Title: Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well

Author: Bakageta

Summary: In which Byakuya is unsure of how to proceed with his long neglected love life.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything recognizably Bleach.

Warnings: slight spoilers for the end of the Soul Society arc.

For: Arwen Dark Sorceress of Fate, you are the continual awesome.

Side Note: This one shot takes place before Hinamori wakes up.

xxxx

The climate in Seireitei tends to be, in the grand scale of things, rather mild. Snow comes for only one or two weeks during winter unless some unfortunate Shinigami incurs the wrath of Hitsugaya. The heat of summer remains balmy, tending not to reach above ninety degrees, though the coolness of Seireitei's summers could also be attributed Hitsugaya.

The weather, however, hadn't been on the minds of Seireitei's occupants for a long, long time. No Shinigami had cared much about the weather after the betrayal of Aizen Souske and his followers.

After the fifth division captain's betrayal much stress had been placed upon the ten remaining captains. Especially the sixth captain, Kuchiki Byakuya, who had taken on the paperwork of the fifth division indefinitely until the awakening of the division's vice-captain.

The paperwork of one division was enough to drive a lesser man to drink but not the proud head of the noble Kuchiki house. However, the constant stress of the work of two captains was beginning to wear on him. That was why Byakuya was currently standing in front of the railing of the high open hallways that connected the sixth and fifth division head quarters. He let his mind wander as light evening breezes fingered the hair that hung from his Kenseikan.

Recently, the quiet beauty that was Unohana Retsu had caught his eye. Ever since he had seen her one night standing alone on one of the many interconnected walkways leading to each of the divisions, he had been unable to put her out of his mind. The image of her standing with her long dark hair lying unbound behind her, billowing along with her captain's coat, had lain submerged just under his thoughts of work and the running of both divisions, waiting for a quiet moment in which to rise to the surface of his thoughts.

Now that he stood alone Retsu rose unbidden to his foremost thoughts. She was the only thing he could focus on now, almost as if he stood at the bottom of a well looking up to her as she gazed down upon him. His head hung guiltily at an almost imperceptible angle, would he sully Hisana's memory if he loved another? He didn't know.

Surely loving another captain would be frowned upon and he had sworn on the graves of his parents that after adopting Hisana's younger sister he would never again step outside of the laws of Seireitei. And wasn't there also a promise to his dead wife? An unspoken promise to remain faithful to both her and her memory even after her death? Again, he didn't know.

Byakuya stood in silent contemplation until a light touch on his left shoulder startled him, though he didn't show it. The slight fourth division captain, Unohana Retsu, stood at his side.

"Unohana-taichou." He said acknowledging her presence.

"Kuchiki-taichou." She said turning to face him.

"How long have you been there?" He asked mildly.

"No longer than a minute." She replied, equally mild.

"Am I needed somewhere?"

"No."

"Then why are you here?"

"You seemed like you needed some company."

"Hmm." Byakuya said noncommittally.

There was silence between them.

"Kuchiki-taichou, would you mind if I spoke to you not as Unohana Retsu, the captain of the fourth division and your colleague, but as Unohana Retsu, the person?"

"Not at all." He said after a pause.

"I would like you to know," Retsu said, looking boldly into his eyes, "that I have admired you, maybe even loved you, from afar for a very long time."

Byakuya met her eyes with his but otherwise made no response.

"Do you feel the same? I ask you to answer as Kuchiki Byakuya, the person, not as Kuchiki Byakuya, the captain of the sixth division and head of the noble house of Kuchiki."

Several answers came to Byakuya's mind, the first of which was 'Yes'.

"To understand my answer you would have to know of the promises I made to both my late wife and my late parents." He paused.

Retsu looked on expectantly.

"Before Hisana's death I promised her that I would find her younger sister, Rukia, and adopt her into the Kuchiki clan as my own sister. As is apparent I kept my promise, though in doing so I broke several laws. Afterwards, even though I had reached my goal, I felt ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I, head of Kuchiki, had flown in the face of the principles of this world. So, to assuage my guilt, I swore on my parents graves that I would forever after stay within the boundaries set by the law."

"And your answer?" Retsu asked.

"My answer is yes, but it is also no. Yes, I have admired and loved you from afar. But no, out of respect for Hisana and the promise I made to my parents graves." Byakuya said, looking out toward the now starry sky.

She brought her had to her mouth to stifle her laughter.

"Is that all?"

Byakuya stared at her, shocked. Though only Retsu, Rukia, and perhaps Renji would recognize the hidden emotion that played across the captain's face.

"I would have thought," She continued, "that you, a Shinigami of all things, would understand the what the dead want most of those who remain is for them to be happy.

"You will never forget Hisana! I know that and I don't expect you to. And I can't help but think that your parents would prefer for you to be happy and break a promise to them instead of keeping it and being miserable.

"They want for you what they have always wanted: for you to love wisely and well, for you to be happy." She finished quietly.

The two captains stood silently, letting the night's gentle breezes tug and play with their hair and clothes.

"Thank You." Byakuya said after several uncounted minutes.

Retsu was unsure whether he spoke to her or his deceased parents and lover.

"You're welcome." She said regardless.

He turned unexpectedly and, just as unexpectedly, brought her into a loose hug. He rested his cheek on top of her head and his hands on her back.

Retsu returned the embrace, putting her head against his chest and her own hands on his back.

Whatever opposition they faced, they would face together.

OWARI