Byakuya: Sometimes when I dream, I dream of battles fierce, of a strange spirit world known as the Sereitei, of blades called zanpakutō that wield magic and have names and personalities. Whenever I do dream of such things, there's always a man –a boy, really– who's almost more important to the dreams than I am. He's beautiful, with strawberry-blond hair and whiskey eyes. More beautiful still is his absolute, unwavering loyalty and his fierce desire to protect everything he holds dear. It's strange, really. In the dreams, I've existed for centuries. I'm a shinigami of massive power, a taichō who commands an entire division of other shinigami. I'm respected and feared, and I do many great things. Yet I rarely dream of the years before he arrived. It was like the rest of my life –or un-life, as the case may be– simply became unimportant when that hellion arrived on the scene. The first time I met him in those dreams, the dream-me hated him. He'd committed an irrevocable act that condemned my sister to death and forced me to choose between honoring one vow or another. Never mind that the boy never abused the power he received, never mind that he had just wanted to protect his family, never mind that my sister would have died anyway if he hadn't done this and protected her, as well. I hated that boy for forcing me to choose between honor and family –probably because like an idiot, I chose honor over all. I cut the boy down swiftly and decisively, destroying his zanpakutō, not caring that he was only 16 years old –a mere child who had only wanted to protect people. I destroyed the power he'd stolen –partially in the hope that it would restore my sister and partially because I was a vengeful bastard. In all honesty, that boy should have died alone in a puddle of his own blood out in the open, empty street. The next time I met him, that boy that I had let with nothing had built up the power to demolish a powerful taichō and my own fukataichō. He was bruised, bloody, barely standing, and in a world he simply did not belong in. Yet he was positively fierce as he challenged me, holding a hilt-less blade much like an oversize kyber knife that was as long as he was tall. The zanpakutō I had so decisively destroyed was a manifestation of the swift and magnificent amount of power he held, and I swear it was larger than it had been the first time I'd faced him. He was no longer using borrowed shinigami powers like before –this was power all his own, a level of intensity that would have brought most of the lower-level shinigami to their knees. In the dream, I was torn in that instant. I loved him and I hated him. I loved him, because in his own way, he protected my family and the vow I'd made long ago. I hated him, because he was protecting the vow I'd chosen to neglect in honor of upholding the other. The boy so driven by his need to protect the woman who'd allowed him to protect his family, so torn and battle weary he could hardly stand, had to be forcibly removed from my sight by one of his own allies, or he would have given his own life just to try to prove me wrong. The next time I met him, this boy whom I had so decisively ruined with little more than a single slash of my blade, this boy who had returned so much stronger for the single-minded purpose of protecting my sister, this boy who had to be removed to protect his own life had his turn to bring me to my knees. He overwhelmed me, he more than matched my speed, and he determinedly achieved things I'd never thought possible for him. More than that, he showed me that my way, my beliefs, were not always right. He chose to fight a system that I had decided to uphold in the faintest of hopes that he might see my sister's life spared. And with single minded determination, he made it happen –even to the point of defeating me, a man he had been so helplessly outmatched by the first time we met. I kept meeting him over and over and over again in the dreams, but those first three encounters truly prophesied our relationship's path as a whole. Such an incredibly strong child, always willing to risk it all for anything or anyone he thought worthy of his protection. A generous, giving child who never thought of his own comforts, only of the coming wars and promises and people he must at all costs protect. On the other side, there was me: a strong, reserved noble who put honor before people, discipline and order before relationships, and experience before youthful arrogance. A man cowed by the force of nature that the child was. A man damned to love that child since he had to be forcibly removed from before my eyes, before my blade, so that he actually stood some chance of reaching his goals. He was a fascinating creature: a phoenix that always emerged from his ashes scarred, yet more powerful than ever before. A hot-headed boy who became the only hope of a nation too afraid of him to really care for him. A boy who became a hero not for want of fame or need to prove something but to protect people who could not or would not protect themselves. A boy who persisted in destroying himself for the sake of others. A boy with so much more courage than Kuchiki Byakuya-taichō, who dared not confess his love to a boy a mere fraction of his age, a human child who had saved the world. Dreams like those were ever a torment, for no matter how I strained, I could not hear the boy's name. No matter how many time I convinced myself that the boy might feel for me, as well, I could never confess my own love. Perhaps the dreams were divine retribution for taking a wife who honestly meant the world to me, but whom I could never love in that way. Hisana had often woken me from these dreams, and I felt ever guilty that in those dreams, I loved that boy more than my life, but I could not love my wife in such a manner. Still, one thing I knew what that people from my life, people I knew, were in those dreams. Renji, my prized aid, was my fukataichō. Toshiro, my friend and equal, was a taichō in his own right and the woman he loved, Rangiku, was his fukataichō. Yorurichi, a childhood friend and the now-missing daughter of a neighboring nation, was a noble like myself who had helped to train me. Even the men who made the Red Light District into their battle grounds were a taichō and an exiled taichō in my dreams. So I knew that if I ever found that boy in this life, in the midst of everything, I would bring him to myself and keep him close, as I should have in my dreams. I would protect him at all costs. After all, you can only repeat the same mistakes so many times before you learn from them, even in a dream world.