Disclaimer: Kubo Tite owns Bleach, I own nothing and this is for entertainment purposes only.

A/N: This is for Byakuya-Itachi-Sensei who is a sweetheart and is currently doing me a great favor so I have decided to repay her by writing this. I hope she likes it (Thank you, hun).

The Phases of Love

The Fascination Phase

It all starts like this.

Byakuya Kuchiki is a brilliant college professor, the youngest in his department with a Ph.D., three books under his belt, and the title of 'acclaimed anthropologist in comparative studies'. He has a comfortable apartment with a nice view of the Karakura town and an absurdly fast car. He has been in two serious relationships and some not so serious one-night stands. He is thirty-three and a well-accomplished person, the envy of his friends. Therefore, he can't explain to himself why the first time he meets Ichigo Kurosaki, sparks fly all over the place and not in a good way.

Ichigo Kurosaki is everything he is not supposed to want. Ten years younger than him, the orange brat works as a construction worker during the day and attends community college when he ends the shift. He gets by with just five hours of sleep, helps everyone and he is brilliant. He lives on his own, in a tiny one bedroom thing (because it certainly can't be called 'something', not even a studio apartment, Byakuya won't grace it with such a name) and he helps his father supporting his sisters. He is also cunningly smart, generous and damn sexy. He angers Byakuya so much he can't breathe sometimes.

They meet at one of Rukia's parties. What was his sister thinking when she befriended the scowling bastard who behaves all the time as if Byakuya murdered his first born? Or maybe his second one, frankly he doesn't know. However, what is certain is that Kurosaki has a biting line no matter what Byakuya says. His cinnamon eyes (Rukia's line, not Byakuya's) and his hair that glows like a hallo in the right light (definitely not his line; no seriously, not his) do not make up for his horrible personality. (It's a really terrible personality; Byakuya wouldn't be surprised if he found out that Kurosaki is a serial killer going around on a rampage, killing 'stuck up professors' – Ichigo's words – in his spare time, not that the young man has much of it).

"Kurosaki Ichigo, please remove yourself from this party if you can't engage in a discussion without antagonizing everybody." He seethes because he may be patient, but Kurosaki always finds a way to light up that fuse.

"I'm not antagonizing everybody. I'm only antagonizing you, old man." The brat replies cheekily and no way did he just call him 'old'.

"What? I hope for your sake that you haven't called me 'old'."

"Seriously? You are ten years older than me. You are practically ancient."

"I think I should teach you a lesson about respecting your elders." Byakuya growls and this time Ichigo smirks at him so confidently that the older man trembles with the need to put him back to his place.

"Maybe you should." The construction worker replies.

Byakuya blinks. What? Is this some kind of secret language that only plebeians understand? What pitiful innuendo! But then again, it works like a charm because two hours later they are fucking hard and fast and God forgive him, but Kurosaki's taste on his tongue is like a drug. Once you take a hit, you want another one and another one.

Byakuya can't describe Ichigo other than unique. He doesn't let him leave after the first fuck and keeps him for a second, just so he can classify the fascinating parts of this young man. Just so he can take it slow. He maps Ichigo's strong neck by sucking bruising kisses in it, licking each bruised patch of skin with some sort of reverent intensity. He doesn't discard his rock-like muscles, miles of tanned skin spreading generously under his hands. He worships Ichigo's hard abs, caressing his sides with some sort of veneration. He smoothly traces invisible lines on Ichigo's muscular thighs, convinced that he will find a blemish in the end. But there is none. Ichigo's body is a masterpiece of hard work and lucky genetics and when he finally relents and listens to the young man's begging and enters him, Byakuya's eyes widen under the pressure of the pure pleasure of being engulfed by that delicious body. However, everything pales in comparison to Ichigo's face during climax. It triggers the strangest emotions in Byakuya.

Since that night, they progress quite easily into that frame of friends with benefits… Maybe more like enemies with benefits…. Or is it some sort of frenenemies with benefits? Who knows at this point how to call two people who can fuck on every available flat surface (and sometimes in really weird positions too), but still can scream at each other like they are enemies on a battle field?

Rukia says that they are incredibly stupid and leaves it at that. Renji likes to make divagations and uses his psychology diploma to analyze his relationship with Ichigo to the extent that Byakuya actually wants to punch him in the face. (He is a pacifist, but he never backs down from a dare and Renji is definitely daring him with his pompous mambo-jambo). Toushirou just arches a perfect eyebrow and looks at him as if Byakuya has gone completely mad. A little too plebeian, even for you, Byakuya. His fellow colleague and friend says in his icy tone and sure, most of the time, he considers Toushirou's opinions valuable and not dismissible. Thus said, Byakuya barely contains himself from take the said opinions and shove them up his ass.

Honestly, sex with Ichigo is amazing, and one can never underestimate the power of a little hate in one's sex life. They don't meet that often (with the schedule that Ichigo has, it's actually amazing that the young man is still alive) but when they do, they are all over each other.

However, when they are in public, they behave as if they don't kiss fervently in the dark, as if they don't burn each other with fiery caresses. In fact, they aren't involved in any sort of relationship. Byakuya goes out on several dates, has even two one-night stands when Ichigo is too busy to answer his calls. And he is sure that the young man does the same. They don't like each other and they don't pretend to. This is all about sex.

There is a baffling cruel honesty in the way they behave with each other.

The Unexpected Phase

It is over a year in whatever they have here (at this point Byakuya has given up from finding a scientific name for it) when things start to change and it is for the first time when small changes like this escape Byakuya. He is doing some research for a new book of his (it will have a pompous name, as Ichigo likes so much to point) when someone knocks on the door, startling him. He hates when people come unannounced especially if he works on one of his books so he ignores it. When the knocking resumes, Byakuya huffs in annoyance and goes opening the door.

"What?" He barks as he soon as he opens the door, but he swallows hastily the following angry words. Ichigo stands there in drenched clothes and he can't believe he thinks this, but Ichigo looks utterly adorable like a drenched cat, and yeah, he totally feels the need to cuddle him, but he is not going to admit that ever because he is the bigger man in all this fucked-up situation.

"Hey." The young man whispers quietly. His black t-shirt is clinging to him like a dark mistress unable to say goodbye and the blue jeans embrace nicely each leg, adoringly. Even the fabrics seem in love with Ichigo's body and Byakuya understands completely that feeling.

"Hello." Byakuya finally replies, looking a little lost. "I'm sorry, were we supposed to meet?"

"Nah," Ichigo brings his hand to his nape and Byakuya knows he does this when he is really nervous. "But I had a terrible day and I know that nobody will dare to search for me here. Do you mind if I crash for a couple of hours? I promise I will not disturb you."

"Right." Byakuya hesitates before finally relenting and makes room for the young man to enter. "As long as you take a shower and you change into some old clothes of mine. You reek."

"Sorry. I came straight from the building site and I didn't even take a shower. Thank you." Ichigo whispers back smiling softly at Byakuya and he feels utterly confused watching as Ichigo dumps his backpack on the floor trying to make as little mess as possible, knowing fully well Byakuya's OCD tendencies. (It is not OCD to want to have a clean house, books and DVDs arranged in alphabetic order and his papers nicely put in files, no matter what the other people say about this). Small dirty droplets of water spread on the black tiles of the hallway but Byakuya surprisingly doesn't cringe.

"No school tonight?" He asks as he leads Ichigo towards the bedroom, on his way to the bathroom, trying to think of clothes that could feel comfortable for the brat.

"No, too damn tired for it." Ichigo mumbles, already in the bathroom, stripping of his wet clothes. Byakuya actually feels sorry seeing the black shirt go. He manages to find at last some old t-shirt and some sweats that could feel comfortable for the young man.

"Clothes are on the bed. Change when you get out."


Byakuya is still puzzled by Ichigo's behavior as he drifts in the kitchen to make some tea. Usually the young man has layers upon layers of walls, and Byakuya is not the type of person to insist on breaking them because 1) he doesn't want to and 2) everybody has some dirty secret in the past, Byakuya included, and there are some things better left unsaid.

However, that doesn't explain Ichigo's wish to hide here. For the past year, they have been some upscale fuck buddies, but that's about it. They don't share stories, they don't discuss anything personal and they don't stay the night. Whether they fuck in Byakuya's or Ichigo's apartment, they never stay the night and they never share the room. It is possibly the sole unwritten rule of whatever they have that they have respected ad litteram.

It takes Ichigo almost half an hour to finish taking the shower and then change into Byakuya's clothes.

"Hey." Ichigo whispers again as he enters in the living room and as soon as Byakuya locks his eyes on the young man, he has a new sort of epiphany, the mind that makes one wonder what kind of person they have truly been so far. Yes, a little bit dramatic, but excuse him, because Byakuya just had the epiphany that he, just like every other man on this planet, has a lizard brain. And the lizard brain definitely likes what he sees, more specifically the almost claim that there is in this small gesture of Ichigo's wearing Byakuya's clothes.

The grey sweat pants are a little loose around the hips and the blue t-shirt is soft from too much washing, and Ichigo looks like he was born to wear Byakuya's clothes. (Not to mention that his orange hair is in stark contrast with the t-shirt, and he looks breathtaking – they may not be involved in a relationship but Byakuya can certainly appreciate the beauty of his sex partner).

"I prepared you some tea. Please, have a sit."

"Thank you." Ichigo mumbles gratefully again and sits on the sofa as far as possible from Byakuya, taking appreciatively the cup of tea and taking small sips from the hot liquid.

"Do you want to tell me what happened?" Byakuya asks picking up his discarded books.

"I don't want to talk about it." Ichigo mutters. "I have interrupted you from your work." He says after a while. "I m sorry."

"No problem. As long as you stay there quietly and let me finish this, I won't mind. Much."

Ichigo smiles tenderly again and settles more comfortable on the couch and watches Byakuya read for a while until he can't resist anymore. He puts his legs up on the couch and gradually falls asleep. It takes Byakuya a while to realize that and he has to fight a little to pry the cup of tea from Ichigo's stubborn fingers. For the first time in over a year, Byakuya has the chance to see Ichigo sleep and what a vision that is.

He discards his papers and looks at Ichigo's sleeping face. He looks so much younger, without the permanent scowl on his face and his relaxed features are even more stunning. He usually seems so tense around Byakuya but tonight everything in Ichigo's posture screams relaxed or vulnerable. He gently caresses Ichigo's head, and the young man settles down even more comfortably and yes, he can't help but smile. He won't let Ichigo leave tonight. As soon as he thinks this, he freezes. They have never spent the night together, no matter how late it was or how early they had to be at work. But now, somehow Ichigo has used his apartment as a shelter and maybe Byakuya can offer him at least this.

He slowly gets up and goes to do the laundry so that Ichigo can have some freshly washed clothes in the morning. He searches for a hoodie from his college years and when he finds it, he puts it on the armchair to give it to Ichigo tomorrow morning. Byakuya is more than stunned by his own behavior because honestly he has never been the type to take care of a person other than his own or his sister. However, seeing Ichigo like this, there is the annoying feeling that this night, this very moment means a lot more than he gives it credit for and Byakuya isn't the type of person to lose important moments.

When he finishes everything, including his nightly routine, he goes back in the living room and gently wakes up Ichigo.

"Come on, brat. Time to move from the couch or you will hate me in the morning."

Ichigo blearily looks at him.

"It's time to go?"

"No, it's time for you to move in the bedroom."


"Just follow me." He helps Ichigo get up and leads him to bedroom where he helps him get in bed.

"Sorry." Ichigo mumbles again sleepily.

"You have said this before. Just sleep."

"I have to…"

"I know, I will wake you up in the morning."

"Thank you, Byakuya."

As Byakuya settles next to the young man, the unusual circumstance hits him again, and maybe he should have used the guest bedroom or maybe he should have left Ichigo on the couch. But as he settles more comfortably and the young man rests his head on his shoulder, Byakuya smiles a little in the dark. So this is how intimacy feels like, he completely forgot about it. It has been a while since he has felt it and its bittersweet taste makes Byakuya put a hand on Ichigo's waist and keep him closer. He will forget about this in the morning, but for now, the warm presence of the young man lures him to sleep and it is possibly the best sleep he has ever had.

In the morning when he wakes up Ichigo, the brat looks bemused at him, a childish expression on his face, which makes a warm feeling settle in Byakuya's stomach, a feeling that rather confuses him.

"It's time to wake up or you'll be late for work."

"Oh, shit." Ichigo wakes up fully now. "God, sorry for troubling you."

"Would you stop apologizing?" Byakuya snaps at him and pushes him towards bathroom. "You have time to take a shower and have breakfast also. I have washed your clothes and I will lend you a hoodie so you don't freeze to death. Now go, before I change my mind and throw you in the street."

Ichigo goes into bathroom and Byakuya, still in his pajamas, goes back in the kitchen preparing coffee for the brat. By the time Ichigo comes into the kitchen, the breakfast is nicely settled on the table and there is some food prepared for him to take at work. The young man seems dazed by the whole thing, but says nothing and digs in the breakfast while Byakuya drinks slowly his tea. He would very much appreciate to go back to sleep after the orange disturbance leaves.

When Ichigo is ready to leave, there is a mysterious expression in his eyes, probably bewilderment that Byakuya has been so kind to him. Yeah, the explosiveness of their relationship can't exactly be ignored or understated.

"Thank you for doing this for me." Ichigo says and takes a few steps towards Byakuya.

"It's all right, brat. Now go to work and stop missing from school. I don't sleep with illiterate people." Ichigo laughs amused and then kisses Byakuya tenderly. It is probably the best kiss they have ever had, even though it is just a press of lips on lips, tinged with taste of coffee, and tea, but the mysterious tenderness of it all is almost overwhelming.

"Bye, Byakuya." Ichigo whispers against his lips and then he is gone. And Byakuya absolutely refuses to go to bed with Ichigo's image in his hoodie. He will deny this to the very end.

The Oblivious Phase

"No, come on, seriously? Just move already!" Ichigo screams at the TV screen. They are currently watching a movie that Byakuya has picked but now clearly he has taken the wrong decision because the characters are really stupid. It is as if they are begging the bad character to kill them. "Can you believe this shit?" Ichigo exclaims and looks at Byakuya.

"Yes, I'm afraid I have chosen a very bad movie. Sorry."

"Nah, it's all right. It still can't be compared to the crap we have watched last week and I have chosen that one."

Oh, yes, that movie which supposedly was about writers and their process of writing and ended up being a melodrama about writers fucking other writers. It led to a quite nicely outcome in which Ichigo had spent the weekend at Byakuya's place asking for forgiveness in the nicest way possible. Yes, he knows, they have evolved. These frequent nights spent together have started to resemble dates, and frankly, Byakuya doesn't remember the last time he slept with other people than Ichigo.

"Still, it is really terrible. Maybe we should just fast forward and see what happens."

"Let's not cheat. Hey, you know what we can do? We can invent our own lines."

"How old are you? Two?"

"Come on, it can't be that bad. Let's give it a try."

Therefore, for the rest of the movie, they speak instead of the characters, and Ichigo cracks up more than once when Byakuya delivers an ironic reply with a gravely mockingly serious voice. And it makes Byakuya smile in turn because Ichigo keeps coming closer and closer until his body heat invades Byakuya and the older man's arm falls on the orange pest's shoulders. The comfortable feeling doesn't dissipate. On the contrary, Byakuya wants this more than usual and knowing that Ichigo will spend the night at his apartment makes Byakuya quite content. A night to savor this body is not nearly enough.

Nights like this have happened quite regularly lately. They have also started going out when they both have some spare time. That doesn't happen very often because Ichigo is in his final year and it takes a lot of time, but still it is nice to go out and have fun when they feel like it.

The following morning when he wakes up, Ichigo is long gone for work but there is still warm coffee in the pot. Byakuya takes a deep sip because there is a strange headache behind his eyelids, as if something is trying to crawl out of his skull, definitely not a good sensation to have so early in the morning. Nonetheless, he prepares himself for the day and by the time he gets out of the apartment h feels a little more human. He stops by his favorite bookshop to buy Ichigo some new published books. Who could have guessed that the orange brat is such an avid reader? But every since he found out, Byakuya has taken upon himself to make that small library of his into a bigger one. Therefore, every week he looks for new books to buy, books that Ichigo would enjoy.

By the time he reaches the university, he feels sick again. His headache has grown insistently and he started to shiver. As soon as the head of the department sees him, he sends Byakuya home again insisting that someone else will take his place. He doesn't want to let that irritating Kisuke Urahara take his place, but when the room starts spinning around him, Byakuya has to relent and go home in a taxi, in which he zones out more than he would like to admit.

By the time Ichigo comes to him that night, he is exhausted and he is sure he has the most horrible cold in the entire world, he may also probably dying if the vicious headache has anything to say about it. The young man takes one good look at him and before he dares to protest, Byakuya finds himself changed into some fresh clothes (he sweats like a pig and no man is attractive in this state), his sheets are changed, he has been fed some chicken soup, and he has taken some pills.

Kurosaki Ichigo may be the bane of his existence every once in a while, but right now, Byakuya wants nothing more than have him close.

"Do you need anything else?" Ichigo asks in a hushed whisper. He has never used this tone with Byakuya. It is a soothing one reserved only for his sisters or for Rukia, and he can't believe he admits this, but it is really nice to be the recipient of such worry.

He is groggy, his throat feels like he has taken a shot of broken glass mixed with gravel and everything seems stuffed with cotton. His nose is still running and he can barely keep his eyes opened. He is truly pathetic.

"Can you stay with me?" he barely manages to whisper. Ichigo smiles kindly at him and then settles down next to Byakuya, who just snuggles closely. Later on, he will completely admit having this weakness, but for now, he will indulge in all this lavish attention. Ichigo's careful fingers pass soothingly through Byakuya's tresses and the older man has never felt more at peace than in this moment, in spite of his awful state.

"You can leave when I fall asleep." Byakuya says softly after a while, but Ichigo just hums ambiguously. His eyes eyelids feel heavier and Ichigo's movement have calmed his headache so much that Byakuya falls asleep almost right away.

It takes him several days to get back to his healthy self and Ichigo is the one who helps him with everything he needs and nurses him back to health. He is more than grateful for the young man's presence and several weeks later when Ichigo finally graduates and he has his ceremony Byakuya is more than happy to attend along a his friends and family. H knows how much Ichigo ahs fought for his education and he knows how brilliant he is. He beams proudly at him when Ichigo shows his diploma and kisses him tenderly without a care about what other people might think. When he finally lets him go, Ichigo has a content smile and everybody around them goes awwww.

The following night he takes Ichigo out for a fancy dinner at a local restaurant. He thinks the young man deserves a dinner out for his incredible effort. Ichigo looks stunning in his black slacks and white shirt, his tanned skin almost shining in contrast. His orange hair is styled and his eyes sparkle deliciously. It is a truly pleasant dinner until the end of it when suddenly a young man appears at their table and looks at Byakuya with greed.

"Hey, sorry to interrupt your meal, but I just want to say that you are absolutely breath-taking and would you like to go out sometimes?"

Byakuya's ego bursts with glee, so before he knows what he is doing, he says:

"Sure, when?"

"Tuesday, seven o'clock, here?"

"Great. I'll see you then." As soon as he says those words, Ichigo furiously stands up and makes his way out of the restaurant, startling the patrons. He excuses himself, smiling apologetically at the intruder, before he rushes out after the impetuous orange haired man.

"What are you doing? Where are you going?" He asks angrily because he is sick and tired of Ichigo's bratty behavior.

"You can't be seriously asking me this!" Ichigo shouts clearly exasperated. "You have just accepted going out on a date with another man in front of me."

"But isn't this what we do?" Byakuya asks blankly because he doesn't like the hurt in Ichigo's eyes but he also hates the burning sensation in his stomach. This is definitely not heartburn.

"No, Byakuya, this isn't something that we do. This is something you do. God, how could I be so fucking stupid?"

"I don't understand. Are you trying to tell me that I should have refused the date?" Byakuya's icy tone makes the young man flinch but Ichigo blurts angrily:

"Yes, you fucking moron, because you date me. We have been dating for more than two years."

"No, what we have done is fucking each other for more than two years." Byakuya replies angrily and he hates himself in the second because the broken expression on Ichigo's face is probably the most horrible thing he has ever seen in his entire life. "Come on," he tries another route, "don't tell me you haven't slept with other people since you met me."

"No, Byakuya, I haven't fucked anyone since I began this with you." Ichigo says in such a strangled voice that it makes Byakuya flinch. "Apparently you didn't have the same qualms." Ichigo turns ready to leave when Byakuya stops him by taking his elbow in a bruising grip.

"What does this mean?"

Ichigo pries his elbow harshly from his hand, his eyes suddenly drowning in hurt.

"It means I love you, you fucking prick. I have loved you for a very long time now, waiting for you, but it seems like I have never been anything else than a fuck buddy to you." Ichigo's eyes show such heart-breaking pain that Byakuya freezes in his place. Ichigo loves him? "I will never touch your heart, will I? I will always be just this loser construction worker for you, whom you fuck every once in while"

"I have never asked for these feelings." And this is the most awful thing to say because Ichigo absolutely shatters in front of him and Byakuya knows with certainty that he won't ever find a way to put those pieces back together.

"Yeah, I guess you didn't. But whatever we had between us? It is done. I don't want to see you ever again. Now go back to your new fuck buddy. I am pretty sure you deserve each other."

Ichigo leaves and lets Byakuya there, in front of the restaurant, gapping like a fish. Suddenly all colors from life have vanished and the cracks in Byakuya's world are finally showing.

The You-Fucked-Up-You-Fix-It Phase

"What did you do to him?" Rukia yells at him as soon as he lets her in the apartment.

"Hello to you to, Rukia."

"Don't give me this crap, nii-san. I am in no mood for this." She snaps angrily at him and it is for the first time that Rukia doesn't treat him respectfully. It is such a shock that for the first few seconds, Byakuya stares at her and gapes like fish, such an unbecoming sight. "Tell me, what did you do to Ichigo?"

"Why does it necessarily have to be me precisely the one that has done anything to Ichigo?" Byakuya stalls because he can't just tell his sister that he has wounded her best friend so bad. However, apparently his sister is far from buying his shit.

"I know it has everything to do with you, nii-san. For the past week, Ichigo hasn't got out of the house, he has barely eaten. He doesn't say anything so let me repeat: what did you do?" He can't believe it but Byakuya actually squirms on the couch unable to find the right words. But then again, his sister proves a true heir of the Kuchiki name when she barrels on. "Oh, my God, he told you that he loves you and you have run from him."

"It didn't exactly go like this." Byakuya mumbles like a petulant child and the minute Rukia's hard glare fixes upon him, the older man continues: "We went to this restaurant where a man invited me on a date and I might have said yes."

"And Ichigo was there." Rukia whispers brokenly. "You most likely had a fight and he confessed his love and you turned him down." She fills in the blanks but as soon as she finishes, she takes a deep breath and yells again. "How could you be so stupid? Are you that screwed in the head?"

"Don't be insolent, Rukia. Don't cross a line that you might regret crossing it."

"Don't cross a line? Don't cross a line?" She repeats baffled for a moment and then she hardens: "But how come you can cross it, nii-san, so badly? How come you are allowed to cross the line and treat people like dirt? What makes you so superior to the others?"

"Don't push it, Rukia." Byakuya's angry words bounce against the walls. "I remind you that I am still your older brother and that you shall treat me with respect. What has occurred between Ichigo and me is strictly our business and not others'."

"I shall offer the respect when you deserve it." Rukia replies coldly and yes, never underestimate her when she is in her tigress mode and ready to defend the loved ones. Byakuya forgot about this hardened part of hers. "You have wounded the noblest person I know, the best friend anyone possible can have. Hell, if he were remotely bisexual, I would have stolen him from you because you don't deserve him. You never did."

"Ichigo and I have always been fuck buddies. It is not my fault that he has confused things."

"He has confused things?" Rukia sighs mortified by her own brother's stupidity. "Before the scene in the restaurant, when was the last time you have fucked anyone?"

"That is not your concern."

"Please, indulge me in this. I promise I will make my point."

Byakuya stares, incredulity pouring in waves around them.

"I don't remember."

"Is it more than a year?"

"Yes, definitely."

"In this last year and a half, let's say, how many times have you gone out with Ichigo?"

"More than I could count, I guess."

"How many things have you bought for him? How many times has he slept here, and I really mean just sleep? How many times have you fixed him a meal because you know he doesn't eat well? How many times have you helped him with his studies? How many times, dear brother, have you looked at him with the stupidest face you can possibly make, and regarded him like he is the best thing he has ever happened to you?" Rukia stares him down. "How many times a day do you think about him?"

Byakuya falls on the couch looking horribly appalled by everything his sister has said to him. It can't be. But he remembers all those times when he has thought that Ichigo might like something and bought it just for him, all those times he spent worried when the weather was extremely bad and wondered what Ichigo was doing, all the times when Ichigo surprised him with an astute observation or with a small endearing detail. He remembers the times when he has watched Ichigo sleep and marveling at the fact that this unbelievable young man just chose him for that particular moment. He remembers Ichigo radiating like the sun when he saw him at his graduation ceremony and how his heart filled to the brim with warmth and tenderness and affection. Something twists inside of him in an incredibly excruciating burn because no, surely he can't that stupid.

"I am in love with Ichigo Kurosaki." He whispers brokenly and his sister's eyes finally warm.

"Yes, you are, and everybody saw it except you."

"I'm in love with him." He lets the awe wash over him and people say that you see your life flash before your eyes the moment before you die. But Byakuya sees all those little perfect moments spent with Ichigo in his small apartment or in his bigger one and how perfectly content he felt. He looks up at his sister suddenly heart-broken. "Oh, my God, Rukia, what have I done?"

There is genuine terror slipping through his words and this time his sister smiles gently as she sits next to him on the couch, taking his hands.

"You have broken him, nii-san, I can't hide this." At his flinch she continues. "But you can fix this. You must fix this."

"How could I have been so blind?"

"Honestly, nii-san, I think it was because you have never been in love before." Her tiny hands grip him tight. "And sometimes you are so fixed to look at things through your perspective and nobody else's that you go blind with it after a while. Sometimes you have to listen to your heart and block whatever others think about you."

"Rukia, maybe he is better off without me." He decides to speak after a while and he feels his sister tense next to him so he adds quickly. "I am too old for him and I have hurt him so bad. You haven't seen his face when I said all those horrible things to him."

"Don't choose the coward way out, nii-san. Yes, Ichigo deserves someone who won't ever hurt him, but he has chosen you and for me that is enough. Now please, don't doubt yourself anymore, just go, and fix him. He hurts really bad, nii-san." Her voice is choked with tears and Byakuya is shocked to see her sister cry. "I have never seen him suffer so badly. Please, nii-san, now that you know that you love him, fix this."

"I will, sister. I promise you." He gently embraces her while his thoughts swirl around like mad ducks. How could he have been so blind?

Later, by the time he reaches Ichigo's apartment he is a trembling mess. The mighty Byakuya Kuchiki, nicknamed Merciless Kuchiki at the university, is acting like a stupid teenager with a crush. There is no way to fix this, he tells himself repeatedly as he stands in front of Ichigo's door unable to knock. No, Ichigo will never forgive him, as he shouldn't. But a life spent without Ichigo's scowling face is like a life without the sun.

Moreover, he wants color back in his life and Ichigo Kurosaki is the only person able to save Byakuya Kuchiki from an untimely death, drown in a grey sea of an every day life. (Yes, apparently, when he wants it, Byakuya can also turn into a drama queen, but he has a good reason for that this time).

He takes a deep breath steadying himself before he finally knocks on the door. No sound comes from behind it so he insists because damn Ichigo, but he isn't going to leave now that he is here. He is going to fight for this, goddamn it. He knocks again and this time he hears angry steps before Ichigo's voice penetrates the scared fog around his brain.

"Rukia, I swear to God I'm-" As soon as he sees him, Ichigo abruptly stops and pales so hard that Byakuya feels like shit all over again. (Ichigo's influence over him might have been stronger than he thought). "What are you doing here?" He asks in such a tiny voice that Byakuya tightens his fists so as not to just go and embrace Ichigo or just fall on his knees and beg for forgiveness. (Drama queen, remember?)

"Can I talk to you, please?"

"No, I think we have said everything there is to say back then. You can leave now." Ichigo is on the verge of slamming the door in front of him so Byakuya naturally stops it.

"You have said everything back then. Now it's my turn."

"No, thank you very much. I believe you have said more than enough."

"Please, Ichigo." Byakuya isn't above begging. He has lost his pride the moment he has fallen in love with this brilliant man and he has refused to see it. There must be something on his face because Ichigo lets him enter with an annoyed huff. As soon as they reach the kitchen, Ichigo turns to him with a careful blank face and that really hurts because he has always been the kind of person to wear his emotions up his sleeve, which makes Byakuya wonder again how he could have missed that this young man has been in love with him for so long.

He takes in the thin form of Ichigo and looks at the dark smudges under his eyes. He is dressed in some sweat pants and a t-shirt and he looks like he hasn't showered in a while and seriously, can Byakuya just kneel and hug his legs and plead for mercy?

"I'm sorry." Byakuya blurts because yeah, this is always a good start.

"Sorry for what, Byakuya?" Ichigo bites back. "As I might recall, you said that you didn't ask for any of this, so you can't possibly be sorry for my own stupidity now, can you?"

"I have been an idiot."

"What?" Ichigo seems confused so Byakuya sighs deeply.

"Look, let me just say this and then you can kick my ass. I have prepared a speech, you know?"

"A speech?" Ichigo leans his back on the fridge, as if he has lost all his will for a fight and this time Byakuya takes the opportunity and dives right in.

"I have never been in love in my life and I have never cared for anyone, except my sister and my grandfather. And yet, the moment I met you, I realized I listened to all your opinions and I really cared about what you thought. And I might have been a little oblivious to everything that has happened between us, but Kurosaki Ichigo, I am in love with you too."

The harsh gasp makes Byakuya beat himself with a metaphoric stick because it shows Ichigo's pain in such a small way and he has caused this. He has painted this man's features with pain and sorrow.

"You said you don't love me."

"I said many stupid things that night and none of them was true." There is a sudden lump in Byakuya's throat as he continues: "I'm sorry, I am so sorry for all the things I said a week ago, for all the times I have hurt you without knowing it. I didn't mean it; I didn't realize what you mean to me until I didn't have you anymore in my life and until my sister kicked my ass big time."

"You just said 'kicked my ass'," Ichigo smiles a little but those wine-like eyes are hurt and Byakuya knows that this will take time. If Ichigo ever accepts his apology.

"You rubbed on me. Ichigo, even though I have never admitted to myself before, you are the first person that I think about the moment I wake up in the morning. I worry if the weather is bad, if you dressed properly, if you have eaten. I buy things because I know you like them. I worry about whether you are going to make it to school or not, whether people are going to call me and tell me you have died of exhaustion because you work so hard. I worry when you don't call and I imagine the worst has happened at the building site. I worry that you take care too much of others, including me, and not enough of you."

"You have never said that."

"Because I was stupid and blind and I promise you that if you give me another opportunity, I won't squander it. I will treasure every moment spent with you. Because I promise you, I am really proud of you. You are an incredible person and you deserve so much better than me, but if you choose to give me a second chance, you won't regret it."

"But you have slept with other people." And Ichigo says those words like he has just been condemned to death.

"Only in the first month of our relationship, and then I stopped, and by God, that should have been a clue enough for me, because all I wanted was to feel your body next to mine, enjoy your company." Byakuya takes a deep breath and lets every emotion show on his face and in his eyes and he sees Ichigo inhaling surprised as Byakuya makes a step towards him. "I love- I love you so much that I can't breathe without you. And I am sorry, so sorry for being so stupid. Please, forgive me, and I swear to you I will make up for all this wasted time between us."

There is a charged silence settling between them and Ichigo looks at Byakuya as if he can't believe what he has just confessed. And yes, Byakuya wouldn't believe himself either but he needs this, he needs this so badly.

"I need time." The soft whisper breaks Byakuya's heart a little bit but he deserves it. He knows he does, so he smiles sadly at Ichigo. He reaches for him and slowly caresses his cheeks with his thumbs, getting into his intimate space, but needing the connection. He doesn't know when he will have the opportunity to touch Ichigo again. The young man closes his eyes, his long eyelashes brushing his cheeks. He is breathtaking and Byakuya wants to cry just a little bit more for what he has done.

"I will wait for you." Byakuya whispers getting a little bit closer and Ichigo opens his eyes startled.

"You will wait for me?"

"Yes, I will. And I will have you in any form you like, whether it will be just friends or more. I know I have fucked up. Just don't- don't shut me out of your life, please."


"Can I kiss you? Just for a second…"

When Ichigo nods, Byakuya slowly leans over and kisses Ichigo. A thousand sensations explode on his tongue and he presses in, making Ichigo moan in pleasure when his tongue tastes every corner, when he bites reverently Ichigo's plush lips and then gently sooths them with his tongue. And he wants to cry because he might never have this again, there might never be a moment like this again. Those hands might not grip at his t-shirt like this and this body might not press into his. Ichigo is everything he has ever wanted and he may have lost this forever.

When they finally break apart for air, Byakuya presses his forehead on Ichigo's, fervently repeating "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, a thousand times I'm sorry." Then slowly Ichigo takes him into his arms, and Byakuya presses his face in that place between Ichigo's neck and shoulder where other times he bit with possessive aggressiveness and hugs him tightly, like this is the last time he will ever do this. And Ichigo hugs back and his heart doesn't beat the way it used to.

The Happily-Ever-After Phase

"I am home and I have come bearing gifts." Ichigo says as soon as he enters their apartment and Byakuya mock scowls when he sees him. He is sitting leisurely on the sofa and reading one of his colleagues' essays. Interesting lecture but seeing his boyfriend's sexy body is definitely a sight for sore eyes. (Yes, take that! You didn't expect that, did you?) Ichigo smiles at him as he lets his backpack fall on the crowded floor. He has been a teacher at a middle school for the past year and Byakuya couldn't be more proud of him.

"Because you're late or because you missed me?"

"Both?" Ichigo smiles sheepishly and then gives Byakuya a small package. He grabs it hungrily because Ichigo always gives him thoughtful presents.

"Did you buy a new book?"

"I'm sorry but it's not my fault that you are a geek." Ichigo replies and crashes on the couch, next to his boyfriend and looks at Byakuya's face as he rips the paper just to uncover the cheesiest box of chocolates, in form of a heart.

"Happy Valentine's Day." Ichigo laughs out loud when he sees Byakuya's pout.

"This is your way of being a thoughtful boyfriend?" Byakuya pretends to be upset again. "Hmm, if you can't spend more money for me every once in a while, then I'm afraid I will cut you from sex. Tonight it's the couch for you, mister."

"Oh, come on. They are really good candies. Besides, at least I bought you something. What did you buy me?"

"Well, since you have brought this up…" Byakuya takes out from his pocket a medium sized box and gives it to Ichigo. The young man grabs him excitingly and opens it almost instantly just so he can see another smaller box.

"You just love to torture me, don't you?"

"I have my moments." Byakuya leers and encourages Ichigo to continue his endeavor until he reaches the smallest box and opens it. The reaction is priceless. His warm brown eyes fill with wonder and love as he looks at Byakuya just in time to see him kneel in front of him (he can be romantic, thank you very much… and clichéd, but who's going to complain?).

"Ichigo, I love you very much. Will you do me the honor of being my husband?"

"Yes!" A thousand times yes!" Byakuya takes one of the platinum bands and slips it on Ichigo's finger before Ichigo does the same to him and then they kiss as if they haven't seen each other in a whole life.

"Your gift is way cooler than mine." His future husband whispers against his lips and Byakuya snorts.

"No, yours is, because you said yes."

"There was no other answer to that question."

Five years together and still counting and as Byakuya leads Ichigo in the bedroom to celebrate their engagement, he thinks about future years spent together, and this fills his heart with affection and love. And he thinks this is more than enough, more than he deserves and he will treasure the man in his arms for the rest of his life and hopefully even beyond.