A/N: I've actually had part of this chapter written for a very long time, so sorry for the wait to finish it up. Also, I have a book on Amazon out now. Check my profile for the link and a description of the book, which is a supernatural romance.
I only have one more chapter of Demonology to write, and then I'll dedicate more time to finishing this fic up too.
"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs. Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes. Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers' tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a preserving sweet." - William Shakespeare
It's silly that I already find it hard to sleep without him, Byakuya thought as he turned again in bed.
The thought saddened him as he briefly pondered a lifetime of having to sleep without Ichigo. He pushed the thought out of his mind and began to count down from 100 slowly, one of his only remedies for sleepless nights.
In the morning he noted that Renji seemed a smidgen better, at least enough to eat heartily. Renji was such an open person that Byakuya imagined he felt a weight off his shoulders merely from the fact that everyone now knew why he was acting so strangely, even if the problem itself still remained. He also noticed that Rukia seemed more nervous than usual, something to be expected after finding out the her new husband had been contemplating suicide and was still in danger despite being back home, but he knew from talking to her that she was hoping that Ichigo's trip to Kisuke Urahara would bear fruit.
It was the afternoon, and Byakuya had opened his office windows to let in the light breeze. Voices came from below as several squad members began to chat. Byakuya wasn't paying any attention until he heard Ichigo's name.
"I saw you talking to Lieutenant Kurosaki this morning, what's he like?"
"He seemed a little distracted but he was actually pretty nice. You'd think that he'd be…"
Byakuya blocked out the rest of the conversation as his thoughts churned. Ichigo was back? Well, it's not like he had to report to me the second he got home or anything, Byakuya considered. He probably got back this morning and went straight in to work.
That evening, Byakuya stared at the empty spot by the table in annoyance. Ichigo tended to run late, but his food was getting cold.
By that evening though, as he got ready for bed, he was beginning to get a little worried.
Did he not get back then? Byakuya wondered in confusion.
The next day, after lunch, Byakuya wandered over to Squad 13, on the pretense of chatting with Captain Ukitake and seeing how his health was doing.
"Oh, I'm doing fine," Jushiro said with a wide smile.
"Is Ichigo around?" Byakuya asked.
"He's training some squad members today. I think they went out of the Seireitei," Jushiro relayed.
"Oh," Byakuya replied.
"Is something wrong?" Jushiro said, reacting to the slight tightening of Byakuya's lips.
"No," Byakuya said shortly, taking his leave.
That night, he looked at Ichigo's empty spot at the table with more than annoyance.
He waited until nine before walking to the wing of the large house that had been designated for Rukia and Renji (and little Asuma).
"Yeah, he's back," Rukia said.
Byakuya didn't respond.
"He hasn't said anything to you?" Rukia asked.
"No," Byakuya was a little at a loss. "Is he staying at his lieutenant's quarters?"
"Actually he's…staying with Captain Zaraki," Rukia answered.
Byakuya paused. "Is there any particular reason why?" he questioned.
"He didn't really mention anything, no."
"Oh," Byakuya said simply.
As he read his family correspondence that night, he caught himself tapping his fingers restlessly on his desk. He put down the letter he was reading and briefly contemplated the ceiling before closing his eyes.
Ichigo, what in the world is going on? he wondered.
It had been another day, and Byakuya was unaware that everyone in his squad was walking on egg shells around him. Ever since Renji had been gone the 3rd and 4th seats had been taking over his paperwork and training duties, but this morning instead of dropping off papers that needed to be signed on their captain's desk, they decided to leave it on the empty lieutenant's desk, scared to disturb their brooding captain any more than necessary.
Byakuya stayed in his office a couple of hours later than usual, and then walked to Squad 11.
"Hey," Kenpachi said with a wide grin, greeting him at the door of his quarters.
"Is Ichigo here?" Byakuya asked, with apparent indifference.
"Hm," Kenpachi considered the question, enjoying the very small signs of irritation that Byakuya was exhibiting.
Kenpachi had kind of a game going on, making it his mission to aggravate Byakuya whenever he could and continually trying to goad him into a fight. The chance to piss him off now was too tempting.
"Is he, or isn't he?" Byakuya asked again.
"Yeah, he's here," Kenpachi admitted.
"I want to talk to him."
"Too bad," Kenpachi said with a twisted smile.
Byakuya's eyes narrowed.
Kenpachi was wondering if he had finally hit Byakuya's sweet spot.
"Move aside," Byakuya demanded.
There was a tense silence while Kenpachi leered at Byakuya, hoping that Byakuya would get angry enough to go for his zanpakuto. Byakuya didn't seem to be making any move though, so Kenpachi decided to push a little more.
"Maybe Ichigo doesn't want to see you," Kenpachi said.
"Why? What happened?" Byakuya asked.
Kenpachi shrugged. "Like I care. But I'm not gonna let you see him…unless you make me."
For a second, Kenpachi was gleefully expecting Byakuya to finally break, but instead the man turned away. Kenpachi frowned.
"Fine," Byakuya said as he walked away.
Eh, hopefully he'll come back, Kenpachi thought.
"You should have made it seem like Ichigo was with you now," Yachiru said, from the futon she was lying on.
"You know, your boyfriend," Yachiru explained.
"Oh," Kenpachi considered for a moment. "Naw, that's just too fucked up. I'm pretty sure they're crazy about each other, and even if it's stupid as hell for Ichigo to like a prick like Kuchiki it ain't my business to be an ass about it."
Ichigo came out of Yachiru's room, where he had quickly hidden when he had felt Byakuya's presence at the door. "What happened?" he asked.
"He wanted to see you. I told him no," Kenpachi said.
"He told Byakuya that you're all his now so Byakuya can just go and cry in a corner," Yachiru told him.
"WHAT!" Ichigo shouted.
"She's kidding, don't worry about it," Kenpachi assured him.
"Um, what exactly did you say then?" Ichigo asked worriedly.
Byakuya had no idea what to think of things. He could feel his anger rising, but also his fear. Surely Ichigo would have told me if he didn't want to be with me anymore, Byakuya thought.
Another part of him complained, I'll be married soon, he couldn't wait?
Even if there had been a misunderstanding between them, Ichigo just running away and not facing the problem wasn't like him. Not only that, but every day he was gone was a day less that they would be able to spend together.
Assuming he wants to be together, Byakuya mulled as he tossed and turned that night in a fruitless attempt to find sleep.
It never came. Neither did Ichigo.
"Ichigo, I've been wondering where you were," Renji said when he spotted Ichigo in one of the many gardens on the Kuchiki grounds.
Ichigo had jumped a little on first hearing Renji's voice, but then calmed down. "Sorry, I thought you might be Byakuya," Ichigo told his friend.
"What are you doing?" Renji wanted to know.
"I'm supposed to dig a hole between here and here," Ichigo pointed between two large planters spread out about a dozen feet from each other. "It's supposed to be deep too."
"Just use kido," Renji suggested.
"Is that supposed to be a joke? You and I both know that I'm even worse than you are at kido," Ichigo said as he leaned on his shovel and wiped the sweat of his brow.
"Byakuya must be mad at you if he's making you dig ditches," Renji stated.
"Move aside, I'll show you how to do it," Renji said.
Ichigo moved to give him a wide berth.
"I'm not that bad," Renji chided him.
"We'll see," Ichigo replied.
Renji did the edges first, loosening up the dirt all around and finally stood in the middle.
"You're going to blow us all up," Ichigo told him.
"Shut up and watch," Renji bragged, letting off his last kido spell.
The ground swelled and there was a muffled explosion. And then there was water; lots of water.
"Shit," Renji said, spotting the pipe that was now broken and gushing. "Help me," he called up to Ichigo as he stood in the bottom of the pit.
The hole was deeper than Renji had intended it to be, so when Ichigo backed away, he couldn't see him any longer. He tried to patch the pipe up with mud, which worked about as well as one would expect. Above him he heard something.
By that time the water was about waist deep on Renji, and his feet kept getting stuck in mud. He was trying to not panic. When the slide came over the side of the hole, he grabbed at it. He wasn't expecting snakes though.
Hundreds and hundreds of snakes came down that chute, burying Renji.
He was now underwater, the weight the snakes pressing him into the clinging mud. Several of the unhappy critters bit him, and more got agitated as he struggled to get upright. Finally, and very suddenly, he went unconscious.
"I swear Kisuke, if you just killed him…" Ichigo said as Kisuke hauled up Renji's limp body.
Kisuke ignored him and kept working on Renji, first binding his closed eyes and then pulling out a slew of different instruments. Captain Unohana and her team came out with a stretcher to pull Renji into the large room that they had temporarily converted into a surgical center.
This time it was Byakuya, and Ichigo flinched at the sound of him.
He whirled around.
"Ichigo, what's going on?" Byakuya asked, trying to be calm.
Water was still shooting up in an arc, and the muddy pit was full of slithering snakes.
"We had to overwhelm his senses so that whoever was watching would think that he had a panic attack and passed out," Ichigo said. "Whatever signals his body sends to them is going to be changing because of the surgery they're doing, but since he also was bitten by multiple snakes we hope that they'll just think that he's struggling to heal from the various poisons or maybe has been recovered and is having basic medical attention."
Byakuya watched as the stretcher with Renji on it disappeared through a door.
"Is there any reason that you couldn't tell me about this?" he asked Ichigo.
"I don't think so," Ichigo admitted. "It's not this part that you couldn't know about it's just that Kisuke-"
Kisuke was there then, standing between the two men.
"Move," Byakuya said, his patience gone, and his hand just itching to use a quick kido bind on both of the shinigami in front of him.
"Ichigo, I told you not to talk to him," Kisuke warned Ichigo.
"I know, I was just letting him-"
"Get started," Kisuke said with a shooing motion. "You remember where to go?"
"Shouldn't I wait for Renji to come to?" Ichigo asked.
"There's nothing good that you can do here right now, all you can do is screw this up," Kisuke assured him.
"Ichigo," Byakuya called out as Ichigo turned.
"Don't be mad," Ichigo said over his shoulder. "I'll explain everything when I get back."
"When will that be?" Byakuya asked.
"An hour, a day, or never," Kisuke replied for Ichigo with a shrug.
Kisuke anticipated Byakuya's sudden move to go after Ichigo, moving in to block his path.
"I haven't seen young Byakuya for a very long time," Kisuke noted.
Byakuya was attempting to not attack the idiot that was in his way, but it required all of his restraint. He let his eyes speak for him, his quiet rage burning out of them and into Kisuke's calm ones.
"Don't you want to check in on your lieutenant?" Kisuke pressed. "I'm needed in there, but I'll stay out here with you as long as I need to."
Bastard, Byakuya thought. Pitting my desire to make sure that Renji gets well against wanting to know what's happening with Ichigo.
Kisuke just kept looking at him, and Byakuya sighed softly and went to Renji, with the shopkeeper following him.
"You didn't mean that about Ichigo never coming back," Byakuya said, barely making it a question.
"Stranger things have happened," Kisuke murmured. "Time works different in other realms, and maybe they'll just want to keep him."
Ichigo, where the hell did Kisuke send you? Byakuya wondered.
Ichigo found the small cave only after several hours of searching. He made sure to take off his shoes before entering, and then the rest of his clothes once he was inside. He walked through the narrow passageway, which looked just like any other natural rock formation, wondering if he was in the right place after all.
He wound up in a large room with a high circular ceiling. The room was lit up with glowing roots. In the center of the room was a square flagstone. The rock was red, and outlined in a narrow band of rose quartz. It was clearly manmade, so Ichigo figured he had found the right place after all.
He hesitated before sitting down on the rock, cautiously easing down onto it.
While it was surrounded by the dirt, the rock itself was pristine. It was warm to the touch, and seemed to get warmer as Ichigo situated his body on it.
Ok, now I just need to remember how to do everything else, Ichigo thought. Kisuke better not have been lying when he said it wasn't kido, otherwise I'm probably going to wind up in the dangai someplace.