A/N: My second Byakuya/Matsumoto fic, the first being "Real Time." This one is for my darling Loyce, on her birthday. And I miraculously managed to get it posted in time! So happy birthday, Loycey. You are the best Big Sis anyone could ask for. This is for you!
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, including Byakuya. But it's nice to dream. I'm also making no profit from this fanwork.
Byakuya first noticed a change the day that he awoke – with the same alertness he utilized every morning – to find Matsumoto already out of bed. The second his eyes snapped open, she was walking out of the bathroom, eyes heavy-lidded and hair dripping on the exquisitely finished floor even as she squeezed the excess moisture out of it with a towel. The corners of his proud mouth turned downward.
She never rose earlier than he. Often he had to call her name three or four times with a shake to her shoulder or send for tea so that its aroma would cast her into wakefulness. Matsumoto had openly admitted that she would preferably spend the day sleeping rather than so much as glancing at her sword.
And so to see her already up and half-ready before he had even so much as stirred gave Byakuya a sense of profound confusion. Discombobulated, he pushed up on an elbow to regard her from a better vantage point. The pristine sheet covering him rustled as it fell to his lap, leaving his chest bare to the bright blue eyes that turned his way.
She was never bothered by the scars that seemed to accentuate his skin rather than mar it. Byakuya had been surprised by the lack of reaction at first, recalling a woman from a life passed by who had marveled at the healed wounds as though they were the secret, the source to his strength. But, of course, Matsumoto had such wounds herself. In the case of his late wife, all the scrapes and scratches had been on the inside.
This morning, rather than instantly smirking at the sight of his mostly naked body as she was prone to do, the vice-captain of the Tenth Division gave him the slightest of smiles and gestured to the tea tray she had already brought in. "Would you like some?"
"Yes." Even as he spoke, Byakuya's thoughts remained on the woman pouring the tea as opposed to the beverage itself. She stood, tall as a goddess, in a long satin robe of deep violet. The belt had been tied loosely, exposing the curves of perfect breasts he knew both the look and feel of. Damp hair waved down her back, darkened to the color of honey by water.
He caught the little things as she moved. Her fingers trembled lightly as she set down the teapot on its tray. Her teeth scraped the edge of her full bottom lip as she held the steaming cup between her hands while walking toward him. And when she presented the drink to him, there was an odd pallor to her cheeks. She was pale despite having just come out of a hot shower.
However, the dead giveaway was seen when Byakuya reached out to take the tea from her only to feel the iciness of her skin as his hand brushed hers. His eyes, dark and calculating even after just waking up, shot to hers. "Matsumoto."
Her light eyebrows narrowed for a moment, and then she drew away and went to the curtained window that glowed with the sunlight behind it. On the floor beneath it lay her shinigami robes where they had been tossed the night before. "I think I remember Captain Hitsugaya mentioning a captains' meeting today," she murmured.
The Sixth Division captain stood from the bed. A shock of jet-black hair fell over his pale shoulder as he angled his head to cast a superior look toward the woman who spent more and more nights with him these days in the grand house of Kuchiki. She didn't look at him, choosing to instead watch the length of her pink scarf as she ran it through her hands to straighten it. Nonetheless, twin spots the same shade as her scarf rose on her cheeks – not in embarrassment of his nude form, but in awareness of it.
"Matsumoto," he repeated, sipping from his teacup to watch over the rim as her shoulders finally sagged and she turned to him.
"I didn't sleep well," she said as though that fully explained her unprecedented behavior. And while it was true that such an event was enough to cause alarm, Byakuya stared her down. Her eyes hardened, and some of her usual fire entered them as though to demand he put some clothes on because it disadvantaged her. After a moment though, she simply shrugged. "It's been six months, Byakuya."
It would have surprised Matsumoto to know that he had noted the date himself – six months since he, yes, he had kissed her when seeing her home at Hitsugaya's request after a captains-and-vice-captains meeting. She had been a little tipsy from the complimentary sake that had been passed out at the gathering by Shunsui Kyouraku, and it had been raining outside. Hitsugaya had feared she would slip in a puddle and knock herself out. Byakuya himself had been just lightheaded enough to at last realize that he had been more than a little interested in her for several years.
"You're a surprising man, Captain Kuchiki. I would never have expected you to steal kisses in the rain."
Neither would have Byakuya.
And it hadn't required much encouragement on both their parts to let that kiss be the beginning of a storm-ravaged night spent in Matsumoto's cramped, cozy house between the sheets of a bed a third of the size of his own. But she had started a fire, and he still remembered the way the light flicked over her skin, into her eyes as she finally arched and exhaled his name with a voice that carried a thousand secrets…
It flashed through his mind quickly, as if that first time was no more than a kaleidoscope turning through his memories.
Her hands were warm as she ran them down the length of his arms and when he reached up to feel any and all skin he managed to bare to the dark surrounding them, she hissed like he'd burned her. Taking hold of her hips, he pulled her close and knew that her head were fully alert; any influence the alcohol may have had on her was now gone.
Burying his hand in the fall of her long hair, he slowly pulled her head back and pressed his lips to her neck. In response, she wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly as her teeth raked over his shoulder.
Her name leapt to his throat and came out on a groan he wasn't able to restrain. "Rangiku…"
It was the first and only time he had spoken her first name aloud. And now, sixth months later, their late-night couplings were so frequent that Byakuya had given up speculating on them. At first, he'd had more questions than his usually-certain brain was used to hosting; what had possibly driven him to do something as rash as seduce Matsumoto? And why had she so easily accepted him?
This unusual morning, however, planted only one question in his mind. "Do you only get up early every six months?" he asked her.
Matsumoto set her hand on her hip, where her scarf dangled. The other she ran through her hair as she sighed. "I got up early to think. I was surprised at first that you didn't wake up the instant I moved, but then…" A small smile touched her lips, and even Byakuya was able to see the sadness in it. "I guess I shouldn't have been."
He reached for his captain's uniform, which she had apparently hung up for him on one of the bedposts. Slipping it on, he saw Matsumoto visibly relax. "Why is that?" he asked in tones smooth enough to soften rock.
She shook her head. Droplets went flying from the tips of her hair; he even felt one hit the knuckle of his thumb. "Even after all this time…you haven't noticed it." Her expression changed, and in the next moment she threw back the rest of her tea as though it was whiskey. Returning the cup to the tray, she passed her hand over her eyes. "No one knows about us."
It wasn't a question, but he felt compelled to answer anyway. "No."
"And despite what you may believe, I have enough sense to understand why." At last, she turned fully to him. "People would talk. 'He's with one not of noble birth.' " She seemed to have gained more confidence now that he was dressed, and Byakuya's eyes widened slightly in response to both her words and how approach. " 'Again.' "
His eyebrows narrowed warningly. "Matsumoto." He had made it clear, quite clear—
"Did you feel pain when Hisana died?"
The hand that had previously been caressing her hip now clenched around her wrist. "Don't speak of her." It was an order that did not require questioning.
"And yet." Matsumoto threw her head back to meet his eyes when she was no more than a half-foot in front of him. "Despite the possibility of rumors, of your ruined reputation, you remain with me. Why?" At this proximity, Byakuya was able to hear the tremor that entered her voice. "Why, after six months, do you not find it permissible to even look at me in the hallways?"
He said nothing and didn't know why.
Boldly, her fingers came up to grip the fabric of his sleeve. "You could have whoever you want, and you keep me. Even though I push. I know I push. And all you ever do is…" She swallowed, her knuckles paling as she clutched him. "Deny."
Her eyes, he thought, were filled with tears, each drop that would soon fall representing a different memory.
The dark lashes rose to reveal intense blue and beneath it bloomed a smile. "You stayed."
He stepped away from the bed and belted Senbonzakura to his uniform. "Just until now."
Each one hurting.
"I keep looking at you and hoping to find something; strength, or a secret."
His fingers brushed over the soft, scarred flesh of her thigh. The action was personal…but only in a physical way. And it was answer enough – there was nothing to find.
Each one haunting.
Her arms were a vice around him. "This time…please, won't you…"
Byakuya took both of her wrists and slowly, firmly pushed her away. As he always did. "I have to leave."
She cast her eyes to the side. He'd seen the look before; longing cut to pieces. "Because I might love you."
She didn't let them fall. "Byakuya." A small light came to her eyes as she spoke, but it only made the tears shine brighter. "Six months. And you can't even say my first name."
His mouth opened, and one of Matsumoto's shapely eyebrows lifted in an expression of challenge. Byakuya thought for a moment, before closing his mouth again. When he spoke, his voice rang with a definite note of impatience. "What has brought this on? So suddenly, you—"
She laughed; a low, empty chuckle that carried none of her usual carelessness that she was known for in Soul Society. Matsumoto looked washed over with discontent, from the roots of her wet hair to the heels of her bare feet. "What, Byakuya? Suddenly I'm evaluating our relationship? Trying to figure out if it's anything but sex and…and tea!"
Her voice rose. He responded by rocking back on his heels to regard her down his nose. It was so difficult to regard her in a way that wasn't defensive. All he could see was confusion and fear and disappointment and anger.
He had thought, months ago, that he had seen pleasure. Pleasure in being with him.
"Just like that!" Swiveling, she stalked to the window and yanked back the curtain. Light flooded the bedroom before he could stop her.
"Don't," he began.
"We're five stories up!" She turned shimmer eyes to him, and the tears in her eyes finally rolled like dying sparkles down her cheeks. "No one is going to see! Because that's what you want." Her hands, as graceful as they were deadly, balled into fists that quaked close to her sides. "You can't admit that I'm the first person you accepted since Hisana, since you lo—"
He flash-stepped and was in front of her with a hand over her mouth. He didn't use enough force to cause pain, but it was enough to force Matsumoto to immediately cease speaking. "I've told you," he murmured darkly. "You aren't to say her name."
Without warning, she jerked and yanked his hand away to glare at him. Byakuya was annoyed with himself for being distracted by the tearstains on her face. "Is that how it goes?" she demanded. "I don't say her name, you don't say mine?"
"Names," he said – not quite as smoothly as he was accustomed to hearing his own voice, "are nothing. Nothing more than labels."
"Funny." Her fingers dug into his forearm. "Who'd have thought to hear that from a Kuchiki nobleman?" Releasing him, she stepped away and retrieved her own vice-captain's uniform. In swift, emotionless motions, she exchanged the bathrobe for the long black garment, tossing her scarf over her head and pulling her hair out from under it. When she finally faced him again, every clue that she had been crying that morning was gone.
Byakuya didn't know how, but he could feel her words before she said them.
"I'm leaving. I never…" She hesitated, pressed a hand to the bare skin at her neck, and fiddled with the golden necklace that fell between her breasts. "I never liked this place, Byakuya. I'm too small for it." Her eyes darted up to pass over the molded ceiling, the polished floor, and the ornate bed. In that moment, she looked like a child that was out of place in the world of adults.
Matsumoto absently ran a finger over the side of the hand-painted ceramic teapot, now cooled, on the tray she stood beside. "I guess I imagined for a while that I wasn't too small for you." At last, her gaze met his once more. "I was wrong, it seems."
In a show of rare confoundedness, Byakuya didn't do or say anything. He simple watched her eyes, the way they moistened yet again even as she looked away. There were no words to use, no proverbs taught to noble children that tutored one in the lessons of being abandoned. And yet…he had been through this before.
Matsumoto said nothing more, apparently battling his wordlessness with her own. She belted on Haineko and made to walk past him. But, in true Matsumoto form, she was unable to leave without a least one more word.
And then it hit, like a flash of light flooding his eyes, filling his mind. Hardly realizing his own actions, he shot out a hand and caught her hand. He had before, many times, in their more intimate moments together. But this was different; his fingers were gentle with enlightenment instead of rough with desire.
He had never been gentle with her, thought Byakuya, in the way he had with Hisana.
The Kuchiki house leader did not turn at first. He was facing the partially-revealed window, but his voice reached her ears anyway. "Rangiku."
Her fingers flexed under his. He didn't let go.
With her back to his, Matsumoto allowed her face to contort, showing her pain only to the closed door that led to the rest of the house…and a life not close to him. Byakuya could picture it even if he couldn't see it. "Names are nothing, Byakuya."
Pivoting, he pulled her toward him. She fought him half-heartedly, knowing any real resistance would be futile. Matsumoto kept the resentment in her expression. Byakuya accepted it gracefully, as he was accustomed to doing.
And then, as he was certainly not accustomed to doing—
"I'm sorry, Rangiku." In a motion he had long ago forgotten, Byakuya lifted her hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to the back of it in a true show of noble chivalry. He had discarded the notion and was beginning to recall it again.
His lips twitched unexpectedly against her skin. Matsumoto, however, would never possess the same kind of class he had been bred with his entire life. Looking up, he saw the tears spilling against, dripping onto her uniform in dark spots.
Matsumoto trembled beneath his grip. "Why did you have to apologize?" Stepping forward, she half-fell against him. Her sun-colored hair fanned over her shoulders and touched his chest. "It's so hard to stay angry with you if you do something like apologize. How could I have predicted that!"
Almost automatically, his chin found the crook between her neck and shoulder – a perfect fit. "I do not do it often," he admitted. Closing his eyes, he saw it again.
A field. The very first time he had kissed her, he had been reminded of open fields with tall grass, darkened and dewy by a late spring rain. The feel of her skin under his hands had been like caressing newly-sprouted flower petals. Brilliant blue skies blinded him from the depths of her eyes.
And her smile was the sun itself, warming all it glowed upon.
The truth was, she had become the paradise he had locked himself out of for years and years.
She pressed a hand to his cheek and shook her head. "Byakuya?"
And being with her was like entering it again, only to find it richer, larger.
"I think…" His eyes softened. "I think your house may just be the right size for us."
Byakuya couldn't help wondering as he leaned down to meet her waiting smile, if perhaps Rangiku glimpsed that same special place as well.