A/N: Bleach is not mine.
Kerumica said it's sad that Byakuya has no partner (re: Random Acts of Bleachness, chapter 115 Correspondence to Nowhere) and that very night, I had this dream/thought.
Set after the events of Not About You and HappyUnhappy.
Shadow of Doubt
Kira bowed his head and stepped out of the office silently. Like a ghost he passed from hall to hall, avoiding eye contact with everyone until he reached the third division's office.
It was still empty. Kurosaki Isshin was probably out gallivanting with Kyoraku Shunsui. Kira sighed and sat down at his desk. It used to face the opposite wall, with a window behind his seat; now it was fronted by a shoji screen and the window was on his left. It was deliberately shifted so that Kira would stop remembering how it felt to be startled by a pair of cool hands about his eyes, and how good it felt to be kissed on the back of his neck just when he was the most exhausted. Even now – though he would be ashamed to admit to anyone – he half-expected Ichimaru Gin to walk in through the door, or step around the screen to plant himself in the chair opposite Kira.
The door banged open and Kira jerked straight, half-guilty that he hoped it was Gin. Gin who was dead and buried, just outside Seireitei, next to his beloved Aizen-taichou. Most shinigami had wanted to dismember the corpses, but Ukitake-soutaichou had put his foot down and allowed Kira to give them a proper burial.
That was why Kira avoided eye contact with most shinigami these days: that last act of devotion had not garnered him any fans.
Isshin bounded around the shoji screen. "Kira-kun!"
"Taichou," Kira nodded and pointed to the new stack of forms, "courtesy of the soutaichou."
"Ah darn, I was hoping to have some free time this afternoon," sighed Isshin dramatically. Though his voice and gestures were loud, he was never anything but kind to Kira. Some part of the blond resented it, but he understood that it was the captain's way of protecting and sheltering him. "Jyuu-chan must be fed up with our jaunts... and that he can't join us."
Kira flashed a quick smile. "Perhaps. He did say to inform you that, uh, 'tell that old man to do his job and act his age. His shinigami age.' He wasn't smiling either."
"Ah." Isshin puffed his cheeks out. "Guess our ploy to introduce him to yet another woman has failed."
"I don't want to know," said the lieutenant, holding up both hands palms out. He was remarkably comfortable with Isshin. Much like he was with Shuuhei, and when he was with Renji back in their Academy days. Occasionally Kira would yearn for simpler times.
Isshin stroked his bearded chin. "In that case, pass the two folders to Byakuya, will you? They're for archiving."
Kuchiki Byakuya was alone in his office. Abarai Renji was now the captain of the fifth, and a well-deserved promotion it was. Byakuya had yet to locate a suitable replacement.
There was a polite knock on the door.
"Come in." The noble put down his pen. It was finally introduced to Seireitei – so much easier to use than a brush.
Kira walked in and bowed. "Good afternoon, Kuchiki-taichou. These are from Kurosaki-taichou, for archiving purposes."
"Thank you." Byakuya dismissed the blond lieutenant quickly.
It was almost disconcerting how the younger shinigami never looked up and met his eyes, but Kira had always shied behind something for as long as Byakuya was aware of his existence. First Abarai, then Ichimaru – Byakuya could not help the slight tensing of his eyebrow – followed by Madarame Ikkaku, the new Eleventh Division captain, and now Kurosaki Isshin. He wondered if Kira would ever be able to face the world by himself.
The official investiture of Abarai Renji was held a day later than expected. Ukitake-soutaichou had been stricken with a serious bout of his illness and thus delayed proceedings for one day.
"It's different, I suppose," Renji said after the short ceremony. "I mean, I sit in his chair and wonder if he had been plotting while sitting in the same chair. It is rather surreal."
Kira was glad that Renji was more animated than usual. Shuuhei's patience was good for the redhead. "I believe you have a promotion allowance to change the furniture."
"I do," said Renji and he cast a glance at his partner. Hisagi Shuuhei, captain of the Ninth, was chatting with Ikkaku. "He hasn't time."
The slim lieutenant looked over and his jaw tightened when he noticed Ikkaku. The bald-pated shinigami seemed to feel the scrutiny and turned to face Kira. Neither said anything, but Madarame Ikkaku marched off after he bade Shuuhei good day.
Kira unclenched his jaw. It was still too early to make any amends, and frankly he had no wish to. Kira loved Ichimaru, had always done, and probably always would. Ikkaku didn't want to live with that over his head. That was his problem, not Kira's.
It could be that he felt the tension; Shuuhei hurried over to Renji and Kira. "Hey guys."
"Hey," answered Kira, trying out a smile. It felt natural enough.
Renji didn't say anything, but those skilled in reiatsu manipulation (i.e. pretty much everyone in the room) knew when the redhead's reiatsu melded with Shuuhei's. They probably didn't mean to be that obvious about it. No one begrudged them that though: Abarai Renji's brush with self-destruction had worried all but the hardest of hearts. It had been Shuuhei's immense dedication and love that slowly brought Renji out of his shell, but the red-haired shinigami was not the same man he was before.
Something in him died when Rukia did, and not even Shuuhei could piece Renji's heart whole. Nothing could.
Kira knew the feeling intimately.
Shuuhei tilted his head. "Renji, you wanna get something to eat?"
"I'm not hungry."
"I'm not cooking later though," said Shuuhei, one paler hand on Renji's bicep. The two young captains exchanged a glance of mutual amused understanding.
Suddenly Kira felt like an intruder. He smiled at them both and said, "I see my captain. I better talk to him before he leaves me with today's paperwork."
"See you around, Kira," said Shuuhei with a small grin. Renji only half-smiled, and then returned his attention to his lover.
There were too many people milling around, Byakuya thought as he stood near a pillar watching the crowd. The pillar was dark and the swathes of fabric that decorated the hall were white; Byakuya was almost perfectly camouflaged.
In truth there were not many people, just the captains and their lieutenants. Madarame of the Eleventh appeared rather lost and alone. Back when Zaraki was still captain, there had been the ever-perky Yachiru. Byakuya remembered that Madarame had yet to select a lieutenant too. Ukitake had retired to his seat and Kyoraku was with him. A quick scan located Ise Nanao speaking with Unohana-taichou and Kotetsu. Sasakibe was conversing with Soifon and Yoruichi; Byakuya shifted to the other side of the pillar before the dark-skinned female decided to 'accompany' him.
Isshin hurried past him, evidently to avoid a persistent young blond who was headed his way. Byakuya caught sight of Renji's crimson mane on the opposite side of the room and noticed the way the redheaded captain's reiatsu was joined to Shuuhei's.
It was no good going over to them now.
Byakuya could see the two talk. Shuuhei had a hand on Renji's right arm. Renji had lowered his head and listened to the dark-haired shinigami; Shuuhei wore a small smile and elbowed Renji with affection when the redhead commented.
Something in Byakuya hurt. He wasn't sure what.
The noble swiveled around, ready to return to his mansion, when he collided with Kira.
"I'm sorry," said the lieutenant immediately, bowing in apology.
Byakuya shook his head and stepped aside. "The fault was mine."
As they separated Kira saw that Isshin had made his way out the door. "He's fled," the blond muttered.
"Yes, Kuchiki-taichou," said Kira with a fleeting smile. "He's trying to avoid signing the mountain of documents that I have prepared for him."
Byakuya raised an eyebrow. "Kyoraku-san is a bad example for him."
"I am unable to say that," replied Kira, though amusement danced in his eyes. "The forms do need his initials though."
"If I am not mistaken," said Byakuya, "one of the more pressing documents is for the Finance sector, regarding a raise for all senior officers. I believe that knowledge might assist."
Kira smiled more broadly this time. "Thank you, Kuchiki-taichou. That is indeed important information that enriches my knowledge."
"Knowledge is power, after all."
It was a cloudy, dull afternoon. Kurosaki Isshin stomped his way into the sixth division.
Kuchiki Byakuya looked up. "Good afternoon."
"Did you tell my subordinate how to get me to work?" demanded the bearded shinigami, huffing with indignant annoyance.
"I merely provided him with relevant information," answered the raven-haired noble.
"He made me sit and sign folders and papers for three hours," complained Isshin, "until we got to the last one, which was the one about the raise."
Byakuya almost smiled. "Oh? Then you must have really let things pile up a little too much, Kurosaki-san."
If Kira had a fault, it was how effortlessly he separated his emotions from his work.
He had had a lot of practice working under Ichimaru Gin.
When the blond lieutenant strode into the Eleventh Division's office, Madarame Ikkaku was preparing his hangover for the day. Bottles littered the top of his once-immaculate desk.
"I thought we broke you out of the drinking habit," Kira said, eying the empty receptacles with distaste. "This isn't how to deal with problems."
"I thought you're here to give me reports, fukutaichou," countered Ikkaku. It was a low blow, and he knew it.
Kira's blue eyes met his gaze straight on. "I thought you had better sense than this, taichou."
"You can't dictate what I want to do or not to do, Kira." Ikkaku sat up, with some difficulty. "We're not 'us' anymore. You chose the memory of a mass murdering psychopath over me, so you have no right to rebuke anything I do."
The lieutenant's left eyelid twitched. "We used to be friends."
"We ain't friends now."
"No we're not." Kira was surprised by his own sharp tone. "But I am sure I have no intention of watching you drink to death or demotion." He walked up and swept all the bottles to the floor. All smashed; some which still had liquid in them scattered their contents over the pristine floor.
Ikkaku pushed himself to his feet.
Kira glared at him.
The scent of the spilled wine rose, an intoxicating fragrance that did nothing to soften the frozen tableau between the two men.
Ikkaku's lip curled. "Get out."
The blond stared at his ex-lover, then swept out of the room without a backward glance. Though the door was only a screen door, Kira slammed it as hard as he could until the wood splintered.