Chapter 4: Secret Pain
Tetsuya stood quietly, his eyes lowered as Byakuya tested the shower water with one hand, then turned back to gently remove his cousin's yukata. A calm hand slipped beneath the younger man's chin, raising it slightly. Steel gray eyes gazed quietly into sapphire blue, reading the lingering melancholy and registering concern.
"What is it, Tetsuya?" the clan leader asked, "There is a weight on your heart. I can feel it. Is it something that I've done? Are you still upset that I accused you of being involved with Renji before? I did apologize for jumping to conclusions."
"No...no, Byakuya-sama...erm, I mean, Kuchiki tai..."
"Stop," Byakuya said, halting Tetsuya's words with a warm kiss, "We are alone and you are recovering from injury. Do not worry about how to address me. Here...in this place, forget for a moment that I am your leader and your taichou. In this place, Tetsuya, I am your lover. Please, I do not like the distance that you keep between us. We are equals here. I want that it should be a place where we can both let down our guard."
"I am sorry, Byakuya," the younger man whispered, feeling a quiver of wrongness inside at the lack of honorific, "You are right. The place where we lie down together should be a haven for us...a place where we can forget, if only for a short time, the weight of the demands upon us. Please forgive me. I am still weary. I had trouble sleeping, even as comforted as I was by lying in your arms."
"Well, there will be time for you to catch up on your rest now. After today's meeting, there will be several days with no appointments. So, if you wish, You and Renji and I can spend some leisure time together before the next phase of our mission."
"That sounds wonderful," Tetsuya said, regaining a smile.
Byakuya nodded in approval.
"Come then," he said, taking Tetsuya's hand, "The water should be hot enough now."
The two slipped in under the hot, steamy spray, where Byakuya stood, watching quietly as Tetsuya let the water soak his wavy black hair and wet the length of his body. He moved aside as Byakuya did the same. Then, the clan leader slipped an arm around his cousin, coaxing him into a gentle, comforting embrace.
There is very definitely something that is troubling him. I see it so painfully clearly in his eyes and I feel tension in his body when I touch him. I thought, at first, that it was that I accused him of becoming involved with Renji, but I am relatively certain now that that isn't it. But...what is it? Tetsuya is a shy person. He is gentle and affectionate with the people he knows, and usually reserved around strangers. But although I know that he still has occasional nightmares about his incarceration, I had thought he was finally turning a corner. Then, something happened, and I feel that it happened yesterday. I need to convince him to talk to me...but how? If he has chosen not to say anything to me, there have to have been compelling reasons. Unless pushed to anger, Tetsuya does nothing without first thinking it through.
He let one hand rub the younger man's upper back, while the other slid down to gently caress Tetsuya's lovely pale bottom. Tetsuya closed his eyes and sank more deeply into Byakuya's arms, nearly falling asleep on his feet as the older man held him for a time, then slowly bathed him.
The tender handling calmed the quivers of memory that had been assaulting the younger man's mind, the flashes of residual pain on his skin where his clothes had been torn away, where the dark bruises had been lain as he had fought the rough hands of the rival clan leader. He was able to force away the harsh sting where the man's fingernails had raked his skin and the burning ache of having been penetrated forcibly.
But still, the man's laughter and cruel words echoed in his head.
"I wondered what he saw in you, you know...why he would desire these widespread thighs over those of a well bred noblewoman...why those large, sad eyes, why those hands and arms, why that pouting mouth, milky throat and fine-carved breast. But now, I have to admit, you are a lovely specimen, for a mixed blood. And despite how many times he has enjoyed you, you are delightfully tight so that it must be like constantly taking a virgin. Not that one like you remembers innocence, ne Tetsuya? But you are a quiet type. I am sure you do not remind him of how many have tasted your gypsy flesh..."
"Get off of me!"
He realized suddenly that he had pulled away from Byakuya, and that some of the wetness on his face was not water from the shower. He was grateful for the fact that his tears were not so obvious, that he had learned long ago to hide them when he needed to.
"I am sorry," he said quietly, "I think I am still hurting in a few places."
Most especially your heart, anata. Why will you not talk to me?
Tetsuya distracted the clan leader with a small smile and began to return Byakuya's show of affection. He took the soap from the other man's hands and massaged it into Byakuya's skin, moving unhurriedly from head to toe, and using the time to push away the heavy thoughts, so that by the time they washed the thick lather from their skin, his mood had notably lightened, and his eyes had lost some of the torment that Byakuya had seen in them before.
"You look better," Byakuya commented, lifting his chin to look into his eyes again.
"I am fine," Tetsuya said with greater confidence, "You need to stop worrying about me so much. Right now, it is important for me to settle into my role as your subordinate. I will not be able to do that with you hovering over me all of the time. And besides, Renji-san is sure to realize that we are more than cousins if we are too careless. You think that he does not realize we shared a bed last night?"
"Renji will not jump to conclusions about us. But you are right that we need to employ caution. As much as I dislike keeping what is between us a secret, things could go wrong in so many ways should we become too obvious."
"If not just the council, there could be reaction in the military as well as among the clans."
He swallowed hard and closed his eyes for a moment.
"And the last thing we want is to touch off clan hostilities," he finished, "Things are tense, especially with the Kuromori clan. It wouldn't take much to incite violence right now."
"You are right," admitted Byakuya, "But I want you to put that out of your mind. We have our most capable diplomats handling that. And provided that nothing upsets the balance of things, we should be able to avoid war, even as badly as the Kuromori clan seems to desire one."
Tetsuya nodded, then gently shook the water from the long strands of his hair and stepped out of the shower. He dried himself, watching out of the corner of one blue eye while Byakuya finished bathing, then stepped out to join him. They finished drying off and wrapped their bodies in fresh yukatas, then left the bathroom and returned to the bedroom, where the smell of cooking food had invaded the room.
"Go and lie down," Byakuya said, nodding in the direction of the bed, "Your reiatsu is still unacceptably low. You will require one more day of rest before resuming your duties."
"Yes," said Tetsuya, looking amused, "just in time to take a few days off."
"So, it seems," Byakuya answered, a smirk invading the corners of his mouth, "but you will catch up on things quickly once the mission continues again."
"I look forward to that."
"Just be sure that in future battles you improve in your management and employment of your powers. Being in the military requires a kind of discretion that you have not been taught, but you will learn quickly, Tetsuya."
"Yes," he agreed as a soft tapping sounded on the door.
Byakuya walked to the bedroom door and unlocked and opened it, admitting Renji into the room. The redhead carried a breakfast tray loaded with food and a cup of hot green tea.
"I added some lemon and ginger to make it extra soothing," said Renji, "I always like that when I've taken a beating and need to relax to heal better."
"Arigatou, Renji-san," Tetsuya said, smiling, "I appreciate the gesture."
"You're welcome," replied the redhead, smiling good naturedly.
Byakuya observed the two quietly for a moment, then cleared his throat softly.
"Abarai," he said, meeting Renji's eyes, "I want you to stay here with Tetsuya while I attend the meeting today."
Renji gave him a startled look, but nodded in acceptance.
"Okay, Taichou. But, are you sure? I thought that you wanted to stay here with..."
"You can see to Tetsuya's needs well enough. And I want to feel out the situation myself before we proceed. When I return, we will have a few days of leisure before the mission continues. You may return to the Seireitei for some time off, if you wish, or you may join Tetsuya and me. We plan a visit to a beach house that we own along the coast. I believe that you were there once before..."
"Y-yeah," Renji said, his eyes widening, "Huge house with glass walls that open to let in the sea breeze...private beach...a full staff serving you like a king? Oh yeah, it's a little hard to forget. Are you...sure you want me tagging along on your vacation? I kinda got the feeling that you and Tetsuya might want to be..."
"We are happy to have you join us," Byakuya said, glancing at Tetsuya.
"Yes," agreed the younger man, exchanging glances with Byakuya, "I would like that."
"Okay," said Renji, "I'm in."
He looked back at the tea tray in Tetsuya's lap.
"You gonna eat or should I get hurt feelings that all I've seen you try is the tea?" he asked Tetsuya.
"Oh, sorry," Tetsuya said, smiling, "I will eat. I just became distracted."
"Well, we will leave you to it for a bit, then," said Byakuya.
"Yeah, Taichou, I have your breakfast ready in the kitchen. I would have brought it if I was an octopus and had extra arms, but..."
"Not to worry," said the noble, "I want to discuss the mission with you. We can eat in the kitchen and allow my cousin some peace and quiet to encourage him to eat and rest."
Tetsuya watched quietly as the two exited the room, then contemplated the food tray. He lifted a breakfast muffin and brought it to his lips, but felt an odd, sick feeling pass over him, even though his stomach had been rumbling hungrily a moment before. He studied the closed door for a moment and bit his lip, thinking.
I don't wish to insult Renji-san, nor to trouble Byakuya-sama anymore, but...
He tried a bite of food and a quick sip of the soothing tea together, but felt his stomach pitch uncomfortably as the food went down. He left the bed, a lightheaded feeling passing over him, and rushed to the bathroom, where he emptied his stomach, then rested quietly with his back against the wall, one pale, trembling hand reaching up to brush the sweaty strands of hair away from his face.
What is wrong with me?
In the prison, I learned to accept when the guards came for me and took me to that room. I learned to lie quietly and listen to exactly what they said, to do everything without questioning or hesitating. So...is it because I fought him? Was I so conditioned not to defend myself that somehow, to do so felt wrong? Why is this happening?
He heard the door to the bedroom open and Byakuya called his name. He left the bathroom and did his best to walk as normally as possible back to the bed.
"Is everything all right?" the clan leader asked.
"Yes," Tetsuya assured him, "I was just about to get back to that."
He sat down and forced himself to eat, while Byakuya prepared to leave for the meeting. The clan leader looked approvingly at the mostly emptied tray and picked it up to take it away as he leaned over to kiss Tetsuya before exiting the room. Tetsuya stiffened, seeing that Renji was standing in the doorway, but that his eyes widened and he stepped back before Byakuya could notice him there. The clan leader straightened, then gave Tetsuya a quiet smile of farewell and left the suite.
Tetsuya felt a shiver of anticipation go through him as he waited for the inevitable. But just as he heard Renji's approaching steps, the feeling of illness returned and he flash stepped to the bathroom and relieved himself of the rest of what he had eaten. He nearly jumped out of his skin as Renji's hand touched his shoulder lightly, then caressed the area gently as Tetsuya bent forward to surrender to the sick feeling again. He felt Renji's arm wrap around his waist, as the redhead helped him to his feet and back into bed, then washed his face gently with a cool, wet washcloth.
"You all right now?" he asked in a concerned tone, "You look pale as a ghost. Does...does Taichou know about this?"
Tetsuya tilted his head questioningly, frowning curiously.
"Oh," said Renji, smiling at him, "It's okay. Taichou told me about it once."
"Wh-what?" Tetsuya managed, looking mystified.
"He told me that some noble males are able to have kids. That's what's going on, right? You're pregnant with Taichou's baby?"
Tetsuya's face went white and his eyes rounded.
"Whoa, hey! Don't worry, I won't say anything, if you don't want me to. I guess I wasn't supposed to know that you and Taichou were seeing each other."
"No," said Tetsuya, swallowing a heavy knot of fear that had risen in his throat, "Although such relationships are more readily accepted than they used to be, Byakuya-sama would be reprimanded by the elders for it...and...and there could be other consequences."
"Don't worry," Renji assured him, sitting down on the bed and washing away fresh beads of nervous sweat that had risen on his forehead, "I won't tell anyone. But...if you're having Taichou's baby, won't you have to let it out sometime?"
Unbidden tears filled Tetsuya's eyes, making Renji's features soften in sympathy.
"You are right. That is it. I am pregnant, aren't I? And they are going to..."
"Taichou won't let them hurt you. You know that," Renji said reassuringly, "He won't let anything happen to you or the baby you are having together."
"Renji-san," Tetsuya sobbed softly, "B-byakuya-sama and I have never...we haven't..."
Renji's face fell.
The two gazed at each other silently for a moment.
"I don't know what to do," Tetsuya whispered.
"Why can't you just tell him what happened?" Renji asked, shaking his head, "Taichou would..."
"Renji-san," Tetsuya said in a shaky voice, "The only person who could have fathered this baby is that man who attacked me yesterday, and...you cannot tell Byakuya-sama..."
"I won't. I promised I wouldn't. But why? You know the guy, right? I got that feeling before."
"I know him," Tetsuya admitted, "He is a rival clan leader. And at present, our clans are on the brink of war. One misstep and fighting will break out. And it won't just be the men who will be involved, Abarai-san. There will, most certainly be collateral damage. There always is. And...I cannot bear to be the one who touches off such a thing! I would die..."
"But...isn't someone going to figure it out eventually? I mean...the elders? Byakuya? Won't they eventually know you are pregnant?"
"You are right," Tetsuya whispered, a tormented look on his face, "Renji-san...!"
"Hey, calm down, all right?" Renji said, rubbing his back lightly, "We'll figure something out."
He bit his lip gently, thinking.
"Tetsuya, what if...what if we tell Taichou that...I fathered the baby?"
"N-no!" Tetsuya said, tears rolling onto his face, "I could never even think of letting him think I would do that! I have been Byakuya-sama's lover for many years, though as yet he has not taken me, nor I him. I mean, we would have, but what happened in the prison...did something to me. I can only go so far, but when he tries to penetrate me, I freeze. I become...ill. I have tried everything to overcome it. I only haven't been able to go to a healer because we cannot take the chance that word will get back to the clan. The truth is that Byakuya-sama suspects that Hisana's death fifty years ago wasn't just illness. He suspects that some of our own family may have been involved...and that...if they learn I am being intimate with him, they could try to h-hurt me."
"Damn, I'm really sorry, Tetsuya. I wish I could help you."
"There's nothing anyone can do, and as soon as Byakuya-sama finds out what happened, he is sure to become so angry, he might..."
"Okay," said Renji, taking the younger man's hands in his.
Neither heard the door to the suite open, nor Byakuya's soft footsteps as he approached the room, then paused in the doorway.
"I want you to listen to me," Renji went on, looking into Tetsuya's anxious eyes, "You say that you and Taichou have been together for a long time. And...I'll tell you. When he got here and I saw the two of you together, I started to think something was going on. Then...earlier, I saw him kiss you."
"I know. I saw you in the doorway," Tetsuya said softly.
"Let me just assure you. I'm not going to tell anyone. I can see that the two of you want this kept private, and I'll respect that. I care about Taichou, and I care about you, so I'm not going to say anything and cause you two any grief."
"Arigatou, Renji-san," Tetsuya sighed, relief plain in his expression.
"But...that being said, I am going to give you some advice, and I really want you to think about it."
Tetsuya nodded silently.
"I think that you should trust your cousin. I know Byakuya taichou and I know he isn't going to fly off the handle and start a war without first thinking things through. This guy who raped you yesterday...this clan leader, you think he might have done it to get Taichou to lose his cool and start something?"
Tetsuya bit at his lips and nodded.
"Kuromori Tatsuo is just like that," he explained, "He wants there to be a conflict. So, when he surprised me here yesterday and realized it was me and not Byakuya-sama..."
"He figured he'd do something that would set Taichou off. But...did he know he could get you pregnant? Would he try to use that?"
"Probably not," said Tetsuya, shaking his head, "Because even if he tried to claim that the contact was consensual, he would have to claim me as his property to legitimize the child. Both of our councils would demand that."
"And he doesn't want...sorry, a 'mixed blood' heir, ne?"
"Absolutely not," said Tetsuya, shaking his head, "His clan hates the half bloods like me. It's part of the reason we are so much at odds."
"Okay, so Byakuya taichou is not going to rush into a war to avenge what the guy did, and the guy isn't going to try to take you away from Taichou, ne?"
"Right," agreed Tetsuya.
"And, he doesn't know that you and Taichou are seeing each other?"
"No," said Tetsuya, "No one knows but the three of us."
"So..." Renji concluded, "There is nothing standing in your way. You need to go to him. You need to tell him. Let him help you, Tetsuya. It is obvious that the two of you really need each other right now."
Tetsuya went silent, holding his breath as Renji's words fell across his mind. Several long minutes passed while he considered, then lowered his eyes and gave a long, shuddering sigh.
"You are right, Renji-san," he whispered, "It is what I longed to do all along. It was such a weight to carry on my own. I am...very grateful to you for helping me to think this through. I will tell him. As soon as he returns, I will tell him everything. Thank you."
"Abarai fukutaichou," Byakuya said from the doorway, making the two freeze, "You have my gratitude as well."
He stepped into the room and paused, looking down into Tetsuya's widened eyes. Renji started to let go of Tetsuya's hands, but Byakuya's stopped him and the clan leader's eyes made him go still and silent again.
"You took a great weight from my lover's heart," Byakuya said quietly, "I knew that something was wrong and that he wanted to tell me but could not, for some reason. You comforted and healed him. You gave him the advice he needed so that he could say the words to me. The situation we are in is a difficult one. And we will need to be careful as we move forward."
He went quiet for a moment, thinking.
"I came back early because the situation that we were here to address has resolved itself. We are on leave for the next week. I asked you before if you wished to join Tetsuya and me at the beach house. Before, it was an offer of leisure, but this time, I ask of necessity. I think that the three of us need to work together on this. So, Renji, will you agree to come with us to the beach house?"
Renji looked from Tetsuya's relieved face to Byakuya's surprisingly hopeful one and back again, a smile forming on his lips.
"Yeah," he said, nodding, "I don't know a damned thing about clan law or any of that..."
"That is not necessary," said Byakuya, "I will explain things as needed. It is just that, you have a soothing effect on Tetsuya. And I would give him whatever comforts I can while we come to terms with all of this."
"Well, I don't know what use I'll be, but I'm in, Taichou."
Byakuya offered him a very rare, tenuous smile.
"I trusted that you could be counted on, Renji," he said approvingly, "Now, with any luck, the three of us will be able to come up with some way for the Kuchiki clan to avoid a full-scale war."
He reached down to caress Tetsuya's cheek then gently induced sleep.
"Rest, anata," he said softly, "You will need your strength for what lies ahead."
He met Renji's eyes calmly again.
"Come, Renji, there are a few details that we need to discuss regarding the resolution of our mission, then we can talk more about Tetsuya."
Renji bit his lip gently and glanced up at the noble.
"You're...not mad I didn't come to you right away?" he asked hesitantly.
"No," the clan leader answered, shaking his head, "My cousin was likely beside himself after that beast had his way with him. He needed time to collect himself, and I am glad that he did not have to do so alone."
Renji cleared his throat nervously.
"Uh, you said that you weren't going to, you know, start anything with that guy, right? Because that's part of what had Tetsuya on edge. He doesn't want to be the reason your clan goes to war and people die."
"I understand. And I will not initiate open war."
He surprised Renji then with a sudden smirk.
"But...there are more ways than one to make Kuromori Tatsuo feel the effects of my wrath."
"Heh," Renji chuckled, "I don't think I would want to be in that guy's shoes right now..."
"No," Byakuya said sedately, "You would not."