Penumbra

BY : Sardonicista
Category: Bleach > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1530
Disclaimer: The author does not own Bleach or its characters, and does not earn any profit from this story.

Penumbra, Chapter One


                 




                The great red doors swung open, torchlight reflecting off the oversized golden handles and skittering down the quiet hall in random spots and swathes. Byakuya followed a lone ray of flickering firelight with his eyes as it flitted up the door, then the lintel and finally settled on an unassuming patch of plain white plaster overhead as he crossed the threshold and entered the empty meeting room. 


                Stepping forward as the guards shut the massive doors behind him, he made an effort not to breathe in too much of the air thick with stale smoke and the humidity of summer. Byakuya frowned, trying to remember the last time he stood in the Great Hall, or the circumstances of the last Captain’s meeting.


                He couldn’t. It had been too long.


                Closing his eyes and navigating the room by memory, he pushed through the cloying air and made for the door in the back corner. It, too, opened as if by magic, the attendants stepping into the shadows and then out of sight as he swept by.


                It was all he could do not to shiver.


                Thankfully, a beacon of warm light shone out from the end of the interior passage. He strode forward with some relief as he neared the fusuma, first sliding aside a faded scene of grasses and cranes on a lakeshore, then a portrait of a blooming plum tree bustling with warblers and wrens. The panel slid shut before he could even turn round so he blinked instead, taking in the cozy office and the man ensconced, unexpectedly, behind the desk.


               “Ah, Bya-kun, you look lost,” Kyouraku Shunsui smiled as he looked up from a formidable stack of papers.  


               “Not at all,” Byakuya droned, eyeing the other man’s plain white kosode and noting the conspicuous absence of drinking vessels. “I am simply surprised.”


               “What, that I’m working?” Shunsui proposed with a laugh. He turned to set his brush aside, his eyepatch towards his guest.


               “Hnn, moreso to see this room in use. I’ve not been here in decades.” Byakuya let his gaze drop to the tatami mats, still impeccable, and a small floral arrangement perched on the edge of the low desk.


               “Nanao-chan’s handiwork,” Shunsui pointed to the blooms of yellow and white with fondness. “She said something about this place being hardly fitting, otherwise.”


                The Captain Commander toiling in a closet? I should say so. Byakuya nodded, noncommittal.


                “The old man’s office is simply too big,” Shunsui continued as if reading his mind, drumming his long fingers on the hardwood of the desk. “I can’t read in a space expansive enough to picnic with the whole division.”


                “That depends on whether one hopes to get any work done or not.”


                “Indeed,” Shunsui smiled again, broader than the first. “Speaking of welcome diversions, to what do I owe the pleasure of such illustrious company?”


                Expressionless, the Kuchiki head retrieved a scroll from his kimono folds and handed it over. “The report on damages to the archives and an estimate of cost of repairs, per your request, sir.”


                “Ah, and the news is so dire that you had to deliver it in person?” Shunsui accepted the scroll and broke the wax seal, eye skimming over the figures. “I’m not known for shooting the messenger, so to speak.”


               “Messengers have been known to misplace items, though,” Byakuya countered and produced a large, frosted glass bottle from his sleeve, which he placed adjacent to the flowers on the desk. “It is customary, I believe, to bring a gift to offset the delivery of unpleasant news.”


               “Hmm,” despite the dubious frown claiming his mouth, Shunsui couldn’t school the remainder of his features into disinterest as he examined the bottle. “Very, very nice vintage. This is the best bribe I’ve had all week.”


               “All quarter, at least,” Byakuya raised an eyebrow. “I have no objection to using clan resources to fund a portion of repairs, though that requires additional forms to be completed. I can have them to you by tomorrow.”


               “Does that mean I need to give this back?” Shunsui tapped the neck of the bottle with a pensive fingertip.


               Unable to stifle a sigh, Byakuya turned to the door. “I wouldn’t dream of it. You will need to inform me of its quality, though. It would not do to be doling out mediocre bribes.”


               “Nor is it proper to hand off fine sake without sampling it.” Shunsui rose to his full height, towering over the Sixth’s captain by at least a foot. He swept to the door with the tiniest rustle of fabric, bottle in one hand and the other on Byakuya’s shoulder. “Has it stopped raining?”


              “Two hours ago,” Byakuya reported even as he was ushered from the brightly lit room to the dank, ink-black hallway.


              “Perfect.”


              A moment later, he was following the Captain Commander by reiatsu alone as they traversed the narrow maze of halls at the heart of the First Division. It was several minutes more before they arrived on the tiled roof of the main building, a tray piled with several sakazuki, a decanter and what Byakuya could barely make out as a plate of sweets waiting for them. In another minute the scene came into focus as the few remaining wisps of clouds dispersed, bathing the buildings of Seireitei silver moonlight. Byakuya settled into seiza and uncorked the bottle, pouring out the rice liquor as the Captain Commander laid back to pillow his head on his interlaced fingers. They sat in silence, sipping the sake and watching as the lanterns and torches of the surrounding streets were gradually extinguished, giving way to the twinkling stars overhead.


              The bottle was half empty before Shunsui spoke. “Ah, the stillness of late spring; any night now, the cicadas will start serenading us.”


             “As will the tavern patrons, though they may not wait for the reopening to begin,” Byakuya mused as Shunsui laughed outright.


             “Indeed, carousing is the best indicator that life is returning to normal.” Shunsui drained his drink and set it aside, waving off the Kuchiki’s offer of a refill. He stretched and crossed his legs, swinging his foot up and down as he stared at the sky. He sighed. “I suppose it’s time for a captains’ meeting.”


             “Not necessarily; appointments beneath captain’s rank can still be expedited under the Emergency Provisions…provided you haven’t rescinded them yet?”


             Shunsui rolled onto his side with a smirk. “You’re advocating that I shirk bureaucracy? I’m shocked.”


             Byakuya made a polite, if disparaging, noise at the back of his throat and sipped at his sake.


             “In all fairness, it’s up to Central 46, and they’ve been just as beleaguered as everybody else. There’s been some muttering from the most senior members, but no one’s been lobbying for a return to the normal, massive amounts of paperwork yet.” Shunsui brushed a wayward curl of hair away from his face. “It might be fun to beat them to it.”


             “I doubt your lieutenant will find it amusing.” Byakuya set his half-full sakazuki aside and shifted his position on the curved tiles of the roof.


            “True,” Shunsui winced. “If anything, she deserves a vacation. The trick will be getting her to take it, or convince her that the army of clericals she’s trained can keep up with the work in her absence. Supreme overachiever, my Nanao.”


            “A credit to your division, Soutaichou.” Byakuya inclined his head in respect.


            “I’ve never deserved her,” Shunsui said to himself, though he turned to look at the younger captain again. “And what of your division? Have you decided, yet?”


           “There are those I ought to consult first.”


           “Well, that’s something,” Shunsui sat up, straightening his robes. “There was a time that Kuchiki-sama wouldn’t have taken their opinions into consideration…nor would he have deigned to share a drink with a fellow captain unless he had no recourse.”


           “Or unless ordered to, as I was tonight,” Byakuya countered, though his tone betrayed a touch of amusement.


           “It couldn’t be helped; knowing how long this lovely concoction had languished in your cellars, I couldn’t let it sit another night.” Picking up the bottle to admire it in the cool light of the moon, Shunsui lifted it overhead, painting his face in rippling shadow. “Though I suppose the rest could keep for a bit.  What do you say to dinner tomorrow?”


            Byakuya blinked at him.


            “Come now, I don’t polish off every bottle right away.”


            Not anymore.


            “Civilian dress, please,” Shunsui went on, standing and scooping up the tray. “Let’s see how well it suits you.”


            Any retort Byakuya might have made died on his lips as Kyouraku materialized mere inches in front of his face.


            “I would appreciate it if you humored me,” Shunsui leaned forward until their noses nearly touched, a swirl of sake, tea and an earthy scent in his wake. “Consider it a sign of my gratitude for the delightful diversion this evening.”


           “Very well,” came Byakuya’s quiet assent, though he was otherwise completely still.


           “It’s getting late. Shall I take you home?”


           Byakuya found himself taking a step back as he searched his face, nothing in Shunsui’s rumbling voice or intense gaze suggesting that he was joking. “I…I believe I can find my own way, thank you.”


           “Hmm.”


           Shunsui ran his hand absently down Byakuya’s arm, and the warmth reached the Kuchiki’s skin despite the many layers of intervening cloth. Byakuya refused to shiver, or react in any way, all focus directed toward the man in before him.


           A cool breeze swept in from the north at that moment, and Shunsui’s attention and reiatsu seemed to draw back into himself. Byakuya tried to place the scent of the Soutaichou’s reiatsu- maple leaves in the Autumn? Freshly turned earth? - but couldn’t, and just as ephemeral as his spiritual pressure, Shunsui had turned and lengthened the distance between them, and stood backlit by moonlight on the peak of the roof.


          “Tomorrow, then. Do take care, Kuchiki-san.”


          And he was gone.


          A second, chilling draught caught Byakuya’s hair and robes, and he made no effort to resist the shiver when it came. He turned to face the wind, glimpsing the silent, shadow-infested lanes and alleys stretching out in a maze before him. Abandoned buildings and piles of rubble still marred the face of the Seireitei, but the chaos and refuse of war seemed to diminish by the day. Byakuya let his eyes roam the skyline, noting the destroyed and the rejuvenated, until his sights settled on the familiar features of the Sixth, many miles away from his rather alien perch on the stronghold of the First.


          Looking down at the tiles beneath his feet, he shook his head.


         “Take care of yourself, Kyouraku-soutaichou.”


         Byakuya stepped off the roof, his shunpou not disturbing the tiles in the slightest.  




 



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