Dedicated to ravens rising, for her continuous dedication and wonderful reviews. A long over due thank you. Abd you were right, this idea was far too long an idea to be a drabble.
Partial inspiration from two drabbles of mine- 'Birdsong' and 'Touch'.
Shunsui x Jyuushiro, Renji x Kira, and minor references to Gin x Kira
Don't look away, if you do than I may: no one knows truth, not even you
You let your mind show, hate that I've known
That I've been there before- don't look away anymore
- Joshua Radin
Kira Izuru had been through a lot in the recent past. Everything he thought he knew and held dear had been upended and, finding himself adrift in a sea of grief that he could not control or understand, he felt he needed something to buoy him to the surface, some kind of port to house him until he had the strength to rise again. His division was shattered by treachery, and, in the aftermath of the Winter War, stood down from duty until a suitable Captain could be found, so he had no solace from work. During the war he had been able to put it all to the back of his mind, but as peace reigned again in the land the warfare in his mind raged on, stronger than before.
That was why he found himself in the office quarters of the thirteenth division, now more of a hospital wing than a fort of pent up honour and violence or sorrow as many other division quarters were and had become.
Quietness echoed through the long corridors, out of reverence and respect, the only things that the Captain commanded from his subordinates, and not by conscious decision. It was cool to a fevered brow and bright enough for those who had spent too long in the darkness, and the steps of the thirteenths buildings were always swept clean of emotional baggage and dirt alike, the doors always open to those who were in need of it.
And in need of it Izuru was.
So each week, in his spare moments between trying to find ways to reinstate his division and training harder, harder, harder in attempts that he would become strong enough to take it on himself, he visited the Thirteenth, and sat with the Captain. They shared tea and words and sometimes just companionable silence in warm sunlight on the porch or in the gardens. Jyuushiro would smile warmly at Izuru as he slowly began to open up more and more. It took time, and it took fortitude, but Jyuushiro was used to that, was used to waiting, and he dedicated as much nurture and serenity and patience as he would to a tightly drawn bud of a flower in his well tended gardens.
Their conversations were fragmented, often lapsing again into silence as Izuru collected himself between emotional outbursts, some major, some minor, all healing. Strange thoughts would come unbidden to him, which he would vocalise.
"My division will never be healed."
"I don't know if I hate him or not."
"I hate myself for not stopping him."
"It's my fault."
And Jyuushiro nodded comfortingly, and smiled, and gave sympathy, and listened as he grew and he healed and he began to understand more of what his world is and had been and would become.
"I heard laughter in the corridors today- they are rebuilding."
"I think I might have loved him, you know?"
"I could not have stopped him, could I?"
"There was nothing I could have done."
And that smile never wavered, and as soft evenings faded into darkness he never ceased to listen, and soon Izuru felt comfort enough to seek other people, to go out with groups of friends, and eventually to laugh again. Soon his visits became less frequent, although Jyuushiro did not mind that, and his words became less angry, and perhaps happier.
"I do not think that I love him anymore, too much has past."
"Perhaps there is light at the end of this."
The kind eyes did not falter.
"I did nothing wrong."
"No, you did not."
Izuru looked up, and mirrored the ever-present smile.
"Perhaps I am blameless."
"Indeed you are."
"Then why, Captain, does everything still feel off-set?"
"Because you have not yet found peace."
"That is what Abarai says, too."
For the first time, a flicker of surprise flew across the Captain's face at the flare of warmth in Izuru's eyes. Perhaps there was something there to hope for, after all.
There was a polite cough from the open doorway, and both shinigami turned to see the Captain of the Eighth Division standing there, smiling affectionately down at them.
"Now, Lieutenant, you're detaining my friend. He is late."
Kira blushed red and scrambled to his feet, but Jyuushiro cut across the apologies he was about to make.
"Do not worry, Izuru. I like your company. You can ignore Captain Kyouraku, he is only trying to antagonise."
Kira bowed low to them both, and smiled a small smile at his friend. He almost ran out of the room in embarrassment, and Jyuushiro shook his head at his old friend in disapproval as Shunsui took Izuru's seat, re-filled his cup, and drank from it, his smile never faltering.
"That was cruel, Shunsui. I am not late for anything."
"I know, but you spend too much of your energy trying to make everyone else happy. You need to take a break every now and then."
"It is hardly hard work to talk to poor Izuru."
"Well, then I got bored of having to skip out on our tea sessions for his."
Ukitake smiled into his cup as he raised it to his mouth.
"We still see each other most days, Shunsui."
"Yes, yes, I know. Besides, I have heard some rather interesting news from that nice stoic Captain who had begun to design to talk with us recently."
He meant of course Byakuya Kuchiki, who had, in recent months, began to talk more freely, perhaps even indulge a little in idle conversation, if you could believe it. It was as if he had decided that his long period of solitude should come to a clean end at the war, and was now actually beginning to talk with his colleagues after Captain's meetings. Only certain ones, of course- Kurotshuchi was never tolerated, and Byakuya could not seem to be in the same room with Soi Fong without pride getting in the way. Although they had all been very surprised when it had emerged that Kenpachi had been invited over to the manor. Apparently, Byakuya Kuchiki found something entertaining in the Eleventh Captain, although god-only-knows what it was.
"He said that his own Lieutenant has been very distracted these last few weeks, distracted by, he believes, the company of another Lieutenant who has been visiting him."
"Captain Kuchiki has always been a very observant man."
"Indeed. Now what, old friend, are you going to do about it?"
"To what cause do you accredit me doing anything? It is their business, not my own."
"I know because you are already interested, and getting involved in other people's lives is something you like to do. Don't think that I have not noticed you attempting to instigate something between myself and my second chair, either."
Jyuushiro covered his embarrassment with a wave of his hand.
"Now, I just think you are in denial about her, Shunsui."
Shunsui smiled, staring at his friend and then away into the far distance, eyes unreadable.
They fell into a peaceful silence as Shunsui staring into the garden, clearly deep in thought, not noticing how Jyuushiro was watching him quietly, laughter and the smile gone from his pleasant features. The shadows played across Shunsui's face from the fading sunlight coming through the open doorway, creating strange, almost warmly sinister pools of darkness emphasising the line of his cheekbones and the hollows of his eyes. His face, in that strange light, became like a piece of artwork- his nose with the defined lines of Roman sculpture compared to the softness of the mouth perhaps more akin to something Praxiteles might have sculpted. The almost translucent skin of his eyelids made him look strangely fragile as he let them fall shut, and his face was contemplative as they opened again.
Jyuushiro glanced away from his friend, a little worried that Shunsui would notice his gaze, and watched instead the steady throb of his blood in a raised vein on the top of one of the other man's hands, curled around his own bent knee in front of him. Hands that wielded such power, with skin bitten by the ages, worn and scarred and callused, coloured by the sun and broad. Jyuushiro had wondered, on occasion, what those hands would feel like… no.
Not here. Not now.
"Do you really think that I love Nanao?"
"Yes, Shunsui, I think that you do."
"You would be allowed to, you know. If it were kept discrete."
"Yes, I know."
Shunsui got to his feet, brushing himself off, and smiled a lazy smile.
"I'm afraid I must take leave of you, old friend."
"I rather thought you might."
His old friend shook his head slowly from the doorway.
"Sometimes, Jyuu, your perceptiveness blinds you."
With that final piece of cryptic lore, the Captain swept out, leaving Ukitake to sit and ponder on what he had said. What was it had missed, what was he blind to? For it certainly was not Shunsui- he knew his old friend better than he knew anyone else, and he had been brooding somewhat uncharacteristically of late. Shunsui had always been one for provocative silences and drawn out thought, but recently it had become near ridiculous. He had to hand it to his friend though- whenever he was in need of some sort of project he always came through with some interesting information.
Renji Abarai. Izuru Kira. Interesting.
Perhaps one of these days he could invite them both around for tea, together… but for now it seemed like they needed a pushing, helping hand, and who better to give it them than a benevolent older man of higher rank?
He sighed, feeling tired. This dying day, although he had done little, had drained him somewhat, and he was not sure why. As he called for his Lieutenants to help him to his room, for he found himself unable to rise now without just a little aid, he let his mind wander back to his old friend.
He cared deeply for him, as friends are wont to do, and he knew that Shunsui held a deep affection for him, too. And yet that suppressed secret of feeling inside of him had not released his hold over the years, had not shrunk as he had hoped, but had continue to grow, sustained by Shunsui's omni-present quality, by those warm smiles and that constant care, by hope. By damned, fool-hardy hope. Ukitake was no fool, and he was not in denial about the weed that grew deep inside of him, the seed that had taken root and would not let go. He kept it trimmed down on the surface to no one would guess, but inside of him it spread its fine tendrils and became a part of the tragedy he sometimes felt he was.
He lay back on cool sheets, dismissed his Lieutenants, closer to friends now, and allowed himself to close his eyes against the slowly creeping darkness. He listened to the sound of swallows outside the house, calling to each other as they flew for insects in the warm summer night, and wondered if he would ever feel free enough to be happy.
He wondered if he would ever feel completed enough to feel free.
He wondered lastly, as sleep took him, if he would ever have Shunsui enough to complete him.
The next morning dawned clean and clear, and Jyuushiro woke to unusual silence. No Lieutenants bickering in the hallways, no Eleventh division Captain demanding a rematch (and damn, he regretted rising to fight that battle), no message from the Captain-Commander demanding a meeting and no 'Urgent' referral notice from the Fourth division. He felt refreshed, more awake than he had done in a long while, and he got out of bed by himself without aid, dressed and left his chamber to find out why he was not being disturbed.
In an his study sat a straight backed Renji, looking a little nervous, and he glanced around at the sound of the door opening, and scrambled to his feet.
"Captain, I err… Captain Kyouraku said you needed to talk to me?"
"Yeah. I'm not really sure what it was about… he said something about a conversation he'd had with Captain Kuchiki?"
Ukitake blinked again.
"I see. Yes, I know what that was in reference to. Please, take a seat."
Renji did, looking a little uncertain, obviously unsure of why these esteemed Captains had been talking about him.
"So, you may or many not know that I have been seeing young Izuru quite a lot recently."
Jyuushiro was quick to notice that Renji glanced away and blinked heavily at Izuru's name. He did not do anything as feminine as blush, not yet, but there was a discernable feeling of embarrassment emanating from the red-haired Lieutenant in front of him.
"Yeah, he mentioned you."
"Do you two talk often?"
"Yes… I mean, you know, we're friends."
"What has this got to do with my Captain?"
"He happened to mention that you two had been spending a lot of time together."
This time Renji did blush, and scrubbed at the top of his head with the palm of his hand.
"I think that he holds you in very high regard, too. Perhaps more than you know."
He stared meaningfully at Renji, who first frowning in confusion. When he realised what it was that the Captain was trying to tell him, his eyes widened perceptibly.
"Now, I just want to make sure that you're clear on that point."
"He needs… he needs someone to prop him up, until he can stand on his own again. I don't want you to take that prop away from him too soon, and I don't want you to leave it there too long, either. He needs to learn to stand up straight again."
"I know, sir."
Jyuushiro smiled benevolently.
"Good. You may leave now, Lieutenant. And good luck."
"Thank you, Captain."
Renji got to his feet.
"Just out of interest, do you do this for many people?"
"Do what, Renji?"
"Push them in the right direction."
"Not for many. For those who need the it. Between you and me, I'm trying to 'push' our mutual Captained friend in the direction of his lieutenant."
"You mean Captain Kyouraku, sir?"
"Yes. I think he and Nanao would me most suited."
Renji was frowning, distracted.
"You know sir, Nanao is with someone?"
For the first time, Renji saw Captain Ukitake looking completely lost.
"She's with someone. So, her and her Captain-"
"Basically, yeah. I guess that's a wasted endeavour. But thank you, Captain."
Ukitake seemed to shrink in on himself, and his smile faded away. His shoulders slumped downwards and he stared distractedly at the neutral wall, as if Renji had simply disappeared. He looked like a man who had just received the worst news of his life, and he appeared to be even paler than he normally was.
"Captain Ukitake, are you okay?"
The reply was quiet, muted and unemotional.
"Fine, thank you. You may leave, Lieutenant."
He did not even notice Renji's bow or his worried look, or the quiet click of the door as it closed behind him, he just stared at the wall, bewildered at this new revelation.
He had been trying to set Shunsui into a relationship in hope that he would fall in love. That, he had prayed, would allow him to finally set the ever-growing root to fire, to burn off this long-standing thing that did not let him rest. With that last slice of hope gone, Jyuushiro had hoped that he could move on.
But Nanao… Jyuushiro had been sure that she would have been the easier part of his plan. He thought all the trouble would be with Shunsui, but this significant 'other' was causing all sorts of problems that he had not anticipated, and his morality prevented him from disrupting his relationship that she was, presumably, happy with.
He jumped as he felt Shunsui's rietsu outside, just coming into range of what he felt on instinct, but then it flickered away again.
When had that happened? Why was that something he did not know? More importantly, why had Shunsui not said anything to him? Surely he must have known- he and his Lieutenant were closer than most. Why had he not dissuaded Jyuushiro from his task? Could it be that he really was in love with Nanao, and was in denial? That thought, despite the fact that he had been trying to set them up, caused a spark of pain to arch through the Captain.
He ran a hand through his hair, and picked up a sheaf of paperwork. Time to put it out of his head.
Somewhere across the Soul Society, not yet too far, a confused, bemused and not unhappy Lieutenant was making his way back to his division headquarters. He could not get the Captain's words out of his head, and as he passed the third division headquarters he paused, and smiled to himself. Perhaps Captain Ukitake was right.
He shook his head.
Captain Ukitake was always right. There was no denying that fact.
He glared at the unseated officer on gate duty as he stopped his superior and asked, 'Name, please."
"It's Lieutenant Abarai. I'm here to see Lieutenant Kira."
"One moment, please."
Renji found himself tapping his foot on the ground irritably as the shinigami hurried off, obviously intimidated by the irate red-haired Lieutenant. When did the third instigate such strict screening procedures on their gates? His frown eased off as he saw Izuru hurrying down the steps, smiling guiltily and ruffling his hair awkwardly.
"Sorry about that. I thought that the lower officers needed to do something. Remind them that this is still actually a division, regardless of how useless it is at the moment… we have to get back on our feet, and I... I don't know. It was probably a stupid idea, but it gets them out, at least."
"No, I think it's good. You just need to make sure they know who I am in future. Fancy a walk?"
"Okay. It's not like we're doing anything important around here."
They walked in silence, Renji trying hard not to look at the man next to him, Kira staring at the sky with his arms behind his back.
"I went to see Captain Ukitake today."
"Oh? Did you… have an enjoyable time? He is a wonderful man."
"Yeah. Do you go and talk to him a lot?"
"Quite often. Why do you ask?"
"He mentioned it, that's all."
"You talked about me?"
Renji rubbed his face in embarrassment.
"Yeah, a bit."
"What did he say?"
Kira looked understandably worried, and tugged at Renji's sleeve as he only shook his head in response. They had wandered away from the main body of buildings and were in the quieter streets of the Soul Society. No one was around, and Renji shouldered Izuru in the side, smiling as he did so.
"He said I needed to make a decision."
Izuru shook his head at the cryptic comment and smiled to himself, staring at Renji, at his friend who had helped to pull him up out of the pit of sorrow and grief he was in, at the man who had metaphorically slapped him across the face and told him to get a grip on his life. He wished he could find the proper words to express his gratitude, but they would not come, no matter how hard he tried to. He sighed, and rolled his eyes kindly at his friend.
"Fair enough. Be ambiguous."
Renji stretched up and yawned, and Izuru swallowed, watching fabric pull tight against his chest. He threw his head back, and Izuru looked at the ground.
"I've spoken to Captain Ukitake about you too, Renji."
"Oh? Good things?"
Shunsui smiled from around the corner, where he was listening to the conversation.
"Yeah, good things."
Shunsui got to his feet.
"D'you fancy telling me?"
A blush flared across Izuru's face, and Renji took a step closer, his joking smile fading into something softer, something warmer. Shunsui wandered off, knowing this was not his conversation to listen into, and made his way to the Thirteenth division headquarters. Nanao was too loved-up to bother chasing him at the minute- she had spent most of her time in the last few months staring distractingly into space and smiling moronically out of the window.
Kind of like what he did when he thought of Jyuushiro.
He breezed past the Thirteenth division's two third chairs with a smile, and unlike Renji had no problems with identification, for he spent more time in that division, on certain days, than he did on his own, and was a well-known figure in the building.
He pushed open a door, apparently at random, and smiled at the Captain, even though he had his back to the door and could not see him. He was in front of open doors to the porch, silhouetted by the golden sunlight coming through. The day had passed quickly, and Shunsui had not noticed. He sighed to himself- the older he got, the quicker his time seemed to fly, until he was older than he had ever intended to be and still had not told Jyuushiro everything that he should have done.
"It never ceases to amaze me how my Lieutenants still haven't figured out that you use my rietsu to find where I am."
"I do not."
"How else would you always know, old friend?"
"You're more predictable than you think, you know."
"I knew you'd talk him into it."
"You followed him? I thought I felt you leave."
"It looks like it will be Izuru who will be the first to admit it. You gave him courage, Jyuushiro."
He smiled, from where he was sat, watching the garden still.
"You should keep some of that courage for yourself."
"What makes you say that?"
Shunsui took a seat next to his friend, in the doorway.
"You keep too many secrets."
"You can talk."
"You did not tell me that Nanao was with someone."
"Ah, true enough."
There was a silence, and Jyuushiro stared distractedly at the far distance, with little of his usual warmth, not turning his head to meet the other's gaze. He opened his mouth, as if to say something further, but instead obviously halted himself, and closed it, his face calm.
Instead, he smiled, and Shunsui wrinkled his forehead.
"Why do you answer everything with a smile?"
Shunsui watched his old friend curiously as Jyuushiro refused to meet his eyes, staring instead at the floor, his hair falling like a wave down around his shoulders. The water of his hair shone, and almost rippled in the sunlight, covering the emotions in his dark eyes from Shunsui, who looked instead at his wrists turned on their sides on his knees, so that Shunsui could follow the faint blue maze of veins through the near translucent skin, an intricately beautiful pattern against the cold white of his friend's skin.
Shunsui had spent many hours wondering where else Jyuushiro's skin would be that pale, and if you could feel his pulse if you pressed your lips to those tracings of veins. He also wondered Jyuushiro was as cold as he looked, and if he would ever be able to warm his dearest friend up.
The white-haired man looked up and slightly to the sound, and focused his smile at his friend, and Shunsui found himself smiling in return at those lit up features.
"Because you can move the world with smiles, Shunsui."
"Perhaps. You certainly move me."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I thought so."
"You think a lot of things that you never say."
"Is that so?"
"You know it is."
"Jyuushiro, stop being so damn cryptic. Can you not just say what you want to say, for once in your life?"
For once, Shunsui sounded vaguely annoyed, and in response Ukitake too felt irate. He had not the time nor the energy for this ambiguous word game, and he wished that Shunsui would simply come out with whatever it was that he was trying so hard to avoid saying. It should be said and dealt with, so he could continue contemplating in the silence of the evening a new way to rid himself of his infestation of adoration that held too tight a hold over him.
"You keep saying that, Shunsui, and yet you are the one who is avoiding saying what it is you really mean."
"I'm waiting for you to be truthful."
"Truthful about what? And stop avoiding the question!"
"About us, Jyuushiro. About what we're both stepping around."
The pause before the reply was infinitesimally too long for his words to ring with his normally encroaching truthfulness.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes you do."
Shunsui moved to kneel in front of him, blocking out the view of the garden, and pushed the mane of hair back off his friend's face with two hands so that he could see his tired, sad eyes. His smallest fingers ghosted down the bridge of his nose and across each of the pale man's cheeks, before they moved to his chin, tilting it upwards so that they met each other's gaze. Jyuushiro's hands grasped Shunsui's wrists hard, as if to wrench them away, but at the last moment they stilled, as if he no longer had the energy. Shunsui felt, rather than heard, the swallow of nerves and emotion in his friend's throat, and sighed, more at himself than to his friend.
"You can go on helping people your whole life Jyuu, and not give anything to yourself. You would give up with world to make other people happy-"
"I would give it up to see you happy."
"Then let me be. Let me help you. For once in you martyred, selfless life, let someone help you."
There was a long pause, and Jyuushiro's hands fell limp into his lap.
"What do you want me to say, Shunsui?"
"I want you to tell me that you want me, and you always have, and that you love me, and that you always will."
Jyuushiro's face was stoic, emotionless, giving nothing away but a glimpse of resigned surprise.
"Why would you want me to tell you that?"
"Now who is being cryptic?"
"You tell people to take a grip on their lives. Take a grip of your own, take your own advice for once, and tell me the truth."
To Shunsui's relief, warmth came back into those dark eyes.
"You already know the truth."
Shunsui felt a smile break onto his face, wrinkling the corners of his eyes up, and let go of the hair around the other mans face that he had come so close to in his own annoyance and frustration. Before he could move back, however, he felt a hand grab the front of his robe. Surprise flickered in his eyes.
"What are you doing?"
"Taking my own advice."
Jyuushiro held Shunsui there and rose up to kiss his mouth, a light press, squeezing his eyes shut in an attempt to stop the nerves coiling up inside of him from winning out. Time seemed to freeze and their mouths met, and for a moment Jyuushiro could hear quite clearly the sound of a lark from outside, voice raised in inexplicable joy, and wondered if he had perhaps, somehow, got it all wrong, for Shunsui seemed too to be frozen, not reacting as perhaps he ought to have. But all doubts were quickly dispelled from his mind as Shunsui found himself and pulled the other man to him, close against his body as the white-haired man sat up into a similar kneeling height, feeding their warmth together in the dying light of the setting sun.
They pulled away, foreheads touching, and smiled at each other.
"So many years, I wondered what that would be like."
"Why did you never say anything?"
"I always meant to, but time seemed to go too quickly."
"We were young, and foolish. We could never have found the right words."
"It seems that we still cannot."
Shunsui pulled him closer.
"Perhaps not, but sometimes words are unnecessary."
"So many wasted years…"
A hand ran through silvered hair, touching the side of a face, and a smiling mouth whispered words against the skin underneath another's jaw.
"So many yet to come…"
Jyuushiro sighed, and felt his eyes flicker shut and Shunsui moved to his neck, pressing himself closer, ever closer, to the other. Hands slipped under fabric, bonding, uniting in a mutual longing, mutual loneliness, mutual joy.
"Will they be happy?"
Shunsui felt a hand pull the hat of his head and the body against his, the breath of the words against his ear, the feel of a longed sought for touch, and the taste of soft skin under his mouth. He smiled again, against the skin so that Jyuushiro could feel it, and nodded.
"The happiest yet, old friend. The happiest yet."