nothing to say

Life would be easier for Rukia if she knew what to do next.

She is a newcomer to the Kuchiki household, and all the courtesies and proper behaviour that she's already learned at the Academy simply aren'tenough. She can feel it in the way that the servants look at her. She can feel it in the way that he looks at her.

She never before thought that she would ever have to use the term "honoured elder brother" to anyone. She didn't have a family -- well, she had Renji, but that was different. Renji was . . . Renji. He certainly wasn't an honoured anything.

She would like to ask if this has happened to other people, before, but who can she talk to now? There are Ukitake-taichou and Shiba Kaien and his wife and everyone in Thirteenth, and she can talk to them, but she can't ask them about that. And she can't talk to the servants. The Kuchiki family doesn't talk to the servants. The servants are very clear about that.

And she can't talk to Renji any more.

She feels as if she's waiting to respond to a cue, but that nobody's told her what it is, or what she should do when she gets it.

Of course she respects her honoured elder brother. He's given her everything. She never even needed to find out if she could have done anything on her own merits; if she could have been accepted into Thirteenth (for she must be honest, she wouldn't want to be anywhere else now): if she could have trained under Shiba-fukutaichou and Ukitake-taichou: if she could even have graduated . . .

She has learned to put these thoughts away. Maybe it would have been worse. Maybe it was better not to think about it at all, because thoughts brought resentment, and made it harder to achieve proper gratitude and peace of mind.

But even that is a distraction, and she knows it. There's another presence in the household. A woman who's dead, who the servants won't talk about, who she can't ask any questions about, but who is unmistakeably there, a constant presence in her honoured elder brother's shadow. Her honoured elder brother's wife.

Her honoured elder brother's dead wife.

There are no pictures of her. Her kimono and obi are folded away in sealed boxes. Her mirror and combs have been removed. She did not leave behind any calligraphy or art, any poems or paintings, any embroidery, any sort of physical remembrance; only the shadow that lies in her honoured elder brother's eyes, and which deepens when he looks at Rukia.

And Rukia wonders; what does her honoured elder brother want from her?

She knows that her honoured elder brother is a virtuous man. He is too severe, too austere to be anything else. He would not make a harlot of his adopted sister or shame the Kuchiki name. He certainly wouldn't ask anything of her such as --

That's another thought to put away and not think about.

In the long silences of the night, her room is empty and lonely. When she was a child, she slept curled up with the other children like a puppy. As a teenager, they still had no luxuries of privacy or separate rooms; always the sound of breathing, the murmur of half-sleeping voices, the creak of the worn floor under late-coming feet. As an Academy student, even then, the murmur of voices outside her door or footsteps in the corridor, and the half-suppressed noises through the walls of the small student rooms.

Now, silence. Silence all through the Kuchiki mansion, all down the long corridors with their expensive floors swept by a thousand servants over the years, all through the orchards of cherry trees and across the wide lake, silence in her room, and only her own heart to listen to.

Because he is tall, and he is handsome, and he is powerful, and he is skilful, and he gave her everything, and should she do what she is afraid to do? Would it be so bad to have him hold her and --

Rukia rolls over in her bed and opens her eyes and looks up at the ceiling. With every heartbeat, she calls herself a coward.

Silk is cold against her skin.

If only he would tell her. But he never tells her anything.

She falls asleep without knowing it; when she wakes up, she is curled up under the spread like a Rukongai brat huddled for warmth.

She will see her honoured elder brother at breakfast, and as she does every day, she will keep silent and lower her eyes, and wait for something that she does not know or will not name.