Author's Note: I deserve to be taken out back and shot for leaving this un-updated for over a month. I blame the inactivity to a myriad of new ideas that had me writing at an almost frantic pace for other fandoms. This chapter was inspired by the newest Bleach chapters in the manga. As a matter of fact, I will be writing a one-shot dedicated solely to that incident with Byakuya, Rukia, and Hueco Mundo (the tentative title is The Cost of Pride). It'll be my apology for having deserted this fandom for so long.

Translation Note: "Saigo no mai, haku-chō" means (according to my sources) "Last dance, white bird". Wherein the white bird stands for a swan. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or Byakuya and Rukia would be more canon than they already are.

The Wedding That Could've Been: Discordant Faith

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.

-William Shakespeare

She wants so hard to be good enough for him.

She wants to be beautiful enough, strong enough, graceful enough, and pure enough to stand proudly by his side. She wants to be his dignity drawn out in human form; she wants to be his muse, his fleeting angel. She wants to be like Sode no Shirayuki, cold and impenetrable as Winter.

But she is Kuchiki Rukia.

And she will never be beautiful enough, strong enough, graceful enough, or pure enough because she lives in the shadow of her sister. She knows she lacks that certain fragility about her that noble families so want for their women. She knows she lacks that delicacy in manners and in movement. There will be no poems written about her beauty or her sweet voice. There will be no symphonies composed about her kindness and feminine ways.

'There is no point in seeking something that you can never be.'

Shirayuki's pale lips are turned down into a disapproving frown and her tiara gleams morosely from her field of snow.

'You are yourself and you will have to deal with it and make the most of it. Come, I will teach you a dance. And then there will be none in this land that will deny your grace.' She stretches out a moon-white arm, perfectly molded, and beckons. Her stance is that of a Queen unable to be denied and her eyes, glimmering like black jewels, dare to be defied.

Rukia, as she has done for years and years before, succumbs to Shirayuki's will and loses herself in their whirlwind dance of snowflake flurries and building storms.

This is how Byakuya finds her, eyes closed and a ring of ice surrounding her being stretching up to the heavens of Soul Society. He finds her frozen in a prison of her own making, still as the statues of Michelangelo's making. She does not move when he strides over to her.

Panic stirs and wakes deep inside of him. He has lost one to grief and despair, can he really lose another to Winter's grasp?

'She is fine.' Senbonzakura's voice is brutally curt, edged with her unique drawl. She has not forgiven him yet.

He does not seek forgiveness.

"Rukia." His breath ghosts out in wisps of air that trail around and around in the freezing atmosphere. It is a biting cold that seizes him, shimmering with raw power and an ancient touch. He remembers a searing kiss and eternity within the embrace of a dream.

She stirs, eyes opening slowly to gaze at him. They are no longer a deep, rich violet, he realizes with a pang of surprise and maybe regret. Maybe. He doesn't venture far into that territory. Regret can open up dangerous waters to traverse and he's not sure if he's quite ready for that. Rukia's eyes are a crystalline blue and the iris is a pure white; she seems suspended in another dimension, trapped with her own little circle of ice.

'This…is not her usual shikai. She's—that aura. That feeling. She's en—' Senbonzakura's voice is rushed and high-strung. Her voice fades in and out of his head even as he watches with a morbid fascination at his wife's sister's suspended body.

'Release me!'She shrieks with panic and Byakuya's hand moves without having ever been commanded to do so. Senbonzakura hisses as she's slid out of her sheath and the words are almost silent as he says them in the eerie calm of the winter air.

"Scatter, Senbonakura."

"Bankai, Sode ne Shirayuki. Saigo no mai, haku-chō."

He watches as the world around him is eclipsed in sheets of sharp and jagged ice. He alone remains untouched and unharmed. Senbonzakura falls at his feet in a flurry of frozen petals, overwhelmed and conquered.

The ice around Rukia shatters and she falls, no longer supported by Shirayuki's protective embrace.

He catches her, even as the splintered fragments of winter cut into his exposed skin and freeze the escaping trickles of blood.

'Do you see now?' Senbonzakura rasps out, dragging her body back onto her throne. She is bleeding heavily, but the red blends in wonderfully with her cherry blossom trees, and he can't really bring himself to care.

'Do you see? It is not she that cannot reach expectations. It is you.'

He doubts himself, doubts his ability to save the only one who matters, doubts his own heart that tells him it is thawing slowly, and doubts her.

Rukia stirs in his arms, eyes fading to a luminescent purple that never fails to remind him of another set of similar eyes gazing mournfully at him. Her lips move, but the words fail to come out, and all he can think is that he's sorry for ignoring her all these years, for shoving her away like some dark secret, for failing again and again to be there for her.

But he does not voice these feelings and it ends up, as it has always ended up for the past sixty years they've been together, with her soft voice drifting through the clearing saying the words that he always wants to, but can never, say.

"I'm sorry, Nii-sama."

She doubts her ability to be the one, doubts that she'll ever become Rukia in his eyes and not Hisana, doubts her conscience that tells her this is wrong and she is so very, very sinful, and doubts him.

"That was a well done Bankai, but do not let it control you." Do not suffer for my expectations.

"Hai, Nii-sama." I will never be able to rise above your wishes.

They go home together, neither understanding the other.

The wall of doubts and past ghosts stands between them, unyielding.

Uncaring.