Disclaimer: Not mine.

Note: The line between fanon/canon has become a blurred, obscure thing for me. Please tell me if you notice anything.

For the Sake of Practicality

Their attempt to replace her had been his evidence of their foolishness. The girl was nothing of Hisana. Wide-eyed, fragile, she was small and had a tendency to look so. And young. But that, Byakuya supposed, was to be expected. He'd become aware of this when he'd first seen her. Watch her, they'd told him before he visited the Academy, and he saw, too clearly, that beyond an uncanny physical resemblance, this newly scrubbed, starchly fitted child was a wearisome creature. He could not see why they had bothered.

'She is top of her year in the demon arts,' the headmaster announced when he dutifully inquired about her, as if the accomplishment was something to preen about. The man was short, and white, and spoke in a voice completely unbefitting of his appearance: shrill and petulant to the ear. 'Her marks are exemplary.' The old man graduated to primping. He fingered his curling beard, and glanced down at the scrolls. 'And her swordsmanship is quite good,' he added as almost a fond afterthought. 'I believe she would make an extraordinary addition to the Kuchiki House.'

Why, Byakuya asked in return, would you say that?

The old headmaster blustered and flushed blotchily. "W-well I assumed…" He fell silent.

Byakuya eyed the man thoughtfully. After a moment: "How is her calligraphy?" He looked up, startled. The uneven color of his face deepened as his tongue worked furiously for an answer.

"I- we- what—?" His words died, as did his presumptuous air. He swallowed and then thickly: "I don't understand Lord Kuchiki."

"No," he supposed. "No you don't."

He saw her on many occasions, laughing and joking, strutting like a boy in her too-clean robes. She stood out, her movements awkward but adequate as she practiced in the training field. Dust rose in puffs from beneath her feet as she scuffed them into the appropriate positions. By no means was she the best on the field, nor the worse, nor even second best. But she stood out, regardless, fragile bones and artless movements. Her mouth was set in a grim line – her eyes darker and laughably intense. The worn sword settled by her side as the last artless arc swept through the air. Byakuya lowered his gaze from her face. She had dirt at her knees, twigs in her hair.

The Kuchiki, he wrote – his brush slow and deliberate across the page – could do better for themselves than this.

Nonetheless, she materialized at the complex scarcely a week after. They moved her discreetly into the opposite wing, as if the gravity of their slights could be alleviated by distance. Byakuya had not been there at the time. In those years he rarely was. And it was only coincidence that brought him back to his family's property the same month of her arrival; a perfunctory affair had sought his attention, and his attention had been granted.

He spent the remainder of the afternoon in the gardens.

It was warm that day, and the path he'd taken was cloistered by trees thick in bloom. He chanced across her in the courtyard. "Brother," she murmured. She sounded surprised, but immediately extricated her attentions from the book in her lap. He could hear her bite back the nervous rush of air that had threatened to explode as she bent at the waist when he walked past. Her hair was cropped short to her neck; it shifted forward and hid her face where it parted in the front. He did not tell her to stand up straight, as he might have with her predecessor. In fact, he gave no her nothing at all.

The breeze of his movements picked up the ends of his scarf and he felt her seized breath flutter behind him. He stepped in through an open door at the end of the path, and found himself biting his cheek in annoyance. This he found strange. He could think of nothing that would have warranted such a reaction.

Her manner hardly improved with the years. She was still gawkily awkward, both in public and in private. She maintained the unwieldy position of her hands when she walked, tucked into her belt or hidden in her sleeves, and had schooled a look of perpetual despondency into her eyes. It struck Byakuya as rather unpleasant to watch. But he had neither the time nor the interest in such matters. His father had begun transferring the household to his son, as was appropriate given his age. It was a passably clean procedure. She had taken to reporting to him long before, however, as if he had become the head of the house overnight. Her first day at the 13 Divisions had been accounted to him at his request. It was easy to see just by the way she knelt the nature of the tidings she brought. "I am very sorry," she said, upon his inquiry. "But with my ability…"

He had dismissed her within the minute of her arrival. Her failure to accomplish what her name required of her was undesirable.

He left her no instruction to approach him again on the matter. Yet months later he was joined by her uninvited presence while he sat at his desk with the brush. The night was one of inclement weather; the rain drummed down on his roof and nearly swallowed her voice. She had been promoted within her Division, she said. She was moving up. She thought he should know. She kept her head bowed, and her hands moved against her folded legs as if they wanted to scurry away. But her flush was a happy one. She was pleased. The stroke of his did not falter; he said nothing. Her nervous smile waned a bit. "But they are saying… unpleasant things about the Kuchiki," she continued. "They are saying that the family purchased my way in and is now buying my way up."

"Is this true?" His next line opened with the strokes that would form the word 'flower'.

"No," she said, and he could hear her surprise.

"Why, then, do you suppose they have come to this conclusion?"

They lapsed into silence, the sound of his brush on the parchment louder than a thousand thunderheads. Later, he said to her: "You may leave." Her disappointment was thinly veiled.

'Blossoms,' he wrote, 'have only to wait to bloom again.'

The reactions to his advancement to the Captain of the 6th Division were rather less celebratory than was strictly wont. His competitor for the position had been a well enough liked man, and if it could be said that he was loose at the tongue or unable to hold his peace, it would not have been denied. But he had endeared himself among his contemporaries for being little more than a sociable wit. At the least, this was Byakuya's opinion. But he had not been of the Division, and had requested a transfer only weeks before. It couldn't have been helped; his chances of advancement as vice-captain of another Division would have been slim. He had been, at best, less suitable than was desirable. But he had been suitable. He had been a good man. His loss had been unintended.

The girl had to be retained in her rooms—she shook for days afterwards. Byakuya could not understand, nor did it concern him, how she progressed as far as she had with such an obvious frailty. The family took for her a leave of absence.

We regret the fragility of our daughter's spirit, they wrote. Her withdrawal, as so far, will be indefinite.

She was a poor replacement for the sister he once had. And she made a poor replacement for the Lady they had lost. She made an effort, this was true, to live accordingly by the name of Kuchiki, though how successful she was in this effort could only be judged through the failures she endured. Hisana had died for much less than what this girl had done. She had brought an unsightly mark to her name, their name, and she had died for it. Byakuya had to wonder how long they had planned on keeping her. She served no purpose other than that of a pale substitute to the girl she was meant to replace. The girl the Kuchiki had adopted out of whim or guilt or appeasement was coming to cause far more trouble than she was worth.

"Brother!" She was shouting again, no matter how many times in the past they had told her it was not necessary to raise her voice.

He paused in mid-stride, but only long enough to register that it was this girl who was calling out to him, not another. His lapse irritated him. But the boy had scarcely taken any of this into account. Indeed, he had not even reacted, defenses still open, completely prepared to smash in the wild-haired skull of Byakuya's subordinate. Byakuya broke the pathetic bit of metal with a single fluid motion. It gave beneath his fingers with hardly a snap. The boy swung, unaware, and had the decency to be surprised at least, when he discovered that his gleaming monstrosity of a sword had been broken down to the hilt.

Byakuya dropped the blade, cool metal sliding from his fingers – when it clattered to the ground, he was no longer where it dropped. The first cut, the boy was paralyzed. The second strike, and he would not live. "Brother!" The girl's voice heightened to a new pitch: sharper, clearer. Byakuya closed his eyes – briefly and burned away the image of a black haired, gray eyed girl screaming out for him as the hail of blood rained down. He stepped back, biting the back of his lip. This girl and her mortal were becoming increasingly irritating.

She consented to leave. Coolly, she suggested, though it did not matter to her the boy not be killed; a lie, most certainly, judging by her furtive eyes and false courage. Byakuya looked down at her beneath his eyelids, his shoulders straight and stiff as ever. Her jaw was quivering, though she tried to firm it. She knew her mortal was as good as dead. She was about to cry.

His subordinate wet his thumb with his tongue and rubbed at a streak on the inside of his forearm; he had forgotten his bleeding scalp when he'd matted the moisture away with his wrist. The door to Soul Society whispered open and he stepped through, and they after. He felt the girl glance behind her – the broken mortal body presumably a broken mortal corpse by then. He didn't look, he didn't need to – her flooded eyes had long since overflowed, the expression of indifference dissolved. He offered her no comfort nor was any requested of him. She was shaking, hands clenched at her side and fisted into her dress. Renji's eyes darted back – Byakuya saw clearly the worry in them. He didn't move towards her. Byakuya hadn't reminded him that – he hadn't needed to. Renji knew his place.

"Your sister has committed a very serious crime, Captain." The man had spectacles, which clicked when he touched them as he read the scroll. His voice had a mildness to it, his eyes a downward slant and tilt.


"Do you understand her punishment?"


"She will be sentenced to death." The tilt rose sharply with his brows, his tone lost a degree of its gentleness. He scrutinized the young lord from above his reading lenses. Kuchiki Byakuya's face betrayed nothing.

"I am aware." He did not shift, nor stir. He hands did not twist in his sleeves – he did nothing of that sort. The man watched him keenly, waiting for that moment of indecision or softness that would have him asking for a reduction of that sentence. He should have known better: Kuchiki Byakuya was not soft.

The opportunity for intervention delayed until the pause had dissolved into an increasingly awkward silence. That moment did not come.

The man lowered his eyes and shook his gray head in an expression of esteem, or disbelief. "You truly are the Lord of the Kuchiki," he murmured, fingers deft in their task with the scroll. "Her execution is set for the middle of the next month."

Byakuya reached and the papers were handed over to him in a gesture that was stiff and unwilling. The man's fingers hovered a moment more, then straightened, and Byakuya's arm returned to his side. "Next month," he repeated, a bit fainter than before. Byakuya's head inclined once, the slightest affirmation.

"I understand."

The girl's face was white when he came to tell her of their decision. It remained the same shade when he pronounced their words. This was admirable, if somewhat belated. Such tenacity would have prevented her situation in the first place. His vice-captain's, however, paled. Renji never had much control over his disposition.

"W-what? But Captain…did you say—" His voice cracked and tapered away. His hand gripped the cold iron bars of the cell, a cold sweat broke visibly at his brow. "Sir," he rasped, at last. "There has to be some kinda mistake."

"There has been no mistake, Renji." Byakuya did not look at him as he said this, rather focused his stare on the girl, whose expression had not changed and did not waver now. She was looking down at her hands, clasped still in her lap in the perfect image of repose. He saw Renji's head shake in the corner of his eye, a furious full-bodied shudder of movement.

"No sir, it's just…"

To that he said: "I dislike repeating myself. Kuchiki Rukia is to be executed in twenty-five days time. It is as you heard it."

To the girl: "This is likely to be our last meeting." He turned on his heel and stepped towards the door.

"The next time I see you will be at your execution."

Later, Renji would come to plead: "But sir, she's your sister."

And Byakuya would come to reply, coolly: "No, she is not." It would be the most honest he would ever come to be with him.

That, Renji would say in return, in rather strident tones, that was untrue. That it was unthinkable.

He then would look up from his work and meet the man's eyes – calmly and say quite flatly, "It's not."

And Renji would blink as he crimsoned. "What the hell is that suppose to mean!" He would turn his face then and Renji would feel a wind at his neck and a low voice in his ear.

"You do not understand. It would do you well to remember your place."

Renji would leave on his own accord.

The next weeks were bright skied and sparse winded. The ground was dry and white and his days were long and filled with unspoken questions and trailing eyes. This was not unusual for him, in his name, with his ability and reputation. Had he noticed an influx of such attention he gave no sign of it. His family knew better than to object to his actions, his colleagues less, though it was not Renji who came to question him again of his inaction.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

Ukitake Jyuushirou had never been much for subtlety.

Byakuya could remember a time when Ukitake's hair had been as black as his brows. And just as clipped. But that had been a long time ago, back before his illness perhaps, and he could remember that his tone when speaking to him had been quite different. More familiar, less edgy.

"Are you— ?"

"I assure you," he said, turning his back. "That is none of your concern."

"I'm her Captain. Of course it's my concern." Byakuya had started walking again. Ukitake followed. When he was failed to be left alone, he remarked dryly:

"Then you should know of the laws she has broken."

"Yes, but they are not so great that she should be put to death for them."

"Of course not. I wonder why the Council has not employed your wisdom in their services yet, Ukitake-senpai."

He flustered. "You could have convinced them otherwise!"

Ukitake hurried across the floor to catch him. His feet made more sound than Byakuya remembered, though he questioned as to whether he had remembered at all. "That time has passed." His pace did not slow. "Now please leave."

"Then why are you doing this? Byakuya!" he shouted when his question was ignored. Byakuya stopped. His eyes came to rest on the hand that clamped the cloth by his shoulder.

"Let go of me." Ukitake's fingers curled and then uncurled then fell away. Sweat beaded around his lip as his shoulders rose and fell unevenly, his breathing forced. He looked pained. Byakuya's steps resumed, and this time he was not followed. "This cannot be healthy for you, senpai. Please," he repeated, "do not concern yourself in these matters. You would not understand."

"No one ever understands, Byakuya! How is it that no one ever understands?"

He did not stop.

"She's your sister!"

He closed the door. Outside, Ukitake coughed blood on the clean swept floors.

It wasn't his concern. There had been whispers of a conspiracy – he'd have had to be blind and deaf not to realize this. Speculations, trivial or otherwise, had never assumed the brunt of his attentions before, and Byakuya had not found any of it noteworthy enough to influence his habits. People would always talk, and he'd let them. There was no truth behind any of it which spoke of him. He had no desire of conquest over Soul Society. He bore no lasting grudges against the members of the Council. He allowed himself no petty rivalry amongst the 13 Divisions.

They were wrong. And his intentions were far too simple for them to comprehend. He would not explain himself. Not to the perplexed that wondered about his sister. Not to the concerned who worried about the girl. Not to the friends of his vice-captain as he lay bleeding and pallid on a stretcher. Not to Renji himself as he dragged his stained scarf with him onto the bloodied earth. Not to this human boy who had the impudence to demand of him his reasons, twice now, for the same cause.

Byakuya's eyes narrowed in the slightest degree of annoyance. "Why is it," he murmured, pressing experimentally upon his blade, "that you are so persistent," he drew his sword along its edge of its tip, "in your attempts to save Rukia?"

The boy knew no such reserve. "I should be asking you!" His blade creaked beneath the weight of his own force. "You're her older brother! Why won't you help her?" Byakuya's face returned to its state of impassiveness.

"You forget yourself, boy." The boy grit his teeth, and Byakuya was forced to tighten his grip to withstand his graceless bout of brute strength. "It would not involve you, even if I were to answer. Such a conversation would be meaningless with your level of comprehension. This is not your history." The boy's eyes squinted in irrational determination, to which his own lost a measure of indifference, falling plainly into anger.

"Prepare yourself."

Five steps. Six steps. He remembered the clash of steel as they both rushed past each other. Byakuya's mantle settled steadily around him as he turned again. The boy's cloak fluttered in a mess of disarray.

"There seems to be no other choice in this," he said, quite calm once again. His hand brought his blade level with his wrist, a loose extension of his own arm. "I will kill you, Kurosaki Ichigo, and Rukia's execution will be by my hands."

"That's never going to happen." Kurosaki smirked, tearing the fasteners away from his throat and dropping his cloak to the ground. "I'm going to make sure of that."

Swords glinted in the light of the midday sun, for there were few words more after that.

I will answer you, he'd said, leveling his sword, if you defeat me.

"Is that it?"

I'll beat you! he'd declared. His face had held an expression that perhaps had not been so ridiculous, in afterthought, given his circumstances. I'll beat you and you'll be crying when I make you apologize to Rukia! I'll make you sorry you ever threatened to kill her to her face!

Byakuya opened his palm towards the sky. He felt another spasm of blood well from beneath his torn flesh; his hair, unbound, splayed across his face and neck in slick masses. He felt the sting and shift in his fingers as the skin broke again. He felt the final shards of his shattered blade drift across his hand, petal-soft as the flowers they were meant to imitate. He felt them dissolve as he closed his fingers around them, into dust and then nothing at all.

Scatter, he had said, and they had. Renji, his family, Ukitake, the kindly Councilman who'd heard the girl's case. And now his ability. He'd always cherished obedience, though it had rarely favored him. His final loss was his proof that the world had always preferred entropy to order, and thus Kurosaki's victory to his own.

He'd almost prevailed over chaos. Kurosaki was leaned against his sword heavily; his own wounds were creating a small landscape of red rivers and lakes in the gravel by his feat. But Kurosaki only sighed as he shook his head and told him: "I'm sorry, I guess I really don't understand." He straightened crookedly and stepped around. His eyes were limpid in the falling dusk. "Even if I did…"

Byakuya turned his head so that his victorious opponent could see the words as they left his mouth. Distantly, he could feel his lips curl and his eyes slide shut. Ironic, he thought, and his mind drifted to touch the corner of his mind that he kept as white and empty as the room which held her shrine. Ironic. But perhaps it is better this way.

"Kurosaki Ichigo." His voice whispered like soft rain. "My sword has been broken…" Byakuya could hear the last of his words carry across the empty plains. They were not as painful as he would have imagined them. He could not gauge the exact moment he collapsed to the ground, but his last shadowed sight remained with him. Red sky and unyielding earth. Dust in the clouds.

His eyes darkened.

Springs of such quality were rare, as he would come to find. The air was warm, that day, the skies clear. It had been thus all season. It would be, perhaps, the perfect day. The Kuchiki compound was constructed around a central courtyard, about which the trees were decked in full bloom. Soft breezes scattered loose petals across the ornamental lakes. Byakuya would have liked to watch, but he had been occupied.

"Honored Brother," said the man. He smiled – smirked – and bowed. There was enough cheekiness in his actions as to prove him unaffected by the formality of the occasion, enough reverence to befit the address of a man in Byakuya's station. Byakuya bent his neck at the greeting and said the man's name.

"Shouldn't you be in preparation?" he asked. "The ceremony begins in less than an hour." The man raised a hand in old habit to rake through his dark hair. He stopped when his fingers encountered the ribbons and trappings of his headdress. He sighed, slightly, and contented himself with rubbing the back of his neck.

"Nah." His eyes crinkled as he turned his face towards the sun. "I'm done. Besides, it's such a nice day out. Why are you here?" He rounded upon him suddenly, tipping his head and looking at him with the same clever gaze that had undoubtedly endeared him to his bride. Byakuya found that he thought it vaguely disconcerting, though no logical explanation could be found to justify such an opinion.

"My sister is being wedded," he informed him, civilly. "Where else should I be?"

The smirk widened. He was grinning. "I can tell!" he noted, laughing. "I never thought I'd see you in red!" His teeth disappeared as the humor softened on his features at Byakuya's dispassionate response.

"You disapprove, don't you?" He looked almost grave.

"The family has given their approval," Byakuya replied, and one might have found his answer uncharacteristically vague.

"Yes, but have you?"

"I see no relevance in that."

"You don't, I don't, but Hisana will." He saw a glimmer of severity in the way that slanted look hardened.

Byakuya had no wish to feud with this boy within the hour of his sister's wedding. He took his leave.

There was much admiring exclamation during the festivities: how beautiful the young bride was, how handsome the groom, how fitting the two looked together. This Byakuya could not find he understood. Hisana looked nothing like herself: her face painted, her hair twisted and pinned in gold and jewels. He supposed she was lovely enough, though rather excessively inorganic for what he knew of his sister's tastes.

The groom's family was considerably smaller than the bride's, and were easily discernable from the crowds of finely-clothed nobility. His sister had been the youngest daughter of the generation – the arrangements for her marriage were allowed much more leniency than that of her cousins. And this man had been chosen, a shinigami of a much lower class. It was a political move to discard her as a high valued card – her birth had not been expected – but it was sufficiently fitting. His sister valued simplicity.

He caught sight of her from beneath the trees where he stood. She was beaming, and did not feel his eyes on her. Byakuya left the celebration when etiquette allowed.

It was twilight, and he had changed from the red ornate robes into a much plainer white. The sounds of merriment from outside filtered through the walls of his study, and he noted that it was near the time his sister would have sought him out, had it been any other night. But she would not that time; it would not have been proper. Nor would he have allowed it. But nonetheless the candles on his desk flickered and the door slid shut. Fleeting steps padded across the threshold and stilled. "Brother," breathed his sister's quiet voice.

Her brother did not turn, did not acknowledge her presence other than to say to her: "You should not be here. Go back."

She did not.

Perhaps he had, Byakuya mused, allowed this girl far too much indulgence over the years.

"I missed you at the festivities." Byakuya did not need to turn to know the manner in which she was twisting her hands.

"You should not have been looking for me." He turned the page, reading not of spring and celebration, but of blood and war and fallen flowers.

She leaned her head and locked her jaw. "But I did."

To which he assured her, "I was there."

And she said as she moved forward, "I know." There was a moment of prolonged silence, during which Byakuya found himself reading the same sentence seven times before he repeated:

"You should not be here." Then added, "What did you want?"

His sister did not say more, but he heard her feet slide along the floorboards and a short breath touch the strands of his hair loose on his neck. Her fingers hovered above his shoulder, as though she had forgotten her ownership of them. "I want…" she said before her voice cracked. She coughed quietly, then laughed, a hushed sound. I want a lot of things, Brother, she did not say, though the turn of her hand and slope of her eye did little to conceal it. She coughed again, and seemed incapable of continuing. She stood with her head bowed, measuring her words, considering their value, and he waited. She seemed to him very much like a mourner on a grave. "I would like you to be happy for me, Brother," she said finally, with, perhaps, less conviction than was intended. "I would like…your blessing to leave this family before I do."

He did not realize he had sighed, nor could he recall when his hand had left the page to touch hers, and hers to press the side of his face. "You cannot have that, Hisana," he murmured, his eyes slipped shut. There was no response from his sister. "I've already given that to you."

It would be his final indulgence to her as his adoring younger sister, and it was very little, in retrospect. But she smiled, and touched her lips to his knuckles, murmuring her thanks. Her eyelashes brushed the back of his hand. They were damp. He warned her about this, partaking briefly in customary superstition, and she laughed again and promised him that there would be no tears on her wedding night, not even in joy. His door opened, and clicked shut again. He could hear her rustle down the hall, her steps far too light to make much sound. The moon had risen, and his lamps were extinguished. He left his study for his room, though he did not sleep until the first light of morning spread over the trees and threw his shadow against his walls.

He remembered lifting the shroud from her face and seeing her. He remembered how the flesh across her left shoulder was slashed, and remembered the protruding white of her ribs. He remembered the gray pallor in his sister's face, blue lips. He remembered touching her hair and having it come out with his hands, caked in blood. He remembered how they'd told him that her husband had been by first, and how the hollow that killed her was being dealt with as they spoke. He remembered being unable to hear their calls as he replaced the cloth and stepped out of the room, his back rigid and feet swift.

She will not shame us, they had said when the reports of her conduct had reached them. Not now, never. Eyes shifted around the room, passed him over, came back. There were murmurs of agreement, caution, rebukes, and haste. His father's narrow gaze stopped before it reached him.

This is a family affair, they'd added. It will be dealt with privately. There is no need for a trial. He had bowed his head, and the family bowed back.

Only now would they look directly at him. "If this is our decision," he had conceded, and stepped out of the way.

He remembered knowing she had died, hearing her call. Had he not seen the result he would have thought himself delusional. It disturbed him.

The girl had never been much of an importance to him. She had ceased to string after him like a kicked puppy after it had been made painfully obvious that his disinterest could not be moved. She ceased to speak to him after his sister died. She was not welcome to it though he would not have reprimanded her if she did. Such particular attention would have been far too inconvenient. He was busy. So when they passed each other in the halls or gatherings, this much between them was realized. She still bowed to him when they met, still called him her Brother. Did so in awe. In fear.

Byakuya would not be bothered by it. He suspected she believed that he hated her, or at least resented her existence. She gave no sign of it, made no word. Neither did he. One did not need to be Kuchiki to understand that the Captain of the 6th Division had no need for such trifling emotions.

She regarded him. Her eyes were softer than he remembered (and he had remembered them, black against gray against white). She had scrapes on her chin, a bruise on her cheek. Her upper arm and torso was wrapped; the crude bandages could be seen against her loose collar. She shifted her gaze, took him in. He was not the unbending brother she remembered, nor the untouchable swordsman. He favored his right as he stood. He wore no sword at his waist. Her human, Kurosaki Ichigo, stood behind her, and did not move.

She shook her head, and her hair fell from behind her ears; she combed it back. "I don't ….I don't understand Brother. How can you be sorry?" What do you have to be sorry for… She bowed again, lower this time, bent at the waist. "It is I…I should be sorry, Brother. And I am!" she burst out. Her fingers were clasped in front of her and her shoulders shook. "I am sorry for the shame I have brought upon the Kuchiki." She was close to shouting. "I am sorry for breaking the code of the Soul Society!" Speak softly, she had been told. She still had not learned it.

His white robes fluttered silently at his movement. She made a sound in the back of her throat. She had not expected this. This among many things she had not expected. "Rukia," he said, his neck bent lower than he had ever before allowed it. Hisana… he remembered her smile in the white of his mind. "No, forgive me, Sister."

The girl looked up (black on black on white). She blinked at him, wide dark eyes fading in color and shape. This one puzzled her, this brother of hers. She could not grasp his reasoning. But she glanced at her human who nodded in return and cautiously touched her hand to his white robe. "Sister…" she echoed. "You called me your sister." Byakuya did not rise. She seemed uncomfortable. "Then please," she continued, "as siblings of the same name, there is nothing to forgive."

The hand on his shoulder trembled. "Brother… no, Byakuya." To that, he lifted his face. Her voice hit a note of determination, high and ringing. "You don't need to call me your sister."

She puzzled him, this girl, this awkward and ungraceful girl. She didn't know anything – this much was certain. She did not know the consequence or value of what she offered. She couldn't. He could not decide. "Rukia," he resolved at last. "Rukia."

She laughed and took that boy's hand, though it had not been offered. It was a kind laugh; he'd not recall hearing it before. "Please," she said, fondly, "I must make a poor replacement for The Lady Kuchiki Shiba." He nodded, finding in his words nothing worth saying. She nodded in return and bid him farewell, quietly, courteously. She said that Kurosaki and his friends were expected home, that she would see to their safe departure. Her name had been cleared, she said. She would perhaps return to her duties as a shinigami. Perhaps she would not. But she would take back her name. Smiling, she turned her back and started down the hall. She would return her Kuchiki title.

Byakuya said nothing in reproach regarding her weakness of heart, or the quirked smile on her face, though it would not have been out of place.

He said nothing, only approved.

The Kuchiki had done exceptionally for themselves.