I do not own Bleach
There was hesitance. But not much. A mere guise.
Bedding a complete stranger sometimes did that. Perhaps through some vague inbred inclination for preserving an otherwise vacant sense of whatever the hell it was. Ichigo didn't know, nor did he especially care. Post carnal revelry, tomorrow they'd both be back to living their regular lives, by the mere grace of god (if even) managing to remember what letter the other's name may or may not have started with.
And that was fine.
Ichigo's fingers webbed into bright teal strands. A slight urging tug and the remaining veil of modesty bled from the woman's body like sap as her prim lips wrapped around his shaft and the deep hazels screamed sin.
Then it was what had become routine.
But not enough.
Ichigo leant back against the wall, one foot up, arms folded and box of cigarettes tapping lightly against the side of his forearm. The cool night breeze wafting through the balcony played with his exposed skin; grey baggy sweats the only garment hanging low on his hips.
Ichigo listened to the scratching sound of pencil meeting paper that continued strewing across from him through the balcony's divider, accompanied by a wave of nostalgia. His gaze was hard, fixed on nothing in particular, and the memories of once upon a time crashed over him in thick, rampant currents he made no attempts at allaying, as he'd long established it futile.
It was a creaking (presumably the door), then a voice, that suddenly broke the comfortable sound and thus woke him from his thoughts.
"You coming to bed?" It was the voice of a man and it stirred something venomous in Ichigo. Pure toxin.
"In a minute." Came the other voice, equally of a man. But this one, in spite of every sensible, reasonable, still goddamn sane, part of his being, Ichigo wanted to hear more of.
Though he shouldn't have.
"It's beautiful." The abhorrent voice once more, this time softer, like a lull. An irritating, skull-scraping lull.
And then there was a brief silence that was not really a silence. Because the air of nothing held its own implications, and his gut retched.
Though it shouldn't have.
"Come on, let's go to bed."
There was a shuffling of feet, a door hinging shut and a suffocating stillness.
Ichigo fished out the lighter from his pants, lighting a smoke and bringing it twixt his lips for a drag. Fine ringlets of smoke drifted along the night air.
Ichigo dipped his head against the wall behind him, eyes slipping shut.
Ichigo had been fumbling with the keys to the building foyer when he saw him, and barely resisting the urge to pinch himself in incredulity, he called his name -though not in greeting but in self-assurance.
When their eyes locked, the man's face mirrored his own and was that of utter perplexity.
"Ichigo..." he too near-gasped, setting down the box that had rested in his arms, familiar grey eyes dilating. With the back of his palm, he wiped the subtle moisture that had accumulated on his forehead and watched Ichigo cross over to him, hesitance in his gait, eyebrows much to thinned in questioning.
"What are y- I mean, how...it's been a while," Ichigo finally settled stupidly, sheepishly...shamefully. But there were simply too many questions, too many words, storming his mind conjunctively, all equally weighted, none reigning sovereign over his befuddlement.
But there was something else too.
He swallowed that one back.
Byakuya's gaze shifted somewhat evasively to the large cardboard box. "Yes..."
Ichigo's lips curved into a weak, pathetic smile. "How long has it been? 4-5 years now?"
"Five." Byakuya answered almost incriminatingly, the reply sharp-edged like a knife, eyes equally jagged for a split second, just a second, before he reeled it back in and tucked it away from sight, replacing it with his trademark stoniness.
But Ichigo felt it.
Ichigo's found his eyes unavoidably scanning the man unbidden, discovering he hadn't changed much over the last few years. Dark ebony hair still fell in graceful dollops over his shoulders, few lazy fringe-like strands grazing his pale face. He left it loose now, Ichigo mentally noted, something in him twining at the fact. He also noticed he'd outgrown Byakuya in build. While his face was fuller than during their college days, almost more handsomely so, his frame was still slender as before; from what Ichigo could make out through the dark fitted denims and rolled up button up. But everything else remained the same; the sharp jaw, thin lips, slim nose, eyes...
Ichigo wrung himself from his flagrant studying and instead focused on the boxes laying beside Byakuya's feet.
"...Unloading the last few of my things." Byakuya responded Ichigo's non-verbalized question with what Ichigo could easily make out as slight hesitance. His voice was still the same too, a low, pleasant timbre, only minutely deeper.
Then the words registered and Ichigo stared up abruptly.
A solemn, simple, nod.
Ichigo's lips diminutively hinged open and he swallowed.
"Oh... cool. Here?"
'Where the hell else', he mentally beat himself.
"Yes." was the only response.
It took Ichigo a few seconds to respond this time.
"That's great," He hoped his discomfort weren't audible, but by the expression that flashed across Byakuya's face, Ichigo knew that wasn't the case. "I sorta live here too." He scratched his nape with a stray sideward glance.
"I see..." Byakuya shifted on his spot, face stiff now. He bent down to pick up the box he'd previously set down.
Ichigo eyed the other container. "Need any help?"
Byakuya shot him an unreadable gaze before responding, "It's alright. Someone will come down to help me."
Ichigo's head tilted slightly. "It's no problem, really." He mounted the box onto his shoulder and smiled. "Really." Then began towards the elevators.
Ichigo didn't know why he was doing it. A part of him pinned it to being cordial, the other wasn't so clear in motives; his head still capsized. Whatever it was, Ichigo couldn't deny the joy surfacing at seeing the man after so long -however masked and diluted it may have been, amongst the emotional fray that currently lay within him.
Byakuya followed him inside the elevator wordlessly.
Byakuya pressed the sixth.
Ichigo felt something in him stir.
"Guess that means we'll be floor-mates," he uncomfortably remarked, to which Byakuya's eyes again flashed unreadably.
The air within the small confines was laden in questioning and a rotund awkwardness. Ichigo wasn't sure if most of it came from his part. While it very well might have been the case, he doubted it. This was a two-way street, Ichigo knew.
Ichigo trailed behind Byakuya and out of the elevator, footsteps lightly echoing across the hallway, something in him wanting to say something more to the man, anything -lord knew there was plenty- but he didn't. Instead he fell behind him shortly after and stopped, watching Byakuya continue down a familiar route. And then the man reached a door, worked to unlock it and Ichigo only watched, drowning in his own stupor.
Because the door belonged to the apartment directly beside his own. And from within, another man stepped forth, one Ichigo recognized all too devastatingly well.
"Hey, I was just about to come down," the guy began, removing the box from Byakuya's grasp before taking notice of the bewildered Ichigo and gaping with about as much restraint as a derailed train."...Ichigo?"
Throat chafed as though he'd just dry-swallowed concrete, Ichigo barely managed, "Kaien..."
"What are you-" the brunette glanced over at Byakuya as though for an explanation before switching back to Ichigo. "-doing here?"
"I...live here." Ichigo glanced at the door beside theirs, both men following. Ichigo found his fingers growing lax, causing the package atop his shoulder to falter slightly.
Kaien was visibly taken aback and he shot another look at Byakuya whom only helplessly returned it."Wow that's- definitely a surprise," A certain displeasure littered the words, something Ichigo registered vividly.
Ichigo slowly approached them, setting down the box before Kaien's feet, his dark nutmeg eyes meeting aqua's in a clandestine clash. "Yeah...so are you-?"
"Yeah. Uh, yeah." Kaien hastily replied the again non-existent question with a pat to the doorframe.
The air deadened briefly.
Running a hand through his thick bushel of spiky black hair, Kaien broke the sudden loaded silence that befell them with his own form of a slovenly-disguised adieu."Well...thanks for the help. We appreciate it."
'We?' Ichigo mused, his gut clotting in unjustifiable knots he couldn't quite understand. But he took the bait Kaien had cast and rolled with it. "Yeah. Sure. No problem." Squeezing past the hallway that now felt too narrow, Ichigo propped himself along his own door beside the pair, palming the knob."It was - good seeing you guys. I guess I'll see you around..." The bullshit smile again.
"Yeah...you too." Kaien replied, however insincerely.
But only Kaien.
Exchanging a mix of final and tangibly unpleasant glances, they each dispersed inside of their apartments without further words, as though they were just some random strangers without a past and as though the questions and vibes filtering the space were nothing more than tainted air.
It was when Ichigo was within the comforts of his own home, bracing himself against his living room table, that the memories and emotions barraged him in unrestrained sheafs; a rain of condemnation.
The"I love you"
The "I'm sorry"
And those eyes. And their tears.
But "I can't"
And the hurt.
And "I'm sorry"
"I'm not like you..."
And the guilt.
And something else.
Something that had his heart clenching and throbbing in his chest as though rabid, though it shouldn't have.
Though it fucking shouldn't have.
Quite the humorist, the universe was, Ichigo satirically scoffed inwardly.
He stubbed the cigarette against the concrete wall and lifted off it, cracking his vertebrae and neck.
The night sky was a dark and misty, ominous black. If there were any stars to be seen they were shrouded by the city lights, equally murky despite their brilliance.
Ichigo slid back inside his apartment, surveying the lived-in space with a quick weary scan before disappearing into his bedroom. He sprawled out atop the disheveled mattress, resting his head back on his heavily worn pillow and sighing. The smell of sex still clung heavily to the sheets.
Which was fine.
She'd been a rowdy one, hadn't she? Once they freed themselves of the inhibitions, they all were; wild little sex kittens. Calling his name (or whatever the hell they thought it was), screaming profanities, clawing his flesh for more of him, all of him.
Yeah it was cool.
At least it used to be, as of late, they weren't doing anything for him. Not a damn thing. But he continued. He continued ferreting through skirt after skirt in wry attempts at quenching a thirst that should not exist, that was as unreasonable as it was foolish. As it was damned and unwanted.
Eyes squeezed shut almost painfully, Ichigo massaged the bridge of his nose.
Five years; it'd been that long since Ichigo'd last seen him. Since Ichigo's abandonment, was more like it. Because he was the one who ran. Ran from him. Ran from those words. Ran from those feelings. And now they were back. They were back as though all along they'd simply been tucked away in a barely-lid barrel. The guilt, the pain, the other thing. The one he wouldn't admit to. That scorned, banned, utterly deplorable sentiment he wasn't feeling. He refused to feel.
Because that would make him the same as that man wouldn't it? And he wasn't. He fucking wasn't.
Yet still, Ichigo found himself every night out on that balcony, hoping, if he was lucky, he'd emerge. Most nights he did, just as before, with the sound of the pencil, beneath the same night sky, bathing Ichigo in his memory. Their friendship, their breakthrough. Ichigo's words. And then those eyes.
But there was more to it.
There had always been this common knowledge that with the collapse of any relationship, regardless of the trivialities, there was a partition of assets. Ichigo himself confirmed that fact firsthand. In Byakuya's and his case, the asset was Kaien, their mutual confidant. Ichigo's one-upon-a-time 'Brother', or as so many others often mistook -apparently through their uncanny resemblance (Ichigo never saw it). The three guys, though, through their feverish adolescence and beyond were as close-knit as Ponte, a friendship Ichigo never imagined would have had this end.
Ichigo never blamed Kaien either. Were Ichigo a third-party bystander in the situation, he too would have easily made the same choice. Hell, to this day his self-loathing over the matter had yet to subside...but there had been no other feasible option, and he was sorry for that. He was. But,
"I'm not like you..."
Nevertheless, Kaien was gone too. But it wasn't until just recently that everything clicked into coherence -the day of their unexpected rendezvous- that Ichigo came to discover Kaien hadn't simply taken Byakuya's side after the fallout, he had taken much more. And that knowledge awoke something fierce within Ichigo.
Though it shouldn't have.
They lived together now, next door to Ichigo (if life wasn't one ironic son of a bitch) and through his indirect observations, both men were far more than just your average roommates. Far more than that, and for some vile, unwarranted reason, the thought ruined Ichigo.
And those feelings that didn't exist, wreaked havoc.
AN: While drowning myself in Carnival of Rust yesterday, this story kinda just burst into fruition. Gravelly doubt this will be too long. But who knows, my head's unpredictable that way. Estimate it at five chapters. Probably...
Thanks for reading!
Till the next