Disclaimer: Not mine. Credit goes to Tite Kubo. The plot of this story is mine, however.
Rating: For now, T.
Warnings/Spoilers: Only if you aren’t up to date with the manga/anime.
Chapter Summary: Worry only breeds more worry.
“Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”
Arthur Somers Roche
The floral scent of the Sakura trees pollinated the cool night air with the smell of freshly rained soil, fading flowers, and the death of summer, signaling the arrival of fall. Even the Soul Society was impervious to the changing seasons. If anything, the fall within the Soul Society was far more beautiful than it was in the world of the living. But here…she could grasp the things that haunted her.
“Rukia. Welcome home.”
The deep voice sounded foreign in the otherwise peaceful environment. All this time living together, one would think that she was used to the sound of his tone. Instead, it always unnerved her. Almost as if every time he spoke she was in fear of punishment. Or disapproval.
“Thank you, brother.”
“You are pressing time to its limits.”
She glanced down at the pond, instead of his eyes; the koi were far less judging, nodding her agreement, “I wanted to say good-bye to my friends.”
Silence filled the garden again. Much like it always did. Much like every place they conversed. Byakuya Kuchiki was a man of few words, and fewer emotions.
Time was of the essence. Wasting her brother’s time was not something she had any interest in doing. The Kuchiki head was not someone to be trifled with, in any way.
Perhaps an apology was in order. He had been waiting for her this entire time, after all. He could have already left for his squad’s mission but he had lingered to speak with her. Truly, if she had any respect at all, she should feel flattered. Instead, she felt cold and out of sorts. And just a little anxious. What exactly was it he needed?
“I do not have time to waste, Rukia. The mission is of utmost importance.”
“Y-yes!” She quickly answered back, her purple eyes wider than normal at his interrupting her. Typically, he was just as reserved when speaking as she was. Although his exterior never played his distraught insides as much as hers did. With her friends, she was only Rukia. With him, she was an entirely different woman. But…which one was really her?
“Seeing that I will be away for an undetermined length of time, I found it crucial for you to return to the Soul Society.”
Rukia stared at his sandal-clad feet as he spoke. What was so very different about this mission? Why did he need her within the confines of the Seireitei?
‘Why don’t you just ask him that?’
“I can not simply leave the manor without guidance, Rukia. It is of the utmost importance that the household runs with languidness and fluidity. If I am not here, I must have someone to make sure that such things are completed. Do you understand?”
“No,” she blurted out, far more quickly than she had intended. It was an honest answer, but a harsh one all the same. He had obviously thought this through with a severe seriousness that only Byakuya Kuchiki could harvest.
“I m-mean, I just don’t understand why you need me here to do it…brother.”
He stared down at her over the bridge of his nose, his cool eyes watching her like the warrior that he was. Collected, calculating, and brutal.
“You fear you cannot uphold the Kuchiki pride while I am absent?”
“N-no, it’s not that!” the young adoptee flailed, her face turning a see-through color as she animatedly shook her head. “I just don’t understand why grandfather Ginrei can’t act as-”
“Grandfather Ginrei is feeling rather under the weather. I do not wish to burden him with such tasks. Surely you can spare our elder such formalities for a brief time.”
If it had been anyone else, she would have expressed her discontent at being talked down to. Of course she would help out. It wasn’t a question of if she would or wouldn’t. It was just the fact, the very idea, that she would be the Kuchiki in charge while he was away.
Never before had her brother gone to such lengths. Why now? Why her?
“Of course, brother. I meant no disrespect. I was merely curious.”
“Very well then. That’s all I needed from you, Rukia. You are free to leave. I will return once the mission is complete.”
He turned to leave, his long hair and billowing scarf licking at the air as he turned his back to her.
His shoulders squared at the sound of his birth-given name. “What is it?”
“It’s just that I- er what I mean is that…just…be careful. Come home soon, ok? Don’t get hurt,” she whispered, in a voice she tried to keep level but failed at miserably. Rukia Kuchiki could act. She could slay hollows. She could perform wonderful kido attacks. And yet, sincerity shared between Byakuya and herself always left her feeling childish and more vulnerable than she ever wished or intended on being.
“Such requests have no solid footing. You will do best to remember that. I cannot guarantee the safety of anyone in my division. They know full well what their ranks require of them. And if that is their lives, no matter how much of a loss it may be, then so be it.”
Rukia sighed quietly under her breath. He was always so prim and proper. Did he ever really show any sort of compassion or care? Did he even know how to anymore?
“May I ask you one more question, brother?”
A floral breeze flirted with their clothing and hair as he waited, not denying her and not encouraging either.
The fact that he remained where he stood was all the go ahead she needed, “I am honored that you trust me with the household, but I feel inclined to ask…why?”
He turned his head so that he could glance at her over his shoulder and through tresses of black hair, “You second guess my decision?”
“No, I don’t, I’m just wondering-”
“Such curiosity is unfitting of a noble, Rukia. You must take what tasks you are given and execute them properly and to the utmost satisfaction of those in rank and status above you.”
The small shinigami stared at him with cool eyes. She didn’t even know why she bothered. All her questions were always answered in questions, or answers so vague that she felt more confused than she had been before she had inquired.
“I see,” she finally murmured after the long silence that stilled between them grew longer and longer.
He faced forward again, languidly leaving the small crossing bridge, to the stairs that led inside.
Rukia watched him go, her heart heavy and clouded. The longer she stayed within the Soul Society, the more she realized just how out of place she truly felt. This was no longer her home. It hadn’t been since the day she had first met Ichigo.
She jerked her head and eyes back to the house entrance, her heart tumbling inside her chest at his sudden need to break the silence.
“You asked me ‘why you?’”
So he was really going to give her an answer?
And he left.
“Lady Rukia? Breakfast is ready. Shall we bring you the meal to eat in your quarters or would you like to have them in the dining hall?”
“I’ll join you,” Rukia said softly, the remnants of sleep still tingling through her veins as she stretched her small limbs and wriggled her toes.
Ma’am? She would never get used to that. All these titles and ranks and manners…she missed the Kurosaki’s already.
Quickly running a brush through her hair and throwing on her soul reaper uniform, Rukia joined the others in the dining hall.
Grandfather Ginrei nodded his good morning as she took her spot at the opposite side of the table.
“Did you sleep well, Rukia?”
She nodded, slurping at her beverage groggily.
She glanced over her glass to see Master Ginrei’s eyes smiling at her, his large mustache hiding his actual smile behind hairs of white and wisdom.
Immediately, a pink heat rose to her cheeks at her rudeness. Such manners were acceptable at Ichigo’s house but here?
“Forgive me, Grandfather, I meant no disrespect.”
He shook his head, “No need to explain yourself, Rukia. Enjoy your breakfast.”
The young woman smiled brightly at him, her shoulders finally relaxing. Although Ginrei Kuchiki was not a man to be taken lightly, he wasn’t nearly as complex as his grandson. Ginrei Kuchiki seemed to be a tad more on the normal side with imperfections and quirks that made him unique.
“You are returning to the thirteenth division today?”
She nodded, “Yes, it has been far too long since I have performed everyday soul reaper duties.”
“You will find it’s easy to fall back into routine.”
‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’ “Yes, I’m hoping it will be an easy transition.”
“But of course. You have many friends within the Gotei Thirteen do you not? They shall be more than happy to see your face within the walls of the Seireitei.”
Rukia tilted her head to the side, her longer strands of bangs covering her eye slightly, “It won’t be the same. I miss the Kurosaki’s already.”
Ginrei cleared his throat, “Yes, Ichigo Kurosaki’s family has done a decent job of housing you while you were away, but thankfully, you have returned. Now you may once again enjoy the scenery of your home.”
The notion was true enough in theory. But home was not here. Home was with the Kurosaki’s. Home was listening to Orihime’s hare-brained theories. Home was watching Uryuu and Ichigo bicker like siblings. Home was staring at the sky with Chad and whispering how vast everything in the universe really was. Home was not here.
Home was there.
“Kuchiki! You have returned!”
Rukia smiled at the other soul reapers, her eyes immediately searching for bright orange hair that she knew would not be present. Next had been crimson red embellished with blacker than black tattoos. And she found nothing.
She was alone.
Ukitake was sick. Toshiro and Rangiku were in the world of the living.
“You feeling alright, Rukia?”
She glanced at Momo, her tired smile filling her face as she grunted her affirmation. Yes, she was alright. Just a little…out of place.
Who would have thought that the day would come that she would miss feigning her innocent school girl charade? Who would have thought she would have grown fond of the droning sounds of her teacher in the background as she stared at the world outside?
Her duties here seemed meticulous and repetitive.
By the end of the day, she felt like screaming.
“Captain Kuchiki’s division has yet to report in.”
She stopped short, her eyes narrowing in on the two soul reapers ahead of her. Izuru and Hisagi. Holding her breath, she went back around the other side of the corner and pressed her body firmly against the wall.
“It has only been three days, Shuuhei. Things come up.”
“I’d buy that story if it wasn’t Byakuya. A man that lives and breathes for the principles that he follows. Punctuality is one of them.”
“It was probably Renji’s job to check in. You know how he is…he’s a slacker.”
“Captain Kuchiki would not stand for such insubordination.”
“You’re worrying too much,” Kira grumbled, running a finger through his triangularly shaped blond hair.
“No, not perhaps. You are. What could have gone wrong? It’s a simple trip to the Rukon District; Mount Koifushi, I believe.”
“That’s not exactly an area with the best reputation, Izuru.”
“What if it isn’t?”
“Then we’ll receive order to investigate from the High Captain and we’ll go see what’s happened. But I doubt it’s anything. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”
“Hmm,” Shuuhei breathed, the two lieutenants continuing on their path towards their respective divisions, neither giving much thought or realization to Rukia’s tamed reiatsu.
Breathing in deep, she tried stop the sinking feeling of her stomach before it hit her toes and rendered her worthless for the rest of the day.
Kira was probably right. They were probably just too busy to send a report of their progress and status.
But one thing that Shuuhei had said still hung around her neck like a weight: ‘“I’d buy that story if it wasn’t Byakuya. A man that lives and breathes for the principles that he follows. Punctuality is one of them.”’
Nine days. Two hundred and sixteen hours. Over twelve-thousand minutes. And who knew how many seconds. Far too many.
Not one hell butterfly. No report; no messenger; no signs; nothing. Absolutely nothing.
“I have heard nothing, Rukia. I will inform you if I receive any news,” Grandfather Ginrei consoled her, in that cold way of his.
“I do appreciate your concern for my grandson. He will be pleased to hear that you have taken such great care of the manor while he has been away. You have handled yourself well. Now, no more worrying. All worry breeds is more worry and a shorter life span. Come, have dinner.”
And so she would dine with her adopted grandfather. She would carry out the duties of the Kuchiki manor each passing hour and day. She would arrive for her duty as a soul reaper. She would train and increase her abilities little by little each day. And she would listen to the gossip hounds that littered the Gotei Thirteen.
‘They went to the world of the living. They aren’t comin’ back. Must be something you’re taught in the Kuchiki house.’
‘I heard they got lost. Can’t find their way around.’
‘Maybe they’re planning a way to take over the Seireitei. Maybe it’s Aizen Sousuke and Gin Ichimaru all over again?’
‘I wonder if Rukia knows anything about it.’
‘The Head Captain hasn’t said anything concerning the mission. Maybe he’s worried too?’
‘Maybe they’re dead.’
She scrunched her forehead together, holding her face in her hands as she tried to block out the rumors and private thoughts of everyone surrounding her.
Every day had been like this for the last week or so. It had all started with Kira and Shuuhei and now the whole soul society was alight with their own take of what could or could not have happened.
All she wanted was to know for certain. Just to know. She didn’t even want to interfere…she just needed to know either way.
Just one small clue as to what was happening.
Just one small-
“Hmm?” She answered through muffled breaths and concerned thoughts, her glazed over eyes finding set of warm brown eyes staring back at her. Ichigo.
Blinking, she straightened her spine and coughed, squeezing her eyes together in an attempt to sober her vision.
Hinamori gave her a concerned expression before she fiddled with her hair piece out of nerves. “Um, R-Rukia?”
“What is it Momo?”
“It’s just that I um…I need you to come with me.”
What? Go with her where?
The quiet fifth division lieutenant chewed on the inside of her cheek as she shook her head, “I was ordered to bring you to the Head Captain.”
Rukia immediately jerked to her feet, causing a few shinigami that happened to be sitting next to her to jump out of surprise.
‘What the hell, Rukia?!’
‘She scared the piss outta me!’
Ignoring their grumbles of irritation, Rukia nodded. “Yes, Hinamori, take me to see the Head Captain.”
Hinamori smiled with relief as she turned and walked just ahead of Rukia, leaving the stand-in noble to fight with her heart.
Something had happened. It must have. Why else would the Head Captain need her? Why else would it be a direct order? What had gone wrong? Were they alive? Were they hurt? Were they coming back? Did they need help? What was going on?
Her hands fisted into the sides of her uniform. He had promised he would take care of himself. He had promised her!
“We’re here,” Momo said gently, offering a smile of assurance as she bowed low and left, leaving Rukia to enter the Head Captain’s office alone.
Rukia sucked in a deep breath and readied herself.
“You may come in, Miss Kuchiki.”
Worry only breeds worry. Worry only breeds more worry. Her mantra.
Her failing mantra.
She slid the door open, her head bowed down as she entered the High Captain’s office with grace that she rarely used, “You sent for me, sir?”
“Indeed Miss Kuchiki. I have urgent news I must discuss with you.”
Her stomach toppled to the floor, her nerves spinning, and her head misting.