The Highwayman

Chapter 6: Epilogue

IMBSA: And now, the final chapter of this little angst fest. YAY! It's sad when I have to wait for school to start in order to post this. :sweat:

Disclaimer: "You don't/You don't/You don't see me at all"

IMBSA: Once again, I took liberties. Once again, my twisted sense of justice cried out. And Byakuya threatened to have me die a girly, humiliating death involving cherry blossoms if I didn't let him have his revenge.


It was midnight at the Kuchiki Inn and there was a crisis.

The multistory building was going up in flames and screams from within gave testament to the people still trapped inside. Two figures stood well away from the building, yet made no move to help the soldiers who were burning for earthly crimes, only to be sentenced to another kind of fire. One of the pair, a red haired man, held the reins of almost ten horses, rescued from the stable when its tender had returned to investigate the smoke rising from his former place of work. The other, a tall, aristocratic-looking, dark haired man with a horse of his own, watched stoically as his childhood home and business was devoured by the greedy fury that had already glutted itself upon the flesh inside. They stood by two graves, both sepulchers under the watchful gaze of a weeping willow that had stood on the Kuchiki property since the day they had owned it.

Gin had been correct when he estimated the highwayman's rage. He had just underestimated the elder Kuchiki's correct assessment of blame.

As the cries—and their owners—died, Kuchiki Byakuya spoke, still staring at the fiery wreckage of his past. "Don't look at me so suspiciously, Renji. It was probably just a stray spark from the fireplace." He paused as Renji quickly shifted his glance to the moon, trying to hide the fact that he suspected Byakuya's hand in the destruction of the Inn—and the Red Coats inside. "Yes, a spark from the hearth was all it was," he concluded with a short nod of his head. He turned away from the burning establishment and mounted his horse easily, going back the way he had arrived earlier in the evening. "Are you capable of leading those horses all the way to the city?" Byakuya asked, more out of concern for all of the horses returning with them than for the stable boy.

"O-of course, sir." He agreed, having tied them in groups to be easier to manage. He didn't actually know if he had the muscle to take all of them the half a day's ride into the city, but he had expectations from his employer to keep up to.

"Hm. That means you cannot." He began riding slowly away. "If any try to break free, cut them loose. The market has no use for wild horses." With one last look back, Renji mounted his horse.

Behind him, the night wind blew embers into the sky, tossing the branches of the tree in its light embrace above the graves.


Some months later saw Renji in the yard of a newly rebuilt Inn. There were still little problems with the stables, such as a door not closing just right or the horses in general being skittish. That night was the worst since they had taken pains to restore the bustling station on a road to the city to its former glory. None of the horses seemed to like the new accommodations and played merry hell with Renji, constantly whinnying loudly, as if at some perceived threat, and causing him to run in, armed with a sorry cudgel of wood left behind by some scatterbrained carpenter. As he went around to all of the horses, soothingly rubbing their noses and offering tidbits of leftover vegetables or fruits from some of the dinners, he got to the slightly opened door, which, when unbolted, would afford the view up the hill to the crest of the road and a weeping willow hunching like a mourning widow above two unmarked graves. Time had seemed to push the mounds together, so that dirt from one covered the other and vice versa. They looked like one large sepulcher of dirt, as if the occupants were never to be disturbed or parted by anything ever again.

Entranced by the wind tossing the light boughs of the tree like whips through the air, Renji slowly left the horses, like one who walks in slumber, unbolting the door and slowly trudging to stand a few feet from the tombs. The content isolation that wrapped around the tree had made it an eerie and lonely spot to spend one's time. Every time he passed it, he felt like he was intruding on some private room, witnessing an event that was better kept between the two it occurred with, something so pure it had no right to exist on the earth in its present state. He rarely even looked at the tree, the pang that twisted his heart like a prayer, too sudden and too true to pass his lips into a sigh or from his eyes as a tear.

But now he stood, staring at the tree gilded silver in the moonlight as it tossed its radiant head toward the sky. Despite the wind and the would-be violent movements of its branches, it was a peaceful spot, where everything felt muted and cooled. Renji could feel a heaviness draw upon his limbs and eyes, even as the cold New England wind blew the bangs from his face with a breath unseasonably chilled. Renji blinked suddenly, staring at the tree, at the sound of a horse's whinny and hoofs clip-clopping down the road.

"A guest?" Renji asked himself. "At this hour? They must be insane to be riding out this late!" He stared down the way west, to see if the visitor would be coming from that way. When no rider appeared, he turned to the other path, squinting to see the new caller on the Kuchiki Inn. No one that way either. Renji would have sworn on his right hand that someone had been riding over the gypsy's ribbon toward the large establishment.

Feeling altogether spooked, he turned around the corner of the stable, to continue back to his small rooms when he heard the hoofs again, this time not two feet from the very spot at which he stood. He pushed himself against the wall, not at all anxious to get himself trampled beneath some fool rider. Nothing appeared, even though the sound continued past him loudly, disembodied noise grating against the cobbles. Renji swallowed slightly as he followed the now faint sound under the awning and to the back of the Inn. On the second floor, a light suddenly flared up in the window and the stable boy almost jumped three feet, heart hammering in his throat.

The light was shining from Rukia's room.

As he watched, it seemed like all of the mists of the world were concentrated on the spot below her former window, sketching out the shape of a horse and rider. To Renji's dumb amazement, the windows seemed to creak open and the form of a young woman leaned out, smile visible even on her almost featureless face. Renji blinked and rubbed his eyes, not daring to believe the shades before him. It had to be a delusion, some trick of the mind or insane fancy of a dream. When he looked again, the two figures had become one as the woman clutched onto the back of the rider, sidesaddle on the horse. The contentment in her blissful expression wasn't marred as she looked back and straight at Renji, with a face he had known well from childhood.

The ghost smiled slightly at him and shook her head lightly, as if sensing the words of longing that had bubbled up upon his tongue. Then, with an audible laugh in feminine tones, the pair rode off, circling around to pass the astounded stable boy again before galloping away to the West.

"Wake up." The demand caused Renji to jerk back into consciousness, blinking and swearing as his eyes danced around to see who had roused him from his deep sleep. Seeing Byakuya wrapped in the blanket the new housekeeper had brought with her, Renji scrambled up, still unable to shake the dream from his mind. With a jolt he saw that he had been leaning against the willow tree trunk. Thankfully, the wind had died down. "Know you not that it is rude to rest against the dead's rooms?" Byakuya admonished, dark eyes so much like his sister's full of something less than scorn.

"I'm sorry, sir." Renji apologized, rubbing out a crick in his neck. "It won't happen again."

Byakuya stared at him for a moment, regarding him with expressionless, measuring eyes in a heartbeat that stretched through eternities. "No...It probably won't." He agreed in a murmur. Then, so quietly, the words were like the graze of a cobweb against his ear, Byakuya continued, "They would not return, now that they have their freedom."

Without an explanation, the tall aristocratic looking man turned and silently stalked back toward the house.

Renji, about to speak to his retreating back, was interrupted by the sound of a sharp clack. Both men stopped and looked up at the window of a second story room slapping against the wall, a plaything for the wind.

The tiniest of smiles graced the sole Kuchiki's face and he bowed his head to the departing sprite upon the wind.

"No, I don't suppose they would." Renji granted quietly, knowing Byakuya would feign ignorance. With one last look at the waving window, he returned to his horses, gently soothing them back to peace.


IMBSA: Well, I hope you liked it. I apologize in advance for the delay, and if the last chapter wasn't up to par, once again, I'm sorry. See, it's not that depressing! And they didn't meet in Soul Society, so ha! I know bad taste when I see it. I think.