Zaraki had gotten a lot better at hiding his reiatsu since he set his mind on fighting Ichigo again. Ichigo suspected Byakuya had a hand in teaching Zaraki control. He pushed that thought out of his head and focused on sensing Zaraki. Ichigo hadn't had a chance to practice reiatsu sensing or how to control his own. He had a life, after all. Zaraki had all the time in the world to train. And Ichigo really didn't want to think about what was going to happen when Zaraki found him again.
"Tryin' to hide from me, Ichigo?"
Ichigo barely managed to keep from jumping as Zaraki's voice rang through the small courtyard Ichigo was trying to cross to get to the sixth division.
"It's not nice to hide, Ichigo," Yachiru's voice piped up. "Unless you wanna play hide and seek!" she added excitedly.
Ichigo turned around. Yachiru's happy grin almost made Ichigo smile back, but then he caught sight of Zaraki's happy grin. "I, er, don't have time. Gotta get to," he pointed a thumb over his shoulder.
Zaraki's smile grew wider. "Kuchiki-himi won't mind if you're a little late. Especially since he knows I've been waitin' to spar with you again."
"I knew it," Ichigo muttered under his breath. "I'm not fighting you again, you maniac," he replied louder and turned to walk away. To his dismay, Zaraki fell into step beside him.
"You aren't afraid to fight me, are you, Ichigo?" Zaraki asked, a bit of glee in his voice at the thought.
Ichigo felt his face heat up. "No," he protested, though his heart wasn't really in it. "I didn't come here to fight."
"Don't matter why you're here. You always got time to fight."
"No, I don't," Ichigo said again, glad that his voice sounded a bit stronger.
"Che. Ever since the war ended I ain't had anyone to spar with." Zaraki darted in front of him, held his Zanpakutou up and pointed it at Ichigo's chest. Yachiru giggled from her place on Zaraki's shoulder. "You been avoidin' me. Now I want you to fight!"
Ichigo darted around Zaraki's half-hearted slash and ran toward the sixth division. He heard Zaraki laughing behind him but knew he wouldn't follow. He hadn't even sent Yachiru to safety before confronting Ichigo. He knew as soon as Yachiru disappeared from Zaraki's shoulder the crazy man was serious. He didn't feel Zaraki follow him into the sixth division headquarters, but he glanced over his shoulder anyway and walked a little faster down the hallway when he saw Zaraki standing in the courtyard, his Zanpakutou resting on his shoulder, maniacal grin firmly in place.
"There is no need to rush, Kurosaki Ichigo. Abarai-kun is training with the new recruits."
Ichigo felt his eye begin to twitch. "You've been helping Zaraki sneak up on me!"
Byakuya arched one brow and stared at Ichigo a moment before turning back to his paperwork. "Perhaps you should go find Abarai-kun nontheless. I've no time for your outlandish accusations."
Ichigo clenched his fists and resisted the urge to wrap his fingers around that noble throat. And then Yachiru appeared in the window.
"Ken-chan wants to know when you'll start training Ichigo to control his reiatsu so we can play hide and seek, Byakushi."
Ichigo let out a low growl of frustration and left to find Renji. Of course, even after he found Renji he was at a loss. Renji was always willing to spar or argue or take Ichigo on a tour of Seretei or the Rukongi, but just like Byakuya had said, Renji was busy training new recruits. Renji shot him an apologetic glance but kept his focus on the trainees. Ichigo wandered around Seritei for a while but soon found himself back at the sixth division office. Byakuya was still sitting at his desk doing paperwork.
"I believe I told you to leave."
"I did leave. I came back," Ichigo said and plopped down in the chair in front of Byakuya's desk. Byakuya didn't even look up. Ichigo sighed and leaned forward. "Would you train me to control my reiatsu?"
Byakuya looked up, surprise flashing in his eyes a moment at the request. "You are asking for my assistance?"
Ichigo flushed. "I'm tired of everyone complaining about it all the time." He glanced out the window behind Byakuya before meeting Byakuya's eyes again. "And I know you've been helping Zaraki so he can sneak up on me." He shrugged and grinned. "Turn about's fair play 'n all. Figure you could teach me as well as you've been teaching him."
No expression crossed Byakuya's face, but Ichigo could swear that for a moment there was a hint of laughter in his eyes. "Despite what you believe, I have not taught Zaraki a thing."
Ichigo crossed his arms over his chest. "Sure, right. But you could teach me to control my reiatsu. I don't know anyone who has more control than you do."
Byakuya arched a brow and stared at him. Ichigo refused to squirm under the regard and couldn't help but wonder what Byakuya was thinking. The most irritating thing about Byuakuya was the way he refused to show anything of what he was feeling; but Ichigo also knew that Byakuya wanted only good things for Seretei and the world at large, and he knew that Ichigo wanted the same things.
"If I were to undertake such an endeavor you would have to agree to certain conditions."
Ichigo couldn't help the grin that spread across his face and he was almost certain that if he actually had the ability to do so, Byakuya would be rolling his eyes right now.
"I have not agreed to train you, Ichigo Kurosaki," Byakuya reprimanded.
Ichigo continued to grin and Byakuya returned to his paperwork. "So what are your conditions?" Ichigo asked after several minutes of silence.
Byakuya took a deep breath and Ichigo chuckled softly at the obvious loss of composure, no matter how brief it might be.
"You will obey my commands to the letter. If you do not, then our association will be over."
Ichigo nodded and Byakuya continued.
"You will arrive to each training session on time. The sessions will be scheduled for my convienence. If you miss a session, our association will be over."
"Now, hold on," Ichigo protested with a scowl, ignoring the arched brow that spoke of Byakuya's annoyance at being interrupted. "I still have school and family in the living world. What's convenient for you might not be convenient for me."
Byakuya nodded once. "Your objection is understood. I will take into consideration your obligations to the living world when preparing a schedule."
Ichigo scowled, but nodded nontheless.
Byakuya stared at him with hooded eyes for several heartbeats. "Very well. I will provide you with a list of dates and times to report for training in an hour. You may go now." He turned back to his paperwork.
Ichigo stared at Byakuya for several minutes before standing and walking to the door. He stopped and turned to face Byakuya again. "Thanks, Byakuya. I really appreciate it."
Byakuya didn't even look up from his work, but Ichigo knew he had heard him. He turned away and couldn't keep from grinning.
Byakuya had been more than accommodating with the training schedule he had given Ichigo. He could only assume that Baykuya had talked to Renji, or more likely Rukia, about what Ichigo's school schedule might be like. He had even given Ichigo time to devote more time to his studies during exams week at the end of the semester. Ichigo couldn't help but smile at the consideration as he tucked the schedule into his shihakusho and made his way to the Senkaimon.
Ichigo arrived early to his first training session and waited in the hallway outside Byakuya's office with more patience than he had over shown in his life. Renji laughed when he stumbled across him, and Ichigo felt himself flush in annoyance, but Ichigo ignored him, determined to see this through. Byakuya swept from the office and didn't spare Ichigo a glance. Ichigo scrambled to his feet and followed along behind him.
Byakuya stopped walking at the sixth division training grounds, empty save for the two of them.
"From now on you will meet me here."
Ichigo nodded. "Alright."
Byakuya turned to face him. "Explain what you know about reiatsu."
Ichigo gulped. "Well, it's, er." He scratched his head. "The energy that, um...." He trailed off helplessly with a shrug.
Byakuya continued to stare and said nothing for several minutes, though Ichigo felt the pressure of Byakuya's reitsu rise. "It would seem that Uruhara was quite remiss in his teaching." Byakuya sighed before continuing. "Reiatsu is the manifestation of the reiryoku a soul possesses. Shinigami are trained to control and manipulate reiatsu. Part of that training can be manifested in the use of kido. The amount of reiryoku a soul possesses determines the power of the reiatsu a soul may wield." Byakuya paused and studied Ichigo a moment. "Is this clear?"
Ichigo nodded doubtfully, eyes beginning to sting a bit from Byakuya's still rising reiatsu. "Yeah, sure."
Byakuya studied him a moment. "I understand that you were able to identify the location of a soul from several kilometers away before you came to Seretei to save Rukia."
Ichigo flushed. "Yeah, I guess."
Byakuya nearly smirked. "The fact that you were able to do so with no training whatsoever indicates that the ability to control your own reiatsu is not completely beyond you. It takes discipline and the will to do so. You achieved bankai in three days. You have learned to control your inner hollow. You can learn to control your reiatsu." He studied Ichigo intently for a moment. "You seem uncomfortable."
Ichigo could almost swear that Byakuya was making fun of him. He shrugged anyway, determined not to let Byakuya know what he was feeling. "No, not really." Ichigo's breath caught as a powerful force slammed into him, causing him to stumble back a few steps before he caught himself. "What the hell?!" Almost without realizing it, Zangetsu was in his hands.
"Sheath your zanpaktou." Byuakuya waited a heartbeat before arching a brow. Ichigo quickly slung Zangetsu behind his back. "This is not the full force of my reiatsu. It has taken years of discipline, yet I have learned to control it, to wield it as a weapon itself. You have a vast amount of reiatsu at your disposal. The fact that you cannot control it, cannot contain it, leaves you vulnerable to attack."
Ichigo frowned. "That doesn't make any sense."
The pressure emanating from the other man all but disappeared. "Were you unaware of my strength and position, what would you assume now of the power at my disposal?"
Ichigo flushed at the implication. "That you would be easy to beat. But if everyone knows what I'm capable of --"
"They will attack you with full force before you have time to defend yourself," Byakuya interrupted smoothly. "You present an attractive treat to hollow." Byakuya paused and cast a stern look on Ichigo. "Which, as you have discovered, can put those around you in danger."
Ichigo gulped at the memories that statement conjured in his mind and he nodded absently. "Okay. So explain how I control it."
Byakuya studied Ichigo for a moment before gesturing at him. "Follow me." Byakuya turned and swept away.
Ichigo stared after him a moment before shrugging and following. For as little emotion as the guy refused to express, he was very dramatic at times. Ichigo pondered the drama queen in front of him as he followed Byakuya through Seretei and toward increasingly open areas until they came to an area surrounded by a large wall. It was with a sinking heart that Ichigo realized Byakuya was leading him toward the Kuchiki estate. He followed Byakuya silently, boggling at the small garden they passed through to reach the entrance to the house. Ichigo gulped and tried to ignore the servants bowing as they passed through the well-appointed interior and into increasingly private areas, passing fewer and fewer servants until they were alone as they passed through the hallways. Byakuya finally came to a stop at a pair of open sliding doors and Ichigo paused, catching his breath at the garden that lay outside.
"This is my private garden," Byakuya said softly and Ichigo was sure he would be beaming with pride if Byakuya were given to beaming. "It is quite suitable for meditation." he turned to Ichigo. "I brought Abari here when we began training him in Bankai. It is more than suitable for the training you wish to receive."
"So, we're not going to meet at the training grounds?" Ichigo asked as they stepped out into dappled sunlight onto a pebble path meandering through the garden.
"The nature of your training will vary from day to day. We will meet at the training grounds and I will determine what type of training is required at that time." Byakuya came to a stop by a meandering stream. "Have you ever received any training in meditation?"
Ichigo huffed a brief laugh as he considered his home life and what type of training Urhara and Yoirichi had given him. "Not at all."
Byakuya released a quiet sigh. "There is much that Urhara should answer for." Buakuya knelt beside the stream and gestured for Ichigo to join him. "Meditation not only provides focus for Shinigami to learn the nature of their Zanpaktou but also teaches them to focus their power. Meditation is essential in the practice of higher Kidos. For those Shinigami with higher than average reiatsu it is essential to have complete control over their reiatsu. They are taught from a very young age how to contain and manipulate their reiatsu." Byakuya paused. "Your unique circumstances have obviously prevented this from occurring," he finished dryly.
"It's not like any of this is my fault, you know," Ichigo responded hotly, though he could feel the heat spread across his cheeks and knew he was blushing.
"We will attempt to rectify this error now," Byakuya returned, calm as ever. "We will begin with basic meditation. You must learn to focus on your inner world, focus on the power that resides within you. You must learn to shut out everything that surrounds you; all distractions must be ignored. Until the only thing that you can feel is the power within you, surrounding you."
Ichigo's eyes fell close as Byakuya's voice washed over his senses. He found it oddly soothing and easily fell into the simple cadence of Byakuya's voice, wondering for a moment what it would be like to hear Buakuya reading Shakespeare, before he lost all sense of the words that Byakuya was saying and only felt his voice washing over him, caressing his skin, curling inside his mind until it disappeared and all he felt was Byakuya's reiatsu curling through his own. Ichigo shivered, feeling power in whatever words Byakuya was saying. He felt that power falling around him, taking shape and pressing against him harder and harder.
Ichigo opened his eyes with a gasp. It was darker, though not quite night yet. Byakuya was still kneeling near Ichigo, watching him intently.
"What did you experience, Kurosaki Ichigo?"
Ichigo gulped and scrubbed a hand across his eyes before he tried to answer. "I'm not sure. It was--" He shrugged. "Peaceful."
Byakuya nodded. "Indeed, there was a considerable change in your reiatsu. I am most impressed with the ease with which you were able to enter into a meditative state."
Ichigo flushed and shrugged. "It was easy." He paused a moment before continuing. "It was easy listening to your voice."
Byakuya's eyes widened briefly before he gained control of his expression again. "I see." He glanced away briefly before turning his attention back to Ichigo. "I believe it is past time for you to return to your home." He rose gracefully to his feet and gestured for Ichigo to follow him as he turned toward the manor. "You should practice falling into a meditative state on your own. It might be difficult, given your unfortunate living environment, but you must be able, eventually, to control your reiatsu in any circumstance." Byakuya looked amused briefly. "Your home may offer a suitable simulation of a battle environment."
Ichigo scowled but couldn't dispute the statement. Byakuya silently lead him back through his home and out to the gate. Ichigo turned to him and felt the sudden urge to draw this time out, wanting, for some reason, to stay here. He took a step back instead and nodded to Byakuya.
"Thanks. And I guess I'll see you next Friday."
Byakuya nodded once then turned and walked back inside. Ichigo watched him walk away before cursing softly and turning toward the gate that would take him home. Something had changed and he couldn't figure out what or why.
The week passed incredibly slowly. Ichigo tried to meditate as Byakuya had instructed him to do, but found it nearly impossible, what with Karin and Yuzu needing his attention and trying to dodge goatchin's attacks. And of course he had school. The others had mixed reactions to the news that he was taking lessons on reiatsu control from Byakuya, though Ishida certainly couldn't stop harping on the fact that it was about time Ichigo learned how to control his reiatsu. Orhime was strangely silent, though she did offer her apartment if he needed someplace quiet to meditate. Ichigo thanked her but returned to his noisy home.
His father somehow caught wind of the fact that he was trying his hand at meditation and went out of his way to make the exercise as difficult as possible. But Ichigo was an old hand at avoiding attacks from his father and had no trouble avoiding him throughout the week, though he was usually so irritated by goatchin's attacks that he found it impossible to concentrate. It was with no small feeling of relief that Ichigo passed through the Senkaimon Friday afternoon.
Ichigo had never really noticed the difference between Soul Society and the living world before. But having tried and failed to meditate for a week he found the silence and peace of Soul Society a balm to his soul. He smirked slightly as he arrived at the training ground of the sixth squad. Ironic that he could find such peace in a place where he had only ever fought against enemies or friends. He hadn't had any truly peaceful dealings in Soul Society until he asked Byakuya to help train him.
Byakuya was waiting for him when he reached the training grounds. "I trust you found sufficient time to meditate this past week."
Ichigo flushed as he remembered the distractions he had put up with whenever he tried to find time to meditate. He was tempted, for a moment, to lie to Byakuya, but figured there wasn't really a point since he'd realize Ichigo hadn't practiced at all as soon as he tried to get Ichigo to meditate again. "I tried. But you can probably guess what it's like trying to find a quiet moment at my house."
Byakuya's brow twitched and Ichigo could swear he was laughing at him. "I suspected as much. We will return to my garden to meditate and will continue to do so until I feel you have an adequate grasp on the principles of meditation." He turned away and swept from the training grounds.
Ichigo followed, catching up quickly and walking beside him. He saw Byakuya glance at him from the corner of his eye but only grinned unrepentantly and walked beside him to the Kuchiki estate. Despite the fact he had only been there a few times, with Byakuya the week before and with Rukia a few times before that, it was a familiar path. And the company, though silent, was pleasant as well.
Byakuya lead him through the house, through the garden and to the little stream again. "I will leave you here and return in two hours. Do try not to destroy anything while I'm gone."
Ichigo watched him turn away and blurted out, "You're not staying?" And immediately felt himself flush as Byakuya turned back to him and arched a brow.
"Is there a reason I should remain?"
"Just seems like you shouldn't be too far away. You know, just in case," Ichigo explained lamely then shrugged. "I think I could concentrate better, you know, sink into meditation easier or whatever if you were here to get me started."
Byakuya studied him quietly for a few moments before stepping forward to kneel beside him. Ichigo took a deep breath and knelt facing him.
"Do you recall the technique I taught you last time to sink into meditation?"
Ichigo nodded hesitantly. "A bit. Can you explain it again?"
Byakuya stared at him a moment before he began to speak. As before, Ichigo let Byakuya's voice wash over him. He closed his eyes and felt a peace he had only felt once before settle over him. Byakuya's voice was soothing, a balm to his soul after the hectic week he had spent in the living world.
Ichigo found he could meditate in the living world if he hid in the library. Though it didn't take long for Chad and Ishida to find him. Ichigo found their presence peaceful enough that he didn't mind them and he couldn't even find it in himself to be annoyed by Ishida's smug smile. Orhime continued to smile sadly at him and Tatski began to give him the evil eye, which scared Ichigo enough that he didn't even mind hiding out in the library. It wasn't long before he could sink easily into meditation anywhere, even at home. Goatchin was just as annoying as always, but Ichigo only had to imagine Byakuya's soothing voice to tune him out. Which was when it began to get really weird for Ichigo.
It only took a few weeks before Byakuya deemed Ichigo ready to proceed with the next phase of his training. Instead of returning to Byakuya's garden, they met in the 6th division's training grounds.
Sparring with Byakuya was much different from fighting him. And it was only when they stood across from each other, panting, sweating and Ichigo grinning while Byakuya tried to hide a smile, that Ichigo realized that they had only ever fought to the death and never sparred just to test their strength against each other.
Byakuya gestured toward him as he sheathed his zanpaktou and Ichigo followed him to the bench at the side where water was waiting for them.
"Did you feel the difference as we fought?" Byakuya asked after they had drunk their fill and sat side by side on the bench.
Ichigo nodded. "I felt a little different." He faced Byakuya. "It was like," Ichicgo paused and searched for the proper words. "It was easier."
Byakuya nodded. "You seemed more certain of every action and reaction. There was a sense of peace to your fight that I have never witnessed in you before."
Ichigo couldn't help the flush of pride at Byakuya's words. "I felt peace. I've never felt that in a fight before."
"You have not yet learned enough to completely contain your reiatsu, but even with so little training controlling your reiatsu, you have managed to strengthen and hone your abilities already. I've no doubt you will become one of the most powerful shinigami ever."
Ichigo's heart sank at Byakuya's words. He knew Byakuya was right. All he had ever wanted was to be strong enough to protect the people he loved. And yet....
"My words have disturbed you."
Ichigo nodded. "Yeah, I don't..." he paused, frowning when Byakuya raised a hand.
"Come," Byakuya said shortly and turned away.
Ichigo followed Byakuya back to his home, through the house and into the garden where he had mediated. He felt the tension release from his neck and shoulders as he sank to his knees beside the stream and paid no attention to the servant that brought tea.
"You are disconcerted at the thought of becoming powerful," Byakuya said after several silent moments.
Ichigo grimaced. "Yeah." He glanced up at Byakuya before turning his attention to the garden. "I never wanted this. I don't even care that I'm strong. I just want to protect the people I care about."
"You should never have become a Shinigami," Byakuya agreed softly. "Rukia did you a diservice when she gave you her power."
Ichigo frowned at the slight insult to Rukia. "Rukia only did what she had to do. So I could save my family."
Byakuya bowed his head briefly. "She did take what she believed to be the correct action. I am not saying what she did at the time was incorrect. Hindsight always allows us the leisure to second guess our actions and the heat of battle can cause us to make rash decisions that may later be regretted." Byakuya paused and sipped at his tea. "The manner in which Urhara returned your Shinigami abilities is only another misstep in your training." He held up a hand as Ichigo took a deep breath to protest. "I understand the reason for the way that Urhahra and Sempai trained you as they did. And yet the fact remains that they pushed you beyond what you should have endured."
Ichigo blew the breath he had taken to protest out in a huff. He knew that Byakuya was right, for the most part, but it still irritated him that he could talk about his training in such an unconcerned manner. "They needed me to be strong."
"I do not deny that the war would have been lost without you. But that does not change the fact that you were forced to take on a roll you should not have."
Ichigo thought about what Byakuya had said and couldn't help but agree. "So what happens now? What am I supposed to do now?"
Byakuya studied Ichigo a moment. "Why did you ask me to train in you in controlling your reiatsu? Was it not so that you could become stronger? So that you could protect those you choose to protect?"
Ichigo flushed. "I didn't ask for your help so I could get stronger."
"And yet the only way to protect those you care for is to become stronger," Byakuya countered softly. "There is no shame in being strong. You were given your abilities for a reason, a reason that extends beyond your assistance in defeating Aizen. The fact that you desire to know more, to understand how to control and manipulate your reiatsu, indicates that you are destined for more great things."
"All I ever wanted was to protect my friends and family," Ichigo said softly.
"And you have done so," Byakuya answered just as softly.
Ichigo bit back a smile and glanced away.
Ichigo's training took a step back after his first quick push to gain control. Byakuya being Byakuya didn't actually display his displeasure or frustration with Ichigo's sudden lack of progress. But Ichigo being Ichigo could tell, sorta, that he was frustrated and upset with Ichigo's lack of progress. And Ichigo was at a loss as to what he should be doing to actually make any progress.
Two weeks later, Byakuya's patience broke. In proper Byakuya Kuchiki fashion.
Byakuya stepped out of his stance and studied Ichigo critically. "You have not improved since you last meditated in my garden. Have you not been practicing the technique?"
Ichigo flushed angrily. "It's not exactly easy to meditate when you have to be on the lookout for a crazy father or psychotic friends who don't give you any peace."
"Do you believe that your enemies will allow you time during battle to collect yourself?" Byakuya returned calmly.
"I don't know," Ichigo answered tiredly.
"I assure you they will not," Byakuya returned before Ichigo could continue.
"I know that!" Ichigo answered softly. "That's not what I meant." He sighed. "I just don't know what my problem is."
They stood quietly for several minutes before Byakuya spoke again.
"There is another way." Byakuya fell silent again and Ichigo surprised even himself by waiting quietly for Byakuya to continue. "I could show you how to control your reiatsu."
"I thought that's what you were doing."
Byakuya looked at him calmly, though it was obvious he was struggling to maintain his classic control. "I was training you on reiatsu control." He fell silent again.
"Okay, so how do you --"
"Not here," Byakuya interrupted. "Come with me."
Ichigo wasn't a bit surprised when they ended up by the stream running through Byakuya's garden. What was surprising was the amount of uncertainty Byakuya displayed.
"You must understand," Byakuya began hesitantly. "Reiatsu control is a very private thing. Reiatsu is born within the soul and the zanpanktou is the physical manifestation of the power that a soul posses. The different forms a zanpanktou takes are represenations of the amount of control a soul has over their reiatsu. That is why a zanpanktou is said to be in it's sealed form; it is the same as saying that the soul has exerted all control over the reiatsu they posses." Byakuya paused for several minutes and it was only because he was visibly struggling with himself that Ichigo held his silence.
"What I am proposing is generally only performed between family members or those who share a close... personal relationship."
Though Byakuya would always deny it, Ichigo swore that he blushed bright red at that point.
"Consider carefully if you are willing to undergo such an invasive procedure in order to gain control over your reiatsu." Byakuya paused. "You may also find it less invasive to choose another to train you in this aspect of control. There are very few who can manipulate their reiatsu in such a fashion--"
"You think I want someone else to start training me now?" Ichigo interrupted. "And I don't know if I'd trust anyone else powerful enough and smart enough to teach me."
Byakuya arched a brow and asked, "Not even Ukitake Taicho?"
"Well, maybe him. But he could't devote as much time as I apparently need," Ichigo finished dryly.
Byakuya graced him with a small smirk. "Indeed." He gestured at Ichigo and knelt beside the stream. Ichigo knelt facing him. "The technique is very intense. It is best that we are in a stable, comfortable position before we proceed."
Ichigo nodded and settled more comfortably, crossing his legs and resting his hands on his knees.
Byakuya took a deep breath and something inside Ichigo rattled into wary awareness at the continued expressions of unease from this typically stoic man. "I shall explain the procedure before I proceed." Byakuya paused again. "In essence, I will wrap my reiatsu around you. This will allow you to feel the difference between control over a reiatsu and the lack of control that you currently have." Byakuya fell silent.
Ichigo waited silently, wondering if he was actually supposed to feel something. After several minutes, Ichigo asked, "So is that it? Cause I didn't feel anything."
Byakuya flushed again. "I have not yet begun," he snapped.
Byakuya took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Ichigo tensed as he felt Byakuya's reiatsu surround him but quickly relaxed as it only settled gently on him. Ichigo's eyes fell closed as Byakuya's reiatsu pressed gently into him, filling him with warmth and Ichigo knew that he would never forget what it felt like the first time he was completely surrounded by Byakuya.
Ichigo had no idea how long they sat there, how long Byakuya surrounded him with everything that he was, but it was dark when he forced his eyes open and Byakuya looked as wrung out as Ichigo felt.
It was several minutes before Ichigo could bring himself to break the silence. "I've never felt anything like that."
Byakuya turned his attention to the stream. "I apologize if I made you uncomfortable."
"That's not what I meant," Ichigo protested.
"I did warn you that this could be a more," Byakuya paused a moment, "personal experience than you would feel comfortable with."
"I don't care about that," Ichigo said not quite as heatedly as he normally would. "I didn't mind. I even...." Ichigo fell silent a moment. "I liked it."
Ichigo didn't think it was possible for Byakuya to turn paler than he already was, but at Ichigo's quiet statement he paled even more. "That is an unfotunate side affect of the procedure. There is no shame in enjoying the feelings."
Ichigo bit back a sigh at Byakuya's obstinacy. "So what was I supposed to learn from that if I wasn't supposed to enjoy it."
Byakuya would have been sighing if he had been given to expressing himself openly. "What did it feel like?"
Ichigo considered his options carefully. There were several things he had felt and he was fairly certain that Byakuya was looking for a specific feeling that would have given Ichigo a clue as to how he was supposed to control his own reiatsu.
"It was like being wrapped in warm blanket."
Byakuya nodded. "How can you apply what it felt like to how you control your own reiatsu?"
Ichigo didn't even have to consider it. "I know. It makes sense. I know what I should be able to do but I'm not sure of the actual mechanics involved."
Byakuya nearly smiled. "You're no idea how to wrap a blanket around you?"
Ichigo scowled at him. "Reiatsu isn't a blanket."
Byakuya swallowed a sigh. "And yet the two are easily manipulated the same way. All you have to do is imagine your reiatsu as a visible extension of you. Pull it close to you and imagine it wrapping around you." Byakuya paused a moment. "Much the same way I wrapped my own reiatsu around you."
Ichigo closed his eyes and remembered what that had felt like, what it was like to be surrounded by the very heart of everything Byakuya was. He remembered how warm he had felt wrapped in Byakuya's reaitsu. And slowly, he felt that again. The warmth curled around him and he could hear Zangatsu hum in satisfaction. And then he began to feel something more, something equally as familiar as the feel of Zangatsu beneath his skin, but alien as well, a part of yet seperate from Ichigo and then he heard his name being called and forces his eyes open.
Byakuya knelt across from him, cheeks flushed, fists clenched tightly on his thighs. Ichigo suddenly realized what was so familiar, his eyes opening wide as he frantically tried to pull his reaitsu around himself. He scrambled forward on his knees.
"Shit! Byakuya! Are you okay?" He reached out, gripping Byakuya's arm tightly. "I didn't, shit, I don't even know what I did." And even as he spoke the words he realized he knew exactly what he had done. "I didn't.... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
Byakuya shook his head and unclenched his fists, rubbing his hands nervously on hakama. "It is alright."
Ichigo shook his head. "No, shit, it's not. I'm sorry. I don't even know how I did that."
"It is understandable. You simply replicated the method by which I instructed you. There is no need to apologize."
Ichigo watched Byakuya continue to struggle. "Are you okay?" He flushed at the look Byakuya gave him. "I mean, is there anything I can do to help? Cause I know it can be pretty overwhelming. My reiatsu, that is. I mean, it's why we're here, right? So --"
"Silence will help," Byakuya interrupted with a hint of a smile in his voice.
Ichigo glared but fell silent. His mind raced, remembering what he had felt when Byakuya's reiatsu wrapped around him and he wondered if Byakuya had felt the same when Ichigo had done the same to him.
"Are you alright?" Ichigo asked after several minutes.
Byakuya took a deep breath. "I am."
"Look, I don't even know how I did that. And I didn't mean to." Ichigo paused and studied Bykuaya staring back at him calmly.
"As I said, it is understandable. Do not worry yourself over nothing."
"It wasn't nothing," Ichigo returned hotly. "I could have hurt you."
Byakuya actually smiled. "Do you truly believe you could hurt me with your reiatsu, Kurosaki Ichigo?"
Ichigo gave him a rueful grin. "I guess not." They sat and grinned at each other until Byakuya seemed to realize that he was grinning at Ichigo and the expression fell from his face. Ichigo couldn't keep a huff of laughter from escaping at the sudden change in Byakuya's countenance. Byakuya only arched an eyebrow and didn't respond.
"What did you feel?" Ichigo asked suddenly.
Byakuya didn't visibly start, though Ichigo didn't miss the way his eyes widened and caution crept into his expression.
"I'm uncertain what you are referring to," Byakyua returned blandly.
Ichigo scoffed. "Yeah, you do. When I... when I wrapped my reiatsu around you," he finished with a blush heating his cheeks.
"I felt nothing but your reiatsu," Byakuya replied.
Ichigo had gotten pretty good at reading Byakuya over the past several weeks, despite his characteristic stoicism, and he knew that Byakuya was hiding something.
"Yeah, you did," Ichigo countered softly. "You felt what I felt. When you wrapped me in your reiatsu."
Byakuya only stared calmly before rising gracefully to his feet. "I've no idea what you're talking about. We're finished for the day."
Byakuya turned away and Ichigo jumped to his feet and reached to grab his arm. Byakuya turned and glared at Ichigo, but Ichigo didn't release his hold on Byakuya's arm.
"Something weird happened when I wrapped my reiatsu around you," Ichigo protested harshly. "You felt the same weird thing I did when you did that to me."
Byakuya glared pointedly at the hand on his arm but wouldn't meet Ichigo's eyes. "Release me at once."
Ichigo almost let go, his hold loosening automatically at the command in Byakuya's voice, but he tightend his grip before Byakuya could pull away. "Tell me what you felt."
"I do not answer to you, boy," Byakuya spoke calmly.
Ichigo glared at the old insult, but didn't let go. He could feel Byakuya's reitasu coiling around them and knew that Byakuya was close to the breaking point. "You want to know what I felt when you wrapped me in your reitasu?"
Byakuya's eyes narrowed dangerously. "This conversation is pointless. Release me at once."
Ichigo tightened his hold on Byakuya's arm and stepped closer still, close enough to feel the warmth of Byakuya's skin, close enough to feel his breath quickening. "I felt you," Ichigo spoke softly, earnestly, feeling a lightness in his spirit that he had never felt before. "I felt every bit of you surrounding me."
"I warned you of the consequences," Byakuya answered softly, his eyes narrowed. "Release me."
"Byakuya--" Ichigo began breathlessly, but suddenly stumbled back at Byakuya's whispered kido.
Byakuya stared at him only a moment before turning and walking away silently.
Ichigo wanted to go after him, to grab Byakuya and make him admit that he had felt exactly as Ichigo had felt. He had taken a step forward before he heard the warning from Zangetsu in his mind.
"Let him go, Ichigo."
Ichigo wondered briefly what Zangetsu knew that Ichigo didn't, but he held his silence at Ichigo's question. He sighed and watched Bykauya walk away from him.
Ichigo didn't go to Seretei the next week. Or the week after. He wondered briefly if Byakuya wondered where he was, if he was mad at Ichigo for not appearing after he had made time in his schedule to train him. Ichigo had never felt more confused in his life, and that included all the crazy changes he'd gone through during Aizen's uprising. At least then he'd been too busy trying not to be killed while he rescued people to be alarmed about what was happening to him. There was nothing to distract him from thoughts of Byakuya. He could do little more than remember what it felt like to be surrounded by him, the very essence of Byakuya sinking into every bit of him. All of Byakuya's heat and power had been focused on Ichigo and it was all he had been able to feel. And he wanted to feel it again.
What he wasn't certain of was what Byakuya would do if Ichigo went to him with his request. Byakuya had already pushed him away once. And he had never told Ichigo what he felt when Ichigo had inadvertently done the same to him. Or maybe he was just being stupid. Byakuya had warned him, had told him that it could create false feelings.
And then Renji showed up.
"The hell are you doing here?"
Ichigo started and stood up quickly from where he had been sitting, brooding, at his desk. "What are you doing here?"
Renji jumped down from the window sill and stalked up to Ichigo. "You're supposed to be in Seritei, dumbass. Kuchiki-taicho cleared his schedule to help train you and now you're just sitting here?"
"I don't think he wants to train me anymore, Renji."
Renji glared at him a moment before cuffing him on the side of the head.
"Ow! What the hell, Renji?" Ichigo scowled and rubbed irritably at his reddened ear.
"'s bad enough you skipped out last week, but I'll be damned if you're going to miss this week," Renji answered irritably and didn't give Ichigo a chance to squawk out a protest before he was flying out of his body. Ichigo still didn't get a chance to protest before Renji was wrapping a hand in his collar and yanking him along behind him to a waiting Seikimon where Rukia was waiting, arms crossed, glare firmly in place. Ichigo said nothing and simply allowed Renji to drag him along, cringing when Rukia fell into step behind them, but relaxing a bit as she only followed behind and didn't punch or kick him. But the tension slowly returned as they came closer and closer to the sixth squad training grounds.
He felt Byakuya before he saw him and he knew that he would always be able to feel Byakuya's reiatsu, no matter how tightly controlled it was kept. Ichigo was so focused on feeling Byakuya again after nearly two weeks that he didn't even notice when Rukia and Renji disappeared. He stopped in front of Byakuya and managed to hold back a flinch when he turned away from him. Byakuya didn't say a word, but Ichigo followed him anyway. Neither spoke until they came to a stop beside the stream in Byakuya's garden.
"You did not appear last week as we agreed upon," Byakuya looked away from Ichigo, his attention focused on the stream in front of them.
"I didn't think you'd welcome me back. After what happened last time."
"Do you no longer desire my assistance in controlling your reiatsu?"
"No!" Ichigo said quickly. "I do." He hesitated then walked forward to stand beside Byakuya. "I do. If you still want to teach me."
Byakuya finally turned to face Ichigo. His face was as inscrutable as Ichigo had ever seen it. "I do not waste my time on inconsequential matters. I do not appreciate others wasting my time. If you want to learn from me you will not miss another session. Is that understood, Kurosaki Ichigo."
Ichigo studied Byakuya a few minutes. Byakuya arched a brow at his hesitation and Ichigo couldn't hold back a grin. "I won't let you down again, Byakuya."
It should have bothered Ichigo, the way they fell so easily into their routine. It should have worried him that he missed Byakuya when he was away from Seretei, the way his heart raced when he knew he would be entering Seretei soon, the way he went out of his way to avoid Renji and Rukia so he could spend as much time with Byakuya as possible. It should have kept him up at night. Instead, Ichigo slept peacefully, anxious to get through the next day which would bring him on day closer to returning to Seretei. And seeing Byakuya again.
He'd successfully managed to avoid Renji and Rukia for five weeks so he shouldn't have been surprised that they were waiting for him as soon as the Seikimon closed behind him.
"You've been avoiding us," Rukia began without hesitation, fists propped on her hips.
Renji stood behind her, scowling and silent.
"I've been busy," Ichigo answered shortly. "I don't have a lot of time to sit around and talk. And Byakuya won't wait if I don't get there on time." He tried to push around Rukia, but she stepped in front of him and Renji stepped up to his side ready to grab Ichigo if he thought Ichigo would make a run for it. Ichigo sighed. "Look, I'm sorry you think I've been avoiding you. But I've still got school in the living world. I don't have a lot of time to sit around here doing nothing."
"You think spending time with your friends is doing nothing?" Renji growled. "You think so little of us now that we're just a waste of time, that it, Ichigo?"
"You know that's not what I meant,"Ichigo returned hotly. "Stop twisting my words."
"Ichigo," Rukia began quietly before Renji could yell at Ichigo again. "We understand that training with nii-sama is important. And that you're busy with school and family in the living world. But you're important to us. And we thought we were important to you, too."
Ichigo cursed silently at the wounded expression on Rukia's face. "You are important to me. You know that. But this is important too. I'll try and stick around today after I'm done training, okay? We'll talk and stuff."
Rukia's chin wobbled a moment before she smiled and nodded. "You should go. You shouldn't keep nii-sama waiting."
Ichigo refrained from rolling his eyes at that statement, nodded at Renji, who continued to glare at him, and turned toward the sixth division. Byakuya was waiting for him and didn't hesitate to attack. Ichigo barely has enough time to block before they were dancing around the training ground. But as quickly as the attack began, Byakuya was sheathing Senbosakura and studying Ichigo with a critical eye.
"Come with me," Byakuya said shortly as he turned away.
Ichigo stared after him a moment before slinging Zangetsu over his shoulder and following. He didn't even have to pay close attention to their surroundings, certain that Byakuya was leading him to his garden. When Ichigo finally took notice of his surroundings again, he found himself kneeling beside the stream, Byakuya kneeling near him, staring at him calmly.
"Have you come to your senses?"
Ichigo flushed and looked away. "Sorry."
Byakuya was silent for several minutes before he continued. "You were distracted."
Ichigo nodded silently and he could feel Byakuya's disappointment and concern in the air around them. "Sorry."
"My concern is why you are so distracted. You have been able to focus intensly for the past several weeks. What has happened that has you twisted into knots?"
Ichigo huffed a brief smile and absently scratched the back of his head. "Rukia and Renji." He cleared his throat and met Byakuya's gaze. "They think I'm ignoring them."
"Are you?" Byakuya asked softly.
Ichigo shrugged. "I guess."
"You have not spent any time with them during your visits here."
Ichigo shrugged again and didn't answer.
"I have set a strict schedule. But I have tried to leave you enough time for school and leisure." Byakuya paused and looked at over landscape. "Have I been too strict in my demands? It was not my intention to separate you from your friends."
Ichigo's breath caught; he shook his head and answered, "No, you haven't. And I want to train. I need to train with you. I wouldn't mind training more, in fact. I just haven't...." He took a deep breath. "I like spending time with you."
Byakuya turned back to Ichigo who flushed and looked away. "I enjoy this time as well."
Ichigo turned to Byakuya so quickly that his neck cracked. Byakuya's cheeks had turned pink and he couldn't meet Ichigo's eyes. Ichigo felt heat flare within him, but he had to make sure.
"I thought you said it didn't mean anything. It was fake because of the training method you used."
Byakuya still didn't meet Ichigo's eyes when he answered. "I did, indeed, say that." He paused for several painful heartbeats before he continued. "It was my understanding, based on my own experience, that employing the method I did to teach you reitsu control could create artificial affection." He paused again. "After some consultation, I determined that the bond would be temporary."
"And our sparing sessions wouldn't extend the length of our bond," Ichigo queried after Byakuya fell silent.
Byakuya shook his head silently.
Ichigo took a deep breath. "So, what exactly are you saying?" Ichigo's breath caught for a moment. "Do you mean... I don't understand. Do you mean, are you saying, do you like me? Or something?"
Byakuya hesitated just long enough to make Ichigo wonder if he had set himself up for an attack before he answered "I do not find your presence as irritating as it once was."
Ichigo grinned and even Byakuya's mouth quirked slightly. Ichigo took a deep breath. "So. Now what?"
Byakuya arched a brow in Ichigo's direction. "You have gained a great deal more control over your reitsu. You have come a long way in the short time you have been training. But you can do better."
"You still want to train me?" Ichigo asked, incredulously.
Byakuya stood gracefully and made no comment as Ichigo stumbled to his feet after him, though the look he gave Ichigo said more than any snicker could have.
"If you are still interested in learning control, I would be willing to continue to train you." He stepped closer to Ichigo. "And perhaps you would be interested in learning Kido, as well."
Ichigo's head was spinning a bit. "Kido. Yeah, I guess training in Kido would be good."
Byakuya's fingers curled around Ichigo's. "Do you have time for tea?"
Ichigo nodded, his fingers clutching back at Byakuya's briefly before Byakuya shook his hand loose. He turned away, but paused and waited for Ichigo to fall into step beside him. Ichigo knew he was grinning like an idiot, but couldn't find the energy to care.
"Nice to see you're not avoiding us anymore," Renji said with just a hint of censure as he met Ichigo at the Seikimon three weeks later.
"I was never avoiding you. I was just busy."
"Too busy rushing off to meet my brother to spend any time with us," Rukia said slyly.
Ichigo couldn't help but blush. "He's training me."
Rukia hummed and nudged Renji in the ribs.
"Che," Ichigo muttered and walked away, ignoring Rukia's grin and Renji's snicker. He was nearly to the sixth division when he felt it. It took only a heartbeat to pull his own reiatsu in close to him. Ichigo had learned a lot under Buakyua's instruction, and he knew he wouldn't have been able to fool many, but he was able to hide well enough from Kenpachi. He sidled up close to the wall encircling the sixth division and glanced around cautiously before racing through the gate, not stopping until he stopped in front of Byakuya's desk.
Byakuya ignored his entrance and finished his paperwork before looking up. "I see you managed to avoid Zaraki again."
Ichigo grinned and leaned a hip against Byakuya's desk. "It's gotten a lot easier, that's for sure."
Byakuya's lips quirked in a brief smile before he stood and and moved to step past Ichigo. Ichigo grabbed his arm and stepped close to him. Byakuya arched a brow at him, but did not pull away.
"Aren't you even going to ask?" Ichigo inquired softly.
Byakuya turned toward him. "I assumed, from your exuberance, that you did very well."
Ichigo grinned. "I did. But you could have asked, you know."
Byakuya tugged Ichigo close and wrapped his arms around him. "How did your finals go?"
Ichigo pressed his forehead to Byakuya's shoulder a moment before he straightened and smiled at Byakuya. "They went great. I'm pretty sure I passed, no small thanks to your influence."
Byakuya's lips quirked briefly before he stepped back quickly.
"There you are, Ichigo!" Yachiro exclaimed as she appeared suddenly in the window of Bykuya's office. "Ken-chan and me were looking for you! You're much better at playing hide and seek than you used to be."
Ichigo sighed, tossed Byakuya a rueful glance, and managed to catch Yachiro as she hopped from the window to Ichigo's shoulder. "Thanks. I've been practicing."
Yachiro giggled. "Ken-chan is waiting in the courtyard. He'd really like to play with you. I know it'd make him happy," Yachiro finished with a hopeful smile.
When she wasn't being annoying, Yachiro could be very persuasive. Ichigo looked at Byakuya. "If we both go we'll be done twice as fast," he said hopefully.
Byakuya arched a brow as Yachiro said, "Really? You think you could both beat Ken-chan?"
"I believe Kurosaki is more than capable of defeating Zaraki without assistance."
Ichigo glared at Byakuya but then smiled as Byakuya continued.
"However, I will accompany you to the training grounds and observe Kurasaki's progress." He held his hand out and Yachiro jumped out of Ichigo's arms and took Byakuya's hand, walking docilely by his side, chattering away as they walked out of the office. Ichigo shook his head and followed. This wasn't at all what he had in mind for celebrating the end the school year. But then Byakuya threw a promising look over his shoulder and Ichigo smiled in return. That look in Byakuya's eye was all he needed to encourage him to finish with Kenpachi quickly.