Byakuya watches as Rukia says good-bye. She's done this many times before. She and the human boy will have a chance, many chances he hopes, to meet again, but nothing can close the distance between them. It is something more than the imposing reach of the senkaimon, the treacherous path back through the precipice world. Such things as that can be surmounted. But the distance remains.
He lives. For both their sakes, that cannot change. But still, while he lives, the distance remains.
She is strong. Byakuya's little sister. Stronger than Byakuya ever was or will be, although he and she measure strength in different ways. The force behind the blade that falls; a body trained for battle: they mean something, but they would not let him stand where she is standing. If their positions were reversed; if the one leaving meant that much to him, then he would not let the gates close. He would step between them. He would hold them with his bare hands. Even if they crushed him.
But he is greedy; he is always wanting more.
Somehow it pains him that Rukia will not do those things. She will wave. She will smile, eyes bright.
"See you," she says.
She is not greedy.
He has lost so many: his wife, his family. His world, which was, which is, born of privilege and power, taught him that there are ways and means to acquire the things he wants. Yet he has found no way yet of keeping them. Rukia had nothing, came from nothing. Wants nothing.
He thinks back, trying to recall if she has ever, in all their time together, asked him for anything. Probably not. When she loses something, she is not angry. It is as if she believes that the time she has, brief as it may be, is more than she deserves.
He, in turn, wishes that he were not so greedy. He wants. He requires. He yearns for more time.
He knew, from the moment he set eyes on the boy, that something had changed in her. He knew because he can remember what it felt like to fall in love. He can see it in the way her actions have a purpose now. In the way she smiles as if she is hiding something. Sometimes, he thinks she doesn't know, and that is most puzzling of all. Could you fall and not know it? With Hisana, there was no realisation, no revelation. He wanted her. He took her. Inevitable, like a tide that bears you forward. He cannot imagine uncertainty.
There are different ways to love, he is learning. Rukia talks often of the human world without any hint of self-awareness. But Byakuya has travelled there often enough to know that this world she talks of is Ichigo's. His town. His family. For now, it is enough for her to know that they are happy, that they live. She speaks as a shinigami. She tells stories of the strangeness of the human world, how she discovered things that fascinated her, frightened her. Things that made her laugh and made her think. And Byakuya nods and listens, glad that she can speak so freely in his presence.
She does not see that these are the things that changed her, that she returned altered by the human world. And what now delights, entices and excites her, may one day draw her back. She will no longer feel content to watch the boy grow and change and thrive. She will want to posess those times. His memories. She will want to be a part of them. And if she cannot be, then she will begin to waste: a life half-lived here and half-lived in the shades of what might have been. She will want him. If she ever learns to want.
Then what of Byakuya? Will he try to keep her here, in this world? He wants to hold on. But the others left and he was powerless to stop them. He cannot watch her regrets; he cannot watch her lose; he cannot watch her as if he were watching himself in a mirror. So, he thinks, as he witnesses her say farewell with such ease, that he will let her go. It will be enough to know that, somewhere, she lives. Really lives. And, for once in his life, he will not be greedy.