He hurt. Every step caused the ache in his body to flare in pain, arms and legs throbbing where they'd taken hits. But still he put one foot in front of the other, pressing forward.

It had been worth it.



"Am I to understand you are the ones responsible for the assault on Yanagi Renji?"

"That geek faggot?" The punk spit. "What's it to ya?"

Black eyes gleamed violently. "Everything."



He had told his boyfriend he wouldn't seek revenge, but how could he not? When the person he cared for most was jumped and beaten, he couldn't just lay down and let them get away with it. That wasn't his style. Even if it was dangerous, he would make sure those thugs knew their actions wouldn't be tolerated. Not when it involved someone so important.



The fight had been as easy to read as a tennis match; there was one obvious leader among the group of three - take him out and the other two would go running. And he was right, for the most part.

But it had still been 3-on-1, so it was impossible to escape unscathed.



Slowly and painfully he made his way to the hospital. With his eye swelling, it got increasingly more difficult to see straight, and he limped from a kick he'd taken to his right leg - the leg that was already weakened from an injury years ago.

But he wasn't going for himself. He had no interest, felt no need in having his own wounds checked out. He was more interested in visiting someone already checked in there. So that's why he ignored the looks he got and the inquiries of help that came when he entered the hospital. He went immediately to the elevators, heading toward his boyfriend's room.



"What, you that fag's butt-buddy or somethin'?"

That was all the punk had time to say; Tachibana hit him with every bit of strength his tennis-toned body held. He was seeing red, and it pleased him that that first punch had broken his enemy's nose for sure. But he didn't linger on the triumph too long - the battle had just begun.



The room Yanagi had been in now had someone else in it, and Tachibana growled that they'd moved the other teen without telling him. Not that they could have told him, even if they had any obligation to, but it made him feel better to fume at someone else now that he'd taken care of the direct offenders.

"Where did they move him?" he demanded of the third-floor receptionist.

"My word, sir!" the young girl gasped when she saw him and the condition he was in. "Let me get you a doctor!"

"Forget that!" Tachibana slammed his fist on the desk, startling the girl and sending a pulse of pain shooting up his arm. He clenched his teeth for a minute, until the pain subsided enough for him to ask "what happened to Yanagi Renji?"

A quick glance at a chart on her desk, and then she replied timidly "he was moved to recovery. But sir, you really should-"

He didn't listen to whatever else she had to say, simply walked away without another word.



"Violence will only beget more violence."

That's what Yanagi had said to him, and he was right, as usual. The violence in these people's actions had brought out the violence in Tachibana, and his violence would increase it in them. They would retaliate against each other over and over in a chain linked with hate that had been going on for centuries and would continue forever. Because that was the way people were.

Renji knew that, and so did he. The difference was how they dealt with that knowledge.

But Tachibana would not let it go on involving his most important person. He would not let his boyfriend end up in the hospital again because of worthless punks who felt the need to gang up on those who are different.

So as he held the thugs' leader tightly by the throat, he leaned in close enough for his heated rage to burn, but said loud enough for the two others, who dared not come any closer for fear of those hands squeezing critically tighter, to hear "if you ever so much as think about going anywhere near him again, I will kill you."

And then he was gone.

The Rikkai punks didn't follow. Couldn't, really, for two were paralyzed with fear and the other, the strongest, would not be walking on that leg which was broken in three places for some time.



He paused in the doorway of the room that had Yanagi's name written on the nameplate, relieved to have finally found him. His recovery seemed to be going well, no longer were there tubes going into him to supply him with medicine and oxygen. There were still many bandages, but simply being able to breathe on his own made a world of difference.

"Renji..." Tachibana limped slowly into the room, his only useful eye trained intently on the sleeping form on the hospital bed. "I got them for you, Renji, and they'll never hurt you again." He reached the bed and weakly grabbed onto the blanket that covered Yanagi. "I pulled your link from that chain...."

His strength was draining fast, and all he had enough left for was to climb up on the bed and curl around his unconscious boyfriend. He didn't even have enough left to lean up for the kiss he so desired, so instead just pressed his lips to whatever was closest, which ended up being somewhere between Yanagi's shoulder and chest.

Tomorrow he would call his parents and tell them he got into a fight at Fudomine; for now he would have to trust that his sister would tell them he was staying at a friend's house, a cover she'd used for him in the past.

The last of his strength left him.

His eyes closed.

His world went black.