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A Matter of Convenience

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A Matter of Convenience

Byakuya looked at the faces staring up at him and resisted the urge to sigh. Barely.

If this was the best Soul Society had to offer, then he had his work cut for him. It was going to take an eternity to get everything back in its proper place.

He had not wanted the position, but with the death of Yamamoto-san and the appointing of Shuunsui and Ukitake to Central 46 Chambers, there had been no other viable candidates. Now that it was his, Byakuya knew there was no way to get out of this mess. And well, he needed to have Taichous, but still…

Too young, too unskilled, too rash and definitely too uncouth. And those were the good ones.

He could feel a migraine coming and had the nasty suspicion it wasn't going to be the last one.

"Henceforth," Byakuya said, keeping his voice soft and steady, every eye fixed intently on him. "I confirm the new positions in the Gotei-13"

He looked at the first person in the group, wishing he could just wipe the smug smile off her face. "Shihouin Yoruichi will be reinstated in her old position as Taichou of the 2nd Division. Soi-Fon has expressed her wish to remain as her fuku-taichou as they were before."

And hadn't that come as a surprise? Not that Soi-Fon liked to be under Yoruichi, and he didn't want to think about that, not now, not ever. But that she had been willing to let go of her power just to have Yoruichi back. Byakuya would rather Soi-Fon had held onto her pride than having to see his senpai wearing the white haori again.

"Kira Izuru will lead the 3rd Division as Taichou. He will elect a fukutaichou of his choosing in no longer than a month, or one will be appointed for him." Byakuya had no doubts Kira would elect someone suitable, the man was gloomy but intelligent and was one of the few easy choices Byakuya had.

Him and Hisagi Shuuhei. They knew their jobs, had led their respective Divisions when the Gotei-13 needed it the most, and had proven to be up to the task. Of all the new appointments, they were the ones which made the most sense.

The only ones which made any sense at all.

"The 4th Division remains, as it was, under the command of Retsu Unohana and her fukutaichou Kotetsu Isane. The 5th Division will be, once again, led by Hirako Shinji, who will also elect a fukutaichou within the month."

Had Byakuya known what he was getting into when he argued the case against the ban of the old Taichous and fukutaichous, he would have kept his mouth shut. He had been in favour of letting them return to Soul Society, if they so chose, considering the circumstances of their banishment and the injustice done to them. He had not expected them to agree so readily or to regain their positions, and having to deal with the most irritating of them was something that hadn't even crossed his mind at the time.

He should have known better.

"The 6th Division will be under the command of Abarai Renji." Surprisingly enough, this was something Byakuya was all right with. Renji was a lot of things Byakuya didn't like: he was rash, uncouth, had more brawn than brains and was always just a step away from insubordination. But he was Taichou material or Byakuya would have never agreed to take him under his command before. It was too early for him though, but he would have to learn, and learn fast. "Hinamori Momo is confirmed as fukutaichou in this division, having agreed to the transfer to the 6th. The 7th Division remains, as it was, under the command of Komamura Sajin with Iba Tetsuzaemon as his second."

Now it was when things got really nasty. If it wasn't enough having a bunch of untried and young Taichous they also had the worst of the old ones.

"Kurosaki Isshin will lead the 8th Division, with Yadomaru Lisa as his second."

Byakuya didn't want to think about the fact he was getting as subordinates some of the most stubborn, powerful and incredibly stupid Shinigami available. It seemed that Division alone would be forever lead by perverts.

"Hisagi Shuuhei will take over the 9th Division, also having a month to appoint his fukutaichou. The 10th Division remains as it was, Hitsugaya Toushirou and Matsumoto Rangiku will carry on with their duties as before." And they would be an oasis of common sense among the madness. At least Hitsugaya would be, Matsumoto wouldn't be called sensible any time soon. "The 11th Division also remains as it was, with Zaraki Kenpachi and Kusajishi Yachirou leading it." More madness, but at least this one was predictable, Byakuya just needed to stay well out of the way of Kenpachi's Division of psychos.

Byakuya looked at the next ones. It was bad enough with Yoruichi and Shinji and Kurosaki father, but it got a lot worse with him.

"Urahara Kisuke will return to his old position as 12th Division Taichou, and so will Sarugaki Hiyori as his second in command." At least Byakuya wouldn't be the only one suffering the return of the old guard.

It was better than Mayuri though, who wasn't only insane, but was also incredibly unpleasant.

He took a deep breath, the last appointment was the one he was having real problems with. With a great effort, he forced the words past his throat.

"Kurosaki Ichigo will command the 13th Division as Taichou, Kuchiki Rukia will serve as his fukutaichou." And wasn't that the most explosive combination one could imagine? He gave that Division a month, though he wasn't certain if it was going to be his sister killing her Taichou or Kurosaki murdering Rukia. It was either that or a wedding.

And that was what he got right at the time Soul Society needed more stability: a bunch of morons responsible to restore the Gotei-13 to what it was before the War.

Someone out there really hated Byakuya.

The upside of having Kurosaki Ichigo in Soul Society was that now Kenpachi tended to pester him instead of using his spare time to annoy Byakuya. It was something of an improvement, being able to stroll through the Divisions without wondering from which direction the attack would come, or if he was likely to be late for an appointment thanks to that bothersome brute.

The downside was, well, having Kurosaki Ichigo in Soul Society. The living, breathing, and utterly annoying reminder of Byakuya's worst mistake and more than deserved defeat.

He could remember, now, that fight with a kind of detached sense of shame. It had not been Kurosaki Ichigo who had beaten him, Kuchiki Byakuya. He himself was the sole responsible for the defeat with his pride and underestimation of his foe. He had not had all the facts, or he would have never allowed Kurosaki to surprise him during the fight. Byakuya had believed he was up against a mortal boy, someone with borrowed powers who knew nothing about pride or honour.

Now that he knew who Kurosaki Ichigo was, and more importantly, who his father was, Byakuya would never again be defeated by him.

But that was beyond the point, since Kurosaki and he wouldn't be in a position to prove that again. Not that Kurosaki didn't try. Or that Byakuya didn't feel like wringing his neck at least twice a day.

Like now.

"Byakuya are you listening to me?"

For one, being appointed as Taichou had not improved Kurosaki's manners.

"You will address me as Kuchiki-soutaichou, Kurosaki Ichigo," Byakuya said for the umpteenth time since the day Kurosaki had taken over his position. It didn't seem to penetrate his thick head that he wasn't a Substitute Shinigami anymore and now he had duties to tend to as well. "And no, the fact that Zaraki-Taichou burst into your Taisha and dragged you out for a fight is no excuse for your tardiness. You have to report on time with the tasks assigned to your Division, no excuses."

Kurosaki glared at him with the same fire Byakuya remembered from the war, crossing his arms in front of his chest in a clearly belligerent move. He was still a child, that much was clear. The rest of the Shinigami, regardless of the body they had, were at least a century old or close enough to make no difference. Kurosaki Ichigo had died in the mortal world as a seventeen years old boy, and had gone straight to Seiretei as a fully trained Shinigami with a Division waiting for him.

Byakuya could understand if he found the bureaucracy and staggering amount of paperwork the Taichous had to suffer confusing or annoying, God knew he did, but he wasn't going to cut him any slack. Kurosaki Ichigo had, in spite of his youth, been appointed to lead a Division. And he had accepted, so he needed to deal with the consequences.

And besides, if Kurosaki thought he had it tough, it was only because he had not seen Byakuya's workload.

"That's what I'm trying to say," Kurosaki snapped, still glaring. "It's not just Kenpachi, Ikkaku also follows me around, and my idiot dad keeps trying to surprise me or beat me senseless, and Yoruichi sneaks around just to annoy me, not to mention Shinji and Urahara and--"

"Enough, Kurosaki," Byakuya cut him off, fearing he might end up laughing at the distress so clear in Kurosaki's voice and expression. "You are a Taichou, you need to behave as such. If you are unable to uphold your position--"

"You're the boss, Byakuya! Get them out of my hair or I won't have time to fill out your stupid paperwork!" Kurosaki interrupted him, his face flushed and his eyes burning with rightful indignation.

And he still didn't address Byakuya properly.

Byakuya stood up from his chair, leaning forward and staring at Kurosaki straight in the eyes. "I might be the Soutaichou now, Kurosaki Ichigo," he said slowly, as if he was talking to a moron or a Kurosaki. "But the Gotei-13 is not a kindergarten, nor am I a teacher. It is not part of my duties to teach my subordinates to behave like adults. You have your own responsibilities and should be able to deal with any distraction that might come your way. Do not come to me with such feeble excuses again, am I being sufficiently clear?"

Kurosaki looked as if he wanted to say something to protest further, but for once in his life, decided to keep his mouth wisely shut. "Yes, Kuchiki-soutaichou," he finally mumbled sulkily.

"Is there anything you want to add?" Byakuya asked after a few heartbeats when Kurosaki remained standing in front of his desk silently, just glaring darkly at him.


"Good. I expect all the completed paperwork in my Division by tomorrow afternoon. Do not make me call for you again. You are dismissed, Kurosaki-taichou."

Kurosaki shot him one last mutinous look before turning on his heel and leaving the office. Byakuya stared after him, finally allowing his mouth to curl into a soft smile.

There were other perks to having Kurosaki in Soul Society after all. Seeing him suffer like this wasn't that bad.

The scheduled visits to the 12th Division were one of the worst duties Byakuya had now to attend to.

It was easy to ignore the Research Division while he was only responsible for the 6th, now he had to keep track of the progress of all of them and maintain the balance of the tasks assigned to each one, compensate for unscheduled assignments and other developments appearing, and deal with the head of each Division.

Byakuya felt as if he had not rested for more than an hour in the month since he was elected as Soutaichou, and was beginning to wonder how Yamamoto-soutaichou had managed to survive the position for millennia. Probably because his Taichous weren't a group of uncooperative barbarians, or maybe just because he was old and used to it.

It was no wonder Shuunsui and Ukitake had jumped at the chance of going to Central 46 Chamber instead of taking the position.

He wasn't in the most forgiving of moods, and the argument he had with Urahara about the use of forbidden materials for research and the sheer stubbornness of the man had not improved his disposition in the least. Urahara may be older and the greatest expert in his field, but he also was the one ultimately responsible for Aizen's greatest weapon and had spent a century living among mortals. He needed to learn his place in the Gotei-13 if he had any hope of keeping it. Not that Byakuya would be sorry to see him go, but with Kurotsuchi out of the picture, someone had to lead the Research Division and for some reason, scientists were in short supply lately.

Byakuya was looking forward to finishing his work and going home. A quiet evening with a book, a nice dinner and a long, leisure soak had never sounded so appealing. He just needed to drop the stack of files ready for delivery to Central 46 chamber and he'd be free to rest for the first time since he assumed his position.

The first thing he noticed when he opened the door to his office was that his fukutaichou's desk was occupied.

Maybe in other Divisions it wasn't a thing worth of notice, but being as Byakuya had had no time to find a fukutaichou, it jumped straight at him. It wasn't as if Byakuya didn't want a second in command, he did. Or as if he wanted to double the already impressive workload he had, he didn't. But it was impossible to find the time to check the files and interview the possible candidates for the position, and it wasn't a position anyone could fill, when he barely had the time to carry on with his normal duties and find a couple of hours rest before he keeled over.

It should have been a priority, Byakuya was well aware of that, but the lack of prospective candidates and the lack of actual time to do it were a bad combination.

And besides, even if he had found a fukutaichou, Byakuya was certain he would have never picked one with that hideous shade of hair.

Kurosaki looked up at the sound of the office door slamming shut, a frown of concentration on his features before his eyes moved down to the file in his hands, almost as if there was nothing wrong with his presence there. Byakuya could feel a vein throbbing in his temple.

"Kurosaki," he said, his voice sounding strained to his own ears. He should have gone straight home instead of stopping by the Taisha first. "What are you doing in my office?"

There was an instant of silence, stretching between the two of them and laden with incredulity and irritation. And then Kurosaki looked up from his file again, staring straight at Byakuya as if the answer was the most logical thing in the world.

"My office is currently invaded by morons and psychos, and my house is in no better condition. It was you who insisted on all this bloody paperwork done on time, Byakuya, and you have a spare desk. They won't follow me to the Soutaichou's office."

"Because," Byakuya felt the need to point out, gritting his teeth. "They still have a modicum of respect for their positions and mine, something you obviously lack."

Kurosaki had the nerve to shrug and turn his attention back to his file. "Yeah, we've already gone over that. Now, let me finish this so I can turn the paperwork in on time and go home to kick my father's face in."

Byakuya wondered if Central 46 Chamber had a spare position to fill, or if they would hold him accountable for the murder of one of his Taichous. Probably, yes. With that avenue closed to him, he decided the best course of action was just ignoring the idiot at his fukutaichou's desk and going home.

If he got into an argument with Kurosaki Ichigo here and now, there was no telling when he'd be able to get some decent sleep.

With a last cold look at Kurosaki, Byakuya deposited the folders in his hand on his desk and turned to the door again. "I expect every single thing to be in the exact position they are now when I arrive in the morning," he said opening the door. "And all your late paperwork to be properly filled."

In hindsight, maybe giving in without a fight the first time Kurosaki had barged into his office had not been the best idea. He had not believed Kurosaki would be so brazen as to try again once he knew it went against Byakuya's explicit orders.

Obviously Byakuya had grossly underestimated Kurosaki's stubbornness and disrespect.

"Is there a reasonable explanation to justify your repeated presence in my office, Kurosaki-taichou?" Byakuya asked coldly the moment he entered his office to find that, once again, Kurosaki Ichigo had taken over his fukutaichou's desk and was calmly doing his paperwork there.

Kurosaki looked up and shrugged. "Urahara wants to run some tests." That was all the explanation he gave, turning his attention back to what he was doing prior to Byakuya's arrival.

Byakuya looked at him blankly, resisting the impulse to release his zanpakutou and rip the nuisance to shreds, literally. The sheer amount of blood he would need to clean afterwards was the only thing preventing him to.

With a much put upon sigh, Byakuya closed the door after him and moved straight to his desk. At least his things were still neatly arranged, the tall piles of files to check and approve before being sent to their assigned Divisions covering the entire wooden surface.

"Urahara always wants to run some tests," Byakuya said, taking his seat and grabbing the first folder from the pile. "I don't see what kind of relation that has with your unwanted presence in my office."

Kurosaki dropped the file and stared at Byakuya, his eyebrows trying to crawl into his hairline. "Urahara wants to run some tests on my hollowification," Kurosaki enunciated slowly. "And from the look of it they didn't seem painless or fun. I would have gone home, but Kenpachi was standing guard there on the off chance I had a spare minute, not bloody likely with all this fucking paperwork to finish, and he could rope me into a fight."

Byakuya was feeling distinctly unimpressed at the explanation. "That still fails to justify why you are here, Kurosaki. Surely you have friends, or at least someone who doesn't find your presence irritating."

Kurosaki shot him a disgruntled look. "Well, Renji had a date so his place was off limits today."

"And my sister won't have you either? I was under the impression she liked you," Byakuya said, surprised. Unlikely as it was due to their characters, Rukia seemed to be fond of the idiot. And Kurosaki had risked his life for Rukia, so he must consider her a friend as well as a subordinate.

The mere thought that Kurosaki wanted to inflict his presence on Byakuya, who was clearly less than pleased with it, when he had people who voluntarily suffered him was baffling.

"She also had a date," Kurosaki said, one of his eyebrows arched up.

It wasn't difficult to read the meaning of that and Byakuya made a mental note to pay a visit to his old fukutaichou and have a friendly chat with him. He wasn't going to warn him off Rukia, Byakuya was aware of his sister's character and knew if someone was going to need help in that relationship it wasn't she. Still, he had a duty as an older brother and he was going to fulfil it.

"Is there any way I can rid myself of your company without resorting to violence, Kurosaki?" Byakuya asked after a few seconds silence, almost resigned to the fact that he was about to spend an afternoon with Kurosaki Ichigo.

"No," Kurosaki said confirming his guess. "So the sooner you let me get on with my work the sooner I'll be out of your hair."

Byakuya gritted his teeth. "I work in silence, Kurosaki," he warned in his coldest voice before turning his attention to his own paperwork. "If you make any noise, it will be Senbonzakura answering it."

"Got it."

For the next couple of hours the only noise inside Byakuya's office was the rustling of paper, the folders moving from one side of the desk to another as the files were completed. He wouldn't say he wasn't aware of Kurosaki's presence in the room, he was. He was deeply conscious of the other's steady breaths and movements. Byakuya could feel every time Kurosaki looked up at him only to resume his work after a second, could hear him rotating his neck when the tension began to accumulate after an hour of continuous writing.

Most surprising of all was the fact that Byakuya didn't mind his presence after a while, just ignored him and dedicated his entire attention to finishing his own work. With some luck he might have all the paperwork ready for delivery sometime in the next decade, and the fact that Kurosaki was able to work in peace and not annoy him with stupid questions or inane chatter was as much of a shock as it was a blessing.

"Done." Kurosaki broke the silence after an eternity, standing up from his chair and stretching his body. Byakuya looked briefly at him before returning to his current task. "God, this is boring! You need help to finish all that crap, Byakuya?"

Tempting as the idea of inflicting his work on someone else was, there was no way Byakuya would accept help from Kurosaki Ichigo. "If you are finished with your work, Kurosaki-taichou, please remove yourself from my office now," he said, not sparing another second to see how his words were received. "And don't presume to come here uninvited again."

"Suit yourself."

The sound of the door closing was the only indication of Kurosaki's departure. The silence, once again, was disturbed only by the rustling of paper as Byakuya finished his work for the day.

The Taichou meetings had become their own circle of hell for Byakuya, who lately felt more like a kindergarten teacher than the Soutaichou of the Gotei-13, no matter how much he had denied it before. He had serious doubts that Yamamoto had ever had to deal with the same kind of insubordination and utter foolishness as he was faced with every single time all his Taichous were in the same room. For one, Ukitake and Shuunsui were still alive, not a pile of ashes decorating some corner of Seiretei.

The topic of the day, apart from the selection of new candidates for the divisions and the scheduling of Taichou visits to the Academy, seemed to be 'harass Kurosaki Ichigo'. By the look if it, it was the preferred hobby of at least four of his Taichous.

Byakuya had the sudden feeling he wasn't going to get rid of Kurosaki's presence for a long, long time.

"Leave me the fuck alone!" Kurosaki was shouting in Urahara's face, his hand clenched around the hilt of his zanpakutou, his eyes narrowed and burning with fury. It would have been a more impressive sight had he not been hiding behind Rukia. "And keep that thing away from me!"

Urahara had a strange contraption pointed at Kurosaki, who kept edging away from him inch by inch. Had this been Kurotsuchi, Byakuya would have already intervened. It wasn't good form to experiment with fellow Shinigami and using a Taichou as a test subject was forbidden. He could remember Yamamoto-soutaichou reading Kurotsuchi the riot act in a meeting for an experiment done on a fourth seat, had it been a higher rank Byakuya had no doubts they would still be there listening to it.

But this wasn't Kurotsuchi, it was Urahara, and insane and annoying as the man was, Byakuya was certain he didn't actually intend to experiment on Kurosaki. At least no more than he had already had when the boy was mortal.

No, Urahara was doing it just for fun and if Kurosaki had not been too busy shouting and trying to stay away from whatever Urahara had in his hand, he'd have been able to read the expression on his torturer's face.

He'd leave him to suffer a few more minutes, but Byakuya had a mountain of work waiting for him and knew the meeting was going to be long enough as it was.

He entered the room regally and saw all movement stop, the tension on Kurosaki's shoulders relaxing a fraction as everyone scrambled to their usual places as Byakuya strolled to his place at the back of the room. He turned to face them, all eyes fixed on him.

"The first order of the meeting is the Academy recruitment," Byakuya said once silence had completely settled. "We're severely understaffed in most of the divisions, so the Academy has been speeding up the training to have recruits ready as soon as possible."

The first one to speak was Hitsugaya, meeting Byakuya's eyes calmly. "How long have the trainees been in the Academy?" His cold voice carried clearly in the almost silent room, everyone darting looks at him before their attention returned to Byakuya.

"Most of them have been in training for less than a year. The older students helped during the war and those who survived already have positions in different Divisions."

"Won't they be too green to work in a division?" Kurosaki Ichigo said, his brow furrowed.

Byakuya nodded, perfectly aware it was too soon for most of them. "Yes, but we are at peace now. They can finish their learning while they work. No mission should be so dangerous now a trainee Shinigami can't deal with it."

"With all due respect, Kuchiki-soutaichou," Hitsugaya spoke again, frowning. "I'd rather not have a half trained subordinate. We already have a huge backlog of work to sort through in my division and we have little to no time to spare teaching a group of kids who probably won't even have Shikai. The 10th Division formally renounces to their recruitment right at this time."

He had expected that much from at least a couple of the old divisions. They were the ones coping better with the new situation, probably because most of their members had been together for a long time.

"The 7th Division also renounces, Kuchiki-soutaichou," Komamura said in the silence which followed Hitsugaya's words.

Byakuya's eyes moved to the other side of the room in time to see his sister prodding Kurosaki on the back, shaking her head firmly when Kurosaki looked back at her. Kurosaki frowned, nodding and she shook her head harder, glaring at him. Byakuya stared amused at their silent communication. Finally Kurosaki narrowed his eyes at Rukia who scowled darkly and crossed her arms over her chest mutinously.

"The 13th Division also renounces, Bya--Kuchiki-soutaichou," Kurosaki said, a spot of colour rising on his checks at his slip.

Byakuya was glad the idiot had corrected himself in the last second, though Yoruichi's smirk told him it had not gone unnoticed. The last thing he needed was for the rest of his subordinates to know he was unable to make one pesky Taichou address him properly.

"If this is all, the rest of the divisions will proceed to the Academy in a week's time and select the candidates."

They went through the rest of the points of the meeting by rota, nothing really interesting to discuss in any of them. Byakuya could see how some of the attendants became restless after a while, Kenpachi shooting challenging looks at Kurosaki Ichigo, who pointedly ignored them. Lisa had cuffed Kurosaki Isshin twice in the back of his head for trying to peek down Matsumoto's cleavage and the average temperature in the room had dropped by several degrees. Renji was making eyes at Rukia, who was also ignoring him and there was a bruise on his face that suggested the previous date might not have been as successful as he might have hoped. Byakuya reminded himself of his due chat with his ex-fukutaichou.

"That is all for today," Byakuya said, watching as Kurosaki Ichigo tensed the moment Urahara's hand fell on the contraption he was brandishing before, getting ready to flee. "Just one more thing before the meeting is adjourned. While we encourage friendly sparring sessions between divisions and cooperation in whatever might be needed, we don't condone the harassing of one of our own or his unwilling participation in experiments."

He hoped everyone read the meaning of what he had said without the need to spell out Leave Kurosaki Ichigo alone so I can regain the sole use of my office.

There were a few scowls at his last pronouncements, especially from Kenpachi and Kurosaki Isshin. Byakuya ignored them.

"Meeting is adjourned; you can go back to your duties."

They filed out in something resembling order; though it didn't escape Byakuya's notice how Kurosaki Ichigo was the first one to leave. He didn't have much hope of his order being followed, but at least most of them would behave for the next week.

"You know, Byakuya, I think I've finally figured out why only the 11th division goes on fighting rampages."

Byakuya looked up from his work at the sound of the voice, not surprised in the least to find Kurosaki Ichigo entering his office with a disgruntled expression on his face. His hair was mused, though how it was possible for Byakuya to tell with those wild spikes was a mystery, and there were some rips in his shihakusho and haori. Kurosaki closed the door after him, careful not to slam it, and then moved to the fukutaichou's desk and plopped on the chair, resting his head back and staring at the ceiling.

He supposed he had to be grateful he had got a fortnight reprieve from Kurosaki's presence, but Byakuya was feeling too annoyed at the fact that Kurosaki was back inside his office for it to register.

"Don't you know how to knock, Kurosaki-taichou?" he said bitingly, his voice cold and low.

Kurosaki looked at him. "Yes, but would you have given me leave to enter?" he retorted with an arched brow.

"No." There was no need for Byakuya to deny the obvious.

"So there, I didn't bother."

It was useless to argue against the stubborn idiot, Byakuya had known that for a long time. Resigned, he pointedly ignored Kurosaki and went back to work.

The silence lasted for a whole two heartbeats, Kurosaki sighing loudly before he opened his mouth to deliver unwanted insight about his opening gambit. "It's the paperwork, all those fucking files you make us write and re-write until our hands cramp," Kurosaki said, irritation oozing from every single word as if Byakuya was personally responsible of the Gotei-13 rules. Byakuya would have gladly pointed out that the rules had been there before any of them were alive, but that would mean acknowledging the idiot, and he wasn't in the mood for that. "If I release my sword I have to fill the S-24 form, twice for each occasion, explaining the use and need of the release."

Byakuya was well aware of that rule, and had complained about it bitterly to his grandfather when he was still a student. He didn't complain anymore, he had just learned to hone his skills in such a way a release was unnecessary. Most of the other Taichous were the same, it figured Kurosaki would be the only one having trouble with it. How did he managed, when his sword was constantly in Shikai was a complete mystery.

"And that's not mentioning that if I ever go Bankai I will be swamped under paperwork. Form S-25, S-26 and B-345, all of them comprised of 47 copies, for each member of Central 46 Chambers plus the Soutaichou. This is fucking torture!"

"Kurosaki, if you've come here to complain," Byakuya said, fearing he was going to be listening to the idiot's rant for a long time if he didn't interrupt now, "you are in the wrong place. I'm not interested in your opinions or company."

Kurosaki shot him a dark look, his brow furrowed in a scowl, and then picked some papers from the desk and a pen and started filling them. "No, I'm not here to complain. I'm here to fill the damned S-25, S-26 and B-345 because Shinji thought two weeks without trying to kill me were enough, and he went all out on me on my way back home. I'm just grateful there are no forms to fill for using my mask or I'd still be here writing them next year."

Now, there was an idea. Byakuya considered for an instant how many files would be needed to justify the release of an inner hollow and how to present the proposal to Central 46 Chambers, if only to be the first one to see Kurosaki's face the next time he did it. However, that would mean having Kurosaki there while he filled them so maybe he could just let things stand as they were.

"You should do that in your own office," Byakuya said, more because he felt he had to than actually expecting Kurosaki to heed his words.

"I know," Kurosaki said looking up at him with a smirk. "But that would deprive me of your charming company, and you of mine."

Byakuya felt a flush creeping up his face, his eyes narrowing in annoyance. He didn't like being made fun of, and was about to tell that to Kurosaki in no uncertain terms when he beat him to it.

"And yeah, I remember you work in silence, so I'll just get on with it and shut up."

Byakuya kept glaring at Kurosaki for a minute as the silence settled around them before going back to his own work. He had to concede that round to Kurosaki.

"I am surprised, Kurosaki," Byakuya heard himself saying before he was conscious of speaking; frowning at himself once he realized he was the one engaging Kurosaki in a conversation. They had been working in silence for close to an hour, only the soft scratch of pen on paper and the occasional annoyed sigh falling from Kurosaki's lips heard in the room. It was surprising, the feeling of normalcy he lately had when Kurosaki was in his office, it had been some days since the last time he had serious entertained the idea of killing him just to be rid of his presence. "You seem to be calm and accepting of my sister's relationship with Abarai-taichou."

Kurosaki looked up at him, puzzled. "Why wouldn't I be?" He seemed sincerely confused at the question, and Byakuya wondered if he had misread the situation.

He wished he had kept his mouth shut, but there was no going back either. "You were willing to die for my sister yet it doesn't bother you she has given her affections to someone else." It was a statement, not a question. Whatever Byakuya had assumed before about his sister's relationship with her Taichou, he could see now they were mere friends. That only made it harder to understand the lengths he had been willing to go to save her before.

The frown etched on Kurosaki's features cleared suddenly, an expression of incredulity taking its place. "Wait, you don't mean--" he began, stopping suddenly and shaking his head. "No way, you're insane! Rukia is my friend."

Yes, he could see that. "Would you die for any of your friends?" Byakuya couldn't help asking, unable to understand him.

Kurosaki shrugged, as if the question wasn't anything out of the ordinary. "I guess, thought Rukia is special; she was the first one who believed I could protect everyone. She was the first one to grant me the power to do it." Kurosaki had a kind of far away look, almost melancholic. Maybe Byakuya hadn't been that far off the mark, at least considering Kurosaki's feelings. "But, well--she's Rukia!" Kurosaki finished, an almost disgusted expression on his face.

"Are you suggesting my sister is undesirable, Kurosaki-taichou?" Byakuya asked, offended on Rukia's behalf.

"No!" Kurosaki protested. "She's cute, I guess--for Renji. They're perfect for each other, and well, she's nice, when she's not trying to kill me, and a good friend, and, well--" he was babbling, a bit of colour creeping on his cheeks and Byakuya raised an eyebrow amused in spite of himself. "But she's a girl!"

And maybe he had been way off the mark, Byakuya realized at the way Kurosaki's jaws snapped shut at the last pronouncement, his face beet red.

They returned to their paperwork in silence, and by the time Kurosaki finished and left the office, Byakuya had already decided he wasn't going to think about it anymore.

Byakuya had tried not to think about Kurosaki's words. He really had.

Kurosaki, and anyone else in Soul Society for that matter, was free to like whoever he chose. It wasn't an issue, not like it might be in the living world. Take reproduction out of the equation and people were a lot more open-minded about things like same sex couples. Ukitake and Shuunsui were a clear example of that, even Yoruichi and Soifon, much as it pained Byakuya to think about his senpai in any kind of relationship. So he didn't see where Kurosaki's embarrassment at not preferring women came from.

Still, it was too much information for Byakuya's tastes. He regretted ever asking Kurosaki about Rukia; it wasn't as if Byakuya really cared about it, he had just been curious because it made no sense to him. Risking so much for someone who wasn't his family and then seeing her in someone else's arms, and not feeling anything but happiness for them.

But well, Kurosaki had always been an odd one, and Byakuya didn't need to think about him. Not with the amount of things, important things he had to consider already. Like the latest possible candidates to fill the position as his fukutaichou.

Those were the things he needed to keep in mind, not whether Kurosaki's admission meant that it was Renji he had feelings for. Byakuya didn't care, and he had no idea where that thought had come from.

He frowned, glaring at the top of Kurosaki's head as if he was the one to blame for Byakuya's distraction. And well, he was.

"Something on your mind, Byakuya?" Kurosaki said, looking up straight into Byakuya's narrowed eyes.

"No," he snapped curtly, moving his eyes back to where they should be, perusing the candidates files.

He could practically hear Kurosaki shrug and go back to his work, Byakuya reading the information on the file with a poorly concealed moue of distaste. Who had found these candidates? They were completely inadequate for the position, and their level of power insufficient for even a seated officer in another Division.

He closed the folder and resisted the urge to toss it on the floor.

"Is it Renji, then?"

The words escaped his lips without leave from his brain, Kurosaki's head snapping up to stare at him in shock. "What?"

"You don't disapprove of their relationship," Byakuya continued, wondering what arguments his treacherous mouth was about to form. "Yet you still spend your time here, in spite of my continued efforts to make you leave, instead of with them, where you are welcomed. It stands to reason that you don't want to see them together. If it's not Rukia, then it has to be Renji."

Kurosaki's face changed expressions so quickly it was impossible for Byakuya to read them all, from shock to disbelief to a kind of amusement, until he finally barked a laugh.

"You've got it so wrong, Byakuya," Kurosaki said, chuckling. "Renji is perfect for Rukia, hell, he's been in love with her since they were brats--and that in Seiretei means a shitload of years. I'm happy for them, and I don't mind seeing them together at all. Renji's a friend, nothing more and nothing less."

"Why do you keep pestering me, then?" Byakuya questioned, feeling that his grasp on logic was slipping. Besides hiding from every single psycho working in the Gotei-13 at current, there had to be a reason for Kurosaki's continued presence in his office. He had other places to go to, Byakuya didn't understand why he kept returning there.

"Well, I like seeing them together, that's true. But they are in their honeymoon phase." And it was wrong seeing anyone referring to his sister's and Renji's relationship as a honeymoon, especially since Byakuya knew it was probably more violent than the last war. "They need space, and you honestly don't want to be around them when they get loving with each other."

"Yes, it might get very dangerous," Byakuya deadpanned and was amused to see Kurosaki cracking a rueful smile. He felt his lips trying to curl into an answering smirk and smothered the expression before it was fully formed.

"Don't I know that!"

They went back to work in silence after that, the endless writing on the page blurring after a while. It was incredibly boring, he had to give that to Kurosaki, and some of his taichous needed to go back to school and learn how to write. Kenpachi's efforts alone were enough to give anyone a migraine.

"It still doesn’t explain what you're doing here, Kurosaki," he said without looking up, blinking tiredly and trying to focus on the report. Who was this one from? Kurosaki Isshin, and it looked like chicken scrawl badly done by a two years old. Byakuya decided to assign him the next clean up mission in Hueco Mundo just out of spite.

And probably his son would be grateful enough to leave Byakuya alone for a couple of days.

"Well, Byakuya," Kurosaki said, and something in his tone made him look up at him. "I wouldn't be able to enjoy your company anywhere else. I'm done for today. Need any help with those? No?" He finished before Byakuya had the chance to reject his offer. Kurosaki stood up and went to the door, casting one last amused look at him. "As you know, since you were the one to give me that mission, I'll be away for the next couple of days. Try not to get too bored without me."

Byakuya stared dumbly at the closed door for a second before he shook himself from his stupor. Maybe he should give the Hueco Mundo mission to a different Kurosaki.

He was getting too cocky for his own good.

Byakuya didn't get bored.

He really didn't. It was impossible to get bored with Kenpachi following him again, and the mess up with the test subjects he had to sort out in the 12th. Not to mention the reports about some high class Hollows being seen in Rukongai, or the latest insanity from the Shinigami Women Association, which now was more annoying than ever thanks to Lisa joining it.

So no, he wasn't bored, if anything he was even more exhausted than before and bemoaned the lack of a fukutaichou to help him cope with the paperwork. The day only had so many hours, and Byakuya didn't feel like spending some of them writing down the latest screw up from his idiotic subordinates.

That was the reason he went straight home without stopping by his office during the days Kurosaki was out on the mission.

He was tired, he needed a rest.

And it had nothing to do with his empty office.

Nothing at all.

…The shouts could be heard all the way to the 1st Division Taisha, Rukia's voice carrying loud and clear and definitely threatening. Byakuya wasn't surprised in the slightest when his door opened and Kurosaki sneaked inside the office, taking his usual place at the fukutaichou's desk.

For some time already Byakuya had given trying to get rid of Kurosaki as a lost cause. He knew when to pick his battles, and the fact was he didn't mind forfeiting this one. Kurosaki had proven to be surprisingly able to just be there, not annoying Byakuya with inane chatter or doing anything except occupying space and commenting on something from time to time.

That didn't mean Byakuya stopped insulting him and telling Kurosaki to leave any chance he got.

"I would have imagined that a Taichou of the Gotei-13 would be brave enough not to hide from his fukutaichou," he said snidely once it was clear Rukia's shouts weren't going to stop until she found Kurosaki.

Kurosaki shot him a disgruntled look. "I'm not hiding from my fukutaichou," he said grimly, looking down at the desk and frowning. He didn't have any paperwork to turn in, so it was clear he had not gone there for the peace to finish it.

Byakuya looked at him with a cocked eyebrow, the gesture enough to convey his disbelief without needing to say anything else.

"I am surprised, Kurosaki-taichou, that you haven't killed each other yet," Byakuya said after a while, breaking the silence that had settled. "Though if you flee with such alacrity every time my sister is angry at you, I understand the reason."

"She's not angry at me," Kurosaki said, standing from the desk and approaching Byakuya's. "She's fucking furious with Renji, and I was close by. Rukia's insane, worse than Kenpachi when she gets like this, and I have no intention to stay there and listen to her rants just because Renji was unable to keep his eyes away from Matsumoto's breasts." He scanned the top of the folders cluttering Byakuya's desk and selected one of them. Byakuya's fukutaichou candidates, the latest ones waiting to be interviewed. "These ones just need signing and stamping, right?"

Kurosaki returned to his desk with the folder in his hands and opened it without waiting for an answer. Byakuya frowned; he might have gotten used to Kurosaki's uninvited appearance and company, but it was the first time he had interfered with Byakuya's work.

"Those are for my perusal, Kurosaki," he said in said in his most imperious tone.

"Don't get your knickers in a twist, Byakuya," Kurosaki said, rolling his eyes. "I'm just helping you."

"I haven't requested, nor do I need, any help from the likes of you." Byakuya narrowed his eyes and Kurosaki had the nerve to just shrug and ignore him.

"Wow, these candidates don't suit you, Byakuya. Why don't you reject the lot of them and then my desk will remain free? I can help you finish your work so you won't need a fukutaichou," Kurosaki said with a lopsided smirk, ignoring the way Byakuya was glaring at him. Byakuya stood up, intent on getting the file and bodily ejecting Kurosaki from the premises. He couldn't believe he had thought he wasn't annoying.

"It is not your desk," Byakuya stressed, grabbing the folder from Kurosaki's hands and putting it back in place. "If you're going to irritate me like this you can leave now."

Kurosaki looked at him considering for a second before letting out a long sigh. "You know, Byakuya, you probably won't die if you relax a little. I'm not sure, since you don't seem to have relaxed in centuries, but you should try to lose the stick up your arse."

Byakuya bristled, turning around to glare at Kurosaki so fast his hair whipped around his face. "If you're here to insult and annoy me, Kurosaki Ichigo," he said in a low, frigid tone, the one which made his subordinates scurry around looking for something to do in the other side of Seiretei. Kurosaki didn't even bat an eyelash. "You will find I'm not as forbearing as my previous indulgence of your whims suggests. Get out."

Kurosaki leaned forward on the desk, his eyes narrowed in irritation. "I'm trying to help you, you stuck up prick," he retorted heatedly, his brow furrowing in a real scowl. Byakuya considered for a moment how odd it was that he was able to catalogue Kurosaki's expressions and notice which were standard and which were real angry ones. This one was moving from mildly irritated to incredibly pissed off really fast. "You look as if you haven't had a decent meal in weeks, not to mention a full night of sleep. You're doing the work of two people, minimum. The least you can do is accepting an offer of assistance before you fucking keel over!"

"Your help isn't needed or appreciated, and neither is your presence in my office, your friendship or whatever else you think you're doing here!" Byakuya saw how Kurosaki paled at his words, his face flushing violently immediately after as he rose to his feet.

Kurosaki shot him a look reserved for a deathly foe before stalking to the door, his fists clenched so tight at his sides Byakuya could see his knuckles turning white. "Know what? Screw you! Work yourself to death if that's what you want, God forbid your fucking pride would let you accept any help from me!" Kurosaki snarled as a parting shot, his voice ringing clear over the sound of the door slamming.

Byakuya stared after him for a second, wondering why he hadn't thought before that what he had to do to get rid of Kurosaki was making him sufficiently angry to depart on his own volition.

He should have known.

Byakuya returned his attention to his work, and it wasn't until much, much later that he realized he had stamped all the candidates files with the red Rejected seal without even looking at them.

It had been two weeks without sign of Kurosaki anywhere near the Soutaichou office, not that Byakuya was counting.

The fukutaichou desk remained empty, but that wasn't related to Kurosaki at all. It was just that the candidates weren't good enough, and Byakuya wasn't going to work with someone below standards. It was one thing to accept some half trained Shinigami as unseated officers to do menial jobs while they finished learning; it was something completely different to settle for second best in a position as fukutaichou of the 1st Division just because they were understaffed.

Besides, Byakuya had been able to cope with the workload so far, he was more than capable to carrying on in that fashion until the right person appeared.

And he was perfectly fine with his silent office, especially now he had got rid of that orange pest. He didn't feel even the slightest bit of disappointment when he opened the door to his office and saw there was no Kurosaki Ichigo inside. If anything he experienced relief at his absence.

He also didn't mind Kurosaki's resentful looks during the meetings or Rukia's inquisitive stares. Byakuya still had to find the time to look for Renji and deliver that treat my sister well or you'll face my wrath speech he had pending, and it also had nothing to do with the fact that Kurosaki was probably hiding now in Renji's office or house.

And no, he had not thought about Kurosaki or his parting words for the past two weeks. There was no need for Byakuya to think about such foolishness as the one Kurosaki spouted, he was just fine, he managed his work perfectly without any kind of help, and he definitely would not stoop to accepting assistance from the likes of Kurosaki Ichigo.

Byakuya didn't regret his words, and if he looked up to stare at his door or the empty desk next to his, it was just to ascertain that he had indeed regained the sole use of his office.

Not because he was hoping for the door to open and the desk to be invaded again. Things were back to the way they used to be, the way there were supposed to be.

And Byakuya was perfectly fine.

His office wasn't empty when Byakuya returned from Central 46 Chambers.

Byakuya opened the door to his office and noticed the white haori and a red head at his fukutaichou's desk, schooling his features in his usual stern expression to mask the relief he was definitely not feeling. It took him a second to realize the hair was red not orange, and the scowl on his face turned out very real.

He noticed the second person immediately afterwards.

"Nii-sama," Rukia said from her position next to Byakuya's desk, her own features arranged in a scowl that would have made any Kuchiki proud.

"Rukia," Byakuya acknowledged her with a stiff nod. "Abarai-taichou, you're making very free with my office, I don't remember inviting you to take a seat or to come unannounced and unexpected."

Renji shot Rukia a look which clearly said told you so and she pointedly ignored it. He stood up from the chair and walked around the desk, coming to a stop next to Rukia.

"I apologize for the intrusion, nii-sama," she said, not looking sorry in the least. Byakuya had to hand it to her; she had learned how to talk to people like a proper Kuchiki. Pity she hadn't taught her Taichou some of that newfound respect. "But we needed to talk to you."

Byakuya had the feeling he knew what the subject of the conversation was going to be, and he'd much rather avoid it entirely.

"If you have any issues concerning your respective Divisions to discuss with me you are welcome to make an appointment," he said walking to his desk and sitting behind it. He fixed his sister with his best no-nonsense stare, and was flabbergasted to see it mirrored on Rukia's face. She had definitely learned a few tricks since the war. "At present, I don't have time for unscheduled meetings."

"This is personal, nii-sama," Rukia said respectfully. For one who hadn't known her like Byakuya did, at least after the war, Rukia would appear to be a proper and entirely correct subordinate addressing her superior. Byakuya wasn't fooled in the slightest, and neither was Renji if the shadow of a smirk on his face was any indication.

Byakuya shot him and look that wiped that ghost of an expression and turned again to his sister.

"I am way too busy to waste time on personal matters, Rukia," he said, his tone as dismissive as he could make it without being rude. "If this is about you and Abarai-taichou--"

They shared a look, a bit of colour creeping on their faces. "It's not about us, but it's important, nii-sama," she insisted, stubborn as only she could be.

Byakuya considered ignoring her anyway, he was her older brother and also her Soutaichou. She owed him respect and obedience. And knowing Rukia, he was going to get neither unless he at least pretended to listen to her and consider her words.

"You have two minutes."

"Nii-sama, with all due respect," she began, staring at him with complete seriousness. At her back, Renji fidgeted nervously. "We were wondering what the fuck have you done to Ichigo? He's been in a rotten mood for these past weeks, and he's obviously avoiding you. He used to spend all his free time here with you, so it's obvious something has happened between the two of you." Rukia was glaring hotly by the end of her speech, almost as if she had forgotten who she was talking to.

Byakuya felt his eyebrows trying to crawl up his hairline at Rukia's tone. He had not expected that, not from her. It was obvious that her Taichou and her boyfriend were rubbing off her in the worst possible ways. "Rukia," he said warningly, his shock creeping into his tone.

She took a breath and composed her expression again. "I apologize for my outburst nii-sama," she said like a proper lady again, the shift in her moods so swift as to leave him dizzy. "But we're worried about Ichigo. He's been holed up inside Renji's office or house this entire time when he's not working, and he refuses to say what's wrong. We know he used to come to see you before but now he won't even look you in the face during the meetings. Something's happened and I want to know what."

Byakuya stood up from his desk and looked down at Rukia, his brows furrowing in a scowl. He had been right, and that was a conversation he didn't intend to have, with his sister or with anyone else.

It wasn't as if he had done anything to Kurosaki, and he was glad to be rid of the pest.

"Rukia, what Kurosaki-taichou does with his time when he's not working is no concern of mine," he said with finality. "You're wasting my time if that's what you want to talk about." He looked pointedly at the door but Rukia didn't budge an inch.

"We know he used to spend all his free time with you," Rukia insisted, stubborn like a dog with a bone. Behind her, Renji was staring at Byakuya with an equally stubborn expression, though he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut.

"That was his choice, Rukia," he pointed out, his patience coming close to snapping point. It might well be that Byakuya didn't want to fight with his sister, especially with everything that had happened between the two of them in the past, but he wasn't going to let her barge into his office and demand anything from him. "And it was completely against my expressed desires. I just managed to finally get rid of him."

There was a glint in her eyes at those words. "So you did something to Ichigo."

Byakuya bit back a sigh. "As I told you, I just found the way to rid myself of his unwanted presence. I wish I had done it sooner, but he was very persistent."

"That's bullshit!" Renji finally talked and Byakuya shot him a warning look. Renji stared back unflinchingly, his face almost a perfect replica of that time he had been willing to die at Byakuya's hands for Rukia. He might believe that was his fate this time as well.

"Abarai," Byakuya said in a low, frigid tone and was rewarded seeing how Renji gulped. But he still didn't back down.

"If you'd wanted to get rid of Ichigo you'd have tossed him out on his ear the first time, or painted the Taisha red with his blood," Renji argued and Byakuya was tempted to tell him exactly how many times he had been about to do just that. But the thing was, he realized, he had been sorely tried, but he had never done it. He'd put up with Kurosaki's presence all that time. "I've worked with you, I know you don't suffer interferences gladly."

"Kurosaki is a determined pest. It was either putting up with his company or chasing him to finish his work." Even to his own ears, his words sounded like a feeble excuse. Byakuya frowned. "And once he learned to work in silence, having him here was the lesser of two evils."

Renji had the nerve to snort. "Yeah, right. Ichigo--"

"Nii-sama," Rukia interrupted Renji with a sharp look, turning back to look at Byakuya. "Ichigo didn't need to come here for his work, he can finish it at our office or in his home."

If only. "Apparently he was chased by every maniac we have working for the Gotei-13, it was easier to lend him the space than hearing his complains."

Renji barked a short laugh. "Yeah, I imagine that's what he told you."

Those words gave Byakuya pause, his frown deepening. "What do you mean?"

"The guys are annoying, but hardly a threat to Ichigo. He defeated Aizen, why would he need to hide from his colleagues?" Renji clarified far too smugly for Byakuya's taste, but his words had the ring of truth in them.

He had not forgotten, it was impossible to forget, what had happened during the war. And Byakuya had known then that Kurosaki was strong enough to fight where the rest of them were doomed to fail. It didn't explain why he had overlooked that tiny detail, and had allowed Kurosaki to continue with the farce, but he realized now he had known all along.

He just had not wanted to admit, even to himself, that he might find Kurosaki's presence comforting.

"The fact remains," Byakuya said, ignoring the voice in his head enunciating the reasons for Kurosaki's continued visits and his own acceptance of them. "That he hid here, regardless of how many times I told him to leave."

"Yes, because here is where you are." It was Rukia who voiced the last statement, the truth of it hanging between them.

"You're--" Byakuya wasn't sure what he was going to say next, probably a first in his adult life. He didn't have a chance to find out, anyway, Renji opening his mouth to elaborate on Rukia's outrageous words.

"He has a crush on you, Byakuya," he said, addressing him with the same informality his friend tended to. Byakuya was about to call him up on that when the words penetrated his brain, shutting his mouth again. "Can't have escaped you, he's liked you since the first time you guys tried to kill each other and has been trying to get close to you. "

It had not. Not really.

Byakuya had suspected for some time already that Kurosaki could be harbouring feelings for him, it was the only logical explanation for his actions. He had just refused to believe it.

Byakuya was his superior, and older than him. Way older. Kurosaki was barely seventeen years old, and he was talking about real years here. The mere idea that he was attracted to someone who counted his years by centuries was preposterous.

"It's true, nii-sama," Rukia said as she could read the disbelief etched on his face. "I'm not going to say he's in love with you because I don't know, but he likes you. He never intended to take up the position, not this early after coming to Soul Society, and he wouldn't have if I hadn't asked him to because there were so little powerful shinigami left and you were short on candidates. Ichigo doesn't like leading a Division, and he loathes paperwork, but he does everything because it's his duty and you're very strict when it comes to duty."

Byakuya listened to his sister's explanation, little details and figments of conversation slotting in place. Kurosaki complained about his work and the amount of paperwork he had to fill, but except that first time Byakuya had to call him on it, he had never turned it up late again. And his Division, in spite of his inexperience and youth, was competently managed. He had always assumed it was Rukia's hand in it, but maybe he had been mistaken.

"And he's worried about you," Renji continued where Rukia let off. "He's been harping at us about you having too much work and little time to rest. Ichigo's been trying to help you out, and it's frustrating him that you won't let him. I'm honestly sick and tired of listening to him going on and on about you, and these past weeks are even worse. He's not only worried, now he's pissed off because you did something to him and he won't shut up!"

Byakuya didn't react at Renji's outburst, his eyes narrowing automatically at the disrespecting tone while his mind went over the words. Yes, he could tell Kurosaki had been trying to help, irritating though his offers were, and he hadn't reacted well to Byakuya's refusal every single time. He had not given up though, not until the lat time.

What had been different last time?

Right, Byakuya hadn't rejected only his help, he'd gone so far as to reject his friendship and whatever else he was trying to do. In light of Rukia's and Renji's words, it wasn't difficult to see what had pissed him off so much.

In the background he could hear Renji talking, but he wasn't paying attention to him anymore.

He had other things to consider.

"…and there's no way to get a decent moment alone…"

Like what he was going to do about Kurosaki and if he really cared that the brat was in a sulk.

"…and you're still as stuck-up…"

"Silence!" Byakuya finally snapped, and he saw with some satisfaction how Renji's mouth closed so fast he could almost hear his teeth clashing. "Whatever is going on with Kurosaki Ichigo has nothing to do with me. Please vacate my office and do not presume to come bothering me again with meaningless gossip."

He saw Renji's face darkening and Rukia's expression hardened, she opened her mouth as if to say something, but one look at him decided her against it.

"We'll leave now, nii-sama," she said, bowing respectfully though she was clenching her teeth so hard they had to be hurting. "We apologize again for interrupting your work."

"But--" Renji protested and she grabbed his arm and dragged him to the door.

"We're leaving."

Byakuya watched them opening the door and before it closed he called after Renji. "Abarai-taichou," he said in his most serious voice. "A word to the wise. Hurt my sister in any way, and our last encounter would feel like a loving tap compared to what I will do to you."

Renji's face drained of all colour before the door closed and Byakuya finally allowed himself a little smile.

Now he just had to think what to do with Kurosaki Ichigo.

Byakuya sat in silence in the back garden of the Kuchiki house, staring unseeing at the pond. This was the place where he came to reflect when something was troubling him; the peace and quiet, and the soft sounds of the water helping him to clear his mind of everything except what he needed to think about.

That whole thing with Kurosaki Ichigo.

If he was completely honest with himself, something Byakuya tended to avoid on principle, he'd have to admit he had missed Kurosaki's company for the past weeks. He had got used to having the orange menace occupying space in his office, just being there filling his paperwork in silence, and sometimes even making interesting conversation.

Knowing Kurosaki had those kinds of feelings for him hadn't been much of a surprise. He wasn't blind, after all, and Kurosaki wasn't the most subtle of men.

Boy actually.

That was where the problem resided.

Byakuya might be many things, but he tried not to be a hypocrite. Kurosaki Ichigo was attractive, orange hair and all, and interesting to have around or he would have been a stain on his office's wall after the first day, Renji was right on that. He was powerful, and had many of the qualities Byakuya looked for in a partner: he was loyal to a fault and had a strict code of honour; he knew when to keep his mouth shut and how to hold his end on a fight. He annoyed Byakuya to no end, that much was true, but then again, Byakuya had never said he wanted to be bored by his partner.

And having already been married once it wasn't as if he was afraid of being with someone. Be it a man or a woman, it didn't matter to Byakuya. The Kuchiki clan already had an heiress, in case something happened to him, his duty was done.

But Kurosaki was a kid, by Soul Society standards as well as the living world's.

It had been just his bad luck to be mixed in a war that had begun centuries before he was born, and that had robbed him of a chance at normal life. In different circumstances, Kurosaki would be a normal boy trying to sort out his feelings for a girl--or boy as the case may be--his age while picking his road in life. Not a fully trained Taichou fresh out of war with a Division to lead and feelings for a man much, much older than himself.

People in Seiretei aged every slowly, centuries old shinigami kept the faces of teenagers, sometimes they even behaved as such. But Kurosaki was a teenager, he had been barely seventeen when his body was destroyed, leaving only his powerful soul to keep on existing.

His eyes told a different story, though.

And as experienced in battle and as strong as Kurosaki was, he was woefully inexperienced in normal things like relationships. That was the only explanation Byakuya could find for Kurosaki's attachment to him.

And really, Byakuya had little patience with kids and didn't like teaching all that much.

The smart move would be to leave things as they stood, reject Kurosaki once and for all and just watch the kid grow into the man Byakuya had no doubts he would become. In a few decades, if Kurosaki was still interested, Byakuya would have nothing to teach him. And he was certain Kurosaki would still be as attractive, annoying and powerful as he was now.

Byakuya was very disciplined, he had no problems with delayed gratification. And it wasn't as if he was in love with Kurosaki, he just found him compelling.

He could wait.

He just didn't want to.

The preparations were in place in little more than a week.

Byakuya had decided his course of action, and though it set him back in his current work, had finally taken the time to do what he should have done since the beginning.

And besides, now he'd have more time and the work would go faster, so it was time well used.

He had barely seen or heard from Kurosaki in the days since Rukia's visit, his paperwork being delivered on time by a sour faced Rukia or some terrified seated officer. It seemed Kurosaki really didn't need to hide in Byakuya's office to complete his work, and the fact that he was still doing it properly was a testament that maybe Kurosaki wasn't as immature as normal teenagers.

That was a good sign.

Maybe Byakuya wasn't going to regret his decision too much.

The whole room fell silent the moment Byakuya stepped in it, as it was custom. This time, however, the shock running through the attendants to the meeting could be clearly felt.

There was also no mistaking Kurosaki Ichigo's narrow-eyed glare at the man walking behind Byakuya. Or his disappointed expression when he had first seen him.

Byakuya walked to his place, head held up and his customary blank expression on his features. He darted a quick look at his sister, who was staring in disbelief at them, and also at her annoying boyfriend, who looked ready to murder someone.

So predictable, those three.

"The first order of today's meeting," he said calmly turning to look at the assembled taichous and fukutaichous. The higher seats of the Gotei-13 were finally, with this last appointment, completely filled. He really shouldn't have taken this long to find someone. "Is the appointing of Hirosawa Yasui-san as fukutaichou of the 1st Division."

He looked at everyone to see how his words were being received. A slight nod from Hitsugaya and Tousen, and tiny smile from Unohana, Izuru and Hisagi. The rest, though--Kurosaki Ichigo was scowling darkly at the floor, and so was Renji. Yoruichi had an amused smirk on her face, and Urahara was looking from Kurosaki Ichigo to Byakuya with poorly concealed glee. Shinji looked like was about to burst out laughing and Kenpachi looked as unimpressed at ever, probably having already measured up Hirosawa's fighting power and found him wanting. Kurosaki Isshin had an expression of utter disbelief on his face, darting quick looks at his son.

So Kurosaki Ichigo's crush was not so secret as he might have hoped for.

It explained why everyone tortured him so much before, as if they were pushing him toward Byakuya. Except Kenpachi, he probably chased Kurosaki just for fun.

"His orders will come directly from me," Byakuya continued, forcing his voice to sound normal and bland, in spite of the enjoyment he was deriving from the silent scene in front of him. "And he is, in all aspects, to be treated with the same respect you show to me."

Which, in the case of a certain element, wasn't all that much.

It wasn't even as if Byakuya had selected Hirosawa for his looks, though they were a bonus. Hirosawa had the highest marks in kidou and swordsmanship of all the candidates, his references were impeccable and was eager to start working. He also treated Byakuya with the respect his position deserved, something he was going to appreciate in the coming years if things went the way he wanted. He was, also, drop dead gorgeous, with spiky black hair and clear black eyes. And a body that had seen the right amount of battle to be firm and yet unmarred.

Luckily for Kurosaki, Byakuya didn't have an interest in pretty boys.

"From now on, all the appointments with me should be requested through Hirosawa-san."

He gave a second for the silence to settle again in the room, Kurosaki Ichigo still pointedly not looking up from the floor.

"Next order of the meeting," he said when he was satisfied that Kurosaki wasn't going to look at him or try to catch his eye. "We have a request from the 12th Division for test subjects for a new reiatsu-enhancing formula. All the Taichous will make a call for volunteers within their respective Divisions."

He stared stonily at the assembled Taichous, of all of them Kurosaki was the only one not staring back at him.

"There will be no forced volunteers for this kind of experiment, therefore is forbidden to assign it as a punishment for insubordination." Yamamoto-soutaichou would have never needed to make a remark like that one, but then again, Yamamoto-soutaichou never had to work with this bunch of barbarians.

The rest of the meeting went by in the same fashion, and by the end of it Byakuya was so bored with it, he wanted nothing more than resigning from his position and let someone else take over his duties. It was the same after every single meeting, only this time it was compounded by the fact that Kurosaki, his usual source of amusement during those times, was stubbornly refusing to look at him or engage in any of his usual antics.

He seemed to be completely lost in his sulk.

One didn't need to be a genius to know how Byakuya finally choosing a second in command, and a pretty one at that, might look for Kurosaki.

Almost letting escape a relieved sigh, Byakuya ended the meeting and left the room, casting one last brief glance at Kurosaki.

He wondered how long it would take the brat to find out that his desk was still free for him to use.

"You forgot to mention in the meeting that Hirosawa-fukutaichou's office was adjacent to yours, Byakuya."

Byakuya looked up at the sound of his door opening, not surprised in the least to find Kurosaki Ichigo standing there. It had taken him longer than Byakuya gave him credit for, he had been waiting for his appearance for the last two days.

"You make very free with my office, Kurosaki-taichou," he said calmly, looking down at the file in his hands again. "And you still don't address me properly."

Kurosaki entered and closed the door behind him, moving to the empty desk he had made his and leaning against it, facing Byakuya. It wasn't that he had forgotten to mention it; he had deliberately omitted that little fact. It wouldn't do for Kurosaki to get cockier than he already was.

"I know, and you still allow me to." There was no mistaking the smug smirk on Kurosaki's face, and Byakuya felt the urge to wipe it once and for all.

He stood up from his desk, slowly depositing the file he had been reading on top of it, and walked up to Kurosaki. He was gratified to see the way Kurosaki's eyes widened as he approached, his body tensing against his will. He stopped when there was barely an inch separating them and narrowed his eyes.

"It's a century too early for you to give me that cheek, Kurosaki-taichou," he said in a low voice and could feel the way Kurosaki's body shivered, his face flushing beet red.

"Um, Byakuya--"

Their close proximity was making Kurosaki nervous, that was plain to see. He had probably expected a return to the previous status, where he just came and went as he pleased and pestered Byakuya.

He was going to be in for a surprise.

"You've spent weeks sulking like the brat you are," Byakuya continued in the same tone, his breath soft against Kurosaki's skin and raising goose bumps. "Just because I wasn't nice to you. I even had to suffer a visit from the idiotic couple telling me to behave and play nice, since I had apparently hurt your feelings."

There was a panicky look on Kurosaki's face now and it was easy to see he was trying to press himself against the desk as much as he could. He was still a brat, and was just realizing what exactly he had got himself into. And now that Byakuya had made up his mind about it, it was too late for Kurosaki to change his.

"What are you--"

"I'm not a nice person, Kurosaki," Byakuya interrupted him, taking one last step to close the distance between their bodies. He could feel Kurosaki's heat through their clothes, and his face was so red it looked about to spontaneously combust. "But I do find you interesting enough to let you get away with things that would cost dearly to someone else."

Kurosaki was trying to merge against the wood of the desk, but he wasn't really trying to get away and they were both aware of that. With his strength and speed, one good push was all it would take for Byakuya to back down. For now.

"I don't--"

"You don't understand what I mean?" Byakuya let his mouth curl into a small smile, his lips close enough to Kurosaki's that he could feel every puff of breath. This was turning out to be more entertaining than he had expected. "Surely you know the reason you kept coming here to spend time with me, the reason you glared so much at Hirosawa-san when he was introduced in the meeting."

Kurosaki shook his head once, their noses almost bumping if not for Byakuya's good reflexes.

It had not crossed his mind before that everyone might be aware of Kurosaki's feelings except for Kurosaki himself, though in hindsight he should have seen it coming. Rukia always ranted about Kurosaki's denseness when it came to personal relationships, and how he had unwittingly hurt his friend the healing girl because of it. It was almost enough to make him reconsider everything.

But for the first in a long time, Byakuya had decided to stop thinking like the Kuchiki heir and more like the brat he had also been in the past. He had done his duty, taken his responsibilities seriously for most of his life, and come on the other side of a bloody war with just more duty and responsibilities.

It was about time he considered also having some fun.

And well, Kurosaki Ichigo was the first person he had found interesting since the death of Hisana. Not because he saw the potential in him, like in Renji's case, or because he had promised to take care of him, like with Rukia. Kurosaki was--well, Kurosaki.

"You're still a kid, Kurosaki Ichigo," he said closing the distance remaining between them and pressing his lips against Kurosaki's.

That got him a reaction, Kurosaki gasped and froze, allowing Byakuya free access to his mouth for him to tease and taste. He did, briefly, before taking a step back and staring at his face.

Kurosaki looked as if he was carved out of salt, his eyes staring blankly ahead and his mouth still half opened. And then his lids closed slowly, obscuring the view of his eyes for an instant, and wiping that shell-shocked expression in just one blink.

The next he knew, Kurosaki's hands had grabbed the front of his clothes and were pulling him close again, their mouths mashed painfully together. Kurosaki had no finesse, all eager aggression and sloppy tongue, his hands grabbing him so hard they would surely leave marks on his skin.

Byakuya allowed it for a few seconds before he took the lead, grabbing Kurosaki's head firmly and pinning him against the desk. He gentled the kiss, feeling no desire to have his lips bruised when it was over, and nipping at the soft skin of Kurosaki's lower lip.

"This is the reason I said you're still a brat, Ichigo," he said, the shudder that coursed Kurosaki's body at the use of his given name clearly felt against him. "You still have much to learn."

Byakuya moved his mouth to Kurosaki's neck, breathing the words against the sensitive skin there and relishing the way Kurosaki gasped. "Not everything is about strength and power, and though I don't like teaching, I'm willing to make an exception with you."

He devoted himself to the first lesson, and Kurosaki appeared to be a quick study. Kurosaki's kisses became devouring and hot instead of fumbling and eager, his hands caressing instead of punishing. Byakuya let him set the pace after a while, wedging one of his legs between Kurosaki's thighs and pressing against the unmistakable bulge in the front of his hakama, his hands twined in those infuriating orange spikes while they kissed.

Kurosaki pressed against him with the desperation only a teenager discovering sex for the first time displayed, completely unashamed of the moans and gasps falling from his lips, head tilted back in wanton abandon exposing his neck.

"Byakuya," he moaned, practically rutting against his leg, his hands grabbing Byakuya's shoulders and pressing him closer.

"Yes?" he practically purred, moving his mouth along Kurosaki's jaw, nipping sharply at the skin.

Kurosaki shuddered and pushed him away, trying to catch his breath in huge gulps of air. It took him a few second to focus his eyes on Byakuya. "Not like this," he said, and the next instant he had his positions reversed, pinning Byakuya against the desk and stepping between his parted legs, pressing their bodies together.

Byakuya had had no intention to let things get to this point or to give up control of the encounter, but the instant their bodies touched he forgot about everything except the feel and taste of Kurosaki. It had been a long time for him, too long, and having another person rubbing against him and breathing inside his mouth, someone as powerful as Kurosaki clinging to him with such desperation, it was intoxicating. It was a different kind of power than the one he usually wielded, and he liked it.

Byakuya grabbed Kurosaki's head and took his lips in a frantic kiss, sitting on the desk and twining his legs around Kurosaki's waist, trapping him there. He moved one of his hands to the front of Kurosaki's body, opening the fold of his clothes and tearing his mouth away to attack that sculpted chest. Kurosaki shivered under his touch, his moans so loud Byakuya was glad Hirosawa was running errands somewhere else.

Never one to be outdone, Kurosaki pushed his hips harder against Byakuya's, his hands moving up and down his back while they kissed, his tongue mapping every inch of Byakuya's mouth. It was fast and sloppy and highly unsatisfying reaching climax in this way, but there was nothing Byakuya could do to stop it now, not with the way Kurosaki was rubbing against him and was trying to devour him, his hands effectively trapping Byakuya against his body. Kurosaki shuddered and came, his mouth leaving Byakuya's to move down his neck, scraping his teeth against the sensitive skin of his throat.

Byakuya tilted his head back to grant him better access, biting back a moan when one of Kurosaki's hands moved to the front of his hakama and pressed against his cock, stroking him harder. Kurosaki bit hard enough to leave a mark and Byakuya stiffened and came as well, his breath coming in short pants.

"This, Ichigo," he said after catching his breath, his legs still circling Kurosaki's waist and their chests pressed against each other, "is one of the things you will need to learn."

He leaned forward for one last kiss before disentangling himself from Kurosaki's body and pushing him away. Byakuya climbed down the desk, grimacing at the feeling of his damp fundoshi. He had not done something like this in centuries, and it was slightly embarrassing that Kurosaki had been the one to make him lose control in such a way.

Kurosaki moved woodenly to rest against desk next to Byakuya, his discomfort plainly written on his face.

"So, Byakuya, are you going to teach me?" he said, his swollen lips curling in a smile. Byakuya just stared at him, not dignifying that remark with an answer.

They stayed in silence for a while, Kurosaki fidgeting uncomfortably thanks to his damp underwear, Byakuya barely managing not to do the same. It was finally Byakuya who broke the not-quite-uncomfortable silence and moved away from the desk.

"I need to go home to change my clothes thanks to your impetuousness, Kurosaki," he said, glaring like he had not been a willing participant and the one who started it. "If you wish to remain in this office, don't touch anything."

Kurosaki snorted amused. "We're back to that, I see."

"Whatever we are now or might become, Kurosaki Ichigo, it doesn’t mean you are allowed to interfere with my work or disrespect me--"

Kurosaki shut him up by simply covering his mouth and thrusting his tongue inside. He struggled for a second before giving in and kissing the annoyance back.

"I also need to change my clothes," Kurosaki said moving away from him and opening the door a bit. "And just so you know, Byakuya. I'm not so stupid not to know I fancied you, I just didn't think I'd had a snowball's chance for the next few decades, so I was fine with just being by your side and getting to know you."

Kurosaki left the office with a last smirk at Byakuya and he wondered if it was too late to request the transfer to Central 46 Chambers.

He had the feeling he was going to regret this.


Hirosawa Yasui left his office when he felt an insane amount of poorly concealed reiatsu piling in front of his superior's door.

In the two months since his appointment he had got used to Kurosaki's monstrous reiatsu appearing and disappearing from the Taisha at any given time. He'd also had to get accustomed to the weird flickering in Kuchiki-soutaichou's reiatsu when Kurosaki was around, and even to the sudden explosions of murdering intent emanating from inside the office.

Those things barely made him bat an eyelash anymore. It had taken some time getting used to it, but apparently the calm and composed Kuchiki Byakuya he had always admired and respected from afar wasn't so calm, and definitely not so composed, when Kurosaki was around.

It would have been funny to find that fact if it wasn't so scary.

And well, it had been just the once, but he had learned to obey the don't open this door before I give you leave to that Kuchiki-soutaichou had so insisted on from the beginning.

He had enough nightmares thanks to that one time, he wasn't going to forget the rule even if Aizen himself was after him.

That didn't mean he wasn't curious as hell why half of the Gotei-13 Taichous had their ears pressed against the Soutaichou's office door and were whispering among themselves.

"Shut up Isshin, I can't hear!"

That was Urahara Kisuke, who was leaning against the door with his head stuck between the door and Kurosaki Isshin's body. Kurosaki-taichou, the father, was also trying to listen through the wood, his face dangerously close to Shihouin Yoruichi's chest. Yoruichi-taichou was glaring at him, but she wasn't trying to get away from the door, where she was also resting her head.

"Will you stop moving?"

Last but not least was Hirako Shinji, who was hunched at the bottom of the door and being even less subtle, if that was possible, about eavesdropping. He even ha a glass between the wood and his ear.

There was also Zaraki Kenpachi with them, though to his credit it had to be said he wasn't listening, he was just glaring at the other Taichous and trying to get to the door. He was stopped every two second by Abarai-taichou and Kuchiki-fukutaichou, who dragged him back to the exit of the Taisha only to rush back in after him every time Zaraki-taichou managed to get free of them.

"You said Ichigo is there!"

"Shut up!"

"They're going to hear you, idiot!"

"But who's doing who?"

"Isshin, you try to touch my butt again and I'll cut your hands off."

"I can't hear anything!"

"Get out of here and leave my nii-sama alone!"

"Stop talking all of you, I can't hear--"

Hirosawa felt the disturbance in the reiatsu before he heard anything, and maybe because he had got used to it, or maybe because he had better survival instinct than those clowns they called Taichous, he retreated to the door of¬ his office.

The noise of the door being suddenly opened was overpowered by that of several bodies falling inside the Soutaichou's office. In it, surprisingly, Kurosaki-taichou was calmly sitting on his desk with a stack of paperwork and a murderous expression. Kuchiki-taichou was standing by¬ the opened door, thundercloud on his face and his hand on the hilt of his zanpakutou. He also looked collected, as if he had been doing nothing more than filling his paperwork.

Hirosawa looked past Byakuya to his desk and smirked. Yeah, right. Filling his paperwork, which was the reason his hair was a mess, by Kuchiki Byakuya standards, and all his paperwork appeared to be either on Kurosaki's desk or strewn around the floor.

But Hirosawa had learned earlier on that the less he knew about what happened inside that office, the better for his sanity. He wasn't paid that much.

He retreated to his own office, something he was extremely glad he had. He still had some forms to fill and there was a training session he needed to attend to. Also, he remembered having seen a couple of awful missions waiting to be assigned, and somehow he had the feeling they were going to be for the 5th and 8th Division.

The last he heard before closing his door was "Chire, Senbonzakura."