Chapter 5: Doors Locked Tightly

Warm, gentle hands quickly removed Tetsuya's house guard uniform and dressed the younger man in a dusty, threadbare yukata that the brown-eyed man had found lying in one of the neighboring cells. He hid Tetsuya's clothes in a pack he had been carrying, then ran his fingers down the long, thin braid that ran along Tetsuya's face, caressing the pretty porcelain clip at the end. He settled on the floor of the cell that they had shared, holding Tetsuya close and whispering into his unhearing ear while Tetsuya remained unconscious.

"I am so sorry for this, Tetsuya. I wish I could explain to you, but he used a powerful spell to stun you, so you won't wake before he comes for me. I just hope that you will understand, once you know. And once you know, I swear that we will find a way to get away from him. He is horrible, Tetsuya. He has kept me away from you for all of this time, first taking advantage of my injuries, then lying to me to keep me under his control. He doesn't know that I remember everything now. And I am going to use that to protect you, Tetsuya. It is going to be difficult, but we will be all right. And after we get away from him, we will finally be together again...but free."

His fingers traced Tetsuya's lips lightly.

"Just...try to be strong, my love. He is using me to try to hurt you, but don't let him. I know this is all very confusing for you, but I will..."

He broke off as footsteps echoed in the distance. He felt, almost immediately, the dangerous press of his master's reiatsu and shivered as he continued to hold Tetsuya against him. The black-eyed man's feet stopped at the cell, and he glared down at the young man who held Tetsuya.

"Well, this is like old times, isn't it?" Orochi said mockingly, "You must feel right at home. But wait, you don't remember so much of this, ne? Still, I'll be happy to help you remember..."

"Kuchiki-sama," he said pleadingly, "This place is cold and he has no protection from it. And what if someone should come upon him and decide to..."

"Put him down and stop babbling about it," Orochi ordered him, "Leave him there and come with me."

"I will, Orochi-sama, but will you at least tell me why we have to do this? Can we not just take him with us? He is so vulnerable here."

Orochi scowled.

"He managed to survive for nearly fifteen years here before that peasant loving leader of ours emptied the prison and inflicted the half-bloods on the clans whose disobedient brothers and sisters brought them into existence. He can survive now. And besides, it won't be long before Byakuya realizes he is missing. And wagering that he's starting to doubt this one's sanity, he won't have a hard time figuring out where Tetsuya is."

"You are...that sure that Byakuya will know to look here?"

"Yes. Now, get out of there so I can remove the traces of us. I want Byakuya to think he came here on his own."

"Hai, Orochi-sama," said the young man, laying Tetsuya gently on the floor of the cell, then leaving to stand beside Orochi as the black-eyed man carefully erased the signs of their passage.

"Come, Naoki," Orochi said tersely, "It is time for us to go."

His lips curved into a cruel smile.

"I think I am in the mood for one of your deep massages. As useless as you are otherwise, I do rather enjoy those."

"I am glad, Orochi-sama," Naoki said, lowering his eyes to hide the rising anger.

If only I had something, some power to use against him. But Kuchiki Orochi is a careful man. It is going to take both of us to stop him, Tetsuya.

XXXXXXXXXX

Byakuya flash stepped through the manor gates with Renji on his heels, then slid to a stop as one of the house guards approached him.

"Hideo, where is Arashi?"

"They have taken him to the barn and made him comfortable there. Makoto is with him now and will be able to tell you more. Come."

They followed the house guard across the gardens, then out the back gate and to the left to the large, well appointed barn, where they found Arashi collapsed in his stall and the clan veterinarian leaning over him.

"How is he, Makoto?" Byakuya asked quickly, "Has he been lucid at all?"

The old animal healer shook his head wearily.

"Not really. He has moved a few times and he tried to communicate with me, which you know he only does when the situation is dire. Otherwise, the only one he speaks to is Tetsuya-san, himself."

"Was he able to tell you anything?"

"No. He only called for Tetsuya-san, then lost consciousness again."

"Is he going to be all right?" Byakuya asked solemnly.

"Oh, I believe so," said the healer, "But I think we must find Tetsuya-san. Arashi seems very agitated over him being missing."

Byakuya nodded and turned to the house guard who had led him to the barn.

"Hideo, an you show me where Arashi was found?" he asked.

"Of course, sir," the guard answered.

The guard led them away from the barn and turned towards the northern border of the estate. Byakuya and Renji followed in silence, their reiatsu gleaming softly around them as they sped through the darkness. Some time later, Hideo slowed, then came to a stop in a clearing near the border trail, where lighting had been set up and a crew of house guards was investigating the area. One broke away from the others upon spotting Byakuya.

"Byakuya-sama," he greeted the clan leader.

"Jun, how goes the investigation? Have you anything significant to report yet?"

"Ah," the man sighed, "We have determined where Arashi was when he either encountered a dangerous reiatsu flare or was somehow attacked with his and Tetsuya-san's own power. We do not know which happened, because, as you know, Tetsuya-san's reiatsu and Arashi's are one in the same."

"How do a horse and a shinigami share the same reiatsu?" Renji asked.

"Tetsuya and Arashi are a bit special," Byakuya explained, "The clan healers theorized that it was Tetsuya's earlier incarceration that caused him to begin to externalize his considerable fighting spirit. He was unable to fight, himself, so somehow Arashi was born of his desperate desire to fight for his freedom. He and Tetsuya share the same deep well of reiatsu, and they communicate telepathically. Arashi also appears in Tetsuya's inner world. They are, as I said, quite unique."

"So, would Arashi know where Tetsuya is?" asked Renji, "Could he just...?"

"He could try to reach Tetsuya through their mind link, but we would have to wait for him to regain consciousness. And every minute counts now, in trying to find my cousin."

"Do you have any idea where he could be?" Renji asked Jun.

The house guard shook his head.

There are a few traces of Tetsuya-san's footsteps, but we can find no sign of him leaving the area or falling here. We can only assume that either someone took him and covered up the signs, or Tetsuya-san, himself, covered the signs and left."

"Tetsuya would never hurt Arashi," Byakuya said firmly, "And he would never willingly leave him injured as he was."

"I...understand, Byakuya-sama," Jun said, shifting uncomfortably, "But you told me to tell you our conclusions, and it is a possibility, erm...especially in light of Tetsuya-san's recent...difficulties."

Byakuya's reiatsu flared softly.

"I want you to keep searching the area. Leave no stone unturned, and tell me if you find anything, no matter how insignificant it may seem!"

"Hai, Kuchiki-sama!" said the guard, bowing respectfully.

"Come, Renji," Byakuya said, turning back out of the clearing, "I know that you are not as adept at sensing reiatsu, but do tell me if you sense anything at all."

"I will, Taichou," the redhead promised.

Byakuya walked back to the border trail and quickly located Arashi's trail, up to the point where it left the pathway.

"Tetsuya stopped him here and dismounted," the noble said softly, "It looks as though Tetsuya went into the trees first. Arashi paced a bit, then followed him in. I'm not sure if Tetsuya knew that he followed."

"Then...could he have mistakenly attacked Arashi?" asked Renji, "Thinking it was someone else?"

"I don't see how he could have made such a mistake. They are soul mates, bound together. Tetsuya had to know it was Arashi approaching."

"Unless maybe Tetsuya was out of it," Renji suggested, "Like when he ran out to that old prison. I mean, Taichou, what if that wasn't just a dream he had? What if he was suffering some kind of...I don't know, a hallucination or something? Do you think that could have happened here?"

Byakuya paused, thinking carefully.

"I don't know," he concluded after a moment, "However, if he was not in control of himself, it could explain both him attacking Arashi and him disappearing."

"Which would put him..." Renji began.

"At the prison!" the two finished together.

They flash stepped away together, streaking through the chill darkness and headed across the estate and out into the rough country, where they had followed Tetsuya before. They reached the prison and ran into the courtyard. sliding to a stop there, then continuing forward more carefully.

"Do you know where he might be in here?" Renji asked.

"We should check his cell," suggested Byakuya, "and if he is not there, then perhaps the courtyard exercise area. Other than that, I am unsure of where to look."

Renji followed as Byakuya summoned a kido light and led him into the cellblocks. They moved through several twists and turns before Byakuya made a sound of distress and dashed into one of the cells. Renji paused at the cell door, watching as Byakuya dropped to his knees beside a collapsed shinigami dressed in a ragged yukata. He wasn't even sure at first if the man Byakuya held was Tetsuya, but had his uncertainties ended as the kido light touched the younger noble's face.

"Tetsuya!" Byakuya said, lifting his cousin's chilled body into his arms, "Tetsuya!"

He rubbed his cousin's wrists and caressed his face gently, calling his name repeatedly until Tetsuya stirred and his eyes blinked slowly opened.

"B-byakuya-sama?" he whispered shakily, his body shivering with cold, "Wh-what happened? Where...?"

Byakuya helped him sit up and Tetsuya realized where he was and how he was dressed, and gave a soft, wounded gasp.

"Byakuya-sama, how did I get here?" he asked, an edge of fear in his voice.

"You don't remember?" Byakuya asked, "Do you remember anything?"

"Ah...erm...I remember going out with Arashi to do the evening rounds of all of the guard posts. I had finished the check at the northeast border and was heading for the last checkpoint."

"And?" Byakuya prompted him.

Tetsuya frowned and strained his mind.

"I...saw something, and I stopped Arashi and left him."

"Tetsuya, what did you see?" the clan leader asked.

Tetsuya hesitated, a troubled look overtaking his face.

"Tetsuya, what is it?"

"Byakuya-sama, I know you won't believe me, but what I saw in the trees...was Naoki!"

"Tetsuya, Naoki is dead. You know that. You sensed the depletion of his reiatsu that night. You could not have seen Naoki in the forest."

"I know that!" Tetsuya said, his eyes tormented, "Byakuya-sama, I am not denying that I sensed his death before, but I know what I saw in the forest! I know! We have to go back! I have to...!"

"Tetsuya, Arashi has been injured...badly."

"What?" breathed the younger noble, his face going white at the words, "Arashi?"

He closed his eyes for a moment, reaching through their shared link.

"I cannot feel his presence! Byakuya-sama! Is Arashi...?"

"He will recover," said the clan leader, "but he is unconscious and he has not been able to tell us what happened to him. The signs at the sight indicate that the reiatsu that you share is what struck Arashi down. So...either something caused Arashi to have a dangerous reiatsu flare..."

"Or...or I attacked him!" Tetsuya said miserably, tears rising in his eyes, "That's what you mean to say, isn't it, Byakuya-sama? I attacked my own soul mate? And...and I cannot even defend myself! I do not know what happened! I don't know how I came to be here, dressed like this! Someone..."

"There were no signs of anyone in the forest but Arashi and you, watashi no itoko. And I could not sense anyone but you when I arrived here."

Tetsuya's eyes blinked in disbelief and a tear escaped onto his porcelain cheek.

"Then...that means that I...I hurt Arashi?" Tetsuya whispered, his body shaking with the revelation.

"Hey," said Renji bracingly, "We don't know that."

"What do you mean, Abarai-san?" Tetsuya asked, his breath catching and more tears leaking onto his face, "Everything...all of the signs that you found...point to me! And I cannot even tell you that I didn't harm Arashi! I don't remember! I don't remember anything! Not what happened when I followed Naoki into the forest, not how I got here and dressed this way...nothing! B-byakuya-sama!"

"Be calm, Tetsuya," Byakuya said, holding his distraught cousin against his shoulder, "Renji is right. We do not know what happened. And...we will not assume that you would ever hurt Arashi. We will not reach any conclusion without proper evidence. You are head of house security. You know..."

"What I know is that I am under suspicion of harming Arashi...and that the fact that I ended up here and in this state. Byakuya-sama, how can you conclude anything but that I am a danger...to myself and to others! If this is not me, then it is a dangerous enemy to be able to make it look this way. And if it is me...I have...I have begun to lose my mind!"

"Stop," Renji said, joining the two on the cell floor and reaching over to squeeze Tetsuya's hand, "There's no way that you're losing your mind, Tetsuya. If you can reason well enough to suspect yourself, then you are fully aware right now."

"But I am apparently having episodes where I lose my senses!" Tetsuya whispered shakenly, "Abarai-san, you and Byakuya-sama both witnessed me that way! You know what that means."

Byakuya shook his head.

"You cannot conclude that."

"You need to treat me as you would any other person under suspicion of a crime, Byakuya-sama. You need to bind my hands, seal away my powers, and take me to the house prison until my place in all of this is determined."

"No!"

"As your head of security, and the person who is most responsible for your safety, Byakuya-sama, I must insist. And if you cannot do this, then have Abarai-san do it. Just...I...could not bear to know I had harmed anyone. Do not leave me in a position where I might. Please, Cousin. Spare me that!" Tetsuya sobbed softly into Byakuya's shoulder.

Byakuya went still, holding his silently crying cousin and staring at the space in front of him. Renji looked from one to the other, then rested a comforting hand on the younger noble's back and swiftly induced sleep. Byakuya's eyes cleared and met his solemnly as Tetsuya's body went limp and pliant in his arms.

"Thank you, Abarai. I should have done that myself, but..."

"I get it. Don't worry about it," Renji said calmly, "Just, let's get him home, okay? We can deal with the rest of it there, ne?"

"You're right," the noble sighed, loosing Tetsuya from his arms and watching as Renji lifted him and stood.

Byakuya remained on the cold floor of the cell, a shiver going through him.

"C'mon, Taichou," Renji said, looking out of the cell, "He's cold and we need to get him home where he can be taken care of."

"But...Renji, how will I...? Tetsuya is my cousin...my family. I cannot just...put him in the house prison."

"Are you worried that he would be mistreated?" asked the redhead.

"It's not that simple," the clan leader explained, "Ever since his incarceration here, Tetsuya cannot stand to be confined. As much as he accepts that it is the expectation, I cannot bear to subject him to that. He will die, Renji. I know he will."

"Then, you want my opinion?" asked Renji, "I say that you take him home, put him in his own room and just shield it both ways...so that if this was him doing this, everyone else is protected...and if it was someone else, they can't get at him to do any more harm. That's what I would do, if it was me deciding."

Byakuya caught his breath softly and gave the redhead a look of gratitude.

"Ah...I should have...I wasn't thinking straight."

"Which is why you need me...a trusted outside opinion, because you are too close to him to be objective, isn't that what you told me to do in such situations?"

Byakuya managed a small smile.

"Yes, I am glad that you were paying attention. Arigatou, Renji."

The noble rose and left the cell, then turned back and looked inside. Renji stood quietly, holding Tetsuya's limp form and watching.

"I hate what they did to him," he said softly, "For no better reason than that his parents were different classes, he was subjected to this. I thought that I was saving him by getting him out and making a place for him, close to me. But...perhaps it..."

"Don't go there," Renji said, shaking his head, "Don't think about him losing his mind. I really don't believe that's what is happening here."

"But how are we to know?" Byakuya asked as they made their way out of the prison and back to Kuchiki Manor.

Renji smiled.

"I know my Taichou," he said simply, "and I am getting to know Tetsuya-san too. I know that he isn't crazy. I think this is something else. We just have to get to the bottom of it."

Renji went quiet as they entered the gardens, watching with sympathetic eyes as Byakuya took his cousin from him, laid him in bed and deepened his sleep.

"Akio," he said quietly, "Watch over him tonight. Come to me immediately if he needs me."

"I will, Kuchiki-sama," the youth promised.

Two house guards arrived as Byakuya came out of the room.

"We won't let anything reach him, Kuchiki-sama," one of the guards promised.

Byakuya nodded.

"But...you must also be sure that Tetsuya does not leave. He...may have been affected by something malevolent...and...might not be in his right mind for a time."

The guards looked back at Byakuya sadly.

"Hai, Kuchiki-sama," they said, falling into place on either side of the door.

Byakuya fell in beside Renji and the two walked back to Byakuya's bedroom door.

"Do you want me to stay, Taichou?" the redhead asked.

"I will be fine," said the noble, "I have been enough trouble to you. Go home and get some rest."

He expected Renji to object, but was surprised at the redhead's calm response.

"I'll go home," he agreed, "if you still want me to, after I've helped you wind down."

"Renji..."

"If I walk outta here now, then you are going to stay up all night, feeling bad about this. But...I can help you wind down and fall asleep, and you know that you'll be better able to think things through in the morning."

Byakuya considered his words silently for a moment.

"The only problem," he said finally, "is that it will leave me indebted to you. So...if you are going to help me 'wind down,' then it is only right that I offer you the comfort of a warm place to sleep tonight."

"A guest room?" Renji asked, smirking.

"No...my room...my arms," the noble answered, stepping aside to let Renji enter.

They walked back to the dressing area and slipped out of their clothes, wrapping themselves in soft yukatas and leaving the fronts open. They slipped into the bed and Byakuya curled up against Renji's side. He smiled at the lovely view of tattoos that ran down the length of the redhead's body, even marking his erect member.

"I thought that you were going to help me fall asleep, Abarai," the noble complained, "I am likely to be up all night if you leave your clothes open like that."

"You want me to cover up?" chuckled Renji.

"No," said Byakuya, his heart fluttering, "I will be..."

Renji smiled and induced sleep, stopping the noble mid-sentence.

"That's better," he whispered, kissing the noble on the forehead, then on the lips, "There'll be plenty of time for you to look at my tattoos in the morning. Now, get some sleep, Taichou."