Okay so here we go! Third part!
This was heavily inspired by a lot of stories I've read where Byakuya almost dies and Hisana comes to him.
Um this includes some references to my Byakuya/Hisana story "Scarlet" but nothing to the point where you don't understand what's going on.
Merry-Go-Round of life is a music box piece theme from Howl's Moving Castle that inspired this chapter.
When Rukia Kuchiki's vision cleared she was in a place she did not recognize. She was dressed in a clean black uniform though her Zanpakto was nowhere to be seen. All her wounds were healed and she could move as well though each step sent ripples of light across the surface of whatever she was on. The closest she could approximate it to was the moments when her brother came to save her and the blades of his Bankai rose up. Glancing down she saw her own reflection staring back at her and it occurred to her that she was standing on some kind of body of water.
"Hello?" she called, "Sode?" nothing, "Senbonzakura?" she tried, again nothing, "Zangetsu? Zabimaru? Anyone?" no-one responded, "I know I'm in an inner world and I know there's a spirit here," she peered around, "its really rude to leave me just standing here," she said, trying to play to whatever sympathy the spirit had. Spirits exerted complete dominance over their domain and infuriating whoever this was was not a wise idea, "why am I--" Rukia trailed off.
She had been dying. Dying and Ichigo had been holding her and telling her not to say stupid things like that she didn't need to be saved. Like she didn't want to be saved. She hadn't, but he couldn't hear it. She had killed Kaien, twice. She was always causing trouble and people always had to save her. She was useless. And her brother, Byakuya, all she did was cause him pain. It was not her fault that she looked like her sister, but she looked like her none the less. She closed her eyes. She did not want to make the people she loved suffer anymore. Not Ichigo, not her Nakama, not her brother, no-one.
"I was dying," she repeated softly.
A completely different sound reached the deafening silence Rukia's ears. Someone was humming. It was familiar and yet she could not place where she had heard it before. The tune was soft and melodious and for a reason she could not explain Rukia felt instantly comforted by it. It was as though the song had always been a part of her, a part of her she did not know existed. She felt like she had when she regained Sode after their long separation or when her brother had told her that she had a sister, that strange feeling of completion. Though she was still alone she turned her head around seeking out the owner of the voice. Slowly the humming turned to something a bit more delicate, like a music box.
She couldn't explain how she knew but she knew there would be a ballerina in a pale pink tutu that would twirl in front of a small mirror. The inside would be pale pink fabric, spotted from constantly handling but lovingly wiped down none the less. The gems inside would not be valuable, but they would be the most beautiful things in the world. All her dreams, everything she had wondered with her childish mind, all the answers could be found in that box.
As she made her way through the darkness, her steps sending ripples through the glass of the lake, she saw a paler patch of light. In the middle of it was the music box. Rukia hurried forward, pressed on by something she did not understand but knew to listen to none the less. Instead of getting farther away the box seemed to get closer and closer until it was almost right under her feet. Kneeling down Rukia looked at the pale box, the ballerina still twirling inside in front of the mirror. She had seen priceless gems, gems so special they did not even have a price. The jewels inside were child's playthings, cast offs from an older relatives. They were mixed with pale flowers.
"Whose there?" she asked, "you have to be here, or you wouldn't be able to put this here."
Out of the darkness a pale hand streaked, the music box closing instantly as the hand vanished one more back into the darkness just as quickly as it had come leaving Rukia in silence. The light flickered and formed the outline of a woman who could have been her twin. Her very elegantly dressed, very infuriated twin. Rukia's eyes widened as she jumped to her feet, painfully aware of the simple uniform she wore. The impossibility of the situation hit her harder than any blow she had received to bring her to this place.
"Hisana?" she whispered, her sisters name falling from her lips.
"What in Gods name were you thinking?" came the demand from the outline, the no nonsense tone contradicting the formal dress. Rukia's eyes widened at the sharp anger in her sister's tone.
"Oh I've been listening," Hisana said, "thinking you're not worth it, degrading yourself because of some stupid Hollow that you killed--" her sister put her hands on her hips, "you're being ridiculous."
"I'm being what?!" Rukia cried in disbelief.
Even before Byakuya had told her of Hisana's connection to her, Rukia had a distinct and clear picture of her brother's wife. From what everyone said she was a kind, quiet woman who was sometimes unsure of her place in the Kuchiki family. From what Byakuya told her her last moments had been filled with apologies. Rukia had believed them, who was she to judge a woman she had never met? But one thing had always struck her as rather odd. Byakuya did not seem like the kind of man who would tolerate a weak woman--much less love someone like how they described her sister. She supposed Hisana had acted differently towards the end of her life, Rukia knew that when she was sick tended to act differently as well.
"I said," Hisana continued walking forward, "that you're being rediculous."
In the light Rukia could see the difference between herself and her sister. Hisana's features were shaper than hers, her hair was a bit longer as well and pushed back behind her ears. She did not have the one strip that fell between her eyes like Rukia did. Rukia looked down, unable to meet the violet gaze of her sister. She felt Hisana step closer, the smell of sakura blossoms clinging to her sister like it did to Byakuya. It was hard not to meet her eyes given their similarity in height. Usually everyone was so much taller than her that it was easy not to meet their eyes.
"Rukia," Hisana sighed, her voice soft, "I know its hard to tell the people you care about that you do," her sister said, "when I died I told your brother that I couldn't return his love," Rukia's eyes widened, "if there was one thing I regret about my death it was not just leaving him and you, it was not telling him that I did love him."
"Why did you leave me?" Rukia asked, her eyes raising to meet Hisana's.
"I couldn't take care of you," Hisana said, her eyes full of regret, "I tried but I was not as strong as you are, not then anyway. I was young and you were a baby. Our family was wealthy, the most I'd done for taking care of you was to play with you while a nurse was nearby. And when I was able to take care of you, I couldn't find you," her eyes saddened, "I am so sorry for what happened."
"I was alright," Rukia didn't understand why but she was suddenly desperate to reassure her, "I had Renji and the other kids and now I have Byakuya who--" Rukia trailed off.
Byakuya, her brother, the man who had been so broken by his wife's death that he never let anyone into his heart until that day when he took that blade for her. Byakuya who struggled against the habits he built up to allow her closer than an arm's length. Byakuya who took out Hollows and Bounts and whoever else dared to try and hurt her, who did foolish and wonderful things to ensure she was safe. Byakuya who had handed her a cloak before she had gone off to Hueco Mundo and told her to be careful before he too arrived and once again saved her life.
"I know," Hisana said with a smile, "he can be a bit strange sometimes. Not as strange as the rest of your Nakama though."
Rukia nodded, thinking of loud, crazy Renji who first let her go and then fought harder than anyone to get her back. Who first ran at her brother with his new Bankai and then spent hours training with him to be proficient with it--though she hoped outside of sparring he wasn't going to be charging her brother anytime soon. She thought of Uryuu who came despite being a Quincy, despite everything that said he couldn't, wouldn't shouldn't be there, he was. Keigo, Tatsuki,--all the school people who looked at them with a gaze that plainly said they knew they were being left out, that they knew there was something more and that they were only upset that they were being left out, not that their friends were what they were. Urahara and Yoruichi and all the people who helped them, who trained them, who were always there for them. Sado who was such a giant but more gentle than anyone she'd ever known before.
Orihime who fought harder than Ichigo, than Sado, than Renji, than anyone Rukia had met in her entire life to be stronger, to be useful to her friends. She felt like a burden, not knowing that no-one saw her that way.
Nakama's a foolish word, don't you think?
She tried to tell him but..
Don't do this, damn it Rukia, don't do this now. Not like this.
But he hadn't wanted to hear as she died in his arms. She didn't blame him. Words spoken as death claimed had a way of haunting people. She could still remember Kaien's last words and she knew Byakuya remembered Hisana's. She hadn't wanted to leave without telling him but now, now she didn't want to leave at all. Her eyes widened as she looked up to see Hisana watching her with a smile that was both full of regret and hope.
"I know," her sister said offering her arm, "lets get you back, shall we?"
Shyly Rukia took her sisters arm as they headed off into the darkness.
"How did you meet Byakuya?" Rukia asked looking over at him.
"I rescued him," Hisana said. Rukia's eyes widened, "its a terribly long story but, well he wasn't always as strong and brave as he is now," she said, "and one time, people were trying to kidnap him for ransom and I accidentally wound up rescuing him," she smiled at Rukia, "of course he rescued me many times over but that first time I saved him," she stopped at some invisible point, "now then--"
"I'm glad he told me about you," Rukia said looking at Hisana. Her sister's eyes widened before she too smiled, "I'm glad I have a sister."
"I'm glad he told you about me too," Hisana said leaning forward and wrapping her arms around Rukia. Rukia returned the embrace tightly, "tell him what's done is done, he doesn't have to forget me, he just has to accept I'm gone," Rukia nodded, "but tell him I love him."
"I will," she said tightening her arms around her sister, "goodbye, sister."
"Take care little sister," Hisana said. Rukia felt her sister brush a kiss across her brow.
"Thank you, for everything," Rukia whispered before the sensation of falling enveloped her.
When Rukia was aware of herself again she was lying on a futon in the Kuchiki Manor. It took a moment to regain control of her sluggish limbs but she was successful after a moment. To her left was the sprawling gardens of the Kuchiki Manor. To her right was none other than Ichigo Kurosaki. He was obviously asleep, sprawled on the ground because her brother was not really one for beds and Ichigo wasn't one for the kneeling cushions that he used. His head was turned towards her, his features arranged in their usual scowl. One of Rukia's hands was covered by Ichigo's own. She moved her fingers under his calloused palm.
Ichigo jerked upright, his eyes flying around as he looked for something to kill. Rukia hid her smile before his eyes landed on hers. If his reaction before had been amusing it was priceless compared to his face now. She had never seen him look so stunned before. His eyes were wide and his lips were parted as he took in the sight of her violet eyes. Both his hand by his side and the one covering her hand were locked in white-knuckled fists. Rukia turned her head, to fully face him.
"Hi," she said, her voice unexpectedly not hoarse but soft. Orihime must have healed her.
Ichigo could scarcely believe Rukia was awake. It had been scarcely a week since she had--he couldn't even get the words out through his mind. Just that it had been a week since he carried her back to the Kuchiki Manor. Fully healed, Unohana had told them, there was nothing she could do. It was harder to say whose face had fallen more, Byakuya's or his. He had carried her back to the Manor, the thought of letting her go impossible to him. Byakuya had directed him to one room where he lay her down and prepared to sit by her side until she woke up. Sit by her side when his body was still covered in mud and sweat and tears and his blood and her blood. Byakuya had indulged him for a few hours before a maid had shown him to an adjoining room that held a bed and a bathroom where a bath was waiting for him. Meeting his gaze squarely the maid told him Lord Kuchiki said there was a good chance his sister wasn't going to wake up just to avoid the smell coming off him.
Though he hadn't seen the humor in it, Ichigo had agreed with a numb shake of his head and set about cleaning. He and Byakuya fell into an odd sort of routine. One would stay with her--usually him because Byakuya had duties as a surviving Captain--and then the other would take their turn. Others came like Renji and Orihime but he and Byakuya were the main two. Ichigo knew Byakuya loved Rukia but during the past week he had come to see his former enemy as something far closer to himself. He was a big brother. Ichigo knew that if it was Yuzu or Karin he would do the same thing. Though he never voiced it he had a feeling Byakuya knew that Ichigo understood. But now a week had passed and Rukia had opened her violet eyes for the first time.
"Rukia--" she offered him a sleepy smile and it was as though something in him snapped.
As if her words had shaken him out of his stupor she suddenly found herself upright and practically crushed against his chest. The feeling of being held so tightly by him was both strange and wonderful. Under the Shinigami cloths he wore she felt the heat of his body and the strength of his arms. His heart was racing against her ear as she felt him tremble against her. Carefully Rukia reached up and wrapped her arms around him as well breathing in his familiar scent mixed with soap that she knew the Kuchiki guests used.
"How long have I been out?" she asked tentatively.
"A week," he said.
"Is that why you smell like a Kuchiki?" she asked pulling back slightly to look at him.
His amber eyes were filled with such emotion that it shook her. She also saw barely contained tears swimming in the depths. Reaching up she laid a hand on his cheek. Ichigo closed his eyes, not even caring that a single traitorous tear escaped his eye to run across Rukia's fingertips.
"Ichigo," Rukia breathed, concern surging through her.
"Fuck, Rukia," he swore, not caring as he opened his eyes, his lips pulling into a grin that completely contradicted the tear from earlier, "I thought I lost you."
"Idiot," Rukia said shaking her head, "you're not going to loose me."
"Yeah," he said, though whether it was to him being an idiot or her reassurance she wasn't sure. Her hand was still on his cheek Ichigo found himself turning towards it desperate for as much contact with her as he could have. One of his hands left her back to cover his hand against her cheek, his other arm still tight around her back, "don't worry me like that."
"Like you haven't worried me a million times before," she said glaring at him. Unexpectedly his face broke into a grin, "what?"
"Nothing its just--you sound like you again."
"I know," Rukia said, "I-I had some help," she looked at the ground, remembering the sound of the music box, "I'm just glad to be home."
Ichigo nodded tightening his arm around her.
"Hey Ichigo," she said aft ere a moment.
"Hmm?" he looked at her.
"Do you remember what I said? About Nakama being a stupid word?" he nodded. Rukia tired to ignore her pounding heart. Ichigo looked down at her, his own heart pounding as well, "I don't know if I'm ready," she bit her lip, "I don't want anything to change but I don't know if I can stand it if they say the same."
Ichigo said nothing as he took the hand that held her own to his cheek held it in front of him. Before Rukia's stunned eyes he lowered his head and brushed his lips against her knuckles before he threaded their fingers together. She looked at their joined hands, aware of how perfectly they fit together despite their difference in size.
"I know," Ichigo said softly, "I'm just glad to have you back," his arm tightened around her waist.
"I'm glad to be back," she said leaning her head against his shoulder.
Byakuya found Ichigo and Rukia talking, his arm snugly around her waist as she leaned against him despite being fully healed. If he had not reached a new--albiet a bit grudging--understanding with Ichigo this past week, he probably would have murdered him right there. As it was, he simply made a note to murder him later and stepped fully into the room. Rukia's eyes lit up at the sight of him and even Ichigo grinned.
"Hey Byakuya," he said.
Correction, he was going to kill Ichigo slowly later on.
"I'll see you in a bit," he said smiling at Rukia before he untangled himself and got to his feet, leaving the siblings alone.
Byakuya approached the futon where Rukia lay, seating himself on the cushion nearby when she made a move to get up. Her poor brother did not look half as composed as he usually did. She could see the tell tale signs of sleeplessness in his eyes and knowing him he had only the minimal amount of healing given the way he favored his arm and leg. Injuries he received coming after her. Instead of the feeling of sadness and uselessness all Rukia felt was grateful. Grateful that she had such a brother who would go to a place like Las Noches for her.
"I'm sorry I worried you," Rukia said, meeting his eyes.
"Do not trouble yourself with such things, focus on regaining your strength," he said, though his voice was cool as usual she could hear the underlying worry and the relief that she was awake.
"You need your rest too, brother," she said.
Byakuya said nothing but his eyes softened slightly. Rukia bit her lip, unsure if what she said would even be believed.
"Brother? May I ask you something?"
"If this is about the Kurosaki brat," he began.
"No," Rukia said, fighting the pink that stained her cheeks. She ducked her head for a moment before looking at him, "did my sister rescue you?"
Byakuya's eyes widened, his lips parting in surprise. Rukia stared. It was true? It was impossible to think of Byakuya being rescued by anyone, much less someone like her but the surprise on his face was just as much confirmation as when he slowly nodded. Rukia smiled at her brother.
"She said to tell you what's done is done and that you don't have to forget her, you just have to accept she's gone," Rukia repeated, " and she also said to tell you that she loves you."
Byakuya's eyes closed for a moment, as her words sunk in. It sounded like something Hisana would say. Not the frail woman she had become but the vivacious, no-nonsense woman he had married all those years ago. When he opened his eyes and looked at Rukia there was a kind of peace in them she had not seen before. She reached out and covered her hand with his and for the first time Byakuya did not stiffen at the contact. Instead he looked at their hands and then at her face.
"I'm glad you're feeling better, sister," he said.
"I'm just glad to be home, brother," Rukia replied.
Soon Ichigo returned as Byakuya went to inform the others that Rukia had awoken.
"He seemed happy," Ichigo said.
"I think he was," Rukia said.
"Oh hey, I found this outside. I know its not the season for it and we're not--" he trailed off, "but here."
Like a schoolboy he thrust his hand out. Nestled in his palm and right under her nose was a plum blossom. Rukia's eyes widened as she took the flower from him with the upmost care. Ichigo watched as Rukia touched the surface of the flower, her eyes softening.
"You okay?" Ichigo asked.
"Yes," Rukia said smiling.
Impulsively she leaned forward and gently pressed her lips to his, holding the flower to the side so it didn't get crush. Ichigo's eyes widened at the light touch of lips before she withdrew before he could return the kiss. She ducked her head, her blush-stained cheeks barely visible under her hair.
"W-what was that?" he got out, his voice breathless.
"It was a kiss," she said touching the petals of the flower, "I wanted to say thank you for the flower," she tentatively raised her eyes to his, "what?"
Before she could ask anymore he leaned down and captured her lips in a much longer kiss, one of his hands coming to the other side of her legs to brace his weight as his other hand cupped the back of her head. Rukia returned the kiss, one of her hands cradling the flower and the other coming up to lay on his shoulder. They could have kissed forever.
"Its about fucking time!"
Unfortunately their friends had come to see Rukia.
Still as Rukia looked at their shocked faces all she could do was smile brightly.
She was home.
And that was where she wanted to be.