You Touched My Heart
Love. Such a useless thing. It's a complicated emotion and one that he would rather not be bothered with. It has many depths, many meanings and many avenues. There is also more than one definition of the word. To reiterate, love is complicated. Love is a feeling reserved for friends, family, and that special someone should you be lucky enough to find them. Love applies to all of these in varying degrees.
Steel grey eyes closed regretfully. He had been in love once. He had found a woman who made his face light up with every adoring word. His breath would catch at the mere sight of her. His heart would melt when she touched a hand to his cheek lovingly. Then like an evil storm blowing in on his happiness, it was taken away from him. His beloved Hisana died due to a terrible illness. There had been nothing to fight, nothing to kill. It was an illness. He couldn't prevent it from happening and he couldn't protect her. He had failed her.
His heart died that day. His heart was torn, unfixable and permanently sealed. He swore that he would never allow those feelings to surface again. He couldn't take the pain that was left behind. He wouldn't risk his heart like that again. Never.
Love. Byakuya snorted indignantly. The word was thrown around so carelessly these days, he thought it had lost its true meaning. He wasn't sure, after all these years, that he even knew what that meaning was anymore. Since his beloved Hisana died, love became nothing but a dream, a fantasy, an illusion the Gods used to toy with their subjects. Never again would he fall prey to those feelings.
He spent years after her death building up an unapproachable persona. He made others believe that he was an arrogant, unmoved, egotistical bastard. People had grown to believe that he cared for nothing more than the pride of the Kuchiki Clan and the law of the Soul Society. They had all stopped trying to understand him. Very few approached him and those that did were still scared of his wrath. He was short with everyone. He was quiet and indifferent. He was harsh and unforgiving. He demanded respect through fear on most accounts.
Byakuya walked through the Seireitei alone, which was exactly how he liked it. He finished with his paperwork, had attended Yamamoto's silly meeting and checked on his seated officers and recruits who were training in the sixth division dojo. There was nothing else that needed his immediate attention and so he was going home for the day.
He walked silently, well aware that some people were watching him cautiously. Some were whispering to each other, while others spoke loud enough for him to hear. He ignored all that. None of it mattered. They meant nothing to him. It wasn't going to hurt his feelings. It never did. He had seen to that.
He had closed off his heart after his wife's death. He shut off his own emotions to protect himself. He kept his adopted sister Rukia, Hisana's true sister, at arm's length. He didn't bother to make friends with anyone. He worked hard to create the mask of indifference and arrogance. He had a hard outer shell. Only two people in all the Soul Society saw through his mask: Yoruichi Shihoin and Jushiro Ukitake. Still, he never got chummy with anyone, not even the other Captains of the Gotei Thirteen. Everyone thought he perceived himself as above them all, but they knew and understood very little.
The appearance he showed others was one they didn't and couldn't warm up to. He preferred it that way. It was for the best. For them and for him. People had given up on him long before now. No one pulled him into conversation. No one looked at him with any interest at all. Girls found him scary. Even his seated officers went to his Vice-Captain Renji Abarai before coming to him. Renji approached him in a business only capacity, which was usually when Byakuya called on him for a report. Other than that, he was left to his own devices.
Byakuya was almost home; he could see the Kuchiki Manor. He suddenly felt two very high flares of reiatsu. One he recognized immediately as his Vice-Captain, Renji Abarai. The other belonged to the ryoka, now substitute soul reaper, Ichigo Kurosaki. The ryoka's reiatsu spiked rapidly.
Byakuya sighed heavily, annoyed. The boy would never learn to control his spiritual pressure. He didn't know why the boy was even in the Soul Society, but he intended to send him back to the World of the Living immediately. All the boy did was cause trouble, which it seemed he had already accomplished.
He used shunpo to reach their current location within seconds. Upon arrival, it turned out that the pair had an audience. He felt no menace coming from either man, but that didn't excuse their reckless behavior. The crowd around them confirmed his earlier thoughts. Renji and the Kurosaki boy were sparring.
Byakuya looked around curiously. He could see his adopted sister, Rukia, on the far side of the makeshift arena. She was cheering, smiling wide and laughing freely.
He cringed inwardly. He had almost allowed that smile to fade. He had done everything in his power to stop those trying to save her from execution...to stop Ichigo Kurosaki. Fortunately, he'd been defeated. Rukia was alive, safe and happy, no thanks to him. It was all thanks to the ryoka boy. That in itself annoyed Byakuya more. He was indebted to a mere human. It was disgraceful.
He was interrupted from his thoughts when Ichigo flash stepped in front of him and then again to avoid Renji's next attack. The two were enjoying themselves. There was a permanent smile on Ichigo's face and his Vice-Captain flashed a grin as well.
He looked around again and noticed a few familiar faces. There were some he expected to see. He rolled his eyes when he noticed Captain Zaraki and his childish Vice-Captain Yachiru. The man was a beast. Of course this would be right up his alley. He should've known he would find this interesting. Ikkaku and Yumichika were there, flanking their Captain as usual. They were enjoying the sparring match. Ikkaku looked more than willing to join in. If not for Yumichika, he probably would have. He wasn't surprised to see the other ryoka either. Orihime, Chad and the Quincy Uruyu. It seemed the small group followed Kurosaki everywhere he went. To think that he could command such loyalty and respect with no effort at all was an abomination. It infuriated Byakuya. It was no wonder Ichigo Kurosaki was so damn arrogant.
He also saw a few faces in the crowd that he had not expected to see. Tenth division Captain Hitsugaya was sitting on a rooftop a couple of feet from the ring of cheering spectators. He watched as Hitsugaya's Vice-Captain, Rangiku, jumped down from the same roof to join Ikkaku to cheer on the battling pair. He was also surprised to see Hisagi and Izuru.
Byakuya narrowed his eyes at the fighting pair. He would put an end to this reckless display of power. Before he was able to take a step forward, a gentle hand clasped over his wrist.
"Incredible young man…isn't he, Captain Kuchiki?" The gentle voice asked.
Byakuya whipped around, keeping his surprise well hidden. Division thirteen Captain Ukitake, his former superior and a man he respected in his youth, was smiling warmly at him. Outwardly, he betrayed nothing, but he knew that Ukitake could see right through his act.
He wrenched his wrist free, sneering in distaste, "My Vice-Captain is, of course, the best. He would not be in my division if he were anything less than that."
Ukitake chuckled, but kept his gaze on the friendly sparring match, "I wasn't talking about Vice-Captain Abarai."
"He's talking about Kurosaki," Eighth division Captain Kyoraku said, making himself comfortable on the ground next to his partner. He pulled out his ever-present bottle of saké and watched the pair in the center duke it out.
Captain Kuchiki turned to watch the battle, his eyes narrowing. He zeroed in on the orange-haired annoyance, "You give him far more credit than he deserves, Captain Ukitake. His power is nothing more than a reckless use of his reiatsu. I admit that his spiritual pressure is high, far higher than I would have thought he was capable of possessing. Be that as it may, every battle that he's fought thus far, was based on pure and simple luck. One day, that luck of his will run out. Everyone has their limit. I have seen his."
"That's harsh, Kuchiki. Give the kid a break. It took real guts to storm into the Seireitei like he and his friends did to save Rukia. I give the kid an A for effort." Kyoraku said, flicking the edge of his hat up an inch, revealing his flushed cheeks and kind eyes.
"It is not harsh…it is a fact."
Byakuya was getting a headache. Not only did a mere human best him in battle, but now even the Captains of the Gotei Thirteen were praising him. Was there no low that the ryoka would not push him to?
"Byakuya, I know you don't really mean that. And if you do, you really should reconsider." Ukitake sighed heavily at Byakuya's stubbornness.
"What on earth for?" He returned, snapping angrily at the suggestion.
Ukitake was quiet for a moment. Pushing Byakuya would achieve very little. Shunsui Kyoraku sipped his sake, then looked to his partner. Ukitake never ceased to amaze him. He took every opportunity to try to crack through the mask that Byakuya always stubbornly held in place.
Byakuya had enough. He moved forward to stop the sparring session and break up the crowd when his former captain spoke again.
"It's not only his power that I admire," Byakuya stopped. He turned only slightly, but kept his back to them. "I find his persistence and will power amazing. Nothing will sway him from his mission, not the law, not a persuasive argument, not even his own friends."
When there was no response to this, he continued, "He fights in order to protect those he holds dear. He always has a reason for his actions. He tries to talk his way out and when that fails he uses his combat skills. I admire how he is capable of moving on from the past. He was never truly our enemy. After Rukia was safe, he held no ill thoughts toward any of us here in the Soul Society. He has become friends with just about everyone he has fought with."
Still silence. It bothered Ukitake that Byakuya still didn't answer him or respond in any form. How could he get through to him?
"He is very loyal to his family and friends. It is a wonderful quality that not everyone possesses. He does anything to reach his goal; he fights with everything he has…he never gives up. He has a lot of heart."
"He is foolish…" Byakuya started, "His purpose for fighting is foolish. His loyalty is misguided."
He didn't say it, but he wanted to add that everything one held dear would eventually vanish, just like Hisana.
Ukitake could hear the guilt in his words, even if Byakuya himself didn't. It pained him to know that he still suffered. He didn't want him to be alone anymore. It was time Byakuya moved on and found someone else to cherish.
"It isn't foolish. It is admirable. His selfless actions demand loyalty in return. Just look around you, Captain Kuchiki. He has gained respect from many of us here without even realizing it. Several Captains, Vice-Captains and seated officers are impressed with him and see him as more than he appears. Even the recruits are in awe of him. It's been a long time since I have seen Zaraki impressed with anyone. His third and fifth seats are friendly with him now. Your own Vice-Captain has become as attached to the boy as Rukia is. I believe those two would follow Ichigo Kurosaki to the ends of the earth if they thought it necessary."
"That would be most inconvenient. I would never allow that." Byakuya spat out.
Ukitake smiled, but shook his head, "You're going to learn the hard way."
"Ichigo Kurosaki works his way into everyone's heart without knowing he's doing it. This crowd you see is evidence to that. The boy is unavoidable, no matter how hard you try. He touches everyone's heart and in very little time."
"Nonsense. They may find him amusing now, but sooner or later he'll be destroyed and they'll forget about him. His reckless abandon makes him an appealing target. The fact that he can't control his spiritual pressure makes him all the more appealing to a hollow. He will be dead before you know it. It's only a matter of time."
"You think that the people I mentioned wouldn't protect him if he were in danger?"
Ukitake and Shunsui watched him pause. The thought hadn't crossed his mind. Time to push him a bit further.
"You think that I wouldn't risk my life to protect him?"
Byakuya turned completely around at this. He stared at Ukitake who remained completely still. His jaw was set. He meant every word he said. He would risk his life, the life that was ill with disease, to protect that brazen human. Yamamoto would never allow that. The old man might trust the boy with substitute soul reaper, but he feared the boy would prove to be troublesome at the same time. Kurosaki had no respect for the law or the Soul Society.
Ukitake continued still, "Do you really believe that you would simply sit back if Ichigo were in imminent peril?"
Byakuya felt insulted at first. Protect a lowly ryoka, a mere human? He would never lower himself to such a level of disgrace. Never. Why should he care if the boy lived or died? He tried to think about Ichigo Kurosaki fighting against one of Aizen's Espada. He tried pictured him bleeding, panting, and dying. A sudden pang of guilt and a sharp pain struck through him very unexpectedly. What was that? Did he really have some kind of sympathy for the human? Why did he feel as if just the thought of Ichigo in serious trouble made him fill with rage?
Yes. The truth of it scared him. The thought of Ichigo Kurosaki in danger made every fiber of him hurt. He couldn't imagine a world without the orange-haired boy. But he would never admit that. He would never admit that to anyone, not even himself. Those feelings were forbidden. He promised himself and Hisana that he would never risk his heart like that ever again. He would not run to protect him, not even if Rukia begged him to. Not even if his heart screamed for it. He couldn't. Not again.
He watched as Ichigo raised his shikai above his head to attack once more. He didn't have a scratch on him. He noticed that Renji was panting and bleeding. Zabimaru, Renji's zanpakuto, was whipping out toward the substitute soul reaper. It annoyed him that his own subordinate was failing. It was time to prove to everyone here that the boy was simply lucky.
Byakuya walked into the open, away from the excited spectators. Toshiro noticed his appearance within the ring. He groaned, knowing that his colleague was about to spoil everyone's fun. Ukitake and Kyoraku sighed. Jushiro joined his good friend on the ground. Shunsui handed him a cup of saké.
The sixth division captain went unnoticed for a few minutes until he released his reiatsu. Most everyone around them were forced to their knees. Those that were still standing looked at him. Some were surprised while others were angry that he had interfered. Renji and Ichigo were forced to stop their attacks on each other. Renji saw his commanding officer and immediately kneeled. Ichigo just braced his sword on his shoulder lazily and looked at him, a smile on his face.
"Captain Kuchiki…I'm sorry, Sir. We got a little carried away." Renji said respectfully. He hadn't realized they'd caused such a scene.
"Hey there, Byakuya." Ichigo said, very friendly.
Byakuya glared at him. The boy had no manners. He was being way too familiar. He dared to call him by his first name. He needed to be taught a lesson. The fact that his name on those lips sounded perfect was beside the point. He had no right. He ignored the urge to ask him to say it again.
"We're sorry about making such a ruckus. Renji and I haven't seen each other in a while."
"So you thought tearing apart the Seireitei was the right way to say hello?" he asked evenly, rage edging his tone.
Ichigo chuckled and scratched the back of his head. They hadn't destroyed anything, but they had drawn in quite the crowd now that he looked around. He hadn't meant to disrupt the order of the Seireitei.
His eyes were apologetic when he said, "Yeah, sorry about that."
There was silence again. Ichigo returned his sword to its place on his back.
"So, how are you, Byakuya?" He asked, taking a step toward the sixth division captain.
"Tch, such an arrogant child. What right do you have calling me by my first name?"
"Oh come on, Byakuya. We're friends now, aren't we?"
Anger swelled. Those damn eyes. Ichigo was truly sorry. His brown eyes showed sincerity and trust. There was warmth and kindness in their depths. The boy truly didn't have an evil or hateful bone in his body. The only reason he had fought Byakuya almost a year ago was to save Rukia from the law of the Soul Society. Nothing more and nothing less. He felt no hate toward Byakuya in the least.
Those eyes had captured Byakuya before. He wouldn't let those chocolate depths distract him again.
"Ichigo Kurosaki…you and I are not friends. I would never associate myself with a mere human."
Ukitake watched as Ichigo took absorbed this information. Byakuya could be such a tyrant when he wanted to be. Jushiro could see the hurt in the boys eyes at that comment. He had wanted Byakuya's friendship. Ukitake felt sorry for Ichigo. He was trying so hard too.
Byakuya watched as Ichigo stopped moving. He looked slightly hurt by his words. He suddenly felt guilty that he'd said it at all, but he didn't let it sway him from his purpose, "I suggest you and your friends leave now."
Ichigo became annoyed. Who was he to boss him around? "We were told we could visit from time to time. Old man Yamamoto sent a hell butterfly stating the time and place to meet the Senkaimon Gate. We just got here, we're not leaving yet."
'Damn that old man. What was he thinking?' Byakuya thought.
"Then say your hello's and leave."
"I'll leave when I'm damn good and ready, Byakuya."
Ichigo faced him head on, his eyes fixed, determined. He was under the impression that Byakuya was used to getting his way. He could see that he commanded respect through fear. Ichigo was far from afraid of him.
Byakuya released his reiatsu once more. He raised it to a level he had never raised it to before. Now everyone but the captains were on their knees. Everyone, that is, except Ichigo. He remained standing as if he hardly felt it. Had the boy really gotten that much stronger since their last encounter? It had been almost a year, but still. What could have possibly changed?
Ukitake and Kyoraku stood. They could see Byakuya was practically shaking with rage now. Fighting the boy would be his next move. Toshiro flash stepped next to them, his arms crossed over his chest.
"You need to be taught a lesson, boy. You insubordination is unacceptable."
Byakuya reached for his sword, moving slowly, trying to give the boy time to change his mind. He didn't really want to fight him. He just wanted him gone.
To both his surprise and Ichigo's, several people stood between the two. Byakuya raised an eyebrow. The humans, Chad, Orihime and the Quincy, Uruyu stood in front of their friend protectively. The Quincy's bow was notched, the girl's shield was up and the large boy was calling on his demonic arm. Renji and Rukia both drew their swords against him. Ikkaku, and Yumichika had rushed in to do the same. Even Hisagi and Izuru moved to take a stand on Ichigo's behalf. Ukitake had been correct when he said that they would be more than willing to protect the boy.
"Stand aside," Byakuya warned.
The people between them were silent, but glared defiantly at him. What an annoyance. How was it that the boy commanded such loyalty? He just couldn't understand it. Renji and Rukia and the humans he understood, but even Ikkaku and Yumichika? How was it possible?
Ichigo pressed through his friends, new and old, "It's okay guys. If it's a fight Byakuya wants, then it's a fight he'll get."
"Do you think that's wise, Ichigo? I know you beat him before, but that was….are you even listening to me?" Uruyu asked, pushing his glasses up on his nose.
"No…that's not correct, Uruyu. I'm pretty sure it was a draw." Byakuya's eyes widened at that, "I think we came to an understanding. We were both seriously injured and didn't have much left in us to continue fighting. That leaves it a tie…I think."
Ichigo could read Byakuya like an open book. He knew that Byakuya had his pride and that it was killing him that Ichigo bested him. The boy was saving both of their prides. He respected the older man enough to not let him feel embarrassed in front of his colleagues and subordinates.
"What do you think, Byakuya?"
"I think it's time you drew your sword. Bankai only. Strongest forms against each other."
Ichigo turned to look at his friends. He gave them a reassuring smile and with a flick of his head, motioned for them to get out of the ring. They said their good lucks and left as a group to the edge of the crowd. He returned his attention to Byakuya. How did he get himself into this mess?
"So…strongest forms against each other, huh?"
"So you are going to use your full power? No holding back?"
"That's right. No holding back. I expect you to do the same. It's time you learned the difference in our levels of power."
As he drew Senbonzakura, Ichigo said, "Are you sure that's really what you want?" He pulled Zangetsu from his back.
What kind of question was that?
"Your over confidence in your abilities is rather irritating, Ichigo Kurosaki."
"I just want to be sure of your intentions, Byakuya."
"Give it all you've got, boy." Byakuya raised his sword, "No one is to interfere. Bankai…Senbonzakura Kageyoshi."
The sword glowed pink and scattered, the millions of tiny blades swirled around him patiently as he waited for Ichigo to do the same.
His robes changed to the tattered ones that mimicked Zangetsu's and his sword shrank and turned completely black. Zangetsu's power surged in his hand, ready for battle.
"Let's get on with it…"
"I'm not at my best yet. That is what you wanted, isn't it?"
Byakuya wasn't the only one surprised by that comment. What was after Bankai? He couldn't have learned another level of bankai yet. What exactly was that supposed to mean, he wasn't at his best yet? "What are you talking about?"
"You'll see in a second. I can't use it more than fifteen minutes though. So, I'll have to make quick work of this."
Ichigo raised his hand to his face and made a ripping motion across it. The mask that appeared shocked everyone accept his human friends, Rukia and Renji. Byakuya stared, absolutely stunned. He'd seen a glimpse of this before, but at that time, it was completely uncontrolled.
"Now I'm ready." Ichigo said, his voice distorted like his inner hollow's. He raised Zangetsu, ready for battle.
"You've become a hollow."
"Nah…its called a Vizard. It's a long story. It's kinda hard to explain; Urahara could explain it better than me. We doing this or not?"
Ichigo let go of his spiritual pressure. It was incredible. Everyone, Byakuya included, were on their knees. His power had raised ten times from his bankai state. It was inconceivable that a human could be this powerful.
A sword came up. The tip was placed on Ichigo's mask and twisted on contact. Byakuya watched as the mask crumbled and fell off of his opponents face. He sighed, relieved that his soft brown eyes returned, the deathly black receding. Wait…Byakuya was actually glad to see his eyes normal? Had he actually felt worried that his eyes wouldn't return to their normal divine state? These feelings could not continue. He would beat them down if it was the last thing he did.
"That is quite enough, Ichigo Kurosaki."
"Old man Yamamoto…" The Captain-Commander glared at him like a father would a naughty child, "Yeah, alright. I shouldn't have egged Byakuya into a fight."
Byakuya almost dropped his sword. He lied. The boy outright lied to the old man. Ukitake laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked at his former superior questioningly.
"Say nothing. Ichigo is doing this for you. Don't insult him by ruining his good deed."
His head snapped back to look at the substitute soul reaper. He was astonished. The boy continued to surprise him.
"I was under the impression that Captain Kuchiki started this. My Vice-Captain informs me…."
"He's wrong, Yamamoto. This was my doing. I'm sorry. Don't punish Byakuya, he just reacted to my goading."
"Very well. I suggest you say your goodbyes, Ichigo Kurosaki. You will have to visit another time. Perhaps in a few weeks."
"Yeah, okay. No problem."
Byakuya couldn't believe it. Ichigo had lied not to save himself from punishment, but him instead.
"Why?" Was all Byakuya could say when Ichigo approached him.
"I have no ties to the Soul Society. You do. Better I receive punishment…I mean the worst he can do is send me back to the World of the Living, right? It's better this way."
Ukitake grinned at the teenager, "It's nice to see you again. Perhaps next time we could chat when you have more time."
"I'd like that. Yoruichi told me to tell you and Byakuya here that she says hello."
"Send her my best."
"Will do," Ichigo returned, shaking Jushiro's hand.
"When you come back, let's you and I have a couple drinks together." Shunsui laughed, pulling him into a friendly hug, "Your friends are welcome too, of course."
Ichigo stepped up to Byakuya. He looked at him, trying to understand his stubborn behavior. He reached back to scratch his neck nervously.
"Well, looks like you get what you wanted. I'm going home. That should make you happy," Byakuya didn't feel as happy about it as he thought he would, but he kept that to himself, "I had hoped to ask you to teach me kido, but I guess I'll just ask Urahara after all. That's my bad." Byakuya stared into those captivating eyes. He saw it, but only briefly. He saw the slightest tinge of pain. Why was it that he felt sympathy for Kurosaki? He suddenly felt guilty for getting him sent home. What was wrong with him? Jushiro was right as usual. Ichigo had managed to wiggle his way into Byakuya's heart. That was what was wrong. He had some feelings for the boy, he just didn't understand them. It would amount to nothing in the end anyway. He was quite happy with his independence and solitude. He didn't need those feelings. He would suppress them at all costs.
When nothing was said, Ichigo continued, "Well anyhow, see ya Captain Kuchiki. You take care of yourself. Keep Renji under control for me."
With a laugh, Ichigo turned and walked away. He joined his friends, they said their goodbyes and then without another word, Renji and Rukia walked them to the Senkaimon Gate.
The crowd quickly dispersed. Byakuya watched Ichigo's back as he got further and further away from him. His heart suddenly ached. Ukitake saw the confusion Byakuya was trying to hide. Sooner or later Byakuya would have to own up to his feelings. He pretended not to notice.
"You alright, Byakuya?"
"Just fine. Now things can get back to normal around here."
He disappeared and in six flash steps he was home. He walked into his private chambers and kneeled next to his bed. He sat for a moment in complete silence before removing his heirloom scarf and Keynesian. He picked up the picture of Hisana and gazed at her for several minutes.
"Why Hisana? Why do I feel this way?"
He couldn't let go now. He had to force his feelings deep down. Love was nothing but a burden. Nothing but trouble. Friendship, desire, lust, all of it was trouble. An illusion. The feelings that were starting to poke through had to be stopped.
Why was it, of all people, Ichigo Kurosaki tugged his lonely heart to the surface? Why?