Author: afrai
Summary: Rukia makes friends and influences people. Prompted by a line in Experiments in Eschatology:

Rukia was for a while betrothed to Shiba Kaien, before she threw him over to take up with Miyako ...

Homewreckers start young

It was no more than a rustle of leaves, such as any passing breath of wind may steal from a tree, but it was warning enough for the sixth seat of the 13th division. She paused, her brush hovering in mid-air, and looked up.

To most of the world she was a rather overserious young lady -- competent, no doubt; undeniably beautiful; and possessed of impeccable form; but a beacon of ordinariness in a division known for its gentle eccentricities. Her only obvious quirk was her fondness of working outdoors, where the grinding tedium of paperwork could be relieved by fresher air than could be found inside the division headquarters, and even this was a sensible habit in the summer. Few were sharp enough to catch the gleam of humour that lit her eyes from time to time, and showed that she was not exempt from what some of the other captains scathingly called the occupational whimsy of the 13th.

This shared spirit of fancy lit her eyes now. She set down her brush and said to the rustle,

"Will the little one come down to bear me company?"

The face that emerged from the green was small, rather dirty, and unflatteringly suspicious.

"I am very bored," the woman added. This did not seem to bear any particular weight with the little one: but then Miyako smiled, and the child said,

"I will come."

She dropped out of the tree too fast for Miyako even to be alarmed, landing on her feet like a cat. As Miyako considered how she should seat her guest, the child settled the matter by clambering onto the desk, unceremoniously pushing aside stacks of paperwork to make space.

She was a pale, nervy little thing, with a face hollowed by hardship and a look to her that no child should have -- the face of a survivor from the Alley. Despite her general grubbiness, she was beautifully dressed, clearly well-fed, and she had all the serene audacity of the beloved child. She examined Miyako's hands, played for five absorbed minutes a mysterious game with each individual finger, wound it up by declaring them (and their owner) pretty, and then sat back with an air of having done her part and expecting to be entertained in return.

"And could I know the reason why the little one has chosen to honour us with her presence today?" said Miyako.

The little one was waiting, as it turned out.

"For my betrothed," she explained.

Miyako was ashamed so to reveal her ignorance, but who was the little one's betrothed?

"His name is Shiba Kaien," said the child. "He has promised to marry me when I am big, and then we will live in his house, and eat whatever we want, and I can blow things up every day" -- this said with a terrifying bloodthirsty satisfaction.

Miyako covered her mouth, but when the child said hastily that she would not blow her up -- "because you are so pretty" -- she took her hand away and assured the child that she had every confidence in her.

"So he has been courting you, has he?" said Miyako, who seemed very amused. "O, the faithlessness of man!"

"Don't you like him?" said the child. "Brother does not either, and he says he will cut Kaien if Kaien comes any more, because he does not like it when Kaien laughs -- and Kaien always laughs."

"I see you know Lord Shiba well," said Miyako. "Do you always call him Kaien, my dear?"

"That is what Brother calls him," said the child simply. "I like Kaien because he is not afraid of the servants, or even Brother, and he gives me sweets."

Miyako's mouth trembled. "He must be very brave."

The child nodded.

"Almost everyone I know is afraid of Brother," she said, but she said it with a sort of pride: quite right, too was the implication. "But Kaien is only afraid of one person, and I do not know her. P'raps she is scarier than Brother."

"And what is this person's name, may I ask?"

"I do not know, but Kaien calls her Princess, and says thunder rolls in the sky when she is angry. Do you know her?" said the child, seeing the flicker of laughter in Miyako's face.

"I have seen her once or twice," said Miyako. "But I can vouch for it that she is very much less frightening than your brother."

The child thought about this.

"Then maybe he is afraid of her because she means to kill him," she said, after a long period of silent cogitation. "Brother is always angry at Kaien, but he doesn't really want to kill him."

"Perhaps that is why," Miyako said agreeably. "How do you know your brother does not wish to kill Lord Shiba?"

The child looked at Miyako in wonder.

"Kaien isn't dead," she said.

"Ah. Of course."

"But if this Princess means to kill him, it is sensible of him to be afraid," said the child.

"It does not seem to disturb you very much that your betrothed's life may be in danger," Miyako observed.

"If he can't manage to stay alive, he is not worth marrying," said the child.

Miyako did not laugh aloud, but it was a near thing.

"Kuchiki to the bone," she murmured, remembering something a dear friend of hers had said, and the child said,

"How did you know my name?"

"You look like your sister, my dear," said Miyako. "How may I address you?"

The child considered her, head on one side.

"You can call me Rukia-chan," she said finally. "Because you are nice, and you know my lady, and you talk like Brother. What is your name?"

Miyako introduced herself.

"And what," said Rukia, clearly a stickler for the proprieties when it suited her, "am I to call you?"

Miyako suggested humbly that nee-chan would be nice, but the child shook her head.

"I do not call anybody Sister," she said: she thought Miyako-dono sounded rather well.

"That is a little formal, surely," said Miyako. "What is wrong with Sister?"

Here she had touched on an old trouble. The child's face went even hollower, but her voice was matter-of-fact when she said,

"My sister does not like me to call her Sister, so I do not call her that, but I do not call anybody else Sister, either -- she is my only one, and I am hers."

"Oh! Then what do you call her?"

"My lady," said the child.

"But my dear, isn't that rather unkind?" said Miyako gently.

"My lady turned her face away when I called her Sister," said the child. "And Brother says we must never hurt my lady, but protect her, and she is my only sister, so I stopped. And -- and one day I will be good, and my lady will be glad she took me in, and she will l-love me -- "

"Oh, my darling," said Miyako. She held out her arms. The child, caught between pride and heartbreak, fought for a moment: then she cannon-balled into Miyako's embrace, and hid her face in her shoulder.

"I am sure she loves you; how could anybody not? Oh, please do not cry," murmured Miyako. She said these and many other such useless things, thinking that Rukia had not been so far off the mark when speculating on the murderous intent directed towards Kaien. She could indeed have killed him: how could he have played with the child all this time and not healed this terrible wound, thought the Princess -- which was markedly unfair of her, but then Rukia was not the only one who saw the young Lord Shiba as a hero.

After a short time Rukia pushed away and sat up and rubbed her eyes. Miyako offered to wipe her nose for her, but the child took the handkerchief out of her hands and did it herself.

"I am sorry for my weakness," she said, with an icy formality. Miyako almost laughed at the resemblance -- it was Kuchiki Byakuya in miniature, down to the very intonation -- but she saw that if she allowed herself to be distracted, she would lose this new friendship in a moment. The child was as touchy as a highly-bred falcon; the least offence would put her to flight.

"Now, that is truly unkind," said Miyako. The child struggled for a second, then broke and rubbed her head against Miyako's shoulder to show that they were still friends. But after that she would not snuggle anymore, and sat at a dignified distance from Miyako, curled up on the desktop.

"But you are not afraid of your brother?" said Miyako, wishing to bring the conversation onto safer ground -- and as absurd as it seemed to imagine that Kuchiki Byakuya could be anything but the most terrifying of parents, her instinct appeared to be right, for the child brightened.

"Only sometimes," she said: not a promising beginning, but she went on, "When I have been very bad, and he is angry. But Brother never beats me -- he only orders my nurse to whip me, and she -- " with magnificent scorn -- "could not whip to sting a fly, and he teaches me to fight and read and play shogi, and he says when I beat him I may have a dog. And he tells me stories when I go to bed at night.

"They are very boring stories, but," she added loyally, "sometimes there is blood."

"He sounds like a wonderful brother," said Miyako, then, after a brief silence: "I am more glad than I can say."

"Nobody else has such a brother," said the child.

"But he will not let you have a dog, Rukia-chan?"

The child shook her head.

"Not till I've earned it," she said. "But I will very soon, because I am getting better at shogi every day. And -- " this with a rather more confident optimism -- "p'raps he will come home tired one day, and not play as well."

Miyako suppressed a smile. "Do you like dogs, then?"

"You see, they are so friendly and warm, and if you share your food with them they will sleep with you at night," Rukia explained. "And now I am with my sister I will not ever need to eat them, so we could be proper friends. You cannot really be proper friends with someone you might eat."

"That is very true," Miyako said, already planning marvellous surprises. She could not dare go over the head of such a personage as the Kuchiki heir himself, of course; more importantly, nothing could be essayed if Byakuya were certain to assert his will even in the face of a fait accompli, and demand that the dog be returned -- or worse, drowned. She could not risk disappointing the child. But if what she heard of Byakuya as a brother were true -- and though the general public said disapprovingly that the marriage and adoption had not softened him in any respect, his closest friends said otherwise -- well, it was a possibility.

"What sort of a dog would you like?" she asked.

Rukia had obviously already given this question a great deal of thought. She said promptly,

"One like Kaien."

Miyako put her head down despite herself. Rukia watched her, puzzled, wondering if she should be affronted.

"Oh, the heartbreaker," Miyako said, when she had fought down her laughter. "My darling, I must warn you not to pin your hopes of happiness on the man. If he has played false once, he will do it again -- though I must commend him on his taste."

"As to that, maybe I do not want to marry him after all," said the child: she had been thinking. "It would not be pleasant to have Brother be angry all the time, and if I lived always with Kaien, he would be, because Kaien doesn't ever stop laughing. And Ukitake-dono gives me sweets as well, so p'raps it would be nicer to be married to someone else -- and Miyako-dono is much prettier."

She gave Miyako a soulful look, which she did very well: as scrawny as she was, her huge dark eyes were her one genuinely beautiful feature. Miyako knew herself to be played by a master, but she could not help being warmed with an unexpectedly bright flush of happiness.

"This charm must be all your own," she murmured, flicking the child's cheek with a finger. Rukia squirmed away and laughed. "I see I was wrong when I accused Shiba Kaien of being the heartbreaker of the relationship. I am so very flattered, my dear. I should be glad to be your betrothed, provided that Lord Byakuya does not object."

"He will like you -- or, well, he does not like anybody except my lady and me, but you will make him less angry than Kaien, because you are polite," said Rukia. "My lady says you should be polite to everybody, and then they will not expect it when you kick them, but Brother does not think you should be polite to anybody at all, unless you mean it.

"My lady always means it, though," she added anxiously.

"The kicking makes no difference," said Miyako.

"No," the child agreed, pleased by her understanding.

"Does your brother say you are not to be polite to anybody?" said Miyako.

"No, it is my lady teaches e-ti-quette," said Rukia. "But you can tell from what Brother does. He is not polite to you if he does not respect you, and he does not respect you if you are not worth respecting, but everybody else must be polite to him, because he is better than them." She said this with such simple, absolute faith that Miyako had to duck her head, but fortunately Rukia did not notice.

"You are enchanting, but would it be correct to observe that you seem to follow your brother's example rather than your sister's?" said Miyako.

"Oh yes," said Rukia. "I ought not, because I am not as important as Brother. But I am bad, so I am only polite to people I like, and to people Brother respects."

It was treading on thin ice, but Miyako could not resist.

"He is not very polite to Captain Ukitake," she suggested. She had been present on the several occasions when Ukitake had emerged from a meeting with Kuchiki Byakuya, and sat down to quote in high delight choice pieces of the young noble's hortation, like a fond mother repeating the pretty sayings of her babes. It was Lord Byakuya's considered opinion that to give in to the temptation of sweeties, and thus to be lured away from the virtuous comforts of home and dental hygiene, was beneath the dignity of a Kuchiki scion; and that to perpetrate such a temptation on the young was conduct unworthy of a captain of the Thirteen Court Divisions. (This last made Captain Kyouraku roll, but Kaien revelled most in the teeth.)

"Oh, that is because I like Ukitake-dono," said Rukia.

"Of course," said Miyako gravely. "Even such a being as Lord Byakuya must occasionally be prey to jealousy."

"It is because I am his, so he does not like to think I might like to be anyone else's," said the child. She seemed to think this an entirely sensible position. "Of course I like Brother best, but," she added wistfully, "Ukitake-dono is very nice, and he is not afraid of Brother either."

"Then I could hardly do less," said Miyako. She held out a hand to the child. "Will you come with me to the office, now?" Miyako had more respect than Ukitake or Kaien for Rukia's teeth, but there were other ways of winning a child's heart. "We will see if there is fruit to be got, and if we have time before it gets too late, I will show you how to fold a crane from paper."

Rukia was charmed.

"I will make two, and I will ask my lady if she can make them fly," she said, putting her grubby little hand in Miyako's. Miyako squeezed it.

"I am sure she will, if she can," said Miyako. "Will you give them to her and your brother?"

"Only if they are good enough," said the child, as if this was obvious.

"My darling, surely they always would be," said Miyako: and though she was a young lady of great insight, she did not know she was wasting her breath -- that was one thing Rukia would never believe.