He stands at the window, staring out at his garden. It is in bloom this time of the year, and there is a sweet smell on the air, fragrant and intoxicating. He breathes it in along with the cool breeze. The scent travels into his lungs, the brief current of air flowing over what bit of his sweat-sticky skin is bared.
Above him, the moon is in a crescent, a sterile and pale light illuminating the lines of his garden. It glitters in the koi pond, missing so many of its fish because of a certain mischievous member of the eleventh division. He remembers being originally annoyed by her behavior. And then, he allowed it with a leniency that surprised him as much as it did everyone else.
To each his own, he supposes.
He does this from time to time, watches the endless night sky and thinks about things that have gone and passed and won’t come again. He thinks of the feelings inside his heart, one that everyone feels is cold and shuttered. He thinks of those that mean so much to him.
He thinks of family and the loss of it. Hisana’s smiling face, ever so fragile, flutters against the rippling waters. He sees Rukia, always tiptoeing around him, afraid that she will be cast aside. As if he could do such a thing. She is his family. He might not show it as well as others, but it is the truth.
Byakuya wonders if hearts are things so easily mended, like a torn shihakushou or simply waiting for the blossom of a perennial to flower once more. There is this echoing emptiness, as if a drop of water has fallen into the dark and he’s still waiting to hear the plop of it hitting ground. He thinks that the pain isn’t so much because Hisana is gone from him, but that she is gone without expressing her true feelings for him. That she was taken from his life before he could express himself properly is a pain he can’t easily forget. He wants to believe that he was the only one in her heart, but he often caught her, staring out the window the same way he hovers on the balcony now. She had such a fond expression on her face, a wistful longing. A touch of loneliness. And as much as he had wanted to comfort her, he didn’t know how. He didn’t know why.
Out of the darkness, a hand reaches for him, and he feels fingers flit against the back of his neck in the same moment that a familiar reiatsu seems to surround him. The length of his hair is moved aside, the brush of bare fingers over his nape. Warm lips press softly to his bare shoulder, an arm sliding around and pulling him into an embrace. A chin sets itself on his shoulder.
“It’s definitely a prettier picture than the one I’m used to seeing,” the voice murmurs in his ear, sliding silky smooth down his spine.
The free hand that settles on his hip squeezes tightly. Just a bit dangerously.
Byakuya hardly blinks. “I imagine so. In that dead world, there is nothing but emptiness.”
The low chuckle shouldn’t entice him as much as it does. “Ah, and you would be one to know of emptiness, taichou-san.” Fingers slide across his stomach in a touch that is a painfully familiar caress. Intimate and soothing.
Byakuya’s hands tighten around the curtain, his eyes focused on the scenery before him. “All too well,” he agrees because there is no argument in him. The air smells of sakura, even if it is beyond the season for them.
He is still waiting for that drop to fall. The lone shed tear.
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“You mock me.”
“I would never.” His lover chuckles again, lips and tongue nibbling on Byakuya’s ear, body a warmth that calls gently.
Byakuya feels the brush of a goatee against a bared shoulder before the fabric of his robe is tucked back over him. “Nothing can come of this.”
“So you say every time. And yet, here we are again.”
The moon wavers before his eyes. “You are a fool.”
“Ah, that I am. And so are you. We are all fools, aren’t we?”
He is much too flippant, but when has his lover not been? From their first meeting to now, he has always taken everything in stride, has always gone after what he wants without regret.
Byakuya thinks about broken hearts again and how it’s just as difficult to wallow in loneliness as it is to try and ease the pangs of isolation. One can suffer or one can try. Either way, it takes the same effort, the same pain. And seeking relief doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll find it. It doesn’t mean he can chase it away either.
Hisana was supposed to be his escape. Instead, she was the one to flee from him. They were always doing that, he noticed. The people he cared about, leaving one after another.
He thinks that is the only way to remember someone, to never forget them. The stamp of pain always lingers more strongly than that of happiness. He’ll never forget Hisana; Byakuya knows this for certain. And loss is always more desolate than gain. It strikes firmly and with resonance, vibrating instead until there is no choice but to bear it.
Lips press to Byakuya’s shoulder at the same moment a stronger breeze stirs, buffeting against them and his curtains. “Time is short,” his lover says, fingers a daring dance up Byakuya’s body as he gently grips an aristocratic chin.
The sun is peeking over the horizon; he can see the soft blue invading against the darker night. “It was never long to begin with,” Byakuya replies, but he allows his head to be turned, to accept the kiss that is pressed against his lips.
He thinks about falling into that embrace one more time. To feel those hands smoothing over his skin, those lips pressing over him. To move his body in a familiar, timeless rhythm and let his sweat soak the sheets. To finally let go of everything that’s still trapped inside but begging to be freed.
The fingers move from his chin to cup his face, prolonging the kiss. Deepening it. Making something that is evanescent last as long as seems possible.
The knock on his door intrudes on the moment and Byakuya’s ears, lulled by the soft sounds in the room. Yet, the kiss ends slowly, savoring every single moment.
Time is not just short but gone. Passed quickly just like the night, already fading to morning. They separate because the knocking is more insistent, reminding them that the time for lingering goodbyes is not their luxury.
Grey eyes meet pale green, and then, Stark is pulling away from him, idly adjusting the fall of his own robes. The door opens without invitation and spills the light from the hallway into the darkness of the room. Byakuya can feel their reiatsu, a paltry thing compared to his own, but he doesn’t think to resist. He wonders why he can’t make the thought cross his mind.
He’s given up already, and he hasn’t even tried yet. Is this the consequence of an already shattered heart?
“It’s time,” a voice announces from the doorway, one whose owner Byakuya does not recognize save for the authority alone. He doesn’t need to know his identity to understand his purpose.
Byakuya drops his hand from the curtains and turns away from the open door to the veranda, feeling unaccountably cold in his thin nemaki. He thinks for a moment that he might hear Senbonzakura somewhere far away. But he also knows better than that. She has been gone from him for some time now. Just like everything else.
“You could still change your mind,” Stark says, eyes watching as Byakuya crosses the floor, bare feet padding incredibly soft across the polished wood flooring.
He pauses near where Stark stands, form illuminated by the light from the hall. The escort waits patiently but not for long.
“Can I?” Byakuya asks, and his shoulders feel incredibly heavy. Burdened by an invisible weight. His fingers twitch in memory of Senbonzakura’s hilt.
Stark inclines his head, lips sliding into a slow smile that is far from its original intentions. “You wouldn’t be you if you did, I suppose.” He reaches up with fingers raking through his hair as he slouches. “Goodbye? Farewell? Whatever I’m supposed to say here, even if I don’t really want to.”
“You could always wish me luck?” Byakuya’s voice is soft but sincere.
The edges of his mouth twitches. “And that rarely-vaunted humor makes an appearance.” Stark sighs, lifting a hand as if trying to decide what to do with it before dropping it again. “Good luck, Byakuya. If that’s what you want.”
Wanting has nothing to do with it. Or needing. Or desiring. There’s a compulsion here. An understanding that he has no choice. That he can’t continue to betray his own heart like this, over and over. He has his pride.
The manacles are heavy around his wrists. And he doesn’t look over his shoulder as they lead him away. He doesn’t resist, so they do not treat him roughly. They allow him to keep his dignity, walking with head held high even if he is wearing only a nemaki and the vague after-scent of Stark still clinging to his skin.
He’ll never forget. And neither will Stark. The pain of loss echoes the strongest.
This Byakuya knows best.