Rukia becomes part of the Kuchiki clan. A triangle of sorts. For xerosphere.
Renji hadn't fooled her. He had the acting skills of a stone. Rukia, being a consummate actress, saw through his stiff smile, his taut shoulders. But she had gone anyway. Why? Because of their promise. She knew, he knew, no would have stopped her. He was telling her to go-he would meet her there.
She shivered, burrowing deeper under her futon.
Renji stared at the scroll, mechanically copying the words onto another scroll with a brush and inkwell. Like a mantra, he told himself, he had done the right thing. When he had first heard the rumors, he had brushed them off. The nobles did not mix with the peasants, and was not Byakuya Kuchiki the most noble noble of all? Yet, the whispers grew thicker, swirling around Rukia like a pearly mist. Renji's stomach had been clenched for days, waiting. Rukia, being oblivious, had not known until Byakuya was in front of her nose. An ink blot marred the otherwise perfect copy. The nobles would make the sun, the moon and the stars dance for them, not caring what it cost.
Renji let out a wordless howl of rage, knocking over his inkwell, the forgotten scroll stained black.
Byakuya knelt before the shrine, Hisana's face hidden by the screen. He remembered his promise to her. He would not breathe a word, but it was a small comfort to know that she would be watching over them. He could give Hisana at least that. Fate was a cruel mistress to his beloved-yet her smile had been gentle and sweet even as her body was wracked with pain, even in the throes of death. She deserved what little pittance he could provide.
But, he remembered his other promise. So he waited; his back to the door.
"Byakuya-sama, Rukia-sama is here for her lesson."
The barest inclination of his head, the shuffle of feet against tatami and the door slid shut.
"Welcome, sister, to the Kuchiki."
Renji slouched against the trunk, kicking the branches with the back of his heels. Rukia did not look at him. She was one of them now. He had expected this, steeled himself for this, but it still hurt. Even now, he could sense her presence around the edge of his thoughts, like a balm.
Their first day, she followed him up the tree, muttering stupidest idea yet we're not that hard up for money. He pulled her up the last few meters by the collar of her uniform. She snarled, tangling her fingers through his hair. He laughed.
"If squirrels and birds can do it, why can't we?" he asked.
"Birds and squirrels are cute and little. You, being big and ugly, are neither. Come down, idiot," she said sweetly.
He grabbed her roughly, pressing himself against the crook of the branch.
"See? Don't even need a nest, perfect fit," he snapped, his nose brushing up against hers.
She looked up at him through those damned thick eyelashes. She parted her lips and he could feel her breath on his face. She shifted, much to his consternation, leaning against him-consternation bloomed into bright red alarm.
He turned his face away from her.
Crash, boom, thud.
The dead oak leaves rustled in the wind. Rukia's presence faded from the back of his mind.
"I will beat you, Byakuya Kuchiki."
Rukia would not cry. A noble did not show emotion. Emotion was weakness, it wore away resolve, it obscured duty; it absolved one of honor. But resolve, duty, honor, these were the very centre of the lives of nobles. These foreign notions were being crammed down her throat, child of the gutter, newest Kuchiki, more innocent and unknowing than a newborn babe. Worse for her than any babe, unlearning and relearning how to walk again, talk again, be again.
A promise was a promise-Renji would find her there, waiting.
From the corner of his eye, Rukia was the spitting image of Hisana. Upon closer examination, her eyes were rounder, her hair falling more to the side, obscuring her face with the slightest shift of her head. And sad, so sad. Hisana was never so sad, even as her life faded, even as she spoke of her lost sister.
"As a noble, your duty as a shinigami is compounded but clear. Those who founded the rules know them best. Those who implement the rules know them best. You are doubly blessed, Rukia. You must remember that," he droned, on and on.
"Yes, Kuchiki-sama. My duty is clear-I am doubly blessed."
Byakuya felt her spiritual presence bow before his, like the baring of her neck, its cool white length, a shorn sacrificial lamb. Hisana had been like that-meek at first blush. But press and she would bend, like a willow, withstanding even the strongest of gales.
Byakuya forgot himself for a moment, his hand cupping her cheek.
"Call me oniisama, Rukia. No one must doubt your place in our family, not even yourself."
There were calluses on his hand, at odds with his refined air and the kenseikan in his hair. Their roughness scrapped against the smooth skin of her cheek, bearing the faintest trace of cherry blossom scent. She gaped, covered in confusion. His gaze was fixed on the covered shrine before him, never once looking her way. His fingers were suspiciously damp as they fell away.
Renji was rejected by the fifth, forced into the eleventh and then irony of ironies, or cleverest of all, placed under the man himself. But the first time, how could he forget the first time. He had been too cocky, too aware of his place as petted, groomed favorite. Renji had not broken a sweat in so long, too used to other students and unseated ones. This pampered noble would not stand a chance, captain or not, or so he had thought.
He could barely stand, barely lift Zabimaru to strike. Ruchiki's presence was like quicksand, suffocating him slowly but surely with its ever-increasing pressure. The deadly petals scattered and he lay before Byakuya, unable to move but cursing a blue streak.
Byakuya stood above him, unsmiling.
"Do you aspire to be a cur, Abarai? A cur merely howls at the moon and the stars." Byakuya said, his kenseikan shining white, his scarf like a cloud about his shoulders. "But why be a cur when you can seize the moon and hang the stars in your hair?"
The exquisite pain of each cut seared his memory, leaving angry red scars, livid until the next time and the time after that.