Chapter 13: Venom
Tetsuya walked out into the gardens, enjoying the sweet, flowery scents on the warm, afternoon breeze and the comforting feeling of gentle sunlight on his skin. He walked the garden trail quietly, smiling as Arashi appeared and nudged his shoulder in greeting, then fell in at his side. They walked side-by-side in silence, the stallion stoic and watchful as he allowed his master to sink into his thoughts and let everything else fade away for a time.
Such odd dreams I had last night. A few made sense, like the one where I searched for Byakuya within the gardens, as I used to do when we were younger. And the one of being in his inner world, but it being frightfully empty. Though...it was strange that at his death, it wouldn't have crumbled. But strange, too, was that power still resonated there.
If only it wasn't a dream...
But there were nightmares too...linked to the coming battle, my heart warning me to be wary of Orochi's power. I must find the source of it and neutralize it before we fight.
His thoughts were interrupted by a soft, lovely twinge in his abdomen. He smiled down at his belly and rubbed it gently, letting his reiatsu brush lightly against the developing child's. He caught his breath softly at the feel of a powerful stirring. A wave of nausea and intense dizziness passed over him, and a memory flashed in his mind.
Tetsuya swayed and dropped to his knees, breathing slowly and placing a hand on his abdomen as black spots danced before his eyes. Then, underneath his hand, his pregnant belly glowed softly. Tetsuya took a startled breath and fought to keep from sinking the rest of the way to the floor. He heard a footstep behind him, and Byakuya's voice telling Koji to go. Then, Byakuya was kneeling next to him, and curling an arm around him.
"Tetsuya, the reiatsu has awakened," he breathed, his hand setting itself over his cousin's, "You can feel it, ne? The connection between you has opened!"
He felt tears in his eyes as that tiny, fluttering, curious mind touched his, and he felt the strong presence of his lost lover.
You have gone, Naoki, but this part of who we were still lives on in me. I will love and protect this child with all of my strength. And we will never allow you to be forgotten.
He leaned lightly against Byakuya as his cousin helped him to his feet, then removed the new kimono and coaxed him into his bed, where he laid quietly, looking out the doors, into the warm, fragrant gardens.
"Why?" Tetsuya whispered, tears coming to his eyes as his heart embraced the new sentience inside him, "Why am I always the one left behind? Yes...there is life that goes on. And twice now, I have been the vessel to carry on the flame of lives lost. But as beautiful as it is to know that not all has been lost, there is a weight that goes with that! And no promise that even this life inside me will remain with me after it emerges from my body..."
"Tetsuya-sama," said Koji, from a place on the trail, behind him, "A messenger has arrived from Abarai Renji."
"Ah," Tetsuya said, turning, "You may bring him to..."
He froze, staring at the messenger.
"Rikichi-kun?" he whispered, blinking.
"Oh," said the youth, "Yes. You remember me from the healing center?"
Tetsuya nodded wordlessly, his hand straying to his abdomen as the youth smiled at him and moved forward.
"Your healing appears to be proceeding well," Tetsuya said appraisingly.
"I do feel a lot better, thanks," said the youth, "But Abarai taichou felt that I should remain here, rather than going back to the battlefront...oh, which brings me to his message."
"Go on," Tetsuya said, nodding.
"Kuchiki-sama," Rikichi went on, "Abarai taichou has asked me to..."
He paused as Tetsuya's face paled and he swayed unsteadily. A moment later, his thoughts scattered as Rikichi caught him by the arm to steady him, and another fireshot memory darted across his mind.
Tetsuya went breathless as the golden reiatsu of his child emerged, then slowly resolved into a tiny body that moved and wiggled restlessly in Michio's arms. Tears filled Tetsuya's eyes as he met gentle brown eyes, a face that mingled his and Naoki's features beautifully and wavy black hair like his. The baby boy's tiny hands reached for him, and the newborn let out a hearty cry.
Michio quickly examined the baby, then set him in his father's arms. Tetsuya's eyes overflowed and the fingers of his broken hand touched the infant's face very lightly.
"He is...perfect, segare!" Sadao breathed almost voicelessly.
"He looks...like both of you," Byakuya said, barely restraining his own tears, "You and Naoki!"
"Oh...!" Tetsuya gasped, another memory blazing across his shocked mind.
Tetsuya took a shuddering breath and nodded. He smiled down at the newborn's sweet, contented face and kissed him on the forehead, nose and fingers, breathing in his scent and memorizing every little feature. Then, he handed the baby to Sadao and removed the leather decoration and beads from where he had attached them to the clip at the end of the braid in his hair.
"Let this go with him," Tetsuya whispered to the others, "Let it be a reminder, even though he will not know it, that he was loved by me...loved so much that...I had to let him go...s-so that the hatred that followed me would not touch him."
"Y-you will not go to see him?" asked Sadao, "You...?"
"It is too dangerous," Tetsuya whispered, "Orochi watches me. He knows when I am vulnerable. He would find a way to take Naoki from me again. I can never let that happen."
He met the healer's eyes pleadingly.
"You will...watch over him? Tell me...if he ever is in need?"
"Yes," said the healer, nodding, "Of course I will."
"Then, take him," Tetsuya said softly, "Take him now, before the burden of watching him leave become too great!"
"But...but you have only just..." Byakuya began.
"Take him now, please!" sobbed Tetsuya, "Please go!"
Tetsuya felt Koji's arm wrap around his waist, supporting him gently as he tried to recover himself. His head turned and he found himself looking into large, gentle brown eyes that mirrored the lost Naoki's. He reached out with a trembling hand and touched the colored beads that decorated Rikichi's hair near his left ear.
"I love you, little one. And I am sure that you will be happy growing up...happier than I was. And you will be grateful for your adoptive family...just as I am grateful to mine."
"Oh...!" he gasped, his vision dimming ominously.
I haven't been this close, haven't touched him since that day! And I shouldn't. If Orochi is given any cause to suspect, there is no length he would not go to, to deprive me of this beautiful, beautiful gift from my former love.
"R-rikichi..." he whispered, his eyes closing and everything around him fading into a comforting grayness, Rikichi...s-segare..."
Distracted by the urgency of the situation, Rikichi only frowned briefly in confusion at the clan leader's odd utterance.
"Kuchiki-sama!" Rikichi called worriedly, "Kuchiki-sama!"
Renji stood at the top of a sand dune, his eyes on the battlefield in front of him and a dark awareness of the rakishly handsome, black-eyed noble who stood at his shoulder, also watching the flow of the battle.
I wonder who would kill me faster...those hollows or him?
I feel the malevolence in this guy, the chill inside when he just looks at me. It's not fear, but a certainty that Orochi is an enemy, as sure as these hollows we're here to push back.
He spotted a weakness in the right flank of the fighting group and placed a hand on his sword. But a moment later, Orochi's voice sounded and Renji paused, watching as his subordinate's shikai released.
"Miwaku (charm), Doku no Hanone (poisoned fang)."
It makes sense that he's strong, the redhead thought as dark reiatsu swelled around the blade and a sleek, black serpent, about half the size of Zabimaru in ban kai, erupted from the tip.
The swift, black snake shot down from the rise they stood on, and swept over the battlefield, its marked hood spreading out as it approached the wavering right flank. The head lifted and the snake coiled, fastening its eyes on the enemy and causing many of them to look up at it.
"You fools! What are you doing?" roared the leader of the attacking hollows, "He's going to...!"
While the enchanted hollows stood helpless, Orochi's cobra launched a shattering blast of black fire that made the hollows that were caught in it scream in terror and agony as the snake's poison and fire attack burned, then consumed them.
Oh my kami...Renji thought numbly, This is his shikai?
This is what Tetsuya will be facing.
He used his senses carefully to study the reiatsu that made up the attack, but felt a swell of frustration at finding nothing of the familiar power that Tetsuya was so sure that Orochi was using.
But then, he may be wary of using it around me. He has known Tetsuya for a long time, and so has a sense of what will and will not work with him.
Ah, hell, or maybe its just that the power is there, but I can't sense it. I suck at reiatsu sensing!
He continued observing as Orochi's serpent turned back and slithered to Orochi, where it glanced at Renji, flicking its tongue at him, then slid back into the blade.
That thing is just creepy!
"Well done, Kuchiki fukutaichou," he commented quietly.
I guess we have to observe basic civility here...
"Thank you, Abarai taichou," the noble replied, the hint of a smirk on his lips.
"Keep watching the flanks," Renji said, his eyes focused behind the fighters, where a group of four powerful hollows stood near each other.
Not throwing spells or ceros...and their lips are moving.
"Ban kai," Renji said solemnly, "Hihiou, Zabimaru."
Power exploded around him as the skeletal snake formed. Out of the corner of one eye, Renji noticed Orochi watching the field, but also observing him every bit as closely.
"Hikoutsu Taihou!" Renji cried, sending the snake charging over the fighters to bear down on the small group that was powering up. They saw the attack coming and scattered as Renji's snake blasted the area, taking out two of the Arrancars and a number of lower level fighters.
"Impressive," said Orochi in a dulcet tone, "It would be even more so if you used a bit of stealth."
Renji felt an odd shiver inside as the noble went on.
"Snakes are capable of moving swiftly and silently, of undoing even powerful fighters. Wouldn't you agree, Abarai taichou?" he asked.
"Right," affirmed Renji.
That sounded like a threat aimed at Tetsuya, or maybe a reference to whatever he did to gain that power Tetsuya says he stole. So...he attacked someone and stole their power? But...his zanpakutou uses speed, hypnosis, poison and condensed reiatsu to attack...I didn't see it absorbing any power. So...how does that work?
"Are you curious?" Orochi asked, "I would be willing to engage in some friendly sparring when we return to the Seireitei, to allow you to see more of my ability, if you wish."
And I am sure that he'd be watching me very closely too.
"I'll consider that," he answered, keeping his eyes on the battlefield as the fighting continued and the skeletal snake returned to him.
As he sealed his sword, he noticed a hell butterfly approaching and nodded in greeting.
Abarai taichou, said Rikichi's voice, I have arrived at Kuchiki Manor, but haven't been able to speak with Kuchiki-sama because he seemed to become ill. The clan healer says it is not serious and he should wake soon. But even so. If Kuchiki-sama is not well, I do not think that he will be able to accompany me to our meeting place.
"You were going to have him come to the battlefield?" asked Orochi, "How very reckless of you. You wouldn't want the poor thing to lose yet another child, ne?"
"What are you talking about? Tetsuya was pregnant before? Was it Byakuya's?"
Orochi smirked, obviously enjoying his confusion.
"He didn't tell you?" the noble asked, "I just assumed that he would. He seems close to you. You did, after all, partake of each other."
"Shut up about that. I didn't know the trouble that it would get him into. And I'm not going to let something like that happen to him again."
"What?" asked Orochi, "Are you talking about him being punished for breaking our rules or are you talking about when you raped him?"
Renji didn't remember deciding to move, but found himself clenching the front of the other man's shihakushou and holding his sword ready to strike. Orochi looked back at him with intense fascination.
"The truth hurts, ne?" he asked, "Makes you want to 'kill the messenger?'"
"I told you to shut up about it!" Renji snapped, pulling his sword away grudgingly.
"Do not feel bad," Orochi said in an oddly soft tone, "I too found myself ensnared in that too pretty half blood. I understand."
Renji's reiatsu flared fitfully, but he held himself back from violence.
"You don't know shit about Tetsuya and me."
"Tetsuya? Not Tetsuya-sama...nor Tetsuya-san? You speak of him in the way of a lover, Abarai taichou. Can you really blame me for drawing conclusions?"
"Just shut it," Renji hissed, "We're on a battlefield. It's not a place where you want to let down your guard."
Orochi's eyes glinted softly as he resumed his position beside the redhead, watching the fighters below them.
"No," he agreed, "It isn't."
Tetsuya heard soft voices and opened his eyes, then spotted Koji sitting with Rikichi on the bed in the servant's recess, smiling and quietly playing cards. He tried to remain still and not to draw their attention, but having been Tetsuya's attendant since his arrival as a teen at Kuchiki Manor, Koji quickly sensed his wakefulness, and the two left the bed. Koji slipped out the door to make tea, and Rikichi moved over to sit down in a chair that had been placed next to Tetsuya's bed.
"Koji-san is going to bring tea and the healer, Kuchiki-sama," the youth said respectfully, "And Abarai taichou assigned me to stay here until you woke up, and then to help Koji-san see to your needs."
"Oh, you do not have to serve me, Rikichi-kun," Tetsuya said, smiling, "But, I am pleased to have your company."
"Thanks," said Rikichi, giving him a smile that contained echoes of his own, "I think that Abarai taichou just doesn't want me out fighting when I just got healed...not that watching over you in his absence isn't important, but..."
"But he likely had ulterior motives in sending you," Tetsuya concluded, "Be that as it may, you are welcome to assist Koji. If you wish, you may have use of the attendant's recess while you are here."
"Really?" Rikichi asked, wide-eyed.
He reminds me so much of Naoki!
"Doesn't Koji-san sleep there?"
"No, actually," Tetsuya explained, "He has his own room. But sometimes, if I am very ill, he occupies the recess. I am not ill, but with child, so he isn't using the recess at present."
"Oh...that's right," Rikichi recalled, "Abarai taichou said that you were going to have a baby...Kuchiki taichou's baby."
"And Abarai-san's as well," Tetsuya added.
"Wh-what?" asked Rikichi.
He started to ask another question, but stopped himself forcibly.
"I am sorry, Kuchiki-sama," he said, blushing, "I don't mean to be too curious, but...Abarai taichou is the baby's father too?"
"Yes," affirmed the noble, "But perhaps Renji did not want that let about, so you should keep that to yourself."
Tetsuya nodded, still unable to tear his eyes away from the youth's face.
"We should get to know each other," said Tetsuya, "since Renji has asked you to stay here. I understand that you are a fierce fighter...a third seat in the sixth division, and that you are from the mid-Rukongai?"
"Yes," said Rikichi, "My parents are vendors there. They actually adopted me when I was a baby. I don't know who my birth parents are...just that I was given into adoption because of a dangerous situation in their family."
His fingers touched the beads in his hair.
"These were a gift from my father...the only one he could give me."
"I see. And that tattoo over your eye?"
"Oh!" Rikichi chuckled, "That is from when I first met Abarai taichou."
"He came through my town with a group of fighters during a hollow attack. I watched him fighting and it was so incredible that after that, I always wanted to get to be strong enough to train at the shinigami academy and join the Gotei 13. My father said that it was a good thing to want to be strong and to want to protect people, so he had a friend of his give me the tattoo so that I would focus on achieving that goal."
"And I would say that you have been quite successful," said Tetsuya, "Renji speaks very highly of you."
"Eh...I still have a lot to improve," Rikichi chuckled, blushing, "I still have a hard time with hell butterflies."
"W-with hell butterflies?" Tetsuya repeated, amusement in his eyes.
"Yeah," the youth said sheepishly, "Renji says everyone has their weak spots. His is reiatsu sensing...oh, and he's scared to death of needles. Mine is hell butterflies."
And I think that I know my weakness, Tetsuya thought, the smile refusing to leave his lips, Rikichi...segare, every part of me goes weak when I only look into your eyes...