Note: written as a drabble request for a friend, where I had to include the word "firefly". As always, reviews would be lovely, and no need to tell me that Rukia is Byakuya's adopted sister and that them as a pairing is weird, because I already know and I don't really care. XD
Byakuya's steps were soundless as he crossed the hall, careful to not disturb the sleepy silence in the darkened mansion. He passed closed doors, turning right and crossing the hall, restless gaze sweeping along his surroundings.
A faint rustle of cloth sounded to the left of him. Stopping, he listened, hearing a softer scrape and a murmured word before silence blanketed the air again.
Silently, he walked towards the source, stopping a few meters away from the kitchen.
Rukia stood near the doorway to the kitchen, standing on her tiptoes and reaching for the corner of the ceiling, arms straining as high as they could.
Containing his slight surprise and confusion, he raised his eyes and made out a faint green light, entangled in the shadowed outlines of a spider web.
Rukia didn't notice his presence. He would have been genuinely surprised if she had.
"Come on," she whispered, fingers reaching haplessly for the faint light. "Just a little more…"
Byakuya stood by, still and watching, coming to realize the faint light was a firefly, still alive and struggling for release against its gossamer bonds. Something resembling a vestige of amusement stirred within him when Rukia lowered her arm, crouched slightly, and jumped.
Her fingers brushed the underside of the web, inches from the soft light. Undeterred, she jumped again, one palm against the wall in front of her and the other reaching as high as it could. Her feet made the slightest of sounds when she'd land, reflective of her skill in stealth.
It would have been natural for anyone else to interrupt her, or maybe possibly even assist her in her endeavor, but Byakuya continued observing, if only to watch her with something akin to respect and empathy and affection, without the rest of the family there to observe.
Rukia was nothing like Hisana.
But Rukia entranced him all the same, without even trying and without even intending to.
Slender, small hands so reflective of her late sister's reached out to save a life, despite its insignificance. A small mouth and soft lips, pressed into a firm, determined smile, so unlike the weak and hesitant smiles of Hisana.
Arms reached and legs leapt with an energy and life that escaped Hisana, burning bright and hot instead in Rukia.
The eyes, however, he thought, taking a step forward. They were just as hopeful and yearning.
Breathing shallowly and trying to keep quiet, Rukia stared up at the cobweb in dismay, cursing her height. She contemplated getting a stool, looking up at the weakening, small light.
She reached up, readying herself to jump with everything she had, her left hand grabbing tightly onto the wall's edge for leverage.
Cloth suddenly brushed her ankle, and she froze instantly, wide eyes focused on the struggling firefly above her. The warmth of another person could be felt in the air against her back, heady and infused with the familiar, spicy scent of bergamot.
Her hand made to lower from beneath the web, but his larger, slender hand encompassed her in its warmth, holding it there.
"Be still, Rukia," he murmured from behind her, the deep cadence of his voice making her wilt into compliance.
Her wide, hopeful eyes looked on as his free hand reached up towards the cobwebs from behind her, fingers gently tugging the web loose from the wall. Closing his hand gently around it, he lowered his arm and stepped back slightly, warmth diminishing in the air behind her.
She turned around, unable to lift her gaze from his hand as he opened it.
The faint, soft green pulsed gently from within his palm, and Rukia reached out with hesitant fingers to help it free.
Silky strands of white tore beneath her careful fingers, almost invisible against the fair skin of her brother's palm. Biting her lower lip, she tugged the torn remnants away, brushing them from his skin.
For a moment, the light remained motionless, and as she leaned closer it took flight, hovering momentarily before her astonished face before she cupped her hands around it, a smile overtaking her features.
Rukia lifted her eyes to his, her smile wide and pleased and thankful and completely boundless. They slowly grew to reflect surprise as she took in her brother's appearance.
The formal, rigid black of his shinigami robe was discarded in place of softer, white night robes, hands free of gloves and natural by his sides in the absence of Senbonzakura. Loose, black locks free of the kenseikan fell over his lowered eyes, and her joy was reflected back in quiet satisfaction when he lifted his gaze, eyes almost soft, somehow gentler and easier to meet.
Blinking, Rukia realized herself to be staring and she lowered her gaze back to her cupped hands.
"Nii-sama, can we…?"
He merely turned towards the window, separating the shutters so that the cool air of night filtered in. Feeling the pleasant breeze breathe across her flushed skin, Rukia stepped forward and raised her hands, parting them before freedom.
The glow escaped a moment later, picked up by the breeze and carried careening into the inky blue darkness.
Knowing it would be disrespectful to speak with her back to him, Rukia turned despite her timidity.
"Thank you, Nii-sama," she murmured, eyes on the fair skin of his throat, unable to look higher. "With your leave, I will retire."
Byakuya gazed at her, wondering if she reserved this stiff, restrictive formality solely for him. Was she this timid and afraid of making mistakes with Renji? With Ichigo?
He took a step forward, arms rising from his sides.
Ones who thought themselves above the rules were regarded with disdain in the eyes of the Kuchiki. Their rules of formality had reduced Rukia to stiff hellos and goodbyes in her speech, her voice strained with the desire to burst forth with every natural thing formality repressed.
I would take it, he thought, watching her wide eyes rise to his as he reached forward. I would take the blame for her to break this rule of formality, just so her smile wouldn't be hindered with fear of disappointing me.
"Nii-sama," she breathed into the air between them, voice scarcely audible as the scent of bergamot doused her like rain.
His hands rose to the shutters behind her, closing them as she stared, wide-eyed and motionless into his closeness. The breeze against her back ceased, stirred locks of hair settling back onto her shoulders.
Lowering his arms, Byakuya looked down at her dumbfounded expression, his momentary closeness the only vestige of an embrace he'd never have the courage to attempt.
An embrace, in comparison to a familial kiss, would have trampled propriety and destroyed what had taken fifty years to create between them, only to replace it with something so much stronger and all-consuming. He couldn't risk that; not now, at least.
It ached in his chest when his hands gently cupped her face, the shape and feel nearly identical to Hisana's. It hurt even more, profoundly so when he closed his eyes and knelt, gently tilting her head up to brush a soft kiss below her widow's peak.
Everything he felt for her was constricted and expressed in that one, formal approved gesture of affection.
She took it as more than that, judging from the way her face burned beneath his hands and her breath hitched.
He pulled back slightly, just enough to meet her wide eyes.
"Sleep, Rukia," he said, quietly and with a hint of authority, just as he should.
Feeling her nod slightly against his hands, he pulled back, straightening. He found himself having to turn away when her eyes grew too hopeful and yearning, unbearable to look at.
He turned to leave, and her voice called out almost immediately, hushed and desperate.
He stopped, afraid he wouldn't be able to deny her and himself if he turned around.
"I…" she hesitated, somehow knowing what his stance and detachedness was telling her; to respect the boundary, to know that anyone who overstepped it would be burned.
She bit her lower lip, voice softening.
He stayed only a moment longer before departing silently down the hall.
When she went to bed later that night, solace came in the thought of his hands on her face, full of tenderness still fresh from the past, and soft lips, still warm against her forehead.