Byakuya stood in Captain Unohana's office, awaiting the private conference with the head of the Fourth Squad. His hands trembled at his sides, and for the first time that he could remember, Byakuya Kuchiki was truly afraid. Even so, he waited silently, placing a hand on Senbonzakura's hilt, drawing comfort from his zanpakto. This was not an enemy he could do battle with. He was completely helpless in this aspect. He could do nothing but wait.
He began to pace in front of Captain Unohana's desk. He dreaded the woman's entrance, but he could not stand to wait a moment longer. Sighing, he forced himself to remain patient. He stopped suddenly and forced himself to become calm. He was letting his fear control him.
Byakuya tried to distract his mind by focusing on a painting above Captain Unohana's desk. The abstract painting was filled with hues of pale greens and blues. The color palette suggested tranquility, but the young Kuchiki was far from at peace.
Finally, Byakuya heard the door knob slowly turn. He looked over his shoulder to see a tired and worn out captain enter. Terrified to hear her speak, Byakuya turned to face the captain.
Her eyes were dull and downcast. The braid under her neck was frayed and beginning to come undone. She walked slowly to her desk, gesturing for Byakuya to take a seat, as she seated herself. She picked up a plumed pen from her desk and ran her hand over the soft, white feather as she brought her gaze to meet the young man's.
"Kuchiki-sama," she began, her voice a lyrical melody. Byakuya dreaded hearing such a sweet voice bear such bitter news. She fingered the feathered pen as she continued. "I have the results on Lady Hisana's tests. The blood work shows her white cell count is far below normal. I had certainly expected this, as sick as she is. I've done all I can for the moment. I would like to keep her here for observation tonight, with your permission of course," she watched as Byakuya waited, stoic, but hanging on her every word.
"You have my permission, Captain. Do whatever you need. Spare no expense," Byakuya had money. There was no price he was not willing to expend to save his Hisana.
"You have my utmost assurance that my entire squad will do all we can for your wife, Kuchiki-sama. But is my duty to inform you that the situation does not look well."
Byakuya's eyes widened in shock. He knew that his wife was sick, and that she might well take weeks to recover, or perhaps need surgery, but something in Unohana's eyes told him that her diagnosis was much more dire than he had planned for. "What are you saying, Lady Unohana," he asked, his voice raspy from the weight of suppressing his fears.
"I cannont be certain yet, Kuchiki-sama. I have not yet determined exactly what ails your wife. But the data suggests that her body is simply failing her. I do not know the cause, but the effects are clear to see. My Lord, Lady Hisana is... dying. If her organs continue trying to shut down, she may only have weeks left." She laid the pen back in its place on her desk, breaking the news as easily as one could.
Byakuya's heart sank in his chest. Hisana's body was failing. Already she was slowly slipping away from him. She would be gone before the spring. Visions of a life without Hisana filled his mind. She was the only one capable of drawing him from his cold inner world, and she would soon be passing in a frigid breath of winter air. He did not know how to react. The panic he tried so hard to suppress rose to fight him head on. He gave in easily now, no longer feeling the desire or need to suppress himself. His mind and mouth attempted to form words, but he could find no sound. His palms clenched into clammy fists. There was nothing he could do! He would soon lose her, and then, he would truly be alone.
The utter grief of his situation crushed him. Byakuya felt as if he could barely breathe.
"Kuchiki-sama," Captain Unohana spoke softly at first, trying to recapture the young man's attention. He was unresponsive. He only stared past her, clenching his fists and shaking slightly. "Kuchiki-sama," she demanded, trying once more to no avail. "Kuchiki-sama! You are releasing your riatsu!"
Byakuya did not hear her. He was in his own world, contesting his fear, losing the battle. Hisana... He could not save her. He was so helpless.
A dry sob escaped his throat as Lady Unohana gently laid a hand on his knee. She knelt beside his chair. "Kuchiki-sama," she tried once again, slowly turning Byakuya's face toward hers. He continued to tremble, but upon realizing that he had released his full riatsu, he quickly reined it back in.
He rose swiftly, not waiting to hear the rest of Captain Unohana's words. He needed to be alone, where he could deal with the news in his own way. Using shunpo, he abruptly left the Fourth Squad building.
He needed to vent his rage and frustration from being so utterly powerless. He needed to unleash his grief before it consumed him. Emotions were a difficult thing for Byakuya. He never knew what to do about them, he never knew how to respond to them, so he simply bottled them up, until, with the passage of time, they faded. But Byakuya was painfully aware that his usual approach would not be enough this time. His soul could not contain so much pain and turmoil. He needed to hit, punch, kick, rage, scream and cut something down. He needed to use all of his pent up strength inside him until he was too exhausted to even think. He needed to train.
Byakuya knew exactly where to go.
He flash stepped in front of the Squad Thirteen sparing area. The outdoor field was lined with a wall containing flecks of sekiseki rock, designed to protect the outside world from attacks that could damage nearby structures. He opened the sealed gate to the training area, leaving the door swinging open behind him, gaping at him like an astonished mouth.
Immediately he drew Senbonzakura from his sheath and began his normal routine at a frenzied pace. With expert skill he fought with imaginary enemies, giving himself over to his exercises completely, thinking only of form, balance and speed.
Slash, stab, arc, reverse thrust, block, parry, cut...
His moves were endless and flowed together seamlessly. His shunpo moved him around the outdoor field faster than most eyes could see.
Sweat beaded at his hairline and flowed freely down his brow, stinging into his eyes and salting his lips. He paid it no heed. He pushed himself to go faster, faster, faster, as he pressed on into the afternoon. Thoughts of the day's events chased him and he continued to try to out run them.
By sunset his entire body ached. Bloody palms stained the hilt of his zanpakto. His grip cut into his flesh, biting him and drawing forth blood. Byakuya failed to notice. He kept on fighting the images and words that haunted him.
"You are weak," his mind whispered in his ears. "You can do nothing, Byakuya boy!"
He shoved the thoughts aside, grunting with both physical and mental effort.
Captain Jyuushiro Ukitake watched silently as Byakuya pushed his own limits. The captain's heart went out to the young man. Captain Unohana had informed him of Lady Hisana's condition shortly after Byakuya had left her office. Jyuushiro watched over his subordinate, checking in on him every couple of hours, but otherwise leaving him be. The boy had been at it for just at seven hours now and showed no sign of stopping. The captain feared Byakuya might do himself harm, but he also understood the importance of letting him grieve in his own way.
But eventually enough became enough. Byakuya's captain decided to intervene. He would have gone onto the field himself, but he was not in the condition to do so at that moment. In the wee hours of the morning, Captain Ukitake woke his lieutenant. He had decided that he could not comfort Byakuya even if he tried, for he knew that it was not comfort Byakuya was after. Shaking his head, Ukitake sent Kaien Shiba after someone he thought might bring the boy to his senses.
Dew clung to the grass as Kenpachi Zaraki walked swiftly to the Squad Thirteen sparring area. It clung to his tabi socks and gave him a slight chill. He admired Byakuya Kuchiki's skills as a warrior and the controlled, if not slightly arrogant, air he exuded. He would have liked to have the He did not want to see the young man in such a way. He knew he would have to fight the young Kuchiki in order to stop him. For once, Kenpachi Zaraki approached a battle he wanted no part in.
Engrossed in his training, Byakuya almost failed to notice as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Another spiritual presence had entered through the gate, and instantly, without even turning to see the new comer, Byakuya knew that Kenpachi Zaraki had arrived. For the first time in over twelve hours, Byakuya slowed to a halt. He was anxious to see what Kenpachi wanted. Surely a fight, no doubt.
"Why have you come," Byakuya asked bluntly, not caring to bother with formal addresses. This was his squad's training grounds and he did not wish to be bothered. If Zaraki was seeking a fight, he could find one elsewhere. Byakuya was not interested in dealing with this brute of a man.
"I've come to knock some sense into you, boy," Kenpachi answered as he slowly approached the exhausted Kuchiki. Although the young man stood upright and still breathed at a steady pace, he could see fatigue's hold on Byakuya in the way that he leaned slightly on his sword and faintly hunched his shoulders. His voice differed from the rough grate it usually possessed. "You would do well to listen to me. Right now, you don't have any focus. You'll only damage yourself."
Byakuaya remained silent, raising his sword tip from the ground, unsure of Kenpachi's intentions. He had no inclination toward forming a reply. That would require thought, and if he allowed himself do that, then he would only be able to think of losing her. He only gazed blankly ahead, relying on his instincts to face whatever would soon happen.
"We can do this one of two ways, Byakuya. You can talk to me, or you can fight me. Either way, I'm going to force you to think."
Kenpachi only received a blank stare in return.
"Fine," the captain mumbled, adjusting the strap on his eye patch. "I've never been one for heart to heart conversations anyway. The sooner we start this, the sooner we can finish it." With that he raised his zanpakto, aiming straight at Byakuya. He charged.
Byakuya used shunpo to flash step away from Kenpachi, easily dodging his attack. Gradually, the captain increased in speed, until he matched the pace of the exhausted Kuchiki's movements. With a clang, their swords met. They traveled the length and breadth of the field for nearly half an hour, neither saying a word. Finally, Kenpachi came to an abrupt halt, his sword modicums from Byakuya's nose.
"You're tired boy, and I'm barely even trying. Honestly, I'm growing bored. I have no desire to fight you when you're having a pity party with your head up your ass," Kenpachi spat as he removed his eye patch. Instantly the air around him glowed with the golden fire of Captain Zaraki's spiritual pressure. It was all Byakuya could do to remain standing. "I'll make you stand still and listen to me."
Ukitake had known that an open display of comfort and compassion would only send Byakuya deeper in his shell, so he had called on Kenpachi Zaraki. Although he had hardly an idea of the captain's past, he knew that he, like Byakuya, had suffered a great loss. If anyone could teach Byakuya to deal with his grief, rather than run from it, that man would be Zaraki.
"Now do I have to force you down, or will you listen to me, Byakuya Kuchiki? I can force you to the ground if that is what it takes."
Byakuya's eyes were wide with shock. This man, he was incredible. His spiritual pressure was immense. He had heard rumors of Kenpachi Zaraki's abilities, but he had never witnessed them. Nodding slightly, speech barely within his limits, Byakuya answered that he would listen.
Kenpachi bent to retrieve his eye patch, placing it securely over his eye once more. The immense weight pressing against Byakya's body instantly disappeared. With a cough, he collapsed to the ground. Kneeling at Kenpachi's feet, the young man gasped for air before slowly staggering his way back up.
"I don't really know what you're trying to do here, Byakuya," Kenpachi spoke slowly, looking past the young man and up to the full moon in the midnight sky. "But you must understand one thing. You cannot stop the setting of the sun. You can only bask in the warmth while the day lasts."
Inwardly, he tried to deny it, but the sun was indeed setting on his Hisana's life. He could not stop it. Even if he refused to open his eyes, he knew his proverbial night would soon fall. He didn't want to think about it. Buaykuya did not want to envision a night without Hisana, alone in the darkness of his room, only emptiness in the space beside him. But the realization loomed over him now, inescapable, personified by Captain Zaraki's undeniable words. He stood there for a moment, forcing himself to draw breath when he felt like the entire world around him was falling to pieces. He coughed slightly, a sound that could easily have been mistaken for a dry sob, his body trembling under the weight of realization.
Kenpachi drug a hand through his hair. He hated emotional situations like this. They always made him feel awkward. But he respected Ukitake and admired the young boy before him, and so performed the favor Ukitake had asked of him. One day he hoped to fight Byakuya Kuchiki on equal footing, but he knew that day would be far in the future. He sighed, returning his sword to its normal place by his side.
"You can stand there for as long as you like, boy," Kenpachi addressed Byakuya once more as he walked toward the gate. "Even though the sun will set, you can still find the moon."
With that, Kenpachi left. He nodded to Ukitake, who stood transfixed at the field's edge, as he left. Walking back toward his quarters he muttered one simple word to himself, his voice so soft that he himself could barely register the sound, "Yachiru", the name of the woman who had been his sun and the girl who had become his moon.
Jyuushiro Ukitake took a moment to observe his subordinate before approaching. Byakuya continued to stand, completely motionless. It appeared that he was staring at the moon through its backdrop of moist, grey clouds. The captain gave the young man a moment alone with his thoughts before approaching. He knew bringing Kenpachi Zaraki to talk with Byakuya had been a good idea. He could have chosen a number of people. Kaien would have gladly spent all night with Byakuya, as Ukitake would have himself. Still, something within him had suggested that only Zaraki would do. He had yielded to the idea, trusting that there was indeed an innate wisdom in the man that most viewed only as a creature of violence.
"Byakuya," he alerted the young man to his approach. "Come now. I have had a hot meal prepared for you in your quarters at the barracks. I am sure you do not feel like eating much, but do try to force something down. Your body has been through just as much as your mind today." He placed a hand on Byakuya's shoulder, noticing the sag in his stance. He looked into those slate grey eyes and saw an overwhelming amount of pain. His heart ached, knowing that there was not much else he could do for his subordinate and friend.
"I have spoken with Captain Unohana," he continued. "She will contact me as soon as Hisana has awoken and the observations are complete. You should rest now, Byakuya-musuko. I will awake you when Captain Unohana calls."
Byakuya only nodded, deeply touched by the honorific the captain attached to his name. "Hai, taichou." He was too exhausted to speak further. Together the two made their way to the sleeping quarters of Squad Thirteen's barracks.
Some fifty years later, Byakuya Kuchiki stood in his private garden, gazing up at the full moon. It was well past midnight. The winter air chilled him, Byakuya paid it no heed. He was engrossed in a reverie.
Hisana... He had learned to feel her warmth in the last rays of the sunset, learned to hear her voice in the spring breeze and feel her presence among the sakura trees in his gardens. He missed her dearly, but with the passing of time, he had accepted his loss and found the will to continue on.
Looking to the night sky, he was reminded once again of Kenpachi's words. His sun had set the day that Hisana had passed from his world. But just Kenpachi had predicted, he soon found his moon. Its light was different than that of the sun, a reflection of what he had lost..., and yet, something entirely new and all its own. Both literal forms of the metaphor were just as celestial to him as their figurative counterparts.
Byakuya turned to see his adoptive sister and sister-in-law cautiously make her way to him. Their relationship had changed since the incident at the Sokyoku Hill. It remained unspoken, but both could feel that their bond had deepened immeasurably.
"Nii-sama, it is cold out tonight. Should we not go back inside?"
Byakuya turned his face back to the pale light of the moon, smiling where Rukia could not see his face, before turning back to the petite girl before him.
"Hai, Rukia," he acknowledged. "You are probably right. It is past time to retire for the night."
The girl smiled, pleased to have been able to capture her brother's attention for once. "I can hardly blame you," she smiled at him. "The moon is just so beautiful tonight."
"Yes," Byakuya whispered, watching as the girl his wife had devoted so much of her own self to, slowly retreat back through the garden to the Kuchiki mansion. "Yes, it certainly is beautiful."