The title of this comes from the title of Byakuya and Rukia's character song together. Like many of the other character songs, it is awesome and I strongly recommend listening to it. I listened to it repeatedly while typing this, which might have affected the story a little…
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach; I just borrowed a few of the characters for this story. I returned them all to Tite Kubo in perfectly good condition. Except Byakuya, because my fangirl cousin somehow got a hold of him, and I think he's still a bit traumatized.
Byakuya Kuchiki did not like Captain Kyoraku. He didn't dislike him exactly; he simply found his presence extremely irritating. Especially right now.
"Rangiku and I are having a drinking party tonight," Kyoraku announced, leaning against Byakuya's desk. "You should come."
"No thank you," Byakuya answered with frigid politeness.
"It would be good for you to relax once in a while," Kyoraku persisted.
"As head of the Kuchiki family, I must remain composed at all times," Byakuya replied.
"You're always so serious," Kyoraku sighed, shaking his head. "Everyone thinks you hate them."
"I doubt that," said Byakuya coolly.
"Well, Rukia thinks you hate her, anyway." For a moment, actual astonishment showed on Byakuya's face.
"You didn't know?" asked Kyoraku.
"What makes you think-" began Byakuya, but Kyoraku cut him off.
"It's obvious. Haven't you ever noticed how formal she is when she speaks to you?"
"Since we are both of the noble Kuchiki family-" Before he could finish, Kyoraku interrupted again.
"Exactly! You're family. So why do we never see you together for more than a few minutes? Why does she seem so relieved if you so much as say 'Good morning' to her?" By now, Kyoraku was leaning rather heavily on his desk, his eyes becoming steadily more unfocused. He was drunk, as usual, which made his story all the more doubtful, and yet… Byakuya stood up.
"Excuse me," he said. "I must speak with Captain Ukitake."
"All right," said Kyoraku. "Don't forget to come to the party!" Byakuya gave him a final, threatening look and left.
"I wouldn't say she thinks you hate her," said Ukitake slowly. "It's more that she's… intimidated by you." Byakuya generally trusted Ukitake's judgment, but he still felt justified in responding, "To my knowledge, she has never seemed afraid, merely deferential."
"She's not afraid of you," Ukitake explained. "She's afraid of disappointing you." A sudden memory flashed across Byakuya's mind.
"And what position in the squad are you?" He knew what the answer would be before she spoke.
"I'm sorry. I was unable to attain a position as a seated officer." At the time, he had been relieved that Ukitake had carried out his request. He did not intend to place her in a more dangerous situation if he could avoid it- being a Soul Reaper in the first place was dangerous enough.
Did she think I was disappointed in her? Without thinking, he said, "Hisana would have told me, if she thought she had somehow disappointed me." He didn't like the way Ukitake looked at him then; it was a look that tried too hard to be understanding. No one, he was certain, understood how much it had hurt to lose Hisana.
"She's not Hisana," Ukitake reminded him. "Hisana's life was too short for her to ever be really close with anyone other than you. Rukia, on the other hand, loves many people in addition to you. Yes," he added in response to Byakuya's startled expression. "She loves you as though you were related by blood. She won't let anyone say a word against you. However, the other people she loves- Ichigo and Renji, for instance- are much more open about their feelings than you. I think she just finds it easier to understand people like them." The conversation had become much too personal for Byakuya now. He made some polite excuse and left, trying not to notice the knowing smile on Ukitake's face.
Renji unceremoniously dumped a stack of papers onto Byakuya's desk.
"I'm not sure what these are for, but Soi Fon told me to bring them to you," he said. He started to edge towards the door. Byakuya glanced at the papers, decided they could wait, and said, "Abarai." Renji stopped.
"What?" he asked, looking nervous.
"Sit down." Renji did so.
"If this is about last week, I didn't do anything; it was Squad 11 who-"
"This is not about what happened to Captain Kurotsuchi's office," said Byakuya.
"Oh," said Renji, relaxing visibly. "Then what is it about?"
"Rukia." At the sound of her name, Renji's earlier tension returned.
"What about her?" he asked, the hostility in his voice barely concealed. Byakuya hesitated, uncertain how to proceed. He had already made up his mind to have this discussion, but exactly how to go about it was beyond him.
"Is there a reason we should not talk about her?" he said, unable to think of anything better. "After all, we are both close to her." At that, something shifted in Renji's expression. A hint of disbelief mingled with suspicion.
"This conversation has nothing to do with our duties as Soul Reapers," Byakuya said pointedly. "You may say what you wish."
"You've never wanted to talk about her before," Renji stated bluntly.
"There has never been a need."
"You're family," said Renji, echoing Kyoraku's words. "And yet you hardly speak to each other." Byakuya's gaze hardened.
"You think that I do not care about her as much as you do?" he asked. Renji hesitated.
"I know you do care," he admitted. "But you never show it, not even to her. You don't make an effort to understand her. You could at least try spending more time with her." Byakuya suppressed a sigh.
"You may go, Abarai," he said.
"You never show it, not even to her." The next day, Renji's words still bothered him, not least because there was some truth to them. She had reminded him at first too much and then too little of Hisana. Her eyes were exactly the same, and so was her voice and the way she smiled. But where Hisana had smiled often and easily, Rukia remained solemn and cautiously polite around him. Not that he could blame her. He had actually been grateful at how quickly Ukitake had accepted her into Squad 13. It meant he had an excuse not to spend more time with her, being reminded of all the ways she was not like Hisana.
He needed a break, he decided. Some kind of distraction from his thoughts. There was nothing that needed his immediate attention, after all. After warning Renji not to slack off, he left. Without really thinking about it, he found himself heading for the Squad 13 training grounds.
She might not even be there, he reminded himself. I'm sure she's busy with- Here, he realized that he did not know if Ukitake had given her any assignments recently.
Renji was right. We really don't talk much, do we? His steps slowed. Even if she was there, what was the point? Just because Renji had said they should spend more time together did not mean that she would even want to see him. He couldn't erase the time he had spent (intentionally or otherwise) avoiding her.
"Good morning, Captain Kuchiki." Ukitake had appeared beside him as swiftly and smoothly as though he had used Flash Step. Actually, Byakuya suspected that he had, because surely he would have noticed his approach otherwise.
"Where are you going?" Ukitake continued in a friendly tone.
"To the Squad 13 training grounds."
"I see." Ukitake smiled faintly. "Rukia is there right now." Which added to Byakuya's suspicion that Ukitake could read minds.
Rukia had come a long way from the young student he had first seen at the academy. Her sword strokes were smooth, fluid, and precise. The Soul Reaper training with her did not stand a chance. Within minutes, Rukia had knocked the zanpakuto out of his hands and lifted Sodenoshirayuki to point at his throat. The other Soul Reaper did not seem to mind. He smiled, saying something that made her smile back. Irrationally, Byakuya wished he could see her smile more often. As though this thought had given him away, Rukia suddenly caught sight of him and her smile vanished.
"Nii-sama," she said. Byakuya struggled vainly to think up an excuse for his presence.
"You may continue your training, Rukia. I-" Inspiration struck him. "I want to see how far you have progressed." Rukia looked nervous. The other Soul Reaper looked one step short of terrified.
"I, uh, I have to go now," he said. He cast an apologetic look at Rukia, retrieved his sword, and practically fled.
Apparently, Kyoraku was right about everyone thinking I hate them.
"No matter," he said, drawing Senbonzakura. "You can continue your duel with me." He was pretty sure this wasn't what Renji had in mind when he had suggested spending more time with Rukia, but frankly, it was a lot easier than trying to have a conversation. Rukia lifted Sodenoshirayuki again, still looking nervous.
Is she really that afraid of disappointing me? Why won't she just say so, instead of always pushing herself so hard? The answer to his question was obvious.
Because I never gave her any reason to believe she could confide in me. He struck first, bringing his zanpakuto down in a slash that was swiftly blocked by Rukia's blade. He struck again and was blocked again. He held back initially, but, as she continued to counter his blows without striking back at him, he pushed her harder.
She's only defending herself. Why won't she attack? He moved Senbonzakura in a series of complex strikes, then deliberately lunged too far forward, giving her an opening. She could not have missed it, but once again, all she did was block him. By this point, she was breathing heavily, and her arms were trembling slightly. He drew back, then slashed again at her. This time, she didn't manage to counter it. Byakuya's zanpakuto grazed her wrist, drawing a thin line of blood. Two days ago, he wouldn't have noticed her wince, wouldn't have noticed the way her grip on Sodenoshirayuki's hilt tightened. But now that he was looking for these things, he did notice. And now that he noticed, he acted.
"That's enough," he said, stepping back and sheathing Senbonzakura.
"It's not serious," said Rukia quickly. "I can still fight, Nii-sama."
"I know you can," he replied. "But I also know you were holding back against me. To continue would be pointless." His unspoken question was met with an unspoken answer. Rukia lowered her gaze, letting her zanpakuto hang point down at her side. Byakuya broke the silence before it could become awkward.
"Let me see your wrist." She hesitated before showing him the cut. As she had said, it wasn't serious, but that didn't change the fact that he had hurt her. And she had refused to hurt him.
Almost half a century it's been like this between us. Why did I never try to change it? He used a simple Kido spell to heal the wound.
"You didn't need to-" Rukia began.
"I'm the one who cut you. It's only reasonable," he responded. More silence.
"I haven't been much of a brother to you, have I?" he asked softly. It was an honest question, and although Rukia seemed startled by it, she answered honestly.
"Not always," she admitted. "But I know you've tried, Nii-sama." The training grounds were deserted now. There was no one to see him wrap his arm around her shoulders, no one to see her, after an instant of hesitation, lean trustingly against him. It didn't make up for all the years in which that trust had been absent. But it was a start. And it was enough.
Author's Note: If you liked this, please read my fanfiction Moments. I've only had one review on it so far. If you didn't like this… please read Moments anyways. And if you hate that too, you can tell me why in a review. So yeah, it's all a plot on my part to get reviews.
Edit: Thank you DameM and Kaze05 for taking the time to review Moments. Bleached Pikachu, I agree that Byakuya is a little OOC at the end. It bothered me when I wrote it, but I couldn't come up with anything better, so I just left it at that.