He was not a man skilled in comforting. Byakuya didn’t know how to soothe those inner aches and pains of those close to him. He could barely understand his own emotions, couldn’t even begin to handle his own aching heart. When faced with someone else’s pain, Byakuya drew a complete blank. Maybe that was why he never could communicate with Hisana. Perhaps that was why he had been unable to help Rukia after Kaien’s death.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Then, he met Ichigo.
Byakuya wanted to believe that his lover was a man capable of taking care of himself, that he didn’t need silly things like comfort. That Ichigo understood just how much of a social and emotional failure his lover was and didn’t expect anything. And that was probably true. Ichigo didn’t really expect anything from him. Byakuya expected it from himself.
There were times when he knew without even having to ask that Ichigo was hurting. He drew away, became quiet, lost some of his bluster. He sought solitude and even brushed off attempts by his friends to talk. He didn’t train, he didn’t practice. He just sat and thought.
He didn’t understand why Ichigo did that at first. Byakuya even considered it a personal affront, that perhaps it was him Ichigo was growing tired of. That the boy couldn’t think of a way to end it. But slowly, the realization dawned on him that this was an old pain haunting his lover, not something that could readily be healed.
Ichigo had told him once about the Hollow that had taken his mother’s life. About his own inability to destroy Grand Fisher. He hadn’t said it, but Byakuya had received the distinct impression that he still considered it his own fault, even if everyone told him otherwise. Byakuya could only recognize it because he held some of the same feelings himself for his own regrets.
Thoughts of his mother usually brought about the distance, brought about the sudden need to be alone. It would come, and it would pass. And when Ichigo returned, Byakuya was there, keeping normalcy. It was the best he could offer. If his kisses were a little gentler that night or his touch a bit softer, neither noticed. It might have even been unconscious.
And then, there were the scars.
Byakuya himself had very few, most of them from recent battles and from Ichigo himself. He hadn’t been a captain very long before he had met Ichigo, and even then, he hadn’t been in a position where he would have had to fight a difficult enemy. Hollows were never strong enough to get a single strike against him, and he was a Kuchiki, he didn’t go on routine patrols.
But Ichigo had many scars. Byakuya had traced them with his fingers, had followed their path with his eyes. Had even measured the length and breadth of some with his tongue. Each was a testament to a battle his lover had survived, a battle in which Ichigo had proved victorious.
All except one.
Neither of them spoke about that particular scar, a bare impression of injury against Ichigo’s darker skin. Neither spoke of what it represented. Byakuya already knew that Ichigo had vowed to never face such a loss again. Even if Aizen’s strength was ten times his own, Ichigo was determined to defeat him.
Byakuya believed sometimes that everyone conveniently forgot just how human Ichigo was. That though he could pull a miracle from thin air, prove victorious against improbable odds, to make the impossible possible, he was still just a boy. One suddenly thrust into the life of a Shinigami. Even Byakuya himself was guilty of forgetting.
He couldn’t help but wonder how Ichigo coped with everything. All of the blood he had lost, the wounds he had suffered, the pain he had endured. The sudden and abrupt change from normal teenager to Shinigami to Vizard to a hero who everyone depended upon without even asking if he wanted it in the first place.
The answer always came to him at night, the heavy hours before morning and not long after midnight.
There were times when Ichigo had nightmares, ones that were vivid enough to cause him to break into a cold sweat and shake. Byakuya always woke when the first broken noise pierced the quiet and had quickly learned just what had produced the pained murmur. He would reach over, laying his hand gently against Ichigo’s bare shoulder. Sometimes, his touch was enough to soothe Ichigo back into quiet sleep. Other times, Byakuya was forced to wake his lover, just to end whatever haunted his night.
The look in those brown eyes, once so young and lacking knowledge, never ceased to put a chill on Byakuya’s heart. They were eyes far too old for someone Ichigo’s age, eyes that were far too distressed for a teenager. One who should have had no bigger worries than which occupation he wished to follow or which university would better suit him.
Ichigo never talked about whatever pains he held inside, and Byakuya never goaded him to speak. He knew that with all things, Ichigo would do this his own way and in his own time. At some point, Byakuya knew that his lover would come to him. And then, it would all come pouring out, everything that made him ache, everything that troubled his sleep.
Byakuya wasn’t the best at comforting; he didn’t have the right words or the right reactions. He didn’t know how to deflect worries or make false but hopeful assurances. But he supposed that really didn’t matter since it wasn’t what Ichigo wanted or needed in the first place.
Just simply being there was enough. And that, Byakuya could do.