Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Bleach, which is a shame.
Note: Well, this is a risk. To the people who have read some of my work, welcome, I hope that you'll stick with me on this one like you still stick with me on "As The Pendulum Swings". To the people that haven't read any of my work yet, welcome still. I hope you enjoy this.
Normally, I give song recommendations that you can listen to while you read the chapter to enhance the mood. This story/chapter is no exception. Thus, I'd like to recommend the instrumental version of 'Sekai wa Sude' from the Bleach Beat Collection, Gin's session.
The Silent Housekeeper
She sat silently by the window, watching the last few snowflakes fall for the day. The decreasing amount of snow signalled the end of winter, or at least the last stretch of the season. She sighed with contentment, the heat from the fire she had stoked earlier to warm the manor reaching her chilly skin. Eyeing the horizon, she noted that the sun would rise soon. She could already see the faint pink meshing with the pale blue of the sky. Soon that would fade into orange and the master of the house would wake.
Taking one last look at the serenity that lay just beyond the window, she stood from her seat on the windowsill and took small, silent steps towards the kitchen. Her name was Tsubaki Miyako, and she was the lone housekeeper of the private, separate home within the Kuchiki Manor.
Her day always started the same way. She would wake up before every other inhabitant of the household and, if the weather called for it like it did today, re-start the fire that died in the last hours of the evening. She would then take her perch on her favorite windowsill and wait until the sun just about rose before she went to start breakfast. Sometimes she found it almost a waste of good food to prepare breakfast every morning. The master of the house never ate breakfast, no matter how aromatic, tasty or delicious it looked and the master's sister barely consumed a fourth of the food she prepared.
She lit the stove with a match and set the pot on it, warming it up before she poured a small amount of cooking oil into it. Quickly, with practiced hands, she lit the other stove and set the kettle on it. The master never ate breakfast, but at least he always had his tea. It was but a small consolation for the devoted housekeeper who grew the tea herself.
The cooking was finished in a few minutes time. She decided to keep it simple and traditional today, steamed rice, miso, tamagoyaki and broiled fish. The tsukemono and natto she prepared the night before would serve as suitable side dishes. She put the stoves fire out and took a peek at the sky again. Just enough time to run to her room and clean up before the master of the house would wake up.
Her room was small but comfortable, furnished much more luxuriously than the rooms of the servants in the main grounds of the manor. Pouring some water into the wash basin, she quickly rinsed her hands and then her face. She ran a comb through her long black hair a few times before loosely braiding and binding it with a regular indigo ribbon. Tucking some stray strands behind her ears, she went back to the kitchen to warm the food again before plating it and setting it properly on the table. As she was taught before, rice to the left, miso to the right, and everything else in a pleasant fashion around it. That was the proper way to set a meal on a table, especially if it was a nobleman's meal. She brought out another tray set identically for lady of the house.
As she brought out another tray with a hot towel, tea cup, and the pot of freshly made tea, she heard a shoji screen open and close. The master's footsteps were light and barely there. He turned the corner into the dining room as she set the tray down. Impeccable timing on both of their parts, as always, but then again, timing was trivial when you've been repeating the same routine for over sixty years.
"Good morning, Byakuya-sama," she greeted, sinking to her knees and into a bow.
Byakuya-sama. She smiled a small smile to herself while she bowed. She should have been calling him Kuchiki-sama, like all the other servants in the manor, but she was lucky enough to be different. She had known the nobleman since they he was the fiery young man training in the gardens and she was the young daughter of the employee trying not to cause trouble. Things were much different now, but she was still blessed to have been allowed to refer to him with such familiarity.
He was flawless, as was expected. The kenseikan sat atop his regal head neatly, his staple black Shinigami uniform wrinkle free and captain's haori crisp and starch white. He took a knee before sinking into a proper seat on the back of his lower legs, his posture perfect and unwavering. Miyako wasn't certain if his eyes were closed or not, his outward appearance giving no signs other than peace and tranquillity.
"Good morning, Miyako-san," Byakuya returned with his normal polite but withdrawn manner.
Hiding a pleasant smile behind her hair, Miyako quickly offered her master and employer the hot towel which he took, rubbing his hands with the towel before folding it neatly and setting it back in the tray. Miyako then set the tea cup within the man's arms reach and poured the fragrant green liquid into the cup. Excusing herself, Miyako stood and left Byakuya to his favoured silence.
She heard another door open and close just as she finished cleaning the pots she used to make breakfast. Picking up a tray, she walked back out into the dining room. As usual, the food remained untouched, but the tea pot was half empty. With a sigh, Miyako went to reheat the tea again before walking down the hallway of the home and towards the room of the younger Kuchiki noble. She paused outside the entrance of Byakuya's room and set a light hand against the screen. She shook her head and continued on her path.
She slid the shoji screen as silently as she could before stepping in. She pulled the curtains open to let the sunlight in before kneeling to the side of the futon and lightly shaking the shoulder of the small woman that slept within the comforts of the blanket.
"Rukia-sama," Miyako said softly as she continued to shake the woman's shoulders. "You should get up before you're late."
As soon as the word 'late' fell from Miyako's mouth, the younger Kuchiki sat up in her futon, the hair to back of her head standing up and eyes drooping, "Am I late already?"
Miyako lifted a hand to her mouth as she giggled, the light sleeves of her simple blue kimono falling down her arm to expose a slender wrist, "Iei, Rukia-sama, but if you go back to sleep, you won't have sufficient time to dress and eat before leaving for your first day in the protection squads."
"Hai," Rukia mumbled, rubbing her eyes, hoping to chase the sleep away, "Arigato, Miyako-san. Is my uniform-"
Miyako stood and gestured to her left where the Shinigami uniform was, folded neatly, newly washed and ironed, "Ready for you to wear, Rukia-sama."
Rukia smiled thankfully at the housekeeper, forcing herself out of bed. As Rukia cleaned herself in the bath that Miyako had prepared earlier, the housekeeper set about cleaning Rukia's room, folding the blankets and straightening the futon out. She folded Rukia's sleeping yukata with quick precision, setting it in the cabinets soon afterwards.
The lady of the house didn't take long to bathe, walking to the dining room soon after she had disappeared to the bath house, hair still dripping and feet still shuffling. She sat at her spot around the dining table and noted the untouched tray that had been set out of her older brother. Miyako followed her soon after, giving her a hot towel and pouring her a cup of tea just like she had done for Byakuya. She took a seat next to Rukia afterwards, pouring herself some tea.
"Miyako-san, why do you always prepare so much food?" Rukia asked, jerking a thumb towards the untouched tray of food. "You know he never eats breakfast."
"I suppose it is because I hope that one day he will start," Miyako replied between a sip of tea, her smile still small but pleasant and warming. "How will there be hope for change if I stop providing the means for the change?"
"You're much too idealistic sometimes, Miyako-san," Rukia laughed in good nature as she sipped at the miso soup.
Miyako's smile grew in return, "Not idealistic, Rukia-sama, just optimistic."
Miyako read a copy of the Seireitei news magazine as Rukia ate. Once or twice the younger woman would offer the housekeeper the tray of perfectly good food to which she would decline, insisting that she would eat later when Rukia left. The adopted Kuchiki seemed nervous this morning and though she hesitated at first, Miyako couldn't help but comment on it.
"It's normal, isn't it? I start my first day in the thirteenth division today," Rukia said in between mouthfuls of food, "And they're determining whether I can obtain a seated position as well."
The housekeeper's eyes closed slightly as she nodded at Rukia with understanding. Her charge soon finished her meal and was off to the thirteenth division, certain that she was going to be on time. She thanked Miyako for the breakfast and for waking her up as she exited the home. Miyako, as she had promised to Rukia, ate a small breakfast after cleaning up the dining room and setting the serving dishes away in their proper places. She did a quick general cleaning of the small home before stepping out of the home herself and into the gardens.
Across the grand koi pond, she could see and hear the busy day that the servants at the main pavilion had set about. The Kuchiki Manor was the largest of all the noble manors. The main pavilion housed many servants and had enough rooms for some of the elders who opted to stay within the manor some times. For the most part, they stayed in their own homes not too far away from the grounds. All the gatherings and parties were held there and it was grandly furnished.
That was where Byakuya, Rukia and she should have been staying, but Byakuya, who very much treasured his quiet and privacy, had opted to stay in this small home, which had once housed Kuchiki Genrei, instead. The previous Kuchiki clan head had preferred the seclusion of the little but still luxurious home across the pond to the busyness of the main manor, a trait that his grandson had quickly inherited. The liking to the little home increased exponentially after the death of Hisana. Miyako smiled sadly at the memory of the frail woman. She had always been out of place and some of the servants had gone out of their way to be disrespectful to the late lady, but Hisana had remained kind. She shared a friendship with Miyako similar to that between Rukia and Miyako.
Of course, Miyako knew it may well have had to do with it running in the family, but that was a secret she was forbidden to share with the newest member in the Kuchiki clan. Byakuya had preferred to only have one person working in his small home and in addition to already trusting Miyako enough, he followed his mother's wishes of treating Miyako well, choosing her to be the housekeeper and leaving her the third and smallest room in the household.
Miyako didn't complain, happy to do the work. She owed a lot to Byakuya's mother, the lady Tokio. When Miyako's father, who had worked for Tokio's father, passed away when she was little, Tokio took her into the Kuchiki household as a servant. Even with the status of servant, Tokio had always treated Miyako kindly, taking her out to the gardens with her, teaching her how to tend to the gardens. Miyako met Byakuya there as Tokio had introduced the two who were close in age.
The two shared a peculiar friendship in their younger days, but nobility soon got in the way of that and their relationship returned to the proper servant-master decorum. Tokio never was a fan of the stuffy rules of nobility. When Byakuya's parents passed away, Miyako mourned them both in the privacy of her quarters. They, especially Tokio, were the only semblance of parents that she truly knew, and the loss was just as painful as it would have been if they were her birth parents.
Miyako sat on the porch and watched the koi swim in the pond. This was her favorite part of the entire manor. It was so very peaceful and she enjoyed drawing the scenery that her eyes took in when she had free time on her hands. She often mused over her relationship with Byakuya where the lack of conversation was the reigning factor. One would think that there would be more conversation between two people who had known each other for years, but that was not the case. Byakuya was much too proud and introverted to engage in silly talk.
Through the years, Miyako had come to love sunset. This was the time that she would see Byakuya walk through the pathway of the gardens after a long day at his division barracks. It was a daily tradition of hers to watch the entrance pathway from the windowsill until he stepped through the clearing. She had developed the habit decades ago, when they were both still young and Byakuya was a temperamental young man and kept it going until Byakuya had grown into a level headed young man for succession of the clan and Gotei captaincy.
Now, many years later, Byakuya was a powerful Shinigami and respected nobleman who people said was the strongest of his generation. Despite the success and obvious prowess, still Miyako would sit at the windowsill, waiting for him to come home. She would grow worried every time he came home later than expected and even more so when he arrived with blood soaked clothes. Miyako's relationship with Rukia was much more relaxed. They could be called friends if they were seen together outside of the manor. They shared most of their thoughts, their fears, joys and weaknesses.
The sun had begun to set and Miyako sat by the windowsill. There was a flicker of a shadow in the sunlight and Byakuya stepped through the clearing. Miyako quickly stood from her seat and greeted Byakuya at the doorway. He nodded at her in acknowledgement and went straight to the drawing room which he treated like his office away from the Gotei offices.
On his way there, he took a moment to turn to Miyako and said, "Rukia and I will take dinner in the drawing room tonight, Miyako-san."
"Hai, Byakuya-sama," Miyako bowed.
Rukia came home an hour after her brother's return. She was covered in bruises and dirt which she no doubt sustained from her training. The expression on her face was melancholic as she greeted Miyako. Miyako only hugged the younger woman, knowing why she was upset. Miyako ushered Rukia to the bath, telling her to clean up and make herself presentable before greeting her brother. Placing a clean yukata and pale purple kimono in Rukia's arms, Miyako patted the girl's shoulder before turning to prepare dinner.
In an effort to lift Rukia's spirits, Miyako prepared her favorite dishes of steamed pork dumplings, a rich ramen. She threw in some of the pickled radish and eggplant that Rukia liked to snack on as well. She thanked the Gods that Byakuya wasn't a picky eater, preparing him the same meal but making sure to prepare a pot of tea which Byakuya consumed religiously.
She carried Byakuya's tray to the drawing room first, sliding the door open carefully. She could hear Rukia from halfway down the hallway. The poor girl was struggling to tell her brother about her failure to acquire a seated position. Byakuya's replies were low and quick, further rattling Rukia's already diminishing spirits. Miyako set the tray down in front of Byakuya and quickly poured him a cup of tea before walking quickly back to the kitchen to bring Rukia her meal.
When Miyako returned to the drawing room, she was unable to step into the room before Rukia hastily excused herself, tears forming in her wide blue eyes. Miyako's gaze followed Rukia until the girl disappeared into the gardens. The housekeeper set the tray down outside of the room and stepped in. Byakuya was rubbing his temples, an act that not many people would ever see. His dinner still remained untouched but his tea cup was empty. She refilled his cup quietly.
"Miyako-san," Byakuya spoke, his voice still low, "Would you please bring me some sake."
Miyako nodded. The nobleman only indulged in sake when he was feeling guilty about something. Of course, Byakuya rarely felt guilt and thus he rarely drank sake. She brought him the small jug of sake and the drinking saucer quickly and made her way to leave him be. She couldn't help but say something though before she slid the shoji screen shut.
"Pardon my words, Byakuya-sama," Miyako said softly as her fingers curled around the edge of the door, "But Rukia-sama is trying very hard to make her Nee-sama proud of her."
She slid the door shut afterwards, unsure if Byakuya had heard her words but happy that she had the courage to say them. Picking up Rukia's tray where she left it earlier, Miyako quickly reheated the food before taking it out to the gardens where she found the young Shinigami sitting in the middle of a small clearing near the koi pond. Miyako set the tray down in front of Rukia and ran a hand through the younger woman's hair.
"Tomorrow will be better, Rukia-sama," Miyako said, trying to be as comforting as she could. "Come on now. I made all your favourites. It would be a shame to let it all go to waste."
Rukia smiled and wiped the tears from her cheeks with the sleeve of her kimono. She picked up her chopsticks and placed a dumpling into her small mouth.
"There you go," Miyako smiled, "Try not to get any food on that kimono though or I'll be breaking my back to get the stains out."
Rukia laughed as freely as she could with the food in her mouth. When she swallowed, she said, "Arigato, Miyako-san."
A/N: Hope you guys enjoyed this first chapter and I hope that my risk in writing this will pay off. Next chapter will be a Byakuya driven chapter. Toodles.
-the holy see