Three steady and measured knocks could be heard on the door.
Byakuya Kuchiki looked up from his desk and sighed reluctantly.
It was time. They've been waiting.
"I'm coming, Renji."
Kuchiki put aside the pen he was holding, then ran his eyes through the report one last time. Satisfied, he placed it on top of the other finished papers and stood up and straightening the scarf around his neck. Reluctantly, he left his office behind and set off with his lieutenant.
On their way Renji remained silent, but his spirit energy revealed that he was tense.
"What's wrong, Renji?"
"Sir," his lieutenant glanced towards him and choose his words carefully. "I just want to apologize for the inconvenience."
"Why are you apologizing?" Kuchiki raised one of his exquisitely shaped eyebrows.
"If we don't go there, or I'm stronger," Renji explained looking away. "Then you wouldn't have to fight now, if not for us."
Byakuya walked quietly.
It was true, the thought of fighting itself was a hassle, especially that his opponent would be Zaraki. But he couldn't do anything else, he already owed that beast since he first helped free Rukia, and then again when he appeared in Hueco Mundo. He owed a lot to that man.
And he, of course, asked for nothing else in return, just to be able to fight seriously once. And that time had come, he hoped in vain that Zaraki might die in battle.
He glanced down at his sword, the spirit energy of which only pulsed for a second.
No, It wasn't entirely true.
Captain Kuchiki shook off the unpleasant feeling and his response came with his usual serious tone, from his unflinching face.
"Don't blame yourself for this. It's not yours or Rukia's fault. Anyway, I only had to agree to one fight. The whole thing won't last more than a few minutes. It's just a one-time case."
Renji swallowed and nodded slowly.
The fight took place inside the 11th division. This was captain Kuchiki's decision, insisting that any devastation must be endured by Zaraki's division. The mentioned captain agreed without problem. For him, the location really didn't matter.
Byakuya was the first to arrive on a rooftop, after a few moments he was followed by Renji. His shunpo isn’t perfected yet, the captain remarked to himself.
"Ah, Byakuya!" Not far from him sat Captain Ukitake, Captain Kyouraku and a bottle of sake resting next to the latter. "You're finally here, they've been really waiting for you."
Kuchiki looked around the wide field, which was one of the squad's most intact training grounds. More than a couple cracks and cuts covered the walls. In some places fresh patches of painting was visible, making stark contrast to the old areas.
Now a good few members from the 11th and 6th division stood on the top, or near the walls.
"Quiet an audience we have." Kyouraku scratched his unshaven chin.
"Captain Ukitake, Captain Kyouraku." Renji bowed respectfully to them. "Sir…may I ask, what are you doing here?"
"Hello, Abarai," Kyouraku tipped his hat. "The captain-commander sent us. He agreed to the fight between your captain and the captain of the 11th squad, but he insisted that we should be here too. Just to make sure they don’t get too into it and destroy everything. "
"There was no need for that. I will end this quickly." Kuchiki used shunpo and appeared in the middle of the square.
"Oh, friendly, as always." Ukitake shook his head and sighed
The officers fell silent.
"And here I thought you won't come after all." Zaraki sat on the edge of the square, his sword resting on his shoulder. Now he rose with a wide grin.
"I'm not breaking my promise."
"Good. Then let's fight!"
He immediately attacked and although he didn’t use shunpo he was almost as fast. However, the tip of his blade only hit the ground. He may have been fast, but he was not faster than Byakuya. Senbonzakura made a deep cut on his arm. However, Zaraki didn't seem to mind, it seemed he barely felt it.
The style the two of them used was completely different. Byakuya wanted to finish his opponent quickly and efficiently, no playing, no having fun. He saw the fight only as a brief occasion in which he finished with his opponent, or at least defeated it, though of the time the two were one and the same.
Zaraki, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. He laughed after the first cut and his spiritual energy seemed to increase with each cut. He fought like a beast.
And Captain Kuchiki never liked any animals.
However, even though he knew where to stab to cause more serious injury or even death, his blade never thrusted true and only ever caused superficial injury to his opponent. Zaraki's defense was sharp and he knew exactly which cuts to pay attention to.
"So what? You think you have a chance without shikai or bankai?!"
A fierce attack barely missed Byakuya's face and left a long cut on it. Senbonzakura trembled in his hand. This was a mistake, looking at his sword resulted on him having no chance of dodging the kick. It pushed him all the way to the nearest wall and his head slammed hard against it.
Renji's voice sounded muffled for a moment. He tasted blood in his mouth.
"Huh? Did you already give up? Have I known that, I should have let the big espada eat y-" his sentence was cut off by hundreds of flower petals, which streamed straight towards him. A long wound flashed through his chest.
"You talk too much."
"Finally!" Zaraki's counter attack was broken by the flower petals causing few injuries, but he dodged most of them. "Ch… maybe now you will take it seriously. Good!" He snarled wildly and Byakuya felt a tremble in his grip and in his own soul, just as the flower petals cut into Zaraki's left shoulder.
That feeling again.
What happening with you, Senbonzakura?
He received no response.
A sudden burst of spiritual energy shook the area and the spectating officers knew that they better get farther away if they knew what was good for them . From then on, Zaraki didn't hold back either. He tore off the bandage covering his eyes tossing it aside. He grinned enjoying letting his full power free.
"I see. Don't think it means anything!" Byakuya launched the flowers towards his opponent, but before they reached him they scattered as if they were leaves blown away by a violent gust of wind.
"YOU TALK TOO MUCH!"
The cut found its mark.
Byakuya looked down at his bleeding shoulder in shock, the pain pulsed all over his body. He could be thankful for the paint, it made his petals move, and they stopped the following strike. However, the force of the blow still forced him backwards.
"Come on! Come on! Come on! Fight with your everything you got or I'll kill you!"
The flower petals kept protecting him and then suddenly Zaraki's blade got stuck in the reassembled Senbonzakura.
Kuchiki didn't answer, instead he used shunpo instinctively flashing away beside him and cutting him. Wound after wound appeared on Zaraki's body, but his grin just got bigger and bigger.
The nameless sword in his hand glowed with spiritual energy and roared like a wild animal. At the same time, Senbonzakura also began to vibrate. The two blades almost sparkled as they met and the spiritual energy around the two fighter become denser and denser destroying everything in their way.
Byakuya swiped and stabbed fiercely and he didn’t even care anymore where he hit his opponent. He gave it his all. He had to win. He wanted to win! They wanted to win!
He almost froze when he realized what he was thinking he used shunpo to get a few steps away from Zaraki.
Whats happening to us?
"What is it? You look like you have a problem." Zaraki placed his sword on his shoulder, turning towards him. "Why did you stop?"
"I just…" had to take a few deep breaths. "None of your business." He regained control of himself and his sword.
"Mh," Zaraki scratched the back of his neck. "I may not have a shikai, and I may not even hear the voice of my sword, but I know something," Zaraki's grin widened and he pointed towards Senbonzakura with his own sword. "Even I recognize when a sword enjoys fighting."
Byakuya tightened his hand on the grip. His noble and formal part utterly rejected even the idea of fighting like this beast. One shouldn't enjoy fighting. One should just end it as soon as possible.
The blade was almost shaking, he had to force his own arm to remain stable.
There was something about Zaraki, something about his blade, that simply drove people to fight.
Byakuya hadn't felt this way in a long time, maybe once when he was young. His blood was boiling with excitement, and so was Senbonzakura. He didn't want to restrain himself anymore. They wanted to win, no matter the price. Nothing mattered. Not the injuries, not his blood, not the fact that he could even die in the fight. He could use his bankai, but it didn’t feel right. Not here and not now.
I understand now. All right…for once..
He took a slow breath, then as he blew it out, his spiritual energy exploded again. The ground around his feet cracked deeply, it crumbled under his feet.
"Oh?" Zaraki looked up at the pink spirit energy that was so dense that it was visible. "I'm right, aren't I?" He took the blade in both hands just like his opponent. His spiritual energy was already raging, but now it began to thicken around him.
His sword roared.
Byakuya wondered for a moment why his enemy couldn't hear it when for him it was crystal clear.
It didn't matter.
Around Senbonzakura spiritual energy bloomed.
It's going to be a single blow, he will put everything into it.
They moved at once.
The ground practically disappeared under their feet and the ground shook with power.
The two blades met and for a few moments nothing could be seen in the bright flash. The surrounding houses collapsed from the shockwave and the two rows behind them suffered similar fate. As if something had exploded, the whole area was shaken by a violent wave of spiritual energy. Then, there was complete silence.
The two figures stood with their backs to each other, their swords still pointed forwards.
"Heh, that was fun!" The cut started from his thighs and ran all the way up to his shoulders. As the spiritual energy rapidly depleted around him, his blood began to gush from his wounds, streaming down, completely soaking his clothes.
He collapsed with a loud thud.
"Yes, it was." A tiny smile ran across Byakuya's face, and at the same time, blood began to seep from a wound starting at his neck, ending around his palm.
He could still hear Renji shouting for him, but then he was swallowed up in darkness.
He didn't know how long it had been, but when he opened his eyes, it was already around evening. Every part of him was numb and he felt as if something was burning in his arms.
Byakuya turned his head in the direction of the voice.
"Thank heavens, I was so worried. How are you feeling?" Her voice was low saturated with worry. "Shall I speak to Captain Unohana?"
"I'm fine. No need, thank you." He tried to sit up, but his body immediately signaled that it was not a good idea to move around.
"No, please stay still. You still need to rest."
"He didn't wake up yet, but they said he was sleeping with a smile. I think he was well… having fun. And um…"
"Hm, I see. Thank you for visiting, Rukia, but I better rest too."
"All right, I'll go on my way. It was nice to see you. I'll tell Renji to visit only tomorrow."
Byakuya nodded slowly. "Thank you. Goodbye." He gave out a long sigh and closed his eyes.
He waited for Rukia to close the door behind her. Besides pain, he could also feel pleasant numbness. He hasn’t had a fight like this for a long time.
He looked at his sword.
In fact, it has ben a very long time ago he allowed himself to enjoy the fight.
Beyond the door, officers hurried to their duties.
Who knows? Maybe this wasn't just a one-off case.