“You seem mad at me.”
“What gives you that impression.”
Byakuya’s tone implies that it’s not a question, simply a counter. And not a sarcastic one either, despite what his words suggest. He’s solemnly, but genuinely curious.
They trail behind him as he walks the length of his manor, the lively atmosphere of his gardens almost canceling out his affronted demeanor. The birds chirp excitedly, and even the Koi seem to slide through the lake water with enthusiastic spirit.
“Well for one, you seem to be adamant on making me rush to keep up with you. You nearly lost me in the crowd back at the barracks. Was that on purpose? Are you in a hurry?”
Immediately he slows his pace almost to a complete stop, abrupt enough that they have to step out of the way to avoid crashing into him.
When they come to his side, he won’t even look at them, his eyes are closed. But he waits expectantly.
“That’s better,” they say, fighting to lace their tone with whimsicality, only in hopes that it will gain a better reaction from him.
When he receives that confirmation, he walks again, significantly slower, almost like it’s forced.
“I have work to do, yes,” he explains, eyes open again and beaming straight ahead. They try to recall if he’s glanced at them even once the entire day.
“Do you need help?”
“No.” He comes to stop at the nearest door, slides it open, and steps into a spacious room. Against the wall is stationed a low desk, a significant stack of paperwork awaiting him.
“Are you sure?” they ask as they follow him into the room. “I have nothing of importance to do today. I have to deliver reports to Squads Ten and Eleven tonight, but otherwise, I’m free.”
“You didn’t tell me you were going to Squad Eleven. I heard you were there yesterday, too.”
Their brows arch in piqued curiosity. “I wasn’t aware I had to notify you of my every move.”
He kneels down in front of his desk and exhales in weary annoyance at the paperwork before him. It was so unlike him to delay his duties and accumulate this much work. He’ll blame it on his subordinates for now.
“Then what’s the problem?” they inquire.
“I would like to know if and when you have business in Squad Eleven.”
“Well, now you know.”
They see his eyes sharpen, but he doesn’t comment. He’s doing an excellent job of distracting his exasperation with signing off on documents, but they know him well enough to decipher when he’s struggling to tether what’s on his mind.
They continue to examine him, noticing the forced, arrogant poise of his posture, as if he were attempting to convey his indifference to every other matter that did not pertain to his current paperwork. But they knew better.
“Is this about what happened at the festival last month?”
His jaw tenses and he swallows, adam’s apple bobbing—all too many reactions that paint animation into his features, and they know they’ve guessed correctly.
“Yes it is, Byakuya.”
Now it’s difficult to hide the mirth in their voice. “Yachiru is the one who organized it, and she invited me. So I went. If I recall, she also invited you. You could have come along, you know. She’s quite fond of you.”
“Why would I waste my time dawdling with Squad Eleven and attend their brutish, pointless congregation.”
“It wasn’t brutish.” Not the majority of the time, anyway. “I had fun.”
“I’m sure you did.”
They tilt their head curiously. Is that sharpness that they detect in his voice bordering spite? Maybe sarcasm?
Byakuya was nothing less than incensed when they returned to his home the night of the festival, too drunk to function and practically wrapped in Ikkaku’s arms as he escorted them to Kuchiki manor.
The Division Six captain might have offered a hint of gratitude that Ikkaku set aside the time to see his s/o back safely, if he wasn’t so convinced that the man was being far too friendly and far too familiar. Byakuya could blame it on the enthusiasm that accompanied alcohol and lost inhibitions, but he didn’t. He just didn’t like it. He was insulted.
He practically demanded that the man remove himself from Kuchiki property, before dragging his s/o into the house and attempting to reprimand them. Of course, his efforts were futile in their drunken stupor, but they still remember how flustered he’d been, how angry. So different from his stolid façade now.
“I know you’re not happy about what happened,” they begin almost hesitantly. “But we were just having fun. Ikkaku is—“
“Third Seat Madarame is as crude and abhorrent as his captain. I would prefer you not fraternize with him or any other member of Squad Eleven if you are at all concerned about your reputation.”
“My reputation?” they ask, almost incredulously. “Or yours?”
Byakuya looks annoyed now.
Already, this conversation is flustering him, but he won’t drop it until they’ve conceded. “I don’t want any one of those barbarians to believe they can consort with you as they please. They are not pleasant people, _____. They are bad influences. You see already how that pest of a lieutenant Kusajishi finds her way in here and invites guests over without my consent or knowledge.”
“I like Yachiru,” they insist. “I just think you’re too stubborn to widen your circle of friends, Byakuya.”
“I hope you do not consider them friends.”
“Of course I do! I know you don’t like Ikkaku… and I know I don’t have to tell you this again, but nothing happened the night of the festival–“
“Yes, I know that much. Though you could have fooled me with the way he was clinging to you on my doorstep. You may not see it, but I do. You need not give him a reason to think you are fond of him—”
“Byakuya,” they almost chuckle, and just faintly, they think he’s blushing. “Don’t be so stubborn and pessimistic. If not for Ikkaku, I very well might have passed out in the Squad Eleven barracks for the night. And you wouldn’t have liked that, would you?”
He doesn’t speak, but his answer is clear.
“Besides, if what you say is true about their brutish and barbaric nature, why concern themselves over anything but fighting? There’s no time for romance in Squad Eleven,” they tease. “You don’t have to worry about Ikkaku–“
“And what about that pompous Fifth Seat who trails you like a shadow whenever he sees you?”
Their mouth opens on instinct to mention how hypocritical it is of him to throw around the word pompous so freely, but they seal their lips. “Yumichika is harmless. We’ve known each other far before our days in the Gotei 13. Surely you’re not going to hold that against me.”
“He is not an exception. I don’t like him.”
“Why? Because his hair is prettier than yours?”
His eyes draw away from his paper only for a moment, and he stares at the wall in front of him in tense consideration, like he’s trying to quell whatever snide remark is on his tongue.
Unfortunately for them—because riling up Byakuya is always gratifying—he succeeds, and focuses his attention back on his paperwork with a huff.
His temper is always amusing in a dangerous way, but they know better than to ignite his anger past the breaking point. Still, their caution is overwhelmed by intrigue.
“So,” they begin with a sly smile. “What would you like me to do about this dilemma, Kuchiki-sama?”
“Do not patronize me.”
“I’m not. I’m only asking. I’d rather know now then have you hold it against me for the rest of our lives… which will be a long time, need I remind you.”
They come to kneel beside him, and he pretends the new proximity doesn’t fluster him, but it does. Even when he looks at them, he forces his steely eyes not to forsake the impassive demeanor he tries so hard to uphold.
They examine the captain skeptically, amusement pulling their lips into a smug, entertained smirk. Tempting as it may be to test his limits and confirm the rumors of his infamous, latent temper, they regain composure quickly.
“You might as well just admit it, Byakuya. The longer you prolong it, the worse it will be for you.”
“You make it sound like a threat,” he murmurs, voice thin. They would be daunted, had they not been desensitized to his cold demeanor after so long. “And what exactly would you like me to admit?”
“That you’re jealous.”
He shuts his eyes and exhales a frustrated sigh. “I am not jealous.”
“I only think it prudent that you stay away from Squad Eleven. That is all.”
“I don’t think you’re giving them enough credit,” they hum thoughtfully. “Some of them are quite pleasant. Excellent company, in fact.”
He’s already returned to reading over the paper in his hand, but they notice his eyes strain to remain on the text.
“It’s refreshing,” they continue, knowing they’re on thin ice, “considering that I come here and am forced to compete with paperwork for your attention, Byakuya.”
Ah, that does it. His eyes draw back to theirs, stern flickers of periwinkle boring into them. “You would have me abandon my day-to-day duties as a captain just to entertain you—“
“No no, calm down,” they snort, realizing it’s not fair to tease him. They intertwine their arm with his and shift even closer. “I can’t help but tease you. You make it too easy.”
His brows knit in irritation, yet the flare of frustration that was once there has dissolved, oddly enough. “I do not appreciate that.”
“And I don’t appreciate you trying to dictate what I do and don’t do, and who my friends are.”
They receive no response, only the stiffening of his hard expression.
Then his face softens when they press a gentle, quick kiss to his cheek. Their lips are warm, but not as warm as the blush that creeps onto his skin, which he quickly dispels.
“You have nothing to worry about, Byakuya,” they assure him with a smooth grin. “I think the sober, gloomy demeanor of Division Six is more appealing than the barbarity of the Eleventh. So don’t get too hung up on this, alright?”
His lips part around a stern retort, but he understands it would be in vain. For a long pause, he eyes them curiously and with guarded expectancy.
They frown. “Alright?”
“Fine,” he finally works out with difficulty.
“Good.” They’re smiling again, a smile that cures his irritation in an way he’s always found to be annoying. Then they rise to their feet. “If you don’t need my help, I’ll be going. I can see you have your hands full.”
Before they can exit the room, his voice stops them.
“Do not let me find you intoxicated on my doorstep tonight, ______. If you get swept up in the antics of the Eleventh Division… then at least drink with caution.”
They smile. “Yes, Kuchiki-sama.”
When they leave and slide the door closed behind them, Byakuya releases a heavy sigh of annoyance.
He may have to send some of his guards to survey the Squad Eleven barracks tonight.