Disclaimer: Don't own it.
I don't know when it exactly began—this strange fascination I developed for him. It started out as passing thoughts. I'd wonder what he was doing or where he was before I pushed the thought from my mind and write it off as nothing. Then I found myself wondering, how would Byakuya handle this? As the days passed I found my mind more and more occupied with thoughts of the sixth squad captain; his haughty attitude, his unwavering confidence in the law, even his cold expressions.
When I had gone to Soul Society I stayed at the Kuchiki Manor in a guest bedroom next to Rukia's. For the most part we were left alone and I never saw Byakuya for more than just a passing glance. It was not until the third night of my week-long vacation from Karakura that I saw him.
Rukia and I had just sat down for dinner—which was usually just us—when Byakuya walked in and sat between the two of us. He picked up a plate from the center of the table the servants had laid out in case he did happen to decide to have dinner with us and began filling it with food.
Rukia paused mid-sentence when he had walked in and took his seat. She quickly recovered and murmured a quiet, "Good evening, Nii-sama," before looking down at her plate and taking a bite. The atmosphere in the room became very heavy and uncomfortable, in my opinion at least. I forced my eyes to look down at my plate when I realized I had been staring at Byakuya ever since he came into the room. I had been—plainly putting it—checking him out. Most of the contact I had with him before tonight had been in battle. Either against or with him, verbally or physically—we were always fighting. Looking back, I think I must have been a masochist because I always came out of the fights with some kind of injury but it never took long for me to come back for more.
The cold steel grey of his eyes had fixed on me as I quickly pushed my wandering head back down. "Do you need something Kurosaki?" His voice was hard and monotonous as he spoke to me and had I not been used to his tone it would have sent shivers down my spine.
I looked up at him, forcing myself to keep my eyes from wandering around the smooth contours of his face. I shook my head in response, feeling rather glum for a change, and looked back down at my plate, taking a bite. The rest of the dinner was silent, very much unlike the happy, carefree atmosphere from earlier, the clinking of our chopsticks were the only noises that broke the quiet. That night, once we had all retired to our respective beds, I stared up at the ceiling unable to turn off my rampaging thoughts.
I had always known that I never liked girls but, as crazy as it sounds, it never occurred to me that I would be attracted to guys instead. My realization that I was attracted to Byakuya was shocking. At first, I denied it whole heartedly; refusing to admit that I had any such feelings for the stoic taichou, refusing to even think about him. I went home that week with a large frown on my face still trying to convince myself that I didn't feel anything towards Byakuya.
I realize now that it was all in vain.
The next couple of weeks were pure torture for my poor heart. I tried so hard not to think about him, convincing myself that I didn't feel anything. That I couldn't.
Well, I tried.
But any progress I may have made in forgetting about my crush on Byakuya immediately turned to naught when I had to return to Soul Society for one of the captains' meetings because they wanted me to be aware of the issue or whatever. It turned out to be completely irrelevant to me or Karakura in the long-run. It wouldn't have been so bad if he wouldn't have been there. Everything I had worked so hard for over the last couple of weeks were ruined within a matter of seconds after entering the first division barracks. He, like always, refused to acknowledge my existence but since coming to terms with my embarrassing fascination with him I discovered that it hurt a lot more than I ever dreamed possible. I quickly masked my face to hide the hurt that I'm sure would have passed by had I not reacted fast enough. As I passed by Ukitake he gave me a small frown, making me think he saw the flash of pain before I had reigned it in, but luckily he didn't say anything which I was thankful for.
After the meeting, Renji dragged me out to the ninth squad barracks where Hisagi, Kira, Ikkaku, and Yumichika were passing around a bottle of sake. As soon as they saw us they called us over jubilantly Renji immediately accepted the offered bottle of sake and took a large swig. When the same bottle was then offered to me I shook my head and said, "I'm underage."
"Underage, smunderage," Ikkaku slurred.
I folded my arms across my chest as he pushed the bottle toward me again. "Not happening." Ikkaku scoffed and Renji grunted while everyone else stayed silent, not caring if I got drunk or not. After almost twenty minutes of pestering from Renji and Ikkaku I finally gave up and left. Half an hour later found me wandering aimlessly through the streets of Seireitei.
My silent wandering was broken by the kind, quiet voice of Ukitake, "Ichigo-kun," I turned around to face him and was surprised to see his face creased in worry. "Are you alright? You seemed like you were in pain during the captains' meeting today. Did you get hurt? Would you like me to take you to Unohana's, I'm sure she could patch you up?"
I forced a smile on my face, reality hitting me full force once again, "I'm fine Ukitake-san. Thank you for being concerned though."
He gave me a sad smile and I knew he didn't believe me. "Alright." Ukitake laid a hand on my shoulder, "How about you come and have tea with me, I don't believe I've had the opportunity to just 'hang out', as you kids say, with you yet."
His warm smile and hopeful expression was too much for me to turn down, so we set off to the thirteenth's barracks. Not surprisingly, Kyoraku was there lying across the small sofa in Ukitake's office a half empty bottle of sake in his hand.
Ukitake quietly walked over to him and began gently shaking his shoulder, "Shunsui, get up. This isn't your office." He started shaking his shoulders a little more fiercely. "Shunsui, wake up. Wake up." When Kyoraku remained unresponsive Ukitake sighed and got up, walking over to his desk where a small, dark cup laid. Ukitake picked it up and brought it back over to where Shunsui lay. "I'm sorry my old friend, but this is ridiculous." Ukitake lifted the cup above Kyoraku's head and tipped it over so the clear liquid fell onto his face. Immediately Kyoraku leapt up sputtering and looking around wildly for the source of his sudden awakening.
I couldn't help but laugh at Kyoraku-san's baffled expression, Ukitake not far behind me. After a few moments Kyoraku chuckled good heartedly and got up, grabbing onto Ukitake's shoulder while saying, "Juushiro, my friend, what are you doing here?"
Ukitake smiled lightly, "Well this is my office." He gestured over to me, "Ichigo-kun and I were just about to sit down to tea, would you like to join us?"
Kyoraku laughed, "You know I can't turn you down Juushiro. And your tea is always a reason to stay."
Ukitake's smile brightened considerably, "Well then, why don't we all sit down." Complacently, I walked over and sat at the low table, accepting the preferred cup that was handed to me.
Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying having tea with Ukitake and Kyoraku. They told me a few stories about their time at the Shinigami Academy—pranks they pulled on teachers, things they studied—and in exchange I told them stories about my past.
It was about an hour later, when we had retired to the couches in his office that Ukitake brought up the topic I had sincerely hoped he had forgotten about.
"So Ichigo-kun," He began. "What happened to you? You looked like you were in true pain today in the captain's meeting."
Kyoraku looked at me in shock, "Are you sick Ichigo-kun?"
I gave them a smile, keeping any cringe that might have wanted to appear under wraps, "I'm not sick and I wasn't in pain. It was probably just the lighting, Ukitake-san."
Ukitake gave me a disapproving frown, "Ichigo-kun, I saw pain flash across your face when you first entered the room before you covered it up. Had I not seen it I would have never known, but I did see it and I do know. So please tell me so I can help you."
You can't, I think, it would have been better had you never seen anything. "I'm sorry," I said, standing up. "But it's getting late and I'm sure Renji and the others are probably wondering where I've wandered off too." I headed towards the door. "Thank you for the tea Ukitake-san, it was nice getting to know you and Kyoraku-san."
As I was half way out the door Ukitake called out, "Ichigo." I turned around giving him the most convincing smile I could muster. "Just know that we're always here if you need us alright? Whenever you feel like talking come find one of us and we'll gladly listen."
I nodded, keeping the smile on my face, "Will do, Ukitake-san." And with that I left his office.
I didn't return to Renji and the others that night. Instead, I requested the Senkaimon to be opened and fled like the coward I was to the World of the Living. I knew I was going to regret my decision later when the drunken idiots I call my friends sobered up enough to realize that I had disappeared but at that particular moment I couldn't care less.
As soon as I got to the World of the Living I ran to my house and returned to my body before falling asleep all the while holding back the tears threatening to fall from my eyes.
In the days that followed I steadily began to withdraw from everyone little by little. Don't get me wrong, I didn't do it intentionally; I just couldn't handle putting on a happy façade for everyone. I know my human friends noticed right away but they were easily appeased with a smile and an assurance that it wasn't anything they did. I began to eat less and less, unable to keep any food down. I knew I probably should have gone to a doctor but I didn't think he could help. Was there a cure for unrequited love and a broken heart?
On Friday, a week after I returned to the World of the Living, Rukia greeted me in my bedroom after school.
With a kick to the face.
Honestly, I shouldn't have expected anything less of her—violence was how she got her point across. Even though I knew I should have expected it didn't mean I let her off without thorough verbal abuse in retaliation. I believe the insults maniac, midget, and abusive were thrown at her in my rage the most. She retaliated in the same fashion and before we knew it we were having an all out verbal war with each other—with Rukia adding her fist or foot every once in a while.
After a few minutes we calmed down and I dropped my bag down by my desk before falling gracelessly on top of my bed. "What are you doing here Rukia?" I asked exasperatedly.
She seemed surprised and responded kind of standoffishly, "I'm here because you disappeared from Soul Society and Renji and the others were worried about you!"
I snorted, "Yeah, in all their drunken stupor."
"Fine, they were drunk and didn't realize that you disappeared until the next afternoon—" snort. "—but you were supposed to come see me after you were done hanging out with the boys."
I gave her a funny look. "We never made any plans."
"Baka!" She screamed, slapping me upside the head before falling back onto my desk chair. In a quieter voice she said, "We always hang out when you come to Soul Society. What's gotten into you Ichigo? You've been acting weird lately."
I sighed, folding my hands behind my head. "Nothing's wrong, Rukia. I just didn't want to try to hunt you down. You're never in the same place for more than ten minutes, Ukitake-san has you running around Seireitei like crazy—I'm surprised he hasn't promoted you to lieutenant yet."
She huffed in annoyance. "That's never stopped you before, Ichigo."
I rolled my eyes and looked lazily up at the ceiling, "Did you really just come here because Renji and the others were 'worried?'"
I saw her cross her arms irritably, "I was worried too! Do you know how long it took me to get clearance to come to Karakura?"
I paused, tapping my finger to my chin thoughtfully, "Um, a week?"
Rukia growled, "Don't get smart with me, you idiot!"
We traded insults a few more times before we moved on to lighter topics, like how our weeks went. I told her about the increase of hollows that seemed to jump out of nowhere lately, conveniently leaving out the part about how all of the hollows were appearing at night leaving me sleepless.
A few hours later, Rukia sighed and got up. "I need to be getting back; I really did just come here to make sure you were okay. Ukitake-taichou says hello."
I nodded, getting up from my bed to give her a quick hug. "Say hi to everybody for me, alright midget?"
My words got the desired effect when Rukia slapped me upside the head and jumped over to the window. "Get some sleep, baka. You look like one of the walking dead." She smiled and opened the window and just before she jumped, she turned around and said as an after-thought, "Everyone's noticed that something's up with you, Ichigo—even Nii-sama has commented on how off you seem." With that Rukia turned around and jumped out of the window, leaving me frozen in place.
AN: Yay! First chapter! Please leave a review and tell me what you thought of it.