A Heart Grown Cold
The day dawned as any other. The gentle wafting breeze carried no hint of the turmoil rising from within my own household. The sun gleamed as brightly overhead as it ever had. Clouds drifted lazily across the duly blanketing sky, with small flecks of green and brown earth only barely visible on the other side. Not a thing forewarned me of the trouble to come.
Fortunately, the preceding hours of my already long day had been quite gentle on me, one might even call the duties of my office rather tedious of late, and I kept my calm and collected manner with an ease and gentility that has become ever expected of me. I had been made aware of the clan elders and their desire to discuss urgent clan matters with me. I had invited my grandfather's sister, Rin, and her consort, Hisoka, into my home to discuss what must certainly be my stubborn delay in seeking another bride.
I had been at home scarcely an hour before the ill matched pair arrived. Rin, my blood relative and a true Kuchiki, was as cold and severe as her name implied. Her consort, Hisoka, a man of lean build and a slight frame, was opposingly quiet and gentle in nature. The pair found balance together and I found discussions most succinct and bearable with them over all the other clan elders, even if Rin often won the upper hand in discussions.
I escorted the pair from my entry way into a large, nearby living space. A newly appointed female servant, whose name I do not yet know followed us demurely and promptly served tea as my guests and I found comfortable seating on the cushions surrounding an ornate table. I silently nodded her dismal before taking a long draught of the hot tea.
Following my lead and invitation, both Rin and Hisoka each took a brief, polite sip of tea.
"You are aware of the purpose of our visit," Rin spoke at length, her voice was sure and steady, even in her seemingly infinite old age. She replaced the steaming cup back on its saucer, lightly running a finger over the gold inlaying on the delicate porcelain.
"I assume this matter involves my delay in finding a suitable bride." I spoke with no emotion. I had long since learned to reign in anything which might be of hindrance in these familial discourses. The clan elders would only accept logical reasons for delay, and even those would not be tolerated for much longer. I groaned inwardly, taking care not to make any audible sound. These discussions were becoming steadily more and more frequent. The Kuchiki elders were becoming increasingly belligerent. Perhaps fifty years had been time enough to teach them patience. Perhaps it was finally time to at least consider my continuing duties to the Kuchiki family.
Rin's gaze rose to meet my own. Her obsidian orbs were half hidden beneath sagging lids, but enough of her dark stare remained visible enough for me to glean her intent. Something else would be added to the table, perhaps. I felt mild amusement at the realization that the Kuchiki elders might try to bribe me into what they would deem a suitable marriage.
"But of course," Rin answered me, retaining all of the steely edge to her façade. "Surely fifty years constitutes enough time for your mourning, Byakuya-sama. Surely you realize both your duty and the needs of the Kuchiki clan."
"Then let this farce end," she nearly pleaded as she glanced toward her husband for reassurance. "Find a bride for the head of the Kuchiki house."
Anger boiled within me. My devotion to Hisana was no farce and I quickly stated as much.
"Ah," Hisoka replied before coughing raggedly into his closed fist. "But your tireless devotion to your late wife will not bestow you heirs, as you are no doubt aware."
It would do no good to argue with them. I took another sip of tea to calm my nerves before replying. "I am aware, Hisoka-sama. I will not shirk from my duty to the clan. It is… time that I indulge the elders in their request. I shall allow the elders to search and form a list of suitable candidates as I have neither the time nor the desire to do so."
Rin shifted her weight from one knee to the other on her jade colored cushion and glanced once more toward her husband. I had believed the reason for the visit to be a closed matter, but it seemed she had even more to bother me with.
Hisoka only nodded.
"If there are other matters to attend to, you may state them," I invited, eager to have this infernal meeting ended so that I could go about my solitary nightly routine.
"Well, Byakuya-sama, the council of the elders has decided that Rukia-sama should be married first."
This… clan desire hit me like a wave of untamed riatsu. It took great effort to force my expression to remain as stoic as always, although I am nearly positive my shock widened eyes gave me away. Never in my wildest dreams had I expected the clan elders to involve themselves in my adopted sister's doings. They had never once paid more attention to Rukia than absolutely necessary. I had believed the elders preferred to think that Rukia did not exist at all.
"Why the sudden interest in my sister's affairs? An arranged marriage is not her duty to bear." I would have none of this. I had granted the elders one indulgence. I would not grant another at Rukia's expense. For once I was glad that Rukia had chosen to spend the night at her squad's barracks, away from my protection, and away from the harsh suppositions of my elders.
"What wife would want your younger sister tangled in the tail of her kimono? Rukia would only be a hindrance to your successful marriage."
"Rukia is most certainly no hindrance. She has never been a burden to me. I would appreciate it if no more was said on this matter."
Hisoka peered at me over the edge of his teacup. In his face I saw something that might be akin to understanding. "You must think of your… charge." The family's fifty year long refusal to acknowledge Rukia's rightful place instilled more annoyance, but I allowed the aged man to continue. "No wife wants another woman in her husband's house. Although you see Rukia as a sister, your new wife might not. Women are jealous creatures, Byakuya-sama. What decent witted woman would not be jealous of another who has lived with you these past fifty years?"
"A decent witted woman would do well to allow whatever pleases her husband, as it is the husband who is head of the household. However, I am aware that the elders would plague me to no end. I can have Rukia's residence changed to any of a number of suitable Kuchiki mansions."
"You would leave her alone?" Rin whispered, almost deviously. It was certainly apparent that she enjoyed plaguing me. I knew that Rukia would be fine on her own. She spent so much time with her squadron that her actual place of residence mattered little. Still, I could not chase the thoughts from my mind. Memories of Hisana's final request to protect Rukia haunted me even now. I could not simply leave Rukia alone. If she could not live under my protective roof, then surely she must stay beneath another's. Trouble had a way of finding Rukia. I could not leave her on her own.
Hisoka must have noticed my internal struggle and subsequent defeat. He bowed his head in acknowledgement of my silent admittance.
I recovered my wits quickly enough to make concessions, concessions that I hoped my adoptive sister would find amiable at least, if not wholly agreeable. "The final decision must rest with Rukia. The elders are not to complete a match for her without her given and expressed consent."
I vaguely heard mutters of "of course, of course". Surely my blood was boiling with rage at this point. Nothing riled me like meetings with the clan elders. My outward appearance belied very little if anything of my true, inner thoughts.
"Very well," I sighed, ready to put this infernal discourse behind me. "You must be the ones to inform her of her, duty."
Author's Note: Well, I had intended on writing something for the FFXII fandom, or on revising and completing my Phantom of the Opera story. However, this just wouldn't leave me alone. Subsequent chapters will be uploaded as they are written. Feel free to send me your suggestions, thoughts, criticisms, or anything else. Reviews are always appreciated.