"You were quiet tonight," he said as they walked home. It was starting to rain. The lights of Sereitei collected in the puddles. The ground shone like a collection of coloured glass as she picked her way around the water.
"I'm so sorry. You must think terribly of me," she said: "I couldn't think what to say. I was so stupid."
"You were – perfect." His hand touched her back. She stopped and let him turn her to face him. Once more, she forgot what she had been going to say.
"I think they will talk," she managed at length: "I think they will talk about a girl from Rukongai."
"Then let them talk."
"Is it what you wanted?"
"The captaincy of Division Six. It's more than I could have hoped for. But yes." When she didn't answer, he touched her shoulder gently: "Do you want to stand here in the rain?"
"I don't know. I can't really feel it. Can you?"
He leant in and kissed her and, as before, she stiffened at his touch, but this time, he did not hold her. His fingers moved from her shoulder to brush the hair away from the back of her neck. She remained rigid and he let his arm fall away so that only their lips were touching. When he stepped away, she wondered whether the rain could hide the tears on her cheeks.
"Hisana," he said, and it wasn't a question or demand. He made her name sound like something beautiful. "Am I much changed from the child who was stupid enough to think he could fight for you?"
"You are a captain of the Gotei Thirteen. You are not a child anymore. And I'm a woman. And I long ago learnt that it is foolish to put faith in dreams that taste too sweet."
"I should have come for you sooner."
"Come for me!" She laughed bitterly, pulled the kimono over her shoulders and started walking, again, in the direction of his home: "I did not expect anything from you. You owe me nothing and I am grateful for your kindness, but this – this" – She stopped and plucked at the kimono: "This is a fairytale! And if you could see what I have seen, Byakuya-sama, you would know that there is no such thing as fairytales." She wiped her face again. She was still crying, but it was hard to say why. He had awoken something in her, something like hope, and it gnawed at her belly with a ferocious hunger. It hurt her, but he would not understand that.
"You are amazing, Hisana-san." He had said it once before, she realised. She swallowed the pain in her throat:
"And you are kind and generous and – and naļve." He laughed at her and she finally looked him full in the face. He was breathtakingly beautiful, she realised. The child she remembered danced in his eyes in an instant of self-awareness as he smiled down at her, and then the expression dropped from his face and that strange serenity returned to his features. "Why are you doing this?" she asked.
"Because I am a captain of the Gotei Thirteen and you are the woman I'm going to marry," he said, and he snatched her hand and started to lead her down the street. He went at such a pace that she had to jog to keep up and, despite all reason, she found herself laughing at his words, the sorrow in her chest bubbling up into her throat:
"What are you saying?" she cried. Her feet were slapping in the puddles. Water was soaking into the hem of the fine kimono and rain was flattening her hair against her face: "You seemed so sensible."
"Really?" he asked, breaking into a gentle run so that it seemed to her they were flying through the streets. "That was never the impression I intended to give you."
"You're quite mad!"
They were suddenly at the gates of the mansion. Bedraggled and flushed, they all but collided with a travelling party. An elderly man, who had just stepped through the gate, paused on the edge of the garden and pulled his hood back to take a better look at the two of them. Byakuya bowed to him without missing a beat:
"Byakuya-kun," the man acknowledged him through the trembling of a long white moustache. His grey eyes turned towards Hisana: "And who is this?"
It was the first time, since arriving in the sereitei that she had been greeted with open hostility.
"Hisana-san is staying with us while she recuperates."
"I see," said the old man, embuing the words with distaste: "A better host might have sought to offer her some protection from the rain, Byakuya-kun. Unless it was your intention to see her soaking wet. I can't imagine why that would be desirable." His eyebrows quirked up at the young shinigami and Byakuya coloured:
"We are going to change." He tugged Hisana past the waiting servants even as the old man called after them:
"It's too late to join me for dinner, but I would request your company at breakfast-time, Byakuya-kun."
"We have much to discuss, do we not?"
They rounded the edge of the building, out of the older man's line of sight, and Byakuya slowed. At his side, Hisana, panting asked:
"Who was he?"
"My grandfather." He let go her hand.
"My father's father."
"You didn't want to tell him about today?"
"No. Tomorrow. At breakfast. I'll tell him then."
"And you'll want me to be there?"
Still walking, he glanced down t her:
"Best if you were not."
"Yet you insisted that I meet" –
"- the captains, yes, but you do not know my grandfather. He's worse than any captain." He smiled grimly as he slid back the screen door to her room.
She slipped off her sandals out of habit, but her feet still left wet prints on the wooden floor as she stepped inside. He followed, placing his hands on her shoulders, turning her around. In the low light, his face was still pale, like porcelain striped by the lines of dark hair falling across his eyes.
"Will he want me to leave?" Hisana asked.
"He can want, if he so desires, but I am the head of this household and the choice is mine. Are you cold, Hisana?" he asked: "You're shivering."
She was, but she didn't think it was the cold.
He was bolder this time. His grip on her shoulders was unyielding. He pulled her forward, tipping her head back until his lips touched hers. She dropped her gaze, so that those same lips came to rest against her forehead now, his breath hot on her brow. She was standing with her body against his and she could feel him breathing, could sense the urgency of his desire. His hands moved on her shoulders, peeling back the fine silk of the kimono. As he slid it down her back, she instinctively covered herself and he hesitated, one hand on her neck. She kept her eyes down.
She feared him. And she worshipped him.
He sighed and, after a moment, pressed his lips once more to her forehead, holding her there for a long time. They moved against her skin as he spoke: "I am sorry, Hisana. I will come back when I am something less terrible to you." And, with that, he stepped away. She felt the finality of his departure in the sweep of his robes against her legs abd the chill that crept in briefly through the open door.
As soon as he was gone, she let the kimono fall to the floor around her and she fell too, dropping to her knees and holding herself in the semi-darkness. When had she grown so cold inside? When had the solitude she had sought for all these years become the only certain thing in her life? So that she protected it now at the expense of all else. He couldn't understand that. He couldn't see that, even to touch her was to strip her bare of anything that had any meaning for her and, as much as she wanted that self-sacrifice, she wasn't strong enough. Not yet.