Virus Green

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.

A/N: I tried doing Kouga's POV, but I couldn't grasp his character at all. D: It's easier for me to work with Byakuya~ I apologize for taking the easy way out.

A yukata is still a light-weight, casual kimono worn during summer festivals and possibly warm evenings.

x.x.x.x.x.x

How much pride could one man have?

Byakuya didn't understand it at all. His pride was innumerable years old, weighty with noble persons' sacrifices and valor over the ages. He was a Kuchiki, one of the last of Seireitei's reliable bloodlines. It was vital for the shinigami to have someone to aspire to be, and his family members had been fulfilling that role since the dawn of the city's time. Compared to the keeping up of such a grand, desirable tradition, how could Kouga (he was hardly worthy of the Kuchiki name) thought himself important?

"That man was so full of himself, he could've filled a pool."

Perhaps to nobody's surprise, Byakuya's inner world was a grove of cherry trees. In the same way his personality had changed over the years, the trees did an annual dance like a turnover tribute to his heart. For now they were red with fruit that dripped from branch to root and occasionally into Byakuya's open mouth. He lay in their shade with one knee drawn up and one arm under his head, dressed in an outrageously casual yukata that never would've passed inspection in the walk-in closet at the ancestral manor. But then this wouldn't be his sanctuary if he wasn't hiding a few secrets in it.

"I don't need interjections, Senbonzakura."

The soul-cutter whose baritone had nothing on Byakuya's was the gardener of his inner world, though, and entitled to his own opinions which were really only Byakuya's. (Confusing? Try futzing around in Kurosaki Ichigo's head, where there is yet another splinter of himself to be dealt with.)

Quiet introspection was hard to come by.

"There was no way to save him. You don't need to regret his death, Byakuya."

Byakuya didn't regret his death at all. Senbonzakura knew that better than anyone else. Kouga's demise was well-deserved, even if Muramasa's had wrenched a little at their heartstrings. No, it was Kouga's deterioration that seemed a shame. How did one go from having everything to having nothing, not even a grip on one's sense of self?

"The man abused his own zanpakutou. Madness is the only explanation."

More satisfactory than Kuchiki Ginrei's grim assumption that Kouga hadn't the heart to possess his own powers, but still far from sufficient to sate Byakuya's thirst for understanding. How did one descend into madness?

"He was a commoner thrust into a great house. He could hardly be expected to live up to its standards."

That wouldn't do at all. Kouga had been a genius; why else would Ginrei have accepted him into the family? The Kuchiki dynasty routinely augmented its stock with fresh blood that held unique, exemplary power. Hisana had not been a genius and Byakuya had had to raise hell to marry her. Even after getting his way he'd had to put up with distant cousins passing her by as if she was puddle of ditch water, pointing their aristocratic noses elsewhere and asking each other if they could smell the stench of a gutter-whore. So what? Hisana had borne it. And Kouga hadn't had to. He had been treated as well as a son born into the family because of his magnificent skill. The Kuchiki house selected him specifically because he fit their standards.

"I mean, Byakuya, those of nobility and honor. He knew nothing of them. None of the Rukongai scum do."

Byakuya laughed aloud and Senbonzakura's eyes crinkled with embarrassment behind his mask. It was hard to think of Rukia as Rukongai scum. The girl had died to be a princess. She was a Kuchiki in the soul, and Senbonzakura found it way too easy to forget her origins.

So then. Kouga who had everything had become nothing.

"Maybe he wasn't ready to have everything. After facing a drought the farmer who faces the flood sees no way out but to drown himself."

What about building a boat? Goodness knows Kouga had the lumber. Kuchiki Ginrei gave indecipherable advice, but a smart man could crack his code. Kouga had whined forever and a day that no one understood his fantastic self but had he lent an ear...had he trusted Ginrei enough to try to figure out what the man said...

"A lot of carnage could've been avoided. Byakuya. You know better than to dwell on could've been."

Oh god, hadn't the two of them suffered through enough of those when Hisana died? So Kouga's choice had been what, fate?

"It was an individual decision. The man didn't know what he was looking for. Confused and wounded, he melded his pride with that of the Kuchiki. Never truly believing he was a prince, when he was shamed he considered it an irremovable stain. Trying too hard, he failed miserably."

Or maybe Kouga had secretly been in love with Ginrei, not the woman he married, and when he realized that putting himself on the same property as the man of his dreams wasn't enough to earn him a place in his heart or even his bed he went mad with desire left unheeded. Maybe Muramasa had painted his inner world mauve without checking if it was okay and the color had pissed him off so badly everything else ceased to matter so that Kouga went Nest Boss on his own ass.

"Oh, I see. Don't judge a man we don't know. The answer's lost forever, is that it? Subtle, Byakuya. Subtle."

Trivializing important issues aside. It was true. Who was Byakuya to be delving the depths of a dead man's mind? If he wanted something to worry about there came a thousand details of his life as a shinigami begging for attention, needing rescue from Renji's incapable hands. Each day brought fresh conflict and new challenge and another of Rukia's glowing smiles. Byakuya's world was well enough and full enough without focusing on Kouga's issues. Maybe in his new life as a human the shinigami would reconcile with his zanpakutou and they would together figure out what made the other tick, or snap as the case may be. What business was it to Byakuya, 28th clan head of the Kuchiki house?

It all came down to a single line.

What Kouga chose was unforgivable and no circumstance of his could provide an excuse to hide behind because Byakuya knew a girl living under those self-same circumstances, and she was doing damn well for herself.

Senbonzakura reached out to touch his shoulder.

"Just a warning. She's coming."

The spell of meditation was broken and the peace of Byakuya's rock garden desecrated by one piercing scream of happiness.

"Byakushi~~! What's for snacks!"

Yachiru toppled his lotus figure flat onto the tatami mat he'd been sitting on, her arms twined around his neck tighter than the scarf that once felt like it was about to strangle him with responsibility. Even as he came to his senses Byakuya realized that he too had fought his own battle against the pride of the family and the pride of his heart. Why was everyone so much better at it than Kouga? Maybe it was because Senbonzakura had been by Byakuya's side, like Sode no Shirayuki stood by Rukia and other countless, nameless zanpakutou stood by 27 preceding clan heads and their entire extended family. Maybe he should pry Yachiru off his neck before she started drooling on his scarf.

(Oh if Ginrei could see the heirloom now, in danger of being defiled by a commoner's saliva.)

"I've just decided," Senbonzakura's tones rung in his head much softer when he wasn't inside himself (confusing again. Sorry), "If I'm not allowed to speculate as to what corrupted Kouga, you're not free to guess what could've saved him. Watch out, she's dripping."

An emergency rice ball stashed inside his hakama specifically for this purpose was fished out and stuffed in Yachiru's small mouth to absorb the juice gurgling there.

"Mm nm hmm...Byakushi, let's go get s'more!"

He let her drag him indoors, and left Kouga's hellish problems loitering in the rock garden waiting for his return.

x.x.x.x.x.x

Dogma is such an great fucking movie. I mean holy shit. :D Watching it as I wrote this was the best way I've spent a night in a long, long time. Anyway. I think Byakuya would be burning with curiosity to find out the Truth About Kouga just like us mortals, and I'm satisfied knowing he won't know.