The Pureblood Protectors
(For Eva Galana who requested a 'Renji in distress' Renji/Tetsuya story. :) Just to be clear, the pairings are Renji/Tetsuya and Byakuya/male OC Saito Katashi. Enjoy!)
Picture of disgrace...you should have withered in your mother's womb. Where your shadow falls, the ground is blackened and what your eye sees, wilts. Carrier of your forebears' sins, affront to the pure, bend your knees and accept your punishment.
Chapter 1: The Face of an Angel
"You know, you didn't have to come and escort me home, Tetsuya-san," said Rukia, enjoying the gentle sway of Arashi's movement beneath them, "I am a fukutaichou now, and quite capable of taking care myself. Why did Nii-sama send you? Is there trouble brewing?"
Tetsuya glanced around them briefly, then met her eye as she looked back over one shoulder at him.
"We are not certain," her cousin, nudging the black stallion they rode into a faster walk, "but Byakuya-sama was concerned after what happened to Yukimura-sama's wife."
"I heard about that," Rukia said, lowering her voice, "It was first thought to be an accident, but then they said that it was because she was a commoner."
"And that she was pregnant with a mixed blood heir to that clan," Tetsuya finished, "As much as attitudes have changed over time, there are those who do not welcome those changes."
"Then, don't you think that you should be careful as well?" the young woman asked, "After all, it was largely due to you and Nii-sama, and your exposure of what happened in Itamigiri that people's perspective has changed."
"Yes," agreed the young man, "The noble clans had an awareness that mixed bloods were disappearing, and there were rumors that the hidden prison existed. But back then, most nobles preferred to brush off the rumors. They were not fond of mixed bloods anyway, and as long as the prison was hidden, and the mixed bloods' pain invisible, they could live in blessed ignorance of what we were suffering."
"But once the prisoners were freed and the evidence of the atrocities against them exposed, many were horrified at just how out of hand things had gotten."
"Yes," agreed Tetsuya, "many clan members were soundly shocked and didn't want to believe that their own pureblood brethren could be so cruel. And then, there were those with harsher attitudes towards the mixed bloods, who would just as soon have not known about what was happening, to the point where they downplayed and even outright denied the truth. Rukia-chan, as much as many people's attitudes changed, there were those who would gladly reopen that prison right now and pick up where their forerunners left off."
"That's awful," Rukia sighed, shaking her head, "It's not like we chose to be born peasants."
"Or mixed bloods," Tetsuya added, "And it is not so simple as saying that their enmity was earned when we entered the family as official members and moved in among them. My father left Kuchiki Manor and went to live in the Rukongai, near my mother's family. From what I have heard from her relatives still living there, they were well liked and living peacefully. But just before I was born, they were abducted and taken to the prison. The ones responsible for this called themselves The Pureblood Protectors. But within the prison walls, we learned that their intent was anything but pure."
Rukia shivered despite the warmth of the late afternoon.
"You were lucky that Nii-sama was able to find the prison in time to rescue you, Tetsuya-san. I don't like to think about what would have happened if you had not been freed."
"Neither do I," Tetsuya agreed, "Thankfully, even though it took many years, the worst of the perpetrators and abusers were imprisoned and the ringleader was ordered executed by the Nobles' General Council. But from time to time, rumors crop up about a revival of that group. So, Byakuya-sama and I are always cautious. Our actions on behalf of the prisoners of Itamigiri make us and the ones around us targets for that group, if indeed, it has resurfaced."
"Let's hope that it hasn't," Rukia said, worriedly, "What they did before was frightening...but then, you know that better than anyone."
"Yes," Tetsuya agreed, looking about as Arashi tensed and slowed, "What is it? Do you sense something?"
He studied the area around them carefully, extending his own senses.
"You are right," he agreed, "I don't sense anything specific, but...something is off."
They stopped on the pathway, looking into the trees and listening intently. Tetsuya felt a knot of worry at the sudden lack of birdcalls and insect noises, and placed a hand on his sword.
He scarcely had time to draw the blade before kido spells exploded from the forest, all around them, making everything disappear into a flash of bright blue light and choking dust.
"Here's the last of those reports for the first division, Taichou," Renji said, setting the files on the noble's desk and sitting down in the chair near Byakuya to wait as he signed them.
"Arigatou, Renji," Byakuya said, an edge of weariness in his voice, "I appreciate you staying late to assist me in finishing them. You should go now. I know that you usually meet with your friends on Fridays."
"Yeah," said the redhead, good-naturedly, "but I don't mind. Really. I know they dumped that shit on you at the last moment."
"I do not think that they did that intentionally."
"Maybe not," yawned Renji, "But sometimes it seems they throw a hell of a lot of repetitive and unnecessary paper at us. I'm sure they have their reasons..."
"I think that they are just in need of someone to study the current system and fine tune it to eliminate the unnecessary and repetitive things."
"They should just have you go put things in order," Renji laughed, "You sure have things streamlined here. As much as there is a lot of paperwork, I don't usually see anything wasteful of our time."
"I cannot take credit for that, however," said the noble, "It was actually the work of my grandfather that set things in order. I merely inherited the division as he left it."
"Yeah?" Renji mused, "Well, I wish that the first would have taken a lesson from him. Because at times, it seems like the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing over there. You know what I mean?"
"Of course. However, there is little to do about it. One must be open to change and desire it for change to happen. And as the procedures that frustrate us do not impact the officers of the first, they have no incentive to change."
"Oh?" Renji said saucily, "Well, you know, I'd be happy to take Zabimaru over there and give them a reason or two to change the way they do things!"
"Ah," sighed the noble, "I would prefer that you restrained yourself. I have no wish to be forced to go to the first division and 'bail you out.' as it were."
"Aww, you would do that for me, Taichou?" Renji asked, smirking, "Really?"
"Perhaps," Byakuya said dryly, "After an appropriate period of reflection so that you would not be tempted to repeat the offense."
"Nice," Renji chuckled, rising and moving back to his desk to tidy up before leaving, "Hey, Taichou, you going home or would you like me to make you a cup of tea to help you wind down before bed?"
"The latter, if it is not too much trouble," said Byakuya, clearing the last few things off of his desk and standing.
They left the main office and headed down the hallway together. Byakuya stopped at the door to his quarters and Renji started to walk past, but paused, frowning as the door handle turned and he heard an odd click. Something registered in the redhead's mind and the next thing he knew, his body was in motion, flash stepping to the noble, who seemed also to realize something was wrong, and taking him to the floor as a heavy eruption of searing heat and flame flashed all around them and the building shook from end to end. Despite their quick reflexes and instant decision to shield themselves, their prone bodies were raked with heat and stricken with debris.
"Holy hell, Taichou! Taichou, are you all right?" Renji exclaimed.
Byakuya rose onto his hands and knees, coughing, but looking relatively okay, and crawled alongside Renji to the front entry, where both rose and exited the building, as an emergency team arrived.
"Kuchiki taichou! Abarai fukutachou! Are you hurt?" an arriving healer asked.
"I'm just banged up a little," Renji said quickly, "Check on Taichou. He was right next to the door when the place blew."
"I am...I will be f-fine," Byakuya managed, coughing several more times, "Renji reacted so quickly that I wasn't terribly hurt."
Renji looked down and noticed a small leather pouch in the noble's hand.
"What's that?" he asked, frowning.
"It was hung on the doorknob," Byakuya answered, "I hesitated for a moment because I noticed and removed it, just before starting to open the door."
He studied the pouch, then started to open it.
"Hey, is that really a good idea?" Renji asked, "If the bastards who booby-trapped your door left it, couldn't it be dangerous?"
"I will be cautious," the noble assured him, scanning the pouch briefly, then opening it and emptying the contents into his hand.
The two stared at the item that fell out, a small, blue, white and silver porcelain hair clip, then Byakuya made a sound of surprise and distress and surged to his feet.
"Whoa! Hey, Taichou? Taichou, what are you doing? Where are you going?" Renji called out, following after him, "Who does that belong to?"
Byakuya didn't answer, but moved in blazing flash steps towards Kuchiki Manor, with Renji a step behind. They reached the manor and Byakuya slid to a stop at the guard post.
"Where are Tetsuya and Rukia?" the noble asked sternly, "They should have arrived here by now. Are they here?"
"N-no, Kuchiki-sama," said the surprised guard, "They have not arrived yet."
The clan leader took a hissing breath.
"Gather a search party and comb the path through the forest between here and the thirteenth division. I was attacked at my squad's headquarters and I have reason to suspect that Tetsuya and perhaps Rukia may have been targeted as well!"
Byakuya flash stepped away and Renji continued to follow him, worry on his face at knowing now that Rukia might have been hurt.
"Who did this, Taichou? Do you know what this might be about? Why would someone attack you and Rukia and this other guy, Tetsuya-san?"
"It is...complicated," Byakuya said, still a bit uncomfortable from the smoke that had invaded his lungs during the explosion, "But Tetsuya and I have some enemies from years back, and it seems that they are sending us a message. That hair clip belongs to Tetsuya. It was a gift from me, and he is never without it."
"That's one strange fucking message!" Renji exclaimed, "Hello, please die now! And who is Tetsuya-san? Is he a friend of yours? A relative?"
"The latter," Byakuya answered as they moved onto the forest trail, "Tetsuya's father and mine were first cousins. Tetsuya and I met as teens, when I led an offensive against a secret, illegal prison being run by members of several clans. The raid that I led against the prison and Tetsuya's placement in my family did not sit well with everyone, I am afraid. Tetsuya and I are powerful, so usually they do not trifle with us, but recently, there have been rumors of the revival of the group that ran the prison. They were nobles from a number of families who vehemently opposed the mixing of noble and common blood...to the point where they built and ran the prison secretly, filling it with not just people with mixed blood, but also their own brethren, who dared to take spouses of lower blood. Tetsuya's father was noble, but he left the family to marry a peasant woman, and they moved to the Rukongai to get away from the ones who disapproved of them. But just before Tetsuya's birth, members of this group, the Pureblood Protectors, abducted them and took them to the secret prison. His father, Kuchiki Takao, was swiftly executed and his mother was imprisoned, as was Tetsuya upon his birth. His mother was killed trying to defend Tetsuya from the prison guards in an incident when Tetsuya was fourteen. The raid happened a few months later, and that is when Tetsuya and I met for the first time. I felt that, as our fathers had been close, my father would have wanted me to care for Tetsuya, so despite the uproar it caused, I brought him to Kuchiki Manor and we became as brothers."
"But it looks like some people just never got over the intolerance."
"It looks that way," Byakuya agreed, slowing as they approached a dark, collapsed form on the trail.
Byakuya caught his breath softly.
"Arashi," he breathed, kneeling beside what turned out to be a fallen stallion...black as night all over and wearing no tack.
The horse twitched softly at Byakuya's touch and let out a low, pained groan.
"Renji, would you see to his injuries?" Byakuya asked, "I think he will be all right, but he needs healing and I need to find Tetsuya and Rukia."
"Okay," the redhead said, biting at his lips in fury at wanting to join the noble in the search for Rukia, but instead addressing the stallion, who now looked up at him through large, curious sapphire eyes, "Hold still, you. I'm trying to help you. Don't bite me or anything, okay?"
The stallion grunted and nipped at his hair as Renji gently shoved his head away and started to heal him.
"You're kinda beat up, but I think you'll live, Fleabag," he said, smiling at the battered but pretty horse.
Renji was taken aback as the horse managed to look offended and suddenly surged to his feet, brushing off Renji's help and looking around as though he had lost something.
"You know where Tetsuya-san and Rukia are?" Renji asked, "Can you sense them?"
Arashi looked this way and that, then led Renji off of the trail to where they found Byakuya leaned over Rukia's unconscious form.
"Rukia!" Renji yelled, "Taichou, is she...?"
"She is not badly injured," Byakuya reported, "But we need to find Tetsuya. Tend to Rukia. I am going to..."
He broke off as Arashi's shrill whinny broke the silence around them, and a moment later, a male voice answered.
Renji flash stepped in the direction of the voice, and found himself suddenly at the edge of a nasty drop off that hadn't been visible from the trail.
"Arashi!" the man's voice called again.
Renji followed the voice to where the ground was scored and slightly burned from kido fire. He ran to the spot and looked over the edge, then found himself looking down at a battered, but lovely male face and large, sapphire eyes that looked oddly similar to the stallion's.
"Tetsuya-san?" Renji queried, kneeling at the place where the shinigami clung to a thorny scrub bush with badly bleeding hands.
He took hold of the young man's strained arms and hauled him up onto the edge of the drop off, then dragged him away from it and laid him down on the soft forest floor. The man looked up at him quietly, in obvious pain, but still remarkably in control of himself.
"Arigatou," he managed softly, his luminous eyes blinking slowly as Renji opened his clothing and began to heal him.
They looked up as Byakuya reached them, accompanied by a shaken, but recoveirng Rukia.
"Tetsuya!" Rukia sobbed, running to the young man and kneeling at his side.
Byakuya moved to join them and looked with concern down into the young man's blue eyes. Tetsuya frowned and reached up to touch Byakuya's smudged face questioningly.
"Th-they attacked you too?" he asked, his voice trembling.
"But I was not hurt...thanks to the swift response of my fukutaichou."
Tetsuya gave Renji a look of gratitude that gave the redhead a gentle quiver inside.
"Arigatou, Abarai-san," he managed softly, "I am in your debt."
"Forget it," Renji said, swatting Arashi away as the stallion nibbled at the long strands of red hair that tumbled down the back of his head, "Just lie still there and let me get you fixed up, okay?"
Renji continued the healing as Byakuya withdrew the hair clip from the leather pouch and affixed it to the bottom of a small braid that ran down the left side of the younger man's face.
"I think you lost this, Tetsuya," the clan leader said quietly.
"It...m-must have fallen off in the fighting," Tetsuya concluded.
"And they found it and left it as a gift when they set up the blast at the sixth," Renji added.
Then, he frowned down at Tetsuya.
"Just how long were you hanging over the edge of that cliff, anyway? They had time to attack you and bring that clip to the headquarters...?"
Tetsuya shrugged and shook his head slightly.
"I...lost track of time. But it seemed substantial."
"Yeah, I guess," Renji commented, focusing on a deep cut in the young man's sword hand.
"Can you tell me what happened, watashi no itoko?" Byakuya asked in an unusually gentle tone, "Can you identify any of them?"
"No," Tetsuya said softly, "They were prepared...had knowledge of us. They m-must have prepared carefully."
"Which meshes with the fact that I was set up as well."
"They acted with brutality and swiftness, attacking with kido spells from multiple directions. Rukia and I fended off the first volley, but Arashi came down in the second strike, then Rukia and I were separated when their kido blasts forced her away from me."
"I collapsed in the bushes," Rukia added, "and I laid quietly so they wouldn't find me."
"I had the misfortune to encounter the edge of the cliff as I was hit with kido fire. I managed to grab onto that bush, but was too injured to pull myself up. I was lucky that they did not find me...and that Abarai-san arrived before I might have lost consciousness."
"Taichou," said Renji, looking up, "I think he'll be okay, but I think it would be best to take him to the fourth, because he may have some internal damage."
"I w-will be all right," Tetsuya argued, "I just need to get up and..."
"No way," said Renji, "You move again like you're getting up and I'm going to just knock you out."
"As though you could!" Tetsuya said, looking to Renji cutely offended.
"Renji is right, Tetsuya," Byakuya said solemnly, "Do you think that you can ride with Renji to help you?"
"Yes, I think so," said the younger man.
Byakuya met Renji's eyes briefly.
"Will you ride with my cousin to the fourth division?" he asked, "I will escort Rukia back to Kuchiki Manor and I will meet you at the fourth division after."
"Sure thing, Taichou," Renji said, nodding and slowly helping the injured noble to his feet.
He helped Tetsuya onto Arashi's back, then climbed up behind him and wrapped his arms around the young noble. Tetsuya let his weight rest against Renji's chest and his head turned and rested gently beneath the redhead's chin.
"So," said Renji as Byakuya and Rukia walked away form them, "How does this thing work? You have a secret command or something?"
Tetsuya laughed softly, then winced and went quiet again.
"You just tell him where you want him to take you. He understands our words."
"Oh," Renji said, blinking, "Is that why he nipped me when I called him Fleabag?"
"Most probably," Tetsuya said, laughing and wincing again, "You are lucky he didn't draw blood. But then, he is likely grateful to you for coming to our aid. Arigatou, Abarai-san."
"Call me Renji."
"Renji-san," Tetsuya repeated, closing his eyes and sinking deeper into the redhead's embrace, "Arigatou, Renji-san."