(Originally posted on Shadow-Eyes-01)
Chapter 1: On the Battlefield
Aizen Sousuke stood at the edge of the battlefield, studying the path of destruction. The scattered remains of hollows and shinigami littered the ground ahead of him, and he walked the edges, looking for signs of what had allowed the hopelessly outnumbered shinigamis to escape. For despite the large number of dead arranged haphazardly on the ground around him, he knew there had been many more…but also far more than enough hollows to level them all. It had to have been one of the stronger taichous…
He leaned over and checked the uniform of one of the fallen shinigamis and was rewarded with the news that the division involved in the conflict was none other than Squad Six.
It wasn't likely then that he would be among the fallen. It would have taken much more than this to take down one such as him. Still, it didn't hurt to be thorough. Ever since that day…the day he left the Sereitei…he had been left to wonder about Kuchiki Byakuya.
The Squad Six taichou had done the unexpected…showing more emotion than Aizen Sosuke had ever seen in him. It left him to wonder if he had been wrong to overlook the noble when choosing whom to acquire before the move to Las Noches.
There was a harsh, hissing sound as the zanpakutou was released and he felt it close in, heading for Kuchiki Rukia. He felt a sharp rise in reiatsu and the sudden intense pressure of a brutally fast flash step. But it didn't make sense.
Why would he…?
But when he turned and looked, Rukia was in someone's arms and that someone was impaled through the heart on Gin's blade.
Wasn't the man completely heartless? Hadn't he callously stood by and allowed his own sister to be charged with questionable crimes and not done anything to assist her, despite the fact that her sentence was far too harsh considering the nature of her crime and the fact that she was not a seated officer? Wouldn't any reasonable man defend his own sister…protect her from such obvious unfairness?
But Kuchiki Taichou wasn't just anyone.
He was one of the nobles, the favored of the spirit king…and part of the reason that Aizen Sosuke was betraying the Gotei 13 and striking out on his own. He would bring down the spirit king and take down the noble houses. The great would fall and everyone would have a better life…not just the favored ones. It was that kind of favoritism, that kind of preferential treatment that had denied him the respect he deserved for being a shinigami of such power.
He pushed the memories away with an effort and stepped toward the fallen taichou, beginning to draw his zanpakutou. It was a fluke…some kind of mistake. Kuchiki Taichou had stood by and watched as Rukia was nearly killed by the Sokyoku…and had fought with Kurosaki Ichigo to win the right to execute his sister himself! Certainly, it was true that he had lost, but a heartless man would simply have removed himself from the entire situation. He wouldn't throw himself into the path of a zanpakutou…throw away his life for someone he had threatened to kill…
It hadn't made sense at all. And after leaving for Las Noches, it had continued to return to his mind, time and again…nagging at him. Could it be that he had been wrong? Could there be a member of the noble class who could actually have a heart? Could it be that Kuchiki Byakuya had found his heart that day? Or had it existed all along? Had he merely been hiding it from everyone? If so, then everything Aizen Sosuke knew was wrong…
The voice was familiar, but it was thick with pain…strained with the struggle against death. It was, in fact, the man who had been plaguing his mind. And he rested beneath a scattering of bodies, nearly hidden from view. But why hadn't he attacked? Why had he spoken? He moved cautiously toward the voice, prepared for the attack that would most certainly come.
"Aizen Sousuke…" the voice said again, "why have you not attacked? You have been staring at me for some time. Did you simply not believe your eyes?"
He stepped past the fallen bodies, careful not to slip on the blood that pooled on the rock underneath his feet. He closed in on the sound as it disappeared into a pained, barely coherent moan. His senses extended, fully expecting that the Squad Six taichou was merely drawing him in…that he was going to attack as soon as he drew near. Strangely, there was no rise in reiatsu. In fact, the taichou's reiatsu was startlingly drained…something that suggested he had sustained life-threatening injuries.
Kuchiki Byakuya was badly injured…dying…
And Aizen Sousuke could only stand there and stare.
He looked down at the pale skin, bathed in crimson splashes…the shredded shihakushou, the torn and bloodied haori fluttering in the breeze. The beautiful face was drawn and tired, the dark, gray eyes shadowed and filled with pain. Raven black strands of hair lay plastered against his skin and there was a fevered look to his features. Aizen Sosuke stepped forward and dropped to his knees next to the Squad Six taichou, his senses extended and ready for anything. He was extremely surprised when Byakuya merely looked into his eyes and asked a question he was completely unprepared to hear.
"Are you going to stare at me all afternoon…or are you going to kill me?" he asked softly.
He leaned forward and brushed the hair away from Byakuya's face. As he did, the remains of the noble's kenseiken crumbled and fell away.
"Now, why would I do that?" he asked the Squad Six taichou, gazing intently into the depths of his startlingly beautiful eyes, "You have made no move against me, Kuchiki Byakuya. Why should I kill you?"
"We are enemies, are we not?"
"We are," replied Aizen, nodding, "but that does not mean that I must kill you on sight, Kuchiki Byakuya. You are a person of some importance. Wouldn't you expect that I might instead consider your usefulness instead of killing you out of hand? You could be a valuable hostage…a source of information…at very least, a source of some entertainment. To kill you without first determining your usefulness would be quite short-sighted of me, don't you think?"
"How foolish of me to forget…how wrong I was to mistake you for an honorable man."
"You are a fine one to speak to me of honor, Kuchiki Byakuya. What man of honor would assist in seeing his sister convicted of serious crimes…given an unfairly harsh sentence? Is that what honor is to you?
"I sought to support our laws. When I knew how they had been manipulated…I no longer supported them."
"As was proven by your ill advised attempt to sacrifice yourself to save Rukia…" Aizen acknowledged.
The dark eyes were fading, losing awareness. Aizen sensed that if he was going to affect Kuchiki Byakuya's fate, the critical moment had arrived. The noble's words faded into incoherence and his head fell back. Aizen knelt next to him and extended his hands, calling his healing power to life. He first made certain that the noble would remain asleep, deepening that sleep so that he would not wake until the next day, if he woke at all. Then, he moved his hands slowly over the length of the noble's body and halted the outflow of blood and reiatsu that threatened to end the noble's life right there where he rested. He then moved on to the most life threatening injuries, carefully healing each. He sensed other injuries, particularly to the noble's back and legs that would leave him unable to walk…or even stand, for some time.
Useful wounds…not that I could heal damage like this even if I wanted to…No, these will have to heal on their own. But I will make use of the time…
He scanned the noble's body one final time to make certain that he was stabilized, then carefully lifted him and flash stepped back across the sands of Hueco Mundo…back to his fortress at Las Noches. He carried his unconscious charge up the stairs to a room at the end of a long hall.
Inside the room, he removed Byakuya's ruined shihakushou and haori, then gently washed away the blood and grime from his pale skin. He gazed down at the deep bruises and, as an afterthought, healed them as well. When his body was as clean as Aizen could manage, he slipped a robe around the deceptively slender and fragile looking form, amazed that something so powerful could look so delicate…so vulnerable…
He tied the robe at the noble's waist and eased him into the bed. He then set a kido field in place over Byakuya, not really expecting that he could escape, considering the injuries to legs and back, but because he was an extremely cautious man. He had to be if he expected to remain alive.
He remained late into the night, sitting at the noble's bedside, quietly monitoring his condition, occasionally giving small infusions of reiatsu to bolster him. Byakuya's chest rose and fell in a slow, steady rhythm, growing stronger as the night wore on. As morning neared, Aizen breathed a sigh of relief and retired to his room. The noble would live. All that Aizen Sosuke had to do now was to figure out how to use him.
He immediately discarded the idea of using him as a hostage. At this point, there was little the Gotei 13 had to offer that Aizen Sousuke wanted…or that they would be willing to trade for the return of the Squad Six taichou. No…there would be no bargaining for his return.
There was also little in the way of information that he required that he couldn't discover using other, more reliable resources. Besides, he wasn't one who enjoyed the prospect of torture as a means of gathering information. He wasn't above using it, but there were places and times for such things and this did not appear to him to be one of them.
He considered the idea of using the noble for sexual pleasures, but the injuries to his back and legs meant it would be some time before he would be useful in that manner. Perhaps once he was healed…but what to do with him in the mean time?
He didn't actually need to have a plan. Sometimes, he thought, it was better to proceed without one. It left the way open to many possible choices. As long as Byakuya's spirit energy was sealed away and he couldn't walk…he was no threat. And he had always piqued Aizen Sosuke's curiosity. He wondered what lay beneath the calm exterior. Could he really be the ice-cold bastard everyone believed him to be? Or was there something hidden beneath all of that coldness…something Kuchiki Byakuya hid from the world?
So perhaps there was information he wanted from Byakuya…personal information.
It was not something that the Squad Six taichou would yield to him easily. But they had plenty of time. Yes, there was time to engage him in a slow peeling away of layers…a gradual reveal. And his chosen tool? Finesse…
It was so much cleaner than torture, yet it would leave its mark just the same.
But now was not the time for games. He needed to rest before the Squad Six taichou woke, before he realized the precarious nature of his situation. There would be time for games later.
Before he left, however, he scanned the noble's body one more time. He found nothing life threatening, but there was an oddity. When he focused on the noble's spirit centers, the points in the body through which reiatsu was channeled, the centers did not respond to the touch of his reiatsu. Even with his spirit energy sealed away, the spirit centers should have responded to stimulation. That they did not suggested they had been significantly damaged. The thought intrigued Aizen.
He had in his possession a powerless Kuchiki Byakuya…
A Kuchiki Byakuya who could not walk, or even stand…
One who would require a long period of healing and rehabilitation…
That would leave Aizen Sousuke with plenty of time to explore the depths of the Squad Six taichou…to take him slowly apart and study what was hidden inside. There were sure to be secrets. He would search them out, find them, know them all. And once he unraveled the mysteries of Kuchiki Byakuya, he could then decide how best to use him.
Aizen lay in bed, struggling to fall asleep. He rarely had such trouble drifting off, but his mind kept returning to the Squad Six taichou who slept in the well-guarded room at the end of the next hallway over. He chided himself for his childishness at allowing himself to be distracted by the taichou's mere presence. Certainly Byakuya was intriguing, but why did he seem to have such a hold on his mind?
At first, it seemed to be the thousands of questions he found himself wanting to pursue. But that faded as he considered other things…the delicate, yet powerful body, the soft-looking, pale skin…dark, sensuous eyes, a pretty mouth and fine features. He wondered if the hair and skin were as soft as they looked, if the eyes were as depthless…and always, if the heart that beat within was as cold as he had been led to believe. So many questions…
They brought him to his feet and carried him down the next hallway, and into the taichou's room. He sat down next to the bed, watching Byakuya sleep and wondering…
He reached out a hand and touched the silken hair, brushing the long strands carefully away from his face. He gazed at the pale skin until his hand crept forward and stroked the noble's face gently. It truly was soft…and seemed to radiate with a soft glow. He smelled the scent of sakura and breathed it in deeply, closing his eyes.
When he opened his eyes again, deep gray eyes looked back at him, studying him closely. He was surprised at the intelligence in those eyes, at the way they met his without any hint of fury, distaste or fear. There was only a sense of dark curiosity, a certainty that he would, at some point encounter unpleasantness of some sort at the hands of his captor. He stared into Aizen Sosuke's calm brown eyes and attempted to see his fate.
The traitor's eyes revealed nothing. They looked deeply into the eyes of the Squad Six taichou and left him uncertain. Kuchiki Byakuya did not enjoy facing the unknown. He would much rather know his path, even if it was to be a painful or disastrous one. Dwelling in uncertainty had never been his way. But Kuchiki Byakuya knew well that he was not in control anymore. His body lay frozen beneath the kido field, and his spirit energy was sealed away. And he could feel the dull ache in his back and legs that slowly increased as his senses returned. Whatever Aizen Sousuke planned for him, it would not end quickly.
He found himself wondering why…why he had spoken…why he had drawn the man's attention instead of calmly and quietly allowing himself to expire on the battlefield.