[Bleach] Tea Ceremony

Anyone else would be surprised. Shocked. Thrown for a loop. Slackjawed and gaping.

Byakuya, however, doesn’t even find need to raise an eyebrow. Yes, he agrees, Kenpachi is an uncouth barbarian with a thirst for battle and lust for blood unparalleled by anyone in the Shinigami ranks. Yes, he hardly knows his manners and speaks his mind quite often and gropes Byakuya whenever he damn well feels like it.

But Kenpachi is not stupid. Far from it in fact. Byakuya had only to show him once, and he’s already learned every exact motion necessary for the perfect noble tea ceremony. Down to the number of times to stir the tea and how to serve it.

Now, kneeling here on the tatami, watching Kenpachi prepare and present the tea to a select group of Shinigami, Byakuya can hardly contain his smirk. They are all half-dozen of them watching with open mouths, eyes skipping to Byakuya as though they expect the noble to be whispering every step in Kenpachi’s ears.

Byakuya, however, is nothing more than a silent, very amused spectator. He sits in seiza, watching with no small amount of pride, because there’s nothing more hilarious than seeing his fellow Shinigami speechless. Especially the more stolid ones. Byakuya remembers being such a Shinigami once upon a time.

That was, of course, until that one battle in Hueco Mundo when Kenpachi had been as much a hindrance as a help and Byakuya can’t remember a time when he’d had so much fun. That battle was also the turning point in Kenpachi’s estimations of him, when Byakuya had moved up from “prissy, pretty boy” to “a worthy challenge.” He’s very much glad that Kenpachi has groped and sparred him out of being such a “tight ass.”

There is nary a clink of porcelain as Kenpachi finishes the tea preparation and serves it to his guests with perfect poise and grace. Byakuya watches, his lip curling with amusement, as their fellow Shinigami eye the tea with no small amount of trepidation. Kira-fukutaichou, being far too polite for his own good sometimes, is the first to try Kenpachi’s tea, while said captain sits back with a fang-bearing grin.

A look of pleasant surprise washes over the blond’s face as he lowers the cup. “It is excellent, Zaraki-san,” Kira-fukutaichou says, and there’s not a hint of lie in his words.

Kenpachi grins, remembers his manners, and bows just a little, the bells in his hair jingling. “Thanks, Kira,” he says and tosses a look over his shoulder, all pride and swagger at Byakuya.

Sipping at his own tea, Byakuya agrees, and he inclines his head at his lover, showing his own approval. Kenpachi leers, Byakuya’s innards do a heated twist, and suddenly, Byakuya can’t wait for the whole thing to be over. Privacy is, at once, a necessity.

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[Bleach] Pride

His father is a hypocrite. Uryuu knew this when he caught Ryuuken having a conversation with Ichigo’s very Shinigami father, but he never expected to find Ryuuken in this situation. This goes beyond hypocritical and into a downright masquerade.

This is his father in something that’s beyond a friendship with a Shinigami. This is his father fucking a Shinigami and Uryuu can’t decide if he’s thoroughly furious or pleased that Ryuuken no longer has a leg to stand on.

Worse that it’s not even a pseudo-Shinigami like Ichigo or his father. Worse that it’s a Shinigami who’s considered a noble. Worse that it’s a Shinigami who’s way too young for Ryuuken, if one adjusts ages accordingly.

Worse that it’s Kuchiki Byakuya.

Kuchiki is also a hypocrite. To the nth degree. He turns his nose up at Abarai courting his sister, but goes to bed with a human from the Living World. And not just any human either, but an honest-to-goodness Quincy. Though, to be fair, Ryuuken still likes to pretend he’s not a part of that world. Uryuu wrinkles his nose and all he smells is bullshit.

“Uryuu,” Ryuuken says, and he tries to sound stern, but it’s hard for Uryuu to believe him when he’s half-crouched over a naked, blushing Shinigami and very obviously aroused. “I did not realize you were visiting today.”

Typical Ryuuken. Ignore the problem. Pretend it is par for the course, and like the good son, Uryuu should go along with it. Should just walk away and act like Ryuuken hadn’t just stepped on every little lesson he’d stomped into his son’s head.

Uryuu’s voice is cold, like ice, as he crosses his arms over his chest. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were entertaining ghostly guests. My mistake.” His eyes flick to Kuchiki, but the Shinigami is doing a very good impression of a statue, his expression betraying nothing.

Ryuuken’s brow draws together, his brown eyes all the more visible for his lack of eyewear. “Uryuu–”

“No.” It’s the first time he’s interrupted his father like this, a fact of which they are both startlingly aware. “I am done listening to you,” Uryuu says, and turns on his heel, making a quick exit from the room. If Ryuuken comes after him, Uryuu doesn’t care to look. Let the hypocritical bastard have his Shinigami lover.

Uryuu’s not a little boy anymore, standing at his father’s knees and begging for attention. He can and will walk away. A man has his pride; a Quincy even more so. Worser still that he’ll never be able to wash that image from his mind. Uryuu shudders.

[Bleach] Unwanted Advances

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.

“Renji?”

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.

“Ah, yessir.”

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.

“And Renji?”

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.

[Bleach] Of Present and Proposals

Kisuke brushes away long strands of dark hair and leans over, pressing a kiss to a bared shoulder. Byakuya murmurs something in his sleep, briefly shifting before settling again. Amused, Kisuke drags his lips further across pale skin until his lips tease against a sensitive throat and he breathes hotly into Byakuya’s ear. His hand skates down the other man’s bare side and briefly smooths over old, barely present scars.

Byakuya stirs, dragging his hand out from under a pillow. “Have you no need for sleep?” he murmurs and wrinkles his nose in a vaguely annoyed fashion.

Kisuke can’t help but find it unbearably cute. “On a Saturday morning, there are more interesting things one could be doing with his lover who he hasn’t seen for several weeks.”

He presses against Byakuya, drawn to all that bare skin like a magnet to metal, sliding together. Byakuya is warm in his arms, a tempting creature that was successfully marked by the blond several times the night before.

“A war has just ended, Kisuke,” the captain reminds him, and they are close enough that he can feel the rumble of his words. “To say that it is busy in Seireitei right now would be an understatement.”

Kisuke lifts a brow, though Byakuya can’t see it at the moment. “Are you trying to tell me that you are too tired to have relations with me?” he teases, nibbling on a flash of exposed neck within mouthing distance.

“I thought you would be the type to appreciate a morning sleeping in, doing nothing more than cuddling with your lover,” Byakuya retorts in return, though he shifts ever-so-slightly into the blond’s embrace.

“I think you’re confusing me for a woman.” Kisuke chuckles and nibbles on a bare shoulder, right over a rather cute freckle that he can’t help but greet every time. “Would you do it for a peppermint?”

Byakuya emits a low sound of annoyance. “Now you’re confusing me for a child.”

And that is the last thing that Kisuke wishes to think of this man as. Byakuya is very much an adult now, and Kisuke rather enjoys the grown-up him.

“Byakuya, I am far from thinking of you as anything like a child. I am not that sort of pervert.” He grins then, and it is a lecherous thing.

“At least, you’re admitting you are one in some capacity,” the other man returns easily.

It is this Byakuya who Kisuke loves. One who is unafraid to reveal his humor and can take as well as he gives. When he drops the hard edge of the Kuchiki glamour and is only Byakuya, Kisuke’s lover. It is a blast to the past, when Byakuya had been a loud-mouthed, arrogant brat who Kisuke remembers so fondly.

The blond chuckles lecherously and skates his fingers up Byakuya’s bare belly, heading for more perverted territories. “Only for you, my dear Byakuya-bo.”

His lover shifts, unintentionally pressing a well-shaped backside against Kisuke’s groin. “And here, I thought you had forgotten that ridiculous nickname.”

“Never.” Kisuke curls his lips around Byakuya’s ear, still hoping to encourage his younger lover to fully waken and join him for a morning romp.

The sun is brightly shining, and birds are chirping, and there’s no one to interfere. The moment couldn’t be any more perfect, and he hasn’t had enough yet. It’s been weeks since he’s been able to hold Byakuya like this, to speak with him, to share embraces. Last night is only the beginning, and sometimes, Kisuke hardly ever knows how long this break will last for his much busier lover.

“I missed you,” Kisuke murmurs with a plaintive tone to his voice as he snuggles against Byakuya, luxuriating in the man’s warmth.

“You wouldn’t miss me if you returned to Soul Society.”

It seems like a casual statement, but Kisuke recognizes it for what it is. An argument – ahem, discussion – that they’ve had before. And he wisely backtracks from his seduction.

“I’ve told you this before, I like my shop here,” he says and casually brushes a piece of blond hair from his face.

From his position, he can just barely see Byakuya’s eyelids flutter before he closes them. “You could have one in Seireitei. No one says you have to be a Shinigami again.”

“And where would I live? The Kuchiki manor?” Kisuke can’t conceal his disgusted snort, having had his fill of the upper class. “I’m sure Kuchiki Midoriko-sama would love that one.”

Byakuya’s response is softly quiet, a bare breath in the morning stillness. “There is no rule that states I must reside in the Kuchiki manor.”

Stunned by the silent offer, Kisuke could only retort a pale shade of an excuse. “It is not that simple.”

“No, you prefer to make it complicated,” Byakuya returns, sounding an edge frustrated. “I offer answers; you give excuses.”

Kisuke can say nothing in return because he knows that his lover is indeed correct. He isn’t even sure himself why he fights Byakuya on this matter. His exile has been lifted – Byakuya has made sure of that. And yet, the blond is reluctant to stride back into his former home. He wonders if a part of him might fear that it could so easily be ripped away a second time.

“Why will you not just return?” Byakuya asks, his voice filling the silence. It is a question he has asked several times before.

Kisuke resists the urge to pull away, to distance himself from a discussion that has become more and more common. “I told you.”

“No, you played at answering me.” Byakuya shifts then to look at him more evenly.

But Kisuke knows better than to enter a verbal spar with Kuchiki Byakuya, who manages to say so much with few words. Every statement an implication of something more, perfectly worded to the full effect.

He drags his gaze away, to somewhere safer than the alluring picture his lover makes in the sunlight and caught in his arms.

“Do you fear losing your freedom?” Byakuya poses.

To that, Kisuke can only scoff internally. He doesn’t answer because the statement doesn’t necessitate one.

Byakuya, of course, is undaunted by his lack of participation.

“Tsukabishi-san, Jinta-kun, and Ururu-chan have already left, Kisuke. What are you waiting for?” The question is a new one but in much the same vein.

“I like it here,” Kisuke insists, a hint of affront in his voice. It is true, partially at any rate. The ex-captain has at least adapted to his life in the Living World.

“With the humans,” Byakuya states flatly, as though he doesn’t believe that and sees the answer for the excuse it really is. “You’re that enamored of them? Or is it that you still want to protect your student?”

How kindly Byakuya has given him that ready-made answer. “I can’t leave Ichigo here by himself,” Kisuke agrees, latching onto the defense as though he had thought of it in the first place. “He hasn’t even finished his schooling yet.”

“From what I hear, Kurosaki Ichigo is making his own plans to relocate.”

Byakuya hints to a truth that not even Kisuke has learned for himself, proving that he has been a little out of touch with others. It is true that things have been rather busy lately. Some excuse that is, if he doesn’t even know that his precious student has acquired a romantic interest. And in a Shinigami no less.

“Oh?” Kisuke leans forward eagerly, palm flat against Byakuya’s chest and feeling the calm beat of his heart beneath. “Do tell. Is it Rukia-chan?”

Byakuya snorts in a very inelegant, non-Kuchiki like fashion. “Rukia has better taste. She is my sister, after all.”

“Ah, then it must be Abarai-kun she’s set her eyes on,” Kisuke teases.

He knows full well that Byakuya respects both of the aforementioned males but probably considers no one worthy of his sister’s attention. The benefits of being an older brother, he supposes. Ichigo-kun is much like that with his own siblings.

“Kisuke, you’re changing the subject,” Byakuya interrupts his thoughts then.

The blond doesn’t know if he’ll ever quite get used to hearing his name falling from Byakuya’s lips. Kisuke snuggles closer, forehead lying against the back of Byakuya’s shoulder as he curls his arms around the slimmer man. Entirely unable to express his reservations in words.

“It’s a boring subject.” It almost comes out a pout.

Kisuke.”

“I just don’t think returning there is a good idea right now,” he mumbles, fingers stroking Byakuya’s skin in what he hopes to be a soothing manner. Though it really isn’t doing much to help Kisuke himself.

Byakuya’s voice softens. “It wasn’t a good idea several months ago either,” he reminds Kisuke with a hint of the impatience he had managed to weed out of himself over the passing years. “And if I left it up to you, it wouldn’t be a good idea a year from now either.”

“Then maybe it’s not a good idea after all,” the older man attempts.

“You like it like this then?” Byakuya demands, letting out a noise of frustration that rattles through his entire body. “Waiting until I can collect enough time off to schedule a trip to the living world? What do you want from this, Kisuke? From me?”

It is crossing into pretty serious territory now, a harsh edge to Byakuya’s tone that usually doesn’t enter their discussions. By now, he has usually realized that Kisuke is quite stubborn and doesn’t ask anything more. There is something more determined in his posture now, however. As though he won’t be leaving this time without an answer of one sort or another, that not even he can keep waiting forever. And Kisuke reminds himself that he has forced Byakuya to wait before. It would be cruel of him to do so again.

His fingers twitch, arms tightening. “I would prefer a bit more of your time,” he admits. Unwilling to say aloud how nice it would be to wake up with Byakuya every day, rather than the few stolen moments their conflicting schedules allow. “Though I am sure the Kuchiki won’t be too thrilled. They won’t like you bringing in another Rukongai whore.”

It is his bitterness seeping out that causes the last comment, as it is the nobles who fought the most against his exile being lifted. It was a Chamber 46 full of nobles who helped to exile him in the first place. And it was the nobles who cast him aside as a child, as though his mixed blood were Kisuke’s own fault.

“Neither she nor you are a whore,” Byakuya returns with a very firm voice.

“Trash then.” It comes off as flippant, but Kisuke hardly feels that way.

“Not that either. Your father-”

“-was a noble and a bastard through and through,” Kisuke finishes cynically. “And tossed out my mother as soon as he was done with her. Bastard children of a servant have no place in a noble’s household. Even if they were fathered by the head of the family.” The blond snorts, stomach twisting into knots just remembering his past. “My father was not a Kuchiki, but I know their type. They will not make things easy.”

“And they have nothing to do with it,” Byakuya says sharply, and there is a tint of anger to his words. “I am not ashamed of you. Of us. I have given the Kuchiki more than enough of myself. Do you fault me for seeking something of my own?”

Kisuke shakes his head, face buried in black hair that smells faintly of peppermints and cherry blossoms. He thinks of the bag of minty candies just waiting for his lover out in the kitchen, something he always keeps in stock.

“Never,” he retorts, eyes narrowing. “And I dare them to try.”

It is enough that Kisuke has suffered. He will not allow them to bring anything to his lover. Benihime agrees, and Kisuke’s reiatsu flickers briefly, flashing through the room. Byakuya’s own washes over him, warm like a blanket and conveying tender feelings that his words cannot quite express.

“You’re not very intimidating when you threaten from the boundaries of the living world,” he comments idly.

The blond shrugs. “You’d be surprised what I can manage from here.”

“I think I would rather see what you are capable of in Soul Society,” Byakuya continues, and there is a hint of longing in his voice.

An emotion that Kisuke is hard-pressed to ignore. He can already feel himself swaying, understands that Byakuya is right. He is the only one remaining in the living world now. Even Yoruichi-san is long gone. There is no reason for him to stay. No reason but his pride and his bitterness, both of which make for very lonely nights.

Besides, if he were to sit and think about it, this is the only thing that Byakuya has asked of him since their relationship began. Not for the blond to change. For him to be calmer or more proper or to tone down the zaniness.

“It is a difficult decision.” Kisuke exhales, and even so, he knows his mind has been made up.

“Only because you want it to be.” Byakuya stirs and abruptly rolls over, startling Kisuke with the sudden change in position.

He pins Kisuke with his body, hair a dark curtain around his face. Arms to either side as grey eyes meet the older man’s directly, unable to hide the emotion that gleams behind them. His voice drops low, husky, body pressed up against Kisuke’s in all the right places.

“Come back with me,” Byakuya says, and there is pleading in his gaze.

Kisuke doesn’t say anything, not just yet. But he reaches up with a free hand, fingers tangling in dark hair. He gently pulls Byakuya towards him, their lips meeting in a gentle kiss. Even this early, the Kuchiki heir tastes faintly of peppermints, his tongue carefully coaxing Kisuke’s out to play.

“I’ll even help you pack up the shop,” Byakuya murmurs against his lips, as though he planned this careful seduction. “I managed an entire week.”

And kami help him, but Kisuke is weak to this kind of persuasion. How can he decline when Byakuya is so willing to fight for him? To meddle behind the scenes and arrange everything so beautifully?

“You must have worked overtime to do it,” Kisuke comments, sliding his arms around Byakuya and hoping to rekindle his earlier ardor. “We’ll just take the whole damn shouten. I can think of better things to do with a week’s free time.”

And he is rewarded by the pleased look in Byakuya’s eyes and another pleased response that Byakuya gives him. His body enjoys it very much indeed.

[Bleach] A Different Kind of Pain

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.

[Bleach] Of Past and Peppermints

He lays the bag in front of Byakuya, alongside his tea cup and waits for the Kuchiki heir’s reaction as he kneels across from him. Byakuya lifts a brow in confusion, especially for the gaudy color of the ribbon tied around the plastic cellophane’s top.

Kisuke smiles at the younger man’s reaction, gesturing to the bag. “They’re one of your favorites, aren’t they?”

There is a pause before Byakuya inclines his head. “I’m surprised you remembered,” he responds, something in his expression softening ever-so-slightly.

“Well, of course I did, Byakuya-bo. How could I forget?”

Grey eyes harden sharply. “Don’t call me that.”

Kisuke chuckles to himself, if only to ease the gentle tension sweeping through the room. “It hasn’t been that long, my dear Kuchiki-sama.”

He receives a frosty glare in return. Kisuke sighs and swipes off his hat, setting it down at his side. He looks at the person sitting across from, having grown into a man in Kisuke’s long absence. He has suffered, and he has matured, but he is in many ways still the same brat.

“You will never forgive me for leaving, will you?”

The man doesn’t answer, simply sips his tea. Kisuke knows why. He had known of Byakuya’s crush before leaving, but the boy had been just that. He didn’t dare cross that line, especially since he was a Kuchiki. No matter how much he had been intrigued. Even if he had always considered Byakuya beautiful and amusing to rile. He can remember fondly visiting the boy with Yoruichi, watching the two of them play tag and ruthlessly cheering for both sides.

He remembers talking with Byakuya, seeing the blush that the young heir couldn’t hide. He remembers advising the boy, sparring with him when Yoruichi was busy. He remembers how lonely the heir had been and how much he had hurt to see Byakuya that very alone.

Like everyone else he knew, he’d had no choice but to leave the boy behind. Yet, Yoruichi had done so as well, leaving Byakuya alone again. With two types of heartache, friendship and unrequited crush.

It is a mistake Kisuke cannot erase.

Byakuya is a man now, however, and he cannot help but wonder if that fire still burns somewhere. Or has his love for Hisana completely erased a childhood crush?

Kisuke wonders. And that is why he is here today with the Kuchiki heir sitting in front of him, sipping at tea.

He is glad that Tessai, Ururu and Jinta are all busy, that the mod souls are helping to organize the basement. He needs this solitude between them because it is not easy. All he wants is to kiss Byakuya, to chase away the frown lines and the pain in those beautiful stormy eyes. But there is a table between them. A table and one-hundred years that cannot be easily crossed.

There is the young Kuchiki’s favorite candy at the table, easy to obtain even for Kisuke, despite the rarity of it. Peppermint… but not the hard candies that children enjoy today. This is soft, melting on the tongue. A subtle flavor that sticks with someone. Kisuke remembers that the young Kuchiki used to eat it as if it were all he needed to survive. That is, when he wasn’t being watched by his elders and parents. A small measure of escape for the young heir.

Kisuke fingers the cup in front of him, wrapping his hand around the delicate porcelain and raises it to his lips. He breathes in the aroma, watches as Byakuya eyes the gift with longing, but he doesn’t touch. Perhaps that is because it will be as if he is conceding, as if he has forgiven Kisuke for leaving him.

“It is not as if I wanted to,” the exile explains in a quiet tone, easily able to recognize the faint twitch in Byakuya’s eyes. They have always been the most expressive part of him, even now when he hides behind his mask of indifference for fear of being hurt again.

“And you knew I could not take you with me.”

There is a tightening of the Kuchiki heirs shoulders. “You left me alone,” he states simply, quite coldly. “The both of you left without a word.”

“I know. And I am sorry.”

It is true. Even though Kisuke understands what he had to do, he still feels guilt for it. For everything that he left behind, for everything that happened before his disappearance. He feels regret for everything that he left unsaid, including his attraction to the young Byakuya.

Those eyes flicker away from him, again looking at the peppermint with longing. The same longing that Kisuke recognizes from so long ago and wishes could be directed at him once again.

Byakuya does not respond to his statement, and Kisuke feels something inside of himself clench. He does not drink of his tea as he watches and longs himself, wondering how that black hair will feel through his fingers. Wondering how it looks without the foolish Kenseikan, how Byakuya will act without his straight back and damned composure. Without the duties of his family pressing on his shoulders.

“Why did you come, Byakuya?” Kisuke asks softly, wondering if it is foolish for him to hope for something like a happy ending.

The captain has come to see him, after all. He has no other reason to be in Karakura. Rukia is safe and unharmed; there is no immediate threat at present. Byakuya has not been ordered to patrol in the human town. He is here of his own volition, showing up on Kisuke’s doorstep and surprising the former captain.

There is a faint clink as Byakuya sets his cup down, one hand reaching elegantly for the plastic bag of peppermints. “Has enough time passed?” Byakuya asks, untying the twist tie and reaching in, drawing out one of the small candies. “Or am I still nothing but a child?” He stares at the small bag as he parts his lips, pressing the peppermint inside.

Kisuke’s heart picks up a rhythm. “Only a man would properly understand how to forgive,” he counters.

A faint smile twitches at Byakuya’s lips as he chances a glance at Kisuke. “Still manipulating even now, onii-san?”

The very fact that Byakuya has not responded violently or scathingly gives Kisuke more hope than he dares know what to do with it. He sets his own cup, watching the Kuchiki heir from across the table. He wants to kiss him, the sound of being called onii-san with the same affectionate tone taking him back more than a century. It makes him warm on the inside, even as his stomach does little flips of happiness.

“Only if you would let me,” Kisuke murmurs, gauging the distance across the table.

It is not far, shorter than his own arm and easily able to be crossed. If he leans forward and Byakuya leans forward, their lips could touch. He could curl his fingers in those black strands. It is that easy.

Kisuke wonders if he dares.

One hand, gloved in white like the other, curls around the bag of peppermints. “You should know by now that I have never needed your manipulation,” Byakuya answers, swallowing thickly and very nearly sounding the young, uncertain boy he had once been. “All you need do back then was ask.”

Licking his lips in anticipation, Kisuke decides to go for it. He has never been one to shy away from a challenge and isn’t going to begin now. He lifts a hand, reaching forward slowly and tentatively. When Byakuya doesn’t even begin to pull away, just watches and waits, Kisuke knows he has been given permission.

He leans and curls his hand around Byakuya’s neck, fingers tickling against soft hair. He gently urges Byakuya to come forward. There is warm breath on his lips smelling faintly of peppermint as the Kuchiki heir responds to his direction. And then, they are kissing, just a faint press of open mouths. But it stirs everything inside of Kisuke. Something he has long considered for a good many years now, finally coming to pass.

Byakuya’s lips are soft and smooth, speaking of the great care he must take of his entire body. There is a light scent of cherry blossoms surrounding him, his reiatsu simmering beneath the surface with nervous tension. It would be unnoticeable to anyone but Kisuke, who prides himself on being able to read people. Byakuya has shuttered his eyes, but Kisuke keeps his open, watching the emotions flicker across the other’s face. There is no disgust present, nothing but satisfaction and relief. It gives him something else to hope for, that maybe there is something like happy endings, even for men as abject as he.

The kiss ends, probably shorter than either would like, but a century has passed. It is too soon to jump into anything that has just begun. There is a faint smile touching Byakuya’s eyes, and Kisuke knows his own lips are curling into one of his ever-present grins. They draw back to their own sides of the table respectively, and Byakuya again reaches for his favorite candies.

“Well,” Kisuke says, the first to break the silence. “How about-”

“Kisuke and Byakuya-bo, I always knew it!” A voice interrupts with startling volume and causing both to jump in their seats.

Before either can effectively react, a body is barreling into the room, arms wrapping unapologetically around both of them. They are driven to the floor as Yoruichi’s body crashes into the table, creating a fine mess of tea and peppermints and broken wood. But she doesn’t stop embracing either, heedless to the fact she is nearly choking them.

“My two favorite men,” the rarely dignified princess coos. “How absolutely adorable.”

Kisuke and Byakuya sigh in tandem, giving themselves up to the storm that is Yoruichi. The exile doesn’t mind too much, however. There will be plenty of time for discussion later. So he relaxes and lets Yoruichi babble, watches Byakuya as he tries to maintain his dignity, even with tea beginning to stain his haori. The blush trying to steal onto his cheeks is adorable, and Kisuke simply smiles.

After all, things have only just begun.

[Bleach] A Cold, Hard Rain

He had the same eyes. Those same bright eyes that were begging to be saved, though pride never let those words be spoken.

Perhaps that was what had attracted Byakuya to Izuru in the first place.

He never had much contact with the third division vice-captain before. To say that Ichimaru had kept his subordinate close and within arms reach would have been an understatement. No one quite knew the extent of their relationship, and a part of Byakuya was afraid to ask because the urge to kill might have been more than he could suppress. Even so, he was aware that Ichimaru had owned a part of Izuru, and perhaps he still did. Not that it stopped Byakuya from trying to get it back.

He had a fragile smile, Byakuya noticed. Izuru’s smile was hesitant, half-afraid of being taken away. As if by the simple lifting of his lips, some horrible catastrophe would fall upon him. Maybe it was regret, or maybe it was guilt. Byakuya couldn’t decide either way. Still, he had the same smile in many ways.

Izuru was strong though, much more so than people gave him credit for. A strength that enabled him to stand even after being betrayed and abandoned. It was the kind of courage that kept him going, encouraging his teammates, and taking over the duties of a division that had been too long neglected. It was the kind of strength Byakuya envied since he knew that he couldn’t find it for himself. Izuru was much more courageous than people gave him credit for.

It was a determination that Byakuya couldn’t ignore.

And while he hadn’t adopted the same behavior as the others, coddling what everyone else believed to be a weakness, Byakuya thought that there was something he could do for Izuru. More than the gifts of food and clothing and care that seemed so unimportant. Perhaps he simply had a soft spot for the broken ones, the eyes that were begging to be saved. The eyes that had been struck by a cold rain for longer than they cared to remember.

He didn’t want to compare Izuru to Hisana, and while they were similar, they were in no way the same. He knew without a doubt that Izuru was far stronger than she ever could have been. And Byakuya never wanted his lover to think he was merely a substitute for her, for the woman who had broken his heart all those years ago. After all, while he had saved Hisana, she had only the greatest respect for him in return. To ask for love would have been too much.

A part of Byakuya feared he faced that from Izuru as well. That perhaps Ichimaru had taken the ability from him, that he would be left in the same position as before, holding a bleeding heart in his hands as he watched another pair of sad eyes walk away. In that regards, Izuru was much, much stronger than him for even daring to try again.

He wondered often, as he sat awake in the windowsill, watching the moonlight fall onto his paramour’s sleeping face, if perhaps it hadn’t been the other way around all along. While Byakuya had believed he was the one to save his lover, maybe he had it backwards. In spite of everything, he could sit and watch Izuru breathe, face peaceful in sleep as the nightmares grew less and less with every night. And instead of feeling fear grip his heart, the awful pain that signaled he was getting in over his head and would only be faced with another loveless path, he felt reassured.

Maybe even stronger himself.

Perhaps he had been the one to be saved, after all.