Chapter 5: Light of the Dark Truth

(Inspired by the Grace Potter song called 'Stars.')

Byakuya cringed inwardly at waking to find himself unclothed and held close to the soul king's warm, naked form, the monarch's arm wound firmly around his waist. The king, of course, had every right to the noble's body, but something inside Byakuya simply refused to accept that he belonged to the king in that fashion.

I don't know why, when my mind accepts this, my heart stubbornly refuses to obey. I am the king's husband. I shouldn't resist whatever he desires of me. And I shouldn't long for the touch of anyone else, especially now that Renji is...

Tears returned to his eyes and leaked onto his face, then onto his pillow.

Maybe if I had truly accepted my fate...maybe then Renji would still be alive.

Is this my punishment, then?

Because I could not put my desire for the man aside and embrace my fate, Renji died?

He shifted slightly so that he could see the sleeping king's face.

I have sensed my lord's anger, though he never expresses it overtly. So, could he have been angered and saw that Renji would die if I went to him? Did he, perhaps alter Renji's fate, himself?

What is the truth?

And why will these feelings not leave me?

He realized all at once that the king's eyes had opened, and the monarch was looking quietly back at him. He was completely unsurprised when just that little moment of eye contact between them made the monarch's reiatsu flare softly and his expression darken with lust.

He said that while my body is primed for breeding, as it has been, he will be more desirous. This should not be surprising.

But why is he so aroused and I feel nothing of that?

Is it my mental state? My lack of love for him? My pain over Renji? My fears that Renji only died because of me?

To Byakuya's surprise, the monarch held back from initiating sex and gazed warmly into his eyes.

"Good morning, Byakuya," he said quietly, his fingers brushing the noble's face, then touching his hair lightly, "I hope you feel better now that you have rested."

Byakuya yielded a small smile and nodded.

"The rest did help, thank you," he replied softly.

"I know that the news your sister brought was shocking for you. Such losses are very painful."

He blinked slowly, still looking into Byakuya's eyes meaningfully and leaving the noble with the intense, worried feeling that something else had happened.

"Rukia?" he asked quickly.

"Rukia is fine," the king assured him.

"But your eyes tell me that something else has happened," the noble went on.

The king smiled and nodded.

"Well, yes, actually. But this thing is a good thing...something likely to help to ease your melancholy."

"Oh?"

He felt an odd twinge inside at the way the king continued to look at him, measuring his words.

"Yes, my love. You remember that just before your sister's arrival, you collapsed in the gardens?"

"Oh, yes," Byakuya said, remembering, "It was likely just stress from recent events. I will be fine."

The king's smile gentled, strangely just increasing the feeling of discomfort inside him.

"You will be fine," the monarch agreed, "but it was not mere stress that caused your collapse."

"It wasn't?" the noble queried, realization beginning to fall over him.

I am...?

"You are with child, Byakuya," the king said, looking pleased, "We have been successful in seeding the heir."

Even having suspected, the words struck Byakuya with unnatural force. He felt tears forming again, and lowered his gaze, only to have the king capture his chin and raise it again. The look on his face was as gentle as ever, but Byakuya felt the swell of darker emotion hidden beneath the surface. A fingertip caught one of the noble's tears.

"You are overwhelmed?" he asked, again with that very slight, meaningful inflection.

"Yes, my lord," Byakuya agreed, reaching up to dry his eyes, "I apologize for my overreaction."

The king surprised him with a gentle, but firm kiss that felt to Byakuya like a muted warning.

"That is all right," the king assured him, "The impact of recent events and the chemical changes that occurred in your body because of our lovemaking have affected you."

"Of course," the noble agreed, closing his eyes for a moment, then opening them again, "but I am happy, my lord."

Byakuya froze momentarily and sat up as a sudden thought struck him. The king sat up next to him, his eyes curious.

"What is it?" the king asked, studying his face carefully.

Byakuya felt another flicker of disturbance in the monarch's reiatsu.

"Do not worry," he assured the noble, "You remember, I told you...only the king's body can cause yours to conceive. Your Renji was a commoner. He could not impregnate you. Your sin had no effect on that process. You needn't worry. The child is ours."

"Yes, my lord," Byakuya answered, bowing his head respectfully.

If only...

If only I had that much of you left to hold on to.

When I missed your warmth, I could put my arms around our child. When I longed to feel some part of you near me, I would only have to look as far as our baby's face. Oh Renji, as wrong as it is, I wish this baby was yours!

"You have done well," the king said warmly, "I am grateful for your commitment to our union."

The king's hand curved around Byakuya's face, drawing him in for a kiss.

"Can we take a walk together, my lord?" Byakuya asked suddenly, "I would enjoy some fresh morning air, and the walking would be good for the baby and me."

"Ah, my apologies, but there are some matters needing my attention today. I shall have your sister summoned and she can join you. I will return to you tonight."

"Very well."

The king smiled and kissed him, then departed their bed and summoned his attendant. Byakuya watched as the attendant entered the room and quickly dressed the monarch. He kept his face carefully turned, so that it looked as though he was sleeping, and in doing so, noticed several times when the attendant's eyes touched him.

There is something...he thought, stealing a better look.

He blinked to clear his eyes, then closed them as the attendant's gaze touched him again. When the king was fully dressed and the two were leaving, Byakuya sat up and looked more closely. Something still seemed wrong about what he was seeing, but he wasn't sure what it was.

Some time later, he realized.

I don't remember that man having silver hair.

XXXXXXXXXX

"This just gets stranger and stranger!" Renji exclaimed as Tetsuya checked and rechecked the Central 46 records.

"So very odd," the noble agreed, "You say that you see the records, but you saw no sign of her either when we looked?"

"That's right," said Renji with certainty, "but how can that be? I know she exists. The records I see support that. And I even see signs that she was in the Seireitei recently. She should have been here, at Kuchiki Manor, at the thirteenth or on assignment. She isn't anywhere that she would be normally! I just don't get it."

"Neither do I," agreed Tetsuya, "but one thing occurs to me. And that is that Rukia's disappearance comes at a suspicious time, in being so close to the disappearance of Byakuya."

His brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of their findings.

"Renji, you need to think carefully," he went on, "You say that Byakuya led the sixth division and that he was leader of our clan before his disappearance."

"Before his death," Renji corrected the noble, "He died in the first of the quincy invasions."

"And you say that you came to the manor..."

"I came to visit his grave."

"Where I see nothing and you see the marker."

"Yeah."

What happened then?"

Renji took a breath, thinking deeply.

"I uh...was just saying a few words. I was saying that if only I had one more day, I would have..."

Tetsuya's eyebrow arched questioningly.

"You would have...?"

Renji held back a moment longer, then let out a shuddering sigh.

"I was in love with him," he admitted, fighting the sting of rising tears, "I was in love with him, but I couldn't say anything to him."

"Because you are a commoner?" Tetsuya asked quietly.

"Yeah," the redhead said more softly, "He had already broken the rules to marry Rukia's sister, Hisana. He broke them again to adopt Rukia as his sister. It meant a lot to him to stick to the rules after that. And I didn't have the heart to mess with that. I respected him. I wasn't going to put him through that."

Tetsuya smiled gently.

"You sound like a good friend. You say that we are friends, and even though I do not remember without Arashi's help, I see what kind of person you are. That is what makes me believe so strongly that you are telling me the truth."

"Heh, that's a relief," said Renji, "I was scared when you didn't know Byakuya. I thought you might have me committed or something. Thank you, Tetsuya, for believing me."

"You are welcome," said the noble, "But now, we have to try to figure out who is behind all of this."

"Well, we checked out Aizen," said Renji, "and we both saw the prisoner manifests that said he's still in there...in Muken."

"Right," said Tetsuya, "That removes one person from our suspicion. But, do you know of any others, perhaps family members, colleagues or former associates who might have a reason to do something like this?"

Renji shook his head in frustration.

"I'd have put my money on Aizen," he sighed, "but the guy's here."

"I think I would like to check that out personally," said Tetsuya, "I have entered a request for visitation so that we can question him."

"You can do that?" asked Renji, looking impressed.

"Yes," Tetsuya said, nodding, "We have a number of family members on council and high clearances for such things. So, we should be granted a visit. It just may take several days."

"And in the meantime, we can get busy trying to see if anyone else seems aware of this weird crap that's going on," finished Renji.

"Right," said Tetsuya, nodding, "But for now, I want you to be very careful. That gigai isn't necessarily foolproof. So, you should remain in the archive as much as possible when we are not directly investigating this. This person is incredibly dangerous of he or she can make people 'disappear' and try to kill you."

Tetsuya frowned and met Renji's eyes curiously.

"Renji," he said, "They have taken two Kuchiki family members, but they tried to kill you...and they failed. That seems odd to me. Can you tell me any more about the attempt on your life at the cabin?"

Renji nodded.

"I had just said that I would do anything to have another day with Byakuya," he explained, "Then, all of a sudden, someone touched me on the shoulder and I turned around."

Renji's eyes saddened as he remembered.

"It was Byakuya."

"You saw him?"

"Yeah. Yeah, he was here. I saw him."

"Did he say anything to you?" the noble asked.

"Uh-huh. He ah, said that he heard me. But he said he couldn't explain, and that we only had twenty-four hours."

Tetsuya nodded.

"Think carefully," he prompted the redhead, do any of his words stand out?"

"Hmmm..." said Renji, thinking carefully, "He said that we only had a short time to make peace with the way things are. He...told me that I was the only one who could see him."

"So," concluded Tetsuya, "It sounds as though he knew about the illusion."

"Yeah," Renji said, realization lighting his face, "I think he must have. And he said that we had to make peace with that...with him being away from us. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming or hallucinating, but no, Byakuya knew what was happening."

"This means that he is alive, but he cannot come back to us."

"And it looks like Rukia might be with him," Renji posited.

"So, it seems that they are alive and either being held by someone against their will...or cooperating, for whatever reason."

"Yeah," agreed the redhead, "But what bugs me is that if he was being held against his will, for some reason, why would the one holding him let him come back to see me specifically? To see me...to admit his love to me, and to make love with me like that. I don't understand that. If the person wanted to make it seem like he died, then why risk discovery by sending him back here?"

Renji strained his mind, going back over every detail of their interactions. He caught his breath softly as he recalled more of the noble's words.

"Wait a sec," he said, shaking his head, "I, uh, I remember that I told him that I would go with him. And he told me it wasn't possible. Tetsuya, he said that it wasn't allowed!"

"Ah," the noble said, comprehension in his sapphire eyes, "So, for whatever reason, he had agreed to this situation...to meeting you at the manor and exchanging affections, but then, returning to whomever placed these conditions on him."

"But it just doesn't make sense to me why he was allowed to come back," Renji said, a frustrated edge to his voice, "I mean, if they didn't want to be discovered..."

"But Renji," said Tetsuya, "You must remember, after this meeting with Byakuya, he was 'erased,' not before!"

"So?"

"And just after is when you noticed that the rest of us had 'forgotten' him and Rukia too disappeared. Whoever did this wasn't worried about discovery because he figured that everyone else would forget..."

He paused, inhaling sharply.

"And this person or people thought that you would be dead!"

"That's right!" Renji exclaimed, his eyes widening, "But Tetsuya, that still doesn't tell me why whoever it was let Byakuya come back to see me."

"Well," Tetsuya answered, his blue eyes intense, "Either it was an act of good will to affect Byakuya's thinking or behavior, or...there was something in that meeting between you that this person or people stood to gain from."

"But how would anyone gain from Byakuya and me confessing our love and making love?" Renji asked desperately, "It doesn't make sense!"

"No," Tetsuya agreed, "So we need to pursue this until it does!"

XXXXXXXXXX

"Thank you, Masato," Byakuya said quietly as the attendant finished tying his sleeping yukata in place, "You may go now."

"Good night, your highness," the attendant said, bowing, then turning and leaving him alone in the royal suite.

Byakuya stood for a moment, studying his reflection in the dressing mirror and letting his hand drift down to his abdomen.

I am having the soul king's child.

He closed his eyes and focused on the small presence inside him.

I have to stop doing this...have to stop wishing this was Renji's baby. That wish is just not possible. As much as I love Renji, the fact of royal pregnancy is absolute. Only the king can impregnate me.

Only the soul king, to whom I have been given by the king's prism as consort.

An image flashed in his mind of the triangular, many faceted prism that the king always kept in his possession...that laid at their bedside while they mated.

Why did the kings of the past choose me to be this monarch's spouse?

He wondered, if he touched the artifact, if it would speak to him.

But his majesty never lets me touch it. He never lets anyone else lay hands on it. I would think it suspicious, but it is hard to know what is 'normal' here. The spirit dimension and royal palace are such different places. I do not understand all of the rules and customs. Perhaps there is good reason, but...

He stepped away from the mirror and started towards the balcony door. He stopped just short, desiring the comfort of the gentle evening breeze, but unable to face the overwhelming beauty of the night sky.

How many times did I stand under those lovely stars and moon and dream of a future with Renji? It seems like just yesterday that I stood in my own home and thought such things. But those things are gone now. And I fear that to look up into that sky will only make my heart break again.

I have no more dreams.

No more hopes.

Nothing but this future of service to the king.

Am I wicked to ache for what I've sacrificed?

Is it wrong to cry for what I've lost?

If Renji was never meant to be in my life, then why do I long for him, even now that I know he is gone? It is a pain deep down in my body...something instinctive. And why do I not feel this preordained connection that the prism has said exists? I look at is majesty and I think of him as kind, gentle but firm, and sometimes hiding a deep anger. But I feel no bond with him...not even through this child that grows in me. The baby's presence only seems to make me long for Renji even more.

Why do I have such feelings?

I have never failed to see reality before. And I accept my place at the king's side. This resistance comes from within, and refuses to be deterred by common sense.

I don't understand.

He started to turn away from the doors, when a soft, feminine sob sounded from somewhere outside the door. Frowning, he abandoned his reticence and passed through the doors. He stepped out onto the balcony, flinching as the moon shined down brightly on his face. He turned his head to look in the direction of Rukia's room, and caught sight of her sitting in a chair on her balcony, with her face in her hands, and crying uncontrollably. He was up over the balcony rail and at her side in a moment. He sat down next to her and slipped an arm around her, resting his chin on the top of her head as she grabbed the front of his yukata and sobbed into his shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry!" she cried miserably, "I know I shouldn't be this way, but...R-renji...Renji was like my own brother! He was so strong, Byakuya! He wasn't supposed to die in some stupid fire. He was a captain! He should have blown that place apart! Brother, how could Renji die like that? How could he leave me alone?"

He tried desperately to think of something to say, but somehow there seemed to be no words that would be able to make things right again. Instead, he tightened his arms around her and held her quietly as she loosed her grief in sobs that felt like they emanated from his own broken heart.

"I shouldn't be so selfish," Rukia chided herself, "I know that you cared about Renji too. You seemed to really respect each other by the end."

"I loved Renji," Byakuya whispered, then his eyes widened at his own words.

Rukia's head lifted off his shoulder and her teary eyes met his questioningly.

"Brother, you...?"

She broke off, staring as the soul king appeared on the balcony outside the royal suite, and his searching eyes found the two and gazed at them appraisingly. Byakuya swallowed hard and forced himself to let go of his sister. He touched her cheek gently and looked into her eyes and Rukia felt a measure of his strength pass into her.

You're hurting too, Brother, she thought, but you hold everything inside. I should be there for you. You need someone.

Fresh tears leaked down her cheeks.

You need someone now that you don't have him anymore!

"I am sorry," she whispered again, rising and turning back into her room.

Byakuya watched her retreat through the doors, then flash stepped back to where the king waited for him on the balcony.

"Is Rukia all right?" the monarch inquired, slipping his arms around his noble mate, "She seemed beside herself."

"Well, as you know, she and Renji grew up together. It is natural that she would be overwrought by her emotions so soon after losing him."

"Yes," agreed the king, "and you are kind to comfort her. But...I wonder if it was right, bringing her here. I was giving more thought to what you said about her having a place of honor in the Gotei 13. Perhaps I should allow her to return to the Seireitei?"

"My lord, I wish I could say that I know what is best for my sister. But...I am at a loss."

"But, do you think that she will adjust here, or do you think it would be better to send her back to the home she knows?"

Byakuya considered his words, then shook his head gently.

"But it is not the home she remembers," he said finally, "Renji and I were a part of that home, and although she still has Tetsuya, she has suffered too much. I will try to help her adjust here."

"If you think that is best," said the king, sliding a hand into his, "Now, Byakuya, we must retire to our room. As part of your pregnancy, you must receive short infusions of the royal prism's reiatsu. It assists in the stabilization of your body, and in the framing of the heir's forming reiatsu."

"Very well," Byakuya said, turning back into the bedroom.

He walked to the bed and sat down, then waited quietly as the king slipped out of his robes, donned a yukata, and joined him. Strangely, it still felt odd to have the monarch hold him close. And it felt even stranger as the reiatsu from the prism flared golden, and passed through the king's body, out his extended hand and into Byakuya's slim abdomen.

He flinched at the throb of intial power, closing his eyes and trying to calm his racing heart.

Something feels wrong.

The reiatsu that flowed into him made his insides ache and throb. Nausea swept over him, and the room began to spin around him. The king watched him closely, through unreadable eyes, reaching out as he began to be overcome, and inducing sleep. He frowned at the prism and adjusted the reiatsu he sent through it, altering it, using his illusions, until Byakuya sighed in his sleep and his body relaxed in the king's arms.

"Well, that isn't working too well," Gin observed, stepping into the room, "I thought you said that with the hougyoku's help, you could emulate the true king's reiatsu."

"Obviously, the technique is more intricate than I originally thought," Aizen admitted, "but I am not ready to give up just yet."

"Although it is strange that if the bonding isn't working, then why hasn't Byakuya already died? His life is supposed to be bound to that of the soul king. And if you are not keeping him alive, then...who is?"

Aizen's eyes narrowed.

"We shall have to see, ne? Come, dress me and we will go to the library to research this phenomena."

Byakuya stirred softly as the two crossed the room and stepped into the dressing area. He turned his head and cracked an eye open, then spotted the king's prism still sitting next to the bed.

I wonder...

Listening carefully to the voices of the king and his attendant, he reached out a trembling hand in the direction of the artifact. His heart in his throat, he extended his fingertips, pausing just short, then steeling himself and closing the distance.

Byakuya's eyes widened in distress as soft, ghostly whispers rose up in his mind, their words chilling him to the core.

Traitor!

He has killed the king!

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the king emerge from within the dressing area, with his attendant at his side. He swiftly withdrew his hand and went perfectly still as the king approached.

"Byakuya?" he said, his voice sounding wrong to the noble.

He opened his eyes and sat up, then felt his heart freeze in his chest as he found himself looking at Sousuke Aizen.