Chapter 12: Empty

"I thought you told Unohana taichou that you were going to rest properly now," Ichigo chided his noble lover as Byakuya sought his lips for several slow, hungry kisses.

"I have done little but rest for the past few days," Byakuya replied, letting his fingers play over the younger man's chest and opening his yukata more for a better view of him, "So much inactivity makes me restless."

"So...what, are you saying that you want to go for a walk or something?" Ichigo asked, smirking.

"Actually, it would be enchanting to share a moonlight walk with you and indulge in some stargazing. Unless that is too tame for someone like you, who is much more accustomed to fighting hollows and protecting everyone."

"You do those things too, you know," Ichigo said, kissing his way down the noble's graceful white throat and nibbling at his shoulder.

"Yes, but I only fight because it is necessary. I would avoid it altogether if I did not have to engage in it to protect my family and friends. You have a more spirited nature, like Abarai's, and would have to have some way to burn off the aggressiveness, if not by fighting."

"Hmmm," Ichigo chuckled, "What could I do to burn off energy, so I wouldn't get into unnecessary fights? Let me think..."

He smiled as Byakuya arched an eyebrow and gazed back at him reprovingly.

"Okay, okay!" laughed the shinigami substitute, "How about we take that moonlight walk first?"

"I would like that," Byakuya said, sliding out of bed and gracing his lover with a glance at his lovely, naked body before closing and fastening his yukata and heading for the garden doors.

"You know, it's not nice to tease me like that," Ichigo joked, "You show me that gorgeous body of yours, then take it away and make me wait, just knowing what's underneath your clothes."

"Some would consider that 'building suspense' or whetting the appetite," the noble suggested sedately, "After all of the waiting to reach this point, I would not want you to quickly become bored with me and lose interest."

Ichigo laughed and breathed in deeply the gentle fragrances of the gardens as they walked.

"Like I could ever get bored with you. You're really different. Heck, you're nothing at all like you seemed to be when we first met. And you know, I'm...really glad now that Rukia asked you to go to Karakura Town and try to help me. You can't begin to know how much of a difference it's making."

Byakuya smiled quietly and slipped a hand into his as they continued on, out the back gate and down the forest trail.

"Before, I was really confused. I didn't think that Ginjou raped me. It wasn't that obvious, you know? I didn't think of something like that as rape. And I blamed myself for what he did. I mean, I convinced myself that if I didn't want it, I could have just stopped him. I don't know, maybe I could have, but he knew how to manipulate me...how to corner me. He might not have known that he was going to turn against me, but that didn't make what he did to me any less wrong."

"No one should pressure another into sexual intimacy," Byakuya agreed, "And you shouldn't feel guilty for what he did to you. Ichigo, if I ever make you feel uncomfortable..."

Byakuya found himself unable to finish the sentence as the younger man pushed him up against a tall pine tree and plunged deeply into his mouth. It took several breathless minutes to tear themselves away.

"Byakuya," Ichigo said, blushing, "I was confused at first, and I didn't really know for sure that I was gay. But I know what I feel when I'm with you. You don't make me uncomfortable at all. And I know that if I tell you to stop, you will."

"I will," the noble agreed, leaning forward to meet the ginger-haired youth for more warm, open-mouthed kisses.

They reached the cliff at the top of the large waterfall and stood quietly under the moonlight, holding hands and saying nothing...just letting the evening light wash over them and leave them comfortable and relaxed.

"We should go back," Ichigo said finally, "Unohana taichou will kill me if I don't make sure you rest."

"You certainly are unnerved by her," Byakuya commented, smirking as he turned with the substitute shinigami to return to the main building.

"Heh, isn't everyone?" asked Ichigo nervously.

"Yes," Byakuya confessed, looking amused.

They walked back down the trail and passed through the gate, into the gardens, then across them to Byakuya's room.

"I wonder if Kisuke will have some more information for us soon," Ichigo mused.

"Perhaps by morning," Byakuya suggested as they climbed back into the bed.

He only meant to kiss the younger man good night, but found himself in a much longer bout of kisses and sensuous touches that made him quickly forget how tired he was.

"Damn," Ichigo sighed, "I want to be with you again, even though I know you need to sleep."

"I will be fine," Byakuya assured him, "I have enough energy for this."

"Huh," huffed the substitute shinigami, "I don't know about that. Once we start making love, it's really hard to stop, you know?"

"I understand," Byakuya said, teasing his earlobe with a lusty tongue, "I seem to suffer from the same affliction."

"What'll we do about that?" Ichigo laughed.

He lifted himself slightly, then pounced on the noble, nipping at his lips and rubbing his awakening member against Byakuya's, making his lover's breath and heartbeat quicken. Byakuya engaged his seeking lips in several longer and more passionate kisses, moving his hips to increase the friction between them. The noble's hands slid around the younger man's sides, then slowly down his back, lingering to caress his round bottom, while their kisses intensified and the stronger movements of their hips made the friction between them so delicious as to leave them breathless. Ichigo moaned, pushing Byakuya's hands away as the noble tried to prepare him.

"Forget it," he panted, his eyelids fluttering as he repositioned himself, "I want you now, Byakuya!"

"Such impatience," Byakuya chided him, pulling his hips away so that the younger man groaned and reached down to curl a hand around him, "I do not want to hurt you."

"I don't care if it hurts some!" Ichigo snapped fiercely, "Byakuya...!"

He turned, rolling onto his belly and lifting his bottom off the bed suggestively. Byakuya turned with him and laid along his side, still attacking with warm, open-mouthed kisses and running his hand down his lover's white back, over his bottom, then teasing his sensitive areas and evoking lovely moans of desire.

"You are beautiful, Ichigo," he whispered in the younger man's ear, nipping it and making Ichigo's back arch, "You seem so much more comfortable with this."

Ichigo blushed and looked back over his shoulder as Byakuya spread out across his back, rubbing his hardness against the younger man's bottom and gently assaulting the back of his neck with biting kisses.

"I am more comfortable with you," Ichigo confessed.

He shivered and panted harder as Byakuya's warm breath heated a flushed earlobe and the ends of his hair tickled Ichigo's shoulder.

"And it isn't...just because I accept that I am gay now. I would have loved you, whether you were a man or a woman. It's your soul, Byakuya. When you are with me, it's like it gets inside me and drives me crazy all over. All I can think of is making love to you."

Byakuya smiled and ran his tongue languidly along Ichigo's blushing throat.

"I am glad that you have resolved your feelings about this. Being with you this way is intoxicating to me. I have never experienced anything on this level before. I love you."

Ichigo laughed shakily.

"Then, do this already!" he exclaimed, seeking the noble's lips over his shoulder, "I can't wait anymore!"

He loosed a voracious growl as the noble entered him, and raised his hips higher, welcoming his lover into his body with a heavy groan of contentment. He met Byakuya's deep thrusts eagerly, his head spinning with rising pleasure. One of his hands clenched at the bedding, while the other sought Byakuya's hand and held on tightly as their movements intensified and Byakuya's moans of pleasure mingled sweetly with his.

"Oh god!" Ichigo gasped, "This is...it's...oh god, Byakuya!"

His body seized, and his moans gave way to a ringing howl of pleasure. He felt Byakuya flatten himself against his back and then the rush of heat that filled his achingly wanting insides.

"Byakuya!" he moaned, his own seed spilling onto the bed.

His ears rang noisly inside his head and he collapsed all of the way onto the bed. Byakuya came down beside him, equally overcome. A calm lassitude passed over the two as they laid on their sides, panting and gazing into each other's eyes. They held themselves back from sleep, but were soundly shocked as Ginjou's voice sounded in their whirling minds.

You are unwise to let your guard down. You think that I can only hurt you when you sleep, but when you weaken yourselves like this, it becomes easy to overcome you!

"Ichigo!" Byakuya gasped, his eyes widening.

He tried to sit up, but was forced down again by the shinigami substitute's strong hands.

"Ichigo, what are you doing?"

A chill went through Byakuya as he read the senselessness, then rising malevolence in his lover's brown eyes.

"Ichigo!"

"You are becoming a hindrance," Ichigo's voice said with an inflection that was clearly Ginjou's, "I warned you what would happen if you continued to interfere with my plans."

"What are you doing?" Byakuya demanded, wide-eyed, "How are you doing this to him? Ichigo killed you!"

"Yes," Ginjou answered, using Ichigo again, "But...as I died, I sent my soul into his body. I hid there, inside him, weak and nearly dead. But because we had been together sexually, I was able to latch on to him and use him to build my strength up. I am strong enough now to overwhelm and use him!"

"I won't let you!" Byakuya cried, surging onto his knees and taking Ichigo by the shoulders, "Ichigo! Ichigo, hear me! You have to come back now. Ichigo!"

"Shut up!" Ginjou roared, toppling the noble and bringing him down hard onto his back, "He can't hear you."

"Yes, he can!" Byakuya raged, "I can feel his soul. He is fighting you still. You won't be able to hold him back, and you will never be able to control him!"

"Of course I will," Ginjou said coldly, "I am controlling him already. He killed me. He stole my life. So, I am taking his away from him."

"I won't let you!" Byakuya hissed, taking hold of Ichigo's yukata and glaring into his blank looking eyes, "Ichigo!"

He reeled as Ichigo's hand struck him across the face, sending him crashing to the floor. Footfalls sounded outside the bedroom doors, and Ichigo's eyes went deadly as he wrapped a hand tightly around the stunned noble's throat.

"Tell them to go away!" Ginjou ordered, "Or I'll kill you right now."

"Byakuya-sama?" called Torio's worried voice, "Byakuya-sama, is everything all right?"

"Answer him!" hissed Ginjou, loosening his hand slightly.

Byakuya turned swiftly, expertly pinning the younger man, then freezing as Ichigo's eyes blazed and his reiatsu rose dangerously.

"I will kill all of them," Ginjou warned him, grabbing Byakuya's wrists and shocking him soundly with a punishing burst of reiatsu, "I won't just stop with you. Everyone in this place will die!"

"Byakuya-sama?"

"I...! I am f-fine, Torio," Byakuya answered finally, collapsing as Ginjou shocked his body with another jolt of Ichigo's relentless reiatsu, "Leave us."

He stared up into Ichigo's glazed eyes as they flickered with recognition for a moment, then faded again.

"Ichigo!" the noble called desperately, "You can overcome him. It is your body he seeks to control. Fight him...!"

He gave a pained gasp as the grip on his wrists tightened again and Ichigo's eyes blazed with Ginjou's hatred.

"You are a thorn in my side, Kuchiki Byakuya," Ginjou snarled, using Ichigo's voice, "But you are about to be plucked out."

"You won't be able to hurt me. Ichigo won't let you. He is stronger than both of us!"

"That may be," said Ginjou, "but I have control now and that means that I can hurt you! You and Ichigo share a resonance, I know...one so deep that it has made you over into soul mates. You share access to each others' inner worlds and you can touch each others' souls directly. But...do you understand what the danger in that is, Byakuya?"

"Let go of me!" the noble growled, trying to pull away.

"The danger," Ginjou said with chilling calm, using Ichigo's powerful reiatsu to hold the noble in place, "is that if one of you is possessed as I have possessed Ichigo, that openness between you can be exploited."

"Stop this! Ichigo! Ichigo, answer me!"

"He can't answer you," Ginjou said coldly, "He can't help you. And he can't stop me. I am going to show you why you should have heeded my warning and stayed out of this. If your soul is determined to fight me for control of Kurosaki's body, then I have no choice, but to rip it out of you!"

Byakuya made a startled gasp of disbelief as Ichigo's hand spread out over his chest, then clenched. He would have screamed as he felt his soul captured in that unforgiving hand, then yanked out of his body, which instantly collapsed onto the floor. Everything went black around the noble as he felt himself driven down into Ichigo's inner world and trapped there.

But he will let me go. He will regain control and he will let me out of here.

Ichigo!

Ichigo, hear me!

Smothering reiatsu surrounded the trapped noble, and he lost awareness. The last sound he heard as he faded away was Ichigo screaming his name.

Ichigo.

You must fight him.

Do not let him have you.

Ichi..go...

XXXXXXXXXX

Ichigo groaned and stirred sluggishly, then blinked in surprise at finding himself lying on the floor, naked and on top of an equally naked and senseless Byakuya. He caught his breath nervously and shook the noble gently, trying to wake him.

"Byakuya?"

He swallowed hard, his heart pounding furiously as he obtained no response from his lover.

"Byakuya, c'mon. Wake up!"

Shit! We must have both passed out or fallen asleep or something...

"Byakuya!"

He shook the noble more vigorously and felt a jolt of terror at how limp and unresponsive he was.

"Byakuya! Come on. Snap out of it!"

Oh god, Ginjou must have attacked him while we were out.

He lifted the noble into his arms, then laid him on the bed and quickly dressed him.

"I'm gonna take you to Kisuke," he said, desperation invading his voice, "He'll know how to get you to wake up. It'll be okay."

He picked Byakuya's body up again and opened the family senkaimon. His heart in his throat, he raced through the dark corridors of the precipice world, calling out soft reassurances to the unconscious man in his arms. Byakuya remained silent and motionless, but for his breathing and the soft beating of his heart. That he was alive was a reassurance, but Ichigo found it chilling that he couldn't feel the noble's presence as he had, even when Ginjou had attacked him before.

He reached the exit and flash stepped down into Karakura Town, and through the park by the river, up the long street to Urahara's shop. He burst inside, calling out frantically for the shopkeeper. Kisuke appeared instantly in the hallway, scratching his head sleepily and blinking at the sight in front of him.

"Ichigo, I was just about to send you guys a hell butterfly. I've made some headway with..."

"Kisuke, something happened to Byakuya!" Ichigo interrupted him.

Kisuke's eyes darkened as he moved forward and examined the noble carefully.

"Did you guys fall asleep? Was he attacked, like before, when he used the dreamcatcher's kido?"

"It wasn't like that!" Ichigo exclaimed, shaking his head vigorously, "We...we didn't fall asleep. I think we lost consciousness. I don't know what happened while we were out, but when I woke up, Byakuya was like this and I couldn't wake him up!"

"Well, it will probably be like..."

"No!" Ichigo insisted, "It didn't feel like when he fell asleep and Ginjou messed with him before. Kisuke, I can't feel his soul! Put your hands on him! He's not just unconscious. It's like he's not even there!"

Kisuke leaned over the stricken noble again, laying his hands on Byakuya's forehead and chest and probing with his reiatsu. Suddenly, his body went taut.

"What is it? What happened to him!" Ichigo demanded, "Kisuke, tell me what's going on!"

Kisuke relaxed slightly and straightened, biting at his lips, then nodding in acquiescence.

"Okay," he said, meeting Ichigo's eyes squarely, "I'm going to be honest with you. I don't know what happened while the two of you were out cold, but one thing is sure. And that is that our Byakuya-bo is not just unconscious. Ichigo...he's not even in there!"

"What?" Ichigo gasped, his eyes rounding, "Kisuke, what happened to him?"

"I don't know. But I do know that Kuchiki Byakuya's soul is not in that body."

"What?" Ichigo said breathlessly, his legs collapsing as he slid to the floor.

He shook Byakuya's senseless body as tears erupted from his eyes and his voice grew more desperate.

"Byakuya! Byakuya, answer me! BYAKUYA!"

A bedroom door opened and Tessai stepped out into the hallway.

"Ichigo," the shopkeeper said gently, "Let Tessai take him."

"No!"

"He's just going to make him comfortable. That's all. And then, I promise you that we are going to get to the bottom of what exactly happened to him."

"But...Byakuya...he is...he can't be...! Kisuke, he can't be...gone, ne?" Ichigo panted, his head spinning with realization, "We can...we can find him and bring him back?"

"I'm not sure what we can do," Kisuke answered honestly, "but Ichigo, we are going to do our damnedest to get to the bottom of this and to help him. I'm not giving up and neither should you. Come on, now. Let Tessai get him settled and then we'll start working this out."

Ichigo nodded numbly, watching as Tessai took the noble's body from him and carried him into one of the bedrooms. He laid the noble in bed and tucked him in comfortably, then left to join Kisuke.

Ichigo sat down next to the bed and captured a limp, pale hand, letting his upper body collapse onto Byakuya's slowly rising and falling chest.

"I'm not letting go of you, okay?" he sobbed softly, "I'm going to stay right here. I'm not going to let that bastard take you away from me. I'll stop him, Byakuya. I swear, I'll stop him and I'll bring you back!"