He rocked back and forth gently on his feet, staring at the people in front, occasionally kicking at the dusty ground. Small puffs of dust were created and settled, as the monotone droning went on. Byakuya was not sure what was going on. This was boring! He wanted to go out and play, now that he was already in the manor grounds, and where was okaa-san?

Frowning slightly, he looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of a familiar face. He had been placed somewhere near the back by one of the servants, and they had just disappeared after that! It was not fair! Where was everyone?

Reaching down with a small thumb, he tugged at the stiff clothing. It was itchy and scratchy, and he did not like the way it rubbed against his neck. He did not understand what was going on. There was some weird elder in front talking, and he did not understand what was being said. Trying to listen to the funny voice was too hard. It made him want to sleep. What was going on?

He pouted slightly, but did not dare move off. Otou-san had told him to stay put earlier, and he had had that scary look on his face. Byakuya was a good boy, and so he would listen to otou-san and not go anywhere else. But he really really really wanted to go off and play with okaa-san!

He looked around him with widened eyes, taking in the funny outfits. There were many many people around here that he did not know, that he had not seen before. And all of them were wearing the funny stiff clothing too. And there were funny symbols all over the stiff clothing. It looked stiff to him, in any case. Stiff and uncomfortable. He wondered why they wore it. And why were there so many people here now?

Byakuya chewed nervously on his lower lip, rocking back and forth, remaining at the same spot. He had not seen okaa-san for a few days now, and that was strange. Okaa-san was the first person he saw everyday. He saw okaa-san everywhere he went, because she was always with him. Even at lessons, she would be somewhere in the room, doing adult things, but she would always be there. Was she angry at him? Was that why she had not come?

He blinked. Where was okaa-san? Was she angry at him? What had he done? Frowning, he reached a hand up from his side, putting his index finger on his lower lip like he tended to do. What had he done? He tried to see what it was that he had done that had made okaa-san angry. Was it because he had not finished his food at dinner? Was it because he had not washed his face properly? Was it because he had not combed his hair in the way she had said he was supposed to? Maybe that was why okaa-san had not come.

He blinked rapidly, feeling tears come to his eyes. He would not have done those things if he had known that okaa-san would stay away from him. He would not have done those things at all! He sniffed, trying his best to keep the tears from falling. He remembered, the last time he had nearly cried was because of the flowers.

A soft weight drifted down onto his head, and he reached a hand to pull it off. A small pink petal glinted back at him in his hand. He could not stop the tears. Where was okaa-san? Why was she not here? Where had she gone? The tears were falling, and soft hiccupping sounds could be heard. Although he tried his best to suppress them, it was no use. Where was okaa-san? He needed her now. Now. Now. Where was she?

He blinked furiously, frowning as he reached up a scratchy sleeve to wipe away the tears. It would not be good for otou-san to see him cry. He swiped at his eyes furiously, ignoring the sting from the scratchy sleeves.

He blinked and bit his lip nervously, pondering what to do next. Should he stay here? The dust clouds were no longer fun to play with. They did not talk back to him, and they did not do anything fun. He needed to find out what was going on, since no one seemed to be telling him that. He needed okaa-san. This was it. He was going to look for okaa-san. He had waited for long enough, and okaa-san had still not turned up. He would have to go to her, since she had not come to him.

Muttering a soft "Gomen, otou-san", he cast his glance around, making sure that everyone else was listening to the funny voice in front, and not noticing his escape. From the back of the large group of people doing something that he could not see, he snuck away along a small path.

Hiding behind a tree, his heart beat faster and faster, pounding in his chest as his eyes darted around in their sockets, making sure that he had not been noticed. If otou-san found out, he was going to be very angry that Byakuya had disobeyed him.

Where to now? Where could okaa-san be? He chewed his lip as he looked around with mournful eyes. Truly, he had no idea where to start. Oh! Okaa-san might be looking for him! In that case, he would have to go to his room first.

He toddled along the path towards the master's section of the Kuchiki mansion, constantly casting glances behind him, making sure that he was not being followed. It just so happened that during one of the times when he had been looking behind as he walked, a stone somehow appeared in front of his foot, and he toppled forward, catching himself with his hands on the rough pavement.

There was a sharp sting-like pain, and he blinked again as he got to his feet and brought his left hand up to his face to see why it stung. There was a dark reddish liquid which he knew was not a good sign. He had seen otou-san come back before with the dark reddish liquid on the hem of his clothes, and otou-san had not looked happy. Not to mention, the dark-reddish liquid stung.

Wiping his hand on the scratchy cloth in an attempt to get rid of the liquid, he only found that the sting was now even sharper. He blinked furiously, keeping back tears the best he could. It was then that his face lit up again. Okaa-san would be able to make it better! Now, he just needed to find her! He grinned broadly to himself, the pain temporarily forgotten as he continued toddling down the path.

Okaa-san could do anything. He did not have to be scared of otou-san now, because okaa-san would be there to protect him. Seeing the ornate roof of the Kuchiki manor come into sight, his grin grew wider and he picked up his pace. He was going to be there soon!

As he eased open the door of his room, he poked a smiling head into it, only to find that the lamps were unlit, the windows were closed, and that the futon was exactly where he had left it in the morning, which meant that no one had been in the room. Had okaa-san been in the room, the futon would be tucked neatly in a corner, or kept folded in a cabinet.

He drooped slightly, before deciding to go check out the room that okaa-san shared with otou-san. Now that otou-san was not here, chances were, he would not be caught and found. He peeked inside after opening the door fractionally. It was stuffy, as though no one had been in it for days. Frowning, he slipped inside, and poked the futon with a toe. This was confusing. No one had been in here for many days. What was going on? Where was okaa-san? She always slept in her room in case Byakuya had a nightmare and wanted to go look for her.

In the same manner, Byakuya searched most of the empty Kuchiki manor, finding it odd that the servants were not about that day. Okaa-san was not in the kitchen, the hall, or even the toilet. Where could she be? He frowned as he leant against the door to the kitchen. There was only one place left to search, and it was highly unlikely that he would find her there. Now, really, where was okaa-san? He did not like this one bit.

He hurried in the direction of the garden, and when he got there, the pink cherry blossoms failed to evoke any semblance of cheer from the normally happy child. He only frowned, and stooped to overturn every rock in the garden, before turning it back. He checked all of his hiding places, climbed most of the trees that he could climb, before admitting that it was hopeless.

He blinked, trying and failing to hold back his tears. Okaa-san was not there. She was not anywhere. Where had she gone? He wanted okaa-san, and he wanted her now.

Taking in a deep breath, he sniffed and hurriedly tried to unblock his stuffy nose and rid his eyes of tears as a shadow blocked out some of his light. He looked up into a mop of white hair and grey eyes. He blinked, and said the first thing that came to mind. "Have you seen my okaa-san?"

"Your okaa-san?" There was a pause as the funny person bent down, with a concerned look on his face. "What's your name, child?" Byakuya stared back at the funny person blankly for a moment, before realizing that not everyone knew who he was. Straightening up slightly as he had been taught to do, he blinked once more before answering.

"Kuchiki Byakuya." He heard a slight intake of breath from the funny person. "What's wrong?" He mistook the wide-eyed look to be that of recognition and happiness. "Have you seen okaa-san?" His eyes lit up as he looked around him. "Where's she?" He waved his hands around in the air, trying to signal to the funny person that he wanted to be picked up, before settling with tugging at the person's clothes. "Who're you? And how come you know where okaa-san is and I don't?"

Ukitake's breath hitched as he heard the child's name. Why was the child so far away from the service? Why was the child in the garden, and why had he not seen the child earlier? Who was looking after the child? He looked around, wide-eyed. There were no Kuchiki servants nearby. What did Lord Kuchiki think he was doing? A tug at his clothes brought his attention back to the small being standing in front of him, with a happy look in his eyes. Why was the kid so happy? Did he… Dear gods. He really had no idea, then? Why had he not been told? Ukitake took in a deep breath.

"I'm Ukitake Jyuushiro."

"Pleasure to meet you, Ukitake-san." A chipper smile greeting him, and he felt his heart twist in pain.

"Can you bring me to my okaa-san, Ukitake-san?" Ukitake watched the child put a finger to his lower lip, thinking for a moment, before looking back at him with saddened eyes. "Okaa-san hasn't been with me for quite some time, and I can't find her anywhere in the manor. Is she angry at me, Ukitake-san?" He gulped, feeling the pinpricks of tears at the back of his eyes. It was funny how the entire solemn ceremony had not moved him, but yet a simple look and a simple question had.

"Ukitake-san? Are you alright, Ukitake-san?" The child reached a hand up to awkwardly pat Ukitake's. His high-pitched voice sounded nervous and afraid. "What's going on, Ukitake-san? Can you bring me to okaa-san now? I really want to see her and tell her I'm sorry for not combing my hair properly last week."

Ukitake blinked rapidly, looking away from the small child. This was getting to be too much for him to handle. Why had the Lady Kuchiki gone away? It was obvious for all to see that the child was not ready yet. The child was not ready to begin to be groomed into the next Kuchiki heir. He was still too young. He was still too young.

Ukitake felt the sudden tightning of his chest, and groaned, eliciting a frightened exclamation from the child. "Ukitake-san? Are you alright? Where's okaa-san? Can you just tell me where she is? I'll go find her, and then you'll be alright again. Okaa-san can make people alright. You'll be fine, but I need to find okaa-san first, you know?"

Blood spurted out of his mouth in response, as Ukitake's knees gave way, and he sank to the ground. This was a bad time. Alone in the garden with a small frightened child, coughing blood up by the mouthfuls, this was not the sight that he ever wanted any child to see.

Byakuya stared back, horrified at the white-haired man. He was coughing up the dark reddish liquid! This meant that he was not alright! He blinked, eyes widening. What was he to do? If okaa-san were here, she would know what to do, but she was not. What was he to do? A sudden whoosh of air heralded the arrival of two other people, and Byakuya's eyes widened to saucers, as the two others seemingly appeared out of nowhere.

One was a dark-skinned woman with purple hair and amber eyes, the other a tall broad-shouldered man with wavy brown hair, dressed in a pink haori. Byakuya instinctively took a step backward. He did not know them, and he had no idea why they were here. All he knew was that suddenly, it was a little more difficult to breathe. Much like when otou-san brought back some of his colleagues.

He frowned as he took a few more steps away from the two people who had just appeared, watching as they tried to help Ukitake-san. Otou-san had said that if he did not know how to help, then it would be best if he just stepped aside and stayed quiet. That way, he would at least not be a hindrance. Byakuya did just that, moving behind a tree, watching as they patted Ukitake-san on the back. He frowned in confusion as he felt the air becoming just a little thicker, before noticing the short bursts of stuff when the people patted him on the back.

So they were healing him, or at least helping him in some way! He had seen some of otou-san's colleagues do the same from time to time as well. Maybe that was how okaa-san made people better. He was going to have to ask her when he saw her next. He drooped slightly when he realised that he was going to have to find okaa-san. Maybe, since these people knew Ukitake-san, and Ukitake-san knew where okaa-san was, then maybe they would know where okaa-san was as well?

He chewed his lower lip nervously as he waited around at the tree trunk. When he saw that Ukitake-san seemed to be alright, at least the dark reddish liquid was no longer dripping from his mouth, he went up to him, tugging gently on his clothes. "Are you alright, Ukitake-san?" His eyes were large and hopeful. Now that Ukitake-san was fine, everything was going to be alright. "Can you bring me to my okaa-san now?"

Yoruichi and Shunsui started as the small kid came out from seemingly nowhere. Shunsui recovered first. "You know this kid, Jyuu?" A warning look silenced him, as Ukitake turned his head quickly, eyes flashing dangerously as he shook his head fractionally. The kid did not seem to notice, and instead flushed in embarrassment.

"Gomen. It is rude of me not to introduce myself," Yoruichi quickly cut in. "Shihouin Yoruichi." The eyes of the kid widened to saucers, and Shunsui frowned slightly, suspicion already growing in his mind. "I am Kyouraku Shunsui." The kid just gaped at them in shock, taking a step backwards.

There was one thing Byakuya knew for sure. Otou-san was going to be very very angry. The Lady Shihouin, and not to mention the second son of the Kyouraku family! He was in serious trouble. Some very serious trouble. And okaa-san was not here to help him out.

"What's your name, kid?" It was the Lady Shihouin. This was no good. Byakuya's expression of fear only increased, as he backed away from them, taking small afraid steps backwards. Otou-san had always instructed him not to run away but to stand tall in the true Kuchiki manner, but… but… he was about to be in trouble with otou-san.

Yoruichi raised a purple eyebrow, as she gave the kid a benevolent smile, before bending down to his eye-level and repeating her question in as nice a manner as she could. She did not see the horrified expression of Jyuushiro in the background, nor the narrowed eyes of Shunsui, both of which Byakuya could. He did the only thing that made any form of logical sense. He whimpered, before muttering something so softly that none of them could hear it.

"Come again, kid?" He blinked. What did the Lady Shihouin want with him? Why was she so adamant on knowing his name? Had otou-san put her up to it? Was he in trouble? He cowered slightly as she came closer, before muttering his name again, this time only louder, and quickly followed by the plea to be brought to his okaa-san. "I'm Kuchiki Byakuya. Can you bring me to my okaa-san, please?"

Even without the please, the plea in his voice was unmistakable. He was definitely afraid, mused Shunsui, though of what, he was not so sure. Hang on. He wanted to be… what? And he was… who? Great heavens above. Which of the various child-raising morons had decided not to tell the kid about what had happened? The scowl on his face grew even more pronounced.

Yoruichi straightened up, masking the shock very well, before reaching a hand over to ruffle his hair. "Bya-kun," she began, "I know this is unbelievable, but your okaa-san, she can't be with you anymore."

She did not expect anger to flare within those tired grey eyes, nor for him to straighten up with a dignity and air that was entirely his own, and definitely not for him to retort back angrily and vehemently. "Okaa-san would never do that! She said that she would always be with me!"

On any other occasion, the sight of the Kuchiki heir standing arms akimbo and with a pronounced scowl would have been simply hilarious. In this case, Yoruichi sighed softly, not really sure how she was supposed to go on and tell the kid exactly what had happened to his mother.

Shunsui, standing behind, resisted the urge to butt in and tell the kid that his mother had not been with him for a few days now, though judging from the hurt and pained look on the kid's face, it was probably what he had just realised. "But she said…" his voice dropped to a whisper, as he stared back up, confused at the people who had just found their way into his life.

"She said that she would always be with me! Who's going to tell the cooks that I don't like them adding water to the sauce because they think I cannot take the spiciness! Who's going to tell the servants that I really don't like my comb being put near my wash cloth! Who's going to tell otou-san that I don't like the blue hakama but like the black one better!" Tears came to his eyes, and his exclamation was interrupted by sniffles as he tried and failed to contain the tears.

Looking up to find the three people still there, he turned and ran, not knowing where he was going, only know that he had to get out of there, and that otou-san was going to be very very angry with him. He just ran, crashing through bushes, tripping over roots, and dashing across fields. He ran as fast as he could, and felt the scenery blur past him. Upon reflection years later, he would realize that in his state of utter distress, he had somehow managed a form of shunpo, which he would only repeat again once in his life.

Ukitake was startled as Bya-kun began to run away, and as he turned to his companions, his expression of confusion was quickly morphed into one of shock. Had the child just shunpoed? An uttered oath next to him signaled Yoruichi launching into action, chasing after the kid as fast as she could. His mouth opened wide as he saw exactly why she had been so horrified. Bya-kun was rushing headlong towards a stone bridge. To be more precise, he was rushing headlong towards the stone ornament on the stone bridge. In his condition, not to mention the fact that the shunpo was probably unconsciously done, and thus uncontrollable, there was no way that he would be able to avoid it, or even see it in time.

Which would be where Yoruichi came in. It was only now that Ukitake saw what she intended to do. With the child's relatively slow shunpo, she would be able to reach him in time, and prevent him from following his mother in wherever it was that the dead lay. Sure enough, she caught him neatly, preventing him from crashing headlong into the stone sculpture. "What are you so afraid of, Bya-kun? Hm? I did not think that I was so scary."

The child said nothing, merely burying his head in her shoulder. "Otou-san is going to be very angry. I wasn't s'pposed to go off anywhere, but I really really wanted to find okaa-san. She's really not here anymore, Shihouin-sama? She's really not going to be around anymore?" His wide eyes shone brightly, and it nearly killed her to tell him the truth. But lying to him was not going to help him. And so, she nodded. He visibly drooped, the sparkle in his eyes disappearing completely.

Yoruichi knew that the kid was not as naïve as they had initially assumed. His education had to be rather impressive for his age for him to be able to identify their status just by their names. She was not pleased at all that no one had thought it appropriate to tell the poor child that his mother had been killed in an operation. She was pretty sure that little Bya-kun had no idea that both his parents were shinigami. Yoruichi did the only thing she could for him, hugging him gently as she carried him back, no longer using shunpo but just walking.

When they arrived back at the cherry tree, he got out of her arms, standing there forlorn and disappointed. He murmured some form of thanks before trudging off in the direction of the ceremony. Three sets of mournful eyes followed him, before returning back to their own homes, most of the event forgotten by the next time they saw him, though the melancholy look in his eyes still lingered in their minds.

It would be close to ten years before all three of them saw him next, this time at the funeral of the 27th head of the Kuchiki clan. From the clan elders' point of view, the 28th head of the Kuchiki clan was brilliant. He was young and although a little headstrong, would cow in time, just exactly what they needed to bring the Kuchiki clan to fame. From Ukitake's point of view, however, the promotion was a complete disaster. Bya-kun was no longer a child; his childhood had been stolen from him ever since their encounter in the garden. So he was gifted, he was brilliant. So what? The poor kid never had a chance to be himself.

It had been confirmed by way of a rude shock. What had shocked Ukitake was the way he had bowed in thanks to the three of them, apologizing for all the trouble and distress he might have caused, those many years ago. Though fluid in its execution, the bow seemed mechanical. Bya-kun seemed different. No longer the child he had been, his emotions were kept under tight control and the very way he carried himself spoke of dignity. The sparkle in his eyes had died out, and what remained behind was an empty shell of a child's stolen innocence. He was older, more mature, and somehow, it all seemed wrong. The Bya-kun that they had met that faithful day under the cherry tree was dead and gone.

No one knew, however, that there was a small scar on the palm of his left hand that Byakuya refused to allow treated no matter what.