A/N: As always, spoilers for the zanpakuto filler arc. Huzzah! A new chapter! I know this one took a bit long in the updating, and there are a few reasons for that: 1) I was in the midst of finishing up Scar Tissue (my multi-chapter RenBya) and, well, I was gleaning the two past episodes for the little ByaSen bits. But now, here it is, and if this week's episode has anything of ByaSen interest, then I may update again before the week is out.

This chapter is loosely based around episodes 244-45, and focuses on two central concepts: naming and wounds. I noticed in this past episode that Senbonzakura refers to Byakuya as "Byakuya," which was a total whoa moment for me, because how intimate is that? I still like having Sen refer to Bya in this fic as Bya-sama, particularly because for Sen I think honor and respecting Bya are important, and I like imagining the name-by-itself as an inherently intimate act, maybe one that Sen falls into by accident when he's really emotionally engaged. And as for wounds, I kept thinking: sheesh, wouldn't it have sucked to be Sen while Gin was running Byakuya through on the Soukyoku? To be so helpless and unable to fight back? Hrm.

Also, I get a kick out of imagining Sen's reaction to Kenpachi; the way he jumps in front of Byakuya when Kenpachi looks at him. With all the KenBya stuff going on in the manga/anime lately, I have to think Sen's jealousy is picking up a bit, yes?

Flashback in italics, as always. I hope you enjoy it, and hopefully the next update won't be so long!

- Rii


Senbonzakura always felt a sweet thrill at the sound of his name: a name that existed to be spoken only by one other, the one who knew him best, cherished him most.

That was a zanpakuto's proudest moment, after all: to be known, for one's wielder to speak the long-awaited appellation and trigger the union of shinigami and blade. Though he had heard his name spoken many times by now, Senbonzakura never tired of it, never tired of all the myriad ways Byakuya-sama's lips uttered the word in steely tones of conviction, pride, and adoration.

And so, when the zanpakuto found his fight with Kurosaki Ichigo violently interrupted by the sudden presence of that Eleventh Squad barbarian with his demented, feral smile and his hulking, mammoth frame, his first response was not disgust, or even fear, but…

…pity. Pity for the zanpakuto that belonged to those brute hands.

He could not imagine the pain of such…anonymity. Though Senbonzakura was not given to much sympathetic feeling for anyone but Byakuya-sama, he found that he ached for Zaraki's zanpakuto: a spirit denied the basic, fundamental recognition of its own identity. Denied the privilege of hearing its name spoken. Denied the bond for which Senbonzakura would have gladly given his life.

What fool does not know the name of his own zanpakuto?

A powerful one, Senbonzakura realized immediately, the thought of Ichigo momentarily forgotten in the face of this new problem. The sheer reiatsu emanating in waves from Zaraki Kenpachi was overwhelming, and the sight of the man himself was disturbing as always: that crazed glance, those arms rippling with muscles, the spiked hair and the small bells. Senbonzakura found himself relieved that his mask hid his utter distaste and disdain; Byakuya-sama would not have approved of such a show of emotion.

Though he really couldn't help his reaction. The man was astoundingly brute, crass and unfinished in nearly every aspect, the precise opposite of Byakuya-sama's elegance, grace, and minimalistic style. The very sight was worthy of mockery, and Senbonzakura duly scoffed at it.

But then, at the hands of that brute, crass shinigami, Wabisuke died. Quickly. Violently.

The sight gave Senbonzakura pause, kept him from immediately returning to his fight with Kurosaki. He had no pity, nor any feeling of deep companionship, for most of his fellow zanpakuto (though his heart ached still for the loss of Sode no Shirayuki), but to see one fall in such a manner was disturbing at best. Dislike it as he might, he could not deny Zaraki's obvious power, and he knew as much as his wielder did that arrogance—while acceptable if justified—could lead quickly to a painful death at the hands of seemingly lesser men. Frowning slightly beneath the snarling visage that hid his delicate features, Senbonzakura took a second, longer glance at the behemoth captain of the Eleventh Squad.

The reiatsu around the man pushed away weaker fighters and no small amount of debris, though Senbonzakura stood his ground against it. Even Kurosaki Ichigo seemed dumbfounded by the sight, nearly flattened by the impressive wall of energy. The zanpakuto's eyes noted the eyepatch that still restrained most of Zaraki's power, the grin on his face that was growing by the second, and the predatory gaze that was directed at—

Byakuya-sama.

The zanpakuto moved with frightening speed to stand before his wielder, heart pounding in his chest at the realization of the sudden threat. How dare you gaze upon him? He is not your prey here. Should the fool not be occupied fighting the zanpakuto that were present? I will deal with this threat, Byakuya-sama. All thoughts of vengeance, of Kurosaki Ichigo, vanished in a tidal wave of clarity and determination. Senbonzakura determined to himself that no one, particularly not this crude, filthy excuse for a shinigami, would touch the only man to whom he offered his submission. He is beneath you, Byakuya-sama. Even to gaze upon you is a privilege he should be denied.

"I will handle this, Byakuya." Senbonzakura spoke the words before he thought through them, and immediately winced internally. Byakuya-sama, he amended sheepishly. He so liked his wielder's name unadorned, cherished the privilege of speaking it—a privilege hardly any other had earned—but using such a name was such a deeply intimate act that it should belong to their private interactions. Forgive me for making my feelings so public, Byakuya-sama, but I—

He decided he would think about it later. With this particular barbarian, there was little time to waste, and that feral grin was sharpening by the second. Senbonzakura decided to end it quickly so that they could leave this place—so that he could, perhaps, finally have time to reflect in peace on all of this, time to speak alone with his wielder—

But before he could complete the attack, before he could so much as start it, he saw those large, calloused fingers reach up and easily snap off the eyepatch, that thin piece of fabric that acted as a barrier between the world and Zaraki Kenpachi's formidable reiatsu.

The wall of sheer energy that hit him hurt; Senbonzakura struggled to keep his ground. Byakuya. He couldn't see through all the debris flying, the bodies of shinigami and zanpakuto alike falling, struggling. Byakuya. He reached up with one desperate hand to touch his mask, tried to draw strength from it. The energy pushed him back farther, and he tried desperately to stand against it. Byakuya, I

With a cry, the zanpakuto lost his footing, and the golden light swallowed up everything.

*****

"Ikorose, Shinsou."

The pain following that command so casually spoken had been unlike any Senbonzakura had ever felt, or would ever feel again: the searing slice of blade through yielding skin and muscle.

Byakuya-sama had been defenseless.

Placing himself in front of his sister that day, he'd left himself open to the hit from Ichimaru Gin's zanpakuto. Though the act was deliberate on his wielder's part, Senbonzakura raged against it—raged and fought and struggled and cried out, desperately. He had never known helplessness, until then. Until he fell with his wielder, felt the shocking weakness and lethargy of a violent wound. And though the act was noble, though the sacrifice was the embodiment of Byakuya-sama's very nature, it was also contrary to Senbonzakura's own. I exist to fight for you, with you. To protect you.

In the end, he had been able to do nothing—he had been allowed to do nothing—but bear silent, horrified witness while Kuchiki Byakuya fell before them all.

Senbonzakura thirsted for the blood of Ichimaru Gin as deeply and as fervently as he desired anyone else's.

And the days following that had been just as devastating, in their own way, for Senbonzakura felt the intricate knit of Byakuya's confusion, his pain, his regret, and his sorrow over the events of Soukyoku Hill as he recovered. The emotions leached into the zanpakuto's little world, deprived it of serenity, left the clear night skies cloudy and the peaceful breeze turbulent. Old hurts opened then that had remained closed since Hisana-sama died, and ached alongside the bodily wound that left his wielder confined to a bed.

Byakuya had still come to meet with him faithfully, then, though his words were few, his exhaustion palpable. Senbonzakura, weakened himself from the ordeal, had been relieved to find that the wounds would heal, and sometimes—as Byakuya rested with him, and simply enjoyed the quiet of their communion—he would let his hand come to linger over the site of that wound, press gently against the skin.

Senbonzakura made promises to himself.

I will not leave you defenseless. I will protect you and those you love. I will fight with all of myself against any foe of your choosing. I will not allow this to happen again. I will not allow you to fall again.

He had been hesitant to ask for a simple promise in return, though he had desired it with every fiber of his being: promise me that you will never fall without your blade in your hand and my name on your tongue, Byakuya-sama.

*****

Cursing in a manner of which Byakuya-sama would have undoubtedly disapproved, Senbonzakura pushed aside rubble and debris and emerged from a pile of devastated ruins. No one was around; he lifted hands to his mask, relieved to find that it was still secure. That Byakuya-sama's honor was still secure.

From the distance, he could hear the clash of swords, and he knew, he knew it was Byakuya even before he could make out the scene clearly: his slender, graceful wielder and that barbarian, sparring in the distance. Senbonzakura frowned, but his worry lifted slightly as he noted—with some amusement—that the noble was hardly giving the affair his utmost effort. He is biding his time. He, too, wishes to leave this place.

And Senbonzakura perhaps would have left it at that, would have attended to his own business, had there not been a roar and a mad laugh from that near-demon, and then—

—then—

Blood.

A gash on Byakuya-sama's shoulder, superficial to be sure, but present nonetheless: a cut that dripped dark crimson down his pale arm and stained his shihakusho. Senbonzakura might have lost his head with rage at the sight, and indeed he nearly did as flashbacks of the events on Soukyoku Hill flashed through his mind.

But then he noticed something that gave him pause, that startled him: Byakuya-sama, he realized with surprise, was…amused. Or, if not amused, enjoying himself in the way that he did during fights that provoked his sense of pride, that challenged his singularity as a warrior and as a captain. His heavy-lidded eyes and his proud tone hid the attitude, but Senbonzakura recognized it from the fights he'd had in childhood with Shihouin Yoruichi: the desire to prove that he was, above and beyond, better than his opponent.

Byakuya-sama is enjoying this. The revelation piqued Senbonzakura; it only made him want to kill the barbarian all the more. That fool deserves none of Byakuya-sama's attention or effort. But it gave him pause, even as his hand tightened on his own blade and he found himself itching to join in, to crush this insolent idiot who had dared to wound the head of one of the Four Great Houses. Should I intervene?

He desired nothing more.

And yet… Byakuya-sama's pride is at stake. Senbonzakura did not wish to smear his wielder's honor by entering the battle, or by implying that Byakuya might need the aid. Nothing of the sort. He's barely fighting that fool seriously. Hesitantly, he loosened his grip, and decided to turn his attention to Kurosaki Ichigo again, with every intention to unleash his multitude of frustrations on the substitute shinigami in a flurry of bladed petals.

Fortunately, it wasn't to be.

Senbonzakura sensed Ashisogi Jizo's presence before the massive zanpakuto arrived, spewing poison in its wake; it gave him no little delight to kick Kurosaki Ichigo into that foggy cloud of spew. Fool. And when he turned, he found with delight that Byakuya-sama stood beside him, having departed his own fight with Zaraki under the curtain of poison.

Together they stood for a quiet moment, observing the scene: piles of rubble and collapsed buildings, the crumpled bodies of incapacitated shinigami, the hovering toxic fumes. Senbonzakura glanced at the cut on Byakuya-sama's shoulder, the drying blood, and wished suddenly that they were anywhere but here.

When will this end, Byakuya-sama?

But he did not ask the question, and though he wished it, he did not remove his mask and press his lips to that small wound in tribute. He simply turned, and began to walk away, aware of his wielder in step beside him, shunpo matching shunpo.

He felt as though he were back where he belonged.