Chapter 6: Flower Among the Thorns

"Is something wrong, Byakuya?" Aizen asked casually, "Your condition is not making you feel overly ill, ne? You seemed quite uncomfortable during the stabilization. If you are still feeling poorly, I can call for my healer."

Byakuya's mind raced as it registered first that Aizen was impersonating the king, and secondly, that he obviously thought that Byakuya was unable to detect that fact. He thought carefully for a moment.

"I am fine, my lord," he answered, watching Aizen carefully, "I was just...still waking. My apologies for worrying you."

Aizen gave him a chilling smile.

"That is all right, my love. You have had a difficult time, but you are really beginning to accept your place here with a calmer heart. I am glad. I was concerned that your anxiety would interfere with the seeding of the heir. You know, you must be of the proper state of mind and be completely dedicated to the process if you are to carry the heir successfully."

Byakuya bit his lip gently and closed his eyes.

"Of course, my lord. I am devoted to giving birth to a strong child."

"I am certain you are," Aizen agreed, smirking, "But, even though we have seen to that and you are pregnant, I find I am all the more attracted to you. Come, let us be together."

Byakuya shivered as the other man pulled him closer and sought his mouth hungrily. He managed the first and second, by the third kiss, he was shaking softly.

I don't know what to do! I am alone in this. No one here seems able to penetrate this illusion, and I am sure that they would only think I was crazy to suggest that he could have overcome the king without even the royal guard knowing about it. Kami, why would they not sense it? Did he kill them and leave illusions in their place too? How is he doing this? And what am I to do? As soon as he suspects that I know, he will...

The noble stiffened, making Aizen pause and gaze at him questioningly. Byakuya made a pained expression and groaned softly.

"I am...sorry, my lord," he said solemnly, "It seems that I am having a difficult time."

"Ah," Aizen sighed, "The child's reiatsu has already destabilized. I shall have to use the prism to bring it back into balance, and then you must rest."

"Hai, my lord."

Byakuya watched with widened eyes as Aizen removed the king's prism from within his clothes and slowly drew power from it to feed into Byakuya's slim abdomen.

Only the king should have been able to impregnate me, the noble mused as he continued to observe Aizen closely, How would he be able to do that? Or did he slay the king after I was called here and impregnated? It makes sense now that I have been suffering setbacks. But the setbacks began before I was pregnant...and that makes me wonder. Who fathered this child? I know that I am the rightful consort. The spirits within the prism acknowledged me when I touched the device. But they did not accept Aizen as the rightful king. That means that they would not accept a child fathered by him. I am relieved. But that means that he must have killed the king after my impregnation.

A memory of his lovemaking with Renji jolted him so soundly that Aizen looked up questioningly at him.

"Are you all right, my love?"

"Y-yes," he said shakenly, "I am just...weary."

"Yes, this condition does seem to wear on you. It is likely that your male body is still adjusting to carrying new life. Try to relax, Byakuya. I will take care of you."

"Thank you, my lord. That is a great comfort," he said woodenly.

Or...

Or maybe the king was already dead. But Aizen obviously wanted a legitimate heir to be born. I wonder why. Why would a usurper bother with his predecessor's consort and child?

But is this even the former king's chid?

If Aizen had not yet killed the king, and it was the king who sent me to Renji...why would he do that? For, in truth, though it would seem a kindness, it would not help me to accept my situation any more easily. In fact, I must admit, it only seemed more painful going back and being teased with that lost dream. It would have been kinder to allow me to return to end things properly...but whichever sent me back, king or usuper, wanted me to sleep with Renji. The true king would have no motivation to do that.

But...Aizen?

Why would Aizen want me to sleep with Renji?

The thought that reached him, struck his mind so soundly that he gasped in surprise, then sat up in shock. He reeled in shock as Aizen sat up next to him, curling an arm around him and speaking to him soothingly.

"There now, it was only a dream," he assured the noble, sending a hard chill down Byakuya's spine.

It was everything he could do not to shiver under Aizen's hands as the traitor gently caressed his hair, then slid a hand down under his yukata and rubbed his abdomen gently.

No, the rightful king would never have sent me back to sleep with Renji. But...if Renji was...if Renji could be...?

He thought back to his arrival after his defeat at the hands of As Nodt...how he had been healed and taken before the king, how he had been welcomed by the royal family and how the king had revealed that he had been called, not to be healed and sent back to fight, but to become King's Consort.

Kami! How much of what I saw, how many of the people I have met here...are illusions? I am grateful, of course, that the king's prism allowed me to see through the illusions, but what can I do? I don't know who to go to...who to trust...who will even believe me! And even if my suspicions about Renji are true. Even if he was an heir in the direct line of descent, Renji is dead. The only one here who might understand and believe me is Rukia, but I dare not betray her to Aizen. If he thinks we are on to him...

But that is really why she was brought here, ne? He knows that I would do anything to protect her. He is counting on that to keep me from acting, even if I did learn the truth!

What do I do?

Who can I go to?

Gods, I don't know what to do!

Fresh pangs of loneliness and despair made him ache painfully inside, even as Aizen's hands continue to rub his abdomen, then to slide down further to begin a seduction. He couldn't change expression, couldn't stiffen, nor say a word to stop what was happening.

If he has any reason to suspect, then he will...

What will he do?

Why is he doing this? Even if Renji was an heir and this child is legitimate royal offspring, why would Aizen need the child? What, by all that's holy is he planning?

I need to somehow find out what that man is going to do, and I have to stop him! If not for myself and for the three worlds, then for Renji and this miracle we made together.

Tears came to his eyes as he struggled to accept what must be the truth, and he barely felt Aizen begin to prepare him. He closed his heart to what was happening, and cooperated quietly, looking up into Aizen's eyes, but not seeing anymore as he let the truth protect him from what was happening.

This is our baby, Renji's and mine. And Renji was the rightful king of this land! This means that our son is to be the next king.

He sank further into the beauty of that thought, forcing away the reality of Aizen Sousuke, caressing his body, speaking softly into his ear and smiling as he stole the privilege of joining sexually with the king's consort. He burned inside with rage, but kept himself carefully composed, unable to speak, for fear of giving himself away as Aizen's hands parted his thighs and the usurper moved into position to take him. Byakuya closed his eyes then and tried not to feel that sense of invasion, the feelings of being betrayed and all alone in his predicament. He managed well until Aizen's movements atop his body conjured a memory of his lovemaking with Renji. Fresh tears leaked onto his face, but Aizen's eyes had closed, and his hips thrust relentlessly into Byakuya's shaken form.

Renji...

If only this hadn't happened. If only we had learned in time, who you were and how to stop this man! You would still be alive and we could fight this battle together. I don't know how I will face this alone, but I will do what I have to do...for you, Renji...for us.

For the family we made that one day we had!

Renji, I wish you could hear me.

Renji! Please hear me!

Renji!

And suddenly...inconceivably, he felt Renji's mind brush against his.

Renji, his mind screamed blindly, Renji, for the love of kami, save us!

XXXXXXXXXX

Renji followed Tetsuya into the archive, his mind still spinning with questions.

"Tetsuya, what are we going to do? Now that we've done more investigating, it's pretty clear that someone forced Byakuya to leave, for some reason...and that person took Rukia also, and they tried to kill me! We need to find out who took them and where they are, before something really bad happens!"

"We will," the noble assured him, "But Renji, we need to make sure that we are up to whatever the situation calls for. I have people working on the problem, even now. While they search for some lead, you must rest."

He led the redhead into a small recess, where Renji found a closet containing a few comfortable looking yukatas. He took one and and changed, then climbed into the bed as Tetsuya returned with a cup of hot green tea.

"Try to get some sleep now, Renji. I promise you, as soon as word comes that anything has been discovered that might help us, I will wake you."

He turned and started for the doorway.

"Hey, uh, Tetsuya?"

"Yes, Renji."

"Maybe you shouldn't leave the archive tonight either," the redhead said, an edge of worry in his voice, "I mean, you and I are the only ones here who know that something shady is going on. We should probably look out for each other."

Tetsuya smiled warmly.

"Actually, I was thinking the same thing, Renji," he answered, "So, I will be sleeping in the next room. Do not worry. No one can enter the archive, except for me, those with my permission, and members of the royal family. We are safe here."

"Good," Renji sighed, "Tetsuya, I don't know what I'd be able to do if I was alone in all of this. I'm really glad that you have my back. Thank you."

"I am trying to find my cousin," Tetsuya answered quietly, "But even though I do not remember either of you right now, I see what kind of man you are, and I understand why my cousin would love you. It is obvious to me that you are very much devoted to him. Not everyone finds that kind of love, Renji. I myself am still seeking it. But while we search, it is good that we have each other to depend on...especially in times like these, when things have gone so awry. Sleep now, Renji. Rest. I have received word that we will be allowed to visit Sousuke Aizen tomorrow. I think that we shall find some much needed answers then."

"Yeah," Renji said hopefully, "Good night, Tetsuya."

"Good night, Renji."

Renji watched as the noble left the room, then took a few sips of the soothing tea and laid down. And surprisingly, although his mind still burned with questions, he managed to drift off. His mind wandered, even in sleep, remembering that day with Byakuya, their intense, beautiful lovemaking and the terror he had felt upon waking to find the cottage in flames.

There must be a reason...both why whoever has Byakuya allowed him to come back for that day and why he tried to kill me afterward. Shit, it's like he wanted us to go to bed together! But why do that? And why do that, then try to kill me? This isn't making any sense...

He focused on Byakuya, and his mind drifted further into sleep. And as he slept, Renji felt his soul gently lifted and carried upward. He knew immediately, that the place he was carried into was special...and familiar.

"That's right," he whispered, "The royal realm. Ichigo and I went there. That's where we were healed and we fought the asauchi to reforge our broken bankais."

He floated on the memories, remembering how he had looked up to the giant coccoon-like structure that he had been told was the soul king's residence. Then suddenly, inexplicably, he heard someone calling his name.

"Renji!"

The voice was heartbreakingly familiar and sounded unnaturally desperate. In fact, he had never heard Byakuya sound so desperate.

"Byakuya!" he called back, squinting up at the king's palace, "Byakuya, where are you?"

"Renji, please hear me!"

"I hear you! Where are you, Byakuya?"

"Renji! Renji, for the love of kami, save us!"

"Byakuya!"

Renji sat up suddenly, shaking and panting, sweat rolling in beads down his face. The door opened and Tetsuya flash stepped into the room, still dressed in his nightclothes, and wearing a spooked expression.

"Renji, are you all right?" he asked nervously, "Did something happen? You were screaming Byakuya's name."

"I...I was?" Renji asked, blinking as he struggled to remember.

Tetsuya moved across the room and made a fresh cup of tea for each of them, then returned to Renji's side.

"It's so weird," the redhead confessed, "I was dreaming about how after the battle where Byakuya supposedly died, Ichigo and I and Rukia were all taken to the royal realm, where we were healed. While I was there, I remember looking up at the king's palace. Well, in my dream, I was back there and looking up at the palace, just like before. But something was different this time, Tetsuya. Something was wrong!"

"What? What was it?" Tetsuya asked, sitting down in the chair beside the bed and handing Renji his tea.

"Ah...I, uh...heard his voice...Byakuya's voice. He was up in the king's palace and he was calling to me. Tetsuya, his voice sounded so desperate! Byakuya never sounded like that, not even in that last battle we had! I tried to call back to him and I was looking for a way to get to him, But he just cried out over and over for me to come and rescue them!"

Tetsuya's eyes widened and he stared back at Renji in surprise.

"Them?" he asked, watching as the word struck Renji soundly.

He caught his breath and his heart started to pound.

"Do you think that he meant that in your dream, the royal family was in danger? It is, after all, our duty to watch over the king and his family."

"N-no, there was something...something inside me that told me something different. Tetsuya, I don't know what's going on. Maybe he was talking about Rukia, but it felt different inside, even more so than that. And I feel it so strongly. Tetsuya, we have got to find him quickly!"

"We will," Tetsuya said bracingly, "I promise you. But while we wait for information that will lead us to him, I can at least help you to be able to discern which of your dreams are just dream and what things might be real."

"Wh-what? You mean, he might really have been trying to call out to me while I was asleep...and I heard him?"

Tetsuya smiled.

"It is something that happens when we Kuchiki's bind with another soul during lovemaking. His mind is bound to yours. And even though you cannot speak directly to him, you could try in your dream to send him your thoughts. But lie down now. Lie down and focus on him. Think only of him as you fall asleep, and open your mind to let him answer you."

"This is crazy," Renji muttered. lying back down, "And how am I going to sleep now?"

Tetsuya looked at him in amusement and sent a soft jolt of kido through him, sending him off into sleep instantly.

"That should help you," he said quietly, remaining at the redhead's side as he slept, "And I will remain to stand guard over you and listen to any words you say, so that we will know..."

Renji sank down into sleep, aided by Tetsuya's gentle spell. He focused on Byakuya and felt an answering feeling of reaching in return. Renji clung to the small connection and once again heard Byakuya's voice call out to him.

Byakuya, he thought, sending a strong, bracing sensation of love through the connection, I'm here. I heard you. And Tetsuya and I are coming for you.

Far away in the spirit dimension, Byakuya sat up in bed, his heart pounding in his chest and Renji's voice still ringing in his ears.

Sweet kami!

Renji...is alive!