Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
A/N: This was originally meant to be a chapter of Exciting Proposal, but I fretted about it's focus which was so out of tune with the rest of that story and decided to publish it as a separate oneshot. Like so!
"Kuchiki, I think you should become my vice-captain."
Sentarou and Kiyone were heartbroken, but the rest of Seireitei could think only one thing: it was time, it was about bloody time.
"Ukitake-taichou! …I accept."
Jyuushiro shone down on Rukia and she glittered back until they remembered the reason he had not asked any sooner.
"Ukitake-taichou…what will nii-sama think?"
Escaped his mind, did it? Forgot to consider the request (promise) her older brother tied him to? Rukia wasn't allowed a rank and there he went promoting her to the perilous, honorable status of lieutenant.
"Let's go find out, Kuchiki."
Kuchiki Byakuya managed the no little feat of appearing ruthlessly impassive and spitting mad at the same time. Jyuushiro put down the cup of tea he'd been sipping to hear out the younger man.
"Sempai, you agreed to my request."
"And I now hope you will show the same respect to my sentiments I showed you."
"We never made that agreement." Byakuya's eyes slid from Jyuushiro to Rukia. She met his gaze apologetically for a while, and he shook his head. "I am not beholden to you. I absolutely refuse to allow this."
The fair haired captain leaned forward earnestly. "Byakuya, I understand your concern. However, I assure you that I will look after your sister. She will come to no harm."
The young master closed his eyes as though asking patience from his many gods. His lips hardly moved as he said, "Rukia. Leave."
She hesitated—just a minute—but Jyuushiro gave a nod and she complied. After she had shut the door behind her, Byakuya's eyes flared open, anger tumbling about his irises.
"Sempai said he will look after her. Does sempai mean the same way in which he looked after Shiba Kaien?"
Pwnt! Burnt! Brick'd! Molotov cocktail'd!
Jyuushiro reeled under the force of this unforeseen blow, his eyes darkening in displeasurable guilt. Kaien's name and his death hung above him like an ethereal miasma, painfully tearing holes in Jyuushiro's heart.
"Sempai was probably too deep in mourning himself to notice, but my little sister suffered greatly in the name of that man. I allowed her to shoulder the black robes against my better judgment because in those days I had some faith in you. How was I to know you would not only invite an unseated newbie to the lair of a dangerous hollow, but you would also permit her to fight a man she felt so deeply for? Due to your incompetence I was forced to break my promise. Rukia was hurt.
"And now you ask me to entrust her to you as a lieutenant! Sempai, if I had my way she would not be in your division at all."
Scathing word'd. K.O.
Well, what did one say to an accusation like that? Especially when it was so hatefully, crawlingly true. If Jyuushiro had been a better captain Kaien's wife would not have died. Kaien wouldn't have fought. Rukia wouldn't have killed him and Byakuya, hot tempered little Byakuya who'd grown into a monster wouldn't withhold her from Jyuushiro's leadership.
He stood without another word and bowed himself out. Rukia waited on the other side of the door on tenterhooks, ambitious hope fluttering on her face.
He couldn't even look at her. "Kuchiki, I'm sorry. Your brother is right; this isn't a good idea. You may not become my vice."
That's the sound of ambition exploding as a sharp pin of reality is stuck into its thin balloon skin. Jyuushiro was the only one that heard it as he walked away from Rukia and her big, broken eyes. A hot wind slapped his face, and his reddening cheeks reflected the color of his sickly, weak blood.
She wasn't a coward and she wasn't a quitter. She also didn't dare contradict her brother's decision directly, so she turned to Shihouin Yoruichi for advice.
"Technically, Rukia-chan, Byakuya has no say in this. If Ukitake wants to promote you, Byakuya can't oppose it without proper justification, and 'I don't want to see my baby sister hurt' isn't going to cut any ice with Yamamoto-jii."
They were meeting in Shiba Kukaaku's home. Kaien's sister had thrown her doors open to Rukia after the unneeded apology, and Rukia came often to catch a glimpse of her old boss in Kukaaku's eyes or Ganju's words.
"Isn't that beside the point?" Rukia moped, "I think we all know that as long as nii-sama is against this, I can't go through with it."
Kukaaku whacked a pillow at Yoruichi, who was trying to creep into her lap as a cat. "I have a question. Rukia, does this really matter so much? Is becoming his fukataichou such a big deal to you?"
The younger girl flailed her arms desperately. "Ahh, Kukaaku-san, of course! I have never once been rewarded for any growth in my strength, while Renji is a vice-captain! My own brother's, to boot! And Ichigo—ugh, don't get me started on that man. I want him to stop looking at me like I need protection just because I don't have a seat to my name. besides," here Rukia's voice got softer, "Ukitake-taichou is a dream come true. I have aspired to the position of his deputy ever since…ever since Kaien-dono passed away."
Jeez, Kaien, you couldn't have been a little less charming?
Yoruichi undid her feline form and Rukia averted her eyes from the naked spectacle. Kukaaku put a foot flat against her breast and pushed her away.
"Yoruichi, instead of randomly flashing us—your boobs have nothing on mine, by the way—why don't you use that tiny brain to help Rukia?"
"I'm on it." The nude woman stood and stretched and even Kukaaku had the modesty to look away. Yoruichi was really shameless, but perhaps with a body like that you would be the same way.
"I'll go have a talk with him," she said, and made for the door. Her best friend threw a cushion her at her.
"Not before you put some freakin' clothes on! My little brother will die of a nosebleed if he sees you like that, slut."
Yoruichi laughed at the far left-handed compliment before wrapping a blanket around herself and stepping out. Kukaaku exhaled in a fond, exasperated way.
"She always was too comfortable in her own skin. Don't worry," she added to a mildly stricken Rukia, "It's not like she'll go to your brother like that."
"Kukaaku-san…a talk? Nii-sama is not going to listen to her, is he?"
The pyrotechnic grinned. "Rukia, sweetheart, we've never told you how far back those two go, have we? Believe me, if Byakuya listens to anyone, it's Shihouin Yoruichi."
"Byakuya-bo, stop being a pig."
"A visit from a sempai is always an honor."
She snorted and threw herself on the cushion across his desk. He put his pen down to suffer her.
"If it really is such an honor, you wouldn't treat your sempai like scum. I stopped at Ukitake's on my way here."
Byakuya decided he didn't have to suffer her after all, and picked up his pen. "Perhaps we can talk about this later. I'm rather busy at the moment. As you can see."
You jobless fool,he didn't say, but she heard it regardless. Her eyes narrowed and she reached into his hair to deftly unlatch his hair ornament, holding it aloft as she stepped onto his desk.
"So you do remember my name."
"Demon cat, you will never change." His hair fell messily over his face and his eyes, at last, were alive. Yoruichi smirked.
"Thank you. Pay attention now, kouhai. You are being an idiot. You're thinking of only your own selfish feelings but have you stopped to consider Rukia's? She wants to be a deputy."
He stood as well, trying to snatch back his clan's pride and also his icy, uncaring exterior. "Her feelings don't matter. I promised Hisana I would keep her safe."
Yoruichi skipped lightly out of his reach. "Byakuya, listen to yourself. Hisana wanted her safe and happy. Hisana wanted you to be her brother, not her tyrant. Right now I'd say you're leaning towards the latter. Whoa," she added as he shunpo'd up close, "Not so fast."
And then she was on the roof.
"Byakuya, I'm serious. Do you think she's a vase for you to lock up in a cabinet? You need to let her live."
They made a blur of Seireitei, the goddess of flash and her little boy. Byakuya's jaw had a stubborn set to it.
"She wouldn't live under Ukitake, she'd die! You weren't there when she killed Kaien, you don't know how she was! He—doesn't—take—care—of his subordinates!"
He had gotten better at this game over the last hundred years, but like Soifon he still couldn't touch her. Yoruichi was careful to let him think he could; she always stayed just a little ahead. Encouraging. Enticing.
"You're wrong, Byakuya." God, she loved saying his name. It sounded like childhood. "That sempai is very good at taking care of his people, which is why so many of his people are such big fans of him. You don't realize, but he thought only of Kaien's peace of mind by letting him fight that night. The man died a pathetic death as far as you're concerned, but in reality he died the perfect death. He fought for his pride and perished not at the hands of a hollow (impurest of all impurities) but at the hands of a comrade."
The Northern Wall loomed ahead of them. Yoruichi stopped short of slamming into it, Byakuya not far behind. Even she couldn't exit Seireitei except by an open Gate.
"Face it, Byakuya. If Hisana's killer had been sentient, you would've thrown away your life in the exact same way. Instead you're throwing all you've got into the promise you've made but that promise regards the life of a young girl! You're throttling her spirit by holding her back."
He started to slow down and absorb her words. She matched his speed.
"You're putting her to shame. All her friends are so accomplished, while Rukia is still not even an officer. She, a Kuchiki, feels inferior. And the reason is you."
An unexpected step, now: she went back to him and cradled his hand in hers, slipping the ornament he'd been chasing into it. He was free to go—but of course he wouldn't.
"I want her to be safe."
"Byakuya, you can never be sure of that! She will suffer all sorts of wounds—to the heart as well as to the soul. What you can make sure of is that she learns to take strength from your support." Yoruichi's hand withdrew. "It's not your business to keep her safe. You're the one that picks her up when she falls down. You're her brother, Byakuya-bo, not her father."
He wasn't completely under her spell, either. "I will not give her to Ukitake Jyuushiro. Any other captain, even odious Zaraki, but not Ukitake."
"She doesn't want any other captain," Yoruichi was unusually patient, "She wants him. And why not? When she was up for execution, you turned your back on her for the sake of a promise you made your parents. No," she raised her hands against his defensive protest, "I'm not saying you were wrong about that. I can guess how torn you were, but Ukitake-sempai was not. He didn't have a shade of doubt in his heart when he went up against his parent—or did you forget what Yamamoto-jii's word means to him? He had a plan to save Rukia, even if it cost him his life. And you think he doesn't take care of his subordinates?"
Byakuya's frustration showed brightly on his face, so Yoruichi cleared it away. "Byakuya, give in. There's no reason you shouldn't."
It took a long time for him to give the nod, but the point is that he eventually did.
A month later, Ukitake Jyuushiro and Kuchiki Rukia were wed.
No, no! Don't assault me with your sniffy glares, dissatisfied readers! I merely mean to imply it felt that way, Byakuya was so mental about handing his sister to his senior. Throughout the promotion ceremony he stood stony-faced, Yoruichi at his side.
Rukia and Jyuushiro had never felt more complete. Three glasses of sake were placed between them in the Shinto temple to Ebisu, god of good fortune. Jyuushiro drank from the first cup and passed it to Rukia.
"I apologize, Kuchiki." His voice crept under the gongs being struck and the chants of the monks outside the temple. "I should've fought harder for you, instead of making you go to Yoruichi-chan."
She drank from the second cup and passed it to him.
"Captain, don't apologize to me. Besides, nii-sama would've never listened to you. I am just so happy you asked me at all."
The third cup was the largest, filled to the brim. Each shinigami used a hand to lift it and sipped together, their foreheads connecting in an unbreakable bond. And if they tried really hard, they could just about make out Kaien's laughter between them, his death no longer as vivid as his afterlife.
I'm not entirely sure at all how these ceremonies go. I had a feeling cups of sake came in somewhere, and learnt Ebisu's identity from a shounen-ai manga by the same name.