Dance With the Devil

Inspired by and dedicated to Byalta-Sensei

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Chapter 1: Not Our Fate

Ichigo sheathed his sword, watching quietly as the body of Juha Bach shimmered fitfully and disappeared. The Seireitei had gone quiet and dark around him, the sounds of battle having died away as the invaders sensed the fall of their leader and fled. Ichigo swallowed hard and walked back through the tumble of wood and stone, dirt and fallen bodies. His heart was heavy enough with all of that, but there was one thing that tore at him the most, one sight that made it feel as though he had died inside.

I wanted to tell him.

His footfalls seemed heavier as he passed the unconscious forms of his friends and made his way back to the one friend who he hadn't been able to save...the one who he had set his heart on saving and failed...

The one I loved.

He could see that the man still hung within the destroyed wall, his comely face still oddly beautiful, even slashed by his own petals and streaked with blood.

Kuchiki Byakuya can't be anything but beautiful...not even cut up and humiliated as he is now. So...you bastards who planned this, who wanted to hurt him like this, who laughed as he fought for his life and gave it proudly, despite everything. You bastards who smiled and laughed at him hurting, bleeding out, lowering his pride to ask for my help, dying...you are monsters, all of you who did those things. You deserve a fate far worse than his...and if you ever cross my path, I will give you one. You have made yourselves my enemy, and this enemy does not forget!

He moved closer, pausing just in front of the fallen taichou, reaching out to touch his face with gentle fingertips. He was shocked when the dark eyes opened and met his one last time.

"Is it...done?" he asked softly.

Ichigo swallowed hard and nodded.

"Yeah. He's dead. They're gone."

"Thank you."

Ichigo looked into the man's dark, shadowed eyes and moved closer.

"I am sorry," Ichigo said, touching the noble's proud face again, "I promised I wouldn't let you die. But Orihime isn't able to..."

"Let it go," whispered Byakuya, "Just...it isn't important. Take care of Rukia and Renji. And there is...one more person who I want you to watch over...if he still lives."

"B-byakuya-sama!" cried a wounded male voice from somewhere nearby.

"Tetsuya," Byakuya whispered, blinking slowly, "He is...?"

Ichigo turned and spotted a young man, bloodied and nearly buried in rubble.

"Ichigo, help him!"

He moved instantly, reaching the young man's side and quickly digging him out and helping him to Byakuya's side. Tears leaked onto the young man's face and his eyes looked desperate as he invoked his healing power. Byakuya watched wearily for a moment, then gently placed his hand on Tetsuya's and lifted them away.

"It is no use," he said softly, "It is over. Cousin, how fares the clan?"

Tetsuya's eyes filled with fresh tears.

"How many elders have survived?"

Tetsuya shook his head, but couldn't make himself speak. Byakuya's eyes closed for a moment, then opened again.

"Then...I leave them in your hands."

"No...no!" Tetsuya pleaded softly, "Byakuya-sama...!"

"You know how to make them strong again. Lead them."

Tetsuya shook his head, then he and Ichigo carefully lifted the wounded clan leader and laid him in Tetsuya's arms as the young man knelt in the ruins. Byakuya looked up at the two of them and managed a stiff nod.

"I see that things...are in better hands than mine. I was not strong enough to lead them. You two will be."

"Byakuya!" Ichigo and Tetsuya cried together, "Don't talk that way!"

"You are the greatest leader in our clan's history!" Tetsuya insisted, "If you were defeated, not one of the rest of us could have prevailed!"

"Then, we have no right to stand as defenders to the king."

"Everyone loses some battles," said Ichigo, "Sometimes, our enemies are really strong. It wasn't your fault. So don't torture yourself like that."

Byakuya managed a small smile.

My weakness, my failure has been paid for in blood...and...you have erased some of the disgrace of my misfortune. Thank you, Ichigo. I can be at peace now."

"No!" cried Tetsuya.

"Byakuya!" cried Ichigo.

The two watched in devastation as the proud noble drew a final, shuddering breath, then fell still, his dark eyes still open and fastened even in death on the bright moon overhead.

"Don't go," the other two young men whispered together, "I love you!"

Ichigo and Tetsuya froze, the human's brown eyes, staring into the young noble's blue ones. Each read his own devastation in the other youth's eyes and inhaled in surprise. Ichigo reached over and gently closed Byakuya's eyes, then watched in silence as Tetsuya collapsed alongside his cousin, consumed with grief.

"Is there nothing we can do?" Tetsuya asked shakenly, "Where is Orihime?"

"They are trying to get her here. Those bastards screwed with the senkaimon and garganta. She's stuck in..."

Ichigo's suddenly widened.

"What is it?" Tetsuya asked, staring.

"You use a family senkaimon, ne?" he asked.

"They are all shut down," Tetsuya said, shaking his head.

"Damn! I need to get to Kisuke. If we..."

He broke off as Byakuya's body took on a gentle blue glow, then slowly faded away.

"Byakuya-sama!" Tetsuya sobbed, looking down at his empty arms.

"Shit," Ichigo breathed, "It doesn't matter if she gets here now. She could have brought him back if he hadn't faded. But now..."

He observed quietly as Tetsuya fought back the tears that had been escaping him and invoked a very familiar stiffening of will that reminded Ichigo painfully of Byakuya.

"You don't have to do that," he said softly.

"What?" Tetsuya asked.

"Start hiding everything...like he did."

Tetsuya frowned at him, uncomprehendingly.

"You were shoving everything down inside," Ichigo went on, "hiding the emotion so that you could deal with things. He always did that. Bugged the hell outta me that he never felt like he could just say what he was thinking."

"A clan leader must always be a model of strength," said Tetsuya, "And he was. It doesn't matter that he lost this battle. That doesn't make him less strong...though he didn't see it that way."

Ichigo started to answer, but was interrupted as the communicator that Urahara had given him suddenly started to work again. It jangled loudly and Ichigo opened it.

"Kisuke?"

"Yeah, I just wanted to let you know that you should be able to go through the senkaimon now. We're still stuck in Hueco Mundo, but you can stay at my place and wait for us there."

"Thanks."

Ichigo closed the communicator and looked at Tetsuya's pretty, battered face.

"I'm going to take Rukia and Renji back to Karakura Town for healing. Tessai will heal them. You...want to come with me?"

Tetsuya cleared his throat softly and nodded.

"I should help to care for Rukia-chan. She is family."

"Right," agreed Ichigo, "You carry her and I'll carry Renji."

With nothing more to say, the two left without looking back at the hollowed out wall. They searched the wreckage and each returned with his charge, but just as they started to open the senkaimon, a group of healers appeared.

"Ichigo-san! Hanatarou cried, "Please, Unohana taichou has ordered us to bring in all surviving taichous and fukutaichous for healing at the fourth division. The enemy could return, so we have to begin preparations! We will need these two for the battles."

"All right, Hanatarou," said Ichigo, nodding, "Go ahead and take them. I know Unohana-san will take good care of them."

He glanced at Tetsuya as the noble turned Rukia over to the healers.

"I guess I'll see you later, Kuchiki Tetsuya," he said in parting.

"Wait," said the noble, "I will accompany you."

"What? But you look like you need healing, yourself," argued Ichigo.

"You are the only one who has triumphed against our enemies," said Tetsuya, "It is my duty to make sure that you reach Karakura Town safely. There are still dangers."

"You don't have to do that," said Ichigo, feeling an odd twinge of emotion at the offer.

"It is a time of war," said Tetsuya, "We must all be diligent."

"Okay," said Ichigo, not sure why he was giving in, "Just let me know if your injuries start to bother you too much okay?"

"I'll be fine," Tetsuya assured him, falling in next to him.

"Can I ask you something?" Tetsuya asked as they returned to the central senkaimon and stepped into the precipice world.

"Okay," said the substitute shinigami, nodding.

"Did you mean what you said to Byakuya-sama? Were you...in love with my cousin? I mean, it is not my business, but..."

"But...you were in love with him too?"

Tetsuya blushed cutely.

"Perhaps," he answered, "but I never told him."

Ichigo found himself smiling.

"Neither did I."

"Why not?" Tetsuya asked.

"Why didn't you tell him?" Ichigo asked, smiling at the noble.

"Well," said Tetsuya, "although I am noble class technically, and like them, I can be impregnated to make an heir, I am half peasant...and thereby not worthy to be married to him."

"But Byakuya had a peasant wife," Ichigo objected.

"And afterward, he promised he would never violate the law again. I would have been asking him to go back on that. That is why I said nothing. And you did the same, because?"

"Because I'm a human. Same reason as you, really. I tried to honor his decision to follow the rules. But you know, Tetsuya? The rules don't mean shit now. The shinigami world just fell apart and if what I suspected from your reaction to Byakuya's questions is correct, I'd say that the noble clans are pretty much destroyed."

Tetsuya took a steadying breath.

"I am the only clan member wielding a bankai."

He looked straight ahead, down the long, dark corridor.

"All of our elders on council had a bankai...and more than a few others. They are gone, and the power that rested with them is gone. The clans are broken."

"Damn..." sighed Ichigo, wearily, "I wonder what's going to happen with the Gotei 13 in shambles and the noble clans destroyed."

"There is still enough military to keep order in the Seireitei, but they will lock down against the threat of further invasion...not just by the enemy, but by the amassed souls within the Rukongai who may see it as a chance to loot the damaged areas."

Ichigo closed his eyes for a moment and sighed again, then opened them and looked back at his lovely companion.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly, "I am sorry that your world fell apart. You protected ours when Aizen was going to kill millions of humans. I know that it was to protect the soul king, but it did save human lives. And I owe them for that."

"You were more responsible for stopping Aizen than the shinigamis," said Tetsuya.

"No," said Ichigo, "I wore Aizen down, "but it was a shinigami who sealed him away. You see, we should do more to work together against our enemies."

Tetsuya went quiet for a moment, looking down at the ground.

"Perhaps you are right."

He stopped and Ichigo stopped and turned to face him. Tetsuya drew his weapon and made a small cut in his palm.

"What are you doing?" Ichigo asked curiously.

"I am going to make a blood oath with you. Cut your palm."

Ichigo stared at him quietly for a moment, then silently complied. Tetsuya touched his bleeding palm to Ichigo's, then made a kido bind around their joined hands.

"I give my pledge that from this time on, the Kuchiki family will work alongside you, Kurosaki Ichigo, to maintain peace and order in both our worlds."

"And I," said Ichigo, "give you my word that my friends and I will work alongside the shinigamis, especially the Kuchiki clan, to maintain peace and order in our worlds."

"It isn't much at this point," said Tetsuya, "but someday, someone will be glad we did this. It is a change for the better."

"I think so too," said Ichigo, turning towards the senkaimon exit.

The two froze as several bright flashes of light pulsed around them, and the cleaner suddenly appeared, practically on top of them. Tetsuya's blue eyes widened and he backed away, terror flooding his young face. Ichigo turned and swiftly propelled the two of them through the exit and down into the living world.

"What...what was that? What happened?" asked Tetsuya, "I have never seen the precipice world do that before!"

"Neither have I," commented Ichigo, as several shinigamis approached the two.

"That was dangerous!" one yelled at them, "What do you mean coming through when we only now just received the clearance to open it?"

"What?" Ichigo said, off-handedly, "Kisuke told us to come through. He said it was ready now."

"But..." said the shinigami, looking spooked, "We just barely told him! How could he have sent you already?"

"Eh," sighed Ichigo, "I don't know. You guys figure it out. I'm going to Kisuke's. I'll wait for him there."

He turned to Tetsuya.

"Come on. You're probably hungry, right?"

"I...suppose I should eat...while there is a break in tensions."

"And you should wait to talk to Kisuke before you go back."

"I should," Tetsuya agreed.

He looked back over his shoulder at the shinigamis working frantically on the senkaimon again.

"Better not plan on that thing working when you go back through. Seems kinda flaky. I don't like that place. It messes with you."

"So it does," agreed Tetsuya, "I will give them time to fix it and come back later."

Ichigo nodded and indicated the direction, then led the young Kuchiki on to Kisuke's shop.

What happened in the precipice world? wondered Tetsuya, It was almost like time had jumped briefly backwards...