Chapter 11

Three days passed with little to no change in Ichigo's condition. He remembered a few small things about his life, but none of it pertained to his life as a soul reaper. His human friends, disappointed that their presence didn't really help, returned to the World of the Living. They were comfortable leaving Ichigo in Byakuya's capable hands.

Rukia and Renji returned to their divisions. They were surprised by the events of last night and were encouraged to get the two of them together. Byakuya was left to tend to their friend for now. The Kuchiki noble felt akward around Ichigo ever since the night he'd been hugged by him. He didn't know how to behave. He was quite sure that if it happened again he wouldn't be able to control his response.

Byakuya spent most of his time with Ichigo the last few days, both content with each other's company. Ichigo sat and watched quietly while Byakuya did his calligraphy. Byakuya had even allowed Ichigo to join him, teaching him the proper brush strokes. Ichigo seemed eager to learn something new. It was a side of Ichigo Byakuya had never seen.

They walked the Seireitei together several times over the last three days. Once in a while , they'd stop to visit with Ichigo's friends. He also took him back up to Sokyoku Hill as he promised. Nothing, however, seemed to spark any memories for Ichigo. Byakuya thought he saw recognition at the old execution grounds, but when he asked Ichigo about it, he said it was just a feeling he had.

So, now, after three days of storytelling and anecdotes, the pair sat in the gardens in total silence, watching the night sky. Ichigo seemed quite content simply stargazing in silence. Byakuya would sneak furtive glances at the boy. No...not boy. Man. Byakuya needed to get out of that habit. This was no longer the Ryoka boy that irritated every fiber of his being. This was the man Byakuya had fallen in love with whether he allowed those feelings or not.

Ichigo was such an innocent right now. Seeing him the way he was now, it was hard to believe al l the things he'd endured already.

"Say, Byakuya?" Ichigo said, breaking the companionable silence.

"Yes?"

"You and me...we're friends, right?"

"Yes, as long as that is something that you're okay with." Byakuya said.

Ichigo nodded, thought the noble wasn't looking at him yet.

"So, I can talk to you about anything right?"

Byakuya turned to look at him, wondering where this was going. "Yes, of course."

Ichigo paused. He'd been thinking about this since a few days ago. He needed to sort out some things.

"Something wrong?" Byakuya asked.

"I'm not sure. I guess that depends."

"On what?"

"To be honest...you." Byakuya looked confused, "Something's been bothering me. I can't put my finger on it, because I...uh...don't remember, but I've been getting this feeling lately."

"What about?"

"You...and me." Byakuya raised an eyebrow, "See, at first, I was upset to learn that we'd never been friends, but I still felt respect for you regardless. Then these past few days, it's like that doubt never existed."

Byakuya nodded, showing he understood.

"We seem to be doing fine as friends. We should have been friends long before now. I am sorry, Ichigo."

"Yeah. I know. I'm glad we're friends, but I feel like something is still missing."

Byakuya's breath caught in his throat, "What do you mean?"

Ichigo looked at him. He was so open, so honest and yet still very vulnerable. He seemed hesitant.

"I'm afraid...you'll hate me."

The noble looked surprised. Afraid? The all powerful Ichigo Kurosaki afraid? That was a new one. He was never afraid, even when he should have been.

"I would not worry about that. I won't hate you." Byakuya assured him.

"I...I really think you're a great person...a great Captain."

Surprised, "Thank you."

"I'm not done. I find myself admiring you. You're courageous, strong, and really smart. I respect your power and status."

Byakuya didn't interrupt this time.

"The last few days, I can't help feeling completely happy by your side."

Byakuya froze. Could this really be happening? Was Ichigo about to confess? Could the stars really be aligning so perfectly for him tonight?

"Would you completely hate me if I told you...that um...I mean would you never speak to me again if I told you...that...I really like you?"

Byakuya remained still. He never would have dreamed...

"I think it's even more than that...I think I really, really like you. You know...like love."

Byakuya didn't know what to say. He had never been confessed to before. He has persued Hisana. He never got what he truely, truely wanted before. Not since Hisana had he wanted something so badly as he did right now.

Ichigo took his silence the wrong way and frowned. He lowered his head. He'd given it his best try. He would take it back just to keep Byakuya as a friend.

"I'm sorry. I knew this was wrong. Just forget I said anything."

He would lose him if he didn't stop him, "I don't want to."

Ichigo looked up again, surprised by the noble's response.

"You...you mean it?"

"Yes," Byakuya leaned forward, a knuckle lifting Ichigo's chin and kissed him softly.

Ichigo was lost in emotion and feelings. Every fiber of him sang. He'd been admiring the noble since they'd met. To be kissed by him now was a dream come true.

Byakuya didn't know what possessed him to kiss the substitute soul reaper. He felt the need to assure Ichigo that his confession didn't anger him or fall on deaf ears. He felt compelled to express something, he just didn't know what.

The second Ichigo tried to take back his admission, Byakuya panicked. He never thought the former Ryoka could feel anything accept contempt for him, at best mild respect. He remembered Shiro's warning and made a split second and completely irrational decision to tell Ichigo the truth. The look on the young man's face when he said he didn't want to forget encouraged Byakuya's next actions.

Byakuya pulled away slowly. He rested his forehead on Ichigo's, his eyes closed. They shared several breaths. Byakuya could feel a tremendous weight lift off his shoulders. He never imagined that being true to his desires could feel so euphoric. He could even admit that he never felt like this with his late wife.

Byakuya opened his eyes. Ichigo's face was flushed, the red clashing with his orange hair. His eyes were clouded with desire.

"I thought for sure you would be disgusted with me," Ichigo panted, "I never thought you would..."

"Feel the same?"

Ichigo nodded.

"To be honest, I had been worried about the same thing for months."

"You mean, you liked me before I lost my memories?"

Byakuya hesitated. He'd revealed so much already, he might as well finish it. He caressed Ichigo's face.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Well, for the same reasons you were afraid and...because I made a promise."

"What promise?"

"A long time ago, I was once married. My wife Hisana was the most important person in my life. I loved her so much. When she died, my heart broke. I hurt so bad. I never wanted to suffer like that again. I promised myself and Hisana that I would never let a deep love like that enter my heart again."

Ichigo looked stunned and slightly angry, but he went on.

"At first, I really did loathe you, though, you were mildly interesting. As time went on, interest became fascination; then fascination became want. Next thing I know, I was so infatuated with you I could no longer deny what I was feeling and so I suppressed those feelings."

Silence. Total silence for what seemed like hours.

"Well...that was stupid." Ichigo said, crossing his arms.

Byakuya was stunned.

"You need to stop making ridiculous promises you can't keep!" Ichigo went on.

Byakuya blinked. He was completely confused. This scolding sounded oddly familiar.

"Who would do that? Promise not to love? That's like promising not to breathe. You just can't do that, Byakuya. I thought you would have learned from your mistakes by now."

Byakuya cocked his head at this. Learned from his mistakes? Ichigo remembered something. Ichigo had remembered something that Byakuya had told him during their fight for Rukia's life.

"Ichigo," completely forgetting why they were sitting there so close and intimate, "You remember? You remember what I told you up on the Hill?"

Ichigo rolled his eyes, but kissed Byakuya again for good measure. He didn't want this feeling to go away or stop. He needed to make sure that things didn't change. He needed Byakuya. He wanted the noble more now than when they first met.

"Yes. I remember everything. I have had my memories for three days now."

Byakuya had been derailed. Had his memory for three days? How and when? Then it clicked.

"Wait? Are you telling me that Inoue girl was successful in restoring your memories?" When Ichigo nodded, Byakuya growled. He was deceived and lied to. How could he not have noticed? "You had your memories during that party in Rukon District and you have had them...this whole time?"

Ichigo nodded again, squeezing Byakuya's trembling hand. Ichigo started to worry. Maybe he should've told them all the night his memories were restored. Maybe he'd been foolish to listen to his inner Hollow. It was Shiro's idea to wait and go through with the plan he started on the Hill.

Shiro had told him all about his coming out up on Sokyoku Hill. He told him what he said to the Captains and Lieutenants. At the time, it was probably true. He had been in his inner world fighting away the hurt and pain that ailed him. Since Orihime's healing, his memories returned and his Hollow warned him to play dumb. Act as though her power hadn't done anything. He told Ichigo that things were different and that he could be himself. So he had listened. He got something wonderful...but now he was afraid he was about to lose it again because he tricked Byakuya.

Byakuya stared at Ichigo. He wanted this so bad. He wanted to have this one thing. He wanted Ichigo. How could Ichigo lie to him? Why would he lie to him?

"Why didn't you say anything before now? Why not tell us that Inoue's power helped you? Why continue to pretend that you were still without your memories?" Byakuya demanded.

Ichigo flinched away from him. Byakuya was angry.

"I was so happy that we had become friends. I was hoping we could become more given enough time. I know three days isn't that long, but being with you during that time was more than I could have ever prayed for. I have loved you since the moment we met. I admit, you surprised me the night you came to retrieve Rukia in the World of the Living, but I saw power and depth in your eyes despite your reasons for being there."

Byakuya was stunned. He never knew, never would have dreamed that Ichigo's love for him started that long ago.

"It killed me to have to fight you, but I did it anyway. I didn't want to fight you that day on Sokyoku Hill, I wanted to get to know you. I didn't really think you would fight me so hard when I said I was going to save Rukia. It killed me, but I did it."

"I...it is in the past."

"Yes, it is. I want all of our battles and ill words to stay in the past. I want something new. I want you, Byakuya."

The noble was quiet. He wanted Ichigo too. He read Ichigo's eyes, those chocolate eyes that haunted his dreams after every encounter with the substitute soul reaper. The eyes he ached to fall into. He came closer and kissed the orange-haired human. Ichigo kissed back, relaxing, relief filling him.

"You're not mad at me?"

Byakuya shook his head, "I can't be mad at you, Ichigo. I love you too much to be angry over something so small. I don't want to ruin what we finally have. I have yearned and wanted for too long."

"Me too. So what now? Do we tell the others?"

"About what, your memory returning, sure. About us? I'm not the kind of person who flaunts his personal life. If it is important for you to tell your friends, do so, but I'm not going to gossip about my new found love. If people find out on their own, then so be it. I'm sure they will eventually anyhow. I will not hide who and what I am or the partner I'm with. I just won't brag or anything like that."

"I guess that seems fair."

"And one more thing," Byakuya grabbed Ichigo's robes and pulled him in for a forceful kiss, "I'm not the type to share. I will be extremely possessive. You belong to me now. Understand?"

"Didn't know you were the jealous type. I get it. You don't have anything to worry about, Byakuya. I only have eyes for you."