Chapter 7: The Cherry Blossom Viewing

Byakuya slipped the kenseiken into the freshly brushed strands of his silken black hair and smiled briefly at Senbonzakura's reflection in the mirror. The samurai smiled back at him, but Byakuya didn't miss the wistfulness in his expression. He turned to face the zanpakutou spirit, slipped into his arms and indulged in several deep, hungry kisses that threatened to send the two back out of the dressing area and into bed.

But the Cherry Blossom Viewing was about to begin.

Byakuya sighed in resignation at the thought of spending the better portion of this beautiful day making conversation and mending fences with his squad and others who still had their questions about his behavior during the Zanpakutou Rebellion. It was important work, repairing what had been broken, and despite being more of a mind to spend the day in the gardens, making love to Senbonzakura upon the sweet, fallen sakura petals, his responsibilities were clear.

But having responsibilities to attend to didn't stop him from sliding down the lovely samurai's body, kneeling at his feet and, with still hungry lips and tongue, relieving the precious ache all of their kissing had left in his lover's pale, soft loins.

"B-byakuya…" moaned the samurai dizzily, "It's so…you being in uniform, I mean. Maybe we shouldn't…"

The noble sucked harder, his eyes closed and his face serene as he felt his lover's body shiver and tighten, then drew back slightly to feed on the spirit's hot release. The samurai's fingers threaded into his hair, disrupting the kenseiken. His head fell back and his mouth opened into panting gasps. His legs gave way and he found himself on his knees, face to face with the noble. He took Byakuya's face in his hands and plunged into the shinigami's mouth, seeking the pleasantness of their mingled tastes.

"I know you have to go," Senbonzakura whispered, "but I will be waiting for you when you return."

He reached down and lightly touched the hard swell beneath Byakuya's clothes, smiling at his lover's flustered expression.

"I shall look forward to our time together, then," Byakuya said, starting to rise.

About halfway to his feet, he was pulled down again and impatient hands moved his clothing aside. A viciously hot mouth found the noble's length and stole his breath away, even as he tried to object.

"S-sen…" he moaned feverishly, "Sen, I have to…go…"

"I know," mumbled the samurai around a mouthful of Byakuya's riled flesh, "but I couldn't…leave you like that. S-sorry!"

Byakuya couldn't feel anything resembling remorse as the samurai's lips and tongue slid up and down, and he looked down at the spirit's contented expression. Certainly, duty was important, but what he was feeling for Senbonzakura mattered too. In any case, his arrival was not required to occur at a set time anyway. So, he relaxed into the rush of sensation, the feel of the spirit's fingers digging into the skin along his inner thighs, and the heat and delight that took him tumbling over a ledge and into bliss. He moaned and writhed heedlessly, completely yielding to the heavy throb of release. Senbonzakura's smiling mouth was careful to capture every last drop, then to tease away the last bits of moisture before beginning to set Byakuya's clothes back in order. He pulled the still, reeling noble to his feet and continued to adjust his clothing as Byakuya addressed his tumbled hair and the kenseiken.

"Truly, Senbonzakura," Byakuya said reprovingly, "You are terribly precocious. You must learn patience."

The samurai slipped his arms around the noble from behind and rested his head on Byakuya's shoulder.

"Patience?" he sighed happily, "That word has no meaning when I am with you, Byakuya."

He shimmered softly and disappeared as the noble shook his head and made certain everything was in place. A moment later, there was a soft tap on the door.

"Come in," he said, turning away from the mirror.

He smiled briefly as Renji entered the room, carrying a cup of hot tea.

"I don't remember adding you to my staff," commented the noble, "You are a guest at the manor today, Abarai. I won't have you fetching things for me."

"Aw, take it easy, Taichou," the redhead chuckled, "Torio really had his hands full and besides, I wanted to come and see you for a minute before you go out there and start having to act all official. But ah…what's with you? You looked a little flushed. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Abarai," Byakuya said off-handedly, accepting the tea and sitting down on the bed.

Renji sat in a chair near him, drinking from a second cup of tea on the tray. He watched the noble quietly for a moment, then nodded in the direction of the gardens.

"Everything out there looks perfect, Taichou. They've started letting the guests in. Rukia's out there greeting everyone and the staff started handing out refreshments. But I think everyone's really looking forward to seeing you, Taichou. For most of them, it's the first time they've seen you since…you know, everything happened."

"And you think that they will welcome me back, do you, Abarai? Even after all that happened? Even after I seemed to have betrayed the Gotei 13? After I attacked some of them?"

Renji shook his head dismissively.

"You don't have to worry about our squad, Taichou. I talked to them. I explained why you had to act as you did. And I'll tell you honestly, the ones you knocked out knew better than anyone that you held back when you did it. They've trained with you long enough to know that if you had been serious about attacking them, they wouldn't have just all been knocked out. Take a breath and relax a bit. Things will be all right with them. I think it's the others who don't know you as well who will be more critical."

"You are probably right," Byakuya said, finishing the tea and returning his cup to the tray, "Now, if you will excuse me, I am to meet my grandfather and Soutaichou before going out to greet the guests."

"Sure thing, Taichou," Renji said, taking the tea and flash stepping to the door, "See you out in the gardens."

Byakuya stood and returned to the dressing area as Torio rushed into the room. He looked over the noble's attire and nodded.

"Perfect," he said, "Soutaichou and Ginrei-sama are waiting in the entry."

"Arigato, Torio," the noble said, nodding.

He felt the return of calm as he walked slowly down the long hallway and emerged in the entry.

"Byakuya," the captain commander greeted him.

"Welcome, Soutaichou," Byakuya said, inclining his head.

He turned to Ginrei, smiling.

"Grandfather," he said nodding.

"You look much better now that you have returned home and all of this unpleasantness is coming to an end."

"Well, it would have been a much different story, I fear, if not for your testimony. I am grateful to the two of you for speaking out in support of me."

"It was the right thing to do," Soutaichou said resolutely, "The two of us had a front row seat to the destruction that man caused, and you, yourself encountered Kouga's unleashed rage."

Byakuya sighed.

"Had he been stronger of heart, he would have acted more wisely. He would have had allies, people to help him regain his freedom, but his own impatience and immaturity made him reject even those who cared for him."

Byakuya looked up at Ginrei searchingly.

"It must have been difficult to watch one of such potential, one you cared about enough to bring into the family fall apart like that."

Ginrei nodded, his lips tightening.

"And perhaps this affected my response back then and made me less able to act to stop him. Perhaps if I had…"

"Grandfather," Byakuya said calmly, "As you have so often told me, 'The petal regrets not how and when it fell from the tree. Things will happen as they will and we will respond as we do. We must move forward and not miss out on the future while bemoaning the past.'"

Ginrei's lips curved upward and Yamamoto chuckled softly.

"So you do slow down and listen on occasion, ne, Byakuya?" the elder Kuchiki queried affectionately.

Byakuya gave him a look of mock reproach.

"I always listen to you, Grandfather."

Now Ginrei laughed softly.

"And then you do whatever you choose, ne?"

Byakuya smiled.

"I do whatever the situation requires. Come now, it is time to join the others in the gardens."

The captain commander and the elder Kuchiki turned with Byakuya and accompanied him as he walked out into the gardens. Immediately, sounds of excitement and merriment rose up to greet them. They met first with the full contingent of the Kuchiki council of elders and gathered members of the subfamilies, then Soutaichou and Ginrei left his side and Byakuya moved on alone to greet the waiting members of his squad.

He was taken aback and deeply touched at what he saw in their eyes. He had expected to see looks of anxiety, concern, guardedness or mistrust. But what he saw instead were looks of welcome, relief and acceptance. He had always held himself somewhat in reserve, keeping an appropriate distance for the purpose of defining himself as their leader, but as they were, for the purposes of this occasion, also his guests, he was gratified to be able to close the distance between them and to socialize with them. He made it his personal task to speak to and directly meet the eyes of each squad member, and to answer their questions as well as he could. And all the while he was doing that, he was keenly aware of Rukia and Renji quietly moving through the throng of people as well, greeting them, connecting with them and offering their support in the important task of making things right again. And despite his initial anxiety, with each connection, with each meeting of eyes and sharing of words, his heart calmed. By the time evening came and dinner was served, he and his guests were at ease and pleased to enjoy the coolness of the spring sunset together.

"Well," said Renji, yawning as the last of the guests bowed and left the manor, "I think that went well, don't you, Taichou?"

"I thought it went perfectly," added an equally sleepy looking Rukia.

Byakuya gave them a grateful smile.

"It did," he acknowledged, "and your and Rukia's assistance is much appreciated. Now, why don't the two of you go and enjoy a good soak in the hot springs? It's a perfect night for that. I must take my leave of you. My grandfather wishes to say his farewells before he leaves to return to the spirit dimension."

"Thanks Taichou," Renji said.

"Good night, Nii-sama," Rukia yawned.

Byakuya left them and retired to the peaceful environs of the Kuchiki family archive. He stood quietly in the central room, gazing at the huge shelves filled with carefully ordered books, and sighing at the thought of just how many books there were and how large a task it would be to search out something that might allow Senbonzakura to remain with him. But he had promised himself that as soon as time permitted, he would search for answers. There were no guarantees, but he felt the genuine need to pursue answers, in any case.

He realized quickly that finding what he sought was likely to be a rather arduous task. The Kuchiki family archive was the largest store of knowledge in the three worlds, next to the spirit king's own library at the royal palace. And it did not only contain books, but maps, related artwork and many artifacts. There was even a section of dangerous sealed magical items stored there for safety.

He started by scanning the clan leader diaries, working slowly backwards in time. While in the midst of searching the ancient account of Kuchiki Kanaye, he paused and frowned, noting that some of the pages had been removed. He read the section just prior and caught his breath in surprise.

So entrenched in this forbidden love are we that we will seek the way to enable ourselves to share what we would normally be denied. Parts of a whole, it is considered a sin to separate, but we only wish it to then be allowed to truly be together. And having been unable to find another way…and being a shinigami of sufficient power to survive without a zanpakutou, I will follow this path where it leads.

"No wonder the pages are missing," mused the noble, "What reckless thinking…"

He sighed and shook his head, moving on through the rest of the diaries until he found himself starting to doze off and realized that it was well past decent hours. As he blinked sleepily and tried to think of what to do next, he heard voices rise up outside the archive. He set the books aside and moved out into the gardens.

"Do you remember anything about them that we can use to identify them?" Renji's voice asked.

"N-no," said the housekeeper's voice, sounding petrified, "It happened too fast. They saw me and the light from the kido blast blinded me."

Byakuya flash stepped to the manor entry and found Rukia, Renji and the head of the security staff, kneeling next to the housekeeper, who was in the midst of being treated by the house healer.

"What happened?" he asked quickly, "Matsuko, are you all right?"

"I will be fine, Kuchiki-sama," the old woman said, her voice trembling slightly, "I was just a bit shaken up."

The house healer looked up at him.

"The injury is minor," he assured the noble, "Her quick reaction prevented worse injury."

"So, tell me what happened," Byakuya directed the woman.

"I was asleep, but you know that my room is near the front of the house, so I hear what goes on just outside. The sound of voices woke me, so I listened."

The old woman shuddered.

"They were saying horrible things about you Kuchiki-sama, things I won't repeat. They called you a traitor and said that you should have been executed. I heard some sounds like they were doing something troublesome, so I came out to the gates and saw they were painting something onto the fencing. One of them saw me and fired a kido blast at me. Then, they ran. I am sorry, Kuchiki-sama. I did not see their faces because of the kido fire."

Byakuya shook his head dismissively.

"Do not apologize," he told her, "You are not the one who did wrong here."

The healer smiled at the old woman and squeezed her hand.

"Are you feeling better Matsuro-san?" he asked.

"I am, Haru-san. Arigato," the housekeeper answered, smiling warmly at the youth.

Byakuya glanced up at Renji.

"Come," he said quietly, "I want to see what the attackers were about."

Byakuya unlocked the gates and the two walked outside together. The head of security joined them a moment later. The three gazed at the red painted words on the gates.

Die, traitor!

Byakuya's lips tightened slightly, but he shook his head and glanced at the head of security.

"Take reiatsu samples and search for anything they might have left behind."

"Hai, Kuchiki-sama," the security head said, moving closer to the painted message.

He stopped short of it, staring and inhaling sharply.

"Kami…" he whispered, looking back at them, "It's written in animal's blood."

"Sick bastards," Renji said softly.

"Atsushi," Byakuya said calmly, "have your team conduct a thorough search of the area and take reiatsu samples and samples of the blood. We'll want to know where it came from."

He looked back at the message.

"Then make sure it is removed before daylight."


"This person is a coward, who will not oppose me directly, but wants to work under cover of darkness and to be noticed. If any other attempts of this kind are made, they are to be handled in the same manner. You are also to station guards in all areas that might be vulnerable."

"Yes, sir, Kuchiki-sama," Atsushi said, nodding and turning to the other security guards who had gathered as they talked.

Byakuya left them to their work and walked back inside alongside a disturbed looking Renji.

"Sir," Renji said in a low voice, "I think that…until we have found this person, you should have extra guards. May I have permission to remain here and to bring a small group of officers here to see to your protection?"

Byakuya considered the request for a moment.

"You may stay here, but I believe my house security will suffice. These people are cowards. I doubt they will dare to breach the manor. They just wanted to send a message."

"Yeah," Renji muttered, "I noticed. Creeps…"

They parted ways and Byakuya started back towards the archive. As he reached the door, a fully clothed and masked Senbonzakura appeared beside him.

"Are you going to lock yourself away again, Master?" he asked, "You should really get some sleep after all of the excitement, ne?"

Byakuya sighed.

"I do not feel like sleeping."

"Then allow me to put you in a calmer state more suitable for rest," the samurai suggested.

"How do you mean?" the noble asked.

He followed as the samurai turned and walked back to the kitchen. He prepared two cups of tea as Byakuya watched silently, then led the noble back to his bedroom. He led Byakuya into the dressing area, where he removed the noble's uniform and wrapped a purple yukata around him, leaving the front open. Then, he took Byakuya's hand and turned him towards the bedroom.

"Aren't you going to undress also?" Byakuya asked.

"I have something else in mind," said the spirit.

He led the noble to the carpeted area in front of the fire, which Byakuya noticed had been prepared with a sleeping mat, blanket and pillows. A bottle of sake had been set to the side, and as Byakuya laid down on the mat, Senbonzakura poured a small amount into the tea. He offered the tea to the noble, then sat down against the pillows and coaxed Byakuya into his arms.

Byakuya sipped at the tea and felt warmth spread slowly through his body. And to his surprise, the samurai said nothing more as they finished their tea and enjoyed the warmth of the fire together. When the tea was gone, Byakuya settled on the samurai's chest and closed his eyes, drifting off to the gentle touches of the spirit's gloved hands on his hair and body. There was something oddly comforting, he thought, being so bared, and placing himself in the arms of his warrior zanpakutou. Being one whose strength was called so often to defend others, it was, he thought, both refreshing and exotic to let himself become more vulnerable and to let his safety reside with this one he trusted so deeply. He longed for there to be a way to express his gratitude, but no words seemed right. He settled instead for nuzzling into the samurai's shoulder and placing a kiss beneath his earlobe. He could feel the spirit's smile, even with him still masked. He settled more deeply into Senbonzakura's arms and drifted off to sleep.

So, you found the beginnings of a trail, did you? Kouga's voice whispered in his sleeping mind, Why do you set it aside so easily? Why not explore Kuchiki Kanaye's background a bit more? After all, being a powerful shinigami, you don't really need a zanpakutou, ne? You could be without Senbonzakura's power and depend on your kido and fighting skills, ne? Oh, but I forgot. You are dedicated to obedience. You won't entertain the notion. And you believe so strongly in the resonation between your souls. No, you will try to deny yourself, won't you? But watch what happens as desperation sets in. Watch what happens as you realize there is no other way. If you are like me, you will abandon your silly principles and follow your desires. And I still believe that you are more like me than you realize.

"I am not like you," Byakuya replied, "Sen and I will be together in a rightful, honest way, or we will not be together at all."

Kouga's sarcastic laughter chilled him inside.

Oh yes, go ahead and pretend you are different than me. But I live inside you now. I will speak inside your mind and lead you astray. In the end, you will willingly take the steps that lead to your own self-destruction. Just remember as you do that this is the fate you bought for yourself when you killed me…