Ice Is Also Great and Would Suffice

Post Soul Society arc, Rukia has to deal with lingering injuries and Byakuya finds old habits of care returning. Fluff with Angst, I-4, mild spoilers

The gardens of Kuchiki House were beautiful and manicured, and Rukia had had to search through them for nearly an hour to find a stand of dark-leaved shrubs tall and bushy enough to hide her. She didn’t want any of the servants asking if there was anything they could do for her, Rukia-sama, making it clear that a lady of Kuchiki was not supposed to be kneeling in the cold grass, arms clutched around herself, shaking hard enough to rattle her teeth.

She knew that. She just couldn’t help it.

It had been coming for days; she’d felt it like a presence standing behind her shoulder, stepping closer and closer again until it merged with her backbone and unstrung her. She didn’t know why it was now, why this hadn’t happened when she was locked away or about to die or at some other time that made sense. She just knew she couldn’t hold it back any more, and a few hot tears spilled over as her breath rasped harshly in her lungs.

The rustle of leaves and cloth told her her last bid for privacy and dignity had failed and she hunched closer in on herself, stubbornly not looking around.

Not, at least, until two sandals under a familiar hem stepped into her view and she looked up, half despairing, at the very last person she had wanted to see. Her brother stood, looking down at her, still and silent, and she bit her lip until it bled, trying to silence the choked whimpers in her throat. When he stirred, at last, she was sure it would be to turn his back on her lack of control.

He knelt beside her, sleeves sweeping out around her as he gathered her in and held her, silently, against his shoulder.

It was warm.

Rukia pressed her face into the fabric of his kimono, shoulders shaking with her muffled sobs. If he had said any word, long habit might have caught her back, but he only held her, hand spread against her back, over her heart, shielded for this moment from the rest of the world. So she cried for the cold pain in her bones and the fear that it would never leave—cried until she could barely breathe, could only lie against his chest, every muscle trembling and wrung out, as light fingers stroked her hair.

The sleep that had escaped her for a week crept up and wrapped around her like her brother’s sleeves.

When Rukia’s breathing finally eased, Byakuya sighed faintly. He had known she was distraught, but he had thought it was only the nerves anyone could expect after the battles she had fought. Such things eased in a little time. This appeared more to be work for a healer then a friend’s comfort or family’s presence.

Well, that was easily enough seen to, now he knew.

He lifted his sister in his arms and carried her carefully back through the house, a look forbidding the servants to question or follow. When he tried to lay her down on her futon, though, he met a check.

She wouldn’t let go.

After a few gentle tugs failed, he snorted softly. As stubborn as his sister was, he supposed he might have expected this, and since no one was here to see he let himself smile.

She was well matched to Kuchiki, though she might not know it even now.

He sat down against the wall and settled her securely against him, leaning back to wait out her sleep.

The late sunlight slanted outside the opened screens, burnishing smooth wood boards and dancing lightly over the grass. He had given her this room because the view from it was open and airy, suited, he’d thought, to her spirit. He still thought it suited her, but now for different reasons. Now he noticed the trunk of the tree growing over the pool, slender but strong; the cool shadows and bright, rippling glints of the water; the birds that winged fearlessly down to peck at a scatter of crumbs from, he identified after a moment, the dumplings that had been served for lunch.

The place did suit her, he thought, fingers moving slowly through her hair.

The peace of the afternoon was more than he had found in weeks, perhaps in far longer, and he stirred, frowning sharply as the inner door slid open. Who dared disturb them?

Unohana-taichou stood in the opening for a moment, delicate brows lifted, before nodding to someone in the hall and closing the door softly behind her.

"I see I didn’t need to worry after all," she murmured.

Byakuya stifled a moment of annoyance at the gentle amusement in her eyes and kept his voice down. "On the contrary. I intended to send for one of your people as soon as Rukia woke." And then he really heard what she had said and frowned more darkly. "You knew something was wrong?"

Unohana-taichou knelt down beside them with a soft sigh. "Of course I knew. She was locked in a tower made of stone that suppresses spirit strength, for weeks." She frowned a bit, herself. "It’s intended to make criminals of such weight as to merit that punishment more… biddable, at the end. The lingering effects are not normally an issue." She reached out a hand, and Byakuya stiffened, but she didn’t touch Rukia. Only held her fingers close as if testing for heat.

"As I feared." Unohana-taichou leaned back again.

"What?" Byakuya asked, tensely.

Unohana-taichou’s lips curved in a sad smile. "We who live here are pure spirit, Kuchiki-kun. That tower smothers our souls, like fire starved of air."

Byakuya’s arms tightened around his sister as his mouth tightened on furious accusations. Unohana was not the one he should direct those to.

Her smile turned softer. "Don’t worry too much. She is healing. And you have helped her, already, almost as much as I could myself."

Byakuya had to blink at that, nonplussed. He had no talent for healing.

Unohana-taichou stood and looked down at them, hands folded. "You are a powerful captain, and you hold her within your soul." Her lips quirked. "And she has the wisdom not to let go." She slipped silently back out the door while Byakuya was still fighting down the quick flush he hadn’t felt in many years.

He sniffed and settled himself back again, holding his sister close as evening settled over the garden outside.

Rukia woke slowly, feeling warm and happy. For a time she thought it might be a dream, as she hadn’t felt either for quite some time now, and clung to sleep, wanting the warmth to stay. It didn’t go away as she woke, though, and slowly she became aware that she was leaning on something. Something that moved gently under her cheek.

As if it were breathing.

"Renji…?" she mumbled, confused, and rubbed her eyes. She hadn’t seen Renji today, had she? She pushed herself upright and looked up and froze.

Her brother looked back, calmly.

"Nii-sama? I…" And then she remembered hiding in the garden, and her brother finding her, and flushed hotly, raw cheeks tingling with the rush of blood. "Excuse me, I…" She fumbled for some suitable words of explanation or pardon and found none.

"You are well, now?"

"Of course," she murmured quickly. Rukia wondered if it was possible to die of embarrassment; she’d have thought she’d have found out before now, if so, but maybe not. She glanced hastily around, looking for some way to extract herself from the situation.

Her brother’s fingers caught her chin, stilling her. "Rukia. Are you well?"

She looked back at him, eyes wide. He sounded serious. She was suddenly aware of the dim, sunset light, and that hours must have passed while she slept.

While she slept and he held her. The warmth of that hadn’t gone away; it was still with her, easing the long ache away.

Tears threatened to spill over again, for different reasons this time, and Rukia took a deep breath. Her voice only trembled a little when she said, "I’m better, Nii-sama."

He nodded. "Good." He lifted her and set her down on her spread futon, touching her shoulder lightly as he stood and looked out her outer doors. "Perhaps," he said, "I will come watch your garden with you again tomorrow."

"I… I would welcome that, Nii-sama," Rukia managed, husky.

A faint smile crossed his lips as he looked down at her and repeated, "Good." His fingers brushed her hair as he turned and left.

Rukia scrubbed the back of her hand over her eyes again and laughed softly, shakily.

She was warm again.


A/N: Title is from the poem Fire and Ice by Robert Frost.