What a fantastic reaction to chapter 9! Thank you ever so much for the continued support, I hope you continue to enjoy :)
It was merely hours after the fight, Byakuya had not moved since Kyoraku had set him on the hospital bed, refusing either to talk or accept medical treatment for the wound in his chest. He had stopped crying, though it evaded him as to when he had done so, but he knew his voice and throat were raw from the screams he had emitted on Sôkyoku Hill. His eyes, still sore from his tears, were monochromatic with the dulcet undertones of fresh grief.
Grief which was beyond the lingering memory of what he had felt at the time of his late father and grandfather's deaths. Although tragic and unsettling for a man of his age, their deaths had been little more than the result of old age and sickness, both of which could be prepared for, they could be planned around and gotten used to.
Kuchiki Sojun had been a strong and proud man, destined to take over the Clan upon his father's retirement, yet he was cut down in his prime by a debilitating sickness, snatching him away when Byakuya was in his late nineties. And not long after, his grandfather Kuchiki Ginrei had gone on to be reunited with his son, becoming just another broken branch off the metaphorical family tree.
Their deaths, though morbid, had seen the finalisation of his training - to conceal his emotions, to rise up and become one of the most powerful and influential Clan leaders in history - and yet, it was now shattered, and for nothing. His facade of emotional lacking was broken, along with his only recently rediscovered heart. He had lost it all.
Yes his sister was alive, she was mostly unharmed if he excluded the plausible mental scarring she had experienced during her horror story. Yes, Renji was also alive and though slightly more battered and worse for wear that Rukia was he was alive and kicking. And indeed, he was alive as well, but he would much rather have died. Died in the place of someone he had sworn to protect at all costs, the one person who meant the most.
He had failed. He had let himself and his pride down. But most of all he had let... He had let Ichigo down. He couldn't muster the energy to shake it off as being just another unfortunate event, sweeping it away like he did with his hair as though none of it mattered... Because it did matter. It mattered a lot. It mattered to him.
As bored as he had become of staring at the taupe coloured walls of the hospital room in Division Four, he couldn't be bothered to turn over or to sit up. It was simply too much effort. Never before in his life had he been lazy, but without really deciding it consciously he had come to the cataleptic resolution that he just couldn't be assed with anything.
He didn't even move or greet his fellow Taichou as she entered the room, his eyes remained unflinchingly on the wall, flitting over the poorly painted pattern which so clearly showed the sweeping motion of the thickly bristled brush that had been used during the decoration.
"My subordinates tell me that you have refused their treatment, so I took the time to come down here myself to see to you." The woman announced, and the snapping sound of her applying rubber gloves echoed ominously after her voice.
The healer paused for a moment as she was met with cold, stunning silence and frowned faintly; she had never known the young nobleman to impertinently ignore someone before, especially not another Taichou. She sighed inwardly, quickly deducing that the ginger boy meant something to him.
She considered what Kyoraku had told her of Byakuya's response when he had been escorted off the Execution Grounds, as well as what Renji had said about the pair becoming increasingly close over the course of the past few weeks.
Relationships were so messy, she decided before walking around the bed so that she was stood in front of him; she then crouched down slowly and looked at him, trying her very best to have her most comforting smile on her face, "Kuchiki-Taichou, I need to see to your injuries so that they do not become infected and threaten your life. Will you let me do that, please?" she added with a sterner smile.
Her smile almost faded as she received no response again and she sighed, trying another approach, "Kuchiki-Taichou? Byakuya-san, then, the young man from Sôkyoku Hill, he is-"
"Don't." He said croakily, his voice hoarser than he had previously thought - he barely recognised it as his own, "I don't want to hear it... I don't want to know."
"Not even if I were to tell you that he is not dead?" she whispered.
Steel grey eyes flicked up to meet hers, "What?" he breathed in disbelief.
She smiled slightly again, "I was able to resuscitate him, Byakuya-san, he is in a critic condition but he is not dead yet."
He was sat up before she could even blink, his face more alert, and his eyes brighter, yet his body hunched as pain ricocheted across his chest. Her hands reached out and steadied him, forcing him to lay back down so she could begin assessing his injuries, taking it on faith that with the news she had delivered he would now allow her to do so.
"Is he awake?" he asked quietly, his voice still dry and ragged.
"No," she hesitated, "As I said he is in a critical way... He is on life support and has already had two full blood transfusions to replace what he has lost, there is a lot of internal and external damage where he was injured, but I operated on him forty minutes ago to do my best to repair that damage."
"And his... Prognosis is what?"
"The next twenty four hours are essential; if he survives that then I would say he has a greater chance of waking up. But... I cannot promise anything. He is incredibly weak at the moment... And fragile." She explained as she peeled back the torn remnants of the man's haori and kosode to inspect the sword wound in his chest.
"Can I see him?" he questioned.
Hesitating again, the woman began cleaning the afflicted area, "Providing that you promise not stress yourself out like before." She said severely.
"I promise, please, let me see him." Byakuya was close to pleading, and although his pride would normally never allow him to do such a thing... Nothing about this situation was normal.
"... Very well. I will finish cleaning and healing this wound first and then I will take you to see him." She conceded.
"Thank you Unohana-Taichou." He said calmly, at least a fragment of his former self now restored in the wake of their conversation.
Fifteen minutes later, fifteen long minutes, the two exited the plain room; Byakuya was able to walk by himself now but still remained hunched at the shoulders out of instinct to protect himself.
He followed the woman to a section of the hospital which he had never seen before, it was white washed and visibly sterile with glass walls and doors which gave a clear view into each room. There were six in total, and he came to realise that they were in the high dependency ward... What the 'doctors' in the World of the Living called 'Intensive Care' he believed.
So this was where Ichigo had ended up. He looked at Unohana as they came to a stop out of one of the only rooms with the curtains drawn so that the occupant couldn't be seen.
"I must warn you, Byakuya-san, there are a lot of tubes coming in and out of his body, and he has some external bruising which I have been unable to heal so far. Just so that you are aware." She smiled encouragingly at him before she opened the door and gestured for him to step inside.
He dawdled for a second before he nodded once and went into the room, sliding the curtain back just enough to get through he faltered momentarily as he laid eyes on his orange haired companion.
Ichigo had returned completely to his Shinigami form, but his skin was pale with blood loss; and he was marred by dark purple bruises which were littered with no particular design. The tube which protruded from between his lips was securely tapped down and hissed every so often, the only proof aside from the gentle heaving of his chest that he was undeniably still breathing. There were heavy bandages around his stomach, with a slightly darkened patch over the wound he had sustained from Aizen, signifying that the wound was still unhealed and bleeding.
Concern pulsed through him, and suddenly all the energy he had been lacking returned, making him giddy as he staggered forwards, almost lurching over the bed as he rested his hand on the strawberry's forehead and moving the other to grip one of Ichigo's slightly clammier hands tightly.
"Oh by the Soul King..." he breathed, gently combing his fingers against the spiky locks of orange hair, "Don't you ever scare me like that again you son-of-a-bitch. You didn't even let me say it back to you... You go saying things like the 'L' word when you swore you would never be able to and then you go and do something silly like that... When you wake up you are going to pay for it. And I don't mean in a cute and fluffy way. I am going to damn well have you over my desk until you are begging for mercy. You hear me?" he said glibly, his eyes stinging slightly with tears he refused to shed again.
Sinking into the provided chair, he never realised that Unohana had left him alone, his entire attention remained fixed on the young man in the bed before him he never stopped touching him in some way, brushing his hair back or stroking his forehead, cupping his cheek or holding his hand, fondling the back of his fingers with his own or kissing his knuckles.
There was still the overwhelming gush of relief which refused to abate, but there was, of course, concern and panic for his wellbeing. Looking at him now, he could hardly believe that it was the same man who had broken into his office, stolen from his desk and handed evidence over to Aizen Sousuke. This young man looked like broken wreckage, beauty marred by the distorted pigmentation of his skin's haemorrhaging. Yet not so much that he could no longer see his attractiveness, but then, Byakuya was already so far head over heels that it wouldn't matter to him if Ichigo lost an arm or an eye. He would still be handsome to him.
"Oh Byakuya... You bad, bad man." He chuckled to himself at his own thoughts and kissed the back of Ichigo's hand again, "Just keep fighting. I don't care how long it takes you; I don't care if it takes years for you to wake up... Just make sure you do. I'll wait for you. I will... I'm not going to let go of you now that I have got you. If I have to make a deal with the Devil himself to get you back I will. I swore that to you on Sôkyoku Hill... And I keep my promises."
Hours later, he found himself sat in the meeting room of Division One surrounded by his fellow Taichou and Fuku-Taichou, having an urgent meeting.
"So, we are certain that all traitors have been accounted for?" Yamamoto growled from his seat.
"Yes, Sou-Taichou," Soi-Fon responded, nursing a broken wrist from her fight with Grimmjow, "Ichimaru Gin, Kaname Tousen, Grimmjow Jaegerjaques and Aizen Sousuke are the listed offenders. We have found no further ties to anyone else in Soul Society."
Byakuya kept his head bowed, smirking slightly to himself as he considered the mad dash of a job he had done to eradicate evidence of Ichigo's involvement in the whole sordid affair, oh how Yoruichi would be proud of his criminal streak once she found out. Unfortunately she had been roped into doing something for the Head Captain, once he had been convinced that she and Urahara were actually innocent of the crimes they had been exiled over.
The old man nodded slowly, "And what is the condition of Aizen's former subordinate... Kurosaki... Something wasn't it?"
"Kurosaki Ichigo," Byakuya interjected, "He is in a stable condition and has made no signs of either bettering or worsening. The injury Aizen inflicted was brutal and caused a great deal of damage, however, after having worked alongside Kurosaki for some weeks now I believe he has the strength to make a full recovery if he is given the time and motivation to do so."
"And what motivation would that be?"
"The need to protect." He said simply, "Moments before Aizen struck him down Ichigo had morphed into a Hollow, without feelings or thoughts... However when I was threatened, when Abarai-Fuku-Taichou and my sister Rukia were threatened he came to his senses and fought back. He has an overwhelmingly strong second nature, that being the nature to shield the people he cares for."
"Alright, in the debrief it was reported that the boy was able to harm Aizen. Tell me more."
"Indeed, in his anger and need to defend he was able to punch a hole straight through Aizen Sousuke's abdomen, it would have killed him had it not been for the Hogyuku." He sighed momentarily at the memory before he sobered again, "Ichigo has a magnitude of reiatsu which I have never before sensed, having been exposed to the Hogyuku as a child it undoubtedly had more effects on him than merely giving him an Inner Hollow... It is perfectly possible in my mind, and it has been backed up by Urahara Kisuke, that the power of the Hogyuku gave Ichigo strength beyond measure. All he needs is time to train and harness it. When he left Division Five he was half way to gaining a Bankai... We came very close to completing it while he was with me... Once he wakes up I have no doubt it would not take long to finalise it."
"Then that will be your top priority, Kuchiki-Taichou. I want you to make sure he wakes up and when he does, you will train him until he is ready." Yamamoto commanded ruthlessly.
"Ready for what, sir?" he asked innocently, having a gut feeling that he wasn't going to like the answer heading his way.