Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Sakura lay on her futon unable to see her feet. She looked towards where they were supposed to be, but all she could see was her belly, swollen with the life of her unborn child. The baby would potentially be the next heir to the prestigious and powerful throne of the Kuchiki House.

"Milady, it's time" said one of her servants. A servant came from behind Sakura to help her up while another took her hand to try and steady her.

"I'm enormous!" said Sakura, horrified. It also frightened her because she was a small woman.

Sakura was surrounded by her female servants and had not seen Byakuya in some time. It was the custom to seclude a noblewoman from any male influence after a late date during her pregnancy. It was considered bad luck for her to be near a man. Regardless she missed him and sent him notes often. He often responded immediately, writing that he missed her company as well.

Sakura wrote to Byakuya about her excitement and about her joy of being the child's mother and his wife. She never mentioned her fear. 'This child keeps getting bigger and bigger. How am I going to manage when it's time for it to come out?!' Today was the day when Sakura was to be moved to the birth chamber, a special sacred place where she would have her child. She would be completely secluded from all the men at the palace and would rest behind special curtains and screens made just for the event.

After a considerable amount of help from her servants Sakura stood and walked towards the chamber. She walked outside of her rooms into the fresh air where she was shaded by a large parasol held by her most trusted servant Sukehime. Sukehime was from a noble family of sorts herself. It was a family from an area just west of where Sakura grew up and the family was famous for their trusted service to Sakura's maiden clan, the Taki family.

Sakura and her group of female servants walked across the yard to special housing reserved for the women of the Kuchiki family to give birth.

One night after she had been secluded Sakura had a nightmare about the baby. She woke up in a cold sweat unsure of what it all meant. One of her servants was there and inquired if she needed anything. Sakura explained the dream and asked for a glass of water.

The servant was happy to oblige. Sakura then felt a twinge in her belly. She gasped and almost panicked when she realized what it was. She felt it again and again. It didn't hurt as she had expected and told her servant when she returned with the water.

The servant was a mother of three children and Sakura valued her knowledge as such. The servant said "It is no time to panic milady, these twinges are not the real thing. It is still too early. This is your body preparing for the event.

Sakura felt the strange twinges and movements of her body. Her hands slid over her belly down to where the movements of her muscles were. She whispered to her servant "I wish Byakuya-sama was here with me. I miss him so much."

"I understand milady. I understand" soothed the servant.

"Where's my mother? I want to speak with her about something" said Sakura, knowing full well her mother was fast asleep. A servant was sent to fetch Sakura's mother none-the-less.

Twenty minutes later Sakura's mother entered the room. "Dearest, this was explained" she said sleepily "You are not in labor, this is not the time."

"Mama, I want Byakuya" said Sakura, teary eyed and afraid.

"And what could he do for you, eh? Nothing. Men are so useless sometimes. You'll see."

"His presence would comfort me" said Sakura.

Her mother took pity on her and understood her feelings. Sakura's mother came close to her daughter and stroked her Sakura's hair "Men, my darling, are strictly forbidden from taking part in the birthing ritual, you know this."

Sakura's bottom lip began to quiver as she tried to hold back tears "I'm so afraid mother."

She held Sakura close and said "I know. I know. I was afraid too, but when it is over and safe to see him, you will."

"Yes, mother" she said as she wiped her tears and nuzzled in her mother's arms.

Byakuya sat writing in his log. His sentences were short and abrupt. His thoughts distracted with the impending birth of his first child. He sighed and put his brush down. He could not write any more. He walked to the open screen and looked up at the half moon wondering when he might see his wife again. 'Sakura…' It was winter and the trees had long since dropped their petals on the wind.

Byakuya then called for Rukia to come to his study. She arrived a short while later with a servant holding a lantern for her. "Rukia, check on Sakura and report back to me on her status."

Rukia tried to hide a smirk and said "Yes, Nii-sama."

Byakuya noticed the smirk and being slightly grumpy these days told her to explain herself. Rukia quickly lost any humor she had felt in the face of her brother's stern expression but could not help but explain that she was willing to check in on the lady Sakura, and that it sounded like an order she would receive on the battlefield, not like that of a concerned husband and father.

Byakuya nodded his understanding and said "Then…please check on Lady Sakura and…tell me…how she is doing."

"Of course, Nii-sama" said Rukia glad to go and see her sister in law. Rukia strolled across the landing and thought of how strange her life had been. 'Abandonded as an infant, grew up as an orphan, became royalty almost overnight, joined the squads, saved others, killed others, met Ichigo, almost executed, saved by Ichigo, life death life death. This never ending cycle. Now life is again taking the forefront with Sakura and Byakuya's child. I'm so happy for Nii-sama, but he doesn't seem to know how to handle the joy.'

She chuckled to herself at the thought of her brother ordering her to report on the 'status' of his wife. 'Like she's some military campaign.' She shook her head wearing a crooked grin. Her smile faded a bit when she thought 'Perhaps he doesn't know how to ask after her in a tender way because he was never asked after in that manner?'

Rukia then thought of Sakura and how she had brought a bit of light into the Kuchiki's home after it had been dark for so long. Rukia liked Sakura and was glad she was now a part of their family. The young girl was tender hearted and sweet, but she could handle all the social pressures like pro.

Though Sakura was her junior Rukia had learned a lot after meeting her. Rukia was confident with her sword, and took direction from Byakuya's advisor's well, but Sakura had experience living in the Court of Pure Souls and knew how to handle the not so obvious dangers.

Rukia reached the entrance of Lady Sakura's rooms. She was moved to a separate structure away from the main house. It was staffed with a full retinue of servants, all female, and a chef of her own who prepared special dishes healthy for a mother to be. Rukia approached the steps and the servant with the lantern was replaced, as he was male, with one of Sakura's servants, a woman. Rukia knew the way to Sakura's room. It was late at night, but she also knew that Sakura was not sleeping well these days.

Rukia walked around the corner and nodded to two nuns who were asked to stay on the premises to pray for a successful delivery. She walked through a reception room, and through another back room. She kneeled, not as a soldier, but how Sakura had taught her ladies of the court bowed. Her feet were tucked neatly underneath her, and her head was bowed slightly down, letting only the tips of her fingers to grace the fine tatami mat. It was a very different posture she was used to using as a Shinigami. She would bow her head, keep one knee bent, and a fist on the ground.

The shoji door opened and inside was a large colorful curtain obscuring the view of the Lady Kuchiki. A lantern was lit on the other side of the curtain and Rukia could see Sakura was not alone. 'Taki-sama is awake at this hour!?' "Rukia-san, please come in" whispered Sakura's mother.

"Yes, milady" said Rukia. She scampered into the sacred birthing chamber and immediately bowed again.

"What brings you here so late?" whispered Lady Taki as she emerged from the curtain.

Sakura was obviously asleep and Rukia was glad to see her resting. "Nii-sama was curious as to what condition the Lady Sakura was in. I'm glad to see she is resting, finally."

Lady Taki was a uncomfortable with Rukia. She knew the girl had been adopted, and was accepted into most royal circles, but she did not really know how to approach the girl. She could still see her common habits and hear her common accent. However, Lady Taki was gracefully taken in by the Kuchiki clan after her husband's demise and if Byakuya-sama said Rukia was now a noble, Rukia was now a noble.

"Mmhm" said Lady Taki.

They sat in an awkward silence for a moment or two and Rukia asked "If I say Sakura is in good health and resting well, would that be accurate?"

"Yes, Rukia-chan, that is so." Lady Taki did not fidget, but smiled a little too broadly then finally said "Would you like some tea, Rukia-chan?"

"Uuh.." 'Would it be rude if I declined? Nii-sama wants to know how Sakura is. Well, it's for Nii-sama, so no, I should be able without offending this woman…' "Uh, no thank you. I will be returning to the main house now."

"Yes, Rukia-chan. I think I will check once again on my daughter and head to sleep. You should too. A lady needs her beauty rest. It is certainly too late for you to go running about." Lady Taki said this in a joking way, and was trying gently to push Rukia to learn to be more of lady. 'She has much natural dignity and grace which has helped a lot, however, she has bad habits she must break if we are to find an appropriate husband for her…'

Rukia understood it was not a dig on her and was eager to learn the complicated etiquette of court ladies. The last thing she wanted to do was embarrass her family. Rukia returned to her brother's study where she caught him pacing nervously. She made herself known and he stopped. He sat comfortably to hear Rukia's report. "How is my wife?"

"She was resting sire, peacefully. Her mother was there and was tending to her needs herself."

"Needs? What does she need? Is there anything I can provide?"

Rukia realized she wasn't quite sure, but answered honestly "Nii-sama, I don't know if I can divulge that information. It is a secret sacred chamber only permissible to women." She swore she caught a bit of a blush on her brother's face in the candle light. "She is healthy, Nii-sama and secure with her mother here. I think you did a good thing by bringing her here to be with your wife."

There had been some stir in the house and some advice against allowing the Lady Taki onto the premises. Byakuya was suspicious of the older woman, but gave in when Sakura finally asked for her. They never spoke of Lord Taki's death but it was recorded with honor in the history annals.

Byakuya understood Sakura's need for her mother, but struggled with securing his household against outside dangers. Especially when the outside dangers were now his own family. Lady Taki was not so much a threat herself, but her servants and other supporters which she brought with her could be.

She was a high ranking noble and as such had advisors and staff of her own. Much, if not all, of this staff were her late husband's advisors and they quite probably held resentment for the Kuchikis. Regardless, she was there.