I wrote this for a weekly prompt in deviantart. I hope you enjoy it, despite all the sadness ^^

She was slowly regaining her consciousness, and her head hurt so badly. Her body felt heavy and stiff.
However, she managed to open her eyes and lifted her head slightly, to see where she was. The last thing she remembered was to getting hit very hard in the head by the quincy she was confronting, then everything went dark. She was clueless about the reason of her lack of concentration... although she was having a disturbing feeling... The sense of loss... She shook her head, as if that could bring some order to her chaotic mind.

'Rukia-san, you have finally awakened!' she heard a familiar voice next to her, and when she could focus her blurred vision, she could see Hanataro's relieved face. So she was in 4th division then. 'You've been sleeping for a while, Rukia-san'.

She lifted her back, and tried to stand up.

'Ah, Rukia-san, don't overexert yourself, first you need to rest and recover' the thin black haired shinigami advised her, gently pushing her down.

'Hanataro, where are the rest...? Renji? Ichigo?' she asked, holding her forehead as the pain ran through her head. Hanataro smiled warmly, so she knew they were alive and not seriously injured.

She sighed in relief, but suddenly her eyes widened and she abruptly turned her head towards Hanataro.

'Nii-sama...?' she mumbled fearfully. All has become clear now... Her lack of concentration in battle, the intense sense of loss after regaining her consciousness...
The last thing she sensed before the quincy attacked her, was his reiatsu drastically decreasing.

Hanataro bowed his head and clasped his hands behind himself nervously. When he raised his gaze, Rukia's eyes were widening in terror, the corners of her mouth twitching.

'Where is he? Hanataro, where is my brother?' she demanded, clutching his hakama, her hands were shaking uncontrollably. 'Please, tell me where is my Nii-sama?' Her voice had broken in the middle of her question. It couldn't be true. Not him. Not her beloved brother. No way.

'Rukia-san... I'm so sorry... Kuchiki Taichou... he, well, em...'

'Don't dare to say it, Hanataro. He is not dead' she hissed in a menacing voice.

Hanataro raised his hands, in an attempt to calm her down.

'Rukia-san, I'm sorry... His division has found him and they brought him here, but... There was nothing we could do for him...' he said awkwardly, while twiddling his thumbs. He kept his eyes lowered, unable to find enough courage to meet her gaze.

When he glanced up, Rukia was crossing the room, stumbling as she walked.

'Wait, Rukia-san! You aren't supposed to walk yet! Rukia-san!' he shouted, and some members of 4th squad managed to hold her body before she collapsed on the ground.

The next time she woke up, Hanataro Yamada was still there, holding her hand. She had a wet towel placed over her forehead, so she assumed she had developed high fever. Her body was still aching, but no physical pain was comparable to the devastating despair she felt right now.

Hanataro changed the wet towel for a new one, and held her hand again, as if to give her some strength.

'Why?' she asked in a barely audible voice. Hanataro didn't say anything. Her apparently simple question was just a way to get rid of some of her inner pain. 'I've never thought... I could never think... How?'.

Hanatoro silently handed her a handkerchief. Rukia grabbed it absently, but she made no effort to wipe the tears spilled from the corner of her eyes.

'Rukia-san...' he murmured, deeply moved. He didn't know what to say to comfort her. She had lost her brother, the only family she had, even though she had been adopted into the Kuchiki Clan, everyone was aware of the strong bond they shared.

'Hanataro... I need to know if he's still here, and if so, I need you to take me there' she said, traces of tears in her broken voice.

'Kuchiki taicho is about to being buried... Everybody is attending the funeral in Kuchiki Mansion' answered a familiar voice behind her.

'Abarai-san' Hanataro said, startled.

She quickly raised and turned her head to meet Abarai Renji, lieutenant of 6th squad and her best friend. His chest was swathed in bandages and his eyes were bloodshot, as if he had been crying. He probably did. After all, it was his captain. He surely felt depressed too... His captain... Her brother... How could they possibly replace this loss?

'Renji...' she called, her voice died in her throat and she began to weep again, silently.

'Rukia-san...' Hanataro tried to console her, but he changed his mind and stepped back. He felt utterly useless, now that lieutenant Abarai was there.

'He died in battle, with honour' Renji continued in a faint voice, his head lowered and his gaze fixed on his feet. 'You should feel proud of him, Rukia...'

'Renji...' she repeated, as a plead. He glanced up and met her sorrowful eyes.

'Rukia... I'm sorry... I'm so sorry' he said, embracing her tightly.

Rukia couldn't return the hug. Her arms remained immobile to her sides, and she wasn't able to move them. She couldn't think properly, her head was spinning and she felt terribly tired, sick and dazed. Then, Renji lifted her

Hanataro complained about Renji's lack of common sense and unsuccessfully tried to forbid him to take her away. Renji just ignored him and left 4th division carrying her in his powerful arms, heading to her home: Kuchiki Mansion.

Rukia's memories had begun to flow ceaselessly...

The first time she met her Nii-sama in the academy, when he made her feel so small with his cold glares and his refinement and imposing presence.

Their first walk across the grounds of his noble residence.

The hints of disappointment in his calm voice, when he learned she had no seat after joining 13th division.

The afternoons spent walking around the mansion, when she used to keep one step behind, watching him discretely, wondering what was the real reason of her adoption.

How flawed she felt in his presence.

Their brief and polite talks, when she, fully aware of his coldness towards her, had begun to wonder if he despised her, and if so, why he insisted in adopting her then.

Her time as a prisoner in the Shrine of Penitence, when she had secretly hoped he would stop the execution.

Their meeting in the Soukyoku, when her hope had vanished under his derogatory gaze...

When he saved her life, taking Ichimaru's attack in his body instead.
Later he confessed her the real reason behind her adoption... The gratitude and relief she felt after knowing the truth...

After this, their relationship changed considerably. He didn't have to say anything, but Rukia could feel his appreciation for her, and even more, she had managed, during this past year, to make him feel proud of her, while she had been accomplishing and achieving her goals. She could swear his eyes glittered everytime she was around him, especially after her promotion to lieutenant, but, of course, he wouldn't admit this! She found his behavior quite funny and surprising, but she didn't share this thoughts with anyone, because of the greatest respect she felt for him.

During Byakuya's fight against the 7th Espada, the one who had almost ripped her head off while lying unconscious, and the one who used her against him in that confrontation, he had referred to her as "his pride"...
Her memories of those events were blurred, chaotic and incomplete, but she had percieved Byakuya's usually well-hidden emotions in this battle as if their thoughts were somehow connected.

They had come to an indestructible bond throughout their lives. It was impossible to think of a life without him. The more she recalled him, the less she believed he was gone.

'Rukia...' she heard Renji's whisper, which got her back to reality. The way she was staring at him... her beautiful eyes were like wells of pain and despair, it was so heartbreaking that Renji felt overwhelmed by anguish. He buried his face on her chest, strongly embracing her. 'I don't think you should see him... in your state' he said, raising his head slightly.

'I must see him. I need to do it' she replied, regaining momentarily some strenght.

Renji deposited her on the floor and helped her to walk towards the grounds of Kuchiki Mansion. A bunch of members of the noble clan were standing in the graveyard, where Byakuya's parents were buried. There were some captains and lieutenants attending the burial, but she didn't pay attention to them. She wondered, for a second, where Ichigo was, there was no trace of him having been there...

Rukia clutched Renji's hakama and started to cry out loud at the view of his ornamented open coffin, where he was laid, lifeless.
He had been elegantly dressed for his own funeral, as the noble he was, but she couldn't admire any detail of his beautiful kimono and not even notice the sakura blossoms spread over his inert body, due to her anguish.
His face remained pale, ageless and peaceful as always.

Rukia's body was trembling violently. She was unwilling to accept his loss. She just couldn't accept his death!

She continued her heartrending cries, kneeling on the wet grass. She barely felt Renji's arms wrapped around her tiny frame. She could glimpse her captain, Ukitake Jushiro, approaching them with a concerned look.

'Nii-sama! Nii-sama! Noooo! No! No!' she was screaming, while being lifted from the ground, and taken away from the funeral. 'Let me go, Renji! Let me go!'.

'He's gone Rukia, he's gone! There's nothing we could do for him now. I know how you feel, I've lost my captain too, so I could really know how devastated you're feeling right now! So please, let me carry your burden and let me support you. Don't give up on living you too Rukia! I wouldn't be able to endure it... Allow me to comfort you! Just don't... don't cry, please, don't cry like this anymore!' he begged, while keeping her face buried in his chest, her sobs were being muted by his tight embrace.

He kept her like this until her sobs decreased substantially. Then, he released her head, but kept her petite body wrapped with his arms.

'I'm so sorry, Rukia. I can't ... I can't bear to see you suffering. Tell me something, please...'

'Nii-sama... has gone...' she finally said, in a subdued voice, her tears flowing down her pale face. Renji drew her against him. 'Renji... I lost him...I...'.

'Sssh, it's ok, Rukia. I'll carry you back to 4th squad... otherwise Unohana taicho will kill me for kidnapping her patients, and I mean it'. He tried to sound funny saying this, while gently stroking the silkiness of her short black hair.

Her sense of loss... Rukia knew she needed to get used to it. She had to accept it.
She was feeling an indescribable pain... and wondered if she would be able to overcome it someday. Yeah, perhaps someday. Renji was there with her, spending all his efforts trying to comfort her, and she still had Ichigo, Hanataro, Orihime, and all her friends to find some solace in them. She wasn't all alone.

Her brother died in battle, and, as Renji had said, this was such an honour for all shinigamis. She should be proud. The pain will gradually disappear, she just needed some time. Byakuya wouldn't have wanted this for his sister. He wouldn't wanted her to feel so broken. She won't crumble, not anymore

'I can walk by myself, Renji' she stated. He was about to reply, but shut his mouth when he met her gaze. She was Rukia again, the Rukia she used to be. Still shattered, but regaining her strenght and resolve.

Renji sighed in relief. He had been freaking scared! It was extremely painful to witness her despair. He had truly feared she would lose her mind.

He released her and Rukia stepped forward clumsily, but refused Renji's help. She just wanted to walk by herself.

Renji kept behind her, watching her thoughtfully. She was a very strong woman, the strongest he knew. Her loss was huge and irreplaceble, but she was making efforts to overcome her pain. That's how she was. She was mentally tough, she could get through this.

After a couple of steps, she turned back and stared at the blue sky. Renji did the same, next to her, his hand placed on her small shoulder.

'Thanks for all, Renji' she said, causing him to blush intensely. Surely he was remembering all the sentimental stuff he had said before, and felt outrageously embarrassed for it. She found it so hilarious.

'Tsk, you don't need to thank me for anything, baka' he replied, turning his back on her.

Rukia smiled slightly. Then she turned her gaze to the horizon again and sighed.

'Arigatou, Nii-sama... Sayonara'.

Reviews are really appreciated ^^. Thanks for reading.