Break Down the Door
Most of the traditions and symbolism surrounding her betrothal and marriage, Rukia had merely tolerated. She and Renji had both found the tokens exchanged at the betrothal, the carved tortoise in particular, a bit ridiculous, and figuring out how to hold the hair ornaments and veil in Rukia’s short hair had been a trial.
This one, though, she rather liked.
Renji had grumbled over having to add yet another outfit to her accumulated pile, to say nothing of coming along for an overnight visit to her erstwhile home, but when he’d handed over this kimono she’d had to smile. The pattern of white flowers was smaller, now, only winding up the hem and over her shoulders, but the blue of it, and the red obi, exactly matched her best kimono from when they had last been together.
She smoothed it over her knees as she sat next to her brother, looking out at the stream.
“So, they wish to embroil you again,” he mused, eyes cool and distant.
“Is it even possible for someone as young as I am to be chosen for the Forty-Six?” she wanted to know. It still seemed… fantastic to her.
Her brother waved a dismissive hand. “There are ways. It isn’t all that unusual for judges to come from among the Court Guardians.”
Rukia perked up. Now there was a thought that hadn’t occurred to her. A much more plausible one, in her opinion, than trying to hang a sign that said Sage around her neck. “And only two of the six judges have been chosen,” she agreed. “That makes more sense.”
Nii-sama looked sidelong at her. “A vice-captain would have the rank to qualify, even without great seniority,” he observed. “Particularly with a sufficiently influential sponsor.”
Rukia laughed softly up at him. “Then I won’t need any sponsor but you, will I?” She held back another laugh as he settled, a hint of smugness at the corners of his mouth.
It was true, though. Kuchiki was her House, just as Rukongai was her past. And neither a survivor of Inuzuri nor a daughter of Kuchiki needed anyone holding open doors for her. She’d open her own damn door.
Open it wide.
She had another question, the next morning at breakfast.
“Nii-sama? Was Urahara a good captain?”
Her brother’s tea paused for a moment on its way to his mouth. A contemplative silence lay over the table while he sipped slowly. “No,” he said, at last. “He was brilliant and powerful. His conscience grew, perhaps, above the average. But he did not suit the position of Captain.”
“Hm.” Rukia took a thoughtful bite of rice. “Since Yoruichi-san already seems to have him in hand, perhaps we should leave him in her preserve, then.” She nibbled her lip for a moment before asking, more quietly, “Did you approve of what he grew to be, Nii-sama?”
“That is not something a Captain should comment on.” After a stern look, though, her brother nodded once, silently.
Rukia smiled, relieved. “And I know you liked Yoruichi-san. Good. Then there won’t be any problems when I go to overturn the judgments that exiled them.”
There was yet another pause in the conversation while Renji choked, and she pounded his back helpfully. When he recovered, it was her brother he directed a look at. “Do those two have the slightest idea just what they’re bargaining for, here?” he rasped, pointing at Rukia.
A faint gleam of satisfaction lit the back of Nii-sama’s eyes. “It isn’t likely.”
“Didn’t think so.” Renji shook his head, grinning at her. “You’ve gotten bigger goals since we started, that’s for sure.”
“Have I?” Rukia ran a finger around the rim of her cup. “We have enough to eat, here, all right. But the safe place to sleep… that’s still a problem. Isn’t it?”
Renji’s eyes darkened, and his voice dropped to a growl. “Yes.”
“And that’s what the noble houses are supposed to make sure of, really.” She looked at her brother. “Isn’t it?”
“We serve,” he said, voice low. “We fight.” After a long moment, his chin lowered and he looked at his folded hands. “You may be right.”
“Then I will go forward,” she said, steadily.
Renji’s face lit with a dangerous smile. “Not alone, you won’t,” he told her, foot nudging hers. “Somebody’s got to protect you, after all.” She made a horrible face at him, and then blushed as her brother cleared his throat. She hurriedly smoothed her expression and gave him an apologetic look from under her lashes.
“Our library has the texts you will need to study,” he noted, straight and composed as ever except for a lifted brow at their antics. “Rest assured that I will not sponsor your advancement until your knowledge is adequate.”
That was a Nii-sama sentence if ever she’d heard one, and Rukia smiled wryly. “You never have, Nii-sama,” she agreed, softly.
“You know,” Renji mused, as they made a leisurely stroll of their walk home, “it’s a shame you won’t be going on with your training as an officer. I mean, you’ll be a great judge. But I bet you could have reached ban kai. Your potential was always higher than mine.” A corner of his mouth curved up as he glanced down at her. “Even if you are a shrimp.”
Rukia laughed, low in her throat, not rising to the bait. Well, not the way he expected, at least. “What makes you think I’ll stop training towards it?” she asked, lightly, and tossed a grin over her shoulder at Renji, who had frozen in mid-step. “I have two captains to work with, don’t I? And two more I can tap if I need to. So come on, Renji.” She held out a hand.
She’d been wrong to think a shinigami’s life would be that different, she decided, watching the flash of teeth as he laughed and caught her hand. They were planning to steal something a lot bigger than water jars, this time, but the way they smiled and dared each other with their eyes was the same. And she had to learn to fight fast and hard, because the adults were bigger, still.
This time, though, she thought, smoothing the blue fabric of her sleeve, this time she was going to keep her family alive.