Dirty Little Secret
(This storyline was suggested by Love Psycho. Thank you so much! Spunky loves new pairings! I'll do my best to create some serious magic...a tormented Ichigo...a 'trying to help' but sometimes clueless and a little bit odd Byakuya. Sounds like a lovely, slow burn romance! Hope you like it. Love to all, Spunky)
Chapter 1: The Favor
Rukia's voice issued softly from the doorway, tugging the noble out of the book he was reading. Before, he would simply have answered, still keeping his back to her. But ever since he had seen her fighting so hard in Hueco Mundo to help her friends, he couldn't look at her through the same eyes. No...the eyes that had seen her as a younger version of Hisana could not recognize that in her now. Rukia was notably more spirited and emotive. She did look up to him as Hisana had, but she did so, not as much to appreciate, but as much to emulate.
Yes, the more they were around each other, the more Rukia reflected his influence on her. And not having been able to have children with Hisana, he found it incredibly enchanting to see himself reflected so strongly in her expressions, in her speech and actions, and in her powers as she grew as a shinigami.
Yes, for all that she resembled Hisana physically, his mind no longer pained him when he looked at her. He could see now the completely unique person she was.
He set his book down and turned to face her, kneeling. He fought off a smile at how it still seemed to surprise her to see him face her that way.
But yes, this is my way of saying...I am proud of you.
"Yes, Rukia," he responded quietly.
"I apologize for the way that I was yelling at Ichigo in the gardens earlier."
"I told you. I understand. I am not angry."
"I know. But I am still sorry. But...I also came to you because...well...perhaps you noticed when he was here that he seemed...I don't know, moody, depressed...not himself."
Byakuya was quiet for a moment, trying to recall.
"You know what, guys?" Ichigo snapped, scowling at Rukia and Renji, "I don't think I need to explain myself to you every time something bothers me! You know, it wasn't easy dealing with the shit related to Ginjou and now that he's been properly buried in the living world, I just want to forget. Can we just do that?"
"Hey," said Renji, "We get it. Sorry."
"We were just worried about you is all. We weren't trying to gang up on you or anything."
"Well, what's with your attitude anyway?" Ichigo said irascibly, "Usually, you'd just freaking hit me and tell me to get over it. Now you're 'worried for me?' Enough already. I'm fine!"
"Bullshit," said Renji, "But if that's how you want it, I'm not going to beg and plead. You do what you want, and you know where to find me if you decide to stop sulking and deal with it like a man."
"What?" Ichigo yelled, "You want me to deal with shit like a man? Get your fucking zanpakutou out and I'll show you who's a fucking man!"
"Shh! Not so loud," Rukia warned them, glancing at the room where she knew Byakuya knelt with his back to the door, reading.
"Shut up, you stupid ass!" Renji yelled back, "I'm not trying to start a fight. I'm trying to help you, okay?"
"Well, find some other fucking sad sack to hit over the head with your 'friendly support,' okay? Because I don't need it!"
"Renji!" Rukia hissed as Byakuya appeared on the walkway.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, his reiatsu darkening threateningly, "Abarai, I thought that you were returning to the division to pick up the reports I asked you for."
"I...I am, taichou!" Renji said, his eyes going wide and sweat breaking out on his forehead, "S-sorry, I'll just...go now."
Byakuya glanced at Rukia.
"I believe that you said that you had to return to the thirteenth to meet with Ukitake taichou?"
"Yes, Nii-sama," Rukia replied, lowering her eyes and flushing, "Ichigo, come on. I'll walk you to the central senkaimon."
"If I recall correctly, Kurosaki Ichigo is well acquainted with 'the way home' and he has indicated a wish for privacy. You should respect that."
"Of course, Nii-sama," the girl said, bowing her head lower, "I am sorry for the disturbance."
He didn't meet Ichigo's eyes at all.
"Ichigo," he said in parting.
Then, he turned back into his room, dismissing them.
"Perhaps," Byakuya said, not caring to expand on his memory of the interchange, "And?"
"And...well, Ichigo is my friend. When I have been in trouble, and I needed him, he was always there. Now, I feel like he is in some kind of pain or trouble, and I want to help him."
"But...if he is disinclined to accept your help, then you cannot help him. To continue to insist so heartily as you were, might even cause more harm. I am certain that whatever Ichigo is enduring now, he will come through it."
"I...want to believe that too, Nii-sama. He is a very strong person. But...as you said yourself after you were injured saving me, and Renji refused to leave your side, even strong people have times of weakness. And if this is one of those times for Ichigo, then I don't want him to face it alone."
"Rukia, what are you asking me?"
The young woman sighed and clasped her hands together nervously.
"I...know Nii-sama is busy, and that...Ichigo is sometimes a nuisance to you, but...erm...I think that because of your past struggles, Ichigo respects you. Were you to go to him...and..."
"Rukia," Byakuya said, shaking his head, "I cannot involve myself in this."
"I know it is a lot to ask," Rukia went on hastily, "that you have so many responsibilities, but you did tell Ichigo before that you were grateful to him for stopping you from..."
"I remember," he answered, cutting her off as a soft swell of guilt rose up inside him, "But...even were I to go to him in Karakura Town, I do not think that I could be of any help to him. He would probably simply yell at me and tell me to leave, as he did when you and Renji tried to draw him out."
"Hmmm," said Rukia, thinking, "Nii-sama, I don't think so. Ichigo...erm...he looks at you differently. I think that...if you went and tried to get him to talk to you, he might actually listen."
"Why would he listen to me?" Byakuya asked, his frown deepening, "The boy doesn't listen to anyone. He has no respect for rules or..."
"Nii-sama...please," Rukia said, her voice softening, "I beg of you. Please help him. It...it would mean so much to me!"
He tried to speak, but paused, reeling as another memory assaulted him.
"Byakuya...please, you must find my sister..."
He flinched and caught his breath softly as Rukia missed the sudden reaction entirely and continued talking.
"Nii-sama is so much wiser than I am and I know that Ichigo would..."
"Very well, I will go to him."
"...at least listen to him and hear him out...
"before flying off the handle and yelling and..."
Rukia blinked in surprise and stopped talking.
Byakuya bit his lip to avoid smiling.
"I said that I will go to him."
Rukia's eyes went wide and disbelieving.
"You...will?" she asked, looking stunned, "B-but I thought that..."
"Did you not just say that it would mean a great deal to you to have my assistance?"
"Am I not your brother?"
"Yes...yes, of course, Nii-sama!" she said quickly, "I just..."
"I will have to go under the guise of some other reason, so as to approach him without giving him the idea that you asked me to do this."
"I think you're right," Rukia said worriedly, "I think he would be angry at me for being underhanded. He doesn't like that."
"But sometimes stealth is necessary for good purposes, ne?" Byakuya suggested.
"Yes! Exactly!" Rukia exclaimed, bowing, "Thank you, Nii-sama! Thank you so much! This means everything to me. Thank you!"
"You may go. I need some time to prepare for this."
Rukia got up and walked away, still thanking him all of the way down the walkway to her room.
Byakuya shook his head and turned his back to the door, at first planning to return to the book he had been reading, then stopping and thinking more deeply about what he had just agreed to do.
The boy is impossible. He won't listen to me. He won't listen to me at all.
What did I just get myself into?
Renji looked up in surprise as the door to the sixth division opened and Byakuya entered the room.
"Taichou?" he said, looking up at the noble questioningly, "I thought that you were off today. What's going on? Did something happen?"
"No," said the noble, "I have...been ordered to see to a mission of some importance in Karakura Town...a confidential mission. If anyone asks where I have gone, you are to tell them that I am attending to 'clan matters.' Do you understand?"
"Y-yeah, sure," said the redhead, "Secret mission for Soutaichou. Tell everyone you're away on clan business, right?"
"Correct," the noble said, nodding.
"Where can I get in touch with you?" Renji asked, looking back down at his paperwork, "Will you be at your clan's estate there?"
"Erm...no, actually," said Byakuya, biting at his lip and thinking, "This mission requires some amount of secrecy. So...if you need to find me, I will be staying with Kurosaki Ichigo."
"Huh? Ichigo? Taichou, he hates it when we invade his house like that! How did you convince him..."
"Nonsense," said the noble, raising an eyebrow, "He is a substitute shinigami. He is required by having accepted the badge to extend his hospitality to all upper level officers. To not do so would be a breach of code."
"B-but...Taichou, his room is small and...there's..."
"I am not concerned with that. I am going to Karakura Town immediately, and I will be staying at Kurosaki Ichigo's home for the duration."
"O-kay," said Renji, blinking, "But...don't you usually travel with a bunch of servants..."
"I travel with attendants," Byakuya corrected him, "And I do not wish to attract unnecessary attention, so I will not be taking any attendants."
"Wha...? Really, Taichou?" the redhead asked, looking stunned.
"What's wrong?" the noble asked, his reiatsu flaring softly, "Do you think that I am incapable of bathing and dressing myself? That having been raised in a noble home that I would not know how? you insult me, Abarai."
"Oh...hey, sorry, Taichou. I didn't mean to offend you. I just...you always at least travel with Torio..."
"I do not take him onto the battlefield."
"You're expecting to fight on this mission?" said Renji, looking worried, "Shouldn't I go with you, then?"
"No, you are to remain here and not come to Karakura Town except at Soutaichou's direct order. Someone needs to look after things while I am gone."
"All right, Taichou," Renji said, still looking uneasy, "but if you run into any trouble..."
"If I run into any trouble, I will crush it myself. Goodbye, Renji."
Byakuya strode past the redhead's desk, into the hallway and into his quarters, where he removed his uniform and changed into semi-casual living world clothing. He packed a small suitcase and then opened a family senkaimon into the living world. He arrived at Urahara Kisuke's shop without incident and stepped down into the secret training room, meeting Kisuke's eyes curtly.
"Kuchiki-san, what a surprise!" the shopkeeper said, "Are you on vacation?"
"A short-term visit," he told the man, "Clan business."
"Ah, so why not use the family estate?"
Does everyone have to be so rudely curious as to what I am doing?
"I do not wish to make a show of being here," he explained.
"Will you want a room here?" Kisuke asked, "I just made a new batch of that homemade sake we had last time you visited..."
"Actually, I will be staying elsewhere...at Kurosaki Ichigo's home."
"Huh?" queried the shopkeeper, "Really? I thought that after Soutaichou sent the lot of them here before the Hueco Mundo raid, he said..."
"Well, obviously, he has changed his mind," said the noble.
"Oh," said Kisuke, "That's news to me. But whatever. Enjoy your stay. And just let me know if you need any supplies, okay?"
"Very well," said the noble, turning and flash stepping away.
He left the shop and walked through the park that bordered the river, emerging just short of Ichigo's house, then slowing to a leisurely pace. He arrived at the front door just as the last light faded and knocked on the door. He heard the sound of footsteps and then the door opened. Ichigo looked out at him and started to speak, then took in the tall, black hair, slender body and familiar frown and realized that he was looking at Kuchiki Byakuya in living world clothes.
"Kurosaki Ichigo, may I come in?" he asked, rather liking the youth's reaction.
"Erm...sure, yeah, Byakuya. Come in," he said, stepping back and admitting the noble into the house, "What's going on? Is there trouble?"
"I am on a mission of some importance," Byakuya explained, "a confidential mission. I will be here for a week or so."
"Oh..." said Ichigo, scratching the back of his neck, "So...you are staying at Urahara's place? What, he wasn't there when you arrived of something?"
"He was there," said the noble.
"Eh...so, um...what brings you here?"
The noble sighed.
"I do not wish for it to be known what I am about here, so I cannot stay at Urahara-san's shop, nor at the estate I own here. And that leaves your home as my only other option. I apologize for the short notice."
"Wha...? You're going to stay...here?" he stammered, "But...we really don't have so much room and my..."
"Kurosaki Ichigo," Byakuya said solemnly, "You are the substitute shinigami of this town. You are required by the rules related to the wearing of that badge to admit and house all upper officers, such as myself, as is required to fulfill our duties."
"Aww, come on..." Ichigo complained, "You don't really want to...?"
"It has been a rather long day," Byakuya said, stepping past him and starting up the stairs. Ichigo made a furious face, then closed the front door and followed Byakuya up the stairs and into his room. He looked around and then back at Ichigo. The youth's lips tightened rebelliously and he pointed to the closet.
"You can stay in there, like Rukia did when she was here."
Byakuya risked a glance into the small closet, noting the cramped shelf that had substituted for a bed for his sister.
"Fine," he said, making Ichigo's jaw drop, "If you will excuse me, I need to change.
He walked into the closet and closed the door, then emerged a short time later dressed in a very attractive dark red yukata. Ichigo stared at his long, unbound hair, lovely nightclothes and bare feet and tried to think of something to say.
"May I borrow your desk?" the noble asked, "I need to write a report on the day's events."
"Ah, sure," Ichigo said, sitting down on the bed.
He watched quietly as Byakuya wrote something down in a book that he had brought, then turned off the light and slipped back into the closrt. Ichigo laid down on his bed, musing silently.
Kuchiki Byakuya is sleeping in my closet?
He shook his head to clear it, then settled in his bed and drifted quickly off to sleep.
Some time later, Byakuya emerged from the small closet, unable to sleep in the cramped space. He looked around and noticed how much extra space there was in Ichigo's bed. Moving to the youth's side, he laid a palm on Ichigo's forehead to deepen his sleep, then he slipped into the bed next to the youth and stretched out comfortably.
I can sleep here for most of the night and slip back into the closet before he wakes...
He lost some of his confidence in his plan when Ichigo rolled over and wrapped himself around the shocked noble, still very much asleep.
Ah...well...I might wake him if I get up now. And in any case, I'll get no sleep in that closet...so...