When Abarai Renji was woken when the sun was barely above the horizon line, it took all of his self-control not to snap at his husband and demand to know why he had to be awake so early. Early mornings are a constant when it comes to Kuchiki Byakuya; he likes being up with the sun and is usually prepared for the day when others are still in their last two hours of sleep for the morning. Renji hoped beyond hope in the beginning that he would be able to get away with sleeping in despite Byakuya’s desire to be awake early, but no such luck. Being up early gave him a chance to share more time with Byakuya and he’s a sap who can’t help himself.
Byakuya ushers him into washing up for the day, already cleaned with his hair wrapped in a towel to soak up the excess moisture. If Byakuya was a normal person and only wore a towel after washing, Renji might get a flash of thigh or accidentally dislodge the towel from Byakuya’s waist. But of course he has a robe, firmly tied, and Renji doesn’t have it in him to fumble with one of the knots tied by Byakuya’s expert fingers. He knows he’d lose.
Once he’s washed, though, he’s surprised when Byakuya guides him over to one of the cushions around the kotatsu in their bedroom. It was added shortly after their marriage was official, a place where the two of them could enjoy tea or a meal together without anyone being able to walk in on them and interrupt them. They can work on paperwork quietly, and on slow afternoons Byakuya reads and Renji likes just sitting and watching him. This morning, however, Renji no sooner sits down before Byakuya is behind him, a hairbrush in hand.
“What are you doing?” Renji glances over his shoulder, huffing when Byakuya forcibly turns his head back around so he’s facing directly ahead of him. “Byakuya, what—”
Byakuya sighs heavily and Renji rolls his eyes; his captain has never been anything but dramatic and now is no different. “I thought I would brush your hair this morning.”
“Oh?” Renji frowns at the sentiment. When he’d married Byakuya, he knew better than most that Byakuya was not exactly the warm, fuzzy, or romantic type. This seems out of character for him.
“Keeping hair as long as ours means having to spend extra time caring for it, but I thought perhaps it might be easier if we assisted each other with the task.” Byakuya gathers Renji’s hair, still damp, in one hand. “Unless you’d like to object to such a thing.”
Renji smiles softly and shakes his head, wincing when he almost manages to pull his own hair; he’d forgotten Byakuya is holding onto it. “Nah, go ahead. It’s fine with me.”
When Renji brushes his own hair, he yanks the bristles through to get the job done as quickly as possible and ties it up tight enough that his scalp has been sore at the end of the day. It’s a sharp contrast to how Byakuya cares for his own hair, the care with which he brushes out the long black strands of his hair and arranges them into his kenseikan each morning. Renji has watched, more curious than anything else; the hair pieces had been a part of Byakuya’s image ever since the first moment Renji had laid eyes on him when he first came for Rukia.
The memory makes him somewhat nostalgic. After Byakuya has been brushing his hair for a few minutes— he keeps a tight grip on it, running the bristles through just the ends of Renji’s hair— Renji clears his throat. “Did I ever tell you about my first impression of you?”
Byakuya pauses before he resumes the repetitive motions. “No, you haven’t.”
“The first time I ever saw you was when you came to take Rukia into the Kuchiki Clan.” The memory is bittersweet, the moment when Renji knew he was losing his best friend from childhood once and for all. “Do you remember that? I ran into the room and interrupted.”
“I remember. I wondered who you were that you’d interrupt us in such a way, but you knew Rukia, so it seemed best to let it go.” Byakuya finally lets go of the ends of his hair, the bristles coming to the roots of Renji’s hair in slow, easy motions.
Renji snorts softly. “Right. You’re such a bleeding heart when it comes to that.”
“What did you think of me?” A note of curiosity enters into Byakuya’s voice, and Renji grins.
“The first thing I noticed was your reiatsu. You were so powerful. I couldn’t even look directly at you without feeling overwhelmed.” The concept of love at first sight could never be closer and yet farther from the truth; it would be years before Renji knew the color of Byakuya’s eyes, and yet his soul had been touched by Byakuya’s power from that moment onward. “You have beautiful gray eyes, though. I found that out later on when I could properly see you.”
Byakuya makes a small noise behind him. “I don’t pay attention to such small details.”
The slight breathy quality to his voice tells Renji the truth; Byakuya is still overwhelmed by such small compliments. “Well, I do when it comes to you. They’re like storm clouds.”
“Such an observation does not quite seem positive.” Byakuya’s motions are smooth and consistent despite the slight shifts in his voice, which Renji can’t help but adore. It also makes him feel almost sleeping, this soothing motion. “Storm clouds signal rain and thunder.”
“You always have to make it negative, don’t ya? I love storms. The thunder and lightning great and you can feel the power in the air. It suits you, actually.” Renji chances trying to look over his shoulder at Byakuya, who immediately turns his head back around before he can.
When Byakuya speaks, his voice is calm once more. “I see. That was your impression of me?”
“I wanted to pursue you. I wanted to be able to face you without feeling like I couldn’t. I spent the entire rest of my life chasing you.” Renji looks down at his hand where the thin silver band of his wedding ring glimmers in the morning light. “I suppose I finally caught you.”
“That you did.” Byakuya is quiet for a moment, setting the hairbrush on the kotatsu in front of Renji before he shifts behind him. “I’ll tie your hair for you. You always tie it too tightly.”
Renji doesn’t argue with him; there’s something about Byakuya making time in his morning routine, something that he keeps as strictly as he does everything else, to do this for Renji. Even such a small thing is a gesture not to be taken lightly from Byakuya, and if he plans on doing this more often than just this once, well… Renji knows him well, now. He knows how to read Byakuya, how to read the smaller gestures and sentiments and he knows how hard Byakuya is working to prove that he cares about Renji as much as Renji cares about him.
With swift movements, Byakuya uses a black ribbon to tie Renji’s hair back, tight enough to keep his hair secure but not so tight that it pulls at his roots. “There. That should be suitable.”
“Thank you, Byakuya.” Renji turns to look at his husband, at the way the early morning light plays over his features and throws his aristocratic bone structure into sharp relief. He takes Byakuya’s hand and presses a kiss over his own matching wedding band. “Would you like me to do the same for you? Promise I won’t rip your hair out in the process.”
Byakuya sniffs. “I’ve seen how you brush your own hair. Somehow, I doubt this.”
“Quit whining and let me do something nice for you.” Renji shifts off of the cushion and wrestles Byakuya onto it; he goes without a fight because otherwise Renji would probably fail.
As carefully as possible, he frees Byakuya’s hair from the towel, the soft black strands tumbling down his back and over his shoulders. Genetics have made Byakuya as beautiful as possible, almost unfairly so, but Renji thinks there must be some magical secret to the fact Byakuya was given the exact perfect features that when paired together make him heart-stoppingly lovely. The black hair contrasts with his soft pale skin, bringing out the gray in his eyes and contrasting perfectly with his white kenseikan. He takes just a moment to run his fingers through it, careful to avoid knots and just admiring how soft the dark locks are between his fingers.
“Enjoying yourself?” Byakuya asks him, amusement coloring his voice.
“Yeah, I am.” Renji is shameless when it comes to his husband, but he finally breaks and picks up the hairbrush. “What was your first impression of me? Bet you didn’t realize I’d be your future husband when I knocked the doors open like that.”
Byakuya hums thoughtfully. “Your tattoos. I noticed them. They were a very interesting contrast, but I was focused on Rukia more than anything else. When I next saw you, the tattoos were larger, and there were more of them. That’s when I learned about Zabimaru.”
“At least you noticed something,” Renji murmurs. He’d have thought Byakuya noticed nothing.
“Watching your tattoos expand and grow over the years has been fascinating.” Byakuya pauses while Renji works the brush through the ends of his hair, trying to figure out just what Byakuya had been doing to his without being able to see so he can replicate it. “I’m confident in my ability to be able to find each one of them without having to see your skin.”
Renji almost drops the hairbrush; his heart rams into his throat as hard as possible. “Oh.”
Brushing Byakuya’s hair is surprisingly as soothing as having Byakuya brush his hair, Renji leans; the repetitive motions threaten to lull him into a slumber just as much, and there’s something about the pleased little sighs he occasionally picks up from Byakuya, the way the tension slowly drains from his shoulders. Once his hair has been brushed smoothed and shining, Renji retrieves his kenseikan from the dresser and summons every last memory he has of watching Byakuya arrange them in his hair.
“You’ve done a proper job of it,” Byakuya informs him after checking his appearance in the mirror; his long fingers don’t so much as twitch in the direction of his hair, and Renji is more than pleased by this. “You’ve been watching me do it. That’s how you knew, correct?”
Renji shrugs. “Maybe I have. Hard not to watch the little things when I’m with you every day.”
Committing the little things to memory is maybe one of the only specialties Renji has; the things he remembers he tries to show in their lives because he wants Byakuya to know how much he cares. Words carry weight with someone like Byakuya, who chooses his speech carefully and with purpose while Renji tends to blurt out whatever he thinks of especially when his husband overwhelms him. But actions speak louder; Renji likes to do small things for Byakuya, replacing the pot of ink he uses when he knows it’s running low, or setting out the leaves for his tea if Byakuya hasn’t had a chance to yet. Small things that Byakuya can appreciate.
“Interesting to think you’ve observed so much.” Byakuya’s lips twitch at the corners, and then he goes about dressing for the day.
Every single movement is fluid and beautiful, a sort of refined grace Byakuya no doubt learned growing up as a member of the Kuchiki Clan. Knowing where it came from makes it no less amazing, is the thing; Renji still finds his eyes straying to where Byakuya dresses, watching his fingers smooth fabric into place, straightening as he needs to. The finished product is all the more alluring for the effort Byakuya goes through in order to make himself what he considers presentable but what seems impossibly perfect to the untrained eye.
Renji dresses with far less grace and care and is subjected to Byakuya fixing his seams here and there, muttering to himself about how Renji could stand to be a little more careful. Finally, he takes a step back and nods once, pleased with Renji’s presentation and deciding they can finally step out of the room and join the rest of the world.
His hand pauses on the doorframe just the same, his arm barring Renji from leaving the room. “There is one thing I noticed about that day,” Byakuya tells him.
“What?” Renji frowns, mind already mostly set for the day at hand. “Which day?”
Byakuya sighs. “The day we met, Renji. The one you were speaking to me about when we were preparing this morning. There is one thing I noticed about that day other than your tattoos.”
Renji raises an eyebrow at the words; he’d taken Byakuya seriously when he said all he noticed were the tattoos because it made sense. A man so busy as the already-Captain, the head of his Clan, and one of the strongest shinigami in their world had far more important matters to attend to than a shinigami-in-training come to see one of his friends.
But he’ll bite. “Okay. What else did you notice?”
“You were so excited.” Byakuya’s head tilts just slightly and Renji’s eyes widen just a touch at the words, not expecting that. He was expecting, maybe, for Byakuya to point out only an idiot would rush the doors like that without a second thought. “You passed your secondary exam and you only had one more to go. You were so excited to tell her that you didn’t even think the doors were closed for a reason. It was… Sweet.”
“You really remember that?” Renji’s knees quiver just slightly at the thought; the secondary exam was an important one, and he thought he’d fail for sure.
Byakuya half-turns to look at him, gray eyes soft and considering. “Yes, I remember. I asked to see your scores when I had a moment to myself. They were exceedingly high, something I did not expect given where you came from. Perhaps I knew, then, that you might one day stand at my side as my lieutenant. Or maybe that’s foolish ideation. I can’t be sure which.”
“That’s… Oddly sweet coming from you, y’know.” Renji can’t help a teasing grin, stretching out a hand to catch a lock of Byakuya’s hair, tugging it gently. “You ain’t the romantic type.”
A huff and a light slap to his hand are his reward for his observation. “Well, at any rate, you are my lieutenant now. And you’re going to continue being so until you take my place as captain.”
“You think I can?” The thought is exciting that Byakuya might have that level of faith in him after all of these years of desperately chasing him and everything his position stands for.
“Of course you can. No one else can be trusted with such an important position. Only a person that I know can handle it.” Byakuya lifts his chin slightly, and this time he does smile, and it nearly takes Renji’s breath away as it always does. “You are the only one I could be proud of.”
Renji pulls him back into the room and pushes his back against the space of wall beside the door, hands sliding up into Byakuya’s hair as he leans in to kiss him. Byakuya makes a small startled noise against his lips and then his fingers close around Renji’s wrists, not attempting to pull his hands away but just holding onto him as he tilts his head to press their lips together more seamlessly. Coming together like this never fails to feel like they were meant to be together, their bodies crafted so that Renji’s hard angles fit into all of the softer parts of Byakuya’s body. Byakuya finally lets go of his hands just to grip his shoulders and pull him closer, his lips parting under the force of Renji’s tongue, opening to him.
Only to him. He and Byakuya were meant to be together from day one. Renji is certain of it. He’d spent most of his life believing he was meant to chase Byakuya down to defeat him, but maybe part of him knew the real reason he needed to pursue Byakuya was because it would lead him to this exactly moment, this warmth and companionship.
He’d take near-death at the hands of Senbonzakura once more if he still ended up here.
“We’re going to be late if we keep this up,” Byakuya informs him between kisses, though he makes no move to push Renji away from him. “People are going to talk about this.”
Renji laughs and presses a kiss just under Byakuya’s jaw, nuzzling against the soft skin of his throat. “So what? Let them. We’re married. They should expect something like this.”
“I suppose that is true. That doesn’t mean we should take advantage of such information.” But Byakuya tilts his head back just a little when Renji’s lips trail down his throat, a soft sigh of contentment slipping past his lips. “Renji, I don’t want to be late. Our duty is important.”
With one final kiss to the base of Byakuya’s throat, Renji leans back. Some of his more adventurous presses of teeth have left soft pink marks on Byakuya’s otherwise flawless skin; they almost look like small cherry blossoms. “All right. We’ve still got enough time to make it.’
Renji doesn’t miss the chance to take Byakuya’s hand in his own the walk, always reveling in the fact Byakuya no longer attempts to shake him off or otherwise place distance between them. Instead, Byakuya’s fingers curl into the spaces between Renji’s own, and Renji can feel the cool metal of Byakuya’s ring against his own skin. The symbol of their love for one another. The impossible goal Renji has spent all of his life chasing.
Byakuya squeezes his hand, reminding Renji that he’s finally caught up to him.