Disclaimer (for all chapters): Bleach belongs to Kubo Tite, this story belong to me.
At least partly inspired by the A.F.I. song This Time Imperfect, though I won't pretend the song Paper Airplanes (makeshift wings) played no part in this . . . What can I say, I love getting behind Byakuya's mask and showing what he really thinks. I always have them doing paperwork it seems, must be some kind of euphemism . . . and would they call them "paper airplanes" in Seireitei? Just my random thoughts. This was supposed to be a one-shot, but it kinda spread . . . forgive me. ? Anyway, on with the story:
Byakuya paused his brush for a moment, the tip hovering above the transfer request he was about to sign. His fukutaicho, Abarai Renji, had just completed a paper airplane he'd been working on instead of his own stacks of paperwork, and was staring at Byakuya with a mischievous look in his eyes. Byakuya didn't change his expression at all, keeping his face as blank as usual, but he did sharpen his gaze. His grey eyes met Renji's reddish ones, sending a silent message of "Try it and die, fukutaicho."
This glare had always been extremely efficient at ending whatever mischief his often-bored fukutaicho seemed to be up to, but for a reason Byakuya couldn't comprehend, it seemed to have lost its effectiveness over the past few weeks. This underlying promise of death and casual Senbonzakura dismemberment now seemed only to provoke Renji into completing his disobedience, as if daring his taicho to go through with this threat, just once. Either Renji had gained a rather sizeable death wish recently, or he was questioning his taicho's authority.
True to either scenario, Renji picked the airplane up by the base he'd folded and carefully shaped for aerodynamics, bringing his arm back just behind his head. He didn't possess Byakuya's skill at hiding his feelings, probably out of choice, so Byakuya knew the evil grin that now spread to reveal a flash of white teeth was exactly how his fukutaicho felt.
Trying a different strategy of ignoring the threat to his authority, Byakuya turned his eyes back to the brush in his hand. Dipping it liberally in ink, he began to sign his name in a careful, graceful script he was rather proud of. He was adding one last elegant line to the kanji spelling out his first name when the airplane struck the inkpot, not only spilling it all over the report he was signing, but splattering the flawless white of his sixth squad haori.
For once in his life, Byakuya wished to lose his temper in a violent and loud manner, complete with slamming fists and loud curses. However, that time was not today, as Byakuya would not allow Renji the credit for finally setting him off. While being the head of the Kuchiki family had given him ample time to gather explosives, it had also, thankfully, let him become practiced in maintaining a very long fuse. Rationality set in to fade the anger. Robes could be replaced, paperwork could be redone, even his precious script could be signed again. However, his fukutaicho did need to learn that insubordination would not be tolerated.
Coming to his feet in one smooth movement, Byakuya once again met the eyes of his fukutaicho. He had admittedly expected surprise to be reflected back to him, doubting that Renji's target had been the inkpot. His noble Kenseikan perhaps, to knock them askew, or to scatter his own stack of papers around the room, something that could be made perfect again easily. But Byakuya had not expected to see something resembling guilt in those eyes, almost remorse, as if Renji wished to call the airplane back to himself and unmake it.
"Renji," Byakuya said pointedly, the look in Renji's eyes telling Byakuya that his fukutaicho had been dreading the moment he would break the awkward silence.
"I would in the future prefer your attention dwelled on sloppily inking your own paperwork, and not mine," Byakuya continued, slipping an insult in with his cold tone. Crumpling the paper airplane in one white-gloved hand, Byakuya swept from the office, his departure making it clear that cleaning up the mess would be left to his fukutaicho.
Renji stood behind his own desk in the office his taicho had left empty, slight anger and embarrassment replacing the sudden shock and guilt he'd experienced after meeting Byakuya's eyes. It was true that you could tell the difference in signature and handwriting on their paperwork from yards away, but he didn't have to put it like that.
It's not like I meant to hit the damn inkpot, Renji thought, thumping his fist on the desk and nearly spilling his own inkpot.
He knew that Byakuya would be back, and that he would expect the mess on his desk to be cleaned up by that time. Renji grudgingly crossed the room, looking around for a way to quickly clean up the ink, as if he expected a box of tissues or a towel to be lying around just for his use. He finally stripped off his black shinigami over-kimono, deciding it wouldn't make a difference; black is black.
Wearing only his hakama and his legendary tattoos, Renji began to mop up the mess, thankful that it at least hadn't spread so far as the other stacks of paperwork on the desk. The only ruined piece was the one Byakuya had been working on at the moment when the airplane had hit the inkpot. Renji picked it up by a clean corner and carried it to his own trashbin, assuming Byakuya wouldn't want the excess ink to dirty even his trash.
It'd do him good to have something not be so perfect every now and again, Renji thought, groaning at the ink that was now all over his hands. Guess that's my role in this squad, to be something he can't control.
Renji stopped himself in this thought, knowing it wasn't true, knowing Byakuya controlled him even now, when Renji was alone. His own well-trained fukutaicho, dutifully cleaning the mess he'd made.
I just wanted to see that stupid face with an expression on it, just once.
Renji corrected the thought in his own head, wanting to believe it was safe there to express his true feelings. I just wanted him to acknowledge my existence. I wanted. . . I wanted him to smile at me. Wanted him to look at me. Wanted him to. . . .
That thought, that feeling, wasn't safe anywhere, and Renji stopped it before it could make itself known. It wasn't right to have such feelings about a man, especially not his taicho. But Renji so desperately wanted to shatter the ice that Byakuya surrounded himself with, to be the one who Byakuya would show the face behind the mask to.
Useless thoughts, useless dreams, Renji told himself, turning his thoughts back to how thankful he was that his taicho's desk was a sleek, shining black, making it impossible to tell that ink had ever been spilt upon its perfect, unmarred surface.
Tossing his crumpled shinigami robes behind his desk, he stared ruefully down at his hands, now spotted with black.
Doesn't matter. I'll never be good enough, perfect enough, for him anyway, Renji thought, setting his mind to sloppily inking up some of his own paperwork, as his taicho had suggested. Dutiful to the end.