He is sitting at his desk, organizing his recently completed stack of paperwork, when a rap of knuckles across his door announces his visitor. Byakuya frowns and concentrates, the hum of a strong reiatsu buzzing at the edge of his senses. Kyouraku. He cannot help but wonder why the older captain would wander to the sixth division.
“You may enter,” he calls out and sets aside his work for the moment.
It must be something important, Byakuya has decided, for the sixth division is one of the last places that he can imagine Kyouraku coming to hide from his own vice-captain. He much prefers Ukitake-senpai’s leniency or the noise of the eleventh.
The door slides open, and Kyouraku steps inside with a careful smile on his lips. “Afternoon, Byakuya-san. Wonderful weather we’re having, isn’t it?” The door closes behind him, concealing their conversation from any listening ears.
Grey eyes flicker to the window where a mild winter storm has bathed the land in a fall of white. “Unmatched,” he responds dryly and gestures to an empty seat. “To what do I owe this visit?”
“What?” Kyouraku grins. “I can’t come visit my favorite captain?”
“Second only to Ukitake-senpai, I presume,” Byakuya returns, even more certain that something must be happening.
Kyouraku is rarely this… casual, for lack of a better word. There is a hint of planning behind those hazel eyes, a glint of the true man rather than the lazy lush that he portrays to the world.
Kyouraku chuckles and lowers himself to the chair, pink haori fluttering around him. He lifts a hand, removing his usual straw hat from his head, laying it to the side. Byakuya is even surer now, as the lack of headwear grants a seriousness to the man’s expression.
“Jyuu-chan is different,” Kyouraku corrects, and then, he looks at Byakuya. Simply looks at him as though he is supposed to know the precise reason behind this visit.
Which, of course, he doesn’t. But even Byakuya can recognize a verbal game when he sees one. There is a splash of formality to this impromptu visit.
“Senpai has always been,” Byakuya agrees and focuses his intent gaze on the older captain, silently prompting for him to state his true purpose. It is unusual for Kyouraku to name himself the serious one in any conversation, but perhaps this is something he could not have foisted on Ukitake-senpai.
Kyouraku seems to realize that the opening has been given. He looks at Byakuya, eyes sharp and unrelenting.
“You need to let Renji-kun go” is what he says without a sense of preamble to him at all.
Byakuya blinks, a pointed thought striking through him and stealing his composure. “I… Excuse me?” Inside, he is reeling.
Just what does Kyouraku think he has seen? How and why?
He holds onto his emotions with trembling fingers, telling himself that he has done nothing wrong. At least, not legally. Morally perhaps. And his sense of common decency might be considered warped. But he has done nothing to warrant chastisement.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Byakuya,” Kyouraku drops the honorific. Chastening in a tone one would normally reserve for a disobedient child and not a fellow captain. “It doesn’t suit you.”
Byakuya works his jaw but plays it safe anyway. He still isn’t entirely certain of what the other man is attempting to imply and doesn’t wish to reveal himself too early.
“As far as I can tell, my lieutenant is satisfied with his position in the sixth division,” he comments loftily. “I have not restrained him from pursuing other interests.”
Kyouraku snorts, shifting in his chair with a very planned motion. “I am not talking about work, and you know it. I have seen you both, and I must say that I’m disappointed.”
“It is consensual, I assure you,” Byakuya returns, and there is a crisp hint to his words, as though the other man has implied it is anything otherwise.
Byakuya would never take another against his will. Never. What he and Renji do in the privacy of their own time, away from work, is no one’s business but their own. And it bothers him that Kyouraku thinks to stick his nose in it, as if he knows what is better for the both of them more than they do themselves.
He adds, “There is no reason for your concern.” And dares Kyouraku to think otherwise. Dares with every fiber of his being, fingers twitching against the desk.
Silence sweeps through the room, tinted by the scent of disturbed cherry blossoms, warring against the swirling tension of Kyouraku’s reiatsu. Even Byakuya can tell that the older captain is not defeated. He has not said his piece yet.
“You are his captain, Byakuya-bo,” Kyouraku insists. And he tries a much gentler approach this time, as though he’s come to some sort of conclusion and thinks he knows what will get through this time around. “That puts you in a position of authority.”
Byakuya straightens his back, certain that Kyouraku would never understand, even if he took years to sit and explain it to him. Not that he would.
“Am I breaking some rule? Some law?”
Hazel eyes blink at the unexpected question, which seems distinctly out of place. “If you want to put it that way, then no. But that doesn’t make it right either.”
He takes a deep breath, ignoring the squirming in his belly. “If I am violating no law, then there is no reason for this discussion,” Byakuya states in a tone that implies he will not accept any more arguments. “You’re welcome to ask my lieutenant yourself, but I assure you, he will give you the same answer.”
“You seem awfully sure of that.” Kyouraku’s words are almost a challenge.
“Was there anything else?” Byakuya asks, a touch annoyed.
He knows that his terseness might be considered rude, but he doesn’t want to hear this anymore. He is not going to change his mind, and it is his business, no one else’s. He respects Kyouraku as an occasionally competent captain and as a decent man, but Byakuya has no desires to hear his opinion or chastisement.
Kyouraku rises to his feet, something shadowing his eyes and revealing the disappointment in his gaze. “You’ll not hear it,” he says softly and places his hat back on his head, a faint smile on his lips that has nothing to do with cheer. “I hope you know what you are doing, Byakuya-bo. I would hate to see you become what you’ve always despised.”
He is curious despite himself. “Oh? And what would that be?” It might actually be amusing to hear.
“Someone who cares for nothing but themselves and their own wants. Someone who does not view others as people but merely possessions.” He pauses, sliding out from between desk and chair and stepping towards the door. “A Kuchiki.”
And then, Kyouraku is gone in a flutter of pink haori and long, brown hair. Leaving Byakuya alone to his thoughts.
He snorts to himself, shifting his gaze to the stack of paperwork on his desk, only awaiting a quick trip by messenger to their appropriate places. He wonders if Kyouraku has conveniently forgotten that Byakuya already is a Kuchiki. It is in his blood. He can no more separate himself from that noble house than he can deny Senbonzakura.
And he doesn’t have the words to tell Kyouraku that his warnings are far, far too late.
Byakuya retracts a sigh and returns his attention to his work, which is more important than personal issues at the moment.
Seconds later, he hears wood creaking as his lieutenant rises from his own desk and pops his head in the doorway. “Sir?”
Byakuya points to the papers on his desk, resisting the urge to linger a glance at Renji’s features, the dark lines snaking across his skin. The fall of bright red hair. The gleam of determination and resolve in cherry-amber eyes. He can see why others would consider his vice-captain an attractive man. There is something alluring about him. And his loyalty and gruff kindness to others is very admirable.
“These need to be delivered to the first division,” he says instead.
Understanding lights his vice-captain’s eyes, and he nods, fully entering the room and moving to the desk to pick them up. Byakuya can see the curiosity practically rolling off of him, as though he’s desperate to ask why Kyouraku had been here. But Renji also knows better than to do so, and therefore, he doesn’t. He merely scoops the papers into his arms and prepares to take them from the office.
He looks up, for the first time meeting Byakuya’s gaze evenly. They play their parts well when in the office, never revealing to prying eyes that there might be more beneath the surface. Again, Byakuya wonders how Kyouraku had found out. Surely, Renji didn’t tell him. Or anyone else who might have done so.
“You are free tonight, yes?” It is almost more a statement than a question.
Renji swallows thickly and inclines his head. Byakuya is watching too closely to miss the subtle tightening of his fingers around the documents.
“I was goin’ ta go drinkin’ with Hisagi-senpai and the others, but since ‘m pretty broke, I guess not. So yeah, I’m just headin’ home.”
“I see.” Byakuya lowers his eyes to his paperwork and knows that Renji will understand the polite query for what it is, a plan for tonight. “You are free to leave early then. Enjoy your evening.”
“Ya, too, taichou,” Renji says, and then, he’s gone, taking the subtle heat and flame of his reiatsu with him.
Kyouraku’s accusations linger in the back of his mind for the rest of the evening. Byakuya knows that the older man is right as he has told himself those very words on many occasions. He knows that his lieutenant deserves better than what Byakuya gives him. And he knows good and well that he’s taking advantage of Renji’s weaknesses.
Even so, he cannot seem to help himself.
He wishes he were a stronger man. A better man. One able to admit the truth to himself and to Renji. That he isn’t walking this same path as before, keeping to the shadows, every move a quiet whisper. Furtively casting about for prying eyes and senses acute to invading reiatsu. How he missed Kyouraku, Byakuya doesn’t know. And he doubts he ever will.
He is here once again, as he usually is once or twice a week, always late in the evening. When most of his division is already asleep except for those on their designated patrols. Byakuya knows that Renji is in his quarters this evening. Perhaps he is resting. Perhaps he is sleeping. Byakuya never asks. He just demands without words, and Renji responds every time, knowing what is expected.
Kyouraku’s warning rattles through him, but Byakuya is defiant. He walks to a familiar door and isn’t surprised when it opens without him having to knock. Renji knows what to expect, can sense him coming as Byakuya has made sure that his vice-captain is able to do so. It is always there that they do this, at Renji’s quarters rather than Byakuya’s home. His way of distancing himself, Byakuya supposes.
He looks at Renji and knows that he should be a better man and end it right here and now. But the single thought of doing so clenches something Byakuya’s chest. He cannot. He will not. Those are the feelings that course through him.
Renji is the only one who stays. Who has ever stayed. Has ever seen him as more than a Kuchiki or the head of a noble clan or even a captain.
And Byakuya steps inside, letting the door close behind him.