A/N: This is the promised preview for the sequel, titled 'Further Machinations'. It can be found on my profile.
So, it's been not quite two years since I updated, and canon has marched on. I'd kind of lost my enthusiasm for Bleach for a long time, but recently got back into the mood to write, mostly because I wanted to remember what I liked about the series. A lot of stuff I speculated on in Hogyoku ex Machina has been either confirmed or denied by Kubo since then, and I have no plans to go back and retcon any of it. Yamamoto's bankai is going to stay a giant dragon. Whether or not I ever bring in the Fullbring or Quincy stuff will kind of depend on how many continuations I wind up writing. This chapter was meant to be a one-shot, but it's been sitting half-finished on my hard-drive for a year and I finally decided to post what I had in order to motivate myself to finish. So, this will probably be a two-shot; I'm aiming to post the second half at the end of July, two years after HeM was finished. For everyone who is still reading after the huge hiatus, thanks for sticking around, and I hope you enjoy this small continuation!
Disclaimer: I have not gained ownership of Bleach in the intervening years.
The night was still and quiet as Kuchiki Rukia came through the gates of the manor and through the door of her quarters, inclining her head in thanks to the servant that brought her a cup of tea. She took it into the garden and left it beside her as she unsheathed her sword and dropped into the familiar meditative pose. Rather than enter Jinzen immediately, though, she took a moment to simply look at the beautiful white blade in her hands. It had been a long day, and the sight of her sword rarely failed to bring her some measure of peace.
The Thirteenth Division was in a constant flurry of activity to prepare for the lengthy absence of their captain, but the hollow patrols still needed to be completed, and she had noticed a marked change in her interactions with the rest of the shinigami in the patrol. She had heard the whispers in the ranks around her, both before and after Karakura. 'Noblewoman, graduated too early, barely trained, if the Kuchiki name couldn't get her a seat how incompetent must she be-' had changed to 'Could kill an Espada' and 'did you see the battle where-'
She had been given the point position, to take the brunt of any frontal attack and to lead any charge, when she had always been in the more protected middle before. The name of her adopted family, and apparently the rumored displeasure of her brother should she become hurt, had been a swaddling wrap she hadn't noticed restricting her until she had been sent on her solo assignment in Karakura. Now, though, everyone knew she was capable of more. After all, they'd seen it. Seen it in the projected memories of a future that would never become the present.
'I am not that woman.' It had been her thought when the eighth-seat placed Rukia at the front of the ten shinigami, in the position that was given to the strongest fighter, while the higher-ranked woman took the second-most-vulnerable position at their rear. Rukia had never been through a war. She hadn't even been of any help when they were rescuing Ichigo from Tosen. 'Failed to protect the humans, changed Ichigo's life forever, had to be rescued from execution, took a spot in the exchange with Aizen that a stronger fighter could have used, how can I do this?' and she had to force herself to remember that her alternate self had failed just as badly, and had done what she had anyway.
Her fears hadn't mattered when the Huge Hollow attacked, and as she danced with it she could feel Sode no Shirayuki's smugness at finally being able to show the world what they were capable of. In front of her, the circle of ice had cracked, and as her dance partner shattered she had let her doubt shatter with it.
'I am not that woman. But I will be.'
It was that thought that she clung to as she ('not Eighth-seat Kanara, and why is it me?') had given the patrol report to Ukitake-taicho, and confirmed that her power had fully recovered from the drain of the last few months. She had been grateful; it had been the only reason they had delayed their captain's treatment in the human world. Before he began taking the human medicines, she would be accompanying her captain and all of the adult members of the Shiba family to Hueco Mundo.
"Kaien-dono," Rukia whispered, bowing her head as her hands tightened around her sword. She sat that way for a long minute before moving to stab the blade upright into the soft ground in front of her, and took a deep breath as she settled back into her preferred meditation position.
The woman she would have become had set him free. For the sake of Shiba Kaien's soul, she would become that woman again.
"Rukia!" The joyous call and tinkling laughter snapped her eyes open just before she began to push her heart into her blade. The speaker was a pixie-faced girl with enormous green eyes and blond hair, and Rukia's blood went as cold as the hollow she had destroyed earlier that day.
'No note, it's too soon and there was supposed to be a note-' but even as she grabbed her sword and bolted to her feet she remembered that the note had been to bring her from the human world-
"Stop, Hom-!" and she was cut off as the scythe swept through her from behind.
The white sword was left abandoned next to a still-steaming cup of tea.
A/N: The remainder of the chapter can be found under Further Machinations, which can be found on my profile.