Story: Winter War
Characters: Byakuya, Rukia, Aizen
Rating/Warnings: R, character death and violence
Summery: For Byakuya some things are simply necessary.
Author's Notes: This is a chapter in the Bleach AU that sophiap, incandescens, and I are writing. Aizen won the war in Karakura, and this AU diverges from canon somewhere in the Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura arcs.
"Nothing is sacred and no one is safe."
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters. I make no money from these writings.
21. Nanao: Going Down
22. Hisagi: In Too Deep
23. Ensemble: First Contact
Byakuya looked for his death.
He looked for it in the buckles that held his strait jacket together. He looked for it in the stray items Szayel's attendents wore when they came to check on him. He looked for it between the padding on the floors and over the Sekkiseki stone that drained away the reiatsu he might have used to hasten his end again.
He looked for it in any trace he might find of Senbonzakura, the sword spirit who had been his constant companion since he had become self-aware. The spirit was gone. Shut away from him, somehow, by Aizen and his abominations, though after what he'd made the spirit do...
Byakuya frowned. It had been necessary.
His whole life was defined in terms of what was necessary and what was not. Now it was necessary that he die, before his powers could be used by the traitors, before he could be turned to their cause the way Rukia had been.
Her heart had been missing. The hungry suck of reiatsu was a telling sign, to be sure, but his gaze kept returning to the gaping hole where Rukia's heart had been. It went clear through her slender body, and he could see the light on the other side when she slipped off the top half of her kimono.
"Ni-sama," she husked so softly, and then she sounded exactly as Hisana had. "My love, come with me. We can be together now the way we never could have been in Soul Society. You have no clan anymore to lead, no reason to hold to a set of impossible standards."
She swayed close, so slender it seemed like a wind could blow her away. Where his hand had accidentally brushed the skin of her shoulder, she was so warm and soft.
Hisana had been his sole exception. The one thing he'd done for love, not duty. The one person he never understood nor reduced to what was or was not to be done for the Clan. He loved her, needed her, and she had, nonetheless, died.
He'd cried for her when he was alone, so that none would know that the Head of the Clan was so weak; but he knew in those dark hours that she was gone from him forever.
Rukia was not Hisana. Byakuya had never made that mistake, as much as everyone else might have assumed he did with how alike they had looked. She was his younger sister, and, as little as he had been able to express it or acknowledge it, she had honored him by being so. She was stronger than Hisana had ever been, though just as impetuous and just as inclined to taking people into her heart. Rukia, however, was more like Byakuya in hiding her heart, in letting herself be alone and standing aloof when she deemed it appropriate.
The Hollow Rukia didn't fool him either. Rukia always followed duty's sake, even going to the Tower of Solitude. That others had interfered did not sully the fact that she had done what was correct and proper.
That was why he knew it was necessary to kill the Hollow, even as part of him broke, that part had fallen in love with Hisana and had come to love the tiny girl-child he'd brought into his strict home. That was when he found he was glad he had so much practice shutting that part of him away.
He had drawn, scattering Senbonzakura immediately. There was no reason not to release here, and he knew her strength.
Ice and snow can kill the buds of a sakura tree, it is far too easy to kill the flowering in its infancy. Some of the wonder and beauty of sakura blossoms lie in the fact that they bloom even with that risk. Senbonzakura, however, was no bud. Its spirit was that of blossoms already torn from the tree, the last whispered beauty of that which has already died, already gone, always in defiance of the powers that might have killed it aborning.
There is nothing as beautiful as a fallen sakura blossom on snow.
The beauty of Sode no Shirayuki had been eaten away as had her host's heart. The purity of the death she dealt, the whiteness of her snow and ice had curdled like bad milk. The flakes were like ash, the ice as brittle and yellowed as old bone.
They had clashed. Senbonzakura had flowed, the sorrow of what he was doing only sharpening each of the thousand blades. Blow by blow, slide by slide, exchange by exchange they fought, he as silent as he ever was, she with a mad cackle of a Hollow hungering to hold forever that which she had loved.
They went through Sode no Shirayuki's dances. Each more terrible than the last, each with a falter, misstep, and hesitation that she would never have done before Rukia's transformation. Byakuya brought them both down in the Third Dance, when the piercing blade had gone through his stomach rather than something more vital such as his heart or brain. The instant freeze stopped his blood from gushing out his wounds, and his hands kept moving, finishing the strike he started in the same instant the Hollow had started hers.
The mask shattered, showing Rukia's tear-stained face, both horrified at what she had done and relieved.
Byakuya whispered, "Go in peace, sister."
And Rukia scattered into ash.
He collapsed when the ice melted, and then tried to finish what Sode no Shirayuki had started. Sebonzakura, the weapon of his life, had agreed to the action, even as they both felt and shut away their own horror at dying, their own natural resistance to ending. They both knew they were alone here. He had gotten the message of the rout in the fake Karahura. He'd seen Zaraki die and Unohana leave, so he had no back up and no wish have Hollowfication forced upon him as Rukia clearly had. Sebonzakura had agreed, manifested, and while they both knew that Sebonzakura would most likely revert to nothing but a sword again on his receiving a mortal stroke, had consented to be his second.
He drew his sword, wrapped all but the last foot of the edge in the silk of his scarf. He heard the whisper of Sebonzkura's steel unsheathing, and he plunged the shining steel deep within himself, fighting the pain, fighting their fears, fighting to end this.
Byakuya had done what was necessary.
Byakuya had woken up restrained and surprisingly alive. His whole body hurt, and the weakness and pain of his abdomen had made him dizzy with any movement he attempted. He tried his damnedest to tear himself apart by raising his legs and twisting to the side, but an alarm went off and people in white coats had run in. They roughly added more restraints, a few hard slaps with reprimands that he'd simply ignored, fixed what he'd torn without giving him anesthetics, and then given him something that shoved him back into unconsciousness.
Byakuya hadn't been able to try that again. They healed him too quickly.
Time passed, and he endured, always looking for that way out, sometimes wondering when his time would run out.
Aizen came to him only once. Byakuya charged him, head first, using his teeth to unsheath Kyōka Suigetsu to throw himself upon the blade before Aizen neatly knocked him aside. Underlings piled on him.
Frowning, Aizen examined the cut along Byakuya's throat, the sheen of blood on the blade. "Not yet," Aizen said softly and left.
Byakuya swallowed a howl of rage, ashamed as his whole body trembled with it. The drawer on all his feelings shut tight. Aizen did not return, and Byakuya found himself glad he had more time to try.
Now Byakuya turned his natural patience, all his killing knowledge, toward ending his own life. He even let himself dare hope that if he were turned Hollow, the Hollow would fixate on this one desire he took to his end.