A/N: Hey guys, first I want to apologize for the extremely long wait, but this has possibly been the hardest chapter I have ever written since I began posting on this site. This is the end, epilogue and all. I'm going to go ahead and let you know that this ending, excluding the epilogue, is pretty damn tragic(depending on your perspective), but I wouldn't change a thing. Honestly, it wrote itself while also tying the ending back to the beginning. Personally, I think it's the most beautiful thing I have written thus far. So please, even when it starts getting really sad, read it till the end. I really think you'll enjoy what you find.

Id also like to point out the importance of Sakura in this chapter. I think Kubo was really intentional when picking out this flower as a representation for Byakuya's powers, as it fits so well with his personality. Sakura, in Japan, represent the hopefulness of new life and the humbleness to accept death. Hence why the sakura are withering at the beginning of this chapter and blooming at the end.

Thank you for everyone who commented on this story and for everyone one who suffered through my crappy grammar and subpar style that is super evident in the beginning chapters(One day I'm going to go back and rework all the chapters and add brand new ones to extend the plot. So, technically, this isn't really the end) I usually respond to your wonderful comments at the bottom, however I am in a rush to get this up before work. Please let me know what you think. I hope to see you soon.

~ Ashes

Goodnight, My Moonlight

xXx

Byakuya stepped outside onto his deck, and through the darkness, he noted how the sakura blossoms were just starting to wither. Tentatively, he placed a palm against his bandaged head. The wound was now healed completely, but he still felt dizzy from time to time.

After his staged assault, he endured the rage of not only his family, but Sana's. This resulted in an hour long scolding from both parties, and he was sure his reprieve would only last until the morning. Fury and disappointment were evident, but Byakuya couldn't find it in him to care. If anything, he struggled to keep a hint of a smile from his face. Sana would be happy now, free, no longer under the thumbs of those who cared nothing of her happiness. As for Byakuya, that was enough.

He looked towards the moon, full and radiant, and as usual, his thoughts drifted towards Ichigo. Since Getsu meant moon, even looking at the celestial body triggered memories of their brief yet life altering love affiar. That was okay, because in the solitude of his mind, nothing could stand in between the bond they had created.

Somewhat sadly, he thought, 'I wonder if Ichigo is looking at this moon?'

"Sana was nice," a voice said, breaking Byakuya from his riviera with a jolt.

He look up to see the moon lit figure of Ichigo leaning crossed armed against the opening of a sliding door, his gaze interrupted by chin length locks. Byakuya blinked a few times in puzzlement, wondering if he had finally lost it. He wanted to reach out and touch the wind tussled hair of Ichigo. He wanted to test this reality, to make sure he was not some love induced apparition, but he clenched his hand to avoid such an unceremonious display.

Usually, the man wore his hair up in a short pony tail type due, and a few rebellious strands would normally disrupt his features. Seeing it so liberated made Byakuya's fingertips tingle at the memory of running his hands through Ichigo's hair.

Seconds felt like hours as he took in his lost lover. He was sure that Ichigo was a ghost or a figment mere seconds away from vaporizing, belonging only to Byakuya's lonely imagination.

"I did not sense you coming," he said, feeling imbecilic at the worthless, poorly thought out comment.

While looking towards the moon, Ichigo chuckled bitterly. He turned his sharp gaze towards Byakuya, and god, the noble had missed those eyes being directed towards him. "We haven't had a real conversation in a whole decade, and that's what you say to me?" Studying the noble's expression, Ichigo admittedly wanted to smile at how blatantly phased the typically passive man looked. "I guess I didn't except to startle you so easily…"

Byakuya preened his uniform in an attempt to regain his composure. "What should I say?"

Ichigo shrugged a shoulder and said, "I don't know. Your run away bride asked me to come here, so you tell me."

Obviously confused, Byakuya netted his brow at the man. "Your paths crossed with Sana?"

Ichigo nodded. "Yeah. Akira and me were on our way back from a spar with Renji when Arkia noted a fluctuation in spiritual pressure near the gate. When we checked it out, we found Sana and her girlfriend." Ichigo looked away with a wistful gleam dancing across his eyes. "She told us what you did for her, and I helped her get to the fifth district. When I left, she told me to come and talk to you as a way to extend her thanks."

Byakuya sank into pools of disappointment. Of course, Ichigo didn't come of his own volition. His petty hope was an unforgiving anchor that pulled him under. "Your second in command has a rather high spiritual awareness if he was able to sense such a fluctuation without being in the direct permitter."

Again, Byakuya was unsure of why he said that. He wasn't sure of anything really.

Ichigo nodded and turned his glare back to the scenery. He had this serious look that seemed to meet nothing, and Byakuya wondered what sat so heavily behind those eyes.

"I'm going to leave Akira."

Byakuya froze, or maybe it was time, but he could hear anything but those words repeating over and over again. Perhaps he really was dreaming.

"Why?" he asked.

Ichigo looked towards the man with a deep scowl, as if he was frustrated with needing to explain.

"I'm here, that's why."

Seeing Byakuya didn't understand, he scoffed exspectantly. "I thought it was just different, that things would grow between us, but here I am, doing the same old shit." He gave a self loathing chuckle. "The moment Sana asked, I already knew I'd be ruining back here to you." A sadness laced his voice as he whispered, "I can't do this to him, because if it was the other way around, if he was still in love with someone else while planning to marry me, I think I'd hate him for not giving me the chance to find someone who could return my love. I just wish it didn't take me so long to figure that out."

"I really fucked up with him, and now I'm here, and I'm not even sure why." Raking a hand through his hair, Ichigo said, "Sana said something about a misunderstanding."

His eye diverted, and Byakuya wanted to pull them back.

"She said you still loved me… I never really thought you stopped, but I don't see how that changes anyth-"

Ichigo was cut off by the feeling of a warm tongue plundering the confines of his mouth and soft lips pressing against his own with a purpose. Sakura consumed him like a warm embrace, and all he could taste was the ginger flavored humidity of Byakuya's breath and a deep sensation of longing while a hand held tightly to his hair from the roots, vacuum sealing their lips.

On Ichigo's part, like it was purely muscle memmory, he fell right back into Byakuya's touch without hesitation. His hands remembered all the correct places to caress and ways to move, and they did so frantically. Their bodies were desperate, undernourished, and seeking satisfaction in the form of lapping tongues and wondering hands. They plunged and savored, kissing, licking and nibbling at ever patch of skin the other's face and neck had to offer, letting their hands instinctually graze each others body. Ichigo's whimper like moan soared into the nobleman's mouth and fluttered like butterfly wings in his chest cavity, making Byakuya pull them closer together.

They reluctantly broke apart and supported their foreheads against each others, filling the minuet space with heavy pants.

Byakuya grabbed the man's chin, and internally, he vowed to never let go again. "Didn't I tell you not to let anyone else touch your body this way unless they make you feel as I do."

"What is this, Byakuya?" He asked, "Is this just you losing your will again?"

"No. This is me finding my will." He ran a thumb over Ichigo's lips. That coarseness, that scent, the press of their hands together, it was all the same. This wasn't a dream. On the contrary, Byakuya had never felt so awake. "I should've asked you ten years ago, but if I'm not too late, I want you to be mine." When Ichigo's face widened, Byakuya asked, "Have I missed my oppu-"

It was Byakuya's turn to be cut off by Ichigo's answering lips, lips that both scolded and comforted.

"Idiot," Ichigo admonished through bruising kisses, "I've always been yours."

So much wasted time stood between them, and they needed so much more to abolish it. Skin to skin, pulse to pulse, they needed to feel it all. Ichigo's lips teased the hollow of Byakuya's collar bone, and he ran his nose up skin of the nobleman's neck in an indulgent track, as if he was attempting to imprint Byakuya's scent to memory. Byakuya craned his head back to allow Ichigo more reign, and Ichigo took full advantage, dragging his lips against every inch of the noble's blushed and pulsating neck. "Kami… I love the way you smell, 'Kuya."

Ichigo cupped Byakuya's cheek. Only, sitting on his finger was a reminder of their mistakes, and it burned Byakuya to the touch. The jewel mocked them with it's arduous labor, like a stack of paperwork that you just didn't want to start, but you knew had to be completed if you could continue your day with any sense of peace.

Byakuya kissed Ichigo's palm just atop the ring, the warmth of his lips acting as a silent affirmation of their next steps.

Ichigo clenched his hand. He didn't realize something so little could feel so heavy.

"And I have missed the way you taste, Ichigo." Licking his lips, he placed Ichigo's palm on his cheek. "Let me taste more?"

Ichigo nodded to confirm he understood. "I have to handle something, and then you can taste whatever you want."

Byakuya nuzzled his cheek against the palm cupping it and said, "I'll be here when you return."

With one last glance at his lover, Ichigo bit his lip and kissed Byakuya once more

"I-I can't continue anymore until-"

"I know," Ichigo said just above a whisper. "I just missed that. I'll be back soon. I need an hour at most."

Byakuya nodded. "Go."

xXx

When Ichigo entered his living quarters, he found Akira sitting on the ledge of a window seal with his knees pulled up to his chest and a cup of tea in his hands. He stared aimlessly into the darkness of their division courtyard, and something about him looked so cold.

"Akira…" Ichigo said as he took controlled steps towards the man. "You're still up."

The man sipped his tea and talked only to the moon. "Of course, I am. I knew we'd have things to talk about."

Guilt claimed Ichigo's words as he opened his mouth to speak. He didn't even know where to start. How do you break someones heart? How do you tell a person they were just a stepping stone in someone else's love story? There were somethings you just couldn't train for.

Akira deserved more than this. He deserved more than feeble apologizes and tear filled tea cups. He deserved a love that was as full and boundless as the sky. He deserved his years back, his time and efforts, but all Ichigo could give him was goodbye.

"Yeah, we do," Ichigo said. The silence that sat suspended between them seemed to make the room darker if at all possible. They both existed as blurred silhouettes, barely perceivable to each other, and Ichigo wondered if they had always been that way, as if, from the very beginning, they were destined to end up in this room together. To each other, they were always just shadows of themselves.

Just as he found the courage to speak again, Akira said, "I wish you would just get this over with."

"Get what over with?"

The sound of his tea cup clanking against the seal and a few sniffling tears echoed through the room. "I guess I always knew this would happen, I just didn't want to believe it. It's as much my fault for buying into this fairy tail when I knew it was doomed from the beginning."

"You know then?" Ichigo asked, wondereing why everything sounded so loud except their voices. They spoke only in utterances.

Akria let lose a wet, ironic chuckle before bestowing Ichigo with emerald eyes tainted by betrayal and desolation.

"Dear, you reek of sakura, and I can fell his pressure lingering all over you." Blinking in repetition, a few stray tears strolled down his cheeks. "His hands have touched you all over."

Ichigo felt every bit of Akira's disgust as if it was his own. Perhaps because it was. It a novice mistake, and completely human of him, but it was also one he wasn't sure was ever avoidable, because if he had've know what he was doing was wrong, he would've never hurt Akira intentionally. That was the point of this all, wasn't it? He died before even realizing what it meant to be in love. He was still learning, stumbling for each wobbly step. Now he understood that loving someone wasn't just a feeling, but a skill.

Now he also understood what it meant to break a person for mercy.

"I'm guessing you came here to rid yourself of me so you can be with him without guilt. That's fine, but please, end this farce quickly. I do not wish to draw this out."

"Akira, I never meant for it to be this way…I…" That was it. It felt as if there should be more to say. Ichigo wanted more to say, but that was it. His one pathetic truth, how meaningless it sounded.

"The sad part is, I know that's true," Akria said. "You probably didn't even realize what you were doing."

With tiny steps, Ichigo came closer. The moon threatened to expose his tears. "Don't," Akira said, "…just, could you please leave? I know this is your place, but I'm assuming you'll be retuning to him… and I need to gather my things. I just…need some time."

Through the dark, Ichigo stared helplessly. This didn't feel right, going off to live happily with Byakuya while leaving Akira alone with an anguish he caused. It was unfair and made Ichigo feel a vibrant loneliness for the man.

If this was a cliche love story, Akira would be portrayed as the bad guy, jealous or abusive, maybe some variation of both to make it seem okay that he was abandoned, nothing but the coldness of his solitude of keep him company. It would feel justified, and the pain would sting less, but there were no bad guys in this story, just three men who underestimated the complexity of love.

All that was left was the acceptance of that unsettled guilt and of the things he could not change. All that was left was to walk away.

He sat the ring on a nearby table, and the sound reverberate louder than anything he'd ever heard. That was what the death of a bond sounded like.

"I know this doesn't make it any better… but I…I had already decided when he kissed me, when I kissed him back. I just want you to know that my decision wasn't because of him, but because I didn't want to hurt you anymore."

When only silence followed, Ichigo reached out for the door and took his leave.

With only the darkness the hold him, Akira surrender his sorrow to the shadows.

xXx

Ichigo chose to shower in the squad barracks and changed into a yutaka he kept in his office before he headed back towards Byakuya's estate. Guilt clung to him like a bad stench, but no amount of scrubbing would cleanse him of that.

Upon his return, the sight of Byakuya sitting gracefully on his haunches in the middle of a futon made Ichigo's breaths heavier. His plum nighttime yutaka covered him loosely and gave way to patches of sendal smooth ivory skin, skin lavished by falling strands of raven that escaped the hold of two wooden hairpins he wore. Suddenly, every bit of somber remorse he had became worth it. It was such a small payment to be the only eyes privileged to this side of Byakuya.

This part of Byakuya belonged only to Ichigo.

There was no denying that Byakuya Kuchiki was a work of art, a whole lustrous landscape. In every part of him, there was something new to explore. There were the hills of soft muscles that canvased his supple frame. His curves, oh how they dipped and arched like valleys. In those heavy slate eyes, one could get lost as they did in a blizzard. Then there were the scents and taste that exuded from the noble. They were so divine that it was as if the gods made their wine exclusively from the flavors plucked from Byakuya's vineyard. Even more magnetizing was the virility of the noble's powers and how they hummed around him like a song of redemption. In Byakuya's nature, there was such a rawness, and Ichigo desired to explore every inch of his wilderness once more, feast upon every holy fruit his limbs had to offer.

They stared quietly for a long time, enjoying to simple act of observation. Finally, from his kosodo, Ichigo pulled out two argent hairpins and preceded to pull up his hair also.

"You kept them after all this time?"

"Of course," Ichigo said as he wrapped hair along the adornments. When the noble regarded him with mild shock, Ichigo's eyes cut him through the darkness. "We've spent enough time apart. This isn't the time to be coy, Byakuya. They were always with me, even when I couldn't wear them."

"They look stunning on you," Byakuya said, appraising the man with dreamy eyes, "better than I imagined."

"Did you imagine me a lot?" Ichigo asked, taking slow, deliberate steps towards the futon.

"All the time."

Bit by bit, Ichigo ran fingers across the cloth of his obi, pulling at the fabric in a teasing manner. "There's no need to use your imagination anymore, because I'm right here. The real thing is always better anyway," he said as the wrap slipped from the tips of his fingers and dropped to the floor.

Byakuya bit his lip as he admired the excruciatingly slow display, and rolled his eyes over the perfection that was Ichigo's sculpted body, taking in everything. He looked the same. He was the same, only with the sexual prowess of a confident man. There was no sign of the innocence Ichigo once held, and that both saddened and excited Byakua.

He could practically taste the man already, and his mouth salivated with a hunger. "I believe I'll have to test this theory, which we can only do by enacting each fantasy one… by… one," Byakuya said, his lips twisting into a playful smirk.

The seduction of Byakuya's words made Ichigo's toes curl in excitement, yet he took his time, gradually removing his yutaka and opening himself up for the attentive eyes of his lover.

"That sounds like it could take a long time. We better get started right away."

"If you are vigilant, I have no doubt that we'll complete the task tonight."

Ichigo stared Byakuya down as if daring him to look away, but the noble didn't flinch. He placed both thumb in the waist band of his hamaka and smoothly drifted the fingers to his hips. With a smirk, he paused his seductive shedding.

"Hey, Byakuya, you've stopped being stubborn." Ichigo felt parched from this anticipation. "Do ya know what that means?"

A heat painted Byakuya's skin at the thought as he recalled Ichigo's resolute declaration made all those years ago. This was the first time anyone would ever be inside of him.

Instead of focusing on the heat exposing his bashfulness, Byakuya followed the lines of Ichigo's figure, admiring the perfect geometry of it all. He reveled in the idea of trailings those lower abdominal cuts straight to Ichigo's harden loins. He was sure his eyes were screaming with impatience.

"It mean's you have a promise to keep, and you are a man of your word, Kurosaki Ichigo, right?"

Ichigo's eye's glazed over, and his mouth went dry at a ruddy and bordering on sexually timid Byakuya. The rare sight made Ichigo's cock twitch with a need to make the noble lose control. He wanted to devour his screams.

It had been too long, so painfully long. So long that he could no longer hold out. He made his way to the futon without words, and Byakuya met him with the same eagerness, leaning forward on his knees. Byakuya placed soft kisses on Ichigo's abdomen and dipped a tongue into his navel while ridding his lover of the impeding hakama. He took Ichigo into his mouth, and they both moaned in instant gratification. There was so much relief in their little grunts and whines, like the alleviation one felt when they sat down after a long day on their feet. Only Byakuya and Ichigo had been on their feet for ten years, and at Byakuya's meticulous applications, they could feel the pain slowly draining from their worn forms.

Ichigo craned his head back and allowed Byakuya reign over his pleasure. He placed an encouraging hand on Byakuya's head, but he did not attempt to guide the man's movements. Certainly, a talent like Byakuya needed no help. So he just enjoyed the symphony of slurps playing at his ears, and when he came so intensely into his lovers awaiting mouth, Ichigo had to brace himself, lest he crumble from euphoria. He felt both broken down and reborn in the light of Byakuya's touch.

Byakuya intertwined their fingers and pulled Ichigo back with him. As he hovered over his lover, Ichigo almost didn't know where to start. There was too much to sample, and it was all his. Byakuya was all his.

One thing was for sure, tonight he would make Byakuya dance. They'd tango with the sheets, get lost to the rhythm of their racing hearts, and by morning light, there wouldn't be a singled move they hadn't preformed.

From bruised lip to inflamed lions, muscles and tendons were circumnavigated with the pointed ends of a hair stick as if they were trying to map each others bodies, because this was more than sex. It was an exploration. Together, they traversed each other's bodies, gauging it's capabilities and testing it's limits. They lingered every where, taking their time in this erotic expedition, and when Ichigo began his preparation, even that was done with the thoroughness of a treasure hunter. Oil dripped from the tips of Ichigo's fingers, trickling down Byakuya's body until his back arched, pleading for further contact, and Ichigo just watched, both curious and encapsulated by lust. When their bodies finally met, Ichigo felt as if he discovered the core of Byakuya's universe. In that soft warmness laid his greatest riches, and Ichigo probed deeply, thrusting, diving, until he could get no deeper, but it was never enough. He was chasing that high, only wanting to be swallowed up by Byakuya until he was consumed with the ecstasy that was joining with his lover. This love, if just for tonight, he wanted it to eat him alive.

xXx

Byakuya woke up swaddled in warmth. His eye's cracked and were met by rays of light filtering through the paper doors of his quarters. Everything seemed brighter, and the day felt a bit lighter than the morning prior. Colors held an unforeseen vibrancy, and he swore his bed had been replaced by a mound of plush and feathers. He shifted against the body spooning his and sank deeper into the shelter of strong arms. Byakuya felt creamy, and for passing moments, nothing existed outside of that hold.

They were castaways content with seclusion, and this futon was their island. They felt safe from all they'd have to face.

Ichigo's fingers drifted idly over one of Byakuya's arms, and Byakuya could feel the admiration of honey eyes on him. He smiled subtly. "Will this be recurring, you staring holes into me?"

Ichigo shifted and snorted right into his lover's ear. His voice was laced with sleepiness. "Like I'd stare at you, it's not like you're beautiful or anything."

"You're a horrible liar, Ichigo, among other things."

"Yeah, what other things?"

Byakuya turned into Ichigo's hold and rested his head underneath the pointed chin of his lover. "Warm," he said with a sigh.

Ichigo huffed and tightened their embrace. "So that's why you keep me around, huh? I see how it is."

"Do not discredit yourself, Ichigo. I also keep you for your above par love making skills."

Ichigo smirked as he rolled Byakuya onto his back and landed on top of him. "Then I better keep my skills sharp," he said, pushing himself into his still lose lover.

They fell into a barrage of sloppy kisses and gyrating hips all over again. Byakuya wrapped his legs around Ichigo's waist, rising his hips to meet the enthusiastic applications of his lover. Deep inside of him, he could feel Ichigo's cock twitch against his prostate, and Byakuya moaned out for more, clawing at his lovers back as if to express this need. Ichigo read the signals of Byakuya's body perfectly, as he lifted the legs of his lover around his neck and began to pump faster and with much more depth than before. Unable to control his groans of intense satisfaction, Byakuya used the back of his palm to muffle the sounds, much to Ichigo's displeasure.

He removed Byakuya's stymie hand and held both wrist hostage above his head. "Don't you dare. I want to hear you scream for me, Byakuya."

And scream he did. He was still so wet and raw from the night before, and Ichigo was so forceful In his lustful drive that it couldn't be contained.

They moved faster, their sweaty, pique bodies slipping against each other, causing perfect friction. Byakuya was dripping with Ichigo's many release from the night before, but he wanted more. He wanted to be filled again, overcame by Ichigo's warmth. How he went his who life without this was unimaginable.

Somehow he managed to remove himself from Ichigo's grasp and take the upper position. Grinding circles on Ichigo's cock, he looked down at the man and said, "Perhaps it is I who will make you scream, Ichigo."

Ichigo smirked at his lover and gently pulled him down by the chin, bringing him in for a bout of finishing kisses.

They climaxed in tandem, and it was delicious, more satisfying than any breakfast could ever be. Once finished, they landed side by side back in each others arms. Byakuya felt a certain unfamiliar bareness, and all his words hid from his tongue. It was both uncomfortable and wonderful at the same time.

As the noble lazily drew circles on Ichigo's back with the tip of his finger, Ichigo said, "You look like you want to say something."

"I am afraid I may ruin this by speaking."

Ichigo smirked. "You're probably right." When Byakuya tutted in disapproval, he said, "This isn't just some dream, Byakuya. This is real."

"I believe that is what terrifies me," Byakuya said, ingraining the feeling of Ichigo's hair to memory as he kneaded the unruly stands between two fingers.

"Not everything that makes you happy will be taken away," Ichigo said before he brushed his lips again Byakuya's sweetly. "And if someone tries to take this away, we'll fight for it."

Byakuya perked an amused brow. "And Kurosaki Ichigo never losses a fight, yes?"

"Hey, I even got you, eventually."

Byakuya smiled with his eyes and said, "We must get up and face the day."

"I was afraid you were going to say that," Ichigo said with a tiny groan.

"We have all the time in the world to languish away in bed, but we have responsibilities that must be attended."

"Yeah, I know," Ichigo said as he got to his feet. "All my friends and family are showing up today. I have to explain why there won't be a wedding. " He scoffed and ran a hand over his exasperated face. "That's going to be a fun conversation." He turned around at the feeling of comforting lips pressing against the back of his shoulder.

"If you would like, I'd be willing to do this with you after my clan meeting."

Ichigo perked an eyebrow. "You'd actually deal with my crazy family?"

"If I am with you, I do not get to pick an choose the most desirable parts, Ichigo. Furthermore," he said, cutting his eyes away briefly, "this is partially my fault."

"No. Trust me, theres enough blame to go around for everyone, but the Akira situation was my screw up," he said, slumping his shoulders.

Byakuya claimed Ichigo's hand and kissed his palm. "It is one bad day, one of which we'll get through together."

Wrapping his arms around Byakuya, he brought his mouth up the his lovers flushed lob and whispered, "I think I'm liking this positive Byakuya."

"Then come shower with him, yes?" Byakuya asked, peppering kisses up and down his lovers extended neck.

Ichigo bit his lip at the temptation of his nude and willing lover tantalizing him with soft touches. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you wanted us to be late.

Smirking lips pressed against Ichigo's jawline. "You have foiled my plans, Kurosaki Ichigo."

Ichigo grabbed Byakuya's hand and guided them towards the bathing quarters. "Foiled? Nah, I think I'm aiding them."

xXx

Ichigo strolled through the streets near his barracks deep in thought. Byakuya and himself agreed that the noble would meet him at his house to deal with the semantics of wedding cancellations together, but Ichigo was staring to wonder if it be better dealt with alone. Not only did Ichigo not want to subjugate Byakuya to the awkwardness that would be explaining his and Akira's separation, but the two had just reunited. So drunk off their mutual affection they were, the two may have been seeing things through careless eyes. Maybe they should've been moving slower, but Ichigo didn't know how to do things half heartedly, especially not when it came to Byakuya. He was a rush in head first kind've man, and they'd been wistfully in love with each other for over a decade, so it wasn't as if they needed to test the waters. What existed between them, it was an all or nothing type romance. It always had been. They demanded that of each other. Only now, instead of nothing, it was all.

Truth be told, Ichigo felt a sense of liberation as he walked with the Kuchiki hairpins in place. The cloak he shrouded his heart in had been removed, and it now thumbed freely, no longer muffled by secret desires. It was an amazing feeling. He was weightless.

When he opened the door to his living quarters, what Ichigo saw made him halt in disbelief. He considered that his residual guilt was playing tricks on his eyes, because his mind didn't want to believe it. On the floor, prone, ashen, and dreadfully still, laid Akira.

Panic pushed right through Ichigo's state of denial, and he rushed towards the man. He dropped to his knees, taking in the form of his ex lover.

Akira was a ghost, lips painted blue as if he'd been kissing death. Not a sound resonated from him. He was filled with nothing, just a cold vessel. Ichigo panicked and called out his name. He didn't know what to do. It was obvious the man was long gone, but he began administering C.P.R anyway, unable to accept the ghoulish reality. He called for help, shouting helplessly before he attempted give Akira's lungs air that they just wouldn't take.

Over and over he did this until everything began to spin.

xXx

It was ironic that the last day of Byakuya's life was the one of which he felt the fullest. Ichigo was simply his last meal before he was delivered from this world by the equitable hands of death. Death was not sentient. It didn't take life subjectively. It was a force that manifested in everyones life, catalyzed by the choices they made. It was an inevitable consequences that could only be suspended for so long, and that was if you were lucky. Byakuya had been luckier than most men, and if he had made the most of that luck, perhaps he would have kept death at bay for just a bit longer.

His luck dwindled. He spent it as if it was endless like his wealth, but eventually, it withered and faded. Now, at the end of it all, his life was like an unkempt garden, a grave yard for dead flowers. But just for one singular moment, those flowers vibrated against the soil as if a new sprout would be born from their slow decay, as if rejecting death.

It had bee too late. The hope of growth was a happy illusion, or perhaps a gimps, a gimps of what he could be if only he'd stop watering dead flowers. He could pluck them from their roots, scatter the corpses, and from their fallen bodies, more life could grow. He just had to give up on these, dead, dead flowers.

It all started the morning after his first and last night with Ichigo. He was meeting with the elders, and the sun peeked just above the tree line like the crowning head of a new born. Everyone talked about a moment of sudden onset clairvoyance when you're approaching the end of your life, like you just knew, and maybe for some people they could feel the force of death's attraction pulling them under, but for Byakuya, he had been so magnatized by the idea of being alive and happy with Ichigo that he let his guard down. He couldn't even sense death, because how could anything contend with the vitality of being in love?

It didn't matter, because by this point, it was too late to change anything.

"Byakuya-san, we have some terrible news," the clan elder said, his eyes reflecting the flickering candles that gave vigil to the councils grim expressions. "Sana's family, as you know, were suspicious about your accounts of what happened, so they utilized one of their privet spies to watch your actions." When Byakuya's face blanched, and his throat visibly tightened, the elder said, "I suppose I do not have to tell you what they found or how bad this looks, Byakuya-san?"

Nodding his head, Byakuya said, "You are right. What actions are they going to take?"

"They believe you had Sana murdered to be with your lover. They want your head," he said bluntly, "and they want a war between our clans if it means getting it. Perhaps I can convince them that your removal into isolation would be best, but unless you can offer us some knowledge of Sana's whereabouts, there will be no easy way out of this predicament."

"My story regarding Sana will stay the same, but I hope the members of this counsel know me well enough to believe me when I say that I did nothing to hurt her," Byakuya said, his fingers twitching compulsively.

"It is not our place to say if we believe you or not, but to stand by you. Whatever decision you make, we shall support it." He waved his hand in dismissal and said, "Leave now and consider your options. We shall reconvene later."

For a moment, Byakuya couldn't move his feet. He had been frozen by shock, but somehow, he ended up outside of the elder's meeting hall without even recalling the journey.

He considered his options as he slowly walked towards Ichigo's. He knew what the old Byakuya would do. It was as clear as the rapidly approaching fall. He'd sacrifice himself for his clan sake, and truthfully, he was wondering if that was still the right thing to do.

This was his fault. If he hadn't of ran away from love like a fearful child, this would've never happened. He couldn't allow the samurais of his clan to take the brunt of his bad choices, but at the same time, he couldn't make this decision without Ichigo. Not this time.

What his lover had said to him that morning stirred freshly inside of him, that they'd face the worst of this world together. So after over a decade of making choices that effect both him and Ichigo without giving consideration to Ichigo's feelings on the matter, he couldn't make that same mistake.

When he arrived at Ichigo's, it still hadn't completely hit him. He had just reunited with his love, and in an instant, that could all be erased once more. The reality of it was coursing through his blood, gradually making it's way to every organ until he had no choice the face the enviable. No matter what, nothing would be the same again. He stood in front of the door blankly, blinking at the wood. Right there in that moment, all he wanted was to see Ichigo's shinning face and not think about the possibility of losing it, losing him.

After what seemed like a century, he opened the door.

Throngs of people filled the small quarters. It was bulging, and Byakuya blinked in surprise. He knew people would be here, but not this many.

Over fifteen pairs of pain drenched eyes looked towards him as he entered, as if to explain themselves without words. All of Ichigo's friends and family, Rukia and Renji, Urahara and Yoruichi, pluse, for some reason, members of the fourth division. The air was somber, and the only noise was the sound of whimpering tears. The only light was what little sun filtered in through the cracks in the curtains, and like billows of smoke, a thickness rolled over everyone's spiritual pressure, making it hard too see, burning at the eyes.

He knew it. Something terrible happening had occurred here. It stained the room and everyone in it like blood, reeked to the senses. This place was a haunted house.

"Where is Ichigo?" Byakuya asked. He didn't have to. Deep inside, he already knew, but he needed to here it.

Rukia looked at him with wide eyes. Tears jiving in them, almost like a death dance. "Nii-sama… Ichigo… Ichigo… he's…" That was all she could manage before turning her face back into Renji's embrace. When Byakuya looked to him for answers, his eyes swayed away.

"Byakuya," Yourichi said, coming to stand in front of them. Her face looked both hard and soft, and Byakuya didn't know what to do with that. "Listen, you've heard of the kido infused poison pills that soul reapers would take with them on especially dangerous missions, right?"

"Of course. In case they're to get caught by an enemy. It is to avoid torture."

"Yeah," she said breathlessly, smiling hugely. Although there was nothing happy about it. It looked wrong on her. "And you know only kido masters can make them because of how it has been misused in the past. It's very effective. If even a tiny amount is ingested, it's automatic death."

Byakuya leered in confusion. "Yes… but I don't understand."

"Akira-san took some last night… and what we think happened…what we think happened…" She dipped her head, and her fist shook uncontrollably by her sides. "Ichigo tried to give him C.P.R…and he, well…" She looked up to him, her eyes shimmering in apology for the words she couldn't bring herself to say. "He was wearing hairpins. The ones that Hisana use to wear. You two… were you…" Her question faded. It was redundant at this point.

"…Nonsense," Byakuya said definitively. "Ichigo could not hav- He simply couldn't be gone."

He looked around at the people in the room. All of their wet and porous faces were missing the spark of life, like corpuses cradled by arms of snow.

"Nonsense," he repeated before pushing past a sea of limp shoulders. When he reached the back of the room, he stopped dead at the sight of two white tarps draped over a pair of still figures. One had a crown of orange thicket's poking out. It seemed all too colorful in such a gray room.

Everything changed. Time seemed to be moving in reverse, and Byakuya could only hear arbitrary sounds, like the buzzing of a fly or the way his zanpakuto moved against his hip. All around him, everything was gray. Gray people, gray tears, and a grey room. The only color was that horrible white and that beautiful orange. Byakuya had fallen from one reality into another. He sank through a pit of hot, sticky gray lava.

It was eroding his bones. That's why he fell to his knees. He had disintegrated.

Slowly, his hand pulled at the sheet. He wouldn't believe it until it met his eyes. This was the stuff of wise tales. It was a monster under the bed. Byakuya knew it had to be imaginary, because he didn't believe in a world without Kurosaki Ichigo.

But then there it was, written all over Ichigo's motionless face. His cheeks were still dusted with a slight flush, and his body was still warm to the touch. There was a softness to his every feature. Byakuya wanted to say he was just sleeping. He wanted to shake him awake and tell him what a cruel joke this was, but his Ichigo made little throaty sounds when he slept, or every so often, he'd mumble some gibberish. His Ichigo's nose would twitch, and to Byakuya's dismay, his body could never settle, even at rest. He wanted to tell Ichigo he'd never be bothered by his restlessness again if only he'd just move! He wanted to tell all these people they we're wrong. They didn't know what Ichigo had promised him just earlier that day, that they'd fight through everything together! So badly, he wanted to tell them, but he couldn't.

Years of cold logic and militant self imposed discipline stole away his hysterical denial. It stole everything, hit the panic switch, shutting him down without Byakuyas consent. He was a husk that sensed nothing, felt nothing, who was nothing. Even when he picked up Ichigo's hand and kissed the palm, it felt like he was doing all this through someone else's body. He was slipping, dispersing into the fog of his surroundings until he was nothing but hazy gray.

When he later resurfaced, there were no bodies, but the fog persisted.

There was no crowd, just Rukia and Renji. They were speaking, but their voices sounded so far away. They seemed so far way, eclipsed by gloom, yet they were almost close enough to touch.

"What's going on?" Byakuya asked. His voice, It seemed so low that he wondered if they could possibly make out the words, but the pair turned immediately. Their faces were wide and pinched, and they looked like abstract versions of themselves. They looked like macabre caricatures.

They spoke, and he responded, but Byakuya couldn't make out what he or they were saying. He was on auto polite. The other him, the him created and cultivated by years upon year of emotional restraint under the Kuchiki regimen, stood in his place.

They walked and talked, glided through the static of Seireitei. Immediately, there was a funeral. While others engaged in this sudden and surreal moment of mourning, Byakuya felt nothing. These were just instances, jarring, nothing linear about them, and Byakuya couldn't help but to both love and hate the Kuchiki blood that ran through his veins, the way it forced him into disassociation. It stole his sadness. It stole his grief.

Seconds, hours, days, Byakuya wasn't sure, had passed, and he was in his sleeping chambers. Ichigo was gone, but his scent was still stuck to everything Byakuya possessed, even his own skin. Byakuya was sure the smell would persist through time. He'd never belong to himself again, but to his intangible lover, to the remnants of Ichigo that even death could not destroy.

He felt it, the moment earth's axil started rotating in reverse. Ichigo's scent, it made everything move in a sickly spiral. His world was teetering upon a spinning top.

His knees buckled, unable to hold the weight of his self restraint any longer. The gravity of a life without Ichigo, it outgrew him, pinned him to the ground. He ended up on the floor, face soaked and tears clawing at his throat. A loud indiscernible blackness spilled from his lips. It filled the room until he was left there, alone, submerged by this dark abyss of sorrow There would never be light again

xXx

When he woke a few hours later, there was the briefest moment of blissful ignorance. A transitory confusion. His body creaked and shivered, cold and aching from the hold of the hard floor he'd slept upon. His face was swollen. He could tell by the way just looking through his eyes felt like lifting boulders. Cannons were going off in his head.

Then it hit him. Realization stole the peace of his puzzlement, and a pain that originated in his heart seeped into everything.

His legs carried him as far as the toilet in his bathing quarters. He retched up his despair, but no matter what came out of him, he knew this was a poison that could not be purged. He would feel it's effects everyday. He'd be awoken by the chilling hand of sorrow every morning. It would be in the food that he ate, in the conversations that he had, and in every face he looked at. It would cling to him like a shadow.

He sat silently on the floor, folded up in a corner. He was a sad mess of a man, sweat glistened and bedraggled, closing his eyes as if to reject this reality. But he knew he couldn't. His bones were a prison cell. His life was the terror. There was no escaping. All he could do was sit there and hope time would stop, and so he did. Not even his sense of self preservation was able to swoop in and save him. Not this time.

It wasn't until an attendant knocked at his door to tell him of Rukia's presence that Byakuya was able to find some vestige of sanity.

He splashed cold water on his face, brushed his frumpy hair, and put on a clean yutaka. He did this all with great exertion, forcing movements into limbs that felt atrophic with sorrow.

It was amazing how a person's minds could be afflicted, but they could still move through their day, feigning normal as if life was just one string of theatrical performances. He had done this his whole life, but he was starting to think it was time to close the curtain and leave the stage.

You see, this was worse than Hisana in so many ways. Not only had he lost Ichigo and, at best, lost his position as head of his clan, but it was all his fault. Every single choice he had made was a stepping stone towards his own destruction. If only he had followed the path that his heart so blatantly plotted for him, there would've never been an Akira or a Sana. He would've never lost his position, and Ichigo would've never lost his life. In the end, he really was the one to kill Kurosaki Ichigo. He did so with the one thing stronger than his blade; his love.

How do you go on living in a world full of nothing but self induced consequences and regrets? How does a person even breath in a place like that?

Thats when Byakuya realized, you don't. Or, at lest, you don't have to.

He walked out into the foyer and saw Rukia. Her whole body looked heavier, and the air around her sagged. Still, he knew she would be fine. She had a husband, a division, friends, things in this life worth living for. She was strong, much stronger than him.

"Nii-sama…" she said, and the title sat un-rushed between them, tired. Simple words, they felt exasperating.

"Rukia, how are you?"

"As good as can be expected." She looked up to him with red eyes, eyes that matched his own. "I was worried about you. Earlier, at the funeral, you didn't seem…. well, you didn't seem right. It was as if you were held together, but you didn't seem really there."

No more performing. "Truthfully, I was not. I believe I was in some sort've shock."

At first, Rukia said nothing. She didn't know what to do with such honesty. Finally, she nodded slightly and asked, "Nii-sama, I think I know what happened, but I need to be sure. You and Ichigo, you two were…"

"Yes," Byakuya said without hesitation, and the veracity of his words caused tears to run down Rukia's cheeks.

"I am so sorry," she said, eyes wailing like a siren.

"Do not apologize to me. I do not deserve such sentiments."

She looked as if she wanted to contest, but something in her knew better. She simply nodded again. "When we saw the hairpins and how he wasn't wearing his ring, we all put it together. Akira, he killed himself when Ichigo left him… and… and… well, you know the rest."

Byakuya closed his eyes and took deep, deliberate breaths. Ichigo's death took with it half of Byakuya's breathable oxygen, and he could not survive like that. Such a pitifully depleted air supply would not suffice the pumping of his heart. "Yes, I do."

"I know this might not help," she said, coming closer step by tiny step, "but it's been something that I keep things about. Something that makes it easier." When Byakuya prompted her with a perked brow, she continued, "When Ichigo first came to Soul Society for good, he felt like he lost all of his chances to live a normal life. Well, now," she stammered on, tears grasping at her throat in a vice, "he has that chance. The chance for a normal life."

Byakuya eyes widened at that. The words reached down and touched some morsel of happiness that still lived inside of him. "Yes," he said, a subtle smile coming to his lips. "That does help. Thank you, Rukia."

Rukia suddenly threw herself into his arms, morphing their mutual grief into one palpable act of affection. When she let go, she looked up to Byakuya with a fragile smile. "Please take care of yourself, Nii-sama. I'm here if you need me. You really shouldn't go through this alone."

"I will," he said, nodding her off.

As he felt her presence leave the estate, Byakuya thought, 'You are the only person who could make me reconsider, but I am sorry, it is not enough this time.'

xXx

Byakuya sat on his deck, allowing tendrils of wind to caress him with their sweet springtime scent. Peace had found him, and with that, he was able to enjoy the beautiful things that he'd leave behind. Looking out into his garden, he said goodbye.

Arms wrapped around his neck, and he leaned into the comforting chest of his life time companion.

"I am proud of you," Senbonzakura whispered in his ear.

Byakuya tilted his head, only to be met with the bare face of his zanpokuto. "Is that so?"

"I can feel that there is still doubt in you."

Byakuya slid his fingers across the arms that held him. Thoughtfully, he drew circles on the skin. "I am not a man to run away."

"I do not think that is what you're doing. At least, not wholly. It would be a lie to say that you're not escaping the pain of this life for another, but pain, my dear Byakuya, that is where you are the most comfortable." Senbonzakura gently ran his fingers through the black silk of Byakuya's hair, and when he spoke, his voice was like a lullaby. "In fact, living out of fear with no concern for how that fear effects the others around you is selfish in it's own way. You are neither completely selfish nor selfless. You are both running away and running towards something. Life is full of contradictions, but what matters is that you are not making a decision out of fear. You are learning."

Byakuya sunk deeper into his sword spirit. His whole body was numbly content. "Your clan could go to war if you did not chose to offer your life up as repentance. Many would die, all for your consequences. Samurais, to us, there is a great honor in death and choosing how one dies. That is what the sakura represents for us, is it not? The humbleness of death?"

"Yes."

"Yes, so you will die, Byakuya, but there is an honor in that, and it is only in body, but not soul. You will be reincarnated and live once more. You see, you have exerted your chances. Living out of fear, you have ended up right where you wanted to be, isolated, but it is not how empty or full your cup is that really matters. What matters is that your cup is refillable. You are choosing that, choosing the great unknown. That is a frighting journey to embark on.

"Yes," Byakuya agreed, smiling softly, "beautifully so."

xXx

His execution was set for dawn, but for one more night, he was still Byakuya Kuchiki. He was still the man who was lucky enough to know Kurosaki Ichigo, to claim Ichigo as his love. For one more night, that man existed, and Byakuya would pay tribute to him.

First, he lit a candle for Hisana. Then he left a note on Rukia's division desk that simply read, 'I am proud of you.' Finally, he had built up the courage to say his last goodbye. It was always the hardest ones that we saved till the end.

Ichigo's barrack had been untouched. He wondered how long it would stay like this, if this room would become a museum of Ichigo's legacy. Only Byakuya knew better. It was not material items that would preserve Ichigo for all the time to come, but the people of which his memories lived inside.

On Ichigo's futon laid his captain haori. Usually, captains were buried in them, but in the shock of Ichigo's passing, it had been forgotten. Byakuya knelt down beside the futon and picked up the garment. He held it close, reveling in the scent that marked it as Ichigo's. Desperately, he clung to it. This one last thing, it tethered him to this life.

"Ichigo," he spoke aloud, "If you could speak to me, I am certain you would try to change my mind. You were so determined to save every life that you didn't realize that sometimes all there was left to do was walk away." He paused, caressing the fabric in his hands with wistful touches. "That was what made you so beautiful. I know you would worry about Rukia, but she is strong. Yes, she will be devastated, but she has everything to live for. She will be fine without me."

"Senbonzakura was right. I will never be a completely selfish nor a selfless man, and I will always sacrifice something, because that is the essence of life. To get you must give. But for once, I am not acting out of fear. I am not running away, because yes, a life without you is a miserable one at best, but I have built an island out of sorrow." Warm tears pooled in Byakuya's eyes, and he allowed them to fall freely. They stained the haori in his arms, and Byakuya thought that when morning came, this would be the only evidence that their love ever existed. "I do not fear sorrow. I could live in that familiar pain, brimming with gratitude that I got to keep the memory of our short time together. No," Byakuya continued, his tears rapidly turning into broken sobs, "I fear a world where you never existed. To me, giving up our memories, that is both my greatest sacrifice and my biggest fear, but I will do it, because you taught me that the possibility of happiness is worth risking everything for."

"I am sorry," he whispered. "With my death, I am taking with me all proof that we ever loved at all, and I despise that, because you were the most beautiful thing about me. Our moments together, they were short and complicated, but those instances, please understand that they were my greatest accomplishments… It is hard to not grieve for all things we will never have in this life. There were so many things I wanted to tell you, explanations I wanted you to hear. I looked forward to all the things I would share with you that I had kept only to myself for so long, but do not fret, my love. In our last night together, a life time passed between us. Every beautiful thing we could've had was real and possible in that moment. In that moment, there was marriage and children and growing old. A future filled with possibilities, we had it all for the briefest of time, and that was more than I could ever ask for."

His tears became muted, calmer, and all around him was a silence. It was the type of silence that had a sound of it's own. "When I die and am eventually reborn, I will not be the man that I am now. However, a soul retains certain integral aspects from one life to the next. In my next, I will never let fear control me. I will find you, no matter how many reincarnation cycles it takes, and I will love you as you deserve. So this is not my goodbye to you, Ichigo. This is simply goodnight."

Byakuya could've stayed there talking to Ichigo's memory for hours, clutching to a future that would never be, forever stuck in a loop of reflection that would amount to nothing but pain. Or he could get to his feet and proudly move towards a world of new and frightening possibilities.

He inhaled Ichigo's scent one last time before placing the haori back on the futon. Then he stood up and walked towards the exit. When he reached the door, he slid it open and looked behind him one last time.

"Goodnight, my Moonlight."

The boy who waited in the rain.

Epilogue

xXx

Twenty five years later.

"Oh shit!"

Haruko sprinted as fast as his wobbly, overexerted legs would take him when he began to feel the moister of rain droplets hit his face and noted billows of gray clouds rolling in, signaling an impending thunderstorm. The young man had just made it through his first shift as a full fledge veterinarian without looking completely stupid or mistakenly killing someones family pet, and now he had a hot date with some green tea, soba, and his favorite book. Of course, only after he allowed his shower to lavish him in it's alleviating attention.

On the way to the train station, as luck would have it, rain started to pour. He couldn't help but to gripe inwardly. Now he wouldn't just smell of dog, but of wet dog. When it really started to get bad, he took shelter under a Japanese BBQ shop's overhang, stealing the warmth and aroma that emitted out of the restaurant's doors. It only made him yearn deeply for the smells and comforts that his own flat had to offer.

Unruly orange locks hung damply over his intense honey eyes, making beads of water catch in his lashes. He blinked a few times, causing the drops to trail along his peach, sun kissed skin before he wiped the wetness away with the palm of his hands He looked down at his watch and realized his train would be leaving soon, meaning he'd be late for his long awaited date. He wasn't one to keep his bath and sweat pants waiting.

Through the onslaught, he looked off into the direction of his destination, taking note that it was barely within his scope of vision, yet not far away at all. His eyes floated to a proud yet whimsical sakura tree, and he found himself smiling faintly. It almost eluded him in the midst of new job mayhem that spring had finally given way, but the thriving blossoms were always an indication. He loved spring. That lively blush that filled the streets of Japan, floating aimlessly in the zephyr and tickling the earth with it's humbling breath of life, it felt like new beginnings. It was only perfected by the rain washing away the impurities of days past.

Pulling Haruko from his day dreaming was the ache of an old scar on his chest. It wasn't exactly a scar, but a birthmark that looked oddly similar to a knife wound. He actually had two, one on his chest and one on the directly opposite side of his back. His grandmother once told him that birthmarks were indicative to past lives and could be signs of the way people had died or something integral to that life, as if the scar was a manifestation of a souls extreme emotional attachment towards a moment. Haruko always laughed at the thought. It seemed fitting for him to have expired from a blade. He supposed he was even a punk in his past lives too, always causing trouble. Not that he really believed any of that crap. It was all mubo jumbo, voodoo, folk lore to him. Still, if it were true, he had a feeling that the scar was attached to something good, because he often rubbed it compulsively through his shirt when he was nervous, finding that it relaxed him immensely.

Not wanting to take any chances with missing his train, he decided to make a run for it. He took off his backpack followed by his jacket. Then he put his backpack back on and held the jacket over his head as he ran towards the station, dodging puddles and pedestrians on the way.

Once he was nearing the landing station and was out of the rain, he slung his jacket over his shoulder and kept running at a decent speed. Typical of his clumsy self, he felt himself trip, over what he was unsure of. Knowing him, it was probably over the air. Fully expecting his face to have a more intimate relationship with the concert flooring, he closed his eyes and braced himself, only to be surprised by a pair of strong arms wrapping around him protectively, sharing their blood curdling warmth.

A spine tingling baritone filled his ear, making his scar sear intensely.

"You're slow, even when your falling."

When Haruko opened his eyes, he had to blink a few times and swallow down a dry lump. He wasn't all too sure if it was an angel he was looking at or a devil, because it must've been a sin to be this breathtakingly beautiful. For a moment, he took in the striking features and all they had to offer. He looked so soft to the touch with his Ivory skin that seemed as if it would feel of sendal and shoulder length hair that fell across his face like black spun silk. He had a roman nose that looked of nobility and a prominent jaw line that alluded to his dominance. Mixed with deeply hooded coal orbs - hypnotic and surprisingly expressive - and full cherry blossom colored lips, the man was a splendid mosaic of feminine and masculine features.

From the hard press of that lithe torso against his, however, the stranger was certainly all male.

A breath caught, and he was sure his face flushed, but once his faculties and senses caught up to his reeling head, he registered the man's words and his own humiliation.

"What the hell does that mean?" Haruko gathered himself out side of the man's arms with a deep scowl, and he stepped back, putting distance between himself and the man who, if even for just a moment, rendered him impenetrable to all stimulus expect that devilishly angelic face.

The stranger ever so slightly tilted his head in curiosity, and the smallest of coltish smiles crept onto his face. It was subtle, just barely noticeable, but he seemed pleased at what he discovered in Haruko's disposition.

"I saw you running," he explained, "and you were rather slow."

Haruko was unsure if this man was trying to be funny or if he was really just a prick, but his expression looked rather charmed despite only a whisper of a smile pulling at the crevices of his lips.

"Oh yeah? Damn, I guess I'll have to give up my dream of being a track star now." He tutted at the man who seemed unfazed by his flustered sarcasm. "What, are you the reason I tripped? Maybe so you could try out that awful pick up line?.

The stranger's face went slack, bordering on indifferent, but when he spoke, everything he said held this playfully arrogant air to it. "I assure you, you needed no help from me. You did a superb job at tripping over your own feet. Also, I do not use pick up lines." A flash of a smirk graced his face, and his velvety voice became heady with implications. "Nor do I need them."

Flustered and completely caught off guard by this enigmatic man, foxily held and eloquently spoken, seemingly as controlled and deliberate as the steps of a refined dancer, Haruko was sure this stranger was an incubus sent to seduce him into hell. Either way, he scuffed off, scoffing as he did so.

Cocky bastard," he murmured as he slid by the stranger, only sparring one aslant glance as he did so.

"Um, excuse me, sir, do you perhaps feel a little lighter?" Haruko's back taunted at the teasing tonality, and he came to a halt. "What?" he snapped as he turned back to the man. That's when he saw the stranger knelt down on one knee, gathering his backpack and a book that had fallen out with prudent hands.

Harku was whirling in his own embarrassment. How worked up did he have to be that he didn't even notice the lack of twenty plus pounds on his back?

With a soft smile, the stranger held out the backpack and then the book. "You like Sylvia Plath, I see" he noted, looking at the book of poetry and then back to the beautiful shads of crimson offsetting Haruko's scowling face.

"Yeah, and I see you have eyes, captain obvious," he remarked, snatching the book away.

The stranger once again gave him a tentative tilt of the head. "Are you always this obtuse, or is it only to men you find your self attracted to?

Haruko's face looked like a firework, brilliantly bright and open. His poor mouth grappled for words, sputtering adorably. "I-wh-I- I am not! What would make you say something like that?!"

Smirking, the stranger reasoned, "For starters, you're blushing wonderfully. I'm not sure what I fine more endearing, your scowl or that innocent tint of red." Taking note that Haruko's sneer looked no closer to fading, the man chuckled lightly. "Let's start over, shall we? I did not mean to embarrass you."

Haruko softened slightly at the tender words, and he muttered, "Yeah, you kinda come on strong." Sighing, he rubbed at his scar and put on a lop sided grin. "But I guess I can be a pain in the ass myself, heh."

The stranger wore his own momentary blush at the heart throbbing smile of the other man, full of dashing boyish charm. Haruko out stretched his hand and said, "I'm Amachi Haruko."

"Amachi Haruko," he echoed, smiling affectionally as he picked up the hand in his own and bowed. "Sun child of the heavens, it's fitting." In an act of chivalry, he went to press a chaste kiss on the others hand right above the knuckles, but surprised even himself when he carefully tilted the hand and pressed his lips softly against the palm.

Haruko's blush returned with a vengeance and he found himself to shocked to yank his hand away. Hs whole body fluttered, and his birthmark was burning a hole into him at the feeling of petal soft lips twitching against his skin.

The stranger felt undone by the intimacy of just that one shallow joining, and he cleared his throat in hopes of seeming more put together than he felt. "Im Takehiko Kokugatsu. It is a pleasure to meet you."

Gripping his hand that tingled delightfully from Kokugatsu's warm pressure, he compulsively touched it to his mark. It somehow made the burning stop, and he couldn't help but to wonder how Kokugatsu's lips would feel pressed against the scar. Smirking, he said, "Talk about fitting. Your name means warrior prince of the black moon, and with the way you talk, dress, and kiss peoples hands, you'd think you're royalty or something."

"Hardly. I'm simply a gentleman and a gardner." Remembering the smooth hands that felt as if they had never done a hard days work in their lives, Haruko felt bad for his assumptions. More than likely, the man wore gloves while he gardened, which would explain the perfectly unmarked skin yet the speckles of dirt underneath his manicure nails. "I own my own nursery, actually."

Haruko noted the man's pristinely fashionable outfit, and he couldn't help a bit of teasing. "I was going to say, those are some expensive work overalls."

Now it as Kokugatsu's turn to ponder if the other was attempting to be funny or was plainly judgmental. He frowned marginally and tutted, "I'm only dressed like this because I was at a meeting. However, I'll have you know, theres nothing wrong with having money. The more that I have in my cup, the more I can put in others."

The moderately indignant reaction returned Haruko's breezier disposition. He chuckled at the behavior he found oddly endearing. "I was just messing with you, but I'm glad to know I can get under your skin too." The raven colored at his words, and Haruko thought that the sight of the others steely face flushed and abashed was something he could get use to. "I'm a vet, and my goal is to one day make enough money to open a clinic of my own. Trust me, I get it."

"Hm, they say the purity of someone's soul can be gauged in how they treat animals," Kokugatsu mused, a merger smile pulling at his lips. Haruko liked it. He liked how undoubtedly genuine the expression felt, as if this man wasted no smile.

"Maybe," Haruko rebutted, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know how pure I am though," he said with a chuckle, "since I can treat people pretty rudely at times, as you just saw."

"People are often overrated," the gardener poised, a sparkle of mesmerization blooming in his eyes.

"Hence why I'm a vet. I don't know," he found himself explaining for no particular reason, "I grew up with a disabled sister, and a lot of people gave her a hard time. So I learned early on that the world is full of ass holes. I guess that's why I'm pretty defensive with everyone. It helped with protecting her."

At first, Haruko felt embarrassed by the probability that he had overshared. He never did that, not with someone he had just met, but this guy, he had this gravity about him, an effortless pull that drew Haruko from his shell. However, when he looked at Kokugatsu and saw nothing but a warmth and a hopeless intrigue sitting plainly in his eyes, Haruko's face shied away. "It is true that many people are disappointments waiting to happen." The gray of his eyes became as soft and vibrant as the petals of a sakura tree, and Haruko found himself hopping that they weren't as perishable. He found himself wanting to keep them. "However, I think, in the rarest of occasions, we meet people who are worth all that trouble. Rather they love you kindly or break you beautifully, in the end, nothing about knowing them could ever disappoint."

Haruko felt suddenly deprived of something as he stared at Kokugatsu through kaleidoscope covered eyes. He was splendidly abstract. There were no defined edges to this man, not yet, but in him was the promise of something beautiful at every new glance

He was sure he stared for longer than socially appropriate, however, Kokugatsu stared back, and somehow what was considered acceptable didn't matter.

"Amachi Haruko, would you do me the honor of allowing me to take you on a date?"

How many times would this man make Haruko feel out breath today? He turned nervous eyes to his shoes and reminded himself to steady his breathing. "A date? Why would you want to do that?"

Kokugatsu placed the pads of two fingertips under Haruko's chin to tilt his face upward, and Hurko wondered why this man so brazenly touched him, as if it just knew it was welcomed. Haruko didn't particularly like being touched, but when it was Kokugatsu, it felt as if those hands were right where they belonged.

"Why would I not?" The gardner burrowed his intrigued gaze into honey eyes. "I'm certain that I'd be missing out on something grand if I did not express my interest. I'm unsure of why, but something pulls me towards you."

Haruko's inquisitive glare was now just as astringent. "You do seem kind've familiar," he muttered.

Smiling and removing his fingers, Kokugatsu speculated, "Perhaps we knew each other in a past life."

Haruko snorted in humored ridicule, thinking this guy sounded just like his grandmother. "Yeah, and I bet we were sword fighting samurais too."

Casually shrugging a shoulder, the gardener rebutted, "Stranger things have happened." When Haruko chewed at his lips, Kokugatsu asked, "Can I take your lip bitting as a yes, Amachi Haruko?"

"Only if you call me just Haruko," Haruko said, smiling lightly.

"I believe this is a stipulation I can live with."

"So," the vet murmured, gripping nervously against the back of his neck, "Uh, when do you wanna, ya know, go out?"

Devilishly, the raven smirked at the question. "As they say, there is no time like the present."

"Now?" Haruko gaped, "Why the rush?"

"If I am being honest, I have this uncanny feeling that I've missed you before," the gardner explained. "Maybe it is something as simple as us walking past each other on the street without notice, but it nags at me, this sensation that we've slipped passed each other before." His furrow brow relaxed as he went on. "I understand that I may be coming on strong, and this is not my usual way, but something about you entrances me. I am a man who follows my gut, and it is telling me that you are a possibility that may not come around in this life."

There were people in Haruko's life that he instantly clicked with from the moment they met, as if there was something integral to the people they were that made them more inclined to a life long friendship. Although it was rare, it was something that had happened on several occasions, an experience that most people have had at least once or twice in their lives. This, however, felt like chemistry on drugs, Truly a once in a life time type encounter. Haruko never actually believed in destined meetings or once in a life time type anything, but Kokugatsu was turning him into a believer.

The gardeners words could be easily degraded to a smooth, Shakespearian type pick up line, and maybe they were, and maybe Haruko was just falling for cheep tricks and a pretty face, but Kokugatsu's words almost perfectly mirrored the way Haruko felt, and he thought something like that was worth all the possible ways it could end badly.

"I mean, I already had a pretty hot date with some soba and my bed. So, I don't know.." Haruko said, smirking playfully.

Kokugatsu brushed a stand of damp hair off of Haruko's eyelid. "I believe they'll understand you having to reschedule," he said. "I do believe I'm slightly more entertaining than soba, but I shall let you be the judge of that."

Haruko shuttered, and his eye's floated over to his now bordered train leaving the station. "Oh look." He grinned and took a step forward. "I missed my train. I guess I have no choice but to go with you."

"Oh dear," the gardener deadpanned, "you must be so disappointed."

"Very," Haruko quipped as an uncontainable smile brightened his face.

Haruko shivered a bit from the wetness of his clothes, and Kokugatsu took off his own jacket and wrapped in around the vet's shoulders. When Haruko muttered a nervous thanks, Kokugatsu gestured out a hand and directed the man back towards the stairwell. "Shall we?"

The young man nodded, using one hand to hold the jacket and the other to tickle at his scar.

"I notice you touch your chest often. Is there a reason?"

"It's just a habit I have. Theres a birthmark on my chest and a matching one between the shoulders. It actually kind've looks like an entrance and exit wound of a weapon. Anyway, I guess touching it always relaxed me."

The bewildered stare he received had Haruko wondering what he could have said wrong, but the soft smile that finally greeted him took away any trepidation. "That's odd, I, too, have a birthmark that resembles a wound." Smirking, he leaned in and whispered, "It seems as if my past life theory is gaining more ground."

"Because thats so much more logical than a mere coincidence," the vet taunted lightheartedly. "Where are we going, anyway? I'm expecting something awesome for giving up food and slumming it in wet clothes."

"I figured I could show you my nursery fist," the gardner suggested. "I have something much dryer you could change into."

Haruko gave the man a dubious glare. Hesitantly, he said, "Okay..but If you do anything weird or happen to actually be a serial killer, and you try burying me in that garden of yours, I'm a third degree black belt, and if you take me out, I'm least taking one of your limb with me."

With complete seriousness, the gardner remarked, "I would never do such a thing. At least not in the garden, you'd make awful fertilizer for my tomatoes."

Haruko chuckled nervously and put on an apprehensive smile. "You scare me, Kokugatsu. The way you joke with such a hard face, I can't be sure if you're serious or not."

Kokugatsu chuckled dryly as they approached the stairwell. Turning to the man, he intertwined their hands, as if it was something they did all the time. "Do not fret, we have plenty of time to figure out each others quirks. As for my nursery, there are many employees there during this time of the day, so you don't have to feel nervous. Perhaps, after you dry off, we can even make time for some of this soba that you crave. There's a shop by my shop."

As the two acceded the stairs, Haruko felt the radiant rays of the sun wash over his face. Stopping under a sakura tree, Haruko looked up at the blossoms dripping water droplets with a pleasant appreciation, enjoying the manner of which the moist petals caught the light. "Look, the rain stopped."

Smiling at the sunbathed face of Haruko, Kokugatsu thought of all the possibilities that existed between them. He didn't know what the future held for them, but for the first time in a long time, he felt genuinely excited about the uncertainty, because within that plethora of possibilities lived the chance of something amazing. "Yes, it seems it has."