my time was short, the story long

Rukia knows who Hisana was now. She has a face, a name, a fragmentary collection of stories from her big brother and from the servants.

She shapes Hisana in her head. She imagines how Hisana -- how her sister -- would wear kimono, how she would walk, how she would speak. She imagines a formal voice, meek and sweet and high-pitched, something that would meet her big brother's expectations.

As the days wear by, she says everything that needs to be said. She spits it out, in those long hours of convalescence, when they are all watching over her like china, like crystal, like glass. She will not break. She wants to break something else instead.

She wants to break her sister. She wants to see tears in that perfect face which she imagines. Her big brother's picture shows her sister smiling.

She doesn't want that smile.

What right does Hisana have to smile when she abandoned her? What sort of woman would abandon her own sister?

Yet this smiling face is all she knows, all the image she has of her sister. It is like yet unlike her own face in the mirror; there is a softness to it that she cannot find in her own eyes, a fragility to the bones that she herself lacks. She is crude, by comparison. An unfinished draft. A frozen puddle, compared to a perfect winter landscape.

"Stop asking me to forgive you," she whispers to her pillow, but it is still only her own voice that she hears. "I can't forgive you -- I won't -- how could I --"

And then it comes to her like a benediction, like a farewell. I do not deserve my sister's forgiveness.

It's not her own voice. It's not Byakuya's. It's the echo of something forgotten decades ago, that she still remembers from when she remembers nothing else. It's the voice of someone who has already given up, who can feel death marked into her body and who has no hopes left for herself. Not for life, not for love, and least of all to be forgiven.

It's the voice of someone who was younger than she herself is now, and who died younger, and who still doesn't understand . . .

"It's all right," she whispers, and reaches out to touch the shadows of the past. "It's all right, Hisana, my sister. I'll look after him --"

But the voice is gone, and the whisper of long robes on the floor is a swiftly fading shadow that leaves her in silence again.