I knew this was going to take place,

White silence, so peaceful, so numb

No one knows the time they're changing;

No one will see through

You're all gone to me, (gone to me)

I've been pulled out to watch from my eternal sleep

- Eternal Eclipse, Avenged Sevenfold

Chapter Four – Silent Apple

Lovely stars and bright shining planets

Above our eyes rise in pale beauty

And twinkle like petite diamonds in the light

IX

The moon is magnificent tonight. Indeed, it was. The large crescent of an almost full moon hovered amid the midnight blue hues and seemed to give off an ethereal shimmer. The moon was closer to the Earth at this time and its magnified size helped in identifying the large craters engulfed in light.

The place was…shining.

It shone down upon the pure blade of Sode no Shirayuki resting in Rukia's hand. The white tail danced around her, creating a perfect circle around her that passed into crippled ripples around the soft wind.

This was familiar… Where am I?

On the edge of darkness, a whisper came from the wind.

Don't fall.

The sight set Rukia's lungs of fire. How had the enormous height of the potential fall escaped her notice? And that her feet were mere centimetres from the edge of the rooftop platform. It was not new, her being at such an edge; however, it was much safer to take caution than to bear the consequences…despite knowing it could never cause any real harm to her. Suddenly strangely unsettled, a breathe was caught in her lungs and a heartbeat skipped once, then the petite beauty took two steps back and descended from the half-foot long step onto the hard rooftop.

Her breathing came much easier now and the feverish state she remembered being in mere hours ago didn't weight her at all. How did I end up here? Why does it feel as if there is no one else here? She wondered many things, but didn't ponder for the elusive answer any longer.

Still, she stood frozen upon the highest Sixth Division Barracks moon gazing, content to regard the beauty.

Sode no Sirayuki's white blade still in her hand, she found herself raising her arms outward to feel the cool wind and closed her eyes and breathed the fresh scent.

Heavy footsteps sounded from behind.

"Rukia…" Feeling Renji settle beside her, she couldn't help but to smile at the sight of his crimson hair and glad eyes.

"Renji," she turned back and her heavy lids dropped down completely.

And when she opened her eyes again she was staring from a different angle. The change in scene didn't seem to bother her at all. The moon was directly above their heads and they were standing beside the plants growing in their clay pots. A purple flower she had never glimpsed before seemed to suddenly bloom in the dark, opening its petals with grace and no doubt giving away a sweet fragrance. Rukia was inclined to touch the gentle-appearing petals, but Renji's utter lack of moment stilled her.

She was finally able to take in the change in his demeanor.

His expression was melancholic and his arms hanging useless by his sides. He was fixated on the moon like he did sometimes in the past, unable to tear those russet orbs away. He had never explained his captivation and sometimes deep aversion of the moon and she never asked though he had, without doubt, noticed her inquisition.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" She asked, hoping.

He didn't reply. In fact, nothing in his expression seemed to change or give any indication that he even heard her. And just as Rukia was about to turn away, he then he proved her wrong by replying:

"Yes. Beautiful it may be, but," not once did he look at her, "It's unattainable."

His eyes were still captivated by the light.

That he supplied his next comment in a mournful voice did not escape her hearing.

"It's true. I've tried reaching." He said it in a smaller voice and Rukia felt that the words were not meant for her, but a self-acknowledged submission of defeat from her friend.

She turned to him. She wanted to punch him out of his mood and into his gaining of victory because he was so much more than what he considered himself worth as. Wanting to comfort him, protect him from his pain like he always protected her. Her small hand slipped into his and Rukia was content to feel his large one grip hers back. The muted love she always felt for him flared back in full.

Renji…

Rukia's eyes looked into the moonlit night path below and a moment of silence passed by without pause.

Beware, the whisper came again. Her heart raced slightly and her head turned slightly, subconsciously tightening her grip on him further.

Of what?

Her eyes drifted up again, once again to gaze upon the moon's beauty, lingering to notice the movements of the clouds. Her eyes shifted to one particularly bunny-shaped one.

And then in the stillness of the night, movement was caught in her periphery. She turned, not fast enough, feeling like her sluggish, feverish self from earlier and kept the rising scream in her throat. Renji's hand slipped from hers and he didn't move at all, even as she witnessed with alarm the very moment the Sixth Division Captain stepped toward the very edge of the elevated rooftop on their opposite side without stopping to consider his fall and without breaking into shunpo.

"Nii-"

I can feel his intentions.

"Nii-sama!" Her cry came too late, perhaps even unheard because the raven-haired man did not once turn or pause in his steps. Within a breath's span of time he was gone, falling off the edge like a crippled bird trying to fly, just as Rukia fastest flash step brought her harshly colliding with the platform's edge, double-bent and knuckles white as she tried to discern his location.

Crying out to her brother didn't help, even as her mind echoed her shrill screams. Nii-sama, nii-sama, nii-sama…

Rukia didn't see his body at the bottom, where could it be?

"Renji! Renji, did you see?"

Renji didn't move from his still standing position opposite her, continuing to be captivated in that hypnotise in that frozen manner from earlier.

"Renji! NII-SAMA!"

In a quiet voice, he said again.

"Like I said. Unattainable."

Rukia…

Rukia…wake up.

Still presenting his back to her, he didn't see the breathe catch in his throat and her widened eyes, first in disbelief but in some kind of understanding. She stepped into flash steps as she tore the air in two, not giving the great distance another glance and she descended the fall.

"Nii-sama, Nii-sama!"

What was that? Who had grabbed her?

Rukia!

Adrenaline and fear in her veins, she –

Snapped her eyes open and found herself gazed into Renji's russet eyes, hands restrained in Renji's grip. Renji had noticed her heavy breathing and the heaving chest that indicated her nightmare and Rukia noticed the light reddened mark on his jaw.

He frowned in concern, and nudged her shoulder to get her out of her daze.

"What the hell…Rukia. Ok?"

She sighed and in déjà vu, remembered for the first time dreaming the exact same thing the night of her fever weeks ago. Eyes wide, she wondered what it meant.

"Fine."

Renji rolled his eyes and rubbed his jaw. Trust those Kuchiki siblings to have it out for him with their nightmares alone.


A desire

To remain on the clouds

Walking lightly in the wind

And listening to the harmony

The tranquility provides

Dab, the lightest of sound echoed in onomatopoeia.

A pale hand reached toward a glassed over container of face cream and dipped a tapered finger into the moisture. Dabbing the lightly rose-white natural cream into his face, the noble proceeded to smooth it out over equality pale complexion. It was a rather harsh press and despite knowing it would not last past a few minutes, Byakuya noticed with a small amount of unfounded relief the colour that seemed to return to his face. There was not much he could do now. With that though, that knowing he would have to bear it as he always did, the captain fastened the lid over the bottle.

Byakuya leaned forward as he looked into the long mirror, wistfully wishing the deep circles of blackness would lesson or disappear entirely, almost wishing to ask the mirror for the change. So foolish. A pastel hand moved from below his tired eyes to above his temples, putting pressure on the area. The fatigue reddened eyes meant the headache was coming back full-force and there was not a way to stop it from persisting. Just bear it.

He could not appear fresh even with a quick bath, forcibly making him fully realise the extent of the strain…of merely pushing his body 'too hard' while it suffered mentally. It showed in the visible results alone, unlike that of his usual functioning.

The book he had all but smuggled (for the sake of secrecy, he told himself) from the Kuchiki archives lay open to a marked page from earlier. As he had found the contents discouraging and not at all helpful for his quest of knowledge, the noble snapped the book closed with irritated fingers and continued on to tie a suffocating obi around his waist, a little looser than he normally would.

Hisana's portrait lay beside the bed as ever after. Byakuya closed his eyes; regret filling him for a tarnished memory took hold of him. Their tea house was tainted. He turned away, avoiding the lump forming in his throat by avoidance alone.

Glancing at the clock while purposely avoiding a last glance into his mirror, he reluctantly straightened his posture and swept past the distance to the interior doors with a last weary sigh.

At least…I will not dishonour my family, will not bring dishonour on them.

Can we never live in any semblance of peace?

Discontent crawling at my throat

Like a slope of a thousand profound blossoms

Engulfing storm feeding me as I suffocate

But can't listening to the whispers they betray


Dinner was usually a quite affair, but with both Kurosaki and Abarai there it was expectedly loud. Both hot headed men tossed back teasing comments and mock fights that seemed to bear no apparent reason to the table topics. It was a great change from the usual dinnertime scene she shared with her brother and sometimes with other Kuchiki relatives.

Usually Rukia would disapprove of the reprimand worthy manners, but in this case she was glad for it. Her brother, who had seemed very prone to daydreaming and withdrawing into himself lately was distracted enough to keep whatever thoughts haunted him at bay. It was just such behaviour that seemed to distract him from whatever plagued him.

"I don't know if that's what you wanted to watch."

"Well, you should! I told you last time, dumbass!"

"What did you call me, Pineapple? See if I ever invite you to see a movie with the gang. Your pick sucks." Ichigo angrily shoved more food into his mouth with the ornate chopsticks.

"Fine. Whatever. You can choose next time. I wanna see the action one though. The cops and detectives, with the crime! With the best actors. Rukia, you better come this time."

"…Whatever," Ichigo grumbled.

Side by side, brother and sister both continued eating, somehow eluding the specifics of the conversation from entering, both silent as they observed their food. It was true perhaps, Rukia thought, that we have become somewhat similar. It was what Renji often joked about. Tossing a 'Whoa! What the - Don't gimme that look! You and the Taicho are so alike, it's freaky!' in astonishment and bemusement and then there were other comments from a few other people. It seemed Renji was voicing the other's comments more and Rukia wondered if it was indeed truly true.

Rukia didn't know what to think of it, but the fact Byakuya Nii-sama wasn't really aware of the teasing made it somewhat more amusing to her. It could be, she thought. And she found she didn't mind if it was true. She would never, never forget her and Renji's past, but morphing into a person with manners as gentle (usually, other than those dry insults) and graceful as her brother was appealing and her admiration of him continued to grow over the four years they finally began to know of each other. Really know, not just assume or pretend to, but share small secrets between family, impart little details of the first tie binding them (Hisana nii-san…) and now they would share similar friends in the form of two redheads. I don't know if Nii-sama considers them friends, but he is fond of them, despite what they think sometimes! It was just fun to tease them both too easily and she knew all too well how much.

She was his pride as he had once implied and she was honoured to be called such. It was so different than before where she would wander the gardens, only gazing at his brother's back as he walked in his gardens, and she would forever be alone. Trapped in the castle, she had jailed herself, and lost the man she loved in exchange for an icy brother. A distant one. It was all different now. Because now, she could walk beside her brother instead of straying behind him, wondering what kind of a person he was.

It was at a point that she could tell that something disturbed him greatly. She knew what she saw now. She hadn't a clue as to what, but along with the daydreaming he was…perturbed. He was undeniably perturbed, although he did it all too well. Living with her brother had these advantages, she realised.

His movements, his manners, all his habits were within her grasp for observation. She noticed that the first three weeks after her feverish nights many weeks ago his hands could not stop trembling, even if slightly. So slightly, that it could be hard to discern, presumptuously stopped with tightly controlled effort, but having meals together allowed her to come to her hypothesis. The shaking hands were present in the way he held his chopsticks, barely eating anything, though never being clumsy.

The petite shinigami wondered what it all meant. Sometimes Byakuya-nii-sama didn't even seem to realise how much he is dazed, he would otherwise consider it rude.

"I had a strange dream… It was disturbing actually," Ichigo suddenly spoke again and she noticed for the first time the quietness that had taken hold of the room. Ichigo seemed to take little time reflecting back to the details of said dream as Rukia dully took in his words.

A dream… A sudden flash of images cajoled her mind. Rukia looked up suddenly, and Ichigo's eyes met hers.

"What dream?"

"I don't remember all the details, but it was… I was someone else and dreaming about me. A dream within a dream. It was Halloween and I some crazy, strange version of Frankenstein and Yuzu and Karin were operating on me! Then RukiRuki showed up, dressed in a witch outfit, still tiny, and bringing me to a castle. All dressed up, Ishida, Renji, Matsumoto, Toshirou, were there and my dad and Ishida's dad were trying to attack us!"

As Ichigo finished his dramatic speech, exhaling loudly, he frowned, trying to recall more details.

"RukiRuki?"

"Oi, I was there? What was I wearing?"

"Hmm… a white cloth maybe, maybe you were a ghost."

"White cloth – really? You can't come up with anything more creative?"

"No! Shut up, it was bandages actually. Your whole body was bandaged and I didn't recognise you what I saw ya."

"What kinda shit costume is that?"

"Ninja?" Rukia suggested.

"Nahh, you were a mummy! I remember now!"

"What the FU – a what?" Rukia snickered and the only indication that the words either amused or irritated Byakuya was the pause in his chopsticks.

"Fuck you, Renji! Not that, an Egyptian mummy, ya know? Where they wrap you up to preserve you after you die! Never mind, I think you said you were a pirate, defeated by Byakuya's seaweed thing."

"Huh? Never heard a' them. Egypt, you say? I've always wanted to see a pyramid!"

Ichigo stared at the shinigami's face and then burst out laughing, half hunched over the low table, seeming to be drunk off the moment of happiness he'd been granted today. Because Rukia had said yes (not that he thought otherwise, really!). The shining of the mother's diamond ring on Rukia's dainty finger caught his eyes in the light and he smiled helplessly, briefly meeting her beautiful gaze.

"Ok there, Ichigo, enough chocolate for you! I don't want one of my best friends going crazy. Mental institutes is hard to come by in Seireitei."

"Ha, ha, Renji... You're upset, but I happen to have a baboon and crazy guy as one of my best friends."

"Why, you -"

"Renji, Ichigo, STOP!" Rukia attempted to stop the fools but they would not listen. Both fools seemed too absorbed in trying to askewer the other with their chopsticks, flinging them like tiny zanpakuto blades, forgetting for a minute where they were and who they were with, wholly intent on causing damage.

"Chire."

Instantly all movement stopped, both men held their breath awaiting a painful massacre of pink to attach their stiffened bodies. But nothing happened and Byakuya resumed his previous action of depositing a vegetable into his opened mouth. Still looking downward and focused on his food, Byakuya was able to hide the tiny amused smile threatening to appear.

Both redheads looked on, shocked at the anticlimactic moment.

"Kurosaki, please refrain from using your china as a weapon," paused Byakuya before he continued to eat, quirking an eyebrow at the young man.

"Ah… Ah…sure…sure, Byakuya!" And the youngest in their group didn't even glare at Rukia and Renji snickering beside him, slowly letting his ice-water-filled wine glass in his left hand down inch-by-inch without looking; right one still holding his makeshift weapon. Perhaps it was the If-You-Do-Any-of-This-to-Rukia-I-Will-Bankai-You Lecture's resonating intent the noble, helped by his lieutenant, had given earlier that had Ichigo comply.

"Abarai, refrain from spilling your drink."

Renji's mouth shut instantly and Rukia watched in amusement as he seemed to pale. It seemed both Renji and Ichigo – along with every other known-to-be-sane shinigami – always abused their privilege being inside the noble Kuchiki mansion.

It was followed by a long moment of silently eating their colourful meal.

"You mentioned an odd term earlier. What is…Holloween?" Rukia's gaze shot up to her brother, almost disbelieving at the interest he showed of their banter. No such joking eyes. Her brother seemed to be quite serious as he always was and he even seemed to be expecting an answer from them.

"You've never heard of Halloween? All Hollows Eve? Well, I suppose you wouldn't, you never go to the living world. It's just a stupid day where everyone dresses up and takes the little kids out to get candy door to door. And those who get smashed drunk at their parties…Erm," Ichigo stopped at Rukia's sharp look.

"C'mon, tell him the real tale, Ichigo, he'd find that much more interesting!" Renji sipped his drink and looked imploringly at his friend and then turned to the still form of Byakuya sitting adjacent to him.

"It began as a religious event by the Christians… And it was the day before All Saint's Day, I think that was a holy day of some sort, hence the name hollow. Then it was just to prepare themselves for the worshipping and stuff they did on that day."

"That's not all, Ichigo!"

"I know, I'm just try'na remember. It's been awhile since I've been told of the history, ok… Um, there's also the evolution of the Samhain celebration the Celtics did…to get more people to join their faith and to prepare for the coming winter… Yup, that's all I remember."

Ichigo frowned in concentration, but nothing else touched his memory. But it didn't matter that much, did it? Byakuya probably had just found the name strange or the aspect of dressing up a little off. He probably didn't know about Celtics or that kinda information, anyway.

"Now, it's just a modern celebration of the thirty first of October where people decide to dress up in crazy outfits and be stupid."

Byakuya's face lowered and he said nothing at all. Ichigo rolled his eyes and decided to continue, perhaps to make Byakuya a little more annoyed with his presence. It was a death wish after what he bared but it would be worth it! After all, they were soon to be brothers in law, which could only mean annoying each other was as natural in the course of natural law. With a smirk he continued.

"Then there are the other things associated. People see ghosts, maybe spirits on that day. All the time! And then there are reports of bizarre activities going on, not just the rapes or crazy killings and general increase of crime, but cults worshipping the Devil, trying to communicate with those living on the other side. Ya know, whatever they perceive to be in the other dimension."

"Of course, those are just an increase of hollows and other activities, right, Ichigo." The mop of tangerine coloured hair whipped the wind as he nodded, trying to appease Rukia, but focusing solely on her brother sitting directly in front of him. Byakuya didn't look up but all movements he had previously exhibited stopped. His chopsticks were stilled and hands seemed to pale somehow.

Ichigo's eyes furrowed and then he smirked a little. Maybe the idea of ghosts was what startled the I'll-never-fear-anything Byakuya.

"In many religions they mention other creatures... Angels, devils, demons, jinn, what else? Soul society doesn't seem to think about any of these things the way humans do."

"But you don't either. You've never really thought about religion much, Ichigo."

"Hahaha, true… I was just saying. It's just a little interesting, even if not true." Ichigo paused, lowering his eyes to the fruit bowl placed in the middle. Apples, so vividly red, were resting innocently within. Ichigo's eyes flickered up again.

"C'mon, Rukia, you don't know that. It's true that most of them probably are, but what about those unexplained phenomenon? Like crazy spells of smell that just starts from nowhere? Some of them are beautiful to inhale; hollows don't smell good. Or what about possessing? What about those so called haunted houses those are actually true? And maybe there really is another dimension than soul society?"

"Since when did you believe in those things, Ichigo?"

"Believe! I was just saying, it doesn't mean it's not true even if I believe or don't, Renji. Or… maybe that's just people making up nonsense!"

If possible, Byakuya's tight grips on his chopsticks were clasped in a death grip. What the hell kinda reaction was that? Was he really just interested in the term or…? Was there some truth to what Renji said? That his future brother-in-law seemed kinda spooked by something. Even he had felt that alarmed reiatsu weeks ago. Byakuya sure seemed weird these last few weeks too. Weirder than normal…

Byakuya was not so much weird at all, just somewhat reserved, always perfectly polite to the fault of being extremely intentionally insulting. It was more that he was even more reclusive as of late.

The bigger question was why.

Perhaps the All Hollow's Eve really had no connection to anything. Perhaps it was just Byakuya and his strange interest in the name alone (he was bound to hear of it at least once) and not the spiritual connection that were associated. Ichigo might have thought that, if not for the big hint the noble had given away without even realising it. The sudden whiteness embracing his already pale face certainly said as much.

"Nii-sama…?"

Ichigo watched with barely concealed interest as he watched Byakuya to see what the noble would do next. What is he doing? He looks speechless…

"…I'm fine, Rukia. Please continue your explanation, Kurosaki." Byakuya's bowed head had come up and while his eyes possessed a wild glint to them never seen before; his calm controlled exposition disclosed no more of the inner working of the meticulous mind. The tired redness indicating weariness in his eyes seemed a little a little brighter.

Ichigo watched him curiously, barely hearing his words and then suddenly feeling the tripled weight of intent eyes on him. He scowled.

"Uhh…what?"

"It is not in my disposition to repeat myself, Kurosaki." The heavily dropped eyes were fixed on him in a purely the noble Byakuya-like glare. Oh, shit. Maybe he's been taking lessons from Unohana-taicho…

"Hah, hah… Sure… Byakuya…" Every now and then Byakuya would try and approach the ever-hanging topic of addressing his so informally. Every now and then Ichigo stopped to consider never stopping to use any honorifics with the dapper noble.

"Do elaborate on these oddities you mentioned…this scent."

"Eh? Well…I dunno. There've been reports of strange phenomenon in haunted areas, specifically previously uninhabited houses…doors that open themselves, lights flickering on and off periodically…but they're all done by hollows, y'know? They just can't let go of their past. Since most humans can't see them they assume it's a spirit or a ghost." Ichigo leaned forward, cupping his chin in his left hand, eyes darting toward the elegant fruit bowl again. Why would Byakuya even want to know about these things? His wondering eyes took in the strangely perfect shapes of the apples, their gleam on the smooth surface as the chandelier lights shone from overhead.

"But…about the smells. I have no idea if they real or not, but I've heard a few situations which have them, I've never actually been around anything like that, but I know someone who had. Maybe they're actually crazy…but the guy was so sane and nice. He ended up moving away. It's a mystery…" Ichigo sported his default face, the frown, before finally tearing his eyes away from the centre of the table to his friends.

Renji had an impassive face on him, completely blank and one he used to make while thinking deeply on a matter that confused him. Rukia just looked disinterested.

"Why so interested?"

His soon to be brother-in-law looked also had an impassive expression, Ichigo knew him enough to say he was also probably thinking deeply on an undisclosed matter. Inky soot strands of hair feel around his shoulders and sides and his skin so pale it was white as snow. His eyes were also ensnared by the same bowl of fruits Ichigo's were earlier, and he was still as a statue.

So still, he could be one if not for the rise and fall of his chest indicating his slight heavier than usual breathing.

What the hell?

"Merely out of curiosity."

Ichigo turned to the side, frowned at the wall and silently asked it questions, half hoping for an impossible reply for those answers.

Byakuya's hand moved of its own accord. Something to distract him, something to keep the attention away from him, his mind echoed. Something to do. The spices left in his mouth were uncomfortably hot today and his body felt aflame outside yet cold as ice from inside.

The reddest one lay atop the rest, a magnificent ruby, his hand plucked it from its place and cupped it before him. The left hand resting on his lap left its place to join the other, now spreading the weight of the ruby apple between the two limbs.

Unknown to the noble, the sudden action caused eyes of the three other occupants in the room to fall upon his form, specifically on his hand, cupping the perfect apple before him, ready to bite into the forbidden fruit.

The way he holds it… It reminded Rukia of something.

Byakuya brought the fruit closer to his mouth and parted his lips.

It was the most perfect, appealing apple she had ever seen.

Maybe the apple really is poisoned? And with that thought she remembered watching that naïve film two years ago with Yuzu in the Living world. While on a visit to Ichigo for the weekend, Yuzu had announced she had rented an old Disney flim, Snow White, and wanted someone to watch it with her. Karin had declined and headed up to her room and their father, if home would have proudly exclaimed he would be perfect for watching a movie with his beloved daughter, had been away on business. Ichigo had been mainly hiding in the adjourning dinner hall and while sputtering curses and eye roles at the idiotic princess, had also been shovelling his beloved chocolate into his mouth.

Rukia remembered being fascinated with the film. With a different animation and theme, it was very different to the various amounts of Japanese films she had seen before. The English language also fascinated her and while she felt the Disney Princess really was too naïve, the heart in the box, the obsession with apples the real world had aroused her curiosity. Many portray apples as the fruit of death, of poison. Eve's lips were parted to take a bit of the fruit, Adam beside her and the fall of humanity already upon her. Snow White and her poison apple encasing her in a glass coffin cold within Death's embrace.

The real world and their strange fascinations…

Renji would know also, he was there when they watched it. He had arrived five minutes into the film.

Her brother's face bowed with those still parted lips waiting to meet the fruit, a loose bang fell forward.

Ichigo and Renji were leaning forward now, waiting in the same unfounded anticipation as she.

Just one bite…

Skin white as snow, hair black as ebony. And it left Rukia transfixed in a strange pull to her brother as the poison apple brushed against his lips. It was a sudden inexplicable, utterly demented paranoia that struck her. Her brother's name at the tip of her tongue as she yelled for –

With a small crunch his teeth dug into the apple's sweet flesh, the heavy juice of the ripe fruit began in a thin line in a descent on his chin.

Arrest.

Her eyes bugged, heartbeat rose higher in an inner symphony, alarmed, Rukia had to blink. She had clearly seeing things.

Because then, between gaps between his arms from those hands clutching the apple, she saw it. A trail of red dribbling down from her brother's mouth to the chin and then ran across the pale flesh of his neck. Crimson liquid came again from the second, smaller bite and joined the first as it soaked into the heavy cotton just beneath Byakuya's neck.

"Rukia?" Her brother had looked away from the fruit and upon seeing her almost frantic expression, called out in concern for her. It dispelled the strange spell of the moment.

With a start she realised her hand was outstretched in front of her, as if to call out to Byakuya, warn him, don't do

But there was nothing. Absolutely, there was no poison on him from the fruit, just regular-looking transparent juice of a fruit.

What?

She blinked again to make sure she was certainly not in a dream or a hallucination. She watched as he reached for a napkin.

Certainly not.

"I'm fine, Nii-sama." The words left automatically, she barely registered them and later when she would try to recall the conversation she would find nothing coming to memory, just the motion of the imaginary vivacious scarlet liquid dripping down his still-alive neck.

Ichigo blinked and saw nothing.

Renji stared the dream in the face, unable to tear those dazed russet eyes away; Rukia noted he was still transfixed as ever.

Nothing made much sense.


Tremors rocked his slender, once previously steel stronger frame and his clenched hands tightened to form fists around his robes. He leaned forward, resting his head against the wall, slowly making a ritual of the breathing process to gain some calm.

Standing in the darkness, he closed his eyes and tried to erase everything.

He had found out something important today. What he experienced, it was real! It had to be, there was no doubt! Kurosaki Ichigo himself had indicated there were such experiences to be had for other humans. Surely that would mean shinigami could also experience such…although he had never heard of any.

It was a relieved sigh that escaped Byakuya's parted, trembling flushed lips. All that stress, all those severe mental debates, all that without Senbonzakura talking of it, all those nightmares, Ichigo's words, it proved something. It was not a bout of insanity. It was real.

It was a liberating feeling, to know that truth. Because though he had faced it, knowing it was an illusion of his mind and the other implications…terrified him to an impossible degree.

But even if it was true, the implications alone were leaving no hints.

His heartbeat raced along his thoughts and then words formed in his mouth because he had to say something, anything, to let out a percent of his relief was to strengthen his body.

"Yes. Yes…" A chant began.

But even is if was true… And then that particular image flooded his vision. Peering into the mirror-mirror water's glassy surface, the moon breaking as ripples produced defiance; the spreading blood in the water. And the... One dying within... Despite blinking furiously it would not leave his already poisoned mind. It did not urge him to puke this time but the carnal pain surging through his stomach overwhelmed him into moving.

Navigating around the room was not a problem in the dark and seconds later the noble death god buried his face in a pillow, it swallowing a shrill growl of emotion. In the privacy of his room, Byakuya breathed was helplessly to let his composure slip completely over.

A large mirror across the room showed his reflection, so lost; he started for a moment, dark orbs shared back. He stared on for a moment at the other, disturbing himself. The captain yanked the drapes across and hid the poison inside him not only from the world, but also from himself.


"Mirror-mirror, on the wall,

Who is the fairest of them all?"

- Snow White


A/N: The fragrance…is something one of my friends kept experiencing every day during twilight and nighttime for many long months, more than a year…eerily strong and especially coming from the direction of the single, large tree in the yard, in the dead of winter where perfume or other scent is not prone to lingering…always with a strange alarming feeling as she described...She eventually moved. That's where my inspiration for that bit came from!

Note that Ichigo wasn't actually the one to have the dream described in episode 304.

The muse has left…so not sure when chapter five will be out as a result, if at all. Also…I'm ashamed to admit I don't know where this story is quite leading to anymore, it took a fine turn from my original plans. But it's ok! Thank you for reading, thank you to Flower in the River and La terrible La! These reviews are what kept me going! I'm wondering…are the rest of you still interested? ^^