for anything. And yes, had he admitted to his love for that man, I would have ignored the breaking of my own heart and quietly watched him walk away from me. Such is my love for my cousin that I would defy my own heart for his happiness.
But now all happiness is gone. I never thought that I could be so calm and stern as the former leaders of the clan. But now my lips have forgotten how to smile...my mind to rebel and my heart to hope. All that is left is duty. And I will commit myself to that faithfully.
Tetsuya's eyes closed for a moment, and he felt the residual burning that still seemed to catch at him, hearing his attendant speak to him so formally.
"The guests are assembled and the elders are being escorted in now."
"Arigatou. I am ready."
He stood and joined his attendant, then left the archive and found Byakuya's former attendant waiting silently on the wooden walkway. He forced down his own emotions and embraced the youth, brushing his tears away.
"I am sorry, Tetsuya-sama," Torio whispered in a choked voice, "I know that Byakuya-sama would have..."
"Peace, Cousin," Tetsuya said solemnly, "I of all people, understand. But we must hide our tears now. It is time to honor him. We have waited for months with him lying in stasis, waiting for the war to end so that we could have this closure. Let us send him along his way as he would want us to. We owe him that."
They said no more, but left the destroyed gardens and walked out the back gates and down a tree-lined pathway to the family cemetery. At the center waited a raised platform and bier, with Byakuya's body laid gently on top...carefully preserved and waiting to be honored with ritual burning. Tetsuya felt a horrid wrenching inside.
I could not bear to look upon him once they brought him home. But I must look and look calmly now. Then, I must watch quietly as he is turned to ash.
And somehow, he managed to make himself move, to walk past the guests, family, the elders, and even Rukia and Byakuya's former fukutaichou, to the platform and to offer his cousin a final, respectful kiss on each soft cheek.
I know it is just the preservation techniques, but he still feels as though alive. I want to lie down in his arms and die with him.
He felt a numbness pass over him as he reached the front of the gathering and stood at the podium in front of where his cousin laid.
"My deepest gratitude to all who have gathered with us," he said solemnly, his eyes touching the ones in front of him, and his heart aching with mingled sadness and sympathy for the ones who also mourned, "We have all waited too long for the closure that this day will bring us...this new beginning amongst the most painful of our losses. I know each of us knew Byakuya-sama in a different way, and I will invite you after a few moments to share your thoughts, but before I do, I must honor two persons to whom our clan owes the greatest debt...Kuchiki Rukia and Abarai Renji. It is because of the perseverance of these two people that the one who slew our leader has paid with his life.
Nothing about my cousin's life was easy. His losses were many...his parents, his wife, numerous friends, but Byakuya-sama bore everything with dignity and calm, ignoring his own pain and moving constantly forward, setting an example, not just for nobility, but for all shinigamis. He will be remembered and treasured for that. But he will be remembered as well for what he did that helped each of us to better ourselves. Byakuya-sama freed me from the half-breed's prison and helped to smash the barriers that held me back. I would not be here, at the head of the Kuchiki clan today, if not for his intervention. And for that, I am deeply in debt to him. Arigatou, Byakuya-sama."
Tetsuya's eye fell on Rukia, who tightened her trembling lips and freed herself from Renji's tight embrace. She walked to stand beside Tetsuya and cleared her throat softly.
"Nii-sama was a wonderful, beautiful blessing in my life. I know that he protected me because of his promise to my sister, but what grew between us went beyond protection. We truly loved each other. I lost my only family, my sister, before I knew that she was family, and Nii-sama was there to guide me to becoming the stronger person I am now. I owe him more than just my life. And there is nothing I can do to repay that debt. Still, I will try. I will honor the Kuchiki family by upholding the values that I learned from Nii-sama and by never forgetting what he did for me, and for my sister."
Tetsuya stood quietly at the podium, greeting each person who came to speak, and waiting solemnly as the person walked back to sit down and the next rose. His eye caught Abarai Renji's for a moment, and he realized that the man was gazing at the more curved and smaller, kenseiken that captured the hairs on the left side of his face. He couldn't read what the man was feeling, but the signs of deep pain were clear enough. But even as the others spoke and sat down, spoke and sat down, Abarai waited and said nothing. Finally the last person sat, and Tetsuya felt a tension rise into the air. He looked out at the ones gathered and met Renji's eyes directly.
You must do this...for him!
We are all hurting.
We are all looking for closure.
Do not leave your comforts unsaid.
Please say something for him!
Renji's eyes looked into Tetsuya's and registered surprise and confusion. He swallowed hard, and then, as though he had heard Tetsuya's thoughts, he moved forward and joined the noble at the podium. He stood for several long moments, gathering himself as Tetsuya registered the slight quaking in his clenched hands, the hard controls he placed on his emotions, and the harsh flickers in his reiatsu. He waited quietly, his heart unexpectedly warmed by the close presence of one Byakuya had loved.
"Kuchiki Byakuya wasn't just my taichou," Renji said in a low, carefully controlled tone, "He was my inspiration...my motivation to get better and grow stronger. When I first met him, he scared me to death...as though he could kill me by looking me in the eyes and willing it. But even though I was intimidated, I was also in awe of him. So beautiful and powerful, so strong. I thought that if only I could be that strong, I could handle whatever life threw at me. Taichou and I began as adversaries, made so because I felt he stole Rukia from my life. I blamed him for taking her away, so that Rukia and I did not speak for forty years. But even though he did take the steps that made that happen, by doing so, he made me work hard to reach ban kai, something I couldn't have done without him. We weathered our differences over Rukia, and after my taichou was injured saving her, things changed. He began to interest himself in my training. He mentored me. He pushed me even harder than I had pushed myself so that I grew beyond what I had ever dreamed I could. And along the way, we became bonded comrades...true friends. I owe Kuchiki Byakuya more than I can ever repay. And I do not regret a day we spent together. My only regret is that he is gone, and I feel like I have lost the better half of myself. Still, I will take the lessons he taught me. I will accept the pain, the loss, and move forward, always honoring and remembering him. Thank you, Taichou."
Tetsuya let a long silence fall over the gathering, then calmly nodded to Head Elder Nori to come forward. The elders gathered around the platform. All heads bowed as the final blessing was spoken by Tetsuya and the elders, then Tetsuya accepted the torch lit from the ever-burning flame kept alive always within the family archive. His legs trembled beneath him, and his slender hand shook as he lit the fire. It was everything he could do to remain standing and silent as Byakuya's body burned before his widened and tormented blue eyes, and the sounds of soft, muffled sobs reached his ears. He felt a wave of dizziness pass over him, and his abdomen twinged oddly. He breathed slowly and remained on his feet through the burning and the subsequent leaving of the guests for the reception area. He thought, in the end, that he was alone. But as he stood before the blazing monument to his cousin, he heard a footstep behind him.
"So," Renji's voice said softly, "You're the cousin Tetsuya that Taichou always talked about."
"My cousin...mentioned me to you?" he asked dazedly.
"Y-yeah," Renji answered haltingly, "He...ah...he was really...proud of you."
"He was very complimentary of you as well, Abarai taichou."
The two went silent, watching the fire burn in front of them and both wanting to scream in protest.
"I am glad you came to honor him," Tetsuya said finally, "You and Rukia were special to him."
He felt a shiver go through him as Renji stepped closer and laid a warm hand on his shoulder. His voice lowered even more, so that no one would have heard if they had been present.
"I know just what you meant to him, too," Renji whispered.
Tetsuya's head turned.
"Yeah, he told me. I think that he wanted to be sure that if anything ever happened, that someone would know...you know? I don't know why he picked me."
"Oh?" Renji queried.
"He let you inside his heart," said Tetsuya, "You are one of the very few. But he could be that way with the ones he truly loved."
"Oh...heh, I don't know about..." Renji began.
"I knew my cousin well, and I know that he had begun to feel more for you."
Renji caught his breath softly, a momentary agony flashing across his handsome features.
"And I sense that you felt the same for him."
Renji went pale and silent, and his hand slipped down off of Tetsuya's slender shoulder.
"I am the one who is sorry, Abarai taichou," Tetsuya said calmly, "I wish he had not held himself back because of me. I am sorry...sorry that I was in your way."
Renji's eyes widened.
"Wh-what?" he breathed almost soundlessly.
"My cousin deserved happiness, and if he hadn't found it with me, I would have wanted him to follow his heart."
"What about you?"
Tetsuya closed his eyes, taking respite from the hard glow in Renji's.
"Our connection was different. Perhaps you were expecting jealousy, but I feel none. Byakuya-sama gave me freedom, guidance and love. He owed me nothing. I would have let him go if he had but asked me. The clan is not even aware of what was between us. No one need ever have known."
"How can you say that?" Renji asked, his voice making Tetsuya open his eyes to meet the redhead's, "Weren't you in love with him?"
"Deeply," Tetsuya admitted readily, "Enough that his happiness was all that mattered to me. Perhaps it makes no sense to you..."
Renji shook his head and gave Tetsuya a shaky smile.
"You are just the way he described you," he said gently, "I wondered when he told me if you really could be that selfless. You're really not like the rest of them, are you?"
Tetsuya said nothing, but only looked into Renji's eyes and waited for him to go on.
"I'm glad he didn't hurt you by leaving you," Renji went on, "You've been through enough...too much and now this. But I am going to keep my promises to Taichou."
It was Tetsuya's turn to be taken aback.
"What?" he asked softly.
"He wanted me to look out for two people who were closest to him."
Tetsuya held his breath.
Dizziness swept over him again, and the odd feeling returned to his abdomen. He tried to speak, but felt darkness closing in around him.
"Kuchiki-san, are you all right?" Renji asked.
"I...I am..." Tetsuya managed, feeling his legs weaken beneath him.
He tried to breath slowly and to recover himself, but the air went black around him. He felt himself begin to fall, and then he was caught up and taken gently off his feet. He remained aware enough to know he was carried back to the main wing of the manor and laid in his bed. Renji started to leave as the clan healer arrived, but paused, staring as Tetsuya spoke.
"Allow him to stay."
The room went dark and quiet for a time.
Tetsuya lost awareness and found himself wandering in the gardens as they had been before the war, every tree and flower as it had existed. The sounds of the birds, the lovely colors and sweet scents filled his senses and made him fall to his knees, clenching at the soft earth.
"B-byakuya-sama!" he sobbed, somehow knowing that this was the one time, the one place he could loose his grief openly, "Byakuya-sama, why? Why wouldn't you let me go with you? I would have given everything to protect you! I always protected you to honor what you did for me! How could you deny me the honor of protecting you? Of falling with you if you had to fall? Why did you force me to stay behind? You knew I would have died for you! You knew!"
A sakura petal touched his cheek and Tetsuya collapsed onto the ground, forgetting his pride and sinking into despair.
"WHY? WHY? TELL ME WHY?" he screamed.
He felt a hand touch his shoulder and turned, his eyes meeting Byakuya's and his mind realizing...
"Oh," he said, tears still running down his face, "It is only a dream."
"Is it?" Byakuya said softly, bringing his lips to his cousin's and coaxing Tetsuya into his arms, "Do you really think that I would leave you without saying goodbye?"
"It is just my tortured mind trying to resolve itself," Tetsuya reasoned, "You aren't really here. I know that you are gone and the gardens destroyed. I just...perhaps my mind is seeking closure."
"No...I came back to tell you something, watashi no koi. It is something important."
Tetsuya remained silent and still in his cousin's embrace, his eyes closed tightly and his senses filled with his softness of Byakuya's skin and the scent of sakura.
"Before I left you...that last time we were together, while you slept after our lovemaking, I invoked the old ritual of blossoming. I left my reiatsu within you so that, if I was lost, you would carry my legacy."
Tetsuya's breath caught in surprise.
"I left the 'key' reiatsu in Renji so that when you met, the ritual would commence within you, and our child would begin to form inside you. You will need to bond with Renji to receive the necessary balancing factors as your pregnancy progresses. I despise myself for burdening you, but I could not die and let my father's legacy end."
"I...understand," whispered Tetsuya, shivering, "I know what he meant to you."
"You will have many enemies, Tetsuya. You must be cautious of the ones you know do not approve of you. But you have been ready for some time to endure this. Keep Rukia and Renji close to you. And be careful, Cousin."
Byakuya-sama, please," Tetsuya pleaded softly, "Don't do this. Don't go! Or if you must go, then let me go with you...please!"
Byakuya's hands touched his face, the lovely, gentle fingers brushing away his tears.
"I have never asked you for anything in return for freeing you, Tetsuya. But always, I prepared you...made you strong...partly because of my love for you and partly because I knew that my legacy would rest partly in you."
"You will take up my place, and you will make our clan strong again," Byakuya said, looking into his eyes, "You will bear my child to give them hope and you will fight with all of your strength to bring us back to greatness. I would take you with me if I could, knowing your love for me, and the torment of what I am asking of you. But you are the only one who can do this for me. And it will be a fight greater than any you have fought before. But with Rukia and Renji alongside you, you can undo the damage that this war brought upon our clan, and make things right again. Do this for me, Tetsuya."
He tried to speak but couldn't answer. He held on tightly as his cousin's presence began to fade and Byakuya disappeared slowly from his embrace.
"Byakuya-sama!" he screamed, "Byakuya-sama, don't go!"
The gardens began to shine around him, to grow in brightness until they blinded him. Tetsuya screamed his cousin's name a last time, then disappeared into the light.
"Is he going to be all right now?" Renji asked softly, looking down at the deeply sleeping Kuchiki clan leader.
"Yes," said the clan healer, "Arigatou, Abarai taichou, "It is fortunate that you were here during his healing. Byakuya-sama did not tell us that he had performed the ritual of blossoming with Tetsuya-sama."
Renji frowned and blinked in confusion.
"R-ritual of blossoming?" he asked, looking down at Tetsuya's lovely, troubled face, "What is that?"
"It is a last resort in making sure that his legacy is continued," said the healer, "He has impregnated Tetsuya-sama with his child...and he has marked you as his replacement in bonding with Tetsuya-sama and keeping his body and the child's in balance for the duration of the pregnancy."
"B-but...Byakuya died months ago, and...!"
"The ritual was activated when you encountered Tetsuya-sama today. Byakuya-sama left his reiatsu embedded in yours, I assume by your reaction, without you knowing. But he has entrusted the welfare and fate of his cousin and his son to you."
"You are the only one who can stabilize Tetsuya-sama, and this must be done daily for him to carry the child to term. If you do not complete the bonding, then Tetsuya-sama and the child will be lost. I am sorry that you must be burdened, but I ask you, will you help him?"
Renji stared down at Tetsuya, tears threatening and his fists clenching.
"It's what he wanted, right?" Renji managed in a choked voice, "So...yeah...yeah, I'll do it. For Byakuya taichou...I'll do it."