Title: The Rites of the Dead
Category: Byakuya Fanfiction
Word Count: 6,558 *
Spoilers: Pendulum Arc
*Yeah, so I totally meant to write a 1,000-2,000 word one-shot. Obviously, I went a little overboard with my enthusiasm. To accommodate my wordiness I had to break the work into segments. The first part is posted here and the others are posted to my LJ. (So, sorry!)
The Rites of the Dead
Sitting behind the threshold to the room, the servant remained quiet and still. His head hung low, and an air of despair clung to his robes. He contemplated what he was going to say to Byakuya Kuchiki. Words were elusive. And, so he sat in silent mortification for the better part of ten minutes. In the back of his mind, he assessed the mood of the room. It was considerably dark; the air was thick with tension.
He could feel his master staring at him – perhaps even through him. He was also fairly certain that Byakuya had ascertained the reason for his presence. Feeling the pressure in the room steadily rise, he let out a noncommittal grunt.
“Lord Kuchiki,” he began, but quickly choked on the words rising in his throat. “Dead.” It was the only sound that escaped him. The word felt leaden and harsh, and it sank into the unspoken misery that filled the room.
After making the declaration, the servant’s gaze immediately shot across the room to Byakuya. With the admiration and fear of a dog to a stick-wielding master, the he studied Byakuya.
To the servant’s amazement and horror, Byakuya’s features did not twist into a look distress. The lines of his face were flat. Even his eyes were blank, dead even. Indeed, he appeared to be the epitome of calm rationality on the outside.
It was all a façade. Even though he was prepared for the declaration, Byakuya could not deny that the finality of the statement stung him. It pierced him sharper than any blade could. And, the wave of emotion welling in his stomach only worked to agitate his emotional wound – like rubbing salt into a fresh laceration.
Byakuya closed his eyes, lifted his head, and locked his jaws. It was a vain try at mastering his emotions. But, the torrent of pain and melancholy swelling inside of him proved too much. “You are dismissed,” he said firmly.
The servant bowed his head out of respect. “Yes.” Dutifully, he slid the shoji door shut and scurried away.
From his corner of the room, Byakuya watched the servant’s shadow swiftly pass down the hall. Firmly out of reach of potential onlookers, he lifted his head and stared into the ceiling.
It had been a bad day.
He closed his eyes, and inhaled a deep breath.
It had been a bad week. From beginning to this dreary end…
A chill crawled down his back as he repressed the urge to recall the harrowing news that befell him four days ago.
Strange, he could not recall what he had for dinner four days ago, yet he could conjure that image so perfectly. He could remember everything right down to the horrified looks and downcast eyes of the Fourth Division shinigami. If he kept his eyes shut long enough, he could feel the panic in the air. Workers, nurses, doctors all fluttered back and forth in chaos.
Then, there was Unohana. If he did not move; if he remained completely still and held his breath, he could see her in his mind’s eye. She was concentrating so hard. Her brows were lowered, and the contours of her lips were sloped into a frown.
Beside Unohana was a small dark-headed girl. She was covered from head to feet in blood. Yes, as he remembered the event now she was there. He had neglected her presence at the time…
Byakuya exhaled a heavy breath and opened his eyes.
It was time to face the dead.
His feet knew the direction well. He had wandered those corridors a million times by now. It was all instinctual. His thoughts were numb; his heart drummed a slow beat in his chest. It was the “clack” of wood hitting wood as he opened the door that drew him from his deadened state.
His mood, however, darkened the moment he panned the tenebrous chamber. Twilight descended upon Kuchiki Manor in more ways than one. .. Sifting through the black and blue tendrils of nightfall, he saw her.
His suspicions were confirmed. The small, dark girl he had seen at the Infirmary was the same girl sitting so close to his grandfather. So very close she sat to death, and yet she did not appear in the slightest perturbed. She stared deeply into the sheet covering the late Kuchiki’s face.
The moment Byakuya neared his beloved grandfather, she stirred. Reading his intentions, she spoke a soft recommendation: “Don’t, Lord Kuchiki. It was his last request.”
Byakuya bristled the moment the word “Lord” reached him. His eyes widened and he froze. He felt as if someone had poured a bucket of ice water over his head. He was now the head of the Kuchiki clan – a role that felt so alien and loathsome at that moment.
Ignoring the strange woman’s request, Byakuya sat opposite of her and began to slowly peel the cover veiling his grandfather’s countenance.
“Please, Lord Kuchiki, he did not want your last memory of him to be tainted so.”
“Nonsense, Woman,” he castigated her.
She turned her head away so she could not see him expose the face. “Hisana,” she murmured under her breath. Within the stroke of a second, she could feel the burn of his gaze on her. “The name is Hisana, sir.”
“Hisana,” he murmured tersely, “return to the Fourth Division.”
She lifted her head in response, and took to her feet. Pivoting on the heel of her foot, she absently reached into the pocket of her kimono. Coarse parchment greeted her fingers, and she cringed inwardly.
Shoving her better judgment aside, she halted mid-step and inhaled a deep breath. She was a hairsbreadth from the door, her inner pragmatist noted. But, there was a duty she promised to carry out, and she, unlike the present head of the Kuchiki house, respected the wishes of the dead.
“I will alert the Fourth, and…” It did not need to be said. She was sure Byakuya Kuchiki was familiar with the customs.
Just when she began once more to the door, the same gnawing scratching of paper against flesh hindered her from exiting. She had made a promise, and the missive in her pocket was her sentence. She should have carried out the orders before now – before he died – but what was she to do? It happened so unexpectedly, yet so naturally. Her behavior had been dilatory for reason unknown even to herself.
“The ablution of the body will be carried out at the Fourth, and the funeral arrangements have been made.” It was a lie, and she hoped the falsehood was not as transparent to him as it was to her.
Stiffly, she turned and inadvertently descried his expression before bowing. The image she caught was forever burned into her mind. The stately, aloof Byakuya Kuchiki looked haunted, desolate even, as he sat in perfect seiza beside his departed grandfather.
“Good evening,” she said hurriedly before escaping into the hallway.
Byakuya watched her figure disappear down the corridor before turning his attention back to his grandfather. Ginrei Kuchiki was but a mere shell of his former self. His face was grey and marred by battle wounds.
He had been well only four days ago. It was a thought Byakuya could not shake. How could it have happened so suddenly? And to him of all souls?
Furrowing his brow, Byakuya lifted his head and stared into the middle distance. ‘What had that woman meant by ‘the funeral arrangements have been made?’” Hisana’s words had finally sunk into his conscious mind.