A/N: An offshoot from Not About You, an UraIchi tale. Here is Byakuya after his visit. Mention of character death.
All disclaimers apply.
"Are you happy?" Ichigo's question came out of nowhere, and for an instant Byakuya felt a familiar defensiveness rise in him. For all the redhead's own reticence, he was eager to dig up other people's secrets.
Now Byakuya sat alone in his garden. "Am I happy?" he mused aloud. Then he smiled faintly into his sake cup. "I am not happy. But I am not unhappy."
"You're talking to yourself," someone remarked from behind him. Byakuya half-turned his head and nodded. His former lieutenant, now captain of the fifth, walked over to Byakuya and took the offered seat. Abarai Renji had mastered the art of silence now, but at a cost he had never intended to pay.
The noble poured a bowl of sake for Renji. "How is Hisagi-san?"
"He's recovering from his fever," said Renji, sipping his drink. He was graver than before, narrow eyes shadowed with remembered grief and pain.
Byakuya supposed he had looked like this when Hisana passed away. Even now he was sure his shadows still remained, and the shadows of Rukia's passing were still evident.
The two captains sat together in the garden, drinking the finest sake Soul Society could offer. Renji bowed his head after a while, his mane of blood-red hair fanning from its ponytail and shielding his face. And possibly the tears: there was a slight hitch to the redhead's breathing that Byakuya was certain did not come from the sake.
The Kuchiki said nothing. He had mastered the art of silence too.
Eventually he judged it was time to speak. "Ichigo asked if I was happy."
"And what did you say?" Renji responded, knowing the diversionary tactic and acknowledging it for the help it gave. "Are you happy?"
"I am not happy, but I am not unhappy," replied Byakuya serenely.
Renji managed a short bark of laughter that held very little humor. "Me too."
The younger shinigami looked up at Byakuya and let his lips curve into an approximation of a tired smile. Byakuya was struck by how altered Renji was – so very young and old at the same time. Before he registered what he was doing, Byakuya had stretched out a hand and was stroking Renji's hair, as if soothing an upset puppy.
Renji apparently thought so too, for there was an amused cast to the moist, dark eyes, and then he lowered his lids and leaned into the touches. Byakuya, half-prepared to withdraw his hand, hesitated. Renji nudged the pale hand with a slight motion of his head, murmuring, "Go on."
With a soft sigh, Byakuya continued to caress the long red hair, and Renji leaned closer with each rub. They lost themselves in the comforting movement until Renji lifted his head.
He was inches from Byakuya's eyes. His cool breath dusted Byakuya's face.
"He knows I'm here," said Renji. "And I believe he will understand."
Byakuya's hand fell to his side and then locked with his left in his lap. "I do not ask it of you, or of him."
The redheaded captain blinked slowly. "There is no need to ask, Byakuya. I offer it freely. You and I both need it tonight."
Byakuya shut his eyes, aware that, after all these years of mild protests and halfhearted denials, Renji was more than capable of being more stubborn than an ox. It was already becoming a ritual between them on this night, at this time, in this place.
Just the two of them.
Renji shifted closer and waited. Byakuya closed the gap, feeling the swoop of his heart as his mouth touched Renji's. The taller shinigami captain swept Byakuya into a tight embrace and lifted him off the bench, carrying him into the little tearoom at the end of the path, ignoring Byakuya's hushed objections of being treated like a woman.
The tearoom was small, dark, private, and far from prying eyes and ears. Renji carefully removed his shoes as well as Byakuya's, before they embraced and kissed once more in the dimness of the room.
"Forgive me," whispered Byakuya, "for not acknowledging your pain back then."
"That is already forgiven, Byakuya," muttered Renji roughly. He pulled off his hair tie and then the scarf from around Byakuya's neck. "Forgive me for not saving her."
Byakuya ran tender fingers along Renji's back. "No one could have saved her. There is nothing to forgive."
They liked it here, in the dark of the tearoom. Here, Byakuya apologized for not valuing him until it was too late, and a million things besides. Here, Renji apologized for his treatment of his former captain as an equal, and a million things beside.
Here, they would find solace, even if it was for an instant.
They were not happy. But with this one night in this one place and this one person, they were not unhappy.
A/N: I just felt like writing ByaRen, but not too explicitly. Anonymous reviews are enabled now, by the way, so do review please :)