Chapter 2: Explanations

(Thank you all so much for the avalanche of faves and follows! I am so pleased you like the story so far. I want to address something that a couple of readers brought up about the pairing and mpreg. First of all, I write balanced relationships, so in the course of the story, both men will 'top' and 'bottom.' Due to the requirements of the story, Byakuya will carry the child. I do not mean to alienate any readers, and I am so pleased that all of you have been kind enough to read and reply. For those looking for a Byakuya/Ichigo among my stories, Dirty Little Secret is a lovely choice, but I hope that you will still consider giving this story a chance. Byakuya will maintain his true nature and not become 'girly,' even though having a child. The storyline is going to be compelling, with some real surprises! So, I invite you all to stay and enjoy. And if you have a storyline for this couple that you would like to see me write, then feel free to shoot me a PM outlining what you want. I love gifting frequent reviewers with their suggested storylines. A large number of my stories are requests from readers/reviewers. Enjoy the new chapter all! Starfire loves ya!)

"Byakuya!" Ichigo called, panting as he reached the Kuchiki clan leader and slid to a stop.

Rukia, Tetsuya and Renji offered sympathetic looks, as Byakuya turned to face him.

"Shiba Ichigo," the noble said dispassionately, "you should not approach me without your attendant and mine being present."

"What? Why? What's that all about? Why can't I just talk to you without attendants around?"

"We are engaged," Byakuya said solemnly, "There are strict rules that govern our interactions until after our wedding. Your attendant will explain this to you. Farewell, for now."

"What? Hey! Don't just take off like that. I want some answers! You owe me some, I think. Byakuya!"

He made a sound of annoyance as Byakuya disappeared in a flash step. Tetsuya gazed at Ichigo apologetically.

"Perhaps you should find your attendant and then contact the manor. I am head of house security. I will arrange a meeting for the two of you."

"Thanks, Tetsuya," Ichigo said, still looking frustrated, "But I don't know about talking about this stuff in front of other people. It's damned embarrassing!"

"How do you think my brother feels?" Rukia asked pointedly, "Although, being a member of the Noble's General Council, he could not object or vote on the issue of his being an alternative candidate. He was forced by rules of council to abstain from the vote, and to keep all information to himself until it was revealed as the council decided."

"Well, at least he had some warning," complained Ichigo, "I was totally blindsided!"

He thought for a minute, then shook his head in frustration.

"I still don't get this. Why would they pick a guy for me? We're supposed to have kids, right? How're Byakuya and I supposed to do that when we're both guys?"

Rukia and Tetsuya exchanged cryptic glances, then Rukia bit at her lip gently.

"We're not allowed to say anything else," she explained, "I am sorry, Ichigo, but you will have to go to the manor and get an explanation from Nii-sama, himself."

"Damn, I knew you were gonna say that!"

"Why don't you have Arashi take you to the manor?" Tetsuya offered, "I will send word to have your attendant summoned and Torio-san and Byakuya-sama notified of your impending arrival."

"I still don't get why all of that is necessary," complained the ginger-haired youth, "It's not like I want to have sex with the guy. In fact, I'm really hoping we can make sure this whole marriage thing goes away!"

"Erm," Renji said uncomfortably, "Ichigo, you'd better not bank too much on that."

"Huh?"

"Well, I'm not noble. But even I know how hard it is to go against those elders."

"And you are not just attempting to defy the elders of your own clan, but the elders of all of the clans of the Seireitei," Tetsuya added.

"But you guys, Byakuya and my father both didn't have to marry who the council chose, ne? Why are they being such hardasses about this?"

"You must ask Byakuya-sama," Tetsuya insisted, "Go on, now. I will make certain that they are ready for you when you arrive."

"Fine!" Ichigo huffed, nodding to Arashi, "Hey, big guy, you mind giving me a hand?"

Arashi gave a soft, equine snicker and stepped closer, allowing the young man to mount him.

"Thanks Tetsuya."

"Of course, Ichigo-sama," the noble answered.

"Aw, knock it off," Ichigo chided him, "My friends don't have to use honorifics when they talk to me."

"Go on, Ichigo," chuckled Renji, "Get outta here. We'll see you after you talk to Kuchiki taichou."

"Thanks, guys," Ichigo, touching his heels to the stallion's sides.

Arashi charged forward, sensing his rider's impatience and moving into flash steps. Ichigo was once again amazed by how fast the spirit steed closed the distance between the Nobles' Grand Meeting Hall and Kuchiki Manor, making the trees and buildings around them blur.

I wonder who will reach the place first...us or Tetsuya's hell butterfly?

The feel of the wind against his face and the rumble of the stallion's blazing flash steps calmed him slightly, so that by the time they reached the manor gates and slowed, logic was overtaking some of the young man's roiling emotion. He blinked in surprise as they were waved through the gates, then slid off of Arashi's back as the stallion stopped in the gardens, and Byakuya appeared, attended by his servant, Torio. Ichigo's own attendant appeared a moment later, panting harshly as he ran through the gates and into the gardens.

"S-sorry, Shiba-sama!" the young man managed, his chest heaving, "I came as quickly as I could."

"Stop that, will you?" Ichigo told the exhausted, green-eyed youth, "I told you to just call me Ichigo. And the last name's still Kurosaki. Got it?"

"Y-yes, Shi...erm...Ichigo-sama!" answered the youth, backing away a step as Ichigo glared at him.

"Come with me to the patio table," Torio offered, noting the Shiba attendant's discomfort, "You can catch your breath and have a bit of tea with me while we allow our masters to talk."

"Oh...arigatou...hah...?"

"Torio," said Byakuya's attendant, inclining his head politely.

"T-torio-san," Toshi panted, nodding.

Byakuya and Ichigo watched in silence as the two walked to the table together, then turned to face each other.

"Ichigo-san," Byakuya said quietly, the honorific offered seeming wrong emanating from this man's mouth, "I understand that you have questions. I will answer as well as I am able."

Ichigo looked back at him skeptically.

"Don't call me that," he said, crossing his arms, "And don't start acting like you're buying in to that bullshit about my clan being above yours."

"As usual, you choose to malign the measures of respect that our noble families have handed down over centuries of our interactions," Byakuya said, remaining calm, even as he delivered the stinging rebuke, "One would think that having been made heir to the ranking clan, you would at very least learn the meaning of these exchanges of respect before trampling them."

"Yeah, well I was a little distracted by the sudden forced marriage they threw at us in that meeting, you know? But you already went into that meeting, knowing that you could be chosen to marry me, didn't you?" Ichigo demanded.

"Yes."

"And when it happened, not only weren't you surprised, you also agreed, then and there, to go through with it. I'm pretty damned sure that you're not gay or bisexual, and I don't think you've developed a crush on me, so I want you to tell me why you are going along with this so easily!"

"You think that this is easy for me?" Byakuya asked, arching an elegant eyebrow, "You think that I want this any more than you do?"

"Then, why aren't you fighting this?" Ichigo snapped, "I mean, I understand that you promised not to go against the laws of the clans again, but this is no joke, Byakuya. This is the rest of both of our lives! This is our chance at true love and they've got us thrown together by force and thinking that's going to work?"

"Some arranged marriages do result in the growing of true love," Byakuya argued, "And an alarming number of freely chosen relationships end badly. There is no one way to fine love, Shiba Ichigo. And to limit ourselves to a certain way of seeking it may cost us finding it."

Ichigo scowled.

"First of all, stop calling me that. You know I don't like being called that, and we aren't in that den full of stuffy elders, so just call me Ichigo."

"It would not be proper, Ichigo-san," the noble answered stubbornly.

"Damn it! Come on, we are alone with our attendants. Can't you just drop the formality and say my name?"

"It would not be proper, Ichigo," Byakuya said placatingly, "But as we are in private, I suppose I will indulge you."

"Gee, thanks," the younger man said, rolling his eyes, "But getting back to what I came here for, I want you to tell me why you agreed to do this. You just said that you don't want to marry me, so why are you?"

"Didn't you just say that you understood my reason?" Byakuya asked, turning away to study a blossoming red rose, "You did say that you understood that I made an oath to obey the rules of the clan. The rules in this situation are clear. It is the duty of the Nobles' General Council to arrange the marriages of all heirs to the leadership of the five great noble clans. This balances the power between them and provides a way for the lower clans to make a contribution to the keeping of our traditions."

"But that isn't why you're doing this," Ichigo insisted, meeting Byakuya's eyes meaningfully, "I know you. I can feel that there is more to this than just that."

"I have made every effort to dedicate myself to following the rules of the clans, ever since..."

"You've been breaking rules right and left, for a long time now, to protect the people you care about, Byakuya!" Ichigo exclaimed, "Maybe back when Rukia was facing execution, you could have made that argument, but I know you better now, and I know that there's something else going on! I want you to tell me the truth. I want you to tell me why you agreed to this so easily!"

Byakuya was silent for a moment. He looked down at his hands, realizing suddenly that they were clasped together and trembling slightly, and he separated them quickly.

"I am sorry," the noble said, lowering his eyes, "I can only reveal that to you once we have been wed."

"What?" Ichigo asked, staring, "What do you mean, you can 'only reveal that' once we're married? Why? Why can't you just tell me now?"

Byakuya sighed.

"Because clan rules forbid me to discuss it with anyone but my familial superiors or my spouse. You are neither, so it must wait until after the wedding."

"Wait a minute," Ichigo said, frowning, "You're the clan leader. Who are your familial superiors?"

Byakuya took a surprised breath and Ichigo caught his breath softly at the almost hidden flash of pain that touched his eyes for a moment. He recovered himself immediately and nodded perfunctorily.

"My familial superiors would only be my parents and grandparents, if any were still living."

"And the only one living is Ginrei, but he's in the spirit dimension, ne?" Ichigo queried.

"Yes."

"So, you just have to keep this all to yourself until we're married?"

"That is the rule of the law," Byakuya replied firmly.

Ichigo went quiet, watching with somber eyes as Byakuya turned back to touch the newly blooming rose with a pale fingertip. The younger man moved closer, eyeing the rose and the finger that touched it. As he watched, he calmed somewhat, and found a question forming in his mind.

"Byakuya," he said more quietly, "I'll accept for now that you can't tell me why you're doing this, but can you tell me something else?"

Byakuya's gray eyes lifted slightly and met his curiously. Ichigo looked back at him, taking a steadying breath, then forcing the words out.

"Byakuya, tell me honestly. Do you think that there's a chance in hell that you and I could make a marriage work?"

Byakuya looked back at him in surprise as he simply stopped talking then, and didn't elaborate on the question at all. He turned his eyes back to the blossoming rose and thought quietly for several long, achingly silent minutes, before meeting Ichigo's eyes again.

"I do not think it impossible that we could learn to be contented together," he admitted.

"Are you attracted to me right now?" Ichigo asked, a little more confrontationally than he intended.

"No."

"But you think you could be?"

"Perhaps. I am willing to make the attempt in good faith and I hope you will be, as well," the noble said calmly, "I know that you are having to adjust to much that is new, and not all of it pleasant, but understand that it is necessary...that these laws and traditions that you are so annoyed with exist for good reason...and if you seek the reasons, then you may be able to make some kind of peace with what is asked of you."

Ichigo fought down the urge to be angry at the words, but simply nodded.

"Yeah, thanks," he said, calming, "But while we're being honest, I have to admit that I don't see how this is ever going to work. You're my friend, Byakuya, but I am not gay and I can't see you as a lover right now."

He didn't miss the fleeting look of hurt that his words caused and he instantly regretted being so blunt.

"Sorry," he said, sighing and looking down at the grass, "I didn't mean to upset you."

"I am fine," Byakuya said, recovering his calmer expression, "I did not expect that it would be easy for you to change the way you see me. And while being compelled to marry me, understand that it is not required that you love me or seek sex from me, other than that needed to make our heirs."

"Heirs?" Ichigo asked, frowning, "You mean, we have to have more than one?"

Byakuya nodded.

"There must be an heir for each of our home clans. That is the rule when clan leaders and heirs marry."

"So, uh...how is that going to work anyway?" Ichigo asked, still frowning, "Last time I checked, we were both guys, ne?"

"Yes."

"Then..."

He broke off as a tall, garishly dressed, golden haired and blue eyed man that Ichigo remembered seeing at the Nobles' General Council meeting stepped into the gardens.

"Who...?"

"Ah, there you are, you two sweet lovebirds!" the man called out in a pleased voice.

He joined them beside the rosebushes, pausing to study the rose that Byakuya had been admiring and smiling widely.

"Byakuya-kun, what a lovely addition to the gardens!" he gushed, "That rose is the color of the blush on your cheeks!"

"Greetings," Byakuya said, more color rising on his face.

"Eh, who is this guy?" Ichigo asked bluntly, "Byakuya...?"

"This is Yukihana Hinata," Byakuya said, an odd tension in his voice, "He is to be our couple's adjustment counselor."

"Our...wh-what?" Ichigo stammered, staring.

"What a wild, rustic match you've been made, Byakuya, dear!" Hinata exclaime, "Oh...I think you will not be disappointed!"

"Our couple's adjustment counselor," Byakuya repeated, frowning more deeply, "When noble couples cross certain boundaries, a counselor is assigned to assist them in bonding properly."

"What?" Ichigo gasped, "This guy is...what? He's going to help us deal with being in a gay marriage? Is that right?"

"Oh, I assure you that you will be on your knees thanking me profusely when I'm done with you two!" Hinata announced, "I am going to have you two happily mated and on your way to parenthood in no time!"

He looked from one to the other, still grinning.

"Now, who is going to be the lucky childbearer?" he asked, smirking as though he already knew.

Byakuya swallowed hard and cleared his throat, looking as though he would rather be eaten by hollows.

"Shiba Ichigo's clan is of higher status," he said stiffly, "That means that the one bearing the child will be me."

"Ooh!" exclaimed Hinata, "Byakuya-kun, you? But then, you are right about the Shiba clan being on top!"

He giggled at the scathing look Byakuya gave him and turned his eye on Ichigo.

"Hmmm, this is going to be fun. Ichigo-kun, have you ever mounted a man?"

A blush roared across the younger man's face.

"What the fuck?" he mused dizzily.

"Exactly!" laughed Hinata, "Well now, shall we get started?"

"Get started with what?" Ichigo asked, dreading the answer.

"Well, has either of you two lovely young men ever see two men have sex?"

"Do you not mean make love?" Byakuya asked through gritted teeth.

"Details...," Hinata said off-handedly, "Have you seen two men make love, then?"

"I have not had the dubious pleasure," Byakuya replied coarsely.

"Me either," said Ichigo, "And I really don't want to change that, if you know what I mean..."

"Very well," said Hinata in a businesslike voice, "We'll need to fix that right away."

He nodded in approval as Renji and Tetsuya entered the gardens, "You there, Tetsuya-kun and Renji-kun! Can I borrow you?"

The two approached the three near the rosebushes as Byakuya and Ichigo blushed and avoided their eyes.

"You need something from Renji and me?" asked Tetsuya.

"Yes," said Hinata, "Would you give us a hand with the couple's bonding?"

"Oh," said Tetsuya, "Of course. What would you like us to do?"

"Well," Hinata said, his smirk returning, "I want you and your handsome boyfriend, Renji-kun to have sex while we watch. Would you mind?"