The flowers on the tree outside his family's residence were bloomed again, the way they had on another spring day that had been just as cold as this. It was the soft white magnolias though that stirred in the unseasonably cold breezes this day, not plum blossoms. Looking at the still form that was still laying so still on the tatami spread across the floor, it might as well have been the same.

Byakuya sighed and shook his head, pulling the blanket up a little higher, watching as Rukia shivered in spite of the warmth of the room. The fever that Unohana-teicho had thought completely gone in the Fourth division a few days before had suddenly reared up ugly in the small hours of the morning two nights before, stronger and showing no signs of breaking a second time. He picked up a cup of tea and pressed it to Rukia's lips. She swallowed it, but otherwise there was little sign that she was alive other than the rise and fall of the blanket that covered her. He looked upwards blinking back tears as he briefly wondered what sort of joke the gods were playing on him with this. It was like they were making him relive Hisana's death again through her little sister. The little sister that he really had, in spite of his constant lies to her in the constant effort to protect her, come to view almost as much of a sister as if she was his.

Somewhere in his head, he could see Hisana brushing her hair, humming a little as she sang a lullaby from the living world, smiling as he watched her. Looking at Rukia, he knew that what he was about to do would completely shatter the lie that he had built up over the years if she realized. If she was able to realize anything in the fevered state she was in. He refused to sit by and do nothing, the same way he had stayed there with Hisana, hoping that something would get through. No, this time it would end differently, he decided. He needed it to end differently.

That thought kept driving him as he scooped up Rukia, holding her blanket and all. She felt so fragile just lying there and he repeated to himself that things would be different, even as he remembered the last time he had held Hisana like this. Cradling the smaller girl, he began to hum softly, singing the lullaby. The sound of his own voice singing startled him. How long had it been since he had done this? Done anything that showed he felt anything besides anger and disappointment in her? He wanted to tell Hisana how wrong she had been, how much better she would have been in dealing with her sister than he was, hating himself that the girl had hidden how sick she was from everyone until Ukitake-teicho had all but dragged him out of his division office to the Fourth division when she had collapsed on the field. It had not taken long for him to realize just what the older captain had thought at seeing how afraid Rukia was of disappointing him that she had brought this on by pushing herself so hard. And behind the well-schooled mask he had trained his face into, he knew that the other man could not hate him more than he hated himself for that.

He kept singing, tears streaming down his face and falling her onto where she was lying asleep, his voice growing hoarser as he sang on and on in the gray dawn. He did not care but just kept on, exhaustion beginning to set in after spending the last two days sitting and keeping watch over her until he felt numb.

Finally, he stopped long enough to catch his breath and he heard it her breathing. Not the death rattle which had started during the night, but the soft even breathing of a sleeping child. She stirred quietly and he set her back down on the tatami mat, moving to get ready. Even sleep deprived, he was quickly dressed in his shihakusho and haori, his hair woven into the customary hair clips which marked him as head of the clan. He made his way down stairs, drinking half of the steaming pot of tea that was sitting on the table waiting for him in the kitchen as he finished wrapping the scarf around his neck. He smiled at the thoughtful gesture that he knew had been made on behalf of his grandfather if not by the old man himself. He looked in at where Rukia slept, wishing that he could tell her the truth before deciding against it. He had promised Hisana that he would keep her safe, be a brother to her. If she knew the truth, he could only imagine what she would think, why she would feel he had lied to her. So he kept silence, to protect both himself and Rukia from herself and the pain she would feel when the lie finally broke.


The servant who was standing near his elbow looked at him in clear confusion, waiting for his instructions.

"I am going back to my division. Please see that she is taken care of. And if she asks-,"

"We will not tell her that you were here, sir."


He walked the short distance from his house to the division a little slower than normal, letting the cold air wake him up more fully. He looked up, watching the starlike magnolia blossom as it danced lazily toward the ground on the pretty breeze and he wished that there was a way that dreams could be carried on the breeze like the flower, or the pretty words of a lullaby.