By: Twilight's Blade
Chapter nine: This Is Not Addiction
"That, by far, has to be the most ridiculous story I have ever heard." Folded arms, tapping foot, and narrowed eyes, she was the embodiment of 'skeptic.'
He didn't bother to cast a glance her way. "I assure you, it is true. I haven't the time for your lies, either. So if you would simply—"
"Lies? Are you saying I'm crazy when you believe eating chocolate will inhibit your training?"
Byakuya struggled not to wince, instead forcing his irritation into the tight fist hidden behind his back. The logic was perfect. There was certainly no need to further press the matter. But he knew Yoruichi well enough by now. He was better off flash stepping to the other side of the Seireitei than arguing the idea with her—despite, of course, that he had yet to win any of their shunpo contests.
"I'm not in the mood for your childish babbling," he snarled, the impatience outlet having only marginal success.
An impish grin tugged at her lips. "Oh? Then maybe I have something that will putyou in that mood." She stepped up and he backed away accordingly.
"Yoruichi." The chastising tone. Not that she cared. So Kisuke convinced him that eating chocolate could eliminate his reiatsu and he'd actually believed it. Oh brilliant torture! The pleasure she would get out of seeing his startled face once the truth was revealed.
Another step forward, another step backward.
"Yoruichi." The warning tone. Of course, this was an experiment, too, so she had to be careful. Kisuke had already warned her not to have too much fun lest she mess things up. But being a young and powerful Kuchiki made Byakuya incredibly confident, if not arrogant, and equally naïve. If only she could read his mind…
Another step backward, and then, a wall. He flinched; her smirk grew wider. "Honestly, Byakuya-bo, what do you plan on doing with that oh-so-intimidating tone of yours? Surely not run."
"And what, exactly, do you plan on doing? Surely it is not to catch me." The comment and his immediate disappearance caught her off guard. Shaking her head, she followed, the distance between them mere inches apart in a matter of seconds. Suddenly changing route, she picked up her pace and took a roundabout path to the shed Byakuya was making his way towards. He turned to check his distance from the woman, realizing all too late that she had disappeared. Alarmed, he swiveled back around, barely dodging a haphazard grab for his clothing as Yoruichi lunged from behind her temporary hiding place. She swiftly vanished from view, only to reappear at his feet with a spin kick that caused Byakuya to back flip and flatten himself against the building's side. Byakuya scoured the area, the leisurely flutter of bright pink sakura petals from the trees to the ground the only evidence of the chase.
Byakuya scowled. "Show yourself! I am not here to play these games with you!"
"Really now? Is that why you ran away when I hadn't initiated a chase?" He jerked himself off of the wall and looked to the roof, but there was no one. The woman had hidden herself, exciting even more irritation from the young heir.
"My own protection was foremost—"
"From what? Byakuya, it doesn't make sense. And you aren't leaving my sight until I know you agree with me." His eyes widened, suddenly and unreasonably wary, fear forcing him to the middle of the flower coated field as he checked every angle for the woman hundreds of years his senior.
"Stop this, Yoruichi. Whatever you plan on doing, you will not succeed." He stood up from his hunched position, although not daring to make another move or sound so as to detect her movements. But Yoruichi's laughter easily cut through the silence.
"But you see, Byakuya-bo, everything I planalways succeeds…" She appeared behind him from her hiding place, sending an eerie shiver down the younger's spine. His shunpo was too slow to escape her grasp as she grabbed his wrists and threw him to the ground. He cried out as she pounced, straddling his waist to keep him in place as he struggled to break free. She pulled out a chocolate bar, stripped it of its wrapper with her teeth in one swift movement, and grabbed for Byakuya throat as he tried to in vain to pry her loose, increasingly motivated by disbelief and terror. A triumphant grin traced her lips.
"Kuchiki Byakuya, you lose!"
There was a short gasp as the chocolate bar muffled his scream. He kicked and squirmed beneath her, as hands desperately grabbed for hers in a misguided attempt to ease the gagging.
"Eat it, Byakuya. I'm not letting go until you do." Despite the choking, the struggling, and the panic, he managed a startlingly defiant glare which only made Yoruichi that much more pleased. No, he thought, besides every sense telling him to do otherwise. I will not eat it! And if you think I will submit to you…
"It's not that hard, you know. All you have to do is chew." And Byakuya was finding his ability to fight back attenuate. Something wasn't right. An abnormal sensation washed over him, coercing his muscles to relax, slowing his movements, numbing his mind into a simple hypnotic state of bliss. From deep within he felt a powerful longing to indulge the new saccharine desire. His tongue ran over his lips…and then a flash of newly arisen panic streaked across his features and Yoruichi raised an eyebrow, looking on with potent curiosity. Byakuya's struggling returned at once and with a vengeance, tripling in force and driven by such paramount fear that Yoruichi began to worry herself and finally decided to let him go.
He quickly jumped away when she did so, panting, swallowing, and massaging his throat. Yet as soon as he swallowed he regretted it, as the sweet flavor provoked an exceptional bout of shivers.
Yoruichi folded her arms and raised a brow, clearly amused at the entire spectacle. "What's wrong? That wasn't an eye flutter I just saw, was it?"
Byakuya glared, livid.
"You…! Do you realize the gravity of what you've just done? If Kisuke was right—"
Oh God. It all hit him like a ton of lead. And much too quickly at that. Byakuya staggered, suddenly at a loss for words.
"No!" Byakuya couldn't think; his mind was working in overdrive and was too busy imagining centuries upon centuries in a spirit powerless body.
Yoruichi couldn't exactly fathom what sort of repercussions she would receive from this slight mishap, but she was sure there would be few. Kisuke had been right about one thing, though, and through only sheer observation of subtle behavior: every male Kuchiki had a chocolate addiction. Every single one, and it was their greatest weakness. And if Byakuya's grandfather really wanted to help the poor kid so the inevitable problem wouldn't worsen later, he was going to have to let him get tortured—and Kisuke was the only guy who would do it semi-humanely and keep the secret a secret all at once.
And so step one: exposure hadn't been too bad, if not a little bit sadistic on her part (winning in anycompetition with Byakuya always provided her some type of gratification, though), but she couldn't ignore the guilt, either. It was all for the best, she'd told herself. The man had to do his research or the problem would persist—but first he had to find out why the problem was even there. So Byakuya was made the guinea pig in the name of good will. Hopefully he wouldn't lose his sanity when it was all over.
Well, it was about time to go, anyway. The kid certainly wasn't in the mood to talk, frozen in place and dangerously pale, and wouldn't be until he realized how much Kisuke (and everyone who'd been telling him to avoid chocolate since birth) had played him for a fool. Then he'd shed blood just to find out why. So, then. Until the bloodshed. Yoruichi picked up what was left of the chocolate bar, registering but not initially reacting to Byakuya's fervent glare. Instead, she dusted herself off, threw him a genuine smile from over her shoulder, and was gone, leaving the boy in a confusing heap of fear, disgust, surprise, and denied longing as he wandered slowly back to the estate.
An hour later Byakuya nearly tripped into his bedroom, locking the door with a trembling hand and backing against the nearest wall for support. All the while he was silent besides a few labored gasps. After Yoruichi had left he had been able to think, if only a bit more rationally. The anger had dissipated and the remaining energy focused into a small kidou spell that confirmed his reiatsu hadn't gone anywhere. Yet, although relieved and shaken, the boy could not eradicate the memory of chocolate from his conscious. Even then he was unceremoniously licking his lips, the taste stubbornly resettling itself into his senses. He tensed, wistfully desiring another bite only to be disgusted with himself seconds later. The chocolate that the woman so brusquely shoved into his mouth had proved to be a godsend for his taste buds, and the more he tried to stifle the thought, the more he found himself in longing.
Anxious and torn, the boy wandered into the kitchen against his rationale. The amount of trouble he felt he could walk into at any moment only hastened his footsteps, as he was eager to accomplish the goal he refused to admit he had. The main kitchen was abnormally empty, and its cabinets held every spice he could think of and—Byakuya tried to push the thought away—possibly other delicacies he couldn't think of. Until now.
Finding a streak of willpower, he forced himself forward until he reached the counter, and even then could not but stare at the cabinets overhead without a spark of worry. He reached out for a knob and hesitated, finding himself biting his lip in a final display of self-restraint. He pulled back and his stomach growled. He stared the cabinet down and felt his heartbeat grow faster. His fingers twitched; he reached out, withdrew, reached out again and trembled as desire and self-control battled on the forts of his tongue and his mind. If he could just open the door—
His fingers were nanometers from the knob but Byakuya whirled, as shaken and terrified as a wounded animal. A young, timid woman stood in the doorway of the main kitchen, wary of entering further after her master's reaction.
"I-I'm sorry, Byakuya-sama. I did not mean to be a disturbance," she commented hastily, bowing. "I'll leave you to—"
And she did, seeming almost afraid to look back at him. Byakuya spat a million silent curses at himself. He couldn't, he simply couldn't allow himself to be carried away by…by a food! A simple, sweet little dessert at that. Tantalizing as it was—and oh, how it was—he had to reign himself in. But his subconscious had other plans.
"Where is the chocolate kept in this kitchen?" Misako flinched before meeting Byakuya's gaze, and the boy realized he'd struck a chord. Suddenly he didn't want to know, but he couldn't form the words in his mouth to say so.
"Kuchiki Ginrei-sama is," she cleared her throat, "allergic, just as you are, so the cooks do not house it here but order it for gatherings."
Byakuya sighed, torn between disappointment and relief. "Of course, Misako-san. Do be aware that I was inquiring on Shihouin Yoruichi's behalf, however." As good a cover up as any, and Misako was just gullible enough that it worked.
She exclaimed a small 'oh' and apologized, blushing, and Byakuya excused her after. It was only ten minutes of aimless wander later that he found himself back in his bedroom, windows shut and door locked.
And that's when the hellfire began.
Byakuya collapsed to his knees, holding himself as his body began shaking. Dilated eyes darted about the room as if searching for something that was nowhere to be found. Acute pains erupted in his stomach, and Byakuya moaned, but not just in agony. He licked his lips, gulped, and supported himself with trembling arms just so he wouldn't fall face first to the floor. Then it hit him, the asphyxiating, muscle tensing grip on his body that not only forced the air from his lungs but made him forget how to breathe. Every sense screeched for chocolate, and the only image in the boy's mind was of Yoruichi's laughing smile hovering above as she ripped off the candy wrapper.
Then seconds passed and he was free again, breathing in labored gasps and scared for his life. And it was all Yoruichi's fault.
He wanted blood.
A week had passed, and Byakuya was more than grateful that Yoruichi hadn't paid him any visits. As covertly irate as he was, he knew he wouldn't be able to bear her satisfaction from watching him drool. And despite all attempts to achieve the opposite, the addiction was now full blown and tormenting. He hadn't a bite of the stuff, but Fate seemed to be toying with him, as chocolate managed to find him every time he stepped out of the house. He was surely not so acutely aware of the number of bakeries in the Soul Society before his addiction decided to make itself known. But when the sweet aroma wafted under his nose and the boy began salivating, his only comfort was picturing the woman begging him for mercy for exposing him to this horror.
There was also the lesser problem of figuring out why Kisuke had lied to him. Too worried about finding Yoruichi and not being mentally prepared had caused him to avoid the second division, but had this been a mere joke between captain and third seat? Or had he simply a theory proven wrong? There were a few possibilities, but one thing was for sure: Byakuya surely wished there were no other foods he was 'allergic' to so as to produce such distress with their reactions.
It was one in the afternoon when Byakuya returned from his morning training for lunch. The trainer had complained his movements had become sluggish and disjointed, and Byakuya knew it. He was simply too tense, worried Yoruichi would make a sudden appearance or that he would be taken hold by one those choking attacks, of which he had already had a few, although there was not much he could do about it them. As he walked back into the estate, a familiar aroma greeted him, stopping the boy short.
Oh no. Oh please no…
Not that any amount of begging would tell him otherwise when already he felt a trail of saliva down his chin. Annoyed, he wiped it away and charged toward the kitchen. A part of him briefly considered hiding in his room, but the thought of enduring another choking attack changed his mind. There were voices coming from the kitchen, but they were too muffled to discern. Byakuya wanted to wait and reconsider. No matter who was in there, he'd have a difficult time controlling himself. But he had to know why there was, so suddenly, a rather open presence of chocolate in the estate. It was all at once too horrible and too good to be true. He pushed open the door.
"…then you squeeze the chocolate syrup on like this. Don't forget to make sure the chocolate chips are firmly in place. You don't want them to—Byakuya-bo! What a pleasant surprise!"
His stomach accordioned itself and the boy felt fear catch in his throat like a large hairball. "Yoruichi."
"Good afternoon, Byakuya-sama," added Misako, bowing cordially.
Byakuya didn't answer. He couldn't. It was too sudden. He should have been worried. Terrified. Irate. But he just stood there, using all his might not to look at the hand-sized brownies right next to the oven. Yoruichi, bored by the silence, thus felt it fitting to offer him one.
"Double stuffed vanilla mint chocolate chip," she said matter-of-factly. "I hope you won't find them too hard to resist." Byakuya sent her a look that wasn't nearly as callous as it should have been, which Yoruichi took note of with a smirk.
Nevertheless, the boy attempted to uphold some dignity. "I'd rather not, thank you. My feelings on those atrocious things have changed little."
"Even after learning chocolate doesn't, in fact, destroy reiatsu?"
"I have your third seat to blame for that!" Byakuya suddenly snapped. He calmed quickly, but knew in that instant that the battle was lost. It was time to retreat.
"For which I do graciously apologize," Yoruichi continued, shifting her gaze to her brownies. "Kisuke can be quite zealous with his theories sometimes."
"Neither his theories nor your mockery is improving the situation."
"Which would be?"
Byakuya turned his back on the purple haired woman and cast an austere but faulting gaze in Misako's direction. The simple need for chocolate was swallowing up what gave his anger any edge. And there was almost no working quickly around Yoruichi's all too knowing smile.
"I believe you told me that chocolate was only ordered for special gatherings, Misako. Ojii-sama and I are allergic. Please do remove it."
The woman hesitated, glancing at Yoruichi, and muttered something incomprehensible to Byakuya's ears. "Misako," Byakuya repeated in warning, and, to his chagrin, it was Yoruichi who replied.
"It just so happens that there will be an important event here, and soon. You're not under any obligation to attend, however." She ambled across the room to another oven, in front of which she put on mitts. "Of course, I'm sure your taste buds would choose otherwise."
Distracted as a fresh batch of brownies was removed from the oven, Byakuya was at that point only indignant enough to throw the woman a pout. Yet even that was ruined as the young heir began to salivate, his eyes tracing the pan's movements across the room. Misako, however, was all the more disturbed.
"Yoruichi-sama," she began, voice quivering. "Are you suggesting that he has already…?" Her voice trailed off, scared to name what she already guessed was true. Yoruichi, at first, said nothing, busying herself with the brownies she had just removed. When she finally chose to look up two minutes later, Byakuya had, predictably, already left.
"Ginrei already knows," she started suddenly, turning to face the servant girl. "Kisuke thinks he's developed a way to, at least temporarily, cure this…thing all the Kuchiki seem to have when it comes to chocolate, and it's been agreed Byakuya has to be the guinea pig."
"I don't understand," Misako started. "If something goes wrong…he is the next heir…"
"I don't know too much myself. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I can't help but feel a bit worried for Byakuya, though."
"Byakuya-sama doesn't seem to be adjusting to this new predicament all that well. I think this is going to be too much for him."
"Maybe," Yoruichi replied, taking off her oven mitts, "but I trust Kisuke enough to stop the experiment before things get too overwhelming for the little guy." Suddenly, she cast her gaze on Misako, peculiarly energetic. "What if we spy on him, just for the day, so we can get a better idea of how the chocolate is really affecting him?"
"You don't have to do anything as long as you stay out of the area between the kitchen and his room. I'll wait near his room and wait for him to come out. If he does, I'll slip in, hide in his closet, and show myself just when the time is right." She smiled to herself at the thought. He would never be able to live down being caught devouring the stuff like a raging maniac. If her third seat was right, though, that's exactly what he would be up to. A voice in her head told her that maybe she was going too far, having too much fun with the situation. But Yoruichi conveniently ignored her better judgment. Which Misako felt no qualms voicing.
"I don't believe we should do this…"
"Oh it'll be fine! Trust me. If Byakuya wants the chocolate badly enough, he'll come by to see if he can steal a piece. All we have to do is observe as nature takes its course."
Back in his room, Byakuya shivered, his eyes darting about in a wild manner. He'd stood under the influence of those brownies for too long, and now the consequences were coming with a vengeance. Dizzy, the boy tried to lift himself from the floor and onto the bed, but hunger pains jerked his movements and he fell back to the floor. That's when he remembered he still had yet to eat lunch, and he groaned to himself. It meant another venture to the kitchen, as there was no way he was going to risk letting a servant see him in this state. Of course, if he was already experiencing shivers and elevated hunger pains, the attack that would come later…The boy shook his head. The pain to come would be excruciating and unfair, but at least brief if he could manage to feed himself.
But how he hated the thought of withstanding the scent and sight of those brownies! He gulped and lay his head back. There wouldn't be a choice but to make a break for it. He'd no idea how long it would take to grab a salty snack from the kitchen without being distracted by the sugar, but it had to be done. Byakuya forced himself to stand, noting the wobbliness of his knees as he listened for voices outside his room. The usual quiet met his ears, so he cracked the door open just a tad before checking up and down the hall for signs of life and slinking out.
Alone in the hallway, Byakuya felt exposed, and so increased the pace of his step until he was jogging to the kitchen. By the time he reached it, he was out of breath. It unnerved him that he was so weak after so many training sessions, but a quick glance to one of the kitchen's counters reminded him otherwise. While he was ecstatic that no one had been in the room to observe his panting on arrival, the enormous brownies had been left behind to harden. His resolve was only strong enough to cut his gaze from the sweets, but not enough to ignore it entirely. When his hands grabbed the door handle of the refrigerator, Byakuya turned around despite his every instinct.
The brownies sat innocently enough on three large, uncovered pans on a counter now at the far side of the room. They would be too heavy and too much to carry all at once, he rationalized, turning his back on them. But…
But there was no denying to himself at that moment how badly he wanted to taste chocolate again, especially after what Yoruichi had done. The feeling of absolute bliss that he'd gotten from it couldn't be replicated from eating anything else, or training, or even imagining himself winning one of Yoruichi's many games. It was such a hypnotic, overpowering sensation, a delicious indulgence, and a sickness with adverse side effects all at once.
As he stared at them, a sort of transcendent yearning recreated the symptoms of a choking attack. The dizziness, the hunger, the muscle soreness. Allergic, indeed. He could almost feel his logic slip from his mind.
And then, from outside the room, an upbeat, feminine voice chatted amiably with a low, rough one.
Byakuya's heart stopped. He nearly choked, realizing he was now faced with a fight or flight decision. The chocolate beckoned him, but he bit his lip in desperate refrain. He couldn't give in now, he couldn't! But his grandfather's voice grew louder, closer, and Byakuya's hunger moaned to him, calling for him to fill himself with anything. Anything.
A hard gulp, and he lunged for a pan of brownies and exited the room from another door seconds before his grandfather and Misako entered to kitchen. Her eyes quickly shifted to the pans, of which she saw one was missing and the others were slightly displaced.
Yoruichi-sama was right after all…
The change in venue from the kitchen to his bedroom was all a blur to Byakuya. His back against the wall, Byakuya sat down and placed the pan on the floor beside him. After a few deep breathes, he gulped and anxiously unclenched his hands. His hunger was singing a tune he knew all too well, and before he could register what he was doing, he jammed an entire brownie in his mouth.
Almost immediately his eyes rolled back and his fingers twitched about in excitement. He hadn't even swallowed half of the first when he wildly grabbed for a second and began to force it down his throat as well. And even then, he was thinking of a third. Appetitive lust welled up in his chest and surged to his limbs as increasing bouts of satisfaction forced him to keep eating. The Kuchiki heir found himself trying to gulp down brownies faster than he could think. How he had managed to ignore it for a week he could not understand. Eyes fluttering, he bit into a seventh brownie—and froze.
For the first time in his frenzy he noticed a disturbingly familiar reiatsu, a second presence in the room with him. It completely overrode his urge to ignore it and take another bite. No, he knew whose reiatsu this was, knew and grew faint with embarrassment as he turned reluctantly to the frame of his closet door.
Meeting Yoruichi's knowing gaze with his own made him sick with mortification, not just from the fact that she had seen everything, but that she had hid in his closet, anticipating it would happen and wanting to be there specifically to watch. He looked away, reddening madly.
"It seems our dear Byakuya-bo is a common liar and a thief," she began, trying and failing to suppress a smirk as she leaned against the closet door, arms folded. It was a bad sign that his addiction was already so far gone, but the woman simply couldn't bring herself to worry. She would likely never see the expression on the boy's face again, and she had to admit, she found it quite comical. Byakuya couldn't even bring himself to reply.
"And to think, all this time you wanted me to believe that you abhorred the stuff. So…how much laughter should I spare you? Perhaps an explanation would do? I suppose I could hold this priceless information back from your grandfather—"
"Get…out…" Such a callous tone for such a young boy. The Pandora's Box of his rage was creaking open, just as she had expected it to. It never did take him too long to recuperate, but he still couldn't meet her gaze. Time to pry a little more.
"—though eventually I'll just blackmail you with it anyway." A vivacious laugh. "Don't be upset, Byakuya-bo. Masking your embarrassment with anger won't make it go away."
"OUT!" he bellowed in a short drone. This time he did look at her, and Yoruichi couldn't hold back another snort. There was chocolate all over his face, his hands, and his clothes, so much that he resembled an infant who was more comfortable playing with his food than eating it. She said as much and laughed again. But when she opened her eyes again, a katana was pointed at her neck.
"You will speak of this to no one! Not a soul!"
She didn't even flinch. "You wouldn't do that. You would never do that. Especially if you wanted to know how to suppress this addiction of yours." There it was. So she did know something. Sending her a cautious look, he growled and removed the katana from her throat.
"Speak, Yoruichi. Now."
She waved her hand nonchalantly. "Hey, now! All in good time. Do exactly as I say, and maybe you'll learn why you're even addicted in the first place." His only response was a grunt in disapproval as she pated his head and calmly made her way to the exit of the room, picking up the tray with only three brownies left. He scrutinized her movements as she did so.
"Oh, one last thing."
"What?" The boy's skill in speaking through clenched teeth was astounding.
"If you want my methods to work, you've got to refrain from chocolate for the next week."
The blood drained from his face faster than water off a duck's back. He cast a hesitant glance at the pan in her hands and gulped.
"Yes. There's nothing wrong with that, is there?" Though she knew there was, given the apparent intensity of his addiction. In fact, he only needed to wait three days, but why not play around a bit? The circumstances could always be changed if need be.
Fortunately for Byakuya's pride, the anger had only been momentarily disabled and returned in full force. "Nothing is wrong with the terms save the fact that it's you who are making them."
She laughed at the reply. "I'm sure. So long as when you go into withdrawal you avoid so much as approaching the kitchen. It just so happens that Misako will be baking all week for a certain occasion. I can't have you drugging yourself on the sight alone in an impulsive attempt to maintain your sanity. Well, good luck!"
As she finally flash stepped from the doorway, the heir plopped on his bed, staring in pure awe. Not only had she identified the last hope of a chocolate fix he'd been creating for the last week, but banned it as well.
All of it was simply…gone.
When the second division captain was directed to Byakuya's room two days later, she found him sprawled out on the floor in his sleepwear, wheezing and desperate.
"He's been like this for an hour, refusing everything, even practice, until you were brought here," Misako explained, looking at the nearly unconscious boy the entire time. "Yoruichi-sama, I don't think—"
"Misako, if you could give us a moment?" The woman gave Yoruichi a confused look. Yoruichi only smiled back. The maid, now a bit frightened, decided not to take her chances and left as requested. When the door closed behind her, Yoruichi cast an indifferent stare in Byakuya's direction. She kneeled down and poked the boy, who was lying face down.
"Oi," she called, giving him another poke. "You wanted to see me, right? What's wrong with you?"
Almost immediately, Byakuya sat up, doing so so quickly that Yoruichi fell back, thrown off balance. He hovered over her, eyes abnormally wide, and croaked, "You haven't any idea how these past forty eight hours have been for me. I can't sleep, I can't think, I can't even breathe without thinking about chocolate! I haven't even been able to leave my room! It's horrible!" He bit his nails. "If you even hint at the idea of me having to wait any longer without it, I might just…" His gaze flickered between the door and the window of his room and back to Yoruichi, "…do something I'll regret."
Yoruichi, still sitting on her bum and staring in awe, gave the young heir an awkward smile. He's lost it…he's completely lost it!
He then tucked his knees into his chest and began rocking back and forth and humming to himself. Yoruichi gulped.
"W-Well, good thing you called for me!" she covered, getting up from the floor and dusting herself off. "It turns out you won't have to wait anymore!"
At the words, Byakuya's hypnotized expression broke into one of elation, the corners of his mouth rising in tandem with his eyelids. Yoruichi stifled back a shiver. Never in her life had she seen the boy so happy…and it was creepy.
"Um, yes," she replied. "Get yourself ready. I'll be waiting outside for you."
The Kuchiki heir was up and running well before she had given the boy a hesitant nod. She took advantage of the fact and stepped out of the room, only to be greeted by the worrying Misako.
"Something's wrong, isn't it?"
"No, nothing's wrong…exactly," Yoruichi stalled, anxiously glancing at the door to Byakuya's room. "Things are progressing more quickly than Kisuke guessed, is all. You should alert Ginrei, though. He ought to know."
Misako stared at the floor, tightly clasping her hands together. "Whatever your third seat is trying to do…do you think it will work?"
Yoruichi shrugged, which did nothing to assuage the maid's worries. "I have a lot of faith in the man, and Ginrei must as well, to trust him with something like this. I trust him enough to not do anything completely outrageous, but this is Kisuke. I'm fully aware of all of his quirks and eccentricities, and how they could make things go…well, I don't want to say very wrong…" Her voice trailed off, and she let the meaning of the sentence go with a light smile and a scratch at the back of her head. "We'll just have to wait and see, I guess."
"'Wait and see'?"
At that moment, Byakuya burst out of the room, clothed and twitchy. "I'm ready. Can we go now? Please?" The boy's eyes were glazed over. Misako stared back, apprehensive, but Yoruichi grabbed the heir's wrist and dragged him down the hall, preventing the woman from dropping another observation saturated with worry.
"I'll be back soon!" the captain called down the hall, leaving the maid alone with her anxiety.
One thing Yoruichi did not want to do was walk all the way from the Kuchiki estate to Kisuke's make shift lab in the second division. But Byakuya clung to her waist, dragging himself along and moaning with every step he took.
"I can smell it," he droned, apathetic to the wary gazes he was receiving as the couple slugged through the streets. "Oh, I can smell it. It smells so good…"
The purple haired woman observed him like one would an abnormally large insect, then attempted to pry him from around her waist. Instead he hung on tighter, drool dripping from his mouth onto her haori at an ever increasing pace.
"Byakuya, listen," she began, attempting to hide her look of disgust, although frankly, Byakuya was paying little attention. "I'm bringing you to Kisuke—"
"Does he have chocolate?" the boy asked, suddenly perking up. His eyes were wide like a kid on Christmas, and Yoruichi, incredulous to his juvenile behavior, gulped and nodded slowly.
"Sure…sure he does! And if you shunpo to his lab—"
The boy disappeared in half the blink of an eye. Yoruichi sighed, though even she did not know whether it was out of relief or worry of what was to come. If Kisuke didn't have anything special up his sleeve, Byakuya was going to go off like a ticking time bomb.
When Yoruichi reached the second division five minutes later, Byakuya was already there, on a fervent search for wherever his promised chocolate was hidden. She briefly covered her face with her hands, exasperated, and began to approach him when Kisuke called out to them from the door to the lab as he shut and locked it. Byakuya bounded toward the man before Yoruichi could even open her mouth in reply.
"You have it, don't you?"
Kisuke blinked, confused until the young heir grabbed the man's clothing and shook him, shouting, "The chocolate, the chocolate! Where is it?"
"Byakuya!" Yoruichi snapped, rushing over and quite nearly ripping the boy away. "Get off of him! Have patience, will you?"
The boy stilled and folded his arms, though even as he stood in place his eyes roamed about and his fingers twitched. Yoruichi glanced up to a semi wide mouthed Kisuke who turned away, understanding the situation to be worse than he had initially expected. It had only been two days since the boy had been barred from eating chocolate; he should have still had a significant amount of self-restraint. Then again, Kisuke realized, the addiction had been growing progressively stronger with each generation of male heirs. An important problem to solve, indeed.
"What are you going to do with him?" Yoruichi whispered, eyeing the boy from her peripheral. "You still haven't told me, and everyone wants to know. I can't help but be a bit anxious, too, you know. Seeing that expression on his face…It makes me kind of want to give him what he wants."
"And that's exactly what he's going to get."
The captain stared back, incredulous. "I don't understand," she said, eyeing the boy once more, who by now had his eyes only half open. "Isn't the point to get him off of chocolate?"
"Yes," Kisuke replied, "by making him like it too much." Yoruichi's expression grew more contorted with confusion, to which the man responded, "You'll see. Follow me."
Kisuke's house was an absolute mess.
Not that Yoruichi hadn't seen it that way before, but every time she did, it reaffirmed her reasoning behind the usefulness of her third's seat's mini laboratory. Papers were strewn about everywhere, half full cups of tea balanced precariously on table and counter edges, and clothes were thrown in a large pile next to a bookcase. Yoruichi caught Byakuya's wince, and could not decide whether to be grateful the boy hadn't completely lost it or worried about her third seat's ever-growing problem with organization. Kisuke glanced at them and flashed a sheepish smile.
"Please excuse the mess," he began, whimsically scratching the back of his head. "I'm still tidying things up."
And indeed he was. Stepping out of the first room and through it to the kitchen was like moving from a barnyard to a mansion's front garden. Particularly, Yoruichi dully noted, because she was more than sure it functioned as more of a makeshift lab when the man was home. Yet the kitchen was wiped clean from top to bottom without even a hint of a test tube in sight. Actual seasonings instead of strange, unidentifiable fluids sat neatly in the corner of one of the room's counters. But it was not the uncanny order of the room that maintained Yoruichi's attention.
It was the chocolate.
Cakes of various sizes, topped with sprinkles and a hefty array of icings filled the majority of the counter space, while in every other possible nook, candies, muffins, cookies, and brownies were crammed and condensed into the many drawers and open cabinets and shelves that filled the rest of the room. With the limited amount of space there was, Yoruichi was surprised there was space for it all.
And frozen to his spot in the doorway, Byakuya gulped.
Without a word of comment, Kisuke crossed the room and reached into the refrigerator for a small carton of chocolate milk, briefly and purposefully revealing its near overflowing contents to the others. Yoruichi spied the young heir, only to observe him waver dangerously, as if he were to collapse. It seemed all sense had gone out of the window, and Yoruichi was not too confident about where the rest of this was going. She whispered as much to Kisuke, observing hesitantly how Byakuya had seemed to have forgotten how to move. But the third seat only smiled back in reply.
"Byakuya," he called out, briefly snapping the boy out of his hypnotic trance. "I feel horribly about having you suffer from an incorrect theory, so I thought I'd make it up to you."
Byakuya looked from him to the chocolate and took a deep breath, having not realized his jaw had gone slack since he'd stepped into the room. His fingers twitched eagerly at his sides. Yet moments later he turned his back on the chocolate and left the room. Kisuke and Yoruichi followed, the latter rather stunned, before the boy answered.
"I…I perfectly accept your apology," he said in a low, quivering voice, "and I appreciate the rather luxurious gift you are offering, but…" He gulped again, tightening his fists. "I'm afraid I'll have to decline. The apology is…well, m-more than enough."
Yoruichi gaped at him, but Kisuke smiled, responding before she could put in her two cents. "And after all I went through to get this for you!"
Byakuya began to turn around but stopped himself halfway through. "I—I would like to, but—"
"I went through a lot of trouble to get this. You wouldn't want to be rude by refusing it, would you? I wouldn't have anyone else to give it to, and I'm not too much of a fan of chocolate myself…"
At the word, Byakuya shivered and bit his lip. "…Well, I—"
"Besides, you like chocolate a lot, don't you?" Kisuke asked, lightly resting a hand on the boy's shoulder. Byakuya jumped and glanced up at him. "If you don't eat it, I'll have to throw it away."
"N-No!" he exclaimed, glancing away after noticing the volume of his voice. "Don't do that. It would…it would be quite a waste…"
"Well, I suppose it will be all for you, then." Byakuya cast the man a hesitant glance, watching cautiously as Kisuke headed off to another room. Silence hung like a thick fog for only a handful of seconds. Then Byakuya's eyes darted about faster than he could think after he sprinted into the kitchen, panting like a dog. There was only a moment's hesitation before he plunged a hand into the nearest cake, dug out a chunk half the size of his head, and eagerly stuffed his mouth with it, quietly moaning as crumbs fell to the floor. Yoruichi watched, horrified, as the boy hopped from one part of the kitchen to the next, dirtying his clothes at an exponential rate and devouring pastries at an equal pace. Her third seat waved her over from the next room, but she approached him slowly, cautious to remove her eyes from the test subject.
"I don't like this, Kisuke. If something goes wrong—"
"I have emergency procedures in place and multiple back up plans. In the worst case scenario, I'll have to terminate the experiment."
"And should Byakuya retain this powerful an addiction even after your experiment?"
"Already handled. Just watch and observe, taichou."
Four days had since passed since Byakuya had taken up residence in the kitchen. Each was as uneventful as the last, the only surprise being the boy's incredibly unnatural consumption of chocolate. Impressed was Kisuke as well with the speed. Three-fourths of the contents of the kitchen—which was supposed to last the boy two weeks—had disappeared, and from the fifty or so bakers he had managed to collect pastries from, Kisuke simply couldn't believe it. Of course, that was all the more reason to remove the boy's addiction, but even the third seat was beginning to bite back the nagging doubt that sprouted at the back of his mind.
No matter what he tried, Kisuke could not get Byakuya to leave the kitchen save to use the bathroom. Twice he had to carry the boy to an extra bedroom upstairs—as he had fallen asleep on the cold kitchen floor—only to wake to find Byakuya already up and eating. Obsession, at that point, increasingly seemed an understatement.
Yet something had begun to change in Byakuya's pattern of behavior by the fifth day. When Kisuke went to observe him, expecting him to be in his usual position atop the kitchen counter, he was rather surprised to find him instead in the next room, still as messy and disorganized as it was when Byakuya arrived. He sat on the floor and rummaged through the stuff with mild interest.
Kisuke opted first to observe, worried saying something might cause Byakuya to revert back. But his curiosity was just deep enough to spark a conversation. It was a vital change, though subtle, and the man couldn't altogether help himself.
"Good morning, Byakuya," called the third seat. The boy did not acknowledge the voice. "What are you doing?"
Balancing a newspaper on his lap, a chocolate bar in one hand and glass of water in the other, Byakuya replied, "I'm bored."
Kisuke fought to suppress the tug of a smirk; Byakuya hadn't exactly answered his question. Kisuke paid it no mind. "You seem content to me."
Byakuya did not answer, keeping his gaze on the newspaper. There was a pause just long enough to make Kisuke feel uncomfortable. Assuming he wasn't heard, he opened his mouth to repeat the statement when Byakuya quickly interjected, "Is there something other to eat than chocolate?"
Kisuke's jaw hung slack. Why would he want anything else? The question was a curveball out of left field, but Byakuya stared him down in expectation of an immediate answer, and all Kisuke could do in reply was choke out a hesitant "no".
It seemed just as well for Byakuya. His only reaction to the question was a noncommittal sound from his throat and an apathetic lowering of his head back into the week old newspaper. Kisuke stared at him for a good long while, unsure of what to do, before quietly slinking away to record the conversation in his notes.
It was disheartening to find him hours later, rifling through the cabinets in an almost cursory manner.
He was much too busy conducting his search. And in the brief pause between the closing of one drawer and the opening of another, Kisuke heard a faint stomach growl.
"Have you eaten anything today?"
The boy shook his head, abandoning the cabinets above the counter to the ones below. "Nothing except for a chocolate bar."
"Byakuya!" The exclamation was more directed towards Kisuke himself. How could a boy addicted to chocolate suddenly go almost entirely without it for a day? There was a piece of the puzzle he was missing, Kisuke felt.
At that moment, Byakuya's stomach grumbled again, and much louder this time. He gulped, shut his eyes, and tightened his wrists, but even he knew hunger would not be so easily whisked away.
Kisuke observed in silence.
When Urahara Kisuke checked on his housemate the following day, he was nowhere to be found. The last few wrappers and containers of packages of cookies and other treats were strewn all over the kitchen floor, but no Byakuya. At first not accepting the outcome he knew had transpired, Kisuke checked every corner of his abode. Nothing.
He had barely returned to his living room when a loud knocking rasped at the door. Yoruichi burst inside when he opened it, a bit out of breath and certainly anxious.
"Byakuya," she muttered between heavy breaths. "Is he here?"
Kisuke swallowed and shook his head as Yoruichi cursed. "Sometime between last night and this morning he must have left." He raised an eyebrow. "Did something happen?"
"Soifon," she began, catching her breath and sitting up, "was attacked." Kisuke's eyes widened. "She said it happened so fast she didn't realize what was going on. She was nibbling on a pastry and it was suddenly quite brusquely ripped from her hands. Two of her fingers are bleeding. And I can't think of anyone who would do something like that except—"
"Byakuya." Kisuke looked solemn and felt guilty. Perhaps he hadn't watched the boy as closely as he should have.
"We've got to close all the bakeries," said Yoruichi, "or maybe leave only one open so we can trap him there—"
"No. I'm afraid it won't be that easy."
"Because yesterday he asked me for something to eat besides chocolate."
Yoruichi stopped cold. "He…did?" After he had sneaked and begged and tolerated blackmail for it? It did not seem likely. And yet by Kisuke's resolute expression it was.
"My theory," said the third seat, stepping out of his house and closing the door behind him, "is that he was never so much addicted to the chocolate as he was the sensation eating it produced. A…flavorgasm, for lack of a better term."
Yoruichi eyed him briefly and smiled at the memory of the boy flustered and fidgeting from her grasp only a week before. "…I see."
"Eating chocolate provided that for him, but once he completely gorged himself on one source, he grew tired of it and now searches for another."
"So he'll continue to search until he finds what it is?"
"Yes. And unfortunately, he likely won't eat enough to sustain himself until he does."
Yoruichi frowned. "We haven't much time, then."
Kisuke shook his head. "No. But I have an idea."
Byakuya sat down in an alleyway in the Fourth division's sector of the Seireitei, starved. The last few ounces of chocolate had worked only to backfire against his need to fill himself, as within an hour he had vomited. It was simply too much.
He remembered longingly when mounds of chocolate were godsends that he tried to graciously deny. If only he hadn't accepted, had taken his time eating that delicacy…The thought of it, however, made him shiver with disgust. Even what he had eaten that morning made him gag; he had to force it down with his eyes shut and fists tight, he was so tired of it.
And now he was still hungry. Sitting around the corner from a street lined with restaurants and café's for the Fourth division when they took a lunch break was not helping. He gulped as familiar scents wafted by him, shivered at the thought of eating one of his favorite meals…His desire for food gripped him like a leech.
And yet he couldn't bear for others to see him like this. Yoruichi may have played a part in improving his shunpo (something for which he was grateful but would never admit out loud), but it would only be a slight cover. He couldn't hope to simply walk in somewhere and buy a meal. He didn't trust himself to last long enough among so many scents and flavors up close and personal. The only other option, then, was to steal it. And Byakuya was not fond of acting like a desperate street beggar.
His stomach, however, did not maintain anything akin to pride and saw no evil in encouraging him to snatch the muffin from Soifon's hands. Dangerous, dangerous move. He was sure Kisuke and Yoruichi at the least were searching for him. Just another reason to stay discreet.
Unfortunately, shinigami did not do much eating-while-walking, and Byakuya realized he was going to have to move to find bait. Scowling, he slinked out of the alleyway when there was no one on the street. His stomach growled loudly. He groaned, the classic aroma of ramen noodles causing his mouth to water.
And after wandering for two blocks, losing his ability to think clearly as he did so, he saw it.
A woman wearing a white robe over her other garments. She was sitting at a café, a newspaper on the table next to a glass of water.
Byakuya smiled. Jackpot.
In her hands was something small and triangular. And she was biting into it.
Unohana Retsu had never taken a day off in her life.
She couldn't, she figured. She headed the infirmary. The one day she took off would be the one day the eleventh division decided to try and kill each other. Out of boredom. It wasn't entirely irrational, either. It had happened at least twice before.
And yet even she had to admit she felt overworked over the past two weeks. Hollows had found a feeding and breeding ground right on the outskirts of the divisional compound and shinigami had been dispatched to dwindle the numbers. Successful, yet bloody. She hadn't slept much.
So her vice-captain had pretty much forced her to take a day off, and Retsu had accepted, although she would be peaking in throughout the day just to make sure. One could never be too careful.
She flipped a page of her newspaper and took another bite of her rice cake. A simple snack. Relaxing. And the area around her, quiet. She smiled to herself. Maybe she should do this more often.
The atmosphere briefly changed. She glanced up, wary of a hollow but knowing instinctively that any hollow she would have felt long ago, having to be significantly formidable to make it inside. Instead she saw Kuchiki Byakuya, watching her from behind a nearby building. She smiled in his direction and received no response at first. Then slowly he began to make his way toward her.
When he was within earshot, she called to him, wishing him good morning, but there was no reply. Unohana then chastised him directly, noting to herself that the boy had to have some kind of manners if raised within the house of Kuchiki.
It was not until he was mere feet away that she noticed the abnormal glaze about his eyes, the consistently listless walk, the limpness of his limbs. Keeping her eyes trained on him, she stood up from her chair, intent of staying out of his way.
Then he lunged for her.
Retsu had not at all been prepared for an attack and was not carrying her zanpakutou (a fault of her vice-captain's persuasion, unfortunately), and was not the quickest when it came to reflexes. All she could do was press herself against the window pane of the café.
She watched, nervous and perplexed, as the heir of the Kuchiki family ate a rice cake from her hand.
"Byakuya?" She tilted her head to try and read his expression, but to no avail. What was wrong with him? Because something had to be wrong with him for such a blatant throw-away of the standard Kuchiki pride.
The boy did not respond, and Retsu was much too anxious to move her hand away. A finger might go next. Then again, if she kept her hand there her fingers might go regardless.
"Byakuya, if you're hungry, I could buy—"
She froze, a potent shiver traveling up and down her spine when the Kuchiki heir slowly licked her hand.
Flinching and petrified, she eyed Byakuya, hesitant, but he seemed not to notice the peculiarity of his own actions. Then without another moment's hesitation, she snatched her hand away, gracing him with the most disdainful of looks. He glared at her then, angry. The only thing that broke the silence was the loud growl of his stomach and Yoruichi's shouts from a distance. In an instant their gazes disconnected and he ran off. Unohana watched him, still confused and more than a tad worried. She was still looking in the teen's direction when Yoruichi caught up with her.
"Are you alright? Sorry about that; Byakuya…isn't himself today…"
"It's quite alright," replied Unohana, distant. "It was just…well, unexpected."
Unohana lowered her eyes. "I'm guessing Kisuke's experiment was a failure, then?"
Yoruichi sighed. "Unfortunately, yes. And now we have to catch Byakuya before he attacks half of the Seireitei."
"May I be of any assistance?"
Yoruichi gave her a grateful look. "Not with catching him, anyway. Although if you would be willing to run a few tests on his vitals once we do…"
Unohana nodded. "Certainly."
Yoruichi gave her a smile of thanks and flash stepped away. Unohana watched her go in silence before caressing her hand, still damp with Byakuya's saliva.
Two hours later, Byakuya stood doubled over a trash can, Unohana standing by, indifferent, as Kisuke and Yoruichi cringed subtly with disgust.
"Don't ever," Byakuya muttered between heavy breaths, "show me that stuff again."
Yoruichi and her third seat exchanged looks.
Unohana motioned for the two of them to step out of the room with her. "Every time chocolate has been present in the room with him, this has been his reaction."
"But it seems so…backwards," Yoruichi responded, hesitant as she eyed the door of Byakuya's hospital room. She promptly turned her head away when the gagging noises resumed.
"Yes," said Kisuke, "but not unlikely."
Yoruichi folded her arms. "I suppose…"
"You seem worried, taichou."
"I am. This is not how I expected this experiment to end, and Ginrei… well, I hope he won't be too disappointed."
"His addiction won't return," said Unohana, "at least not anytime soon. I've never seen a reaction shift like this before, so I have no way of knowing. But getting rid of the addiction is what you were hoping to accomplish, wasn't it?"
Kisuke smiled. "Then it should be fine. Byakuya won't be eating chocolate again for a long while, that seems certain. With enough time, he'll forget he even liked it."
"And that," said Yoruichi, a triumphant smirk on her face, "is what happened. Until Unohana started baking cookies, that is." She chuckled. "It seems the addiction never left him after all."
For the first time in many years, Byakuya was red with embarrassment, Ichigo showering him with howls of incessant laughter. Of course, Byakuya had expected the laughter. But Yoruichi's detail was infuriating. The fact that she even knew as much as she did—
"Something wrong, Byakuya-bo?" came her voice through his thoughts. Only his eyes moved; the rest of him remained perfectly still, an effort (in vain, it seemed) to mask both the embarrassment and the anger leaking into his reiatsu.
"I believe it is your turn to hold up your side of the bargain."
She smirked knowingly, mocking him with her eyes. "Yes, I know. I'll be right back." She disappeared inside his estate. Meanwhile, Ichigo recovered from his hysterical fit.
"Is all of that really true? Did you actually—"
"Questions, Kurosaki Ichigo," the captain interrupted, "were not part of the bargain."
"Don't be such a spoiled sport, Byakuya," said Ichigo, now through his usual scowl. Byakuya did not reply, choosing instead to shamelessly fiddle with his hands. It no longer mattered whether or not he chose to hid his addi…strong penchant for chocolate, not with a story like that behind him. And besides, it had been days and worlds of stress now behind him since he last swallowed a delicious piece…He gulped.
Ichigo snickered. Byakuya frowned.
"You really are addicted! Yoruichi wasn't exaggerating! Then again, if you were willing to kiss Yachiru—"
"Quiet," he muttered. Yes. Kuchiki Byakuya, captain of the Sixth Division of the Gotei Thirteen, 48th head of the Kuchiki Clan, had a fondness (and increasingly powerful weakness) for chocolate, and now that those most likely to use this against him in the most dangerous of ways were incarcerated, he felt just a teensy bit safer to proclaim it. The concept of addiction, however…
He thought of Hinamori's cookies again and shivered. Accursed things.
The patio door nearest the two men slid open.
It was not Yoruichi who stepped out.
"Byakushi!" the little vice-captain exclaimed, waving at him with a brown and gold box in her hands. A familiar box. The box Yoruichi had taken from him an hour before.
"Have you tried this candy before?" she asked, looking at the box herself. "It's better than that caramel stuff! I'd let you try it, but," she popped a small square in her mouth, "this is the last piece!"
Silence. Byakuya stared at her, a feeling of déjà vu washing over him. Ichigo glanced hesitantly between the two as Yachiru chewed happily, completely oblivious to what she was instigating.
Except Ichigo wasn't expecting the sudden surge of anger that crept into the captain's reiatsu. He stared at him, uneasy, and Yachiru followed suit, as only one word quietly escaped his lips.
From the roof, sounds of boisterous laughter could be heard. She caught his glare and smiled sweetly. "Guess I didn't hide it too well, did I?"
From Byakuya, an eye twitch. One she hadn't seen in decades.
"Once again, Kuchiki Byakuya, you lose!" And in a flash she was gone, Byakuya chasing without a moment's hesitation, Yachiru following with unparalleled eagerness, and Ichigo behind them all, not wanting to miss the action.
End of final chapter.
A/N: And so concludes Hinamori's Cookies! *applause*
Thank you for all the favorites, alerts, and reviews. Thank you especially for sticking through my lousy update schedule and story edits.