Chapter Three - The Silent Breath

It was still raining. Five days later, it was still raining. The clouds were still heavy in the sky, laden with sorrow and despair. People were grouped around the grave site as both caskets were lowered, side-by-side, into the ground. No one could look away; the sight was like some horrible nightmare, and they couldn't help but stare. They only wanted to be sure that this was all real; and really, who could blame them?

As soon as they had disappeared from sight, Rukia turned to find herself in the arms of her brother, falling victim to relentless tears. He said nothing, simply wrapping one arm around her and placing the other at the back of her head, offering as much sympathy as he could possibly show. It wasn't long before she pushed away from his embrace, wiping her eyes, much to his surprise. She turned to the family of her husband, being taken into the arms of her two young sisters-in-law. His parents each took one of her hands, and it was apparent that both of them were holding in the tears, saving them for later.

Their daughter and son stood quite a ways off, watching as the crowd dispersed. They had known their father well, and had thought they were prepared for his passing, but still they cried. The girl had been like Jyuushiro in every way. She was tall and elegant, with a sort of delicate frame. Her hair was long and chestnut, like her father's had been when he was young, though her eyes were a beautiful ocean blue. Their son however, had fallen victim to the Tuberculosis that had killed his father. He had inherited his mother's height and violet eyes, though his hair had been a champagne blond, like Urahara's (Rukia insisted that she had no idea where it came from), but it quickly turned to the same grey as Jyuushiro's.

It wasn't very long before they were joined by Shunsui and Nanao's son, who was every bit as unkempt and ruggedly handsome as his father, yet with class and responsibility, like his mother. His hair was kept at a decent length, but it was apparent that he hadn't shaved in a few days. The boy was only a few years older than Jyuushiro's daughter, and they belonged to the same division only a seat apart. Right now, his face was solemn, almost as stoic-looking as Byakuya's, and his only aim at that moment was to take some of the mourning off her hands. And her brother's as well....

"I'm not really sure what to say," he announced to the two, showing his presence. She had already noticed, knowing his reiatsu so well. She had no response but to look away, shutting her eyes as if to shut him out completely. "We all loved both of them—"

"What are you, the repeat of the funeral? Could you be decent for two seconds and go the fuck away, Shunichi." she growled with pure venom, her slender lips barely parting. Shunichi stared at her for a brief moment. He gave a small sigh, knowing that he sucked at stuff like this.

"Aya, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to piss you off; I don't know how to deal with this.... I've killed a lot of people, but.... Well, you know." Shunichi's broad hand found it's way to his hair and he scratched the back of his head. Aya had the temper of wolverine, snarling and growling at him no matter what he had to say. He had somewhat hoped that the grieving would have at least been dampened by the rain. But when had he ever been lucky?

xXXx

Nanao stood with Shunsui's family. No one spoke. No one cried. They all just watched with the Ukitake's as the caskets were covered. Nanao's hand was held by Shunsui's older brother in an all too familiar way. She looked up at a group of weeping willows just past the graves where her son stood with Rukia's kids. The willows' long, wispy fingers reached out and blanketed the three, embracing them and shielding them from the unrelenting downpour.

Her gaze was soon directed to the man at her side. She knew that sooner or later they'd end up together somehow. Possibly through the mutual grief they shared, their love of academics and Shakespeare, and that fact that Shunichi usually snuck off to learn martial arts from his dear uncle. Nanao was certain, however, that she didn't want it to happen just yet; after all, she had just lost her first husband.

The next place her wandering eyes fell was on Rukia, who could no longer contain the tears that had been dammed up since she left Byakuya's arms. It seemed that Ukitake's family had treasured her like a jewel, and they had swarmed her, cooing softly the way a mother does to a baby. For Rukia, Jyuushiro's death had brought back many terrible memories; few of which she had actually cried for. The time she had tried to tell Ichigo that she was in love with him only to find out he was marrying Orihime, the time she was almost executed, being the cause of Kaien's death.... There were so many more that she hadn't cried for when she really should have, and now she did.

xXXx

Twenty Years Later - In the Kurashi no Kuni

"Shunsui, Jyuushiro, would you like to read your opinion report to the class?" The teacher called the two fifteen-year-old boys to the front of the classroom. She shuffled her feet nervously, purely devastated by their report even before they had given it. Separately, the boys had been good children. Together, though.... It was a nightmare ripped straight from Hell, and it made her want to skin the pair of them.

The assignment was to choose something they didn't like about the school and, in pairs, write a report about what could be done to fix that. Of course, it was only after the two boys ran out of the room at dismissal, arms linked and wearing idiotic grins, did she realize what a horrid idea that had been. In pairs! What had she been thinking!? Of course, now it was too late to take it back and she'd just have to grin and bear it. Besides, maybe for once they'd take an assignment seriously. Heh... maybe... right?

"Our report is on the school windows!" Shunsui picked up an eraser and wiped the chalkboard clean, Jyuushiro illustrating his friend's meaning in fluorescent pink chalk. "They are obviously unsafe and MUST be replaced at once!"

Jyuushiro nodded enthusiastically, following up with his part. "Shunsui and I met just this spring at the beginning of the first semester. See, he was leaning on a window that was made of 'safety glass' when he fell through it and landed on me. We ended up in the nurse's office for the rest of the day. See our point?"

"Of course," Shunsui lowered his head to rest his chin thoughtfully in his hand. "It would've helped if the window hadn't been open.... And if I wasn't distracted by those gorgeous sixth-year girls...."

"So, boys, the actual point of your report is that you are what needs to be fixed?" The teacher asked rather icily, in a tone that would've reminded them of a certain Kuchiki prince had they remembered him.

Jyuushiro shook his head vigorously, still smiling. "No, what we're say is that to fix the window problem—"

"There is no window problem! And even if there was, the budget this school has can't be spent on windows!" She was beginning to get angry with those two. It often didn't take long for those two to rile her up, but this time she had done an excellent job of keeping her anger under control, which was saying something.

"Then the school should bring up it's budget by firing ALL the teachers, tearing this place down, and building a hotel instead!" Shunsui chimed in, corners of his mouth now turned up in a devilish smirk. Jyuushiro's dark eyebrows came together in pure confusion, and he turned to Shunsui, tilting his head slightly in the process.

"A hotel? Why a hotel and not... an arcade or a movie theater?"

"'Cause, Shiro. Then I could sleep all day and no one would give half a rat's a—"

"All right, you two. That's enough. Go sit down before I send you back down to the office." She picked up her meter stick, slapping it roughly against her open palm. The two boys stared at her for a few short moments, then hurried back to their desks.

And so, it turns out that Jyuushiro was right.... Well, for the most part anyway. He and Shunsui would always be friends, no matter what. Though, they had turned up in the Land of the Living five years after their death, which he was wrong about. He had been so sure that they'd turn up in Rukongai. Then again, he was sure he'd die alone as well. But he was happy, and that was all that mattered.

And, as it also turns out, he didn't leave anyone with too much grief. Fifteen years after his death, Aya had married Shunichi next to their fathers' graves, so that they might be there for the ceremony. It was beautiful. Yet, the funniest part was that a ten-year-old Jyuushiro, somewhere in Kurashi no Kuni, had the happiest day of his life, and he couldn't figure out why he couldn't stop smiling.