[Bleach] Dancing with Death

It started out subtly. And then, it became distinctly obvious. And worsened to the point that Ichigo was sure something had to be done about it soon, or they would actually succeed.

And by succeed, he meant that Ichigo would find himself a permanent member of Soul Society rather quickly without ever properly finishing out the extent of his human life. And then, he doubted he would last long before they would find some way to usher him onto his next life.

The Kuchiki were out to get him. And his damn boyfriend – also, coincidentally, a Kuchiki – didn’t believe him.

The first time, Ichigo chalked it up to a coincidence. A disastrously cliché coincidence but one all the same. Walking down the street, a flower pot barely missing his head by a few inches. He looked up to see someone giving him an apologetic smile, and well, Ichigo just sort of shrugged it off. No big deal.

The second instance was a little more obvious. He was having tea with Ukitake-san, and they were having a pleasant time of it. The captain was suggesting that he teach Ichigo a few of the more advanced kidoh, while Ichigo stirred a few cubes of sugar into his tea, never able to drink the stuff without it. A strange sound had traveled to his ears, and when he looked down and pulled out his spoon, Ichigo noticed that half of it had melted away. Seconds later, liquid spilled all over the saucer and table as the cup itself dissolved. Acid ate through the saucer and then a large portion of the tabletop, dripping down to the floor where it preceded to eat through several inches of wood before losing strength.

Both he and Ukitake-san were left gaping at it. Especially since nothing at all had happened to the older man’s tea.

“Who… who made this?” Ichigo demanded with a thick swallow.

Ukitake-san edged away from his cup, pushing it from him with one long, elegant finger. “Kiyone perhaps? Or Sentarou?”

Ichigo shook his head. “Did I do something to offend them?”

Ukitake-san could only stare in wonder. And when later questioned, both third-seats adamantly denied trying to poison Ichigo, and well, he was inclined to believe them. He’d done nothing to either of them, and really, it seemed a little out of their league to try something like this.

The third attempt approached ridiculous and was when Ichigo really began to consider that someone was trying to kill him. He had been walking down some stairs in Seireitei, attempting to get from one place to another and foregoing shunpo because he was in no rush, when he’d been pushed him from behind. And then subsequently tripped by someone.

Fortunately for Ichigo, his reflexes were superb, and a quick manipulation of spirit particles had him standing on empty air. But by the time he turned, the perpetrators were gone. Not even their reiatsu was traceable. Che, cowards.

That was also the first time Ichigo began to get an inkling that someone was out to get him. Though he hadn’t yet decided to blame it on the Kuchiki.

Until the fourth attempt.

Wandering around in Rukongai because his two guides – Ikkaku and Renji – had gotten drunk and arrested and thereby leaving him to find his own way back to Seireitei, Ichigo had been mugged. Well, he had assumed it was a mugging as the guy sort of attacked him and grappled very uselessly at his shoulders. It had only taken a few punches and kicks on Ichigo’s part to lay him flat, and his three following friends.

Of course, Ichigo could have taken that for the mugging were it not for the fact that none of his attackers even looked like residents of Rukongai. Oh sure, they wore the clothes of the oppressed, tattered and somewhat stained. But with hands that weren’t calloused and skin nice and moisturized, they didn’t look desperate enough to be on the wrong side of the law. Of course, the fact that one of them wore a bracelet with the Kuchiki symbol etched into the metal might have been his biggest clue.

And the most recent attempt gave him his largest indication of all. It had been pure instinct to dodge those darts flying at him out of nowhere. And after he’d retrieved them from being stuck in the wall, he noticed the symbols that danced in the metal. The Kuchiki clan.

It was at that point Ichigo decided they really were trying to kill him though he had no clue why. Possibly because he was dating their heir and they weren’t too happy with that. He knew they had dozens of nice young woman lined up for Byakuya’s perusal, and the man just wasn’t bowing to their every whims. Maybe they blamed that on Ichigo.

Still, that didn’t give them the right to try to assassinate him. Try being the operative word here since they weren’t anywhere close to succeeding. However, it still made Ichigo tiptoe around everything in his life, wondering what absurd method they would try next.

“Would you please stop pacing,” Byakuya stated mildly, his voice cutting through Ichigo’s thoughts as he idly flipped the page in the book he was reading. “It is very distracting.”

He turned towards his older lover with a snarl dancing on his lips. “Distracting?” Ichigo repeated sharply and waved one hand wildly through the air. “Would you be able to relax if someone was out there, plotting your demise?”

Byakuya eyed him over the edge of a page. “I am the heir to a noble family. There is hardly a day that goes by without someone seeking my death.”

“Why didn’t you warn me this would happen?”

“I did not believe – and I still don’t – that it would ever be a problem,” the Kuchiki heir answered, shifting his gaze back to his book. “And I was under the impression you were capable of taking care of yourself. As evidenced by the fact you are still alive and well in front of me.”

The substitute Shinigami snorted. “Not for long, if your family has anything to say about it.”

“Ichigo, they would never harm you,” Byakuya retorted in a tone one would use when speaking to a particularly slow child before dropping into something a bit more seductive. “They would never dare. They know what you mean to me.”

It was bait, but Ichigo didn’t bite.

“I don’t care what you say, Byakuya,” the teenager snarled, steps carrying a frantic pace across the floor of a stately study of the Kuchiki manor. “Your damn family is out to get me.”

The noble looked at him and arched one well-manicured brow, face placid but his eyes betraying his amusement. “I assure you, Ichigo, the Kuchiki have made no great effort to assassinate you.”

Frustrated, Ichigo glared at his lover, feeling just a bit twitchy. “I didn’t say it was great,” he stated through clenched teeth before throwing his hands up into the air. “They fail spectacularly every time!”

“Then what are you complaining about?” Byakuya returned mildly. His lips twitched as though trying to hold back great mirth.

“Argh!”

Ichigo turned on one heel, stalking away from the captain before he followed through with the urge to commit some violence. He loved this man dearly, but sometimes, Byakuya could be quite impossible. Case in point.

“Forget it!” He threw over his shoulder, vibrating with annoyed tension. Zangetsu and Shirosaki weren’t too happy either. “I’ll survive on my own.”

Byakuya didn’t seem to realize his leaving for what it was. He set his book to the side, rising to his feet.

“Are you sure this isn’t some cry for attention?” he posed, following after Ichigo with that annoying scarf a pale trail in his wake.

Ichigo ground his teeth, refusing to answer the sheer ridiculousness of that question. He was not insane. He was not imagining things. Something strange was going on, and if it wasn’t the Kuchiki attempting the assassination, then it was somebody. And he was going to find out who.

“I can definitely tell the honeymoon’s over,” Ichigo muttered under his breath, ignoring Byakuya’s absurd accusation.

“Tell me why you think they would try assassination,” Byakuya started to say, pulling up beside Ichigo and taking on an expression that proved he was only humoring his lover. “The Shihouin would know better than to anger their head. The Kasumioji are far too fond of you, as are the Shiba. And the others are far too afraid of the Kuchiki, you, and your variety of friends. So tell me again why you think your life is in danger.”

Ichigo whirled sharply, glaring at the slightly taller man. And boy didn’t that still burn.

“I am not imagining things,” he hissed, body shaking with a rising anger.

“I did not say that you were,” Byakuya returned too soothingly for Ichigo’s comfort. And he lifted a hand, reaching for his lover and attempting to draw the younger man into his embrace.

Ichigo allowed it because he’d rather not be angry. Even if Byakuya was being both patronizing and unreasonable.

“Then what are you saying?” he demanded, just wanting a little support rather than an aura of complete and utter denial.

“You may be… misinterpreting the facts,” Byakuya breathed into his neck, moving his mouth to nibble on the skin there.

Ichigo huffed. And tilted his head away.

“You have an idea in mind, and you are reinterpreting the circumstances to fit that particular belief.”

Ichigo’s jaw dropped. “That’s just another fucking way of saying I’m imagining things, just in prettier words.” He turned away then, unwilling to listen to it any longer. “Fine. But if I get trampled by a random herd of cows in the next few days, no sex for a year.”

“A herd of cows?” Byakuya’s voice held a note of incredulity.

“It doesn’t make any less sense than the other stupid shit I’m imagining,” Ichigo all but snarled and flicked his hand through the air, well aware that he was causing a scene. “And while I’m at it, no anything else either. No kissing. No cuddling. No hand-holding. In fact, no touching! Nothing! How’s that for losing my mind?”

He whirled on his heels with the last proclamation and went out the door. Anger blazed in his veins as Ichigo stalked down the corridor, fully intending to leave the Kuchiki manor as it made him quite twitchy. Who knew what enemy lurked around the corner, just waiting to trip him or impale him or accidentally spill boiling hot water on him or set him on fire with a candle or any other number of mundane things that had the capacity to kill him? Purely by accident, of course. Since the Kuchiki would never stoop so low as to take the blame for purposeful homicide.

Byakuya didn’t chase after him, which was probably a good thing because Ichigo was seriously considering violence of his own. He had thought, of all people, that his own boyfriend would believe him. Ukitake-san definitely did, but then, he’d been there for the whole cup-melting incident. Kenpachi believed him because he’d been the one to help Ichigo get out of Rukongai. The geta-boushi believed him because he’d identified the ninja darts… and kept a few for safekeeping.

But Ichigo couldn’t even convince Byakuya that he wasn’t losing his mind. It frustrated him to no end.

Ichigo stopped in the middle of the street then, a new annoyance growing inside of him. In fact, he was pissed. Byakuya hadn’t gotten nearly the tongue-lashing he deserved.

He whirled around yet again, stalking back towards the manor. Only to halt in stunned surprise, catching sight of his lover leaving through a side entrance. Purpose in every step. Where in the world was Byakuya going on his day off? A day that they had intended to spend together?

Ichigo’s eyes narrowed, and without a second thought, he set to follow Byakuya, beyond curious. He was too angry to wait and simply ask for an answer. And so, shielding his reiatsu to the best of his abilities, Ichigo trailed along at a safe distance. Wondering if Byakuya would have ever known that his help in training Ichigo would come back to bite him on the ass.

The manors grew more elite, and Ichigo could tell that he was garnering quite a few disapproving stares. It didn’t help that he had the feeling he headed into deeper noble territory, which worried him just a twinge. After all, wasn’t it the nobles who were trying to kill him? He’d have to be on his guard.

He followed Byakuya to one of the larger and more ornate buildings, the nameplate answering all the questions Ichigo carried. Kuchiki. So much for Byakuya not really believing him. Why else would he come here?

Ichigo scowled, taking up a position across the street where he could watch the gate. He would wait for Byakuya to emerge and demand answers then. His eyes tracked over the large structure, practically screaming old money and affluence. Places he had never been very comfortable at or inside.

Time crawled, the sun passing overhead and making Ichigo sweat, pulling at his collar to relieve the stifling heat. People passed by, wrapped in their fine robes, and tossed occasional disgusted glances at him. Ichigo just offered a scowl in return. He wasn’t leaving until Byakuya came out.

Which coincidentally, he happened to be doing at this exact moment. Ichigo rose to his feet, swiping a hand over his sweaty forehead, effecting a lazy stride as he moved to intercept his lover.

“Didn’t believe me, huh?” he said, the moment the captain came into view and causing Byakuya to nearly startle in his surprise. “Just imagining things?”

Byakuya worked his jaw, unwilling to immediately admit defeat. “Perhaps things were worse than I initially believed, but the matter has been dealt with I assure you.”

Ichigo snorted. “We’ll see. As for me, I’m not drinking or eating anything that I haven’t made myself anytime soon.” He fell into line beside Byakuya, who looked to be beginning a slow trek back towards his own home. “As well as avoiding jaunts into Rukongai, windowsills, and long stairs.”

“I have been informed that you had best avoid the Seikaimon for the next few days as well,” the older male added softly.

What?” Ichigo was embarrassed to admit that the sound leaving his mouth had better resembled a squawk than an actual word.

Byakuya slanted his eyes at him, a touch of apology in his gaze. “It is a good thing you weren’t planning to do so anyway.”

A low growl escaped Ichigo’s lips, only to die on the end of a resigned sigh. “Your grandmother’s a piece of work,” he muttered but held a hand out anyway, capturing Byakuya’s wayward fingers.

He could tell that the captain was startled by the move, considering Ichigo’s proclamation of earlier. Let him consider that the teen’s silent appreciation for a much deserved gesture.

“Midoriko-sama still trusts in outdated times,” Byakuya conceded, his way of admitting that Ichigo’s frank assessment of her character was rather accurate. “She understands now, however, and that is all that matters.” His fingers gave a squeeze in return.

Feeling a bit mischievous, Ichigo tugged them back, eyes glancing around briefly before turning towards Byakuya. He leaned in for a kiss, lips gentle but warm. There was no one in immediate sight to witness the moment of affection, but he was certain some Kuchiki goon lingered in the shadows trailing them. Well, let them take that back to Miss-High-and-Mighty-Kuchiki-Sama and see what she had to say about it.

He ended the kiss, his mouth a few scant inches from Byakuya’s. “Well, I suppose they won’t try anything so long as I’m with you.” He gave a playful nip.

“Oh?” Byakuya asked, trying and failing to conceal the interest in his tone.

Ichigo shrugged nonchalantly. “So I guess that means you’ll be seeing a lot of me for the next few days.” He guided the man into heading back towards his manor and out of sight of prying eyes.

“I’d like to see a lot of you right now” was his low and heated response. Grey eyes flickered over him, and Ichigo could just see his lover undressing him in his mind. Of course, the hand sliding beneath at his collar certainly helped that illusion, fingers warm and smooth against his neck and trailing ever downward.

Ichigo rolled his eyes, a touch of amusement pulling at his lips. “What is with you and those cheesy lines?” Not that they didn’t work very well.

“I learned from the best,” Byakuya replied, mouth so close to Ichigo’s ear that his lips brushed skin.

Ichigo pretended to ignore that as he considered. “Who? That drunk guy? The one who always wears pink?”

“No, actually.” Byakuya’s hand slid down a bit further. “Ukitake-senpai.”

“The guy who’s dating your sister.” Ichigo was incredulous, having thought Ukitake-san to be a bit smoother than that.

Byakuya’s hand froze, a vaguely disappointed cast to his face, still not entirely pleased with that particular relationship. But not voicing his opinion for the sake of Rukia’s happiness. Not to mention the fact that it kept her otherwise occupied and from prying into his own affair.

“Unfortunately yes,” he commented, fingers resuming their wanderings.

Ichigo squeezed his hand, stepping back and giving him a tug. “Just think, soon you’ll have him as a brother-in-law.”

“He’ll be yours as well,” Byakuya reminded him smugly, allowing himself to be pulled along.

Ichigo let the comment fall by the wayside. “Is that a proposal, Kuchiki Byakuya-sama?”

It took a moment for him to reply. He was too busying running his thumb over Ichigo’s knuckles. Not even bothering to pull away as they walked by several other people. Lips curling faintly at their nearly scandalous expressions and muted whispers.

“Small steps, Ichigo. Small steps.”

Not an affirmation. But not a negative either.

Ichigo could live with that. For now.

 

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[Bleach] My Pace

He was not a man skilled in comforting. Byakuya didn’t know how to soothe those inner aches and pains of those close to him. He could barely understand his own emotions, couldn’t even begin to handle his own aching heart. When faced with someone else’s pain, Byakuya drew a complete blank. Maybe that was why he never could communicate with Hisana. Perhaps that was why he had been unable to help Rukia after Kaien’s death.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Then, he met Ichigo.

Byakuya wanted to believe that his lover was a man capable of taking care of himself, that he didn’t need silly things like comfort. That Ichigo understood just how much of a social and emotional failure his lover was and didn’t expect anything. And that was probably true. Ichigo didn’t really expect anything from him. Byakuya expected it from himself.

There were times when he knew without even having to ask that Ichigo was hurting. He drew away, became quiet, lost some of his bluster. He sought solitude and even brushed off attempts by his friends to talk. He didn’t train, he didn’t practice. He just sat and thought.

He didn’t understand why Ichigo did that at first. Byakuya even considered it a personal affront, that perhaps it was him Ichigo was growing tired of. That the boy couldn’t think of a way to end it. But slowly, the realization dawned on him that this was an old pain haunting his lover, not something that could readily be healed.

Ichigo had told him once about the Hollow that had taken his mother’s life. About his own inability to destroy Grand Fisher. He hadn’t said it, but Byakuya had received the distinct impression that he still considered it his own fault, even if everyone told him otherwise. Byakuya could only recognize it because he held some of the same feelings himself for his own regrets.

Thoughts of his mother usually brought about the distance, brought about the sudden need to be alone. It would come, and it would pass. And when Ichigo returned, Byakuya was there, keeping normalcy. It was the best he could offer. If his kisses were a little gentler that night or his touch a bit softer, neither noticed. It might have even been unconscious.

And then, there were the scars.

Byakuya himself had very few, most of them from recent battles and from Ichigo himself. He hadn’t been a captain very long before he had met Ichigo, and even then, he hadn’t been in a position where he would have had to fight a difficult enemy. Hollows were never strong enough to get a single strike against him, and he was a Kuchiki, he didn’t go on routine patrols.

But Ichigo had many scars. Byakuya had traced them with his fingers, had followed their path with his eyes. Had even measured the length and breadth of some with his tongue. Each was a testament to a battle his lover had survived, a battle in which Ichigo had proved victorious.

All except one.

Neither of them spoke about that particular scar, a bare impression of injury against Ichigo’s darker skin. Neither spoke of what it represented. Byakuya already knew that Ichigo had vowed to never face such a loss again. Even if Aizen’s strength was ten times his own, Ichigo was determined to defeat him.

Byakuya believed sometimes that everyone conveniently forgot just how human Ichigo was. That though he could pull a miracle from thin air, prove victorious against improbable odds, to make the impossible possible, he was still just a boy. One suddenly thrust into the life of a Shinigami. Even Byakuya himself was guilty of forgetting.

He couldn’t help but wonder how Ichigo coped with everything. All of the blood he had lost, the wounds he had suffered, the pain he had endured. The sudden and abrupt change from normal teenager to Shinigami to Vizard to a hero who everyone depended upon without even asking if he wanted it in the first place.

The answer always came to him at night, the heavy hours before morning and not long after midnight.

There were times when Ichigo had nightmares, ones that were vivid enough to cause him to break into a cold sweat and shake. Byakuya always woke when the first broken noise pierced the quiet and had quickly learned just what had produced the pained murmur. He would reach over, laying his hand gently against Ichigo’s bare shoulder. Sometimes, his touch was enough to soothe Ichigo back into quiet sleep. Other times, Byakuya was forced to wake his lover, just to end whatever haunted his night.

The look in those brown eyes, once so young and lacking knowledge, never ceased to put a chill on Byakuya’s heart. They were eyes far too old for someone Ichigo’s age, eyes that were far too distressed for a teenager. One who should have had no bigger worries than which occupation he wished to follow or which university would better suit him.

Ichigo never talked about whatever pains he held inside, and Byakuya never goaded him to speak. He knew that with all things, Ichigo would do this his own way and in his own time. At some point, Byakuya knew that his lover would come to him. And then, it would all come pouring out, everything that made him ache, everything that troubled his sleep.

Byakuya wasn’t the best at comforting; he didn’t have the right words or the right reactions. He didn’t know how to deflect worries or make false but hopeful assurances. But he supposed that really didn’t matter since it wasn’t what Ichigo wanted or needed in the first place.

Just simply being there was enough. And that, Byakuya could do.

 

[Bleach] Of Understanding

There were times when Ichigo caught that gleam in his lover’s eyes, when Byakuya didn’t notice he was looking. It was moments when the captain seemed caught by something in the past, something that wasn’t readily forgotten no matter how much time had passed.

Ichigo knew without having to ask what his lover thought of then; it was as plain to read as every change in emotion of those expressive eyes. It wasn’t easy to completely forget about a first love, first true love. Ichigo understood that. And he knew that Byakuya wasn’t making him some cheap replacement or wishing he were someone else. The man wasn’t the type to do that.

Contrary to popular belief, Rukia wasn’t a replacement for that woman either. Ichigo was absolutely certain that Byakuya loved his adopted sister, even if he had trouble showing it. His lover couldn’t help being socially retarded; that came with the territory of the angsting noble. There were things one just couldn’t learn when wrapped in layers of refinery and manners, when held to a certain standard the rest of the world could easily escape.

All Ichigo could do at those times was be there, silent and waiting, letting that moment pass when Byakuya’s heart drifted to what had been. He would sip at his tea, stare off into the night, viewing something only his eyes could see, and he would ache. Something in him would hurt, a wound that was impossible to cure with any sort of kidoh, not that Ichigo was particularly skilled at such things anyway.

The only thing he could do in those times was soothe the injury. It was too much to think that he could completely heal Byakuya in such a short time. After all, the man had carried his pain as if it were a cloak, as if it were the only thing he could cling to. It wasn’t something easily let go. But he was trying to move forward, and that was all Ichigo could ask for. He wasn’t stupid enough to demand what Byakuya wasn’t ready to give.

He hated her sometimes, that woman who made this confident man collapse inside himself. Who made him question his own beliefs. The same person who couldn’t have been bothered to love her husband or take care of her own damn sister. When Ichigo caught that look in Byakuya’s eyes, he never could stop that brief stab of anger from flashing through him, when he wanted nothing more than to go back in time and shake that woman for causing such pain.

Ichigo occasionally wondered, more often than he should have, that maybe she hadn’t cared for her husband as she should have. It was so blatantly obvious that Byakuya wasn’t grieving for the love he had lost but the love he had never been given. Ichigo wondered if it might have been better had the woman turned him down, knowing that she couldn’t possibly be what he wanted. Who knew how different things could have been?

But then, Byakuya never would have had reason to seek out Rukia, and Ichigo might not have become a Shinigami. It was possible that someone else might have stumbled on him, bringing out his abilities, but things wouldn’t have been like they were now. So he supposed in some grudging manner that was the one decent outcome to the whole heart-breaking affair.

The only one though. Ichigo wasn’t giving that woman any more credit than she was due.

Any other person would have been irritated by Byakuya’s behavior, demanding all his attention or all his time. They wouldn’t have been able to understand that a person couldn’t just throw away pain as if it were a piece of used parchment or a broken waraji.

Ichigo was different. It didn’t bother him, those moments when Byakuya thought of someone else. He understood. Really and truly, he understood.

Byakuya had been married, had loved, had devoted his heart to someone else. He must have felt powerless when she died, despite his own strength. It was something his skill and strength couldn’t fix, no matter how he trained or what he learned. That woman might have been his only freedom from the heavy and dutiful chains placed upon him.

Ichigo couldn’t begrudge Byakuya his grief, even if it was five decades old. Shinigami lived for a long time, longer than he could really comprehend. Fifty years might have only been a few months for the sixth-division captain. Or it could have agonizingly dragged on, seeming like centuries.

Besides, those brief spots of time when Byakuya was distant, when he didn’t want the comfort, were slowly getting few and farther between. The cherished, half-smiles reserved for Ichigo and Ichigo alone were becoming far more frequent.

It was a slow process, a careful easing into complete trust and possibly even love. The substitute Shinigami hadn’t expected a mad dive into forever from the outset. He was simply glad that he could ease the pain in whatever way he could.

Byakuya was healing, little by little, even gradually opening up to the sister he hadn’t acknowledged until recently. It was a start, slow and stuttering, like a car that hadn’t been run in ages, but it was a beginning.

And that was all Ichigo ever wanted.

 

[Bleach] Biting the Bullet

Byakuya had a dilemma.

Worse than that, he had an embarrassing dilemma that wasn’t easily solved. It wasn’t often that the Kuchiki heir admitted ineptitude in any matter, but this time he realized that he had no choice but to swallow his pride. If he ever wanted to have sex again, preferably with his boyfriend, then he was going to have to seek advice.

He supposed he could leave the matter to Ichigo and stoically pretend that he was not inexperienced or even slightly afraid of that fact. But as the older, more mature partner in their relationship… and probably the one with the most raging hormones given his fifty years of unexpected abstinence, it was up to him to find out all the answers. Not to mention, Ichigo was one of the most prudish men Byakuya had ever met and would never survive the sheer mortification involved in asking someone the mechanics behind homosexual copulation.

It was easier for Byakuya to think about it if he tried to maintain a purely scientific mindset. Not that it helped the images, and there were many of them. It made his cheeks heat just to think about it, despite all efforts to tamper down his lecherous thoughts.

With the fate of his unintentional celibacy hanging on the line, Byakuya took a day off work, much to Yamamoto-soutaichou’s surprise and Renji’s glee, and began his search for advice. To that end, he made his way to the thirteenth division headquarters with his head held as proudly as he could muster. Admittedly, he probably resembled a man heading off to his death. Only his libido granted him the courage to keep going.

Meanwhile, Ukitake Jyuushiro was having a rather good day, filling out paperwork and staunchly ignoring the noise of his third-seats, as well as Shunsui’s persistent attempts at cajoling him to skip work and come out to play. He was slightly afraid of what his friend had in mind for “play.”

When Byakuya was shown in, looking as uncomfortable as a man like he was capable of, Jyuushiro dismissed his third-seats and set down his brush. He always had time for the younger captain, still holding a soft spot for the man he had mentored those years ago.

“I apologize for the disruption,” Byakuya stated hastily, lowering himself to the mat in front of both senior captains. He tried to ignore the hint of embarrassment that was creeping into his expression and fought to maintain his usual impassivity.

Jyuushiro smiled pleasantly, surreptitiously elbowing Shunsui in the side in an effort to make his dearest friend shut up for once. “No need for that,” he responded gently. He cleared his throat and tried to make himself comfortable. “To what do we owe this visit?”

Despite his great efforts to appear completely unperturbed, two high spots of color stained Byakuya’s cheeks. “I require some advice,” he declared rather stiffly, his hands resting on his knees as he attempted not to fidget.

Shunsui lifted a brow. “Advice?” he repeated, ignoring the hushing looks being sent his direction by his best buddy.

He was extremely curious. It wasn’t often that the Kuchiki heir asked others for help. Not to mention that Byakuya looked faintly embarrassed, which made it even more interesting in Shunsui’s mind. He sat forward in his seat.

Byakuya nodded. “Yes,” he responded simply, then fell silent as if the right words had completely failed him. He shifted again, fingers twitching.

Faintly amused, Jyuushiro tried to remain dignified. “About?” he questioned, hoping to prompt his kouhai into finally speaking.

Gathering up all of his dignity, Byakuya took a deep breath. “Sex,” he said, though it came out a more of a squeak. He cleared his throat. “Specifically among two men,” he added, a bit rushed.

Dead silence.

A cricket chirped.

The two older men gaped, exchanged glances with each other… and stared some more.

Shunsui coughed into his hand.

“I see,” Jyuushiro began slowly, obviously grasping for the right words. “And you came to me because…?”

Byakuya’s eyes flickered between the two of them, and suddenly, the reasoning became all too clear. Jyuushiro was not surprised. He and Shunsui had been fending off those rumors for centuries.

The thirteenth division captain sighed. “Byakuya-kun,” he began as politely and kindly as he could. “We’re not gay. We’ve never–”

“Why does everyone think that?” Shunsui cut in with a shake of his head as he sat back in his seat. “We’re just friends. Is that a crime?”

The blush that Byakuya had been fighting the entire time won its pursuit of victory and blossomed into a full scarlet bloom onto his face. He fidgeted again.

“I didn’t know,” he said, feeling absolutely mortified. The Kuchiki heir desperately wished that Aizen would suddenly and randomly choose to attack.

Great. Not only was his secret out, but he had offended two of the oldest and most senior captains in Seireitei. Perhaps there was a reason men like him deserved to be celibate.

Sensing that his former kouhai was becoming distressed, Jyuushiro sought to calm him down. “Have you tried speaking to Unohana-taichou?” he suggested gently, thinking if anything, a healer should have some sort of knowledge in that regards.

But by the look on Byakuya’s face, it was clear the Kuchiki heir did not consider that even a blip on his scale of possibilities. It was embarrassing enough to ask two men he had already thought were gay. There was no way in Hueco Mundo he was going to ask Unohana. Even if it was probably the wisest thing to do.

“Is there anyone else?” Byakuya managed to bite out through clenched teeth. At this point, he was taking any and all suggestions… except Unohana.

After all, he was socially awkward, not socially stupid. There was a difference.

Shunsui grinned, an idea occurring to him. “Well, you could always ask Sousuke-kun. He’s been rumored to dabble,” he commented thoughtfully, remembering the only rumor to rival the one of he and his Jyuu-chan in longevity. “But since he’s in Hueco Mundo… well, that adds a whole new level of difficulty.”

Byakuya actually considered it. His libido practically screamed for him to; otherwise, another dreadful fifty years would pass before he saw any end to his half-intentional and half-not celibacy. Finally, the sixth division captain sighed and rose to his feet, brushing invisible dust from his hakama.

“I see. I apologize for the mistake.”

Jyuushiro waved off the apology. “Perhaps if Shunsui wasn’t so flamboyant with his choice in wear, it would happen less often,” he remarked around a sip of tea, shooting his oldest and dearest friend a pointed look.

“I’ll have you know that I am by far the manliest of us, Jyuu-chan,” Shunsui replied with fake insult, lazily tossing a balled up piece of parchment in Ukitake’s direction.

The white-haired captain ducked smoothly, and it sailed ineffectually over his head. He regarded his companion thoughtfully, a retort on his lips, but Byakuya didn’t stick around to hear it. The conversation was quickly degrading into another one of their more famous debates, and while interesting, he had more important things to do.

He slipped out of the office, leaving the sounds of their banter behind him, and contemplated as to what he should do next. The fourth division was absolutely out of the question, and while he had the suspicion that Ayasegawa from the eleventh was gay, he had no intentions of seeking advice from the flamboyant man.

Torn, Byakuya was beginning to wonder just how hard it was to get into Hueco Mundo and find the missing traitor, act of treason or no. Then again, there was always Aizen’s partner in crime from all those rumors Byakuya vaguely remembered hearing about. And it would only take a journey to Karakura to meet with a certain exiled former captain. That was, if he were willing to subject himself to the man’s lecherous and likely gossiping nature…

Decisions, decisions.

Hueco Mundo was sounding more and more acceptable by the moment.

Fortunately, before he could even shunpo towards the nearest gate and ask directions, he felt a familiar reiatsu in his vicinity. Unable to stop the anticipatory tremor that attacked his heart, Byakuya immediately headed for a more solitary location to meet his lover… or soon to be lover since they hadn’t yet managed to cross that line.

An abandoned courtyard on the outskirts of Seireitei fit their needs perfectly. Byakuya appeared in a flit of shunpo just seconds before Ichigo landed right next to him, a grin splitting his face. It made the sixth division captain just a bit wary.

“My idiot dad might be worth something after all,” Ichigo said, waving an unidentified object in front of Byakuya as he drew nearer to his boyfriend.

Silver eyes watched the movement of what appeared to a book with colorful, if not cartoonish, pictures drawn on the cover. He was not impressed.

“A comic?” he questioned, lifting one imperious brow.

Gaze darting surreptitiously around as if to confirm they were alone, Ichigo still wasn’t that good at sensing reiatsu, the substitute Shinigami pulled an unsuspecting Byakuya into his arms in a very undignified manner.

“Not just any comic,” he replied smugly. “But a shounen-ai manga.”

Byakuya was still very much confused. “Explain,” he demanded.

Fingers dancing up his back, pressing against Byakuya’s spine in a very teasing manner, Ichigo’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Better yet. I’ll show you,” he murmured, and closed the space between them before the captain could even put up an argument. Not that he tried very hard.

And suddenly, it all made sense.

Byakuya’s libido gave a ragged cheer of glee.

After all, he had taken the entire day off from work.

[Bleach] Mating Rituals

As instructed by Mayuri-sama, I, Kurotsuchi Nemu, have taken on the scientific task of observing Kurosaki Ichigo with the purpose of determining the source of his remarkable talents and ability to completely override the traditional learning curve. I shall do my best to dictate each situation from the side of an observer with no bias intended.

~ Day One ~

Subject’s residence seems to be of typical size for the average Japanese household. The father, who shows a complete lack of all mental faculties, is a physician at the clinic adjoining their domicile. Both of the subject’s siblings display a small aptitude in sensing the spirit world, most notably within the dark-haired female. The father does not appear to hold any ability but still seems aware of his male progeny’s Shinigami related activities. Further, he displays increasingly odd behavior, glancing around surreptitiously when he is alone and acting almost as if he realizes he is being observed.

Morning does not appear to suit our subject. He is quite cantankerous, and there is a strange ritual between father and son consisting of the exchange of multiple violent blows. The observer wonders if this is an everyday occurrence or some type of training technique. Son is reluctant but quick to retaliate.

~ Day Three ~

Subject’s place of learning is a large establishment with a multitude of humans milling about the premises. Classes are divided into sections, and subject appears to have many associates who seem quite delighted at his presence. One such male demonstrates an extravagant display of emotion that the subject easily sidesteps and promptly disregards. This behavior is mildly amusing.

Subject doesn’t appear to display any sexual interest or preference towards the females in his class. According to the observer’s research, this is unusual for his age and development. Further, she still has detected no signs of stimuli to explain the abnormal reiatsu level of the subject.

More observation is necessary.

~ Day Eight ~

Subject wastes several hours arguing heatedly with Kuchiki-san before he is dragged to an abandoned field beyond the outskirts of the main town. The content of this argument seems to revolve around the subject’s sexuality and what Kuchiki-san believes to be the “cure for his loneliness.” The observer does not believe loneliness is an affliction deserving of a medical remedy.

In any case, the observer has followed the subject to his current location, where he appears to be watching Kuchiki-taichou defeat a low-class Hollow. The observer is not aware that the sixth division captain had been assigned duty in Karakura. To her surprise, moments after the Hollow was cleansed, the subject and Kuchiki-taichou have an interaction. She is astonished to watch the two males exchange a press of the lips – a kiss. There is a moment’s pause, an exchange of words, and then, the two males kiss once more. It is an interesting development that requires additional study.

The observer will contact supervisor for further instruction.

~ Day Thirty-Five ~

In concordance with Mayuri-sama’s order, context of this study has been expanded to include observation of the subject’s relationship with Kuchiki-taichou, heretofore known as Subject B. Kurosaki-san shall be referred to as Subject A.

After several weeks of increasing lust and close encounters, Subjects A and B have given in to their primal urges to copulate. From the observer’s position, it is clear all pretense of maintaining chastity has been discarded. To her surprise, there is tenderness in the awkward yet determined movements.

The observer’s attention is diverted with the sudden appearance of Matsumoto-fukutaichou, Zaraki-taichou, and Shihouin-sama, all of whom seem to be deep into intoxicated revelry. After a moment’s examination, the observer witnesses the aforementioned captain attempt a kidoh spell, despite her knowledge that Zaraki-taichou has never attempted such a thing previously. The spell exceeds expectations and proceeds to set fire to the Kuchiki manor, after which the delinquents make themselves scarce.

Subjects A and B are only momentarily distracted; Subject A is diverted from a kiss to question Subject B. The observer makes careful note of the endearments exchanged as both subjects realize that their abode is ablaze and consequently dive for safety through an open window. The observer takes the opportunity to slip quietly away as the commotion has caused the arrival of multiple Shinigami, most notably Hitsugaya-taichou and Ukitake-taichou.

~ Day Thirty-Seven ~

The subjects are meeting surreptitiously for a brief meal and a recitation of poetry from the living world in a secluded area near the Soukyoku hill. The observer is surprised at Subject A’s choice of literature, resolving to return to the laboratory and conduct research on one “William Shakespeare” for better understanding of his behavior.

Subject B seems to appreciate the flowery prose, and both are seen intertwining their extremities – holding hands as it were. Further, the observer witnesses them engage in several pre-mating behaviors, such as kissing and light petting of the flanks, back, and neck both over and under clothing. After almost an hour, the pair finally finish their meal. However, before departing, both share a lingering embrace, and Subject B presses their foreheads together during the exchange, also rubbing noses.

Such demonstrative behavior is unexpected, and the observer hypothesizes that is merely due to the fact that they have yet to copulate and are attempting to maintain physical interest and intimacy.

~ Day Forty ~

Despite the failed prior endeavor at consummating their affections, the subjects proceed to attempt copulation once more. Interestingly, the observer finds Subject A taking the dominant role. He appears to be soothing Subject B’s skittish reactions with affectionate touches as Subject B assumes the lordosis posture, something most suitable for this type of mating ritual.

Once Subject B has relaxed, Subject A proceeds with mounting behavior. The observer refrains from making a detailed analysis of the process on paper, preferring to refer to the video footage when later making her report to her supervisor.

Post-coital, Subject A slips into aftercare mode where he cleanses his mate of all traces of their copulation. After disposing of the soiled cloth, he returns to the bed, and both subjects proceed with “cuddling” and additional kissing. Sometime later, the pair drifts off to sleep but only after verbally reaffirming their affections.

The observer finds this incredibly fascinating and is eager to see what Mayuri-sama makes of it.

~ Day Fifty-One ~

Subject B appears to enjoy stalking his prey. He walks past Subject A as if he cannot see him, but a brief brush of shoulders appears to imply some sort of communication. Perhaps pheromones are involved, cueing certain responses in each of the subjects. The observer suspects testosterone plays a large role as well, but more analysis is necessary for confirmation.

Careful observation discovers the two subjects meeting, not by chance, in a small storage closet. It is the not the first time the observer has witnessed such strange locations for copulation. For example, Subject B’s office, the bedroom of Subject B’s sister, and the kitchen are all seemingly prime areas for any and all mating behaviors. Additionally, with the partial destruction of Subject B’s domicile, both have been invited to momentarily lodge with Ukitake-taichou. This has not appeared to have had any effect on curbing their sexual relations.

It should also be noted that the subjects “switch roles” in terms of dominance, and both have been observed as the recipient partner during copulation. Mayuri-sama has found such behavior of particular interest and has encouraged further inquest of it.

~ Day Sixty-Four ~

The subjects seem to enjoy engaging in quasi-aggressive behavior as an addendum to or possible cover for their affections, and they frequently practice their skills against one another, sparring at least once a day whenever Subject A is in Seireitei. Most often, these fights revolve around shunpo and zanjutsu, despite Subject B’s considerable knowledge of kidoh. Very rarely is hakuda involved, though only Subject A ever includes such tactics. The observer has noticed that this particular behavior seems to be a prelude to mating. Indeed, copulation, or heavy petting and kissing at the very least, often occurs afterwards once the pair has managed to reach a more private setting.

Their current spar seems to be following these trends. So far, Subject B has yet to even release his shikai, and the two are engaged in a contest of strength, their respective zanpakutou locked. Further, the pair are pressed together, faces mere centimeters apart. Abarai-fukutaichou watches them from the sidelines with a peculiar expression as the subjects quietly exchange words over their blades and press even closer together. He seems to be confused, acting as though he has yet to realize the significance of their actions.

The observer has noticed on numerous occasions that the vice-captain is rather slow on the uptake, and it is entirely possible that he is completely ignorant of the clandestine affair occurring between his superior and Subject A. Mayuri-sama concurs with the assessment of Abarai-fukutaichou’s mental faculties, also stating that it is quite likely no one else has discovered the true relationship of the subjects.

~ Day Seventy-Five ~

As the weeks have progressed, Subject B continues to show increasing possessiveness, and he has taken to cautiously watching or even chasing off all those he deems a sexual rival or possible physical threat to his mate. The observer notes that several individuals are exempt from such behaviors, most notably Subject B’s sister and Ukitake-taichou, as well as Sado-san.

Hitsugaya-taichou is apparently too young to be viewed as a threat, but most of the other captains and vice-captains merit intense scrutiny or even outright, if subtle, hostility. This tendency is especially apparent whenever Zaraki-taichou and Kyouraku-taichou are present. Abarai-fukutaichou, on the other hand, merely rates a cautious but vague sort of surveillance as does most of the eleventh division and Subject A’s Quincy companion, Ishida-san. Inone-san and Shihouin-sama, in particular, garner a fierce reaction and are routinely driven away, oftentimes with Subject B displaying increasingly intimidating facial expressions.

Such predator-esque vigilance is not uncommon in persons with Subject B’s personality type or males in general, and Mayuri-sama finds such possessiveness and the actions stemming from it to be faintly amusing.

~ Day Eighty-Two ~

The pair has traveled to Karakura for the day to engage in what Subject A has dubbed “meet the parents.” Thus far, they are standing outside of the aforementioned male’s residence, arguing too quietly for the observer to hear. However, it is rather obvious that Subject B insists on entering, while his counterpart seems strongly reluctant. Their discussion comes to a decisive end when Subject A’s father flings open the door and immediately embraces his offspring, loudly chirping his delight. He falters, however, when he notices Subject B.

The observer notes that Subject B appears to completely stiffen at the sight of his mate’s father. The reaction seems to be reciprocal as Subject A’s parental unit lifts his eyebrows in return, still embracing his son tightly. In the meantime, Subject A gasps for leniency, but neither of the other males appears to notice.

Subject A’s father shifts his gaze and looks past both of the Shinigami, appearing to stare directly in the observer’s direction. Almost immediately the father hurriedly rushes them within the household, closing the door with a firm slam. For a moment, the observer wonders if perhaps the father is not as imperceptive as he appears. She will ask Mayuri-sama for his hypothesis on the matter at a later time.

As she is unable to get within the domicile at this present moment, the observer concludes her study of the two subjects for the day to resume at a later time.

~ Day Ninety ~

The Kuchiki manor is completely rebuilt and repaired from the “accidental” burning that had taken place earlier in the year. However, instead of taking full advantage of the perfect secrecy to indulge their passions, the observer notes that instead, they indulge in quiet companionship.

After sharing a brief dinner with Subject B’s sister, the subjects retire to their shared chambers. The observer notes that this is the first instance in which they have spent the night in Subject B’s own bed. To her surprise, they engage in lingering affections and soft phrases of endearment before falling asleep, refraining from their usual mating rituals.

~ Closing Remarks ~

In concordance with Mayuri-sama’s instructions, I have ended my observations. I hereby swear that all information dictated within this study is accurate to the extent of my knowledge, and as unbiased as I am capable of reporting. It is my hope that the results gathered will prove useful in the study of future anomalies concerning Subject A as well as the mating habits of Shinigami.

[Bleach] The Night They Burned Seireitei Down

Grey smoke rose up in thick tendrils around the burnt remains of half of Kuchiki Byakuya’s once regal home. Battered and scorched pieces of wood battled valiantly to remain upright before falling over with a crash, causing everyone present to cringe and wince as the thick smell of fire washed through the area. Clumps of ice clustered strangely on intact portions of the roof, and water dripped down from the scorched trees nearby.

A wind stirred.

“What the hell happened here?” Hitsugaya questioned, face pinched with surprise and a bit of anger at being awakened at three in the morning. He glared at the remains of a blaze, which had nearly threatened to destroy all of Seireitei.

Ukitake shook his head, clucking his tongue. “If I didn’t know better, I would say that Shunsui has been playing with matches again.” He laughed lightly, despite the stares being sent his way, and a small cough escaped him.

The two white-haired captains had been called to put the fire out, doing so in record time. And now, little by little, the other members of the Gotei 13 were arriving, fearing an assassination attempt on the Kuchiki heir.

Standing there, staring in what might have been considered a mournful expression were it anyone else but Kuchiki Byakuya, a very frazzled sixth division captain glared at the remains of his home. It was unlivable, he decided. At least, for the moment. And strangely enough, Rukia’s room was entirely untouched.

Ichigo rubbed the back of his head, managing to look just as confused as everyone else. “I don’t think anyone left the fires going,” he commented lightly, raising an eyebrow when four pairs of eyes turned in his direction.

All at once, his presence was finally noticed.

Hitsugaya’s eyes widened in abject shock as he openly gaped, unable to maintain his usual calm appearance. His gaze darted between Byakuya and Ichigo, both looking ruffled and half-dressed, standing strangely near to each other. He paused, tilting his head in thought.

Wait.

Why was Kurosaki in Soul Society in the first place?

Scratch that.

Beside Hitsugaya, Rukia giggled, casting both men a knowing expression. “Nii-sama,” she began in an amused tone. “Are you wearing anything beneath your captain’s robe?” she questioned, already knowing the answer. After all, he was clutching quite desperately to the folds of his cloak, keeping it clasped tightly around his body.
True enough, other than the sword clasped urgently in one hand and the scarf haphazardly tossed around his neck, Byakuya didn’t exactly seem dressed for the occasion. His hair, free from the kenseikan, fluttered wildly about his face, and black, sooty smudge marks decorated his fair complexion.

Still, what surprised Hitsugaya the most was not the faintly blushing Kuchiki heir, despite the fact that for once Byakuya did not look perfect as usual. Even in the midst of battle, with blood streaming down his face, Byakuya managed to look perfect. Even more startling than the normally unruffled noble looking… well, ruffled, was the man standing right beside him.

Arctic blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. “And why are you in bankai?” Hitsugaya demanded, crossing his arms over his chest as he glared at Ichigo.

Instantly, the substitute shinigami reddened as he rubbed the back of his head again. His eyes darted to Byakuya before shifting up to the night sky, seeing ribbons of smoke continue to rise.

With their budding new relationship, neither had been willing to simply jump into it, especially since Ichigo’s sole experience rested with whatever he and Byakuya had done so far. But this was it; this was the night for certain. Sex was about to commence, and judging from the heat in the air and the electricity sparking through their bodies, nothing short of the house burning down or an attack from Aizen was going to stop them.

Both were unbelievably horny, having tried to take their relationship slow so as not to ruin anything. Only recently had they realized the futility of that decision and now sought to remedy their ridiculous choice.

Skin was bared. Hands smoothed over battle-scarred flesh. Many kisses rained down, one upon the other. Their bodies moved in perfect harmony, limbs intertwined. Neither claimed dominance, not just yet.

They kissed, tongues mingling as their breath was shared. Gentle fingers probed at an untouched entrance, and their hearts beat erratically in their chests. It was a magic moment, a heated moment, a moment filled with great desire and arousal and…

Ichigo paused, lips drawing into a frown as he pulled back from a kiss. “Did you feel that?” he questioned, eyes flickering to the window where the moon shone down as a brilliant silver disc.

“You mean the world moving when I kissed you?” Byakuya remarked dryly, already preparing to drag his lover back to their previous actions.

The orange-haired shinigami stared at the older man, still unused to his rediscovered sense of humor. “No, it felt like an explosion,” he insisted.

Byakuya shook his head, somewhat amused by Ichigo’s persistence. “You’re mistaken,” he assured him.

And if Ichigo thought to argue, it was lost in the very next moment when hands pulled him down for another earth-shattering kiss. Sheets were rumpled. Hair was tugged. Tongues slid across flesh already streaked with sweat…

“Do you smell that?” It was the Kuchiki heir this time, and his regal features somehow managed to display both desperate need and slight concern.

Ichigo sniffed the air, tilting his head to the side before sudden realization struck him. Chocolate eyes widened.

“Smoke!” he declared, leaping to his feet but not without some difficulty as his limbs were thoroughly enmeshed with Byakuya’s. It was several seconds before they managed to untangle, and when Ichigo tumbled to the floor, tripping on the edge of a sheet, he laid eyes on the flames that were already licking around the doorframe.

“Shit!” he exclaimed, leaping to his feet again. “Fire!”

A small noise escaped Byakuya’s mouth as Ichigo frantically darted around the room, rushing to Zangetsu and muttering something along the lines of “clothes, clothes, clothes.” But there were none. In their haste, clothing had been left in another room, so Byakuya snatched up the three most important and closest items he could find.

“No time!” The Kuchiki heir gasped, shoving his soon-to-be, or more accurately his hopefully-soon-to-be, lover towards the window. “Out the window!”

Ichigo thought to protest. He was naked, after all. But then, flames licked at the heels of his feet, and all modesty flew out the window… literally.

It was only sheer luck that he landed feet first.

The ground was chilly, the grass dotted with dew, and Ichigo instantly shivered as Byakuya climbed out of the window behind him, managing to complete the action with a stately bearing that only a man like Byakuya could.

With little other choice and desperate for something to cover himself as he was certain the fire would attract some attention, Ichigo did what any man would do in his situation. Well, if their zanpakutou was anything like his.

“Bankai!”

Rukia snort-laughed, a rather odd sound. Still, it was truly typical for her as her gaze darted between the two men, her nose wrinkling with a mischievous thought.

“So, Ichigo, just stopping by my house, I see. Even though you knew I wouldn’t be there.”

The substitute shinigami flushed at her insinuation. He blushed further as more captains and vice-captains appeared on the scene, Unohana, Soifon, and Komamura included.

“Well, I… uh…”

“Kurosaki needed somewhere to stay,” Byakuya inserted smoothly, still maintaining his regal demeanor, in spite of the circumstances. Truthfully, however, even he was beginning to fidget a little.

Rukia tossed him a level stare as she crossed her arms over her chest. “In your bedroom?” she pointed out. Her brow arched. “Naked?”

Ichigo choked on something invisible, and a faint blush managed to stain the Kuchiki heir’s cheeks as they both looked away from her, staring at the oh-so-fascinating ground.

In that moment, Unohana bustled forward since anyone pulled from a burning building had to have at least one wound. “Oh my, Kurosaki-san,” she breathed, hand fluttering to her mouth as her eyes raked over him. “That looks like a burn on your chest. I should treat it right away.”

Brown eyes widened as he slapped a hand over the offensive patch of skin, remembering just what kind of mark was there. Damn Kuchiki and his damn lips making damn marks on his damn flesh.

“No, Unohana-taichou, I believe that Kurosaki is fine,” Byakuya murmured, his voice sounding strangely strangled, even as Ichigo shot him a glare.

It simply was not fair that he could remain so unruffled, not while Ichigo blushed over and over again.

Ukitake, taking pity on the two and the interesting spectacle they were making of themselves, finally stepped forward. “With your home in such shape, you cannot stay there, Byakuya. Might I offer my own for the evening?”

But his words fell on deaf ears. At that moment, three pairs of shinigami eyes were locked on three very familiar items that were littering the ground.

Ichigo stared very resolutely at a small, golden bell lying guiltily among the carefully manicured but now ash-choked grass of the Kuchiki front lawn.

“Zaraki.”

A patch of dark hair, obviously from some sort of feline, dotted one of the elegant stone steps of the front entrance. These strands of fur completely captivated Byakuya as his eyes narrowed in anger.

“Yoruichi.”

Somewhere between the bell and the hair was yet one more distinguishable item. A pink scarf was curled up neatly on the ground, causing Hitsugaya’s right eyebrow to twitch repeatedly.

“Matsumoto.”

And so the perpetrators were known.

Raucous laughter filled the evening air as three very upstanding members of Seireitei stumbled drunkenly down the path, sake jugs clenched tightly in each hand. They weren’t sure where they were going or even why, but none of that mattered since the moon was high in the sky and the night breeze was so cool.

Matsumoto snorted, nearly choking on her sake. “Ya know, Zaraki-taichou,” she began on a giggle. “You should get married or something’.”

“Bwa ha ha!” Kenpachi laughed, tossing his head back as he threw an arm over Matsumoto’s shoulder. “You offerin’ or sumthin’– Ow!”

“‘Ow’ is right!” Yoruichi snapped before throwing an arm around his waist. “Yachiru don’t need a mom! She has Yumichika!” A snorting and very inelegant sort of laughter escaped the former Shihouin heir’s mouth.

His arm retracted from Matsumoto’s shoulder, choosing to instead slip down and grip the ass clad in tight slacks, fondling with little shame. Instead of slapping him as she should have, Yoruichi merely let loose a drunken laugh. She tugged on one of his spikes, rattling the bells.

“Hey!” Yoruichi suggested, a sudden idea dawning on her as she took a great big gulp from her jug. “Here’s a plan. Let’s go visit Byaka-bo!”

Matsumoto’s face crinkled with confusion. “Why?” she asked, planting a hand on her hip.

The former second division captain shrugged, beginning to slur her words a little. “Just a thought or…” She paused, her features suddenly brightening. “Even better… let’s teach Ken kidoh, Rangiku.”

The vice-captain chortled loudly. “Zaraki? Kidoh?”

He snorted loudly, sucking down the very last of his jug and tossing it over his shoulder. It crashed loudly to the ground and shattered.

“I don’t wanna learn that shit,” he grunted. “That stuff’s fer Kuchiki-hime.”

“Ah, come on. It’ll be fun.”

He grunted again.

She took it as consent.

Yoruichi decided that a fire spell, nice and destructive, would be the best place to start, and wasn’t it lucky that they were approaching Byakuya’s house?

And so it was, several minutes later, they were running away from the scene of the crime, their cackling laughter echoing loudly on the wind.

[Bleach] Never Been Kissed

Ichigo was fascinated by Byakuya’s lips. Out of everything about the somewhat cold man, they were the most expressive. His anger, his irritation, his pleasure, all of it could plainly be seen on those plump bits of flesh, usually set in a firm line and embraced with impassivity.

He had wondered from time to time what it would be like to kiss those lips. Whether the shinigami captain would welcome the action or coldly dismiss him with eyes as warm as Hyourinmaru. Would they be heated and pliable, parting slowly beneath his touch?

Byakuya would have to take the lead, of course. Having been married, Ichigo could only assume that the man had at least kissed someone before.

Unlike Ichigo. Poor Ichigo. He’d never been kissed in his life. Unless he wanted to count his mother’s soft, doting touches to his forehead or his father’s rather terrifying attempts at affection that only made him ball up his fist, reach way back, and knock the life out of him. Not that it ever deterred Isshin in the slightest. His father was much like a cockroach.

Now, the very fact that he stood on the edge of a field, watching the sixth division captain easily disperse a hollow and internally wondering whether or not he should attempt to kiss Byakuya should have disturbed him on some level. After all, despite his vaguely feminine and downright pretty exterior, Byakuya was above all things a man, and Ichigo never really took himself for the type of guy who went for other men.

If it hadn’t been for Rukia, he probably never would have even thought about it.

She had gotten it in her mind one fine spring day that Ichigo scowled because he was lonely and was lonely because he hadn’t met the right person. And in a grand gesture of her usual genius, she had decided that the best way to resolve the issue was to stick him with someone else who suffered from equal bouts of loneliness and scowling… aka her brother.

She had smiled sweetly, eyes darkened with a hint of danger that he should have recognized as she tilted her head to the side. Her arm had threaded through his, and she had dragged him off to some unknown location. He would later learn that she had deposited him off on the edge of the field where Byakuya was fighting, only to disappear without another word, leaving him gaping in confusion.

“You see,” she had chirped, sounding treacherously serious. “Poor nii-sama hasn’t had sex in fifty years, and you’ve never been kissed. You have something in common!”

Obviously, she had overheard Ikkaku and Renji when they had been ruthlessly mocking Ichigo for his lack of experience. He was fifteen, according to them, and should have at least made a move on someone by now. Why not Orihime with her sweet smile and absurdly large breasts? Why not Tatsuki, if he was into the whole she could kick his ass thing? And if he was gay, Ishida seemed particularly receptive, if they squinted.

Anyways, he never would have even thought about kissing or Byakuya or any combination of the two, which involved him staring at the sixth division captain’s lips with little subtlety, if it hadn’t been for Rukia and her damn ideas. And now that it was in his head, it wouldn’t leave, and he was staring, absolutely staring at the graceful movements of Senbonzakura and wondering what it would be like if Byakuya kissed him.

He had also never expected the noble man to take a trip down to Karakura for anything less than an emergency, which the pitiful Hollow that he easily dispatched was not. Why Byakuya was impassively watching one of the weakest Hollow’s Ichigo had ever seen dissolve away as he slid his zanpakutou back into its sheath was a mystery.

And why couldn’t he stop staring at those lips?

They were pink, rose-colored almost like a woman’s, and they looked soft, petal-soft as he once read Shakespeare describe. He wondered what they would taste like. Rukia had said that Byakuya liked spicy food.

Spicy. Hmm.

His skin prickled, and Ichigo raised his gaze, startled to find that Byakuya was looking at him now, his beautiful face strangely contemplative. Unconsciously, and overcome with this strange desire to suddenly shunpo across the field and come through with his secret wonder, he licked his lips.

Byakuya raised a brow.

Ichigo flushed redder than his hair.

Byakuya disappeared.

Only to reappear directly in front of the substitute shinigami, mere seconds later.

Something glittered in grey eyes, and for a startling moment, Ichigo had the sudden and slightly worrisome thought that maybe, just maybe, Rukia had shared the same conversation with her brother that she had with Ichigo.

He wondered if Byakuya was wondering, too.

“Kurosaki Ichigo.” His voice was empty, displaying no emotion.

“Byakuya.” He tilted his head in greeting.

Byakuya stepped towards him. Ichigo fought the urge to step back and battled with himself for the strange desire to pull closer. Damn Rukia and her ideas. Damn Renji for his suggestions. And damn himself for his stupid eyes wanting to zero in on Byakuya’s stupid lips.

Which were moving…

Closer.

Ichigo blinked. A hand settled on his shoulder, and then, lips were pressed to his.

He was right. They were soft. And slightly shaky. Was the great Byakuya nervous? Maybe, just maybe, he had been wondering, too.

The lips pressed further. Ichigo leaned forward and pressed back. What was supposed to come next again? And his hands, they were just dangling there all useless. Wasn’t he supposed to do something with them, too?

Kissing was just too damn hard. And spicy.

Ichigo wobbled a bit, balanced so precariously, and to his horror, his teeth slid from between his lips of their own accord, biting down none-too-gently on the great Kuchiki’s bottom lip.

Brown eyes widened in unrestrained embarrassment as heat suffused his cheeks when Byakuya drew back from the kiss, a faintly bemused expression on his face if Ichigo actually deigned to look hard enough. As it were, he was far too mortified, and it showed.

“Uh…” He was at a loss for words, surprisingly enough. His first kiss, and he had screwed it up. He could just hear Renji and Ikkaku chortling now, imagining their back-breaking slaps of torture and teasing. “I… uh… sorry. Didn’t mean to, um, bite you.” He was starting to babble now, which was probably only making things worse.

“Kurosaki Ichigo.”

He raised his head.

“Uh… yeah?”

And Byakuya kissed him again. His last thought was that Rukia would have been ecstatic.