Rukia drew some odd looks, marching through the main offices of Sixth Division with a tray of tea. She smiled back, cheerfully, at the ones who seemed most nonplussed, but that only made them edge away from her.
Perhaps “cheerful” plus “determined” was a bit unnerving.
Well, so much the better. Nii-sama should know she meant business. Rukia called her entry at his door and set down her tray beside his desk. “Good evening, Nii-sama.”
Her brother regarded the cup of tea she poured and set in front of him as if it were a new subordinate of questionable ability. “You have your own captain to take care of, Rukia,” he said, at last.
“I already sent Ukitake-taichou home to his tea,” she shrugged. “You’re more stubborn than he is, so I thought I had better bring the tea to you.”
Her brother gave her a cool look. Rukia returned it with a serene one, not giving an inch. Something that might have been amusement and might have been resignation flickered over his face, and Rukia had to stifle a broad grin as he set down his pen and curved his hands around the hot cup. She turned aside to be sure she hid it, pouring another cup for her brother’s new vice-captain.
“I expect you should take a break, too, Kira,” she told him gently. The way she set his cup down squarely on top of the papers he’d been working on was a good deal less gentle. He eyed her, looking rather bemused.
“Thank you…” he started, slowly.
“Rukia,” she broke in, firmly, before he could evolve a properly elaborate form of address for her. “Just Rukia. Rukia-san, if you must; we were classmates, after all. Renji’s right, you know, you’re too formal sometimes.”
A smile twitched at his mouth. “Rukia-san.”
She smiled back, pleased.
Turning, she caught a glint of approval in her brother’s eyes. Kira must have been more withdrawn than she’d though, if Nii-sama’s relief at this small liveliness in his vice-captain overrode his disapproval for Rukia’s informality.
“Rukia. Do not make light of the noble houses,” he reprimanded.
… even for a minute.
“Yes, Nii-sama.” She patted Kira’s hand in reassurance as she turned away. Nii-sama looked slightly taken aback by her calm response, she noted with some satisfaction.
It was a start.
Rukia settled herself on one of the cushions in her room, just a little gingerly. It had been a vigorous training session today, since Ukitake-taichou had gotten Kyouraku-taichou to come work with her. She was grateful, but even a long hot soak hadn’t been able to get rid of all the aches afterwards.
A low voice at her door made her start a little and then wince at the twinges through her shoulders. She blinked at the figure in the doorway. “Nii-sama.”
With a tray of tea.
Rukia smiled as he came to sit with her, accepting a cup carefully. Her hands were still tingling slightly. The heat of the cup soothed them, and she sighed with relief. “Thank you.”
Her brother nodded, quietly. “You’re making good progress,” he said, after a while.
Rukia had to blink back sudden wetness in her eyes. “I want to make you proud, Nii-sama,” she said, just a little husky. She looked down at her tea. “I know it probably hasn’t looked like it, in the past.”
Nii-sama was silent for a long moment. “I believe you will,” he answered, at last.
Rukia took a quick sip of tea to clear her throat. “So. How was your day?”
Nii-sama looked a bit amused at the terribly domestic question, which pleased her.
Rukia leaned in the doorway, watching her brother. To a surface glance, he was the image of tranquility, sitting with a cup of tea and looking out at the stream that ran behind the east wing of the house. It was the tiny, subtle clues that gave him away. Shoulders a little too straight, arms a little too rigid, mouth a lot too tight.
She’d been afraid of him for a long time, seeing his helpless rage and not knowing where it came from or when it might be directed straight at her instead of brushing past. Now…
Rukia came, soft footed, to sit at his side and rested her head, lightly, on his shoulder.
The shoulder under her tensed and she sighed, closing her eyes. Against the back of the lids she saw the three graves of her first family. “I won’t leave you, Nii-sama,” she whispered.
After a still moment he stirred, lifting a hand to rest on her hair. He spoke very quietly. “Don’t make impossible promises.”
“I’m not.” Rukia let her eyes follow the sun-sparks on the water. “I might be taken from you. I know that. But I won’t leave you.”
Nii-sama was still for a moment before he took her shoulder and turned her to face him. He had the most alive look Rukia thought she’d ever seen on his face. Not an entirely happy look; for all that his lips had curved up his eyes were sad. But alive. She lifted a shaking hand and touched her fingertips to his sleeve. He captured the hand in his own.
“Thank you, my sister,” he told her, and Rukia bit her lip at the note of warmth buried in that deep voice.
“Nii-sama…” She took a quick breath. “Will you come walk with me, for a little?”
It wasn’t until she had him out in the sunshine on the other side of the stream that she let herself grin, for the half-cup of tea he had left haphazardly on the excruciatingly neat floor behind him.