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Unohana Retsu stood motionlessly outside her colleague's room.
She heard everything. She didn't mean to eavesdrop, but somehow her curiosity won over her conscience and even her decorum.
So she eavesdropped at Reina's confession.
What she barely heard shocked her to the core. Kuchiki? As if Kuchiki Byakuya? The icy, stoic nobleman of Seireitei? Drunk and lay with Reina?
It sounded…very much bizarre.
Still carefully masking her reiatsu, she crept from her place and unhurriedly paced back to her office. Isane was in another ward, helping the other division members tending for the patients from 11th division. They were involved in bar brawl again. Unohana reminded herself to 'scold' Zaraki Kenpachi later…
She eventually decided not to confront the two inside the room for a while. Reina would likely sleep again after her outburst. Kira-kun would accompany and console her. And tomorrow morning, the 3rd division taichou would ask her for sickbed release.
Unohana could make her stay on her bed for as long and needed as she wanted; since she was the healer here—but she also knew that Reina detested going back on her word. If she said she would meet Byakuya at Soukyoku Hill tomorrow morning, then she would. Unohana respected the woman and her resolute, so she wouldn't hinder her in case she asked later.
Her keen sense suddenly caught a shift of movement. Either movement or reiatsu was subtle and well-hidden, but Unohana knew who he was. She had felt his reiatsu for some times though. Her deep blue eyes narrowed as she regarded the person.
"Kuchiki-taichou." She queried in firm yet slow voice, not wanting to make any ruckus. "May you come out of the shadow, please?"
Byakuya stepped out of the shadow, as he initially hid behind the pillar. He regarded the healer taichou by bowing slightly.
Unohana kept her calm and smiling face, though, she was inwardly unnerved.
"Kuchiki-taichou, what …important matter brings you wandering in my division's corridor in such hour?" the woman emphasized the words of 'important matter' with slightly sarcastic tone. If the icy taichou of the 6th division noted the subtle sarcasm, he surely didn't show it in his ever impassive mask of a face.
"I want to talk with you." Byakuya paused before added in more hushed voice. "In private."
"Well, you've met me now and we're completely alone. But to reassure you, let's head to my office, shall we?" Unohana kept her voice even and sweet as she briskly strode past the younger taichou and headed towards her office.
Byakuya inwardly frowned; he nodded nonetheless. He followed the senior healer towards her office.
To say that Kuchiki Byakuya was nervous beyond belief was an utterly, blatantly understatement.
After the disastrous meeting, he didn't come back to his office—it was so uncharacteristically of him he was even baffled until now. But somehow, he needed comfort and distraction from his own aggravation. So he went off and visited Hisana's grave. He silently sat there and moped, lamenting everything to his late wife. After he felt slightly better, he went back home, not bothering to come checking to the office. He knew and trusted Renji enough to finish the day's paperwork.
He then heard from one of his servants—the one he had sent to seek information about Kuroyuri's condition in the ward. The report didn't sit well in his mind, however. The woman wasn't yet conscious; though she was stable for now.
Kuchiki Byakuya didn't want to admit it, but he was worried about her.
He didn't let the anxiety showed on his face—like usual. He kept his face straight and stony so people wouldn't suspect anything regarding his inner turmoil—though he had a strong notion that his fukutaichou and little sister noticed his slightly …off behavior.
For the next entire day working on his paperwork behind his desk, Byakuya could feel Renji's glances every now and then. He typically ignored them. He knew his fukutaichou still wondered just where he was yesterday.
But then, Rukia came to the office, asking Renji to have lunch with her and that Kurosaki brat. She, of course, invited him also; but Byakuya refused. She didn't push the matter, though she did seem crestfallen by his refusal.
Later, she blinked at him—with her own reserved and subtle manner, he noted—and crept closer to his desk. Byakuya had stopped his signing activity as he observed his sister's movement from the corner of his eyes.
"…What's wrong? Rukia?" he had queried her with an even tone. She seemed startled by his query, but she quickly found her resolute and kept her big, violet eyes on him.
"Niisama, may I …ask you something?" she politely inquired. Byakuya tilted his head slightly; a sign that he granted her his permission.
"…Are you …alright?"
Byakuya had to keep the urge to gape at her. Instead he only blinked at his so called little sister.
"…I am perfectly fine, Rukia. Whatever thing causes you to ask that question?"
Rukia had the decency to blush. Behind her, Renji could be seen working on his excessive paperwork while waiting for her, though Byakuya was one-hundred-percent sure he was listening to their conversation.
"…Ah, umm, nothing. But you seem…a bit off."
Byakuya put his brush down and looked at her with a blank expression. Rukia flushed and quickly averted her gaze downward.
"Why do you say that?"
Rukia fidgeted. "Well…I just note that something is slightly different with you today, Niisama."
"Eh…you seem... agitated somehow." She paused to find the right word. "Like…like you're busy pondering about something gravely important."
Byakuya couldn't help but feel in awe at his sister's keen observance. Almost no one could note his well hidden emotion for the exception of his grandfather—or maybe a certain black cat.
"…Rukia, I am fine. I can assure you that." He eventually stated in final tone.
Rukia caught the finality in his tone and dropped the conversation. She bowed slightly at him and ushered Renji out of the office. They left him alone for the entire lunch time.
While having his lunch in his mansion, Byakuya was drowned within his pondering. His mind was back at the scene that happened yesterday afternoon. He could remember vividly about her: her curled body, her pained and broken sobs, her tears…
He tightened his grip on the chopsticks and felt the utensils broke in two. He glared at the broken chopsticks and put them down. He was halfway eating but now he had already lost his appetite.
Shoving his bowl aside, Byakuya decided to go back to his office and finished his paperwork.
As the time neared four in the afternoon, Renji finished his portion of paperwork. Byakuya gave his dismissal to him. But when he felt three other familiar reiatsu, he halted as he suddenly had an epiphany.
Tentatively, he asked his fukutaichou.
The redhead turned to regard him. "Yes, Taichou?"
"Will you and your…friends be going straight home or having dinner?" Byakuya knew his question was odd, especially for him; so he ignored the questioning look Renji sent his way.
"…Actually, no, Taichou. We—me, Hisagi, and Hinamori—will tag along with Kira to 4th division infirmary to see Kuroyuri-taichou."
"Have she awoken yet? Is she fine by now?" he asked the questions a bit too fast. Renji stared at him, long and hard.
"I…dunno yet, Taichou. Kira didn't say anythin' about that." Renji answered after some times. He observed his taichou's expression and eventually noted the glint of faint disappointment and …sadness (?) within his usually blank gray eyes.
Idly, the redhead patted his back mentally. Working with the stoniest and—aside from the reiatsu's element involved (cough*Hitsugaya-taichou*cough)—iciest taichou in the entire Gotei somehow worth it. He had learned things from his taichou, one of them being 'how to decipher the slightest, tiniest fleck of emotion within Kuchiki Byakuya's blank and emotionless noble mask'.
The redhead fukutaichou frowned slightly upon this fact, already memorizing the peculiarity of his taichou's behavior and expression; though he didn't want to bring it up soon. He also remembered Rukia's question towards Byakuya.
"What's the matter, Taichou?"
Byakuya closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. "…Nothing, Renji. Just…when—when she awakes later, could you please tell her that I want to talk to her? In private? If she doesn't awake by the time you're there, then tell Kira-fukutaichou that I would like to have a talk with his taichou later." He cursed inwardly when he felt sudden anxiousness.
Okay, this is creepy, Renji bemused. "…Certainly, Taichou. Anythin' else?"
Byakuya nodded slightly, still cursing inwardly for his sudden jittery. "No specific place, as long as it's private. No specific time, either. Just…when she feels quite healthy and…ready…" he trailed off.
Renji slowly drawled. "Oookay, Taichou. I'll send yer regard then. Is that all?"
Byakuya nodded and didn't say anything else. Renji knew that it was his final dismissal and after slight bowing at his taichou, he zapped away in a swish of shunpo.
All in all, he eventually decided to visit her by himself. So he trailed behind Renji and his friends—reiatsu masked—towards the 4th division infirmary. However, when he arrived there, he preferred to hide behind nearby pillar in the hallway just outside her sickroom.
He saw Unohana-taichou went in and out again for several times to check on her patient. From Kuroyuri's serene and even reiatsu, Byakuya knew that she didn't yet awake.
He could hear Renji's boisterous laughter and somehow felt an urge to smack him on the head for behaving so uncouthly within the sickroom—her sickroom. He was inwardly grateful to Hisagi-fukutaichou when the latter scolded the redhead to behave—accompanied by a hard elbow on Renji's gut, Byakuya guessed from the redhead's pained groan and curse.
Suddenly he heard Renji's loud voice of "Kuroyuri-taichou! Kira, she's awoken!" followed by rustling sound of clothes as Kira-fukutaichou moved closer. He stiffened as he felt her faint reiatsu pulse along with her consciousness.
Byakuya couldn't hear the slightly hushed conversation clearly but he guessed that Kira-fukutaichou and Kuroyuri-taichou exchanged pleasantries and consoling words. He had heard about their close relationship anyway—though, now, for an unknown reason, the fact irked him…a bit. He mentally shrugged off the thought and somehow wondered why he suddenly felt feeling like that.
He heard Renji cleared his throat and eventually relayed his previous message. Subconsciously, Byakuya stilled as he strained his ears to listen.
"Sorry, it's not that I wanna interrupt yer time, but I kinda have a message fer ya, Kuroyuri-taichou."
"Message for me? From who…?"
He heard her deep yet somehow disoriented voice. Byakuya had to hold his smile. He found he liked her voice—it was femininely deep and mature…sensual. He vaguely remembered her voice when she moaned and groaned his name in utter satisfaction… just underneath him… that night…
He mercilessly banished the unholy reminiscence and focused his attention to keep listening to the conversation.
"From Kuchiki-taichou." He heard his fukutaichou paused; a slight hesitancy within his rough voice when he spoke next. "He said that he wanted to talk about something with ya, Taichou."
There was a palpable, heavy pause before Kuroyuri's response came in stuttering words.
Byakuya blinked as he felt the slight fear within her voice. Not to mention, her reiatsu wavered for a moment, indicating her sudden agitation. His heart, somehow, fell.
Renji's answer came after a couple of seconds.
"Whenever ya feel better, Taichou. As fer the place, he didn't say any specific place, but he wanted to talk in a rather secluded place… dunno…"
When Kuroyuri-taichou replied, Byakuya could hear the wistful tone in her voice. "…I see. Tell him I will... I will see him tomorrow morning at the Soukyoku Hill. I usually watch the sunrise there…"
Tomorrow morning…she will see me tomorrow morning…
Byakuya sensed Renji's departure with Hisagi-fukutaichou and Hinamori-fukutaichou, leaving both 3rd division officers alone. He felt that feeling again; though he quickly shoved it aside.
He was reluctant to stay and keep listening to their conversation when he heard Kira-fukutaichou's sudden panicked outburst.
"Taichou? Something's wrong? Are you in pain? Should I call Unohana-taichou? Do you need something, anything? Taichou, tell me…"
Byakuya felt his blood ran cold. He almost burst out from his hiding place and strode inside the room when he spotted Unohana-taichou standing before the closed door of the same room. The woman, however, didn't go inside like he predicted she would be; instead she only stood there and…listened.
Byakuya frowned. He couldn't even imagine Unohana Retsu would be eavesdropping people's conversation, but there she was.
He listened for some moment at—most to his shock—Kuroyuri's broken sobs and cries of 'I'm scared' before slipped away from his previous spot.
He didn't want Unohana caught him red-handed eavesdropping by the way.
As he silently walked away, Byakuya couldn't help but feel heavy sadness within his gut as he repeated her cry of 'I'm scared' over and over within his mind.
Back to his current predicament, Byakuya followed the 4th division taichou into her neat office.
"Please, take a seat, Kuchiki-taichou."
Her tone, while still polite and soft, had crisp quality within. Byakuya inwardly cringed. It was like…as if she knew about his and Kuroyuri's secret—their mistake. He felt a sinking feeling—she might have known by now, somehow...
The woman then politely offered him a cup of jasmine tea, which he accepted heartily. He felt somehow thirsty after some times of—for the lack of appropriate term—'eavesdropping'.
"Thank you, Unohana-taichou."
You're welcome, Kuchiki-taichou."
They were silent for some moments, with only faint sounds of the activities inside the next buildings that could be heard. Unohana watched him carefully—more like scrutinized him, Byakuya mused—as he sipped his tea with noble grace. After some pregnant silence, she asked him softly.
"What important matter do you want to talk with me about?"
Byakuya glanced at her from behind his bangs, searching for any hint of oddness. The woman didn't have any noticeable expression on her face, only serenity and calmness—like she usually dons. Byakuya had to admit, being much older than him, Unohana knew well about donning a poker face whenever she wanted to. Sometimes, he had inkling that the senior healer was more competent than him in that matter.
"…It's about the 3rd division taichou…" he trailed off, somehow unsure how to voice his problem. Unohana only raised one of her elegant brows, not bothering to give any comment or whatsoever.
Seeing no question uttered by the older taichou, Byakuya continued with more firm voice. "I wish to talk with her about…something…"
Unohana's eyes narrowed. "I don't want to pry into your...personal business with her, but may I ask you something?"
The Kuchiki noble nodded.
"Can I have your words for not pushing over whatever matter you have with her? Her condition isn't yet stable. I'm afraid that…even minor shock can influence her health."
Byakuya nodded firmly. "You have my words, Unohana-taichou. I will not deliberately cause her trouble or worsen her health further. I just…want to talk with her…"
Unohana was silent as she kept her sharp eyes on the younger man. "…Alright then. I'll release her tomorrow morning. Reina-san only needs more thorough resting. Sometimes she overworks herself, much like Hitsugaya-taichou—" She paused, smiled, and added, "—and you, Kuchiki-taichou."
Byakuya didn't comment anything as her words were right. He was a workaholic and perfectionist by nature.
"You can talk to her tomorrow morning." The healer taichou spoke next. "I will tell her about you later. Though I think, Abarai-kun has told her earlier."
Byakuya nodded. "I relayed a message for her via Renji. I believe he has told her when she was awakened moments ago."
Unohana raised a brow. "So you know? She's barely conscious this evening."
"…I can feel her reiatsu."
"So you say."
When he eventually left the 4th division ward, the Kuchiki noble still had a notion that Unohana somehow teased him in her last words.
Byakuya awoke before the dawn.
Methodically, he took a bath and donned his usual shihakusho—without servants to help him, of course. He had his own servants to help him with household tasks, a simple necessity for him being the head of the family. But he disliked being assisted when he dressed. When Hisana was still alive, she usually did help him dress; just like wives usually do to their husbands. But now she was gone, he kept resorting to dress by himself.
As he faced the tall mirror while fixing his scarf and kenseikan, Byakuya couldn't help but wonder about certain things.
What if…what if he remarried…with her? She was the woman whom his family would definitely loathe even more than Hisana. Because she didn't only come from the non-noble family…she was also a vaizard.
This certain fact made him still in his movement.
She was a vaizard.
She wasn't a shinigami—she was a hybrid between a shinigami and hollow…an abomination. His family would surely call her that. Abomination…a monster…
No, she wasn't a monster. She was a shinigami, a proud one at that. She was a strong and reliable division leader, admired and well-respected as her efforts for her division were successful. The 3rd division had slowly worked to stand on its own feet again, thanks to her hard work. She had gained her subordinates' trust and loyalty; she had changed them from their old pathetic selves into their new confident and strong ones. She was well-loved by her subordinates, seated officers and lowly ranks alike; much like Ukitake and Unohana.
She was beautiful and graceful. She was well-mannered and decorous. She was mature, confident, and calm. She was smart. She could handle problems well. She…
She was the perfect material of typically noblewoman. She was perfect…to be his partner, his…wife…
Byakuya blinked. Where does that thought come from?
Eventually finished dressing, haori and stuff, Byakuya stepped outside his room and was almost immediately greeted by his personal servant. The old lady, Masako, asked him whether he wanted to have breakfast or not. Byakuya decided to have some tea before he left for Soukyoku Hill. To meet her, personally.
Somehow he felt nervous.
He was scarcely nervous, even when he faced his demanding family. Well, that fateful night, two weeks and three days ago, was exceptional. He was frustrated back then, thus he decided to drink himself crazy. And then he made that mistake…with and to her. Somehow, he still wondered about her willing reaction back there…
"Your tea, Byakuya-sama." Masako's soft voice jerked him back from his reverie. He nodded at the old servant and silently dismissed her. The old lady, however, gave him a hard and long look before politely bowed and sashayed away.
Byakuya wondered if she knew about something, about him and Kuroyuri; and about something that happened between them. The old servant Masako was one of his family's favorite attendants—and also their most trustworthy source regarding his condition and every motion—since she was his personal servant. It wasn't him who chose the old lady as personal servant; it was rather because of the tradition within Kuchiki family to appoint the oldest retainer to be the clan leader's personal servant.
What if she was sent to spy on him? What if she had already known about…
Nonsense! Don't be such paranoid, Kuchiki Byakuya! There's no way she knows about your secret …your mistake. There's no possible way she knows…
Byakuya took some sips before he finally stood up and strode out of his mansion. The vicinity was dark, the sun not rising yet. Though he could see streaks of brightly yellow and red on the east; the sign of the upcoming dawn. Sighing, he decided to set on light shunpo as he headed towards the hill.
He found her sitting on the edge of the cliff, feet dangling nonchalantly, her entire focus fixed on the approaching sunrise.
She didn't wear her haori, only her simple shihakusho. However, the aforementioned cloth was folded neatly at her lap. Instead of tying her hair, she let it free and flowing. Her luscious and sleek raven hair billowed as the wind gently played on it.
Byakuya was transfixed. He couldn't see her face since only her back faced him; but he found that he was entranced by her flowing hair. Her hair…it was so sleek, luscious…beautiful. He just wanted to run his hands through the locks, caressing it, enjoying the feeling…
He blinked. What the—what was he thinking…?
Composing his mask and feature once again, Byakuya tonelessly walked towards the sitting woman. Only few steps behind her, he heard her spoke; her voice soft and somehow tired.
Byakuya cleared his throat inconspicuously before answered using his official tone, "…Good morning to you too, Kuroyuri-taichou."
She chuckled, though not bothering herself to turn around and face him. Somehow, the Kuchiki noble found it a bit indecorous. "Call me Kuroyuri; just Kuroyuri. I'm not wearing my haori, thus I'm not my division leader just for now."
Kuchiki's eyes narrowed as he walked some more until he reached her side. Standing still beside her sitting form, he looked down at her and felt a skip within his chest as he observed her.
Her beautiful face was serene and calm, bordering on emotionless—though bits of sadness and fatigue still laced on her pristine feature. Byakuya took in her breathtaking appearances, how the sunlight illuminating the contours of her face, accentuating her alabaster skin. Her crimson eyes gleamed in a mix of golden and crimson hues as the effect of the sunlight. Her slender and small nose; her thin and seemingly soft lips…
Somehow, he felt an urge to touch her. He ignored it, though.
"Wearing haori or not, you're still officially the 3rd division taichou. In regard to your rank, I will call you as one." He smoothly reasoned.
Kuroyuri smiled, though a bit forcefully. "…Always be the one who is perfectionist and strict about decorum, eh, Kuchiki-taichou?"
He didn't answer since he knew she must have known the obvious.
Kuroyuri let out a small scoff. Kuchiki blinked at her.
"Abarai told me about you wanting to talk about something with me yesterday."
"…Indeed. I gave a message to you via Renji. I do really want to talk with you."
Her tone was dry and somehow absent of emotion. Kuchiki felt his initial nervousness back. Swallowing his sudden jittery, he replied calmly, his inner turmoil not surfacing—thankfully.
"About the incident two weeks and three days ago."
A sudden spike on her reiatsu told him that she was upset. Kuchiki glanced at her. Though her outer calmness didn't even ripple, inwardly she was agitated. He didn't know how he knew about that; he just…knew.
"I don't know what you are talking about, Kuchiki-taichou." Her voice was clipped. Kuchiki held an urge to sigh.
"…It's about the incident that happened two weeks and three days ago, between us…"
"Still don't know what you are talking about, Kuchiki-taichou." She craned her neck to look upward at him. Her crimson eyes slightly glimmered, though whether it was because of unshed tears or unleashed fury; he didn't know.
"Kuroyuri-taichou, in case you forget, that incident—"
"I thought you're the one who should have forgotten, Kuchiki-taichou—considering your…current situation at that time." Her voice was sharp and bitter Byakuya inwardly cringed. Kuroyuri threw her gaze towards the sunrise. She continued bitterly. "Not me. I don't forget and I won't. I'm just pretending for not knowing about this whole mess."
Mess… A sudden pang within his heart startled him. He should have guessed about her bitter resentment towards him and his previous, scandalous act. But still, her spitting words hurt. The two of them had, indeed—for the lack of term—messed up already.
"…I just want to say I am sorry."
A sharp intake of breath made him look at her again. Kuroyuri was looking at him, frowning. Sadness and pain was now clearly reflected within her crimson pools. Byakuya inwardly flinched. He continued nonetheless.
"At that time, I made a mistake…I…forced myself to you—" he explained with difficulty. Nobles were taught not to talk about this kind of things freely. They had dignity and manner to uphold to; Byakuya was no exception.
There was a heavy silence between them; as they locked eyes at each other. Kuroyuri was the first one who broke the connection; as she looked away from him. The woman closed her eyes, sadness clouding her beautiful visage. When she eventually retorted, her voice was hushed and sounded exhausted.
"…No need to ask for apology. I was in fault too."
Kuchiki raised a brow at her.
"It was my mistake also, my fault. It was our mistake. Just—just don't talk about it anymore…"
"Do not talk about it anymore. I don't want to talk about it anymore. Just…forget it, alright? Forget it."
Kuchiki was silent. In his perspective, this was the problem they couldn't and shouldn't easily let go—no, it wasn't that easy. They still had to talk about it—about the consequences, about the later responsibility, about…everything.
Still, remembering his promise to Unohana—that he shouldn't push over the matter with Kuroyuri at the time, considering her recovering state—Byakuya eventually let the matter drop. Sighing inconspicuously, he remarked.
"…Fine. But I wish we could talk about the problem more thoroughly later—when you're in better condition and sober enough to—"
Kuroyuri stood up very fast she swayed a bit. Worried that she would accidentally fling herself from the slippery cliff, Byakuya took a hold on her arm—and was shocked beyond belief as she wrenched her arm away from his hold.
"Don't touch me!" she bellowed indignantly. The woman glared at him, her crimson eyes reflecting pain and disbelief.
"And do not talk to me as if you're the only one who is sober and level-headed enough to talk about this particular matter! You were clearly not sober that night! How could you call me as 'not sober enough' now? How—how could you—?" she shook her head in disbelief and turned away from him, readying to set on shunpo. Byakuya, however, grabbed a hold on her wrist.
"Kuroyuri-taichou, wait! I am sorry—"
But, again, she wrenched her wrist away from his hold with such force Byakuya was stunned at. She staggered away from him, glaring all the way. Single tear had made its way downward her pale cheek. Alarmed, Byakuya stepped forward only to be stopped by her harsh reprimand.
"Don't! Do not ever touch me again, Kuchiki! Do not ever approach me again, aside for work! Do not talk to me ever, ever again—!" she halted, panting. Another tear made way; and then another and another…soon, she was crying over. Kuroyuri didn't even notice Byakuya's mask fell out, revealing his shocked feature.
"St—stop it…I—I don't want to talk to you…I don't want to see you again, Kuchiki Byakuya."
With those words, Kuroyuri set on shunpo and zapped away from the site, still sobbing her heart out.
Soukyoku Hill was devoid of any presence but one. Kuchiki Byakuya, still like a statue, silently regretted his ineptitude.
Cursing over his failure again and again, the noble eventually dragged his feet towards his division; somehow dreading about his entire day.
Please R&R. Thank you very much. See you next time.